The Vanquished Generals & The Liberation War of Bangladesh
Translation From Bengali: Kushal Ibrahim
I went to Pakistan for three weeks in early 1998. The trip was organised after much discussion with Mohiuddin Ahmed, of University Press Limited. There were three sides during our Liberation War-Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Books on Bangladesh and India have been published here, but there has been none on Pakistan. There is almost no information in our hands on what the policy makers of Pakistan thought in those days, or why at all they chose to go to war with a part of their country. Those who started the war have not spoken much about it during the last 30years or so. But some of the Generals have written memoirs where our Liberation War has also been discussed. We had to plan our Pakistan trip very carefully because we as a nation do have the tendency to be intolerant about many things and we take quick decisions without delving much into the matter. We also have this habit of politicizing history. For all these reasons, we were afraid that our trip may cause widespread misunderstanding here. But at the end, we decided that it was necessary to go to Pakistan to collect information on the Liberation War. And Prof. Rehman Sobhan very generously came to our help. But the question was, even of we did go to Pakistan, would the main players of those days let us interview them? They had not opened their mouth in the last three decades. Will they now talk to the two of us from Bangladesh? This delicate situation was resolved with help from Amina Sayeed, the Chief of the Oxford University Press in Pakistan. It took us almost a year to convince the interviewees to talk to us and to finalize all the preparations. In the three weeks, we interviewed about 35 persons in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. We let them talk freely and refrained from asking them questions unless it was required. All of them were very co-operative. I should mention that the interviews did at times turn out to be mentally distressing experiences for us (specially while interviewing men like Niazi or Rao Farman Ali), but we suppressed our emotions for the sake of collection of historical data. It should also be mentioned that what they have said when we interviewed them express their own opinion only and not that of ours or the publisher. The reader is requested to keep that in mind while reading the articles. The first three articles are based on the interviews we took and various articles published in Pakistan. Some repetitions may be there. Although the subject matter of the three articles are different, it was not possible to avoid repetitions in order to maintain the continuity of the narration and reasoning. The fourth article is based on the memoirs and interviews of Pakistani Generals. Mohiuddin Ahmed and I took the interviews. The Generals defeated or involved in the Liberation War have been writing for the past few years. Their memoirs are being published. This has become a good post-retirement occupation for them. These Generals are now in their 70's or early 80's. They are enjoying lavish facilities while spending their retired days. But an invisible force seems to be accusing them all the time. Their successors give them doubtful looks. No songs are being sung to glorify their feats. So they are being forced to write, specially on 1971 and its background. I have meticulously read and evaluated the books by the Generals because we need to know how the Pakistani Generals have seen and judged our Liberation War. The Pakistani Generals have written their books mainly for the readers in Pakistan and the West. Till recently, a large part of the people of Pakistan did not know, or was not allowed to know, about the genocide in Bangladesh. Whatever they have been told has actually added to the confusion. These books may confuse not only the West Pakistani reader but also readers in other countries. Even Bangladeshi readers may get confused if they read these books without proper introduction. These books need to be judged properly so that they will not be able to distort history through the exaggerations, confusing information, and lies and half-truths. After talking to people of different walks of life in Pakistan, I have come to believe that Pakistanis are carrying some preconceived notions about Bangalis and the erstwhile East Pakistan. They admit that Bangalis are Muslims, but regard them as Muslims influenced by Hindus and therefore more inclined towards West Bengal. They have ignored the cultural bond between the two Bengals. They also see the Bangalis as overly politically conscious and anti-authority - attributes that do not match their upper class and feudal mentality. The generals are no exceptions. They have written their books with these notions in their mind. It can be asked, why are they writing? I have already answered that. They are finding themselves held responsible for what happened in 1971. They are being blamed for the debacle. And of course there is the ignominy of defeat. Another objective of writing the books is to deny the allegations of their involvement in the genocide and crimes carried out in Bangladesh in 1971. The Generals have mainly put the blame for these on Yahya. But at the end they have all reached the same conclusion that the politicians were the culprits behind the debacle of 1971.Victory in the Liberation War is one of the most glorious chapters in the life of the people of Bangladesh? For the last 25 years, even the Liberation War has been turned into a sensitive issue through government backing, politicization of history, and intolerance. Today, after three decades, the time has come to look at the whole matter through impartial eyes. Why did we desire Bangladesh? Was it imposed on us? How did we want it? How was the victory snatched away from us? Have we managed to achieve what we wanted? Hints to the answers to many of these questions might be found in these four articles. We believe that intolerance regarding history and imposition of censorship would complicate the matter. The time has arrived to collect all the relevant information from all sides of the Liberation War, examine that information carefully, and start writing the definitive history of the Liberation War.While writing the book, I have received support from many, and specially from Mohiuddin Ahmed. Before being compiled in a single book, the articles were published in the dailies Prothom Alo, Bhorer Kagoj and Banglabazar Patrika.The photographs have been taken from the books mentioned. Farid Ahmed of Shomoi Publishers and Kazi Mukul of Dana Publishers have provided invaluable support during the publishing of the book. The book has been translated from Bangla by young translator Kushal Ibrahim and the translation has been edited by renowned journalist ABM Musa. I thank them all.
Department of History
University of Dhaka.