East Pakistan Genocide: Still Yearns for Global Acknowledgement

Bangladesh is celebrating 50 glorious years of its independence and the month of March is significant in the valiant struggle that then people of East Pakistan waged against the Pakistani Army.  

March 25 holds special significance being commemorated as the Genocide Day as on this day 50 years back Pakistan Army launched ‘Operation Searchlight’ resulting in the worst genocide in human history over a period of nine months till the Army was defeated.    

The Liberation War in erstwhile East Pakistan marked by the horrific genocide committed by the Pakistani Army and razakars, or collaborators, is not acknowledged widely even to this date. 

Three million people were killed, half-a-million girls and women were raped, and entire villages were laid to waste. The Bangladesh genocide is considered to be the largest and longest since it covers the entire length of the nine-month long liberation war of Bangladesh Ironically the Bangladesh genocide remains unrecognised while other genocides in Europe and Africa have been acknowledged. It is pity and matter of shame that the genocide which killed more than the holocaust and was aimed at changing ethnicity of a group is yet to be globally recognised.

The amalgamation of denied human rights contributed to the commencement of the independence movement in erstwhile East Pakistan. In national elections held in December 1970 in undivided Pakistan, the Awami League won an overwhelming victory across Bengali territory. On February 22, 1971 the generals in West Pakistan took a decision to crush the Awami League and its supporters. It was recognized from the first that a campaign of genocide would be necessary to eradicate the threat.  

According to noted journalist Anthony Mascarenhas, “There is no doubt whatsoever about the targets of the genocide. They were: (1) The Bengali militarymen of the East Bengal Regiment, the East Pakistan Rifles, police and para-military Ansars and Mujahids. (2) The Hindus — “We are only killing the men; the women and children go free. We are soldiers, not cowards to kill them …” I was to hear in Comilla [site of a major military base] [Comments R.J. Rummel: “One would think that murdering an unarmed man was a heroic act” (Death By Government, p. 323)] (3) The Awami Leaguers — all office bearers and volunteers down to the lowest link in the chain of command. (4) The students — college and university boys and some of the more militant girls. (5) Bengali intellectuals such as professors and teachers whenever damned by the army as “militant.” (Anthony Mascarenhas, The Rape of Bangla Desh [Delhi: Vikas Publications)

Men became primary targets (almost 80 percent male, as reported by the Bangladesh Genocide Archives). The abduction and subsequent rape of women by soldiers took place in camps for months. Many more were subject to “hit and run” rapes. Hit and run rape explains the brutality of forcing male family member–before their own death–view the rape of their female family member by soldiers

The genocide even forced an American diplomat then posted in Dhaka to write a poignant message. “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities… Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy.” – Archer Blood, American diplomat, April 6, 1971.

 Even a report by an internal commission of Pakistan has failed to influence international community. Hamoodur Rahman Commission is probably the only postwar inquiry commission authorized by the Pakistani government that inquired and submitted report on events that took place in 1971. It submitted two reports to the Pakistan government, one original in 1972 and one supplementary in 1974. For many years these reports were not published or disclosed by the authority. The supplementary report that was submitted in October 1974 has been kept as a classified document by Pakistan government until December 2000.

Hamoodur Rahman Commission was formed by Pakistan Government in December, 1971. The Committee was conferred to investigate causes of the defeat of Pakistan, erstwhile West Pakistan during the 1971 war

Pakistan is country which can be termed as an ‘Army State’ in resemblance to the popular global term of ‘Police State’. Since its first decade of inception, Pakistan has been ruled by the Armed forces starting with Filed Marshal Ayub Khan in 1958 and up until recently by General Musharraf.

Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan witnessed almost a full collapse of humanity during the nine months of March to December in 1971. Though atrocities and brutality started well before March, 1971 continuation of this barbarism reached its pick on the night of 25th March 1971.

The carnage by Pakistan Army continued till their shameful surrender in mid-December, 1971.  Atrocities and butchery of Pak Army are by now well established and documented not only by Bangladeshis but also international researchers, historians, scholars and news media.

A small excerpt from The New York Times dated July 4, 1971 gives us an idea “Doesn’t the world realize that they’re nothing but butchers? Asked a foreigner who has lived in East Pakistan for many years. “That they killed – and are still killing – Bengalis just to intimidate them, to make slaves out of them? That they wiped out whole villages, opening fire at first sight and stopping only when they got tired?”.

General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan and his top generals planned to murder Bengali intellectual, cultural, and political elite. They also planned to indiscriminately murder hundreds of thousands of Hindus and drive the rest into India. And they planned to destroy the East Pakistan’s economic base to ensure that it would be subordinate to West Pakistan for at least a generation to come.

Hamoodur Rahman Commission report also deals with atrocities by the Pakistan Army. It wanted to consider and examine the allegations in following categories – a) Excessive use of force and fire power in Dacca during the night of the 25th and 26th of March 1971 when the military operation was launched. b) Senseless and wanton arson and killings in the countryside during the course of the “sweeping operations” following the military action. c) Killing of intellectuals and professionals like doctors, engineers, etc., and burying them in mass graves not only during early phases of the military action but also during the critical days of the war in December 1971. d) Killing of Bengali Officers and men of the units of the East Bengal Regiment, East Pakistan Rifles and the East Pakistan Police Force in the process of disarming them, or on pretence of quelling their rebellion. e)Killing of East Pakistani civilian officers, businessmen and industrialists, or their mysterious disappearance from their homes by or at the instance of Army Officers performing Martial Law duties. f) Raping of a large number of East Pakistani women by the officers and men of the Pakistan army as a deliberate act of revenge, retaliation and torture. 92 The Arts Faculty Journal, July 2010-June 2011 g) Deliberate killing of members of the Hindu minority.

It is now known that on December 12, as the Indian Army was closing on Dhaka, a group of senior Pak army officers and their civilian counterparts met. They put together the names of 250 peoples to be arrested and killed, including the cream of Dacca’s professional circles. Their arrests were made and only hours before the official surrender was signed, these professionals were taken in groups to the outskirts of the city where they were summarily executed.

There is no doubt that the mass killing in Bangladesh was among the most carefully and centrally planned of modern genocides. A cabal of five Pakistani generals orchestrated the events: President Yahya Khan, General Tikka Khan, chief of staff General Pirzada, security chief General Umar Khan, and intelligence chief General Akbar Khan. The genocide and gendercidal atrocities were also perpetrated by lower-ranking officers and ordinary soldiers. These “willing executioners” were fuelled by an abiding anti-Bengali racism, especially against the Hindu minority. “Bengalis were often compared with monkeys and chickens. Said Pakistan General Niazi, ‘It was a low lying land of low lying people.’ 

The goal of the operation was to crush the Bengali nationalist movement through fear; however, the opposite occurred. 
Three phases of genocide by Pak Army:
  1. Operation Searchlight was the first phase as discussed earlier, which took place from late March to early May. It began as a massive murder campaign during the night of March 25, 1971.
  2. Search and Destroy was the second where Pakistani forces methodically slaughtered villages from May to October. This is the longest phase because this is when Bengali forces mobilized and began to fight back; This was also the phase in which the Pakistan army targeted women to rape, abduct, and enslave.
  3. “Scorched Earth” was the third phase beginning in early December, and targeted and killed 1,000 intellectuals and professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers in Dhaka. The Pakistani Army surrendered to Indian forces days later, ending the genocide on December 16, 1971.