Myths and Reality: Re-writing 1971

Dec 6th, 2012 | By | Category: The News

Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”. It seems some in the media have taken this as a lesson, and intend on writing, or rather re-writing history in order to fix a kinder treatment of some of the nation’s less proud moments. Such behaviour is on full display in today’s The News (Jang Group), which features a report by Momin Iftikhar bearing the title, Sheikh Mujib: the myths of ’71 war. Ironically, the title is actually somewhat fitting, as Momin Iftikhar’s piece is mostly myth itself.

Iftikhar’s thesis is not a new one – the entire ’71 conflict was the fault of Sheikh Mujib and his Awami League who, according to Iftikhar “unabashedly pursued a violence laced agenda of hate and division framed by his Six Points”. What were these six points?

  • The Constitution should provide for a Federation of Pakistan in the true sense on the basis of the Lahore Resolution and for a parliamentary form of government based on the supremacy of a directly elected legislature on the basis of universal adult franchise.
  • The Federal Government shall deal with only two subjects; Defense and Foreign Affairs. All residuary subjects will be vested in the federating states.
  • There should be either two separate, freely convertible currencies for the two Wings, or one currency with two separate reserve banks to prevent inter-Wing flight of capital.
  • The power of taxation and revenue collection shall be vested in the federating units. The Federal Government will receive a share to meet its financial obligations.
  • Economic disparities between the two Wings shall disappear through a series of economic, fiscal, and legal reforms.
  • A militia or paramilitary force must be created in East Pakistan, which at present has no defense of it own.

This is a recipe for a decentralised government, not a secession. Creating separate currencies may be bad economics, but it’s hardly violent. Actualy, the Six Points hardly seem like the policies of someone bent on destroying the nation. Given the mood in East Pakistan at the time, they might even sound more like the policies of someone trying to save it. This is not to say that Sheikh Mujib was an innocent lamb, but he was hardly as evil as Momin Iftikhar trys to portray him.

As for Gen. Yahya Khan, Momin Iftikhar seems to believe he was a benevolent patriot who “openly recognized legitimacy of East Pakistan’s economic grousing” (apparently, not wanting to be treated as a second-rate colony is ‘grousing’) whose hand was forced in the decision to postpone the National Assembly of 1st March 1970 by the “uncompromising political stances and unbridled ambitions of Mujib and Bhutto”. As always, bloody civilians forced reluctant khakis to do the needful.

Momin Iftikhar makes no mention of Operation Search Light, of course, sweeping it neatly under the rug. And its not just the victims of Operation Search Light who go ignored by The News, but the charges of genocide and rape that are the foundation of the request for apology by Bangladesh that has given Iftikhar such a stomach ache.

The subject merits a separate write up but it should be educative for Pakistan’s and Pak Army’s detractors to read spell binding incisive research work, perhaps one of its kind on the highly sensitive subject; Dead Reckoning by Sarmila Bose. The claims of mass graves was authoritatively laid to rest in a comment by Henry Kissinger in Apr 1971 when he observed that in a particular case where Bengalis claimed thousand bodies in graves, fewer than twenty could be actually found. A parallel observation was made by William Drummond who wrote in his piece ‘The Missing Millions’ which appeared in the Guardian on June 6, 1972. “Of course there are mass graves all over Bangladesh. But nobody, not even the most rabid Pakistani hater, has yet asserted that all these mass graves account for more than about 1000 victims. Furthermore , because a body is found in a mass grave doesn’t necessarily mean that the victim was killed by the Pakistani Army,” he observed.

Fewer than 1,000 victims, none of whom were killed by Pakistan Army? To read Momin Iftikhar’s mythical revision of 1971, one could easily believe that there was never a war at all! But, no, there was a war. Only in the mythical re-telling of Momin Iftikhar, it was the Bengalis who attacked West Pakistan!

The most brutal atrocities committed by the Bengalis on the West Pakistanis including a large number of women and children has remained a forbidden subject that has persistently remained as convincingly out of sight as the other side of the moon; a taboo simply never touched upon by any Bengali or Indian author, writer or a media person or even anchor.

Are we to believe that the Mukti Bahini flew their planes into West Pakistan and committed atrocities while the Pakistan Army was sleeping? And all of this based on three sources (one of which, attributed to Kissinger, is not even about genocide during the 1971 war, but one isolated claim).

The fatal flaw in Momin Iftikhar’s attempt to re-write history, however, is the mountain of evidence that contradicts his.

Sadly, this unwillingness to face reality but to try to lie to ourselves is nothing new. Gen. Yahya himself refused to admit that there were even a single refugee from the war and that the Bengalis were welcoming the Army actions.

Neither is this the first time that media has played a role in attempting to re-write history, as is evident from the front page of Dawn on 17th December 1971.

Front Page Dawn 17th December 1971

Of course, attempts to re-write history didn’t work then, either.

Front Page Dawn 18th December 1971


The point here is not simply to correct Momin Iftikhar’s misleading report, but to note that using media to try to sweep away inconvenient facts and create a more convenient reality never works. Journalists have a job which is to uncover and report the facts – not to try to reinvent them.  It only makes those who try, whether they are DawnThe News, or Momin Iftikhar, look foolish. It should also be asked why Editors at The News allowed such an obvious eye wash to be published in the first place, and whether they have considered how such poor editorial oversight reflects on the rest of their reports.

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  1. History is written by those who win the war. Momin Iftikhar’s article was one which tried to correct the history, which Indians (the least reliable course at the best of times) and Bengalis wrote after the bloody seperation of ’71. Your self righteous ‘blog’ as I would call it is acheving nothing new, but towing the same lines as Indians and Bengalis, who found the Pakistan Army an easy scapegoat to hide their misdeeds.

    War is not a tableou, atrocities are committed by both sides. Ever heard of Bomber Harris? Read your history. Portraying any war as the singular fault of one nation, or an institution of that nation is absurd. The pictures you posted above, is it clear who is the Bengali, or Bihari or Pakistani? NO, and you have no way of proving it.

    I know bashing Pakistan and Pakistan Army is in fashion, but give it a rest, its getting a little boring.

  2. Very well said Usman…totally agree with you.

  3. I was in Karachi in March 1971 but rest of my family, my parents, 3 brothers and 2 sisters were in East Pakistan until May. They were in Saidpur that was a Bihari enclave with Pakistan army and East Pakistan Rifles based there. In March they heard about shooting between Army’s factions. My brothers saw corpses, obviously Bengalis, hanging in the street square. They saw a Bengali employee who served our family chased by Biharis. My father bailed him out. Mybrothersaw a Bengali brought close to the backyard, forced down by a few others and slaughtered. I have heard volunteer account of raids on Bengali villages under the command of army officers. Arson and loot was admitted. I heard another very reliable account of a Bihari student who travelled in the safety of army convoy from one city to another. He tells that they started early in the morning. Couple of hours later, soldiers started to look for goats owned by villagers. They grabbed one and it was eaten for lunch.

  4. A text book style of starting a civil war is to commit atrocities against a sect (usually done by foreign intelligence agencies), the space and atmosphere is provided by inept and unfair government (which exactly what Pakistan’s government was in ’71) and supplemented by propaganda (accomplished by KGB and Indians).

    When the home army moves in, violence will eventually ensue and it can be conveniently blamed on the home army because it is more visible on the ground. The cycle of violence repeats and soon you have atrocities being committed by both sides.

    To get an insight into Soviet involvement in making East Pakistan, please refer to this link:

    For an account of the mythical one-sided atrocities commited by the Pakistan Army please read:

    Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War (Columbia/Hurst) [Hardcover]

  5. Dear Usman,

    A text book style of diversion is to blame an invisible foreign bogey. The book you suggest is same one that Momin Iftikhar suggested. Do you have anything new to add or just repeating the same thing?

  6. Last time I checked, India was quite visible and not ashamed of hiding its involvement in the break up of Pakistan, even boasting about it, rather than showing concern about the humanitarian losses suffered during the break up.

    Also, intelligence agencies are meant to be invisible, it is their job.

    Also interesting is that Pak Media Watch has actually contradicted itself in this blog. Quite, rightly, history is written by the victors so why dismiss the only version of events from Pakistan’s perspective? Was there at least, thorough fact checking and critical analysis done of the ‘figures’ of the dead in the war by either India or Bangladesh? According to BBC, Mukhti Bahani atrocities are largely ignored in Bangladesh even today.

    And we all know how fair the present war crimes trial is going to be of the JI in Bangladesh after their top judge quit.

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