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The apology issue

November 10, 2012

IT is a welcome sign that, despite the deep grudge many in Bangladesh still bear against the West Pakistani military action of 1971, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has reportedly accepted Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s invitation to attend the D-8 summit in Islamabad this month. Dhaka would like a proper apology from the Pakistani government for the large-scale killing of Bengalis. It was not satisfied with then president Gen (retd) Musharraf’s expression of “regret” in 2002. According to the Bangladesh foreign secretary, “some unresolved issues” still exist although, he says, Ms Khar stated that Pakistan had “regretted in different forms and … it was time to move on”. The debate by academicians and propagandists on both sides will continue; they will fight over the actual number — in thousands for some, millions for others — of Bengalis killed while resisting the injustices perpetrated on them by an insensitive western wing. What cannot be denied is that brute military force was used to exterminate activists, intellectuals and ordinary supporters of what was united Pakistan’s largest political party, and that consequently led to Indian action and the creation of Bangladesh.

On its part Pakistan must recognise the wrongs committed by its leadership during those days, and issue a full-fledged apology — not just expressions of regret — that is acceptable to Dhaka. In doing so, it would be joining the ranks of other countries and institutions that have been courageous enough to admit the historical wrongs they have committed in order to give both themselves and the victim nation a chance to move on. The Vatican has apologised for the actions of Catholics who persecuted non-Catholics, and expressed sorrow over the attack on Constantinople during the Crusades. Japan has apologised to Koreans for wartime aggression. It is time for Pakistan, too, to come to terms with its past.