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Estranged bedfellows

Huzaima Bukhari

“Unsay jo kehnay gaye thay, Faiz jan sadqa kiay, unkahi he reh gayee who baat sub baton kay baad —Faiz Ahmed Faiz

What we went to say to them with all sincerity Faiz, that alone remained unsaid despite the long parleys (Translation)

16 day of December is marked with some interesting events like declaration of independence by Kazakhstan in 1991, airing of the last episode of the popular Larry King Live show, last eruption of Mount Fuji in Japan in 1707 and the infamous Boston Tea Party in 1773. For Pakistan, however, it carries the most tragic event wherein the country’s two strong arms were torn apart causing an insurmountable hostility of relationship between two brothers (if they, West Pakistan and East Pakistan ever were brothers). Remnants of the bloodbath of 1947 during the partition of India into two dominions, had yet not snuffed out from memories that a new round of carnage destroyed whatever little was left of any bond between Bengalis and West Pakistanis (Punjabis to be more precise). The idea about single faith brotherhood crashed on the precipice of selfish political ambitions, power struggle, economic subjugation, irrationality, misunderstandings and the colonial mentality that was the legacy left by the departing British in 1947, and eagerly embraced by rulers of the western arm.

One can hear with a lump in one’s throat when talking about foreign policy of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina said “Maintenance of good relations with the neighbours, friendship to all, malice to none is the policy I pursue throughout my life”. This guiding principle is reflected in recent meetings between Pakistani and Bangladeshi official counterparts as obvious from the news report appearing in The Express Tribune as on 6 December 2022: “Recent contacts between Pakistani and Bangladeshi leaders have provided a rare glimpse of a possible, if not yet probable, detente after years of strained ties between the two countries, according to observers. Since the independence of Bangladesh [then East Pakistan] from Pakistan in December 1971 following a nine-month bloody war, the relationship between the two South Asian Muslim states have passed critical courses with ups and downs”.

A cursory glance at the history of Bengal shows that since ancient times that is 4th century BCE this has been an important region with its balmy climate, fertile land, natural resources, highly rich cultural and literary heritage. From the Hindu and Buddhist dynasties of Bhulua, Nandas, Mauryas right down to Devas, Pratabgarh and Taraf Kingdom, from the influx of Islam with Khilji dynasty, Delhi Sultanate to the Mughal Empire, from the colonial occupation after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 right down to formation of Bangladesh in March, 1972, the people of this region have had to face tremendous hardships at the hands of their political masters and natural disasters in the form of cyclones to which this country has long been vulnerable. Despite these traumatic occurrences one cannot but admire the resilience of this great nation that has literally emerged from ashes to hold a formidable sway in South Asia.

It might be recalled that the actual movement for Pakistan began in Bengal with the creation of the All-India Muslim League (AML) in 1906 in Dhaka while those in other parts of the region were vying for a united India. Even Muhammad Ali Jinnah did not join the AML until October 1913 and that too at the insistence of Sayyid Wazir Hasan and Muhammad Ali. How ironic that the product of Bengali leaders got the name Pakistan while overwhelmed by language issues, our brothers coined the name Bangladesh for their newly-founded country!

Looking back in time, innumerable questions sprout from that unfortunate chain of events, the answers to which were never given in clear terms. Neither the politicians nor the military ever admitted to their shortcomings and short-sightedness in allowing history to unfold in a manner that fissured the relationship of those who were initially bonded forever. The many conspiracy theories circulating then and now are merely theories. The truth remains hidden behind our own persona and our treatment of the Bengali nation as a whole.

Waiving aside such contemplations, Yaqub Khan Bangash, in his op-ed dated 12 September 2011 observed: “First, let us remember that the only time Pakistan has split, in 1971, was completely due to the attitudes and actions of the Pakistani government. Granted that India helped the East Pakistanis in their struggle, but that was at a very late stage and did not play a major part in forming the separatist movement. Let us also not forget that after the December 16, 1971 surrender, Pakistan was at its lowest ebb and India could have easily instigated the break-up of West Pakistan—but it did not”.

Elie Wiesel rightly said for humanity, “No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them” and for the intellectuals who bow before tyranny, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides”. We have tread over many decades in our attempt to redress the mistakes committed by our earlier generations but it appears that total deliverance from animosity is yet a far cry considering that free movement between the peoples of both countries still requires an official visa even for those whose birthplaces are located in the other region.   

“Kab nazar may aaye gi bedagh sabzay ki bahaar; Khoon kay dhabbay dhulaingay, kitni barsaaton kay baadby Faiz Ahmed Faiz

When shall we see the unblemished blossoms of spring? How many more rainfalls are needed to scour away blood stains? (Translation)

What can one say about the intellectual capacity of our global leaderships except that when in power they lose touch with the most crucial element of life—humanity. Perhaps Mark Twain was referring to these control freaks when he wrote: “The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creatures that cannot”—from ‘What is Man?’


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)

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