Memories of another day


Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Anjum Niaz

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

The causes of events are even more interesting than the events themselvesCicero

In a room forcibly browned by black paper on the windowpanes we huddled together waiting for the sirens to go off. The flickering candles cast a sinister light. Each night, death visited as we smothered our racing hearts expecting a direct hit from the Indian war planes furiously emptying out their bellies of bombs meant to annihilate. We had grown accustomed to darkness at night; had memorized the sound and fury of the enemy planes; learnt the crackle of anti-aircraft guns and accepted death should it suddenly strike.

Out of the blue one bright afternoon, an enemy aircraft suddenly appeared. It had dodged our radars. The sirens had no time to warn us. A five-year old clad in bright red sweater played outside in the garden while we sat sunning ourselves in the deep verandah. Like a vulture the plane encircled the little boy. It flew so low that one could almost see the pilot. He too must have spotted the kid. We froze with fear as the grandfather lunged outside to drag the boy in. The next second we heard loud strafing. The plywood factory next door had been hit and labourers sitting out eating lunch lay dead on the ground.

Three decades and eight years ago today we lost half of our country. Enough has been written about the role of generals Yahya, Tikka Khan and ‘Tiger’ Niazi. Enough has been said about the role of Z A Bhutto. The Hamoodur Rehman Report traces the darkest days in our history. It mentions widespread atrocities including abuse of power by our civilians and army. It speaks of the killing fields set up by West Pakistanis; of rape and loot. The inebriation of some army officers, an instance of a brigadier "entertaining" women while his troops got shelled by Indian troops is exposed. The Report was so explosive that it had to be kept secret from the public for years.
I lived in Jhelum. It had a sizeable number of army families living in the cantonment along River Jhelum. Some of the civilian wives would get together with the army wives whose husbands were fighting on the war fronts. We made comfort packages for the soldiers defending us. After the war ended, we heard of many casualties of people one knew. Going for condolences to their homes became a ritual that bleak December when cries of despair greeted us everywhere.

Seventeen years later, I went to Dhaka. It was December 16 and the Bangladeshis were celebrating their ‘Day of Liberation.’ Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the leader of the opposition then. She was just 39 years old. I interviewed her in her office at the grand Parliament House. Sitting under a huge portrait of her father Sheikh Mujib, the sari-clad Hasina with hazel eyes, the colour of her late father’s, looked small and vulnerable then. But the anti-Pakistan venom was clearly visible that mild December morning. It stemmed more from the shabby treatment we gave to her father than the 1971 war. Later she arranged for me to visit her father’s home in Dhanmandi, converted into a museum. Sitting on a mantelpiece was a photo of Mujib addressing a huge gathering with the words: "This time our struggle is for emancipation (from Pakistan); it’s for independence."

This summer in Islamabad I met a retired officer who had a secret to share. When the PPP swept the polls in 1970 and the battle for power between Sheikh Mujib and Bhutto raged, a team of senior officers was sent from Rawalpindi to Dhaka on a secret mission. They were to fly the incarcerated Mujib back to Pindi with clear instructions: eliminate Mujib should India intercept their flight. "Under no condition should Indians get Mujib alive," were the strict orders given by the GHQ.
The officer met Mujib in jail at Dhaka. "Do me a favour" Mujib told him one day, "arrange a 30 minute meeting between Bhutto, Yahya and myself. Let the three of us debate as to who is breaking up Pakistan. You be the judge." Mujib and the officer had bonded and trusted each other. "So who would you have pronounced guilty?" I asked the officer. Without batting an eyelid, he said it was not Mujib but Bhutto and Yahya who inflamed the fires of 1971 war that led to the breakup of Pakistan!

Till today Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has neither forgotten nor forgiven Pakistan for the ill treatment towards her father nor the alleged war crimes committed by our army. Bangladesh has demanded an apology. Our Foreign Office has rejected the demand saying that it has already regretted the incidents. But Bangladesh has approached the UN for trial of what it calls the ‘1971 war criminals.’
How is our present enemy, the Taliban, different from the Mukti Bahini (freedomfighters) who struck terror by kidnapping West Pakistani officers and torturing them to death. It was gruesome. I know of a deputy commissioner kidnapped from his home near Dhaka, taken to the jungle and made to dig his grave. He was about to be killed when the hand of God saved him. But the trauma cost him his life. Six years later he died of a massive heart attack in Lahore.

Captain K who is fighting the Taliban in the tribal area sends me an email. He reads the newspapers, but he says "I don’t know much about politics, still I’m ashamed to know what all is happening in our country," he writes. "Pakistan is facing a crisis but our leadership’s failure to address the issues is sad. Being a Pakistani and a soldier I’m ready to give my life for my country but our leaders are not even ready to give up their power. It’s indeed really embarrassing to see them divided on the issues of national security. Pakistan in unlucky to have today’s leadership. I have received many injuries in this operation but even then I’m committed to do my duty till the last blood in my body. We should learn lessons from our past and try to improve upon issues for the greatest interest of our nation. But please tell me what our future is?"
He well knows the future is not bright. Pakistan has been badly let down by its military and civilian rulers in the past. The hunger for power is the real killer.

"You can give up women; you can give up alcohol; you can give up smoking; you can give up gambling, but the one addiction you can never give up is power. It’s a devi that sits on your lap!" the officer who accompanied the imprisoned Mujib back to Pindi said of Z A Bhutto. "The Mughal emperors imprisoned/killed their fathers/brothers and all other male relatives competing for the throne."
Two wars, one dismemberment and now the military operation. Where is the end?
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