Conclusion: does it matter?
There's enough substantiated evidence to suggest that whatever the exact number of deaths, a very large number of civilians were killed. Both pro-Bengali and pro-Pakistani supporters agree on that. Is the casualty figure even important? Does it matter if one person was butchered or one hundred thousand or a million?
Every life counts. One cannot bring back those who died at the hands of frenzied mobs and uniformed soldiers. Even if it was proven fewer, or far fewer, died than the oft claimed figure of 3 million, we are still dealing with murder, rape, unnatural deaths and the destruction of individuals and their families in a land that had joyously embraced the idea of Pakistan less than a generation before.
Many Bangladeshis don't take the number of 3 million seriously; they didn't even when it was first stated in 1972. Bangladeshis have publicly dissected the problem of "numbers" since. ...In any case, whether the death toll was 3 million or 300,000 or less, doesn’t make it any less of genocide?
Naeem Mohaiemen, writer
Let's say that the figure of 3 Million is exaggerated. And the actual figure of the number of Bengalis killed is somewhere in between that claimed by Pakistan's Hamood ur Rahman Commission Report of 26,000 and the 3 Million. Let's say, it's in the hundreds of thousands or perhaps even lower. Does that in any way assuage Pakistan's shame? 3 Million killed would be shameful. But 26,000 killed would be something to be proud of?
It is not the number of people killed that drags Pakistan's name through the mud today. It is the lack of remorse. You only have to look at Germany and Japan to understand what I mean. Both nations killed millions of their enemies during WWII. It is their unequivocal remorse and acknowledgment of their actions that has redeemed them today.
Though actual death count - if such a thing was possible - is not necessary to prove the genocide in Bangladesh, yet, at the same time, arguably it is important for the sake of accuracy that people do not claim that a particular number of people died - whether it is too high or too low - which has no basis at all in the evidence.
Ultimately neither the numbers nor the labels matter. What matters is the nature of the conflict, which was fundamentally a complex and violent struggle for power among several different parties with a terrible human toll.
Sarmilla Bose concludes that killings in some cases were genocidal
It is morally wrong to inflict injuries on another individual for whatever reasons. Homicide, rape and stealing are morally wrong actions. Attacking a group of people on grounds of religion, race and/or ethnicity is morally wrong. Political necessities do not make morally wrong actions right. A political action may seem right at one point of time or in a certain situation but issues of morality do not change with time and circumstance. During the 1970s the political elite of Pakistan tried to justify the immoral act of genocide by making a number of allegations against the leaders of the elected majority party of Pakistan, but the fact of the matter remains that they were involved in immoral actions. Whatever the leaders responsible for the killings of thousands of innocent Bengalis were charged for committing crimes against humanity like the leaders of Nazi Germany and Bosnia were is not indicative of their moral status. Historically, they would always be branded as criminals.
Too much emphasis on the actual number of deaths have taken attention away from the real task in hand - bringing perpetrators to justice. These include Pakistani politician (notably President Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), Pakistani generals, collaborators, and even Bengalis themselves who killed innocent people. With this in mind, in 2010 Bangladesh government set up International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka to prosecute the people involved in alleged war crimes and those who collaborated with Pakistan. According to the Government, the defendants would be charged with Crimes against humanity, genocide, murder, rape and arson.
The need to move on and attain 'closure'
For real reconciliation to take place between Bengalis and Pakistanis and enable them them to move on from the past and move toward the future together as brotherly nations like they used to be at one time, the truth behind the creation of Bangladesh must be told. The guilty - from both side - must be brought to justice.
Both nation will need to cooperate and work with integrity and mutual respect in search for the truth. Greater efforts will be required to bring awareness to the wider audience both domestically and internationally and encourage situation and positive activities which bring the two communities together.
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.
Dr. Habib Siddiqui,
It is a concept of modern democracies to bury the past amiably and move ahead for future relationships. If Germany can express its regret over the Holocaust and international figures like Willy Brandt can kneel down before Poland then why can't Pakistan admit its mistake and apologize to Bangladeshi people?
Sabbir Ali, a Bangladeshi student living in Germany
'Batashe Lasher Gondho' kobita by Rudra Mohammad Shahdiullah