How is Bangladesh represented in Pakistani textbooks

A forgotten genocide is being dealt with

"1971 was the best and the most terrible time. A sad time because one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century took place in our peaceful country. The Pakistani army and its local collaborators - the Razakars and Al Badr - killed three million people. But it was a glorious time too: by defeating an unscrupulous professional army, the people of this country fought for their independence. "

A video about the history of Bangladesh from the "Liberation War Museum", the "Museum of the Liberation War" in the capital Dhaka. An idyllic old villa under large trees in the center of the 15 million metropolis, in which the horrors of this almost forgotten genocide come to life again in the form of photos, documents and objects. One of the founders, the publisher and publicist Mofidul Hoque, describes his goals:

"One of our most important goals is to reach the young generation. We work intensively with the students and try to present the story in an authentically documented way. Those who take the tour of the museum can draw their own conclusions. The former rulers have that Withheld history from the young generation, falsified it, rewritten the textbooks, tried to cover up the genocide, omitted the murder of the intellectuals in the textbooks, portrayed the liberation struggle as a conflict between India and Pakistan, and the atrocities of the Pakistani military have been played down. "

When the British released their old colony of British India into independence in 1947, they created two states with different religions: India with a predominantly Hindu population in the middle and to the west and east of it the two parts of West and East Pakistan, which are almost 2000 kilometers apart Muslim majority. The eastern Bengali part had to adopt Urdu, which is common in the west, as the state language, although it had a larger population than the other part. East Pakistan was treated like a colony by West Pakistan.

The Bengali, who are very conscious of their culture, revolted in the 1950s against the foreign rule of the West Pakistani government and in 1970 gained an absolute majority in the Pakistani parliament with the Awami League. Now their leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, should have become president. However, this was out of the question for the military dictator Yahya Khan and the West Pakistani opposition. Under the pretext of negotiations, they secretly planned a war of extermination against the Awami League, the Bengali elite and the Hindu minority in order to secure their supremacy once and for all. "Killing the Kafirs" - "The murder of the infidels" should be the secret leitmotif of the soldiers. The Bengali, on the other hand, felt cheated of their election victory and protested. The capital was under high tension. At a mass gathering on March 7, 1971, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujib declared:

"Since we have already shed so much blood, we will shed more blood. We will liberate the people of this land. We are now fighting for our liberation. We are now fighting for our independence. Joy Bangla! Victory for Bengal!"

Dhaka University, February 1972: Two months after the Indian army and the Bengali guerrillas defeated the Pakistani soldiers and their collaborators in a blitzkrieg. East Pakistan had become the People's Republic of Bangladesh. A young man, perhaps 19 years old, describes in a voice trembling with anger how in the middle of the night of March 25, 1971, 200 students were shot dead in their sleep in Iqbal Hall alone. Pakistani soldiers had advanced onto campus in tanks and killed hundreds of students and a few professors. They were buried in a mass grave that was quickly dug. When driving through the war-torn land, human skulls, hip bones and scraps of clothing were seen lying in the ditches after the water that had covered these human remains had evaporated. In the meantime many such "killing fields" have been discovered. Monuments to the heroes of the liberation struggle were erected all over the country. But the relatives of the civilian victims are still waiting for justice to this day.

In March of this year, the government of Bangladesh convened a tribunal to bring the Bengali guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, war and other crimes contrary to international law to justice, as the law says. Two months earlier, some of the murderers of the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was shot in 1975, were sentenced to death. The police had been put on high alert about possible assassinations, but it remained calm. Even today, the opposition party BNP, which is close to the political camp of the perpetrators, threatens violent protests. Because the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujib. She won the parliamentary elections in December 2008 by promising to convene a war crimes tribunal with an absolute majority. The first five defendants in the tribunal are leading members of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, which until recently ruled with the BNP. This religious party is said to have links to the al-Qaeda network.

Actually, Bengalis are not prone to violence. They have coexisted peacefully for centuries as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians. They are more likely to be experienced as hot-blooded political disputants, lovers of romantic poetry or good, sometimes corrupt business people, rather than fanatical Muslims. But there is no doubt that the experience of genocide on this scale and the impunity of the perpetrators, which continues to this day, have influenced the political climate of this country and the psyche of the population. Mofidul Hoque of the Liberation Struggle Museum explains why it took 39 years for those responsible for the genocide to be held accountable:

"One of the reasons was that the Pakistani prisoners of war, 200 of whom were charged with genocide, were transferred to Pakistan under a regional agreement, coupled with Pakistan's tacit promise to charge them with genocide. But that trial never took place. For A collaborators law was passed for the local collaborators, many of whom were charged with minor crimes or family and village feuds. When this law became too difficult for the government to deal with, Sheikh Mujib issued an amnesty, which was not for serious ones Crimes such as murder, arson and robbery were counted. After that, the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act was passed in 1973, according to which genocide and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted. But Bangladesh could not lead this process because Sheikh Mujib with his family Was murdered in 1975. Now those came to power who with de n Pakistanis collaborated and established a dictatorial regime. That is why justice has been withheld from us for so many years. "

The number of deaths between March and December 1971 varies between one million and three million people. 200,000 women were raped. Exact numbers do not exist. But in every family of the 150 million people there are victims from this period. In addition, ten million people - mostly Hindus - were displaced across the border into India. Many thousands of villagers also had to flee within the country, they were robbed and their houses set on fire.

The reappraisal of crimes of this magnitude is not enforced by victorious powers as in the case of the Nuremberg Trials; it usually takes time. The new rulers after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib have disguised their fear of revenge and their feelings of guilt towards the victims with religious arguments: They just wanted to preserve the unity of Pakistan as an Islamic state. Mofidul Hoque:

"They changed the constitution and replaced one of the four principles, secularism, with belief in Almighty Allah. And they allowed the religious parties that were previously forbidden to participate in the political process. Everywhere they supported the fundamentalist forces who opposed the basic principles of the creation of Bangladesh, namely democracy, secularism and nationalism. "

The world was actively helping to rebuild Bangladesh: the country received more development and humanitarian aid than any other country. But nobody demanded accountability from the perpetrators. Mofidul Hoque:

“The United Nations did absolutely nothing about genocide. That only changed after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, when the Yugoslav genocide took place in the heart of Europe and the genocide in Rwanda and war crimes tribunals were set up Negotiating genocide requires international consensus, but the UN was divided into a socialist and a western bloc. However, we are now seeing a change at both international and national levels, after the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 1998 the Rome Statute was adopted. And now no country or group that commits genocide will get away with it. These genocidal trials, especially the trial in Cambodia, have inspired our people. "

Flashback: November 1971 - Foreign journalists first encounter the tragedy: a refugee camp on a dry salt lake near Calcutta. A million people camp under the scorching sun, some have sought shelter in concrete tubes, others have already got hold of a tent. There are too few latrines, it stinks to heaven. Dante's inferno must have looked similar. An Indian doctor and a Catholic priest try to alleviate the misery at least a little. Visitors to the refugee camp are shocked, affected and helpless in the face of the outstretched arms of half-starved children and the looks of emaciated old women they are confronted with.

The Indian government and many volunteers have been able to save most of the refugees for the time being. But shortly after the Pakistani army surrendered, they were sent back with a food package on the long walk to their devastated country, which the weakest did not survive. There the families found the remains of their burned down huts, the cattle had perished, their belongings looted and in many cases relatives were no longer alive. But at least they were now living in an independent state. Many of their sons and daughters had worked as guerrilla fighters in the liberation. Video "History of Bangladesh":


"Thousands of young people in the villages joined the freedom fighters. After completing a brief training session, successful operations began. Some areas within the country were liberated."

Nocturnal rifle shots can still be heard after the war. Very proud young men describe their war experiences to foreign journalists. They show the torture chambers within the Pakistani garrisons with traces of blood on the walls and floors. A youth with a soft voice describes in great detail how collaborators captured after the victory were executed. What had happened to the women who were kept as sex slaves in the garrisons: teenage girls who were led away on the street or from their homes by Pakistani soldiers and their Bengali accomplices and then abducted to the garrisons for rape?

In order to make it easier for the female victims to talk about their experiences, lawyers are calling for them to be involved in the upcoming investigations of the tribunal. There are enough highly qualified women lawyers. But the government has not yet considered their nominations. The seven-person prosecution team is all male.

Today Bangladesh can hardly be compared with the battered but liberated country of 1971. At that time, many in the West had almost written it off. In the meantime, the percentage of people below the poverty line has fallen from 70 percent back then to 40 percent now, and the economy is growing by around six percent annually. The head of government just received an award on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York for the fact that Bangladesh has reduced child mortality by two thirds since 1990. The country is expected to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, in particular halving the hungry by 2015. A look also proves the statisticians right: you don't see a child with a bloated, hungry stomach any more, and almost all children, including girls, go to school. However, the economics professor Abul Barkat comes to a different conclusion based on field research:

"You see, the percentages are not so important, with poverty it depends more on the individual. Percentage 30 years ago it could have been 70 percent. 70 percent of then 70 million inhabitants were 49 million, but now 40 percent means Today 150 million inhabitants 60 million poor people. That is why I am more interested in absolute numbers than percentages. In addition, poverty has many facets: poor health and poor education, corruption and a lack of security. What about a family with two educated but unemployed members "And what is the effect of intellectual poverty? While according to official statistics, poverty is decreasing, religious fundamentalism is increasing. I have researched: The reason for religious fundamentalism is poverty."

After Abul Barkat gave a public lecture at the University of Dhaka on how the Islamists, with a network of companies, schools and aid organizations, built their own "economy within the economy" that is growing twice as fast as the official one, he received and his family received multiple death threats over the phone. Abul Barkat:

"20 percent of their funds are spent on politics. And there is a close relationship between them and militant fundamentalism. Because of their efficiency and ideological motivation, they try to use religion to take power in the state."

Is the danger of Islamization of the country really that great? Experienced human rights activist and lawyer Sultana Kamal:

"Islamization is on the rise. Unfortunately, this has been supported by previous governments. A government has formed an alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami with the clear aim of Islamizing Bangladesh. Most of our institutions have been reshaped along this line. But on the other hand, I firmly believe that the people in Bangladesh will not accept anything that is excessive or extreme, especially in the religious field, because the people here believe in a liberal religion.

The Supreme Court has since invalidated the constitutional amendments following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which eliminated secularism and legalized military coups. The war crimes tribunal investigators are hot on the heels of one of the main culprits of the genocide, former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Ghulam Azam. They visited mass graves and prisons in different parts of the country and interviewed many witnesses. The indictment is imminent. The country's authorities have been instructed not to allow any person on a list of suspected war criminals to travel outside the country.