Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bangladesh: A Nation Divided? – Part 4

How many people died in the civil war of 1971 in East Pakistan that culminated in the emergence of Bangladesh? Is the casualty figure even important?

No official record exists. Instead, what we have are conflicting claims on the two sides – the perpetrators and the victims - that are off by a factor of 100!

As has been noted in the Guardian, UK (May 23, 2011) by Mr. Serajur Rahman, who was the deputy head of the BBC Bangla Program, when Sheikh Mujib arrived in London (after being released from Pakistan prison) on January 8, 1972 and was met at the Claridge Hotel by many Bangladeshis, he was informed there that based on information from various sources that up to "three lakh" (300,000) people might have died in the conflict. However, during his interview with journalist David Frost later, Sheikh Mujib was heard saying that "three millions of my people" were killed by the Pakistanis. That mention of the 3 million casualties would eventually become the official version in Bangladesh. As we have already noted the Hamoodur Rahman Commission (HCR) Report in Pakistan, in contrast, puts the figure at only 26,000.

This gross anomaly with the casualty figures reminds me of the response I wrote to al-Ittihad (a Quarterly Journal of Islamic Studies, published from the USA) back in December 1980 challenging its editor - M. Tariq Quraishi’s views on the split of Pakistan. In the July-September, 1980 issue, Mr. Quraishi, commenting on Sheikh Mujib’s assassination, had stated, “Mujibur Rahman’s honeymoon with his people was of short duration. Once his treason was exposed, he was assassinated.” I was then a graduate student at the University of California, and found the remark absurd. In my letter, published under the title “Who was the traitor?” (al-Ittihad, vol. 18, no. 2, 1981, pp. 45-6), I wrote, “Muslims would like to know the real reasons that brought the emergence of Bangladesh, not lies. The second largest Muslim country [Bangladesh] came into being not for the so-called ‘treason’ of Sk. Mujib. It was solely owing to the mass extermination of Bangalis (3 million people were killed, 0.2 million women were raped, 90% of these victims were Muslims) by the heinous un-Islamic forces of Pakistan’s Army to preserve the Yahya-Bhutto brand of Islam. Bangladesh would have stayed with Pakistan had her rulers respected the majority wish (i.e., transfer of power to the Awami League, which captured 160 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly election of 1970)…. During the first 25 days of March, hundreds of innocent people were killed in several cities of the then East Pakistan by the Pakistani forces. The time was ripe for Sk. Mujib to declare independence during this period, had he really wished. But he did not. He fell victim to Yahya’s satanic ‘time-buying’ phony talks. The result was the genocide of an un-prepared people by a minority. The very night of March 25, when the blood-thirsty Pakistan Army, under the satanic guidance of Generals Hamid and Tikka Khan started killing its ‘24-year twin-brothers,’ the unity of Pakistan was dead; a new generation of nationalist Bangladeshis was born, which eventually led to the emergence of Bangladesh…”

In his long response to my letter, Mr. Quraishi, quoted at length from Dr. Matiur Rahman’s book – Bangladesh Today – an indictment and a lament – trying to prove that the hegemonic tendency of India was at the root of the split and that one of the latter’s objectives was to “embitter relationship between east and west Pakistan so that any reconciliation between them would be rendered impossible. This last objective could be realized only by means of a civil war, in which each side would commit unforgivable atrocities, perpetrate crimes against humanity, which would continue to hurt them as memories long…” (al-Ittihad, op. cit., pp. 46-49)

While Dr. Rahman may be absolutely right about the intentions of India to see Pakistan divided, it would be foolish to overlook the culpability of West Pakistani leaders whose attitude towards East Pakistan had been anything but brotherly. To put it bluntly, it was colonial, which had only widened the gap between the two wings ensuring that the majority wing had no participation in the governance of the country. Pakistan’s colonial policy was simply unsustainable for a geographically divided third world country. And the 1970 election result was a rude awakening call for mending the broken fences; it was Pakistan’s last best hope to remain united. By refusing to address the disparity issue that was at the heart of East Pakistani grievances, Pakistani leaders played into the hands of India, giving a reality to their strategic dream of a dismembered Pakistan, which they hate to confess. They also forgot to learn from history that whenever any government becomes destructive of its people's inalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, it has ceased its right to govern, and that people has every right to alter or abolish it.

Dr. Rahman’s claims that Sheikh Mujib refused to accept premiership of united Pakistan and that “Each concession extracted from Yahya Khan was used as a springboard for the next demand” seem too ludicrous to be taken seriously. As reviewed earlier, General Yahya Khan wanted to retain power while Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wanted to attain it. The transfer of power to Sheikh Mujib was not part of that formula; the powerful civilian-military clique in Larkana and Islamabad had no wish to transfer power to Mujib. Had they done so, Pakistan would have survived and remained united. My view on this matter has not changed in the last four decades and has been echoed recently by B. Z. Khasru and many other researchers. In his book, Myths and Facts of Bangladesh Liberation War: How India, U.S., China and the USSR shaped the outcome, Khasru shows that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had a tacit preference to let East Pakistan secede (and leave West Pakistan to be governed by him) than be the subject to a weak federation ruled by Bengalis. Bhutto preferred power over unity of Pakistan. Yahya Khan’s allusion to Mujib as the future PM of Pakistan was more to scare the politicians in West Pakistan and the army to unite behind him than to hand-over power.

As to the casualty figure, Mr. Quraishi commented, “Again the figure of three million Bengalis killed by the Pakistani troops, as alleged by you, is an echo of the infamies created India and her anti-Islamic troupe.” He went on to write, “No wonder even the subsequent government in Bangladesh, despite its venom, could not corroborate it. Mr. Matiur Rahman quotes William Drummond of the Guardian, London, June 6, 1972: ‘My judgment, based on numerous trips around Bangladesh and extensive discussions with many people at the village level as well as in the government, is that the three million deaths is an exaggeration so gross as to be absurd. Since the third week of March (1972), when the inspector general’s office in Bangladesh home ministry began its field investigations, there have been about 2,000 complaints from citizens about the deaths at the hands of the Pakistan Army.’” (Op. cit., p. 48; William Drummond, The Missing Millions, The Guardian, London, 6 June, 1972.)

As to the matter of allegations relating to rape of Bangladeshi women, the HRC Report said, “The falsity of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's repeated allegation that Pakistani troops had raped 200,000 Bengali girls in 1971 was borne out when the abortion team he had commissioned from Britain in early 1972 found that its workload involved the termination of only a hundred or more pregnancies.”

One can understand why raped victims would not come forward because of the social stigma that they might face in a conservative Muslim society like Bangladesh. One can also disagree with the HRC Report, accusing it to be highly biased to save the neck or skin of the war criminals of the Pakistan military apparatus. But, what about the Guardian’s William Drummond? Can he be accused of twisting facts? I was somewhat dumbfounded by such citations of which I had no knowledge. I needed to do my homework and check the veracity of claims and counterclaims on either side from both available and reliable sources.

It is true that within the days of his return to Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had asked the Awami League workers and elected members of the 1970 election to collect detailed reports on genocide, arson and looting committed by the Pakistani Army in Bangladesh and to submit those data to the Awami League Office within 15 days. (The Bangladesh Observer, January 16, 1972) He also formally instituted a 12-member Inquiry Committee on January 29, 1972. However, the Government of Bangladesh never said a word about officially receiving the report, which was, as per the original Gazette notification, due on or before 30 April 1972 or what happened to the Inquiry Committee's work.

In January 1972 Sheikh Mujib also announced a compensation scheme for the families of those who had been killed at the hands of the Pakistan Army and their collaborators. Under the scheme, every victim's family was promised TK 2,000 (taka) as compensation. A media campaign was started to encourage victim's families to apply for the compensation. However, as per Ministry of Finance, Government of Bangladesh, only 72,000 claims were received. The relatives of 50,000 victims were awarded the declared sum of money. [Behind the Myth of Three million by M. Abdul Mu'min Chowdhury, p. 29]

In Chittagong, during the military occupation, one of our female Bengali tenants was abducted by Urdu-speaking Razakars. After the liberation, several women, once kept as sex slaves of the military, were reportedly rescued from various army camps. Some of the victims even included wives of fleeing Bengali officers and soldiers who had joined the liberation war. They were given the honorific title of Birangana (or heroine) to alleviate any social stigma that they might face in the society, and the government tried to provide incentives for their repatriation into the society.

Regrettably, no further Bangladesh government initiative was launched to record the casualty figures about the dead or raped victims of the 1971 War of Liberation in Bangladesh.

In late June of 2005 the Office of the Historian of the United States Department of State held a two-day conference on U.S. policy in South Asia between 1961 and 1972. Bangladeshi speakers at the conference stated that the official Bangladeshi figure of civilian deaths was close to 300,000, which was wrongly translated from Bengali into English as three million. Ambassador Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury acknowledged that Bangladesh alone cannot correct this mistake and suggested that Pakistan and Bangladesh should form a joint commission to investigate the 1971 disaster and prepare a report. A 2008 study in the British Medical Journal concluded that 269,000 civilians were killed by all sides in the war.

In her recently published book “Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War,” Dr. Sarmila Bose (who is a senior research associate at Oxford University) has also challenged the Bangladesh government’s official figures on death casualty and rape victims. She estimates that during the conflict of 1971 a total of somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 combatants and non-combatants perished on all sides. She also raises troubling questions about veracity – a massacre said to have killed 8,000 Hindus probably killed only 16 at most – as well as its effect.

Dr. Bose says that both Pakistan and Bangladesh are still “imprisoned by wartime partisan myths". She has also recorded cases of Bengalis committing "appalling atrocities" against the Biharis and other pro-Pakistani elements during and soon after independence. "In the ethnic violence unleashed in the name of Bengali nationalism, non-Bengali men, women and children were slaughtered," Dr. Bose says, arguing such atrocities took place in the towns of Chittagong, Khulna, Santahar and Jessore during and after the 10-month war. "Non-Bengali victims of ethnic killings by Bengalis numbered hundreds or even thousands per incident... men, women and children were massacred on the basis of ethnicity and the killings were executed with shocking bestiality."

In his book - Death By Government, Professor Rudolph J. Rummel estimates that perhaps 150,000 Biharis were murdered by the vengeful victors in a “brutal bloodletting following the expulsion of the Pakistani army” after 16 December, 1971. (p. 334) Qutubuddin Aziz’s book "Blood and Tears" contains the harrowing tales of inhuman crimes committed on the Biharis, West Pakistanis and pro-Pakistani Bengalis living in East Pakistan during that period. Quoting various citations, he estimates that between 100,000 and 500,000 Urdu-speaking and pro-Pakistani Bengalis (e.g., Razakars) might have been killed by the Bengali militants.

Again all such claims on any side are only guess works, and nothing more.

As a teenager back then, I can only testify to the things that I witnessed or heard from reliable sources. In 1972 when my cadet college reconvened, I was sad to learn about the death of some of our cadets and instructors – Bengali and Urdu-speaking. Eight of our students and 10 staff members got killed, and 4 were missing (after the war). That is like 5% of the entire cadet college population! While such a small sample cannot be generalized to mimic the entire population in Bangladesh, it does underscore the enormity of xenophobic violence on all sides.

Cadet Shah Abdul Momin (Hitlu) was one of the first freedom fighters to die in Bogra on March 29, fighting against the military. Cadet Hannan Ashraf, a 12-year Urdu-speaking student, was killed along with his parents by local Bangalis in Thakurgaon in March. Being away from home his older brother cadet Hasnat miraculously survived. Many Urdu-speaking cadets never returned and some later settled in Pakistan. I don’t blame them for making that decision. We, as a nation, have failed to safeguard their lives and properties!

There was wanton violence on both sides from March to December of 1971. With rapidly changing events, the former tormentors had become victims and vice-versa. And being caught in the middle, many innocent lives were unnecessarily lost.

My friend, cadet Tazeem Hasan’s older brother – Shameem bhai - a Chittagong Medical College student then, who was affiliated with the Students’ League (the student wing of Mujib’s Awami League), was saved by his mother in what she described as a tug-of-war between her and some Bihari Razakars trying to snatch him away. Later, however, Shameem bhai was picked up from the college campus by pro-Pakistan members of the Al-Badr paramilitary forces and taken to the Fayes Lake area to be shot at. Fortunately, after much torture, they decided not to kill him and instead handed him over to Salauddin Qader Chowdhury, son of F.Q. Chowdhury (ex- Speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly), in their Goods Hill house, possibly to extract information about the Mukti Bahini. There Shameem bhai was tortured inhumanly and then handed over to the military who took him to the Circuit House, which by then has become a torture house for torturing pro-liberation forces. For three days, he was hung upside down from the ceiling and beaten mercilessly, and then handed over to the prison authorities where he stayed until being released after Bangladesh got liberated. As I hinted earlier, there were many Bengali students like him that suffered serious injuries under detention, and many were killed, too.

The railway colonies in the Pahartali and Tiger Pass/Dewan Hat area of Chittagong city were notorious venues for xenophobic crimes. Many low-income Urdu speaking employees of the East Pakistan Railway had traditionally lived there. Before liberation, some Bangladeshi youths were killed and tortured there by the Urdu-speaking Razakars. After 16 December, I heard that the Urdu-speaking people living there were targeted by some members of the Mukti Bahini for their alleged Razakar activities. And this, in spite of the government directives not to take law into their hands!

Oddly, soon after 16 December, there seemed to be a mushrooming of a new brand of armed Mukti Bahini (the so-called 16th Division) – who during the 9-month long liberation war did not shoot a single bullet against the Pakistan military! As opportunists, they were taking advantage of the new reality. They appeared more zealous than the real Mukti-Bahini in some of the post-liberation period vendetta against the pro-Pakistani elements still living inside Bangladesh.

In certain parts of the newly liberated Bangladesh there were reported incidents of forcible and unlawful possession and occupation of properties, once owned by the Urdu-speaking people. In our neighborhood, a “16th division Mukti Bahini” hijacked the car of Mr. Baig, a very nice Urdu-speaking gentleman, who had done his utmost to save our entire community from any Pakistani inflicted harm. But after the war, we could not save his property! Those rifle or gun totting 16th Division guys were irresponsibly trigger-happy!

Taking advantage of the almost total breakdown of the law and order situation soon after 16 December, some of the Bengalis were hunting for the Urdu-speaking people, still stranded in Bangladesh, for sheer greed, if not for tit-for-tat revenge. Out of fear for their lives and those of the loved ones, many of the wealthy Urdu-speaking people fled Bangladesh, and many took shelter in the Red Cross camps. Many of them wanted to sell off their properties and possessions for a very small fraction of the market price. Most of their homes were later taken over by the Bangladesh government and put under Mukti Joddha (Freedom Fighter) Trust to cater for the needs of the family members of the freedom fighters – dead or alive.

My cousin Reena’s family who’s married to a bi-lingual Muslim from Calcutta did not feel safe in Bangladesh. Her husband, Abdul Mannan, was the Assistant Regional Director of Radio Pakistan, Chittagong. He was instrumental in transmitting Sheikh Mujib’s March 7 historic speech from Ramna Park when government directives were against any such transmission. And yet, he, his siblings and parents, living in Chittagong, felt insecure. They later settled in Rawalpindi.

In his book ‘Ami Bijoy Dekhechi’ (I Have Seen Victory), journalist M.R. Akhtar Mukul, who ran the Shwadhin Bangla Betar Kendra (Free Bangladesh Radio Center), stated: “For three days in Shantahar medieval fiendish killings have been carried out. Now the town cannot be entered into, because of the stench from the dead bodies.” He continued, “The non-Bengalis from Jaipurhat-Pachbibi area who have been fleeing towards Dhaka through Bogra were finished off here on the bank of the river. Women and children have been kept unharmed in a homestead.”

A Urdu-speaking friend of mine, Dr. Jawaid Ahsan (who was a fellow cadet then) said that he had personally witnessed the killing of scores of Biharis by Bengali vigilantes in the early days of the civil war. However, he and his family members were unharmed in their neighborhood in Rangpur. Ian Jack has also noted in the Guardian that Bengali jute mill workers in Khulna slaughtered large numbers – probably thousands - of their fellow Urdu-speaking workers on 28 March 1971. (As I have noted earlier, soon after the Pakistan military had moved in Khulna, my cousin Munna was picked up and he vanished; possibly killed by the Biharis.) After liberation, “Bengali mill workers repeated their original atrocity of the previous year and sent thousands more non-Bengalis into the rivers,” notes Ian Jack. [Guardian, 20 May, 2011]

The matter of the killings of the Bihari Muslims and Razakars was brought up by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in her interview of Sheikh Mujib. She mentioned how on December 18, two days after Bangladesh had achieved independence, in Dhaka Stadium she had witnessed the Liberation War hero Kader Siddique (Bagha Siddique) lynching the presumed ‘Razakars’ with bayonets while their hands and legs remained fastened with ropes. “He had bullets loaded in his guns, he could have had shot them to death.” Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib did not believe her and abruptly stopped the interview.

The greatest casualty in war times is always the truth. And that is what seems to have happened with Bangladesh/East Pakistan liberation/civil war of 1971. It is conceivable that while Bangladesh authorities exaggerated the casualty figures of their Bangladeshi victims to draw sympathy to their cause, they discounted the casualty figures of those Urdu-speaking and pro-Pakistani residents. Similarly, the lower estimates provided by the HRC Report seem aimed at arresting anti-Pakistan feelings and possibly exonerating the war crimes of their planners.

History emerges only slowly from the passion-filled context of contemporary events. Forty-two years have passed by since Bangladesh earned her independence. I think we are now better placed to look at this dark chapter in history objectively and dispassionately. It is, therefore, high time to set up a joint Bangladesh-Pakistan commission to investigate and prepare a report on this highly controversial issue around the 1971 casualty figures.

Whatever the true figures are, there is no denying that Pakistan government’s actions in 1971 in the then East Pakistan were utterly criminal and inexcusable by any book, something that was also admitted in the HRC Report, recommending court martials for several top generals. Their actions should fall under war crimes and can’t be whitewashed. The soldiers that they brought in from West Pakistan were brainwashed to justify their violent actions against the Bengalis –who were different in identity – in language, diet, dress and customs. And if journalist Anthony Mascarenhas can be believed, he reported that senior military officers in East Pakistan had told him that they were seeking a "final solution", determined "to cleanse East Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing 2 million people and ruling the province as a colony for 30 years." [Genocide, Sunday Times, London, 18 June, 1971] In their heinous crimes it did not matter that 90% of their victims shared the same religion as they did.

Ultimately, of course, neither the numbers nor the labels would matter. What matters is the pragmatic wisdom that political problems should not and cannot be solved through the barrel of a gun.

>>>> To be continued…

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bombing - ours and theirs

"While we mourn the horrific events in Boston, we must remember that our government perpetrates a Boston bombing weekly in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan," writes Sean A. McElwee in the

He writes, “Yet, in Pakistan the unconstitutional drone war continues to kill innocents. On April 14, between 4 and 6 Pakistanis died in drone strike and numerous civilians were injured. Another strike three days later killed 5 more and injured several. Yet there are no protests in America to capture the responsible party, nor will there ever be justice. The people of Waziristan live in constant fear, and face bombings like that of Boston almost weekly.”

For the full copy of the article, click here.

In his recent article, reporter Spencer Ackerman has covered the subject of U.S. drone in Yemen.

He writes:
Recently, the U.S. Senate heard from Farea al-Muslimi, who lives in a village in Yemen where U.S. drone strikes are believed to have killed civilians. A “psychological fear and terror” has now taken ahold of his old neighbors, al-Muslimi said. “The drone strikes are the face of America to many.”

The hearing was apparently the first ever in the Senate to openly question the Obama administration’s targeted killing programs, especially as it applied to drone strikes. It built on Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY.) recent 13-hour filibuster to protest the administration’s broad claims of executive authority over counterterrorism operations, including inside the United States. But while Paul’s effort largely concerned what might happen to American citizens accused of terrorism, al-Muslimi attempted to turn the debate toward the vastly larger cohort of non-Americans killed in drone strikes, missile strikes and commando raids far from declared battlefields globally. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently said he believed some 4,700 people have been killed by drones.

“The drones have made more mistakes than AQAP has ever done,” al-Muslimi said, using the acronym for al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate. Parents in Yemen now tell their children to hurry off to bed by saying they’ll call in a drone strike if they don’t. As human-rights groups have documented, the buzzing overhead of a Predator or Reaper engine as the flying robot hovers has a chilling psychological effect.

To read the full article by Spencer Ackerman, click here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boston Bombing – the insane madness

I like athletics although I don’t run or jog these days. My younger son is a good short distance runner and has won several regional awards in hurdles and relay races. Although he is a freshman in a university now, his school records in 110m hurdles and other such sprints still remain unbroken and may remain so for a while.

Anytime there is a world class athletic competition shown in the TV, I am glued to it. I am a great fan of Usayn Bolt of Jamaica, probably the fastest man ever in world history.

However, the 26 plus mile long marathon race has not been my favorite athletic item to watch. But I still remember the year 1988 vividly when for the first time in Boston’s history a Kenyan Muslim by the name of Ibrahim Hussein won the race in April. No African had won the coveted race before in Boston. He ended that drought by beating fellow African - Tanzanian Jumo Ikangaa by one second in the closest marathon race ever. Soon thereafter the Africans, esp. the Kenyans, would go on to dominate the race except in 1990 and 2001 when an Italian and a South Korean won, respectively.

In April 15, 1991, Monday, Ibrahim Hussein came again to run in the 95th Boston Marathon, and he won. It was the third victory in the past four years for an African. He was 32 years old then. This time, he won very easily outdistancing Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia, the 1989 champion, by more than 50 yards. It took him 2 hours, 11 minutes and 6 seconds to claim the championship in this much watched and internationally prestigious race. With the participation of fellow Kenyan Douglas Wakiihuri who had won the silver medal in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, there was much excitement about the race. But Douglas was no match for Ibrahim. The next year, Ibrahim Hussein came again to participate in the 96th Boston Marathon and easily won with a record finish of 2 hours, 8 minutes and 14 seconds – his personal best in an international event.

The Boston Marathon race is an annual event in Boston that is held on the Patriot’s day – the third Monday of April. It began in 1897, and is the world's oldest annual marathon, and ranks as one of the world's best-known road racing events. An average of 20,000 amateur and professional runners from all over the world compete in this event, braving the hilly terrain of New England and varying weather to take part in this race.

This year was no different. Boston Marathon was held on the Patriot’s Day, which fell on April 15, 2013. As usual, runners came from all over the world. But something unusual happened this time. At 2:50 pm, approximately two hours after the 23-year old Lelisa Desisa Benti of Ethiopia had won the race and other winners had crossed the finish line, two bombs exploded near Copley Square, some 225 yards from the course, killing three and injuring another 175 people.

Within hours, the FBI believed that two Tsarnaev brothers were responsible for planting the bombs. Their pictures in the panic-ridden crowd were telecast on the TV. The older brother Tamerlan (26) was admitted to a Boston hospital with multiple gunshot wounds where he died in the early morning hours of Friday, and the younger Dzhokhar (19), a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, was captured later in the evening at Watertown, MA after an unprecedented house-to-house manhunt, which locked down the entire greater Boston area for hours. He is now lying grievously wounded in a hospital.

The air is thick with all the speculations whether or not the Tsarnaev brothers, esp. the older brother, were motivated by Jihad and had any connection with the extremists in the restive Caucasus region of Russia where he allegedly visited last year.

Interestingly, the older brother was on the FBI watch list and perhaps monitored for the last 3 years. The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the father about the F.B.I.'s close questioning, “two or three times,” of his elder son. He recalled that the agents told his son, “We know what you read, what you drink, what you eat, where you go.” He said they had told his son, that the questioning “is prophylactic, so that no one sets off bombs on the streets of Boston, so that our children could peacefully go to school.” Those comments, he said, disturbed him. “This conversation took place a year and a half ago,” he said. “But there is a question: Why would they talk about it then?”

Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, their mother, when contacted by reporters, expressed confidence in her sons’ innocence. “I am 100 percent sure this is a setup,” she told an interviewer on Russia Today. When they were growing up, she said, “nobody talked about terrorism.” Could they be framed by someone, as claimed by their mother?

"I do not believe that my sons could have planned and organized the terrorist act, because they knew U.S. national security services were keeping an eye on them," Anzor Tsarnaev told Russia's Channel One television. The FBI said in a statement on Friday that in 2011 it interviewed Tamerlan at the request of a foreign government, which it did not identify. It said the matter was closed because interviews with Tamerlan and family members "did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign". Could this foreign government be Putin’s Russian government? After all, shortly after the bomb blast, he said that he could help identify the terrorists? Was he guessing or did his spies inside the USA know better than their counterparts within the FBI? Why did president Obama thank him after the capture of Dzhokhar?

What is so amazing is that both the brothers appeared to be normal American kind-of-guys who had embraced American lifestyle and were admired for many good things within the community that they lived in. Two years ago the city of Cambridge, MA had awarded a $2,500 scholarship to Dzhokhar, who was listed as a senior at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, a highly regarded public school. He was also a star wrestler in the school team and had won many awards. His older brother Tamerlan was a Golden Gloves boxer and was married with a 3-year old child; he was an Olympic hopeful in boxing. The two were loving and kind-hearted young men who were thought to be “angels” who couldn’t harm anyone. And yet, if the allegations against them are true, they were monsters in disguise!

How could people’s perceptions be so wrong? Did they truly commit this horrendous crime or were they framed? If they did, what went wrong? Could their Chechen heritage have anything to do with their alleged crime in Boston, something now highlighted by some observers? After all, Chechens have been rebelling against Russian imperialism for nearly two centuries, and their territories have been ravaged by genocidal wars under both presidents Yeltsin and Putin in the last two decades, killing nearly a quarter million of their people. But the kids grew up in Kyrgyzstan and then settled in the USA more than a decade ago with a short detour in Kazakhstan via Dagestan. They are as much a product of the USA as most immigrants are who went to schools in this country. If they were angry with what happened to Chechnya, their anger could have been directed at Russia, not the USA. Like many others, I am, thus, baffled to understand why they would take their anger on the Bostonians who loved and adored them!

God willing, we will know more over the next few days, but it is arguable that the roots of the brothers' radicalization (assuming that the allegations against them are right), if any, are to be found more on the streets of Boston and the Internet than in the war-scorched alleys of Grozny or the valleys of rural Chechnya, something that has been also mentioned by the Chechen President Ramzan A. Kadyrov: “The roots of this evil are to be found in America.”

Were they angry, frustrated or friendless? Or, is it the gun culture virus that America breeds which gravitated them to commit this insane madness?

After all, last year in April, One L. Goh, a 43-year-old former student of Oikos University, a small Christian university in California opened fire at the school, killing at least 7 people and setting off an intense, chaotic manhunt that ended with his capture at a nearby shopping center. Last July, James Eagen Holmes - an American white graduate student of University of Colorado - who was upset with his professor and had his access to the university campus revoked, killed 12 and injured 58 others at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.

And there are plenty of such examples in American workplaces, school and college campuses from Columbine to Virginia Tech and beyond. What motivated each of them to commit such heinous crimes against others? Were any of these crimes less terroristic than what has happened in Boston? Where is the labeling for each of these crimes? Who decides? By what metrics?

What makes such crimes ‘psychological’ and not terrorism? After all we don't hear the use of the term 'terrorism' in the context of those mass murders; but as soon a Muslim American, immigrant or not, does a similar horrific crime - the anti-Muslim, Islamophobe pundits are all agog to connect the dots to Islamic extremism or Jihad? Why such a biased categorization?

And here again, with this Boston tragedy, so far what we heard about the Tsarnaev brothers is all one-sided stories suggesting that they had planted those bombs. We did not hear the suspects’ side of the story yet. But we need to.

President Obama, when he addressed the nation on Friday night after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, seemed to be searching for answers. He asked, “Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?”

We all want to know – why? But before we get to that ‘why’, we need to establish that the two brothers were involved. However, for that knowledge to come un-coerced, the young surviving suspect needs to be tried in an open court just like any other American with same rights, and not as an ‘enemy combatant’ – as demanded by the hawkish and arrogant Senator Lindsey Graham. In the meantime, the rabid anti-Muslim Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has called for increased spying on all Muslims in the USA. We are not surprised!

Will the Obama Administration guarantee an open trial in a civilian court that would help us get to the truth and nothing but the truth?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jack Haley's article on Buddhism and crimes in Sri Lanka and Myanmar

Jack Haley has been at the forefront for struggle for human rights for many years. His excellent article on the use of religion to justify violence, and Buddhist terrorism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka can be seen in the Huffington Post.

He writes, "The Rohingya minority in Arakan/Rakhine state in western Burma is often considered one of the most disempowered peoples in the world. Formally stripped of citizenship and recognition in 1981, tension has long simmered along these people who live not far from the border with Bangladesh. The current tensions and violence has been abetted by government security forces and that is unsurprising. What is disturbing is that the discourse from some in the opposition democracy camps that received so much support internationally for their struggle are now calling for the forced expulsion of these people to Bangladesh, in spite of Bangladesh emphatically denying that option. Most alarming is the fact that there are robed Buddhist monks calling for this expulsion, for maintaining the Rohingya in separate camps, and in actively blocking basic food and medical aid from reaching them. The excuse? The claim is made to "defend" Burmese Buddhism."

To read the entire article click here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Guantanamo Bay Prisoners on Hunger Strike May Die of Starvation

The Guardian of the UK has published two articles in the last few days on the Guantanamo Bay Prison. I share below the information:

Lawyers representing hunger-striking detainees at America's controversial Guantánamo Bay prison have warned they fear some of the protesters could soon die in the ongoing protest.

The news comes as fresh details emerge about conditions at the camp from lawyers visiting clients, letters being written by inmates and phone calls from inside the prison.

They describe dramatic weight loss among many of the hunger strikers, force-feeding, putting protesters in isolation and at least one suicide attempt – though that has been denied by military authorities.

In a letter written by Djamel Ameziane – an Algerian prisoner who has been cleared for release after 11 years of being detained without trial – guards were accused of pressuring prisoners to break the strike. "They are trying to deprive us of everything they can," he wrote in the letter, extracts of which were seen by the Guardian. Ameziane added that inmates were being disturbed during prayers and that the temperature in cell blocks had been lowered to make inmates less comfortable.

Ameziane said that prisoners were being moved from the communal Camp 6 to the more isolated Camp 5 as a form of punishment for striking. "People who lose consciousness are taken to Camp 5 and some of them are put in isolation. Because of that, two days ago, one prisoner hung himself in his cell. They took him to hospital. I have not heard any news about him since," Ameziane wrote.

A British hunger striker inside Guantánamo Bay has laid bare the deteriorating conditions of inmates, expressing fears that he and others will soon die as a result of what he described as "systematic torture".

Shaker Aamer, the last UK resident still held at the camp, claims he is subjected to harsh treatment from guards and denied water, despite being in a weakened state due to severe weight loss, according to a written declaration filed by his lawyer.

He also alleges that the US base will soon be dealing with its first fatalities as a result of the current action: "I might die this time," he is quoted by his lawyer as saying, adding: "I cannot give you numbers and names, but people are dying here."

According to the Huffington Post, reporters recently requesting media visits to examine prison conditions at the camp have been refused until May 6 at the earliest. However, the protest has still succeeded in getting conditions at Guantánamo back into the headlines in the United States, though it appears that there is currently little political will to deal with the issue.

Though President Barack Obama vowed in his first year in office to close the base, it remains open with little prospect of release for anyone inside, including those cleared. Earlier this year, the State Department office meant to deal with resettling Guantánamo prisoners was closed down.

But on Thursday a group of human rights organisations, including the CCR and Amnesty International, sent a joint letter to Obama demanding the base be closed down and its inmates either released or given a trial in a civilian court. "We urge you to begin working to transfer the remaining detained men to their home countries or other countries for resettlement, or to charge them in a court that comports with fair trial standards. We also urge you to appoint an individual within your administration to lead the transfer effort," the letter said.

For details, please, read the Guardian article by clicking here and here

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 3

After the promulgation of East Pakistan Razakar Ordinance of June 1, 1971, some Bengalis either volunteered or were recruited to work as a paramilitary force or collaborators for the Pakistan’s military regime. They were called the Razakars. Some of the political parties that did not like the division of Pakistan actively sought out recruits for the Razakar (and other militia groups like the al-Shams and al-Badr) to fight and weaken the Mukti Bahini (the freedom fighters for Bangladesh) so that the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate state could be halted. More zealous of those party leaders even allowed their homes to be used as torture chambers for anyone suspected of belonging to the Mukti Bahini. In Chittagong, I was told by Rafiq bhai’s friends how the Goods Hill residence of Mr. Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, ex-speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly, was used to torture many students who were suspected of being members of the Mukti Bahini. Some members of the Razakar came also from the Urdu-speaking Bihari community. One day, my first cousin brother Munna was picked up in Khulna City by a Razakar; he never returned. Apparently, he was killed.

The pro-Pakistani paramilitary groups terrorized the rural areas of East Pakistan trying to find Mukti Bahini, suspecting anyone young in age who had not joined their forces. Since an overwhelming majority of the East Pakistanis supported the freedom struggle, they would often pass on tactical information on the Razakars to the Mukti Bahini, and hide information on the latter when pressed by the Razakars. Thus, the Mukti Bahini had comparatively much more success in ambushing and killing the members of the Razakar. Consequently, by the last quarter of 1971, the recruits to Razakar fell drastically, and they hardly dared to go out of their camps without superior firepower coverage provided by the Pakistan military.

By the last quarter of 1971, India had started not only providing material support to the Mukti Bahini but had also been training select groups of freedom fighters -- the Bangladesh Liberation Front (BLF), who would later come to be known as the Mujib Bahini. The Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces grew in size and numbered around 100,000. In his insightful book, Witness to Surrender, Brigadier General Siddique Salik estimated that Pakistan needed at least 250,000 to 300,000 troops, but even after organizing the Razakars (estimated strength 40,000), Pakistan could field only 150,000 (45,000 regular army, the rest paramilitary units) soldiers in East Pakistan.

With the added material support provided by the Indian government, the insurgency grew ever stronger. And with their guerilla-style hit-and-run tactics, the morale of the Pakistan military, deployed in East Pakistan, waned down. It was quite evident that tensions would reach a climax towards triggering a full blown war between India and Pakistan. That came on December 3, 1971. The eventual failure of combating the insurgency caused Pakistan to attack Indian air bases in Jammu and Punjab on that day with the objective to stop the Indian support for the Mukti Bahini. In response, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared war at midnight, December 3. Thirteen days later, Pakistani troops under Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi surrendered in Dhaka. Bangladesh emerged as an independent state on December 16, 1971.

The surrendering Pakistani forces – numbering more than 90,000 - were taken to India as Prisoners of War (POWs). They were later released in 1974 to Pakistan after a supplement to the Simla Agreement (July 2, 1972) was signed about repatriation between India and Pakistan. Those released included 195 POWs who were accused of committing war crimes or genocide in Bangladesh.

Amid overwhelming public anger in Pakistan over the loss of East Pakistan, the chief martial law administrator (CMLA) General Yahya Khan resigned on December 20, 1971 and transferred power to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who became president, commander-in-chief and the first civilian CMLA in Pakistan’s history. Bhutto immediately placed General Yahya Khan under house arrest, and ordered the release of Sheikh Mujib, who was held prisoner by the Pakistan Army. To implement this, Bhutto reversed the verdict of Sheikh Mujib's court-martial trial that had taken place earlier, in which the latter was sentenced to death.

Bhutto also created a judicial commission in December 1971 with Chief Justice Hamoodur Rahman, the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan as its Chairman, to investigate military and political causes of the country's defeat in the 1971 war, or more specifically, "the circumstances in which the Commander, Eastern command, surrendered” and also to investigate the accusations of atrocities committed by the military personnel in 1971 in what was once East Pakistan. The commission’s first report, prepared based on the interview of 213 people, was submitted to Bhutto in July 1972. After the return of the POWs, the inquiry was reopened. The final report, based on the interview of some 300 people altogether, also called supplementary report, was submitted on October 23, 1974, showed how political, administrative, military and moral failings were responsible for the surrender of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. The commission challenged the claims by Bangladesh authorities that 3 million Bengalis had been killed by Pakistan army and 200,000 women were raped. The commission put the casualty figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties.

The report accused the generals of what it called a premature surrender to India. The report said Pakistan's military ruler at the time, General Yahya Khan, 'permitted and even instigated' the surrender, and it recommended that he be publicly tried along with other senior military colleagues - General Abdul Hamid Khan (Chief of Staff, Army), Lieutenant General S.G.M.M. Pirzada, Lieutenant General Gul Hasan (Chief of General Staff), Major General Umar and Major General Mitha (commandant of Army SS Group) - for being party to a criminal conspiracy to illegally usurp power from President Mohammad Ayub Khan. Five other Lieutenant-Generals (which included Lt. General A.A.K. Niazi) and three Brigadier-Generals were recommended to be tried for willful neglect of duty during the 1971 War.

It is worth noting here that Lt. General Gul Hasan, who had become the Army C-in-C after the 1971 War, was ousted on March 3, 1972, and was dishonorably discharged from the army by Bhutto. His alleged involvement and controversial approvals of military operations in East Pakistan during 1971 created a public resentment towards him, as he was the Director-General for the Military Operations (DGMO). Bhutto later appointed General Tikka Khan as the new Chief of the Army Staff in March 1972, just about a year after the latter was responsible for directing the brutal military crackdown in Bangladesh.

Major General Mitha was particularly active in East Pakistan in the days preceding the military action of March 25, 1971. After General Yahya Khan had secretly departed on the evening of March 25, 1971, Major General Mitha is said to have remained behind. He allegedly planned the military action with Lt. General Tikka Khan, Major General Rao Farman Ali and Major General Khadim Hussain Raja. His retirement was announced by Bhutto in December 1971, months before the Commission report was submitted to him. After retirement he was stripped of his medals and pensions without due cause. He was however never court-martialed, as recommended by the Hamoodur Rahman Commission.

After his return to Pakistan, Lt. General Niazi was blamed for the defeat and was removed from the army in 1975. Though the Hamoodur Rahman Inquiry Commission had recommended his court-martial, Lt. General Niazi did not face a trial. The final report included his statement, which supports some allegations of war crimes against the Pakistani Army in the early days of Pakistani crackdown in East Pakistan: “Damage done during those early days of the military action could never be repaired, and earned for the military leaders names such as ‘Changez Khan’ and ‘Butcher of East Pakistan.’” The report said, “He [Niazi] went on to add: "on the assumption of command I was very much concerned with the discipline of troops, and on 15th of April, 1971, that is within four days of my command, I addressed a letter to all formations located in the area and insisted that loot, rape, arson, killing of people at random must stop and a high standard of discipline should be maintained. I had come to know that looted material had been sent to West Pakistan which included cars, refrigerators and air conditioners etc." When asked about the alleged killing of East Pakistani officers and men during the process of disarming, the General replied that he had heard something of the kind but all these things had happened in the initial stages of the military action before his time. He denied the allegation that he ever ordered his subordinates to exterminate the Hindu minority. He denied that any intellectuals were killed during December, 1971. He admitted that there were a few cases of rape, but asserted that the guilty persons were duly punished.” (Chapter 2)

The report quoted Brigadier Shah Abdul Qasim (witness No. 267) about the use of excessive force on the night between the 25th and 26th March 1971: “Army personnel acted under the influence of revenge and anger during the military operation."

The report also quoted Brigadier Iqbalur Rehman Shariff (Witness no. 269), who alleged that during his visit to formations in East Pakistan, General Gul Hassan used to ask the soldiers "how many Bengalis have you shot." The report quoted Lt. Col. Aziz Ahmed Khan (Witness no 276) who was Commanding Officer 8 Baluch and then CO 86 Mujahid Battalion: "Brigadier Arbbab also told me to destroy all houses in Joydepur. To a great extent I executed this order.”

The Report said, “There is also evidence that Lt. Gen Tikka Khan, Major Gen. Farman Ali and Maj. Gen Khadim Hussain were associated with the planning of the military action. There is, however, nothing to show that they contemplated the use of excessive force or the commission of atrocities and excesses on the people of East Pakistan.”

Interestingly, thus, the Commission did not find any of the major players, including Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and General Tikka Khan, guilty of the crisis which led to the dismemberment of Pakistan. As noted by Lt. General Niazi in his interview with journalist Amir Mir (December 2001), Pakistan’s new Army chief General Tikka Khan and his boss President Bhutto did not want to open the Pandora’s Box.

According to Lt. General Niazi, “Yahya and Bhutto viewed Mujib's victory in the 1970 election with distaste, because it meant that Yahya had to vacate the presidency and Bhutto had to sit in the Opposition benches, which was contrary to his aspirations. So these two got together and hatched a plan in Larkana, Bhutto's hometown, which came to be known as the Larkana Conspiracy. The plan was to postpone the session of the National Assembly indefinitely, and to block the transfer of power to the Awami League by diplomacy, threats, intrigues and the use of military force. Connected to this conspiracy was the 'M. M. Ahmed plan', which aimed at allowing Yahya and Bhutto to continue as president and prime minister, besides leaving East Pakistan without a successor government. After the announcement of the date of the assembly session (to be held at Dhaka), there was pressure on the politicians to boycott it. The reason given was that East Pakistan had become a hub of international intrigue, therefore, it should be discarded. In the end, this clique achieved its aim.”

Commenting on the Hamoodur Rahman Commission of Inquiry Report, Lt. General Niazi said, “Similarly, Tikka has not been mentioned in the report, although his barbaric action of March 25 earned him the name of butcher. The commission overlooked his heinous crimes. As far as Rao Farman is concerned, he was in-charge of the Dhaka operations. According to authentic press reports, tanks, mortars and artillery were ruthlessly employed against the Dhaka University inmates, killing scores of them. Rao remained military adviser to five governors and had his finger in every pie.”

In its concluding remarks on allegations of war crimes, the Hamoodur Rahman Commission of Inquiry Report said, “From what we have said in the preceding Paragraphs it is clear that there is substance in the allegations that during and after the military action excesses were indeed committed on the people of East Pakistan, but the versions and estimates put forward by the Dacca authorities are highly coloured and exaggerated… Irrespective, therefore, of the magnitude of the atrocities, we are of the considered opinion that it's necessary for the Government of Pakistan to take effective action to punish those who were responsible for the commission of these alleged excesses and atrocities.” It further recommended a fruitful inquiry to be undertaken to investigate all the allegations by requesting the Dacca authorities to forward whatever evidences they might have.

In December 2000, 29 years after the inquiry was completed, the full report of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission of Inquiry was finally declassified in Pakistan by President Musharraf's Military government.

==> To be continued…

Sunday, April 7, 2013

UNHCHR urges the US government to close the Guantanamo Bay prison

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday urged all branches of the United States Government to work together to close the Guantanamo detention centre, saying “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law.”

“I am deeply disappointed that the US Government has not been able to close Guantanamo Bay, despite repeatedly committing itself to do so,” Pillay said. “Allegedly, around half of the 166 detainees still being held in detention have been cleared for transfer to either home countries or third countries for resettlement. Yet they remain in detention at Guantanamo Bay. Others reportedly have been designated for further indefinite detention. Some of them have been festering in this detention centre for more than a decade. This raises serious concerns under international law. It severely undermines the United States’ stance that it is an upholder of human rights, and weakens its position when addressing human rights violations elsewhere.”

For details, please, click here.

Bangladesh - A Nation Divided? - Part 2

According to Lt. General A. A. K. Niazi, who was in charge of Pakistan's Eastern Command when it surrendered to the joint Bangladesh-India forces on December 16, 1971 in Dhaka, “The 1971 imbroglio was the outcome of an unabated struggle for power between Yahya, Mujib and Bhutto. Yahya wanted to retain power while Bhutto wanted to attain it. This was despite the fact that Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League had emerged victorious and he should have been handed over the government. Bhutto’s fiery speeches were not mere rhetoric, but the actions of a desperate man vying for power at any cost. Had power been transferred to Mujib, Pakistan would have remained united.” [Interview with Amir Mir, India Abroad, in December, 2001.]

Instead of transferring power to Sheikh Mujib, the military government of General Yahya Khan concocted a sinister plan - Operation Searchlight, which called for a brutal military solution to the constitutional crisis in East Pakistan. The plan called for neutralizing all East Pakistani (Bengali) troops by seizing weapons and ammunition, and disarming of the 15,000-strong EPR, armed police (numbering 23,606 out of a total of 33,995) and other para-military formations in East Pakistan on the zero-hour. Its objectives were to eliminate the Awami League (AL) apparatus and any civilians and personnel of the armed forces supporting the Awami League movement in defiance of the martial law.

At the zero hour, the operation was to be launched simultaneously all across East Pakistan with the objectives of arresting maximum number of political and student leaders, and those among cultural organizations and teaching staff ; the operation was to achieve 100% success in Dhaka; Dhaka University – the center of Bangladeshi nationalism - would be occupied and searched; free and greater use of fire was authorized for securing cantonments; all internal and international communications were to be cut off, including telephone, television, radio and telegraph.

As planned, in those early days of March 1971, the fly-in of troops into Dhaka from West Pakistan continued. PIA’s fleet of Boeings flew the troops in. Ammunition was also delivered by ship to the southern port city of Chittagong. The Army was mobilized to unload those arms carrying ships. And all these preparations continued while Yahya Khan continued his dialogue with Mujib in March 1971 until the zero-hour came.

Before putting the plan into action, senior Pakistani officers in East Pakistan who were unwilling to support the military operation on civilians were relieved of their duties. Vice Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan, the Martial Law Administrator and Governor of East Pakistan, was absolutely against any military action, and he resigned weeks before the zero-hour. Lt. General Sahabzada Yaqub Ali Khan, Chief of General Staff, Commander Eastern Command, who briefly served as the Governor of East Pakistan after Vice Admiral Ahsan’s resignation, was also removed from East Pakistan. Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan (known as the ‘Butcher of Baluchistan’) was chosen to become the new Governor and GOC of East Pakistan. He had arrived quietly at Dhaka airport on March 7, 1971 at 4 p.m., accompanied by Major General Rao Farman. Chief Justice B.A. Siddiqui of East Pakistan High Court refused to swear him in, and only did so after the zero hour.

Although the Plan did not specify the time needed to subdue East Pakistan, it was assumed that after the arrest of the political leadership, which included arresting Sheikh Mujib and 15 top AL leaders, and disarming of the Bengali military and paramilitary units, civilians could be terrorized into submitting to martial law within a week. Lt. General Tikka Khan estimated that no resistance would remain after April 10.

The zero hour came in the night of March 25, 1971. Mujib and his legal advisor Dr. Kamal Hossain were arrested. However, the other top AL leaders managed to escape to India where they eventually formed the Bangladesh Government in exile. As already noted, many Bengali troops, EPR, Ansar and Police forces fought valiantly against Pakistan military and set up resistance groups from within the local civilian population, until being pushed out to India.

According to the New York Times, probably 35,000 people got killed in Dhaka during the Operation Searchlight.

The ordinary Pakistani soldiers brought from West Pakistan were ordered by Generals Tikka Khan and Rao Forman Ali to set an example by killing as many Bengalis as possible since they have proven to be unreliable and unpatriotic. It did not matter that 90% of their targeted victims were Muslims who read the same Qur’an and prayed in the same direction of the Ka’bah.

Most of the atrocities committed in East Pakistan by the Pakistani military happened in the first two months of the crackdown - March and April of 1971. By the dawn of 10 April, Pakistani forces had gained control of Dhaka, Rangpur, Saidpur, Comilla, Chittagong, and Khulna. All able-bodied young men were suspected of being actual or potential freedom fighters. Thousands were arrested, tortured, and killed. Sweeps were conducted of young men who were never seen again. Bodies of youths would be found in fields, floating down rivers, or near army camps. As noted by Professor Rounaq Jahan of Dhaka University, “Eventually cities and towns became bereft of young males who either took refuge in India or joined the liberation war.”

News of such atrocities led to the exodus of millions of East Pakistanis to India, who mostly lived as refugees in the Indian states bordering East Pakistan. Many of the young recruits to the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters for Bangladesh) came from these refugees. A great majority of them were trained by the Bengali-speaking East Pakistani soldiers and officers, who had fled to India, and set up training camps along the borders. With the arms and ammunition brought in by them and/or captured from Pakistan military, they were able to train the Mukti Bahini and lead guerilla operations inside East Pakistan against an enemy enjoying superiority in number of trained men, firepower, and complete air superiority. In those early months of the war, the Indian government of Indira Gandhi refused to provide material support to the Mukti Bahini, which arguably could have liberated Bangladesh without any Indian intervention.

Lt. General A. A. K. Niazi, who took command of Pakistan forces in East Pakistan on April 11, 1971 from the outgoing GOC, Major General Khadim Hossain Raja, focused his strategy around defeating the Mukti Bahini, which included combing operations to wipe out the insurgent network. Against this strategy Bengali field commanders opted to go with holding as much area for as long as possible while the Bangladesh government-in-exile sought diplomatic recognition.

By late April, all the major cities in East Pakistan had fallen to Pakistan military. By mid-May all major towns had been captured by the Pakistan military and by mid-June the battered remnants of the Bengali fighters had been driven across the border into India. The Mukti Bahini, suffering from a lack of trained men, proper logistics and coordination, plus timely material support from India, had lost the conventional battle against the much superior Pakistani forces.

A few thousand people sought refuge during April and May, mostly the resistance fighters, in India. However, as Pakistani army operations spread throughout the province, refugees fleeing to India increased. Ultimately, approximately ten million people would leave East Pakistan, and about 6.7 million were housed in 825 refugee camps. An estimated 7.3 million would be in West Bengal, and 1.5 million in Tripura. The rest were mainly in Assam and Bihar states of India.