There is next to no prospect of Pakistan formally apologizing for its genocide in what is now Bangladesh in December 1971 as called for by a U.S. Congressional resolution by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Steve Chabot (R-OH).
However, to an extent the House resolution 1430’s timing just before the Congressional elections is expected to accrue some electoral benefits for the two, especially Khanna, who has frequently faced the ire and disenchantment of the Indian American community.
It is instructive that the language of the resolution introduced on October 14 almost immediately notes that “West Pakistani officials harbored well-documented anti-Bengali sentiment, considering Bengalis to be a lesser people group that had been corrupted by un-Islamic practices.”
West Pakistanis, who are now Pakistanis, being the longstanding dominant elite of the country have been singled out by the resolution for their well-known antipathies against the Bengali-speaking population of what was before 1971 East Pakistan.
The resolution is explicit in using the term genocide saying in the very first line, “Recognizing the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971.”
The history of the birth of Bangladesh, midwifed entirely by India under then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in a sense begins with the elections of 1970 when the Awami League party of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won on the main platform of independence for East Pakistan much to the chagrin of Pakistan’s President General Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party.
After the negotiations between the three leaders over the formation of a government failed, Yahya Khan was recorded to have said on February 22, 1971, that his top military brass “kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands.”
A little over a month later, on the night of March 25, 1971, the Government of Pakistan imprisoned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Pakistani military units aided by radical Islamist groups, cracked down throughout East Pakistan under “Operation Searchlight”. The operation became notorious for the widespread massacres of civilians.
For the next nine months, erupted what became known as Bangladesh War of Independence during which the Pakistani military and radical Islamic groups systematically targeted Bengali-speaking Muslims as well as Hindus. Cadres of the Awami League, members of Bengali military and police, students, intellectuals and professionals were all systematically targeted.
The resolution points out that three million people were killed and says, “the genocide against ethnic Bengalis and Hindus is one of the forgotten genocides of the 20th century and its lack of recognition remains an open wound for millions of people who were directly affected by the atrocities.” Over 200,000 women were raped. Some ten million Bangladeshi refugees fled to India and 50 percent of its population was internally displaced.
The resolution notes that the government of India “magnanimously cared for” the refugees.
The resolution quotes a newspaper column dated June 13, 1971, in The Sunday Times, titled “Genocide”, by journalist Anthony Mascarenhas as saying, “It seems clear that the ‘sorting out’ began to be planned about the time that Lt.-Gen. Tikka Khan took over the governorship of East Bengal.” He wrote, “When the army units fanned out in Dacca on the evening of March 25, in pre-emptive strikes against the mutiny planned for the small hours of the next morning many of them carried lists of people to be liquidated. These included the Hindus and large numbers of Muslims; students, Awami Leaguers, professors, journalists and those who had been prominent in Sheik Mujib’s movement.”
It also refers in detail to U.S. diplomatic communications from Dacca pointing out the genocide in clear terms. For instance, on March 28, 1971, U.S. Consul General in Dacca, Archer Blood, sent a telegram to Washington titled “Selective Genocide” in which he wrote, “Moreover, with support of Pak military, non-Bengali Muslims are systematically attacking poor people’s quarters and murdering Bengalis and Hindus. Streets of Dacca are aflood with Hindus and others seeking to get out of Dacca. Many Bengalis have sought refuge in homes of Americans, most of whom are extending shelter.”
On April 6, 1971, in what became known as the “Blood Telegram”, Blood sent by way of the State Department’s dissent channel an objection to official United States Government silence on the conflict signed by 20 members of the United States diplomatic staff of Consulate General Dacca. It said in part, “But we have chosen not to intervene, even morally, on the grounds that the Awami conflict, in which unfortunately the overworked term genocide is applicable, is purely internal matter of a sovereign state. Private Americans have expressed disgust.” Blood concurred stating “I believe the views of these officers, who are among the finest U.S. officials in East Pakistan, are echoed by the vast majority of the American community, both official and unofficial. I also subscribe to these views but I do not think it appropriate for me to sign their statement as long as I am principal officer at this post.”
With these unnerving facts as the backdrop the Khanna-Chabot resolution is being whole-heartedly welcomed by the Indian American community. It is expected to have a greatly calming effect on the often-frayed tempers caused by policy positions by Khanna that a vast section of Indian Americans view as against India.
As for Pakistan apologizing for the genocide, there is next to no chance of that happening, especially because the hiving off a new country named Bangladesh by Prime Minister Gandhi and India’s military is still seen by Islamabad as its most humiliating defeat. Pakistan, had in a preemptive response to Gandhi’s “humanitarian intervention”, attacked India’s north on December 3, 1971. In a triumph that still animates India and rankles Pakistan, the Indian military defeated its Pakistani counterparts in barely two weeks and forced it to surrender.
It is a deep wound on Pakistan’s psyche and any apology over its genocidal war in then the East Pakistan ought to be seen from that standpoint. The resolution is unlikely to move any needle in Pakistan towards an apology.
Interestingly, the Indian triumph went on to become a key element of the Cold War since the U.S., apprehending Soviet domination of the region, threw its weight behind Pakistan and, in many ways, continues to do so today.
The House resolution
- Condemns the atrocities committed by the Armed Forces of Pakistan against the people of Bangladesh from March 1971 to December 1971;
- Recognizes that such atrocities against ethnic Bengalis and Hindus constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide;
- Recalls the death and suffering of the countless victims of such atrocities and expresses its deep sympathy for the suffering;
- Recognizes that entire ethnic groups or religious communities are not responsible for the crimes committed by their members;
- Calls on the President of the United States to recognize the atrocities committed against ethnic Bengalis and Hindus by the Armed Forces of Pakistan during 1971 as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide;
- Calls on the Government of Pakistan, in the face of overwhelming evidence, to offer acknowledgment of its role in such genocide, offer formal apologies to the Government and people of Bangladesh, and prosecute, in accordance with international law, any perpetrators who are still living;
- Reaffirms the United States commitment to promoting peace, stability, and intercommunal harmony in the Indo-Pacific region, and the right of all people living in the region, regardless of national, racial, ethnic, or religious background, to enjoy the benefits of democratic institutions, the rule of law, the freedom of religion, and economic opportunity.