A Truth Commission For Pakistan & Bangladesh
By Abdul Malik Mujahid
One afternoon, I was struggling with my kick-start motorcycle outside my office
when I spotted a large black car stopping in front of my office building. I
saw A. K. Brohi coming out of the car and heading toward my office. The late
Mr. Brohi was one of the most respected lawyers and statesmen of Pakistan. He
had been minister of the country more than once. I had met him a few times but
he had never been to my office at Karachi University before. I abandoned my
struggle with the motorcycle and went to greet him.
It turned out that he was there "on time" to attend a marriage ceremony
in an adjacent hall where no one from the bride or the groom’s side had
yet arrived. I invited him to my office and he started talking. This was the
first time I had seen him speak in such a relaxed manner. And did he talk! I
wish I had recorded or taken notes of that day's conversation. But one of the
remarkable things he said is a part of history that must be stated for the record.
I wish I had written it in late 1974 or early 1975 when we met. All three witnesses
of these events, A. K. Brohi (1915-1987) himself, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1928-1979)
and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman (1921-1975) were still alive.
In the Pakistani national elections of 1970, Shaikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami
League won a decisive victory in Pakistan. The problem was that almost all of
their seats were in East Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and other West Pakistan
leaders refused to hand over power to the Awami League. The result was a brutal
civil war between the Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) and the Pakistan army
leading to full-fledge attack by Indian armed forces. On December 16 1971, the
Pakistani army surrendered to a joint Indian and Mukti Bahini force as the state
of Bangladesh emerged. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was still in a West Pakistani prison,
however, where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the President. He released him in January
1972 to become Bangladesh’s prime minister and later its president. A.
K. Brohi was the attorney of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in West Pakistan.
This is one of the most significant things A. K. Brohi said during our conversation
that evening in 1975: as Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was being led to his plane after
his release from Pakistan on his way to Bangladesh, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then
president of Pakistan, also came to say goodbye to him. A. K. Brohi, Sheikh
Mujibur Rehman's attorney, was also present. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman told Bhutto
that he did not want to leave Pakistan. He asked that he be released in Pakistan
and allowed to use Radio Pakistan to communicate with people in the newly declared
state of Bangladesh. He said that we never wanted to create another country
or break up Pakistan. He just wanted to bargain for East Pakistan’s fair
share from West Pakistan. His people had gone far beyond what he had wanted.
He wanted to work as a free man in Pakistan to develop a confederation between
Pakistan and Bangladesh instead of just joining with the existing group that
has established an independent Bangladesh under Indian patronage a month earlier.
I sat in wonderment, taking all this in, not just because of the extraordinary
nature of the information A.K. Brohi was giving to me, but also that because
he considered me worthy of sharing such information. This is the gist of what
I remembered now. He was far more detailed in his conversation.
I asked A.K. Brohi how Bhutto responded. He said he did not say much. He was
just laughing as Sheikh Mujibur Rehman almost kept begging him by repeating
the above request. He repeated that he wanted to be free in Pakistan and allowed
to use Radio Pakistan to communicate with people in Bangladesh to change the
situation. He was serious and was frustrated about being deported from Pakistan
instead of just being released to freedom.
I don't know what this information is worth to the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Bhutto and Mujibur Rehman were both politicians and capable of all sorts of
things. Whether these were the true feeling of Mujibur Rehman, I don't know.
It will be up to historians to see that in the context of what else was going
on at that time. But I am confident that A. K. Brohi was telling me the truth.
I did share this information with my friends over a period of time but never
realized that I should write it down. I am not writing it because I wish to
change the realities of today, I am writing this down, however, because of a
particular motive: I want the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh to know the
truth of that bitter part of history and use it to reconcile based on truth
instead of the superficial gestures of hugging and greetings which we are so
As I worked with interfaith peace and justice movement in the US trying to
prevent a war in Iraq and then to protest it, I have learned better and become
in principle against all wars. I have realized the extremely limited benefits
and tremendous costs of wars. Although religion gets the blame I think it is
nationalism and tribalism which lead people to war by dehumanizing others, although
religion is used to justify killings as well. I see all the Prophets, peace
be upon them, as anti-war leaders who were sometimes placed in situations where
they had no choice but to defend themselves. I consider their war cannot be
holy and all debates regarding "just war" are instruments in the hands of invaders.
War is evil. Period. May God save us all from it.
But in reality we know that it keeps happening.
That is the reason it is important to strengthen a third side in international
affairs and in the Muslim Ummah to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence.
Why did the world fail to stop the Iraq-Iran war that last between 1980 and
1988? Why could we not let East Pakistan rule since they had the votes? What
are the true casualty figures of the East Pakistan/Bangladesh tragedy? What
is the truth about the killing of intellectuals there? What was the role of
politicians? What was the role of the religious leadership? Were they joining
hands to stop the war or were they cheerleaders much like the so-called moral
majority of America? What was the role of the three armies, Indian, Pakistani
and Mukti Bahini? What is the real story? What are they real statistics?
Isn't it ironic that Bengalis and Pakistanis were praying to the same God after
the same Salat/Namaz/Namaj, at the same time, facing the same direction (Qibla)
for their safety and the defeat of their enemy?
Numbers of those killed on both sides range from tens of thousands to 1.3 million.
I don't know the truth. We don't talk about our dirty past. Why were no military
and civilian leaders punished for all the horrible things went on? Were they
Although now relations between both countries are considered normal because
of trade and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis working in
Pakistan, we owe it to our future to explore these questions. We need a bipartisan
truth commission between Bangladesh and Pakistan to understand and talk. It
is not enough that Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto hugged each
other and that the people of both countries cheer each other's teams. We need
to know the truth. We must learn from tragedies.
As a young Pakistani, I cheered for Pakistan, not knowing what East Pakistanis/Bangladeshis
were going through. I was hurt at the creation of Bangladesh very deeply. It
was my 9/11 as a Pakistani those days. I have visited Bangladesh since. I heard
the stories of the brutalities of the Pakistani army told to me by generous,
hospitable Bangladeshi strangers turned hosts as I wander their streets and
villages. But I feel it is not enough. I need to know the truth, as do other
Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
Taking the life of a human being is like killing the whole of humanity…(Quran)
Date/Time Page Created: 12/16/2004
Date/Time Last Modified: 12/18/2004 2:10:07 PM
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