Why is the Bangladeshi or Indian narrative the only acceptable narrative for 1971?

Published: December 1, 2016
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Why have there been limited efforts to present both sides of the story when it comes to the Bangladesh Independence War of 1971?

The year 2016 is ending on a somewhat positive note for Pakistan with a lower number of terror-related casualties compared to 2015. Yet there is one date that always affects Pakistanis aware of the 1971 partition of East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan. That date is the December 16th.

December 16th is marked as Victory Day in Bangladesh, signifying not only its independence from West Pakistan (now Pakistan), but also its apparent victory over the Pakistani military. On this day every year, social media, not only in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also in neighbouring India is abuzz with different narratives, opinions, and sentiments.

While some see the partition as an inevitable conclusion to a hasty and less practical division of the subcontinent, others blame the whole saga on the atrocities committed by the Pakistani establishment and the military. These massacres boiled down to the establishment of Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters), and consequently to the creation of an independent Bangladesh.

A famous quote (attributed to Winston Churchill) notes,

“History is written by the victors”. 

And in the case of Bangladesh and the 1971 war, history was mostly written – and dominated – by accounts of Indian and Bangladeshi writers. Anything written by Pakistani authors and academics was merely tagged as state sponsored propaganda, and thus completely rejected on this premise alone in regional and global academia.

Reading Bangladeshi accounts of the ‘71 war, mostly focused on mass murders and rape, gave me nothing but feelings of shame and embarrassment towards the security forces of Pakistan at the whelm of affairs during that time. So much so, that reading the local and “bipartisan” foreigner accounts, I somehow started believing that India was in its right to protect the Bangladeshi people against the Pakistani atrocities.

It would be naïve to completely accept or reject accounts from both the sides, and also discount the incompetence of Pakistani policymakers in 1971. Yet, I made an effort to at least investigate the facts and fiction associated with the historical accounts of 1971. Thus, it was only recently that I had the chance to read a couple of books on the subject, which contributed towards changing my overall view of history.

Sharmila Bose’s Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War was the first book in this regard, which highlights major fallacies about Pakistan’s actions in the Bangladesh war. The Guardian, in its review, called Bose’s book a long-overdue study of the Bangladesh war of independence as it provides a fateful turning point in the history of South Asia. The book rues the fact that many authors covering the historical events of 1971 were bias towards Bangladesh, and against Pakistan, throwing in death toll numbers as they pleased. The term “lakhon” or hundreds of thousands, was commonly used by the war survivors on both the sides, whereas the more realistic numbers were neither known, nor was there any effort put to find out these numbers.

Additionally, Bose’s book also highlights the killings committed against the non-Bengali Bihari community and pro-unity Bengalis in Bangladesh. Reading both these books simply begged the question: Why have there been limited efforts to present both sides of the story when it comes to the Bangladesh Independence War of 1971? Along with that, one also ponders that if Mukti Bahini and its activities contributing towards the murders of thousands of pro-unity individuals were totally disparaged by the Bangladeshi and Indian historians, why did Sheikh Mujib feel the need to pass the Bangladesh National Liberation Struggle (Indemnity) Order to provide indemnity for the freedom fighters?

Recently, I discovered that Henry Kissinger, the ex-US security advisor to President Nixon, claimed that Pakistan was willing to grant autonomy to Bangladesh in March, 1972. This revelation is sure to raise some eyebrows and illustrate the need for new research and debate on the issue. Additionally, this also raises questions on the US involvement and/or interest in dismembering Pakistan, where even with all the hopes pinned on the United States, the 7th Fleet never arrived.

Sharmila Bose and her book have initiated a constructive debate on the facts and fiction of the war. It is high time that decades old myths are addressed and looked into through a systematic inquiry. It shouldn’t matter who writes these accounts, as long as they satisfy the criteria of valid research, because any prejudice towards the narratives would do little to correct these historical wrongs.

Farooq Yousaf

Farooq Yousaf

The author is a PhD (Politics) Candidate currently pursuing his studies in Australia. He has previously completed his Masters in Public Policy and Conflict Studies from Germany. He also consults Islamabad-based Security think tank, Centre for Research and Security Studies, and occasionally writes for various news and media sources. He is specialising in Indigenous conflict resolution and counter insurgency. He tweets at @faruqyusaf (twitter.com/faruqyusaf?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Mehdi Asraf

    Wow you have written the blog based on a book which was lambasted as being totally biased,inaccurate and totally false narrative by many critics…

    Her book was shredded apart by critics because she commented that a rape victim’s witness doesnt hold ground because she was illiterate….

    She takes the interviews of Pakistani generals as gospel truth even though some of the generals weren’t even posted in those troublesome areas…

    She doesnt take account of any official documents to cite that Bihari Muslims were killed and raped by Bengali forces..

    She totally ignores “Blood Telegram” where the US Ambassdor literally begged Nixon to change the allegiance as he cant tolerate the mass rape and killings going on…

    She also ignores the news coverage done by neutral sources like BBC,ABC and others which they extensively cover the atrocities done by Pakistani army..

    I guess that book is a best seller in Pakistan because it tells a soothing lie and put the blame on your neighbor…But truth isnt the imagination of an Indian author… Internet is open and you can get your answers from neutral sources if you take effort..Recommend

  • Sane

    History is about to repeat by liberation of Kashmir and Khalistan.Recommend

  • bmniac

    perhaps Balochistan and Sindh as well!Recommend

  • Allah Rakha

    Hahaha.. good one!! You are master of trolls! Anyways, howz Balochistan, Sindh and Azad Kashmir doing!! Please have the plebiscite or survey, how many of those want to live in a Failed State like Pakistan. You will get your answer!!Recommend

  • ShivaTheCommenter

    You mean balochistan?Recommend

  • Gratgy

    You forgot PakhtoonistanRecommend

  • Tanuja chandra

    May I suggest you read Humudur Rehman Report. It is not an Indian or Bangladeshi Narrative.
    Building your argument based on one or two fringe authors may satisfy you but will fail to reveal the truth.Recommend

  • Tanuja chandra

    By the way Henry Kissinger has not said that there was no genocide in Bangladesh. He has referred to intention/ promise of Yahyah Khan to give autonomy to east Pakistan. The world knows how Pakistanis keep their promises! Please also read Hussain Haquani’s Books too to enlighten yourself. He is not Indian or Bangladeshi!Recommend

  • wb

    I’d use bullet points to prove Pakistanis wrong.
    I’m a super logical Hindu (Atheist Brahmin to add to that and that will make your world’s blood boil…atheist?!!!!) and you’re a Muslim.

    1) “History is written by the victors”

    If History is written by the victors, then why are Hindu narrative is heard while it was Bin Khasim, Ghazni, Ghori, Aurangazeb, Babar, Lodhi, Khilji and various others were the victors.

    2) “Anything written by Pakistani authors and academics was merely tagged as state sponsored propaganda, and thus completely rejected on this premise alone in regional and global academia.”

    This is factually incorrect. In fact the truth is suppressed by Pakistani writers and intelligencia like Asghar Khan, Ayesha Jalal, Husain Haqqani, Tarek Fatah. These people are called traitors and their life stories buried.

    3) “Reading Bangladeshi accounts of the ‘71 war, mostly focused on mass murders and rape, gave me nothing but feelings of shame and embarrassment towards the security forces of Pakistan at the whelm of affairs during that time.”

    You were actually correct, until the Islamist inside you woke up.

    4) “The book rues the fact that many authors covering the historical events of 1971 were bias towards Bangladesh, and against Pakistan, throwing in death toll numbers as they pleased.”

    Your own Hamadur Rehman report put the death toll higher than Sharmila Bose. So, if Sharmila Bose is a TRUE, Hamadur Rehman is a liar. I’m a Brahmin and you’re a Muslim.

    5) “Along with that, one also ponders that if Mukti Bahini and its activities contributing towards the murders of thousands of pro-unity individuals were totally disparaged by the Bangladeshi and Indian historians, why did Sheikh Mujib feel the need to pass the Bangladesh National Liberation Struggle (Indemnity) Order to provide indemnity for the freedom fighters?”

    Ahhahahahah…take a step back. They were not pro unity individuals. Nice try with words. But they were ISLAMISTS who believed in the dominance of Islam, especially that of Bengalis.

    6) “Sharmila Bose and her book have initiated a constructive debate on the facts and fiction of the war.”

    Sharmila Bose’s book claims that Al Shams and Al Badr were not creations of A A K Niazi and his cohourts. Guess how repudiates them? A A K Niazi himself in the book “The Betrayal of East Pakistan”, where he proudly owns the creation of Razakars or Al Shams and Al Badr.
    Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    I am surprised author is rejecting atrocities done by Pak army on hapless Bengalis. Does it matter whether the victims were 10000, 20000 or 1 million? Does it lower the gravity? I am not saying Sharmila Bose is right or wrong. The truth will prevail in the end. But using account given by one writer who was not even victim and ignoring accounts of actual victims is injustice to the victims.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Pakistani account is same as Indian and Bangladeshi narrative. Pakistan has already accepted that also under 1974 Delhi tripartite agreement but later canceled the agreement. Anyway do you ever try to read history from Arab Pagans perspective?

    Sharmila Bose is not a historian, so no idea why are you referring her.

    You can also start with unbiased research on how Pakistan establishment continue with the same policies in Baluchistan.

    What about starting with what happened to 22% Hindus of Pakistan?Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Why would 11 Million Bangalis leave East Pakistan and take refuge in Indian camps? They must be facing certsin death, rape in East Pakistan. Younger generation need to get truth from the stories of refugees in those camps. For that author needs to learn Bangali and other Indian native language. One cannot do research on the subject without knowing the language of the people. Bose was looking for tenure in British university and was bribed heavily by Pak army. She hardly talked to the refugees or affected people. She talked more to Pakistani generals and colonels. Such resesrch can prove that moon is made of green Islamic cheez. You and me cant prove it wrong since we have not landed on moon. Answer this- why Pakistan not accepting state less Biharis in Dhaka camps, who claim they are Pakistanis?Recommend

  • ShivaTheCommenter

    Oh no

    Are you another Pakistani who thinks he is the descendent of some Afghan invader?

    Why are you so ashamed of your PUNJABI background? Have met many of you who pretend to be Indians in western nations to avoid shame

    Btw nobody denies History written by Ghori Gazni etc

    Hence we know and acknowledge that Pakistanis were enslaved and converted to Islam…..this is an undisputed factRecommend

  • Zahoorul Haq

    Great article. A quote from Himmler “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Sharmila Bose is an academic, Bengali Hindu, born in India. She is not from Pakistan. There is always another side of the story……Recommend

  • Zahoorul Haq

    So whatever you like is the truth only. I wonder what interest a Hindu academic who was born in India has in telling the other side of the story.Recommend

  • gp65

    HE is rebutting the author. Your comments seems disconnected with what wb has writtenRecommend

  • macaby

    Brand Pakistan is toxic courtesy the army Recommend

  • akash

    Sharmila Bose is for Pakistanis, what Tareek Fateh is for Indians.Recommend

  • Vish

    Simple. Because the Indian and Bangladeshi narrative is the truth. According to the Pakistan narrative it won all wars against India, including 1971. No wonder the Pakistani narrative finds no takers.Recommend

  • SRK

    Difficult to believe the author is a PhD candidate in Australia and already has a Masters degree from Germany. The write up is elementary at best – very low on intellect , logic and research.Recommend

  • Rao

    TRUTH Prevails !!
    No wonder the only narrative that world accepts is that of Indian / Bangladeshi versions
    Pak. fails to understand even at this stage
    Pak now needs to think of …
    BALOCHISTAN / SINDHU DESH / WAZIRSTAN / PASHTUNISTAN !!Recommend

  • Rohan

    Beause indian and Bangladeshi narrative has facts,paki narrative has fictionRecommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    Because Pakistanis are not reliable. They were reporting the victories the day they were surrendering to Indian army.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    Denial time of the year.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    typical paki culture. a powerful person likes someone and then his likes are enforced upon the masses.

    Jao yaar kaam karo. Everyobodys working. Annoying pakistanis with their viral sensations and their expensive wedding cultures. Give just a handful of people a huge flood of spotlight that should be evenly distributed among EVERYONE.

    Since childhood, no singer has come forward in the scene after Ali Zafar and Atif. WHY? we seriously need to rethink our system to give equal opportunities to EVERYONE, not just a handful of good looking people that we just happen to like because they are rich or they are good looking and have some talent. Bring out the talent from everyone, I say, why just a few selected people that then go ought to make them feel like they are some special creatures? RIDICULOUS

    Cant wait to move out of my joint family system and live in isolation in mountains of Hunza.Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    For Plebiscite, first do the following
    1. Remove Pakistan’s army from Pok
    2. Re establish the demography as it was in 1947
    3. Get back the land you gifted from China

    By many measures Pakistan itself killed the UN resolution and it’s army and ministers are just misleading the whole nation that India backed off from it.
    And pretty well played when u destabilize Kashmir, for India to keep army which eventually makes the citizens frustrated and then use their frustration against India to win the Plebiscite :PRecommend

  • numbersnumbers

    FYI!
    All can go to Wikipedia and look up “Bangladesh Liberation War”, along with the very extensive list of supporting references!Recommend

  • Patwari

    Banarsi Mullah. Straight from the shores of the polluted Ganges.
    Somehow got through/sneaked thru all the edits.
    Oh well, after all, this is a hindu supported eNewspaper. What else
    would you expect?Recommend

  • Mehdi Asraf

    The same interest why a Christian American got while writing a book that the NASA Moon landing is fake during a time USSR were bitter losers in the Space war..

    Cheap publicity….. get to sell lot of books ….get invited to guest lectures…..get money from vested interests….

    Why dont you check some neutral sources….The entire world has one story…
    Only Pakistan and Sarmila Bose have another story which gets shot down by cold hard factsRecommend

  • Kulbhushan yadav

    Since when Pakistani muslims start trusting the hindu brahmins and not trust their own muslim hamidur rehman? I think when it comes to hypocrisy pakistanis are the world champion.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    All can go to Wikipedia and search for “Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War” to see that this work by Sharmila Bose was heavily criticized for biases and inaccuracies!Recommend

  • Sane

    Your list is incomplete! Lahoristan, Karachistan, Multanistan, Sialkotistan…….. can’t you list more? Indians are insane to the extent they live in illusion and put their probelm under the carpet. The country having reputation of RAPE COUNTRY having a PM who is renowned, established and declared TERRORIST. The country with a large hungry and naked population talk about others, amazing!!!!Recommend

  • Sane

    Little minds interpret at their own.Recommend

  • Sane

    Dillits are also demanding a separate state like Kashmiris and Sikhs. You must free all suppressed communities. Meezoram and other freedom movements are getting pace. Look at your back!!Recommend

  • ShivaTheCommenter

    Oh ok…so Balochistan thenRecommend

  • Rao

    A Citizen of a country Pak / Mother ship of Terrorists and Terrorism wants to talk some wise words
    Nice Try !!Recommend

  • abhi

    When I started reading the article, I thought Sharmila Bose will be referred and author didn’t disappoint me.Recommend

  • Anis Motiwala

    Alas, what a tortuous treatment is being given by the brainwashing machinery of Pakistan. During the HR Commission not many people came forward to give their eye witness accounts due to reasons we can all understand. But still not all is lost. There are thousands of non-Bengali Pakistanis who returned from east Pakistan and settled in the West now the truncated Pakistan. These are still alive. And each one has a fragment of eye witness account to tell. Accounts of the state butchery exercised on the tax paying majority of the country…..somebody should provde them safety and assurance of their lives and record these incidences…..the cumulative picture of which will put Bose to shame.

    For God’s sake, ever since 1971 we are still busy in washing away the historical facts through text books, through hired authors and what not and this in itself should be proof enough of guilt.Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    Pakistan’s own Hamoodur Rahman Commission report was never allowed to go public … why … ??Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    Simple … Sharmila Bose is a puppet of Britain, who is now based at Oxford, must pay back her debt to her British masters … !!Recommend

  • Chakra

    Sharmila Bose is Not a Brahmin. She is Kayastha !Recommend

  • Dr Eskander

    Sharmila bose is the sister in law of a pakistani Urdu Writer( forgot the name ).
    Either she was bribed or brain washed to write the lies Recommend