DAWN - Opinion; August 6, 2002

Published Aug 06, 2002 12:00am

Those eventful years

By Shahid Javed Burki


MIRZA Muzaffar Ahmad — known mostly as MM to his friends and admirers — died in a hospital in suburban Washington on July 22. He had been unwell for several months not because of any disease. He was just weighed down by age and by his concern for Pakistan, a country he dearly loved and to the service of which he devoted his entire and extremely productive life.

MM was born on February 28, 1913, in Qadian, India. He was educated first at Government College, Lahore, and later in Britain’s London and Oxford Universities. He joined the Indian Civil Service — the ICS — in 1939. The 1939 “batch” was the last one to be recruited by the British to the premier administrative service. By recruiting Indians to the ICS, the British aimed to “Indianize” the administrative structure that was regarded as the “steel frame” in their rule of India. This process of “Indianization” was disrupted by the Second World War. When it resumed after the war was over it took a different form since the ICS was opened to the personnel of other services.

The ICS was dissolved in 1947 when the British left India. Its members were invited to opt for service in one of the two successor states — to serve either in India, a predominantly Hindu country, or to go to Pakistan, a country carved out specifically for the Muslim citizens of British India. Eighty one ICS officers, including MM Ahmad, opted for service in Pakistan. Those who chose to come to Pakistan formed the core of a new central service initially called the Pakistan Administrative Service. Later, the PAS was rechristened as the Civil Service of Pakistan, the CSP.

Most of this contingent of highly able and trained civil servants who opted for service in Pakistan were to play important roles in establishing the state of Pakistan. Most of them went to Karachi, the country’s first capital. MM chose instead to go to Lahore, the capital of the part of Punjab that was attached to Pakistan. Among the positions MM held in Lahore was that of secretary of finance. Later, he went to Islamabad, Pakistan’s second capital, where he served in a number of senior positions, including secretary of commerce, secretary of finance, and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. When General Yahya Khan deposed President Ayub Khan and placed Pakistan under martial law, MM was appointed adviser to the new president and given the rank of a federal minister.

MM served in that capacity until the outbreak of the civil war between East and West Pakistan. He went to Washington soon after that fateful event and joined the World Bank’s board as executive director responsible for Pakistan and a number of other Muslim countries. Pakistan lost its seat on the Bank’s board when Bangladesh became independent and decided to join the constituency led by India. MM stayed on in Washington and was elected deputy executive secretary of the joint ministerial committee of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, better known as the Development Committee. He retired from that position in 1984.

I got to know MM Ahmad well over the years. Although I was 21 years his junior in the CSP, I had the opportunity to work with him on several occasions. The first time I came in close contact with him was in 1969 when the martial law government of General Yahya Khan decided to undo the “One Unit” of West Pakistan. This was a momentous decision, the full import of which was not recognized by the military government.

The creation of the “One Unit” of West Pakistan was a part of the delicate balance between political forces that dominated Pakistan after the country achieved independence. The task of constitution-making had been made difficult by the leaders of West Pakistan — especially those who belonged to Punjab — who were not prepared to accept any arrangement on the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments that would make East Pakistan the dominant force in the country’s political structure. That would have happened had the provinces of Pakistan been allowed representation in the national legislature on the basis of population. In that case East Pakistan, with more people than all the provinces and states of West Pakistan combined, would have gained the majority of seats in the national parliament.

This situation was not acceptable to Punjab. A compromise was reached on the basis of what came to be called the “parity formula” according to which the country was to have two federating units, East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Each unit was to have equal representation in the national legislature. This led to the creation of the One Unit of West Pakistan in 1956. In 1958, Pakistan promulgated its first constitution.

The parity formula survived the demise of the constitution of 1956 and the establishment of a new political structure under the constitution of 1962. However, the highly centralized political structure under the military government created a number of problems. President Ayub Khan totally dominated the federal government and Governors Amir Muhammad Khan of Kalabagh and Abdul Monem Khan ruled West and East Pakistan respectively with an equal amount of authority. Concentration of so much power in three pairs of hands did not sit well with the people. In East Pakistan resentment built up against Islamabad’s domination and the smaller provinces of West Pakistan were alienated by the highly authoritarian rule of Nawab of Kalabgh. On coming to power, Yahya Khan responded to these concerns by scrapping the “parity” arrangement between East and West Pakistan and by dissolving the West Pakistan One Unit.

The difficult task of dismantling the One Unit was entrusted to a committee of officials headed by MM Ahmad. MM represented Punjab while Ghulam Ishaq Khan represented the Frontier Province, A.G.N. Kazi, Sindh and Yusuf Achkzai Balochitsn. The committee’s secretariat had four officials: Zahur Azhar, Dr. Humayun Khan, Dr. Tariq Siddiqui and myself. The committee’s task was a complex one. It had not only to dismantle the One Unit arrangement but also to create four new provinces by merging the old princely states with the directly administered areas.

MM Ahmad was equal to the task. For several weeks with patience, dignity and intelligence — three distinguishing traits of his personality — he guided the ‘One Unit dissolution committee’, towards resolving all outstanding issues in time set by the Yahya government. The committee’s plan went into effect on July 1, 1970, when West Pakistan “One Unit” was dissolved and all power was transferred to the provinces of Balochistan, the North-west Frontier Province, Punjab and Sindh.

My second close association with MM occurred during the same period when he was entrusted with the delicate task of getting the governments of East and West Pakistan to accept the macroeconomic framework developed by the Planning Commission for the Fourth Five-Year Plan. The plan was to run for the period between 1970 and 1975. By the time the Planning Commission revealed its approach, the citizens of East Pakistan had been convinced that the remarkable economic performance of the western wing of the country was sustained by the resources garnered from their province. They wanted this bias to be corrected during the five years of the Fourth Plan.

Two panels of economists were set up, one chaired by Dr Pervez Hasan, West Pakistan’s Chief Economist, and the other by Professor Nurul Islam, a Bengali economist, to resolve the differences between the two provinces. Not surprisingly, the two panels arrived at different conclusions. Hasan’s panel did not reject the view that public sector expenditure had played a role in the rapid economic growth of the western province. However, it also emphasized the decisive part played by the private sector. The Bengali economists argued that much of West Pakistan’s better performance was the result of large public sector investments which had been financed by external capital flows which the central government had largely directed towards that province.

Once again, MM Ahmad stepped into the breach to resolve the dispute between the two groups of experts and the two provinces they represented. As the economic adviser to Governor Nur Khan of West Pakistan, I attended several meetings chaired by MM to develop a consensus between the two provinces of the country. He laboured hard to arrive at an agreement but did not succeed as the political temperature was constantly rising. In the fall of 1970, East Pakistan’s coastal areas were hit by a devastating cyclone that left a million people dead. The tardy response of the central government to this great human tragedy further soured relations between the two provinces. The rest, as they say, is history.

My closest association with MM occurred when, in 1981, I was made responsible for representing the World Bank on the secretariat of the Development Committee. MM at that point was the deputy executive secretary of the committee. The committee, straddling between the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, was charged by its members to improve understanding on a number of important issues between the governments of the developed and developing parts of the world. The beginning of the decade of the eighties saw many developing countries faced with difficult times. Much of Latin America was ravaged by the problem of debt incurred to sustain imports while the price of oil increased four-fold. World trade, recognized as an important source of growth for the developing world, was doing little for the commodity exporters of the developing world.

Official development assistance, once promised to increase steadily and significantly, had stagnated. The Development Committee’s agenda was getting long with difficult subjects being added constantly to it. MM played an extremely important role in helping the governments to understand that they had to work together to bring about sustained growth all over the world.

It soon became clear to us — to MM and myself — that we needed a strong developing country person to chair the committee and guide its deliberations. We turned to Ghulam Ishaq Khan who was at that time finance minister of Pakistan. Ishaq and MM were good friends and it was because of that friendship that the former agreed to contest the election of the chairmanship of the Development Committee. MM was instrumental in getting all the governments represented on the committee to agree to Ishaq Khan’s candidature. The Pakistani finance minister was elected by a unanimous vote. Helped by MM, Ishaq performed impressively in that position, winning the respect of both developed and developing countries. He was re-elected for a second term and continued in that position even after he left the finance ministry and became chairman of the Senate in Pakistan.

I offer these recollections to the readers of Dawn to celebrate the life of M. M. Ahmad, most of which was spent in the service of his country. MM gave all he had to Pakistan.

Where tradition counts

By Dr. Adrian A. Husain


FEW will disagree that it was the nineties that actually witnessed the official birth of Pakistan’s frivolous carpe diem philosophy. A national window was opened on an improbable el dorado. Laissez-faire became, albeit a little extravagantly, the order of the day. As the regulatory machinery of the state grew more tractable than ever before, credit became readily and inexhaustibly available.

Businesses, big and small, flourished. Money, black as well as clean, was in plenty. Economically at least, the country felt it was going places.

However, all that changed when Nawaz Sharif overstepped the mark, pitting, once too often, his own against military muscle and plunging the country into crisis. With an apt sense of history like that of his military forbears, Gen. Musharraf came, in true deus ex machina-style, to the rescue. The balloon of affluence was at the behest of the IMF, duly punctured. Make-believe, along with Pakistan’s supposed heyday, came to an abrupt end.

Today, many of us see Gen. Musharraf as the antithesis of Nawaz Sharif or, in other words, as a harbinger of a no-nonsense realism, financial discipline and stability. Whether this is in fact so is another matter. It may be that this perception is partly attributable to the traditional authoritarian ‘lid’ having been put on things and our being none the wiser for it.

Whatever the case, while we continue to believe in the general’s earnestness of purpose, his conviction that he can effectively imposed order on what he perceives as possible chaos in the sphere of governance by giving the Constitution a new face is a little disturbing. There is something a trifle quixotic about it. Also, there is a hint of a paradox about one who, for whatever reasons, having himself acted in violation of the country’s Constitution three years ago, appears today almost overzealous in his desire to put it right.

What the good general seems to be ignoring is the fact that constitution-making or amending is entirely conditional upon the upholding of the rule of law. We can frame any number of constitutions or amend the existing one to any degree we like but the fact remains that the exercise will only prove worthwhile if practical adherence to constitutionality is guaranteed in the future.

It was, for instance, not a constitutional flaw that prompted Nawaz Sharif to run amok the last time round. That was made possible by his legendary ‘mandate’ which had provided him with the two-thirds majority necessary for amending the Constitution, enabling him to enhance prime ministerial control.

That mandate itself was part of a ‘grand plan’ which had been conceived in high places and was accordingly executed by players who are well known. According to that plan, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were to enjoy power for specified periods of time while the ‘new order’, involving the Taliban and others of their ilk, was allowed to mature. Fortunately for ourselves, 9/11 intervened and preempted that eventuality.

Who or what, then, is to blame? The country’s Constitution? Or those who have thought fit to interfere with the electoral process so as to perpetuate their own political control? From the time of Ghulam Mohammed onwards, ours has, on the whole, been a history made up of abortive trysts with power. So, instead of engaging in further clever but dangerous power games, we could perhaps be confronting some relevant realities.

We could, for a start, be considering what, in the broadest of terms, constitutions might seem to represent. They are, at some level, the repositories of national conscience. They mirror our intent to do good by ourselves as a collective social entity. They define the parameters by which, as a body politic, we resolve to live with dignity, decency and equity. Equally important, they are a reflection of the general will which, according to Rousseau, is inalienable.

It might be useful for us, in our present context, to contemplate what Rousseau says in his Social Contract: “... when the social bond begins to be relaxed and the state to grow weak, when particular interests begin to make themselves felt and the smaller societies to exercise an influence over the larger, the common interest changes and finds opponents: opinion is no longer unanimous; the general will ceases to be the will of all; contradictory views and debates arise; and the best advice is not taken without question. Finally ... when ... the meanest interest brazenly lays hold of the sacred name of ‘public good’, the general will becomes mute... Does it follow from this that the general will is exterminated or corrupted? Not at all: it is always constant, unalterable, and pure; but it is subordinated to other wills which encroach upon its sphere.”

This suggests that parliament is the only proper forum for making constitutional modifications. The social bond itself bespeak not “contradictory views and debates” such as we are seeing today at the instance of Gen. Musharraf but a bonafide consensus — a condition met, years ago, even by Gen Ziaul Haq. Rather than be content with a kind of informal media referendum as regards his proposed constitutional reforms, this is the kind of consensus Gen. Musharraf should also be seeking. Otherwise, he runs the risk of going counter to the spirit of federalism which animates our Constitution. A federal system demands, more perhaps than one that is unitary, affirmation with one voice, indeed, in our case, quadrilaterally so.

Let us not forget here that unanimity of a unique kind in our history was achieved when the sovereign entered into a social contract with itself and Pakistan’s Constitution was ratified by members of parliament representing all four federating units of the country in 1973. That Constitution is still there for us to follow. It must be restored.

If we are concerned about having a system with due checks and balances which will prevent future prime ministers from going overboard, we could refer the matter to the new parliament after the October elections. There is no reason why it should be resistant to proposals for constitutional change which might, within the framework of the 1973 Constitution, provide the country with a system which will actually work. Patriotism is nobody’s preserve.

Why, then, the assumption that a future house of parliament is going to prove recalcitrant or hostile to the national interest? Why the desperate haste to amend the Constitution? In any case, coercive power resides with the president and will continue to do so at least as long as the present holder of that office remains COAS. So anxiety on this score would not really seem to be in order. The president should, on the contrary, be confident of extracting precisely the sort of constitutional dispensation he is after from the country’s next elected parliament.

He should certainly strive for parliamentary consensus on the question of reinforcing the office of president. None of us surely wants Z.A. Bhutto’s or Nawaz Sharif’s choice of a dummy of president. We are all, in fact, more or less agreed that, in principle, the quantum of presidential power needs to be strategically enhanced so as to allow for a more balanced political system and forestall further cataclysms involving the state.

It would help, though, to promote relativism as opposed to absolutism in our thinking with a view to guarding against believing in the ‘perfect’ or ‘foolproof’ system when there is no such thing. And, given the pivotal nature of the military factor, it would, ultimately, make most sense to let military power be effectively on the side of the president and leave the rest to fate.

Apart from this, there is little we can do other than attempt, as proof that we have learnt from past mistakes, to practically, evolve a healthy parliamentary tradition and work towards a genuine separation of powers as has long been our avowed constitutional goal.

Image-making: ALL OVER THE PLACE

By Omar Kureishi


THE White House is to set up a new office to try to salvage America’s plummeting image abroad. This is a good first step because half the battle is won when it is acknowledged that the rest of the world does not share the exalted opinion that the Americans have of themselves.

The taskforce that was set up on America’s image has reported that even its allies see the US as “arrogant”, “hypocritical” and “self-absorbed”.

I have some experience of image-building, albeit on a microscopic scale. Image is about perception, the reality may be something else. When I joined PIA in 1959, we needed to convince our own travelling public that PIA was a safe airline. Thus, like charity, image-building began at home. PIA had to be a good ‘product’. ‘Selling’ PIA abroad presented a more difficult problem because the national image passed on to the airline. Third World countries, with their own airlines, were considered upstarts and a bit of a joke. It was because these Third World countries were perceived to be mendicants, forever soliciting handouts, they were also technological duffers, manifestly unfit to fly something as sophisticated as modern aircraft. There were other negative factors. The more established airlines, American and European, circulated the slander, that Third World airlines were prestige carriers, showing the flag and were flying-embassies.

A foreign visitor to Karachi was dismayed by the public transport system and the deadliness of it. He asked me with alarm: “If you can’t run a decent bus service, how the hell do you expect me to believe that you can run an airline?” There were nasty jokes. About Air India and PIA, it would be said that they were alright, “if you liked the smell of curry”. About African airlines, that instead of a menu, they offered you the passenger list!

America’s image-problem is in reverse. It is the most powerful country, militarily, on earth. It was the first country with the atomic bomb and it actually dropped it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and showed no regrets for doing so but in fact became even more conceited.

America is also an economic superpower. In my book, As Time Goes By which is about the United States in the late forties and early fifties, I wrote: “America’s secular religion was Free Enterprise and rugged individualism its perfect blessing, at the grassroots, the morning hopes and evening dreams, there was the simple faith in ‘our way of doing things’, a belief in happy endings that was ‘the American way of life.’

“Everything that was good and plentiful, every bounty, every gift of love stemmed from Free Enterprise as did America’s supreme inventiveness. Not to believe in Free Enterprise, the mystique, was to be un-American and to be un-American was to be godless. It, therefore, followed that whatever was wrong and cruel and corrosive and violent had nothing to do with Free Enterprise. It was the handiwork of heretics and infidels and non-believers, more specifically, it was the downfall into socialism, whose Pope was Joseph Stalin.”

It is these certainties, military and economic, that America flaunts and which makes its people believe that there is something special about its country. And it is a ‘special’ country if materialism, the profit-motive, was the highest virtue. But there is much else in this world.

I was lucky to have spent my formative years in the United States. I had gone there with an open mind and discovered in those years, that the good outweighed the bad, the bad included McCarthyism and the Korean war. The good included Walt Whitman’s “varied carols” and Scott Fitzgerald’s “willingness of the heart”. It was a feel-good country. But those were young and more than anything else, it was Vietnam that made me take the blinkers off. That the greatest democracy in the world should have caused so much misery to a poor, wretched country, that it should have waged a modern war, with no holds barred, including napalm and Agent Orange, was not something to be admired. But tragically, it learnt nothing from that misadventure. Vietnam conclusively proved that military might was not a solution. It was a problem.

The United States is now engaged in a war against terror. This is an open-ended war against a faceless enemy. This is not a war that will be won or lost on the battle-field. Almost a year has passed since September 11, 2001. It is time to take fresh stock, to rethink foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East where blind support for Ariel Sharon ensures more, not less, terrorism. In changing America’s image, the Middle East would be a good starting point; that the Palestinians are human beings, that when their women and children are killed, they feel the same wrench of sadness, as do other human beings. To be arrogant is not necessarily a bad thing, to be a bully is. It is this distinction that needs to be addressed. In influencing events, it is also necessary to make friends, not subjects.

Industrial pollution

INDUSTRIAL PLANTS can kill. Leaks occasionally lead to neighborhood disease clusters. Renegade chemical plumes can choke to death hundreds or even thousands of people in surrounding homes.

So who should know about the chemicals these plants contain? The government? The public? Osama bin Laden? These days, sadly, such questions resonate with a bigger one: Where do we draw the lines between security and liberty, now that large-scale terrorism has reached the United States?

The chemical security bill, now in the hands of the full Senate, would identify the plants that posed the greatest danger, require them to assess their vulnerability to terrorist attack using a step-by-step protocol devised by the American Chemical Council, compel them to hire guards or in other ways improve security and require that a basic outline of their risk assessments be made public.

This sort of sensible fine-tuning of the balance between security imperatives and democratic freedoms has become more complex and critical in the age of terrorism.

— The WashingtonPost

Coming to terms with past misdeeds: WORLD VIEW

By Mahir Ali


THE stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.—Thomas Szasz

FIFTY-SEVEN years ago today, Hiroshima ceased to be a town and became a symbol instead. While watching the events of September 11 unfold last year, the writer John Berger was reminded of August 6, 1945.

“The immediate correspondences between the two events,” he says, “include a fireball descending without warning from a clear sky, both attacks being timed to coincide with the civilians of the targeted city going to work in the morning, with the shops opening, with children in school preparing their lessons. A similar reduction to ashes, with bodies, flung through the air, becoming debris. A comparable incredulity and chaos provoked by a new weapon of destruction being used for the first time.”

There is a vast disparity between the scale of destruction, of course. The bomb in Hiroshima cost 100,000 lives on impact, and the same number of people died subsequently of radiation. Ninety-five per cent of them were civilians. The military director of the Manhattan Project informed US congressmen that radiation is “a very pleasant way to die”.

Three days later, the citizens of Nagasaki found out what the citizens of Hiroshima already knew: that it is scarcely possible to imagine a more painful death than that by radiation; that the tens of thousands who died instantly were the lucky ones.

The following year the US Strategic Bombing Survey decided that “Japan would have surrendered even if atomic bombs had not been dropped”. That has widely — but by no means universally — been acknowledged in the US ever since. It is likely that Harry Truman knew exactly what he was doing: sanctioning mass murder as a means of sending a message about American military supremacy to Josef Stalin.

“The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki announced that the US was henceforth the supreme armed power in the world,” according to Berger. “The attack of September 11 announced that this power was no longer guaranteed invulnerability on its home ground. The two events mark the beginning and end of a certain historical period.”

That may be so, but there’s a broader subtext here which suggests that September 11 may never have occurred but for the train of events set in motion on August 6, 1945 — the nuclear arms race, the cold war, the quest for world dominance. The US and Japan have been economic and political allies since the late 1940s; nearly 60 years after the war, there is still a substantial American military presence in the East Asian state. Yet the US has never formally apologized for its gratuitous use of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as testing grounds for its first generation of atomic weapons.

Of course, the US is by no means the only nation that has been reluctant to make amends for its misdeeds. It deserves special mention only because its litany of misdeeds is exceptionally extensive. Most nations have something or the other to be sorry for, and the vast majority of them are reluctant to admit as much even long after the events that provide cause for complaint. For example, it took Belgium 40 years to accept responsibility for its efforts, in collusion with the CIA, to thwart democracy in the Republic of Congo, and its role in the murder of Patrice Lumumba. And, apart from individual mea culpas, neither France nor the US has done the decent thing in respect of the Vietnamese.

Pakistan falls in a similar category vis-a-vis Bangladesh. At least it did until last week, when General Pervez Musharraf, upon landing in Dhaka, reportedly went straight from the airport to the National Martyrs Memorial at Savar on the outskirts of the capital city to lay a wreath. He wrote in the official visitors’ book: “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pains of the events of 1971. The excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regrettable.” He added: “Let us bury the past in the spirit of magnanimity”, and noted that the “courage to compromise is greater than to confront”. At a banquet in his honour, he underlined the need to overcome “the sorrow and the bitterness of our past”.

Musharraf deserves to be commended for taking steps that no previous Pakistani head of state or government dared to contemplate. Contrition and remorse ought to have been expressed 28 years ago, when prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stood arm in arm on a balcony in the Shalimar Gardens during the 1974 Islamic summit in Lahore.

Mujib’s dramatic arrival in the land where he had been held captive three years earlier had involved a spot of shuttle diplomacy by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and Bhutto later travelled to Dhaka. The Pakistani and Bangladeshi leaders both owed their mandate to the December 1970 elections, and the talks between them are likely to at least have touched upon the events of 1971. But history does not record whether Bhutto — who had played a crucial role in contributing to the circumstances that led to the military crackdown in March 1971 — at any point expressed any sort of regrets to Mujib.

If the dictates of democracy had been followed, Mujib would have become the prime minister of Pakistan and Bhutto the leader of the opposition — and it is just possible that both of them would have lived to a ripe old age. What we got instead was a bloodbath in East Pakistan, and (by and large) silent acquiescence on the other side of the divide. It is certainly possible that if people in West Pakistan had a clearer idea of the nature and extent of the atrocities being perpetrated in their name upon Bengalis, many of them would have opted to register their protest. However, the fact is that anger and compunctions were restricted to a minuscule section of the intelligentsia.

Hindsight and the publication of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission’s report have made a difference, but the popular perception of 1971 has not been profoundly altered. Bizarre attempts persist to posit some kind of moral equivalence between attacks by Bengali militants against the civilians of West Pakistani origin and the largely Punjabi-Pushtoon army’s genocidal campaign. This is absurd: even if one ignores the disparities in scale, it seldom makes sense to draw analogies between the violence of the oppressed (no matter how indefensible) and that of the oppressor.

It is equally preposterous to perpetuate the myth that India initiated the hostilities on its western front in December 1971. It did intervene in the east without being militarily provoked, although refugees were pouring into West Bengal by the time New Delhi decided to throw its weight behind the Mukti Bahini. Whatever Indira Gandhi’s motivations, the fact — unpalatable though it may be to many Pakistanis — is that India’s intervention abbreviated the conflict. Its prolongation would have cost even more lives, mainly on the Bengali side. Bangladesh would probably have won liberation anyhow, but it would have had to pay a far greater price.

The surrender of December 16 came as a shock to many West Pakistanis, who had been led to believe by the official propaganda machinery and the national media that victory was at hand; but it may well have been the most sensible decision General Niazi ever made in his military career.

It is also worth noting that, alarmed though it may have been at the risk of infection from the revolutionary upsurge on its eastern flank, India did not seek to occupy East Bengal. Furthermore, Mrs Gandhi and her principal advisers, P.N. Haksar and D.P. Dhar, rejected gung-ho demands for India to exploit its upper hand in the conflict by continuing to wage war on the western front.

Pakistan was unequivocally in the wrong in 1971. This has never been explicitly acknowledged at an official level. Musharraf’s evocative but imprecise analogy of “a family town faced by a whirlwind of unfortunate events”, like everything else he said on the subject in Bangladesh, was peppered with a generous dose of ambiguity. There was no mention of the long history of inequality and discrimination within the “family”. And when the privileged half of a family town resorts to mass murder in its attempt to subjugate its restless relatives, that’s more than an “unfortunate event” — it’s a crime against humanity which the euphemism “excesses” does not adequately reflect.

“It takes time for truth and wisdom to reassert their sway,” Musharraf said. “It takes time for peace, real peace and reconciliation to return. That time, I believe, has come.” That may be so, except that truth and wisdom haven’t yet reasserted their sway. Not sufficiently at any rate. But even though he did not go far enough, Pakistan’s military ruler has taken a significant step in the right direction. His expression of “regrets” — which falls well short of an apology, because the latter would involve the acceptance of blame — was welcomed by the Bangladesh government and certain other sections of society, but found wanting by organizations such as the Awami League and the Communist Party. No surprises there. The issues of assets, war reparations and the fate of the Biharis were raised, mostly at an informal level, and left unaddressed. No surprises there either.

Now it is being said that the time has come to forgive and forget. Well, forgiveness is more or less exclusively the prerogative of the people of Bangladesh. As far as forgetting is concerned, Bangladesh cannot and Pakistan must not. The whole truth about 1971 has never fully entered our consciousness or been allowed to become a part of our collective memory; there is therefore a need to come to terms with what happened and to understand why it occurred rather than to lose sight of it.

Besides, the observation that nations which forget their past are condemned to repeat it broadly holds true. And one would like to think that prospect hardly bears contemplation.


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