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Redemption and apology from Pakistan: A call of the day to break prisons of the past

Shining Editorial || shiningbd

Published: 22:06, 31 March 2021   Update: 22:28, 31 March 2021
Redemption and apology from Pakistan: A call of the day to break prisons of the past

Representational image

True reconciliation does not consist in merely forgetting the past; instead, it starts with addressing the past.

                                                                                                                                             - Nelson Mandela

As Bangladesh celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence, the issue of apology in Bangladesh-Pakistan relations has come to the fore again. Since the breakup of United Pakistan in 1971, both states have undergone tumultuous changes, but frosty relations are yet to meet a period of thaw. Multi-faceted unresolved and outstanding issues are the pivotal reasons that impede the ‘moving forward’ of Dhaka-Islamabad ties.

Among them, the major reason that constraint ‘reinvigorating’ Bangladesh-Pakistan bilateral relations is the issue of 'formal apology' of Pakistan for the mistaken national policy by its armed forces and political leadership in 1971, that advanced along the road to war thorough its scorched earth policy to butcher and enslave the innocent Bengali people, and, through its internal colonial rule and aggression, which caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of Bangladesh during the Liberation War.

Given this psychological pretext, therefore, all the trajectories of Bangladesh Pakistan relations are the outcome of the dreadful events of disintegration in 1971. There is no way that 1971 can be forgotten and no need for it to be forgotten.

But it is possible to move ahead at the same time. A fresh friendship can only be built by addressing the baggage of the past with a give-and-take mindset to reach a consensus on these contentious issues. In doing so, the very first step should be initiated by the political leadership of Pakistan. Dhaka continues to demand an admission of guilt and an official apology for war crimes during the Liberation War in 1971, which Islamabad has yet declined to provide.

Under the present circumstances, true reconciliation can only emerge if Pakistan gave in a ‘formal apology’ for its mistaken deeds to the people of Bangladesh. This proposition has been reiterated continuously by the general people, policymakers, govt. officials, and academia of both states. This would require Pakistan to re-think its historic position on the apology issue.

Market and Strategic value of Bangladesh-Pakistan relations

Bangladesh and Pakistan together make up 5 per cent of the world population. The market value of these two populaces is naturally huge. Yet trade between these two countries of 390 million people is the only USD 6 million to 7 million. In 2019-20, products worth only USD 50 million went from Bangladesh to Pakistan.

On Bangladesh’s front, it is essential to build up alternative markets in South Asia and the Eurasian region in order to shield itself from the over-dependency on the European and American political dictates. There is tremendous scope for Bangladesh to expand its business and economic outreach by seeking alternative markets in South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia via Pakistan. In exchange, Pakistan will gain a further foothold in Bangladesh’s gigantic market. That would also raise the ‘potential’ opening up of Pakistan’s market to the South-East Asian states, via Bangladesh.

More importantly, forging good knots with Dhaka will keep immense pressure on the ‘Elephant of the Region – India’, with whom Pakistan has arch-rivalry since its inception. All these potentials can only be materialized if Pakistan, from its top political leadership, expresses regret for the events of 1971 and seeks an apology. Pakistan’s own Justice Hamoodur Rahman commission report proves that many members of that country's military were responsible for the oppression, repression and excesses on the civilians of Bangladesh.

Many such soldiers are no longer living. Even if the government wants, perhaps they will not be able to put them on trial. Henceforth, in light of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission report, if Pakistan visions to take relations between the two countries forward, it must accept liability for the crimes committed by its armed forces in 1971 and proceed ahead. Then it will be easier for Bangladesh’s leadership to take the relations ahead too.

During his Bangladesh visit in 2002, President Pervez Musharraf did express his ‘regret’ in this regard. In 1998, the then Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif referred to the events of 1971 as ‘political injustice.’ These certainly are due acknowledgements of the pained feelings of the people of Bangladesh. Yet, such general expressions of regret aren’t enough to heal the wounds of 1971. That is why, for obvious reasons, relations did not gain ground despite repeated efforts to normalize the troubled ties. It will be better not to take up the same path in future.

Political apologies, as discerned by iconic world hero Nelson Mandela, coincide with true reconciliation. Japan’s deep redemption and heartfelt apology to China and Korea for their aggression and war crimes during the Second World War are vibrant examples before Pakistan of how to take relations ahead from past brutalities of war and build trustworthy mutual beneficial ties.

Germany and Israel are another quintessential manifestations of such kind. The Queen of England ‘apologized’ for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 during the British Raj.

All these are nothing but expressions of the sincere desire to take relations forward in light of new realities. In this manner, on the eve of 50 years since 1971, Bangladesh and Pakistan can open new doors for their future generations. Pakistan must definitely take the political liability of the army’s role in 1971, which clearly will be through an apology, not just an expression of regret.

To forge true reconciliation with Dhaka, hence, Islamabad has no alternative but an unconditional apology – this is something that Bangladesh and its people have rightfully demanded for decades. Will the 50th anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh and the 100th birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman be such a fateful year – are remained to be seen.

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