Retracing history

By Murtaza Shibli

Bahukutumbi Raman, a former spy master at the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) – India’s premier Indian spy agency created with a special focus on Pakistan –  in his book, ‘The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane’ (2007), gloats over the creation of Bangladesh and calls it the finest hour in the history of RAW. Since then such celebrations have become common. They have become even more prominent after the pro-India Awami League came to power in Bangladesh in 2009.

Many Indians – former spy masters, army commanders and politicians – have sought recognition on the account. In 2007, Rahul Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s grandson and a leader of the opposition Congress party, publicly claimed family credit for dismembering Pakistan.

The Indian intelligence agencies, particularly the Intelligence Bureau (IB), were involved in the Bangladesh project as early as the 1960s. Later, when RAW was established in 1968, its raison d’etre was to mutilate Pakistan. Raman provides a detailed account of RAW’s never-ending work that contributed to the creation of Bangladesh. He claims that Rameshwar Nath Kao, the founder of RAW, had given his operatives two priority tasks – collecting intelligence on Pakistan and acting covertly in East Pakistan.

Raman details how RAW set up groups of Bengalis for arms training and established prior contacts with Bengali public servants who were posted in West Pakistan and were serving in Pakistani diplomatic missions abroad, to influence and persuade them to switch sides. While it is hard to condone the state-enacted horrific atrocities and murder of Bengalis, it is equally impossible to ignore the ferocious and overwhelming mass murder and pillage enacted by the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army.

In his memoirs of the war, Zainal Abedin, a senior Bangladeshi journalist and a former Mukti Bahini fighter provides an eyewitness account of ransacking by the Indian army. “I saw the large-scale loot and plunder by the Indian Army personnel. The soldiers swooped on everything they found and carried them away to India. Curfew was imposed on our towns, industrial bases, ports, cantonments, commercial centres and even residential areas to make looting easier. They lifted everything from ceiling fans to military equipment, utensils to water taps. Thousands of army vehicles were used to carry looted goods to India. History has recorded few such cruel and heinous plunders”.

Sarmila Bose, an Indian-American academic and grandniece of Subhas Chandra Bose, a leading Indian freedom fighter, has challenged the myths of human suffering surrounding the creation of Bangladesh and notion of Bengali victimhood. Bose, a senior researcher at Oxford University, through her seminal work, ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War’ (2007), punctures the official Indian-Bangladeshi myths about the genocide of three million Bengalis and mass rape that took place. American academics Richard Sisson and Leo Rose, in their book ‘War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh’ (1990), attribute the exaggerated claims to the official Indian machinations to influence “the public and key political leaders in the West, particularly the United States”.

It remains extremely important to talk about numbers because it forms the mainstay of the continued toxic official narratives of India and Bangladesh. Martin Wollacott, a British journalist who reported on the war in 1971, while commenting on Sarmila Bose’s book stresses on the importance of numbers –  “because they make the difference between seeing the war as a tragedy and seeing it as a terrible crime, indeed as a genocide. That in turn is important because it profoundly affects the way in which the people of South Asia understand both, their separate and their common histories”.

Sarmila Bose, through her extensive research and fieldwork puts the total number of those killed between 50,000 to 100,000 compared to the 26,000 mentioned in the Hamoodur Rahman Commission. A deeper inquiry led her to conclude the number of fatalities on either side was nearly equal as the fighters of the pro-freedom Mukti Bahini unleashed as vicious a campaign as the other side and murdered and mutilated non-Bengalis and the unionist Bengalis.

What affords a perspective to Mukti Bahini violence against fellow Bengalis is the fact that only about 40 percent people in East Pakistan had voted for Awami League despite employing divisive rhetoric to inflame nationalistic passions. Therefore, the notion that the entire Bengali population harboured secessionist activities is hyperbolic.

Bose, who interviewed dozens of nationalist Bengalis including Hindus, debunks the myths and gross exaggerations of several massacres that are attributed to the army. However, she does not absolve the army of murders but challenges the gravity of these incidents – in terms of scale, frequency, number and intent. She also dismantles the claims of a systematic policy of rape as well as the myth of 200,000 rapes of the Bangladeshi women. However, she does not discount incidents of opportunistic sexual crimes in times of war.

After more than 45 years of war, Bangladeshi official narrative continues to advance the Indian crafted myths with such an evangelical zeal that it continues to vitiate the atmosphere in the region. The War Crimes Tribunal set up by the current government repeated the claims of three million killed and 200,000 raped in the introduction to the charges presented for the first trial. So far, more than a dozen political leaders, mainly from the opposition groups – the Jamat-e-Islami and the BNP – have been indicted with over half a dozen hanged to death through trials.

These trials have been described as “hugely politicised, involving instances of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct bordering on a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice” by Toby Cadman, a London-based lawyer who represents one of the accused. Several international human rights groups and legal figures have raised doubts about the process and its fairness. Even inside Bangladesh, the process lacks legitimacy in the public eye. A survey conducted in 2013 by AC Nielsen, a New York-based global marketing research firm, found more than two-thirds of Bangladeshis characterise the war tribunal as “unfair” or “very unfair”.

Since 2009, when the ruling Awami League came to power, the Indian penetration has deepened, provoking mass unrest and internecine hatred.

Former prime minister Khaleda Zia observed in 2014, “Bangladesh now exists only in name as it is run from somewhere else. People of a particular country are working in Bangladesh”. Zainal Abedin, the Bengali resistance fighter turned journalist worries for he views India as a grave threat, “India through her notorious deeds had proved time and again that she is not our friend but an arch roughish foe”.

The writer is a journalist, author,and communications and security specialist. He lives between London, Lahore and Srinagar, Kashmir.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

Published in : Daily The News (December 16, 2016)

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