Pakistani supporters apologise for 1971 Bangladesh genocide

Bangladesh's long, unfulfilled journey in search of a Pakistani apology

After the birth of Bangladesh in December 1971, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh signed the historic Tripartite Agreement in 1974 which was aimed at reconciliation between the three nations, once a single country. The then Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, visited Bangladesh the same year, but reconciliation remained a far cry. Following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975 successive military and pseudo-democratic governments kept themselves busy in developing the nation and fighting off internal conflict. It was a period of coup and counter-coup. The apology due from Pakistan for the atrocities of its armed forces - genocide, rape, arson and destruction - on unarmed civilians was, therefore, forgotten for two long decades, although many civil rights groups and freedom fighters' organisations raised the issue from time to time.

After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's president General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq visited Bangladesh twice in 1985 - first in May after severe cyclone hit Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Noakhali and coastal Islands (Sandwip, Hatiya, and Urirchar), and secondly in December during the inauguration of SAARC which took place in Bangladesh. He visited the Jatiyo Smriti Shoudho (National Memorial) at Savar and told Bangladesh's media "Your heroes are our heroes".

Four years later, on 10 October 1989, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the eldest daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, visited Bangladesh. But like her father, Benazir Bhutto restrained herself from apologising officially and did not touch the issue.

The issue of Pakistan's "unconditional apology" and "sharing of pre-Independence assets" gained ground only when Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujib, was in power from 1996 to 2001. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the first Pakistani leader who talked about the brutalities committed by the Pakistani forces in Bangladesh during 1971. While on a visit to Bangladesh in March 1997, he assured that an apology from Pakistan would be forthcoming. But this apology never came.

Instead, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shahibzada Yaqub Khan - Governor of East Pakistan in 1971 who famously resigned weeks before the massacre - while talking to the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary in January 1997, expressed concern at the 'anti-Pak propaganda' in Bangladesh electronic and print media in the wake of 25th anniversary of the Victory Day on 16th December. Similar concern was reiterated by former President Farooq Leghari. Three years later, in May 2000, Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar expressed his concern at the activities of the War Crimes Fact Finding Committee (WCFFC), and stated that 'old wounds should not be reopened'. However, when parts of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report was leaked few months later, former Pakistan Defence Minister, Aftab Shaban Mirani, called upon the army generals implicated in the Hamoodur Commission report to apologise and repent publicly for their crimes against humanity. He even demanded their handing over to Bangladesh to face trial.

The expulsion of Pakistani diplomat Irfanur Rahman Raja in November 2000 for making "derogatory remarks" about Bangladesh's liberation war also heightened the tension between the two countries.

It is not understood why the new generation of armed forces is not ready to apologise.

They must note that new generation of leaders of Germany apologised to the Jews for the holocaust while that of Japan did to China and South Korea for war crimes. In 2008, Australian Prime Minister apologised to the Australian Aboriginal community for the wrongs committed in the past. The Vatican has apologised for the actions of Catholics who persecuted non-Catholics, and expressed sorrow over the attack on Constantinople during the Crusades, thousands of years ago.

It is the government of Pakistan which is ultimately responsible for the apology and unless Pakistan has a strong democratic government, it seems apology has to wait until that time.

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But it was the visit of Prime Minister General Musharraf which generated much public debate. General Musharraf was the fifth Pakistani head of government to visit Bangladesh after 1971. It overshadowed the previous ones as he had chosen to speak on certain sensitive issues at opportune moments, and which his predecessors had missed.

Pakistan President Musharraf expresses "regret" over 1971

On 29 July 2002, the then President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf visited Bangladesh after accepting an invitation extended by the then Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. On his arrival in Dhaka he was given a red carpet welcome and a 21-gun salute, and received by Khaleda Zia and acting President Jamiruddin Sircar. A number of Bangladeshi political parties, particularly the leftist groups, had opposed General Musharraf's visit and the student front of main opposition Awami League called a country-wide strike protesting the Pakistani military ruler's tour. Two years ago, General Musharraf had called off a scheduled meeting with Sheikh Hasina, the then prime minister, on the sidelines of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the United Nations in New York after she had made a veiled attack on him in a speech at the world body for overthrowing an elected government.

On his arrival General Musharraf first visited the Jatiyo Smriti Soudho (National Memorial) at Savar, about 50 km north-west of Dhaka, which is dedicated to those who laid down their lives for Bangladesh's liberation. After laying wreath and paying homage, General Musharraf left a handwritten note in the visitor's booth.

I bring sincere greetings and good wishes from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for their Bangladeshi brethren and sisters. We wish this land and its people peace, progress and prosperity. Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events of 1971. The excesses [committed] during that unfortunate period are regrettable. Let us bury the past in a spirit of magnanimity. Let not the light of the future be dimmed. Let us move forward together. I am confident that with our joint resolve Pakistan-Bangladesh friendship will flourish in the years to come.

President General Pervez Musharraf

General Musharraf signed a series of agreements with Khaleda Zia aimed at forging closer ties between the two former enemies. But the talks failed to make progress on some issues, including Bangladeshi demands for compensation for millions of dollars of assets lost during the conflict.

The next day, at an official banquet held in his honour in Dhaka, he repeated his regrets and spoke of the sincere greetings and good wishes he carried from the people of Pakistan for 'their Bangladeshi brothers and sisters', adding that 'courage to compromise is greater than to confront'.

My brothers and sisters in Pakistan share with their fellow brothers and sisters in Bangladesh profound grief over the parameters of the events of 1971. As a result of this tragedy a family having common religious and cultural heritage and united by a joint struggle for independence and a shared vision of the future, was torn apart. We feel sorry for this tragedy, and the pain it caused to both our peoples.

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We wish this land and its people peace, progress and prosperity...[with] our joint resolve, the friendship between Pakistan and Bangladesh will flourish.

General Musharraf,

General Musharraf's comments went far further than many in Bangladesh would have expected. The Bangladesh Government was swift to welcome the move and Prime Minister Khaleda Zia responded warmly to General Musharraf's 'regret'.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your candid expression on the events of 1971. This will, no doubt, help mitigate the old wounds.

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Many subsequent Pakistani politicians have cited General Musharraf's bold step as tendering an apology as it was accepted by the Bangladeshi government in Dhaka. His implicit apology was seen as sufficient 'to declare the chapter closed' and there was no justification from Bangladesh to continue with their long-standing demand for an apology. It was a view that General Musharraf himself also shared.

Later, Musharraf conveyed Pakistan’s uneasiness on this subject to the visiting Foreign Adviser in May 2008. He reiterated that he had already expressed ‘regret for excesses committed in 1971’ adding that ‘digging the past would not lead to anything positive other than creating dissatisfaction in Pakistan’. While responding to a query by a media man in New York in September 2008 the Pak Foreign Minister remarked that the episode was 'now a history'.

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General Musharaf's cleverly drafted expression of regret, the first by a Pakistani military ruler since the independence of Bangladesh three decades ago, received mixed response. His comments got wide publicity with a section of the media projecting it as something as close as possible to a "formal apology" and finding "no reason now" to remain antagonistic. It was welcomed by prime minister Khalida Zia but the country's opposition, particularly the Awami League party, denounced the gesture as inadequate. The opposition, along with many leading Bengalis, said that Musharraf expressed his regrets in vague terms and that Pakistan should specifically ask for an unconditional apology.

We welcome what President Musharraf wrote in Savar and (said) at the banquet last night...We don't want to embarrass a guest by discussing issues like an apology for the 1971 war situation. It is the spirit of the people of the two countries that will decide that.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Morshed Khan

His comments were an attempt to fool Bangladeshis.

Abdul Jalil, a senior Awami League MP

Why should the Pakistanis be pained, as they were the aggressors who killed Bengalis in one of history's worst genocides?

Communist Party leader Monzurul Ahsan Khan said the general's comments were "valueless"

This falls short of unconditional apology. We do not accept this.

Shamsur Rahman, renowned poet who wrote 'Swadhinata Tumi' poem

This religion-based approach which was sought by General Musharraf to foster a closer Bangladesh-Pakistan relations was intrinsically anti-India and envisaged a common approach on all regional issues.

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In using the word "excesses" to describe the actions of Pakistani forces, General Musharraf carefully avoided references to who committed the "excesses" and on whom the "excesses" were committed, and also whether they were mere excesses or constituted planned crimes against humanity executed by a military machine upon an unarmed people. His regret was not certainly considered an apology.

Apology means first the acknowledgment of crimes committed and second feeling and expressing remorse for crimes and third doing something to restore that was manifestly wrong and hurtful.

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But will this apology really do? Has the Pakistani leader honoured history through his statement? Did he really pay respects to those who fell prey to the excesses of the Pakistani forces? Several Bangladeshi dailies ran editorials praising Musharraf for expressing his 'regrets' and 'sorrow', and characterised his words either as a "good gesture" or a "good beginning". But some other dailies in their editorial comments and articles termed Musharraf's apology a "cosmetic" one and "a cunning effort to sidetrack the historic crime against humanity". This section felt that Musharraf's words indicated no change in the old Pakistani mindset although it sounded deceptively so in the changed environment.

Normalisation of relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan is vital to begin a new chapter. Healing wounds and burying the unpleasant legacies of history is always welcome. In fact, the Tripartite Agreement was a good example of the maturity of the political leaderships concerned. Paragraph 14 of the agreement says: "The Prime Minister of Pakistan declared that he would visit Bangladesh in response to the invitation of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and appealed to the people of Bangladesh to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past in order to promote reconciliation. Similarly, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh had declared with regard to the atrocities and destruction committed in Bangladesh in 1971 that he wanted the people to forget the past and to make a fresh start, stating that the people of Bangladesh knew how to forgive".

Therefore, the political mood was for reconciliation, although the general mood was one of trial of the "war criminals" (who were finally given safe passage from Bangladesh to Pakistan via India, thanks to the Tripartite Agreement). There is a strong feeling in Bangladesh that Pakistan should realise the enormity of the human tragedy that its forces had caused.

But while his predecessors tried to shift the blame for the barbaric acts on the "military" or upon a few "generals", Musharraf has gone a step forward by expressing regret for the events. However, he failed to pay due honour to the history that separated the two wings of Pakistan, overshadowing the pervasive influence of the "two-nation theory" of 1947.

Musharraf chose to use the phrase "events of 1971" instead of the "war of liberation". While the "events of 1971" will be interpreted in Bangladesh as "war of liberation", people in Pakistan will prefer to term it as the "secession of Pakistan". In using the word "excesses" to describe the actions of Pakistani forces, Musharraf carefully avoided references to who committed the "excesses" and on whom the "excesses" were committed, and also whether they were mere excesses or constituted a planned genocide executed by a military machine upon an unarmed people.

For the people of the former East Pakistan, independence was the only option after the Pakistani junta disowned outright the people's mandate in the 1970 general elections, refused the claim of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the charismatic leader of the majority to lead the country constitutionally, and finally executed a brutal plan to crush the Bengalis' quest for freedom by means of an army crackdown on March 25, 1971. The 'tragedy' that Musharraf referred to was ambiguous - was it a tragedy for the Bengalis of East Pakistan or for the people of the former West Pakistan?

During the last several decades, Bangladesh politics has had two streams. The first is the "pro-liberation" group which believes in a secular Bengali nationhood and considers the "spirit of 1971" as the guiding force shaping the nation's destiny. The other group has religious extremists who believe in the Islamic nationhood, or the "spirit of 1947" as many of them call it. Hence Musharraf's statement that "a family having common religious and cultural heritage and united by a joint struggle for independence and shared vision of the future was torn apart" would obviously please the latter group. No wonder it welcomed the Pakistan President's "gesture" when the former group understandably refused to buy it. Musharraf's prescription for "healing the wounds" on the basis of a theory of religious affinity is hard to take either, considering that the people of the two countries fought each other despite the fact that they belonged to the same religion. Some analysts believe that by making this statement, the Pakistan President virtually tried to shift the blame of genocide from the shoulders of his country's armed forces. It is true that he went beyond the thinking of his predecessors by expressing "regrets", but nonetheless Musharraf missed a fair chance to heal the wounds of history.

By accepting, not avoiding, the truth of history in good grace, Musharraf has made a rapprochement possible. However, since mass memory is always more powerful than written history, an unconditional public apology from Pakistan is needed to heal the wounds.

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A few days after President Musharraf left Bangladesh, a joint statement by leaders of 51 civil rights organisations of Pakistan made a public apology to the people of Bangladesh.

We feel sad and burdened by what we know was a violation of the people's human rights... The apology should have come a long time ago, and citizen groups did make attempts to do so... We deeply feel that a message from us is necessary to acknowledge the historic wrongs, to express sincere apology and build a bond based on honest sentiments.

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"Joh huwa soh huwa...move on"

In 2011, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr. Dipu Moni, a Hindu, raised the question of apology when new Pakistan High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi, called on her. In response, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman in Islamabad urged Dhaka to "let bygones be bygones" and hoped that relations "would not become hostage to the past". But Bangladesh responded just three days stating that "Pakistan must apologise for the genocide it had committed in 1971", if bilateral ties are to improve. Dr. Dipu Moni also called for Pakistan's understanding and recognition of Bangladesh's position on a resolution of outstanding issues, including repatriation of stranded Pakistanis, division of assets and war reparations.

An early resolution of the outstanding issues will enable the existing friendly relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan to make a great leap forward and create a wider space for cooperation.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told new Pakistan envoy

This is not the first time that Bangladesh has asked Pakistan to apologise. As usual, Pakistan has answered in part-apathy, part-irritation, by telling Bangladesh to "bury the past", "move forward as there are complaints on both sides". When a recent poll asked representatives from Pakistan's major political parties their views on whether Pakistan should issue a formal apology to Bangladesh, it discovered that this attitude was prevalent within Pakistan's political arena too. Pakistan People's Party (PPP, founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) all talked about "moving on". Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) were willing to sit down and talk through 1971 with Bangladesh, whilst Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), whose sister party in Bangladesh were on trial for 1971 atrocities, said that Pakistan should "under no circumstances" apologize, and demands, instead, that the apology should come from the Bangladesh and Indian governments.

When Pervez Musharraf visited Bangladesh, he regretted what happened. That should be enough.

What happened to pro-Pakistan groups in Bangladesh - that is also a part of history. The girls and the young ones of the pro-united Pakistan were also people. It is not like it was one-way traffic. It was two-way traffic. So why open a Pandora's Box.

Fawad Chaudhry, member of Pakistan People's Party and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister

No, under no circumstances [should Pakistan apologise for 1971]. Pakistan met Indian forces there!

The Pakistani forces, and those who did not speak Bengali - the non-Bengali Pakistanis - were killed on a large scale. If anyone should apologise, it should be the Bangladesh government. Sheikh Hasina [Prime Minister in 2013] should apologise. Her government should apologise. They conspired with India, and laid the basis for the the separation of Pakistan.

The Indian Army Chief General V. K. Singh made Mukti Bahini. And they carried out atrocities on a large scale. The Bengalis let Indian forces support them, and take part. The Indian forces infiltrated that area from 3 December 1971.

Sheikh Hasina should ask the Pakistani government for forgiveness. The Indian government should apologise too.

Dr. Farid Ahmad Piracha, Deputy Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan

There is no doubt that a lot of things should not have happened. A lot of things have also been exaggerated. We should learn lessons from the way it was mishandled. And it also shows once again that whenever you deal with things like that, you need to have a comprehensive strategy, and military action itself is not a solution to anything.

I also think it's time to move forward in the relationship. Regrets have been expressed. Various Pakistani leaders have expressed them.

Shafqat Mehmood, Information Secretary of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf

After having listened to all the arguments for not apologising, the poll concluded that a formal apology was a "fair request" which Pakistan "should consider seriously".

We think it's a fair request, and we think our politicians in Pakistan should consider it seriously - especially since Pakistan is no stranger to the politics of apologies (remember Salala?). At minimum that means engaging with the demand, for example by investigating what actually happened (an exercise that has still not really taken place, given that we only have access to a supplementary report from the commission that was tasked with the investigation, and given that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto put plenty of pressure on those involved to report a favorable picture). At most, it means issuing the apology, because formal apologies from states engaged with atrocities can be a powerful opportunity for the victims of 1971 to move forward.

Tanqeed website

Pakistani Mir Hamid, Imran Khan and Dawn newspaper plead government for formal apology

In the recent past, there have been growing voices from Pakistan pressurising their government to apologise for the atrocities committed in 1971.

On 25 December 2007, on the occasion of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah's birthday annivarsary held at Islamabad Press Club, eminent journalist and Executive Director of Geo TV, Hamid Mir, led a banner campaign with fellow Pakistani media and lawyers apologising for 1971. The words on the banner read "Dear Bangladeshi's sorry for '71 genocide from Pakistan media and lawyers". This high profile protest created a reaction in Pakistan, especially since Hamid Mir was a recipient of Hilal-e-Imtiaz - Pakistan's second highest civilian award - and famous for interviewing high profile international figures such as Osama bin Laden, Condoleezza Rice, Tony Blair and L. K. Advani, amongst others. He was also a popular anchorperson of a large media group. However, the protest received support from Roedad Khan, the Press Secretary of East Pakistan during 1971, who was alleged to have expressed his sorry in the meeting also.

The 'sorry' photo received wide circulation in Bangladesh via Daily Prothom Alo newspaper, a popular national daily. It gained Hamid Mir and his colleagues a lot of respect for their brave stance and reassured Bengalis that their long standing cry for justice was heard by their brothers and sisters 1,000 miles away.

Some people hate me a lot in Pakistan. They hate me because I said sorry to Bengalis two years ago in Islamabad Press Club for the atrocities committed by Pakistan Army in 1971.They hate me because I also demanded an official apology from the government of Pakistan to the people of Bangladesh for the genocide of March 1971.They say I don't know anything. They say I am not a good Pakistani.

They say I was very young in 1971 and I am not aware about the truth. When I say yes I was only a young school-going boy in 1971 but I heard and read a lot about the genocide. How can I deny my late father, Professor Waris Mir, who visited Dhaka in October 1971 with a delegation of Punjab University students? My father was a teacher of journalism in Punjab University, Lahore. He was asked by the University administration to organise a visit of the student's union office bearers to Turkey, but he took the boys to Dhaka with their consent. They wanted to know what was actually going on in Dhaka.

I still remember that when my father came back from Dhaka he wept for many days. He told us stories of bloodshed. These stories were similar to the story of my mother. My mother lost her whole family during migration from Jammu to Pakistan in 1947. Her brothers were killed by the Hindus and Sikhs in front of her eyes. Her mother was kidnapped. She saved her life by hiding under the dead bodies of her own relatives. I remember that my mother cried a lot when my father told her that Pakistan army officers raped many Bengali women. My mother said: "We made sacrifices for the safety of our honour but why we are dishonouring each other today?"

My father always said that Bengalis made Pakistan and we Punjabis broke Pakistan. Once he said that March 23rd was Pakistan Day, March 26th should be the apology day and December 16th should be the accountability day. I started understanding the thoughts of my late father when I became a journalist in 1987.

When I first read the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report I felt ashamed. This report of a Pakistani commission admitted murder and rape but, despite this documentary evidence, many people still live in a state of denial. They say Sheikh Mujib was a traitor who created Mukti Bahini with the help of India and killed many innocent Punjabis and Beharis. I say that Sheikh Mujib was a worker of the Pakistan movement, he was a supporter of Fatima Jinnah (sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah) till 1966. He only demanded provincial autonomy but military rulers declared him a traitor. In fact, these military rulers were traitors because their troops raped their own mothers and sisters. They say I am a liar and an enemy of Pakistan. How could I be an enemy of Pakistan? My mother sacrificed her whole family for Pakistan. My problem is that I cannot deny truth.

A senior colleague of mine, Afzal Khan, is still alive. He is 73 years old. He worked with Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), and was secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) from 1980 to 1985. He was sent to Dhaka on March 28, 1971 for the coverage of the army operation. He told me many times that yes Mukti Bahini killed a lot of innocent people but what the Pakistan army did was not the job of a national army. Once he was staying in Ispahani House in Khulna. An army major once offered him a girl to spend a night with. When Afzal Khan asked who the girl was, the major said that she was the daughter of a local police officer and she could come to Ispahani House at gun-point. After this incident Afzal Khan came back to Lahore in May 1971. He says that all those who were responsible for the rape and genocide of Bengalis never enjoyed any respect in Pakistan.

The name of General Yahya Khan is still like an abuse in Pakistan. His son Ali Yahya always tries to hide from people. General Tikka Khan is still remembered as the "butcher of Bengal." General A.A.K. Niazi wanted to become "tiger of Bengal" but is remembered as "jackal of Bengal." The majority of Pakistanis hate all those who were responsible for the genocide of their Bengali brothers. That is the reason the family members of these army officers don't even mention publicly that who their fathers were.

But still there are some people who are not ready to admit their blunders. These people are a minority but they are powerful. I consider them enemies of the Pakistan for which my mother sacrificed her family. Why should we defend these enemies? Why doesn't our democratic government officially apologise to Bengalis? This apology will not weaken Pakistan. It will strengthen Pakistan.

I am sure that Pakistan is changing fast. A day will come very soon when the government of Pakistan will officially say sorry to Bengalis and March 26th will become an apology day for patriotic Pakistanis. I want this apology because Bengalis created Pakistan. I want this apology because Bengalis supported the sister of Jinnah against General Ayub Khan. I wants this apology because I want to make a new relationship with the people of Bangladesh. I don't want to live with my dirty past. I want to live in a neat and clean future. I want a bright future not only for Pakistan but also for Bangladesh. I want this apology because I love Pakistan and I love Bangladesh. Happy Independence Day to my Bangladeshi brothers and sisters.

Hamid Mir

In the past, large and significant sections of the Pakistani media, while periodically recalling that long-ago hour of shame and berating the army of Yahya Khan for the ignominy it brought to Pakistan by its capitulation in Dhaka, have never made bold to report, even so many years after the mauling of history, on precisely the kind of terror the soldiers perpetrated on the Bengalis in 1971. There has never been a second Anthony Mascarenhas. There are Pakistani journalists, civil servants and political leaders who wistfully recall the old days of camaraderie with their ‘East Pakistani’ brothers. But they get careful at a point and fall short of indulging in serious reflections of what their people did to those ‘East Pakistani’ brothers close to four decades ago.

Mukto Chinta, blogger

In 2013 Hamid Mir's late journalist father Waris Mir was awarded the "Friends of Liberation War Honour" along with 12 other Pakistani nationals (including poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, and Vice President of West Pakistan Awami League Malik Ghulam Jilani). Professor Waris Mir was the former head of Journalism Department of the Punjab University and a renowned Daily Jang writer who enjoyed respect in literary circles and in media. He travelled to Dhaka in October 1971 along with a student's delegation from the Punjab University to show their solidarity with the East Pakistani students. They visited the premises of Dhaka University where the massacre took place during Operation Searchlight and met with fellow teachers and students to 'remove misunderstandings between the two sides'. Left aghast by what they saw and heard, they returned back to West Pakistan and Prof. Waris wrote some columns in the Daily Jung but the military government did not allow its publication. However, the Jang Publishers compiled these articles into a book and published it in 1985, fourteen years after they were written.

In 2011 Prof. Waris Mir was awarded with Hilal-e-Imitiaz by the Government of Pakistan in recognition of his daring journalism and standing up for freedom of speech.

The Bangladesh government has honoured my father because he opposed the 1971 military operation in Bangladesh. He visited Bangladesh in October 1971, went back to Pakistan and informed people, by writing a series of articles, that the Pakistani army was committing atrocities and genocide in Bangladesh.

My father was treated as a traitor in Pakistan and faced difficulties in his social life. When we go back to Pakistan many people will raise questions about why we have received the awards.

Many people will tell me that your father was awarded at a function where some Indian army officials were also awarded. It will be a tough question because Pakistan and India do not have good relations with each other. But I have the courage to respond like my father did.

Hamid Mir,

The honour from Bangladesh triggered many Pakistani critics to question the loyalty of these recipient and they did not shy away from labeling them as 'ghaddar' (traitors).

Salima Hashmi, who received the award on behalf of his father late Faiz Ahmed Faiz by the Bangladesh government on 24th March 2013, said: “The Pakistan government should formally apologise to the people of Bangladesh for the atrocities committed by Pakistan occupation army during the War of Independence in 1971”. This is exactly the same language that Sheikh Hasina Wajid speaks.

...One should differentiate between opposing the military action in the then East Pakistan and those receiving awards for being friends of Bangladesh.

If Bangladesh government is pro-India and continues Pakistan-bashing, then those who received awards are not sincere with Pakistan. They do not feel qualms in condemning and blaming Pakistan while turning a blind against the horrors of Mukti Bahini and India’s role; hence they are not patriots. Pakistan had formed Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission to investigate into the causes of the tragedy of disintegration of Pakistan, and the excesses perpetrated in then East Pakistan, of course by the rebels and the military that was trying to quell the rebellion.

It has to be mentioned that people have not forgotten the genocide of non-Bengalis during the civil war and afterwards at the hands of Bengali nationalists. However, Pakistan considered the matter settled, as Sheikh Mujib had made no demand for apology during his visit to Lahore to attend Islamic Summit or even after that. But Sheikh Hasina has shown complete obedience towards Indian masters, be it humiliating Pakistan or be it providing and unwavering support to India, which has deprived Bangladesh of its right over river Barak when India unilaterally decided to build a Tipaimukh dam on this site with huge reservoir. This means that River Barak, which flows into Bangladesh from the Indian state of Manipur, will go dry completely. India is also concentrating small rivers flowing from India to Bangladesh to make a mainstream in India to use water for its domestic needs; thus depriving Bangladeshi farmers of water by diverting its rivers. There was also dispute between India and Bangladesh on the matter of fencing the border by India.

After the break-up of Pakistan, India declared that two-nation theory had sunk in the Bay of Bengal. But eidetic reality was that Bangladesh became an independent country with Muslim identity, and in general Bengladeshis are not willing to accept India’s hegemony. Bangladesh had also refused to send its troops to Afghanistan, which seems to be the result of the fact that Bangladeshis guard their freedom very jealously, despite Sheikh Hasina’s appeasement policy towards India.

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Despite the backlash, the Bengali campaign received a major boost when a legendary Pakistani unexpectedly gave his backing.

On 23 March 2011 - on the 64th anniversary of Pakistan Day - cricket legend and political chief of Tehrik-e-Insaf, Imran Khan, said Pakistan should issue Bangladesh a formal apology. Imran Khan was appearing in a live television show hosted by Hamid Mir on Geo News and Geo Super TV channels just a few moments before the start of a cricket match between Pakistan and West Indies in Mirpur, Bangladesh. After declaring his confidence in the Bengalis supporting the Pakistan Cricket team, Imran Khan stunned millions of viewers by supporting the Bengali's long standing grievance. In March 1971 Imran Khan was playing a National Under-19 tournament match in Lahore against a Under-19 team from Dhaka. He did not believe the East Pakistani youngsters when they informed him how bad the situation was there as such incident were not reported in West Pakistan since there was no independent media in Pakistan in 1971. It was only few months later when he went to England for higher studies that he was told by his Bengali class fellows in Oxford that the Pakistani Army had committed a lot of massacre.

The players from Dhaka told me that situation is very bad in the Eastern part of Pakistan but we were not aware (as) there was no independent media (at that time in West Pakistan). We just ignored the concerns of our (cricketer) friends from Dhaka. We were too young. We never understood what was going on in Dhaka.

That (1971) operation was a blunder. We must apologise.

...I think now we must give more preference to Bangladesh, we must improve our relations with Bangladeshis. You will see the difference when our team will play Semi Final in India on 26th . . .You will miss Bangladeshis.

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Imran Khan became the first ever Pakistani dignitary who has demanded an apology from Pakistan to Bangladesh on a live TV show in Pakistan. He also spoke about the kind-heartedness of the Bengalis and how he experienced love and warmth during an exhibition match in Mirpur, Dhaka, in 1989. He warned Pakistan's leaders that if the lesson of 1971 were not learnt and applied then Pakistan will quickly self destruct.

We must learn lessons from our past mistakes and we should not repeat these mistakes in Balochistan and tribal areas where we have started Army operations on the US pressure”. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is the first ever Pakistani dignitary who has demanded an apology from Pakistan to Bangladesh on a live TV show in Pakistan.

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Imran Khan's comments drew massive appreciation from both the younger and older Pakistanis while The News International newspaper carried a report on the issue.

The following year, on 11 November 2012, the leading Pakistani English daily newspaper, Dawn, in its editorial came out for full-fledged apology to Bangladesh people. It wrote that 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.

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.

Dawn (Pakistan)

Human right activist Nasim Akhter and journalists Saad Hafiz and Shahzeb Jillani have also 'thrown their weight' in favour of Bangladesh and been critical of the Pakistani army role during 1971, and more recently in Baluchistan.

Bangladesh [must] carry out a massive campaign for building public opinion regarding the trial [of war criminals] for the sake of justice so that the perpetrators of the crime do not get a chance to hatch 'fresh plots' in the name of religion 'as they did in 1971.

Nasim Akhter, Pakistani human right activist

Hamid Mir, Nasim Akhter, Imran Khan and Dawn newspaper are not alone in demanding an official apology from the Government of Pakistan. Other fellow Pakistani journalists and members of civil society are continuously striving to encourage its government to clear their conscience. In 2012 three Pakistani journalists and an NGO expressed their regret to the national news agency of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), on the sidelines of an international conference held in Sri Lanka.

We still feel sorry for the misdeeds of Pakistani forces in 1971.

Saleem Saikh, a senior Pakistani journalist of the Dawn newspaper

I am just an ordinary citizen of Pakistan but I assure my Bangladeshis brothers and sisters that I am not alone in Pakistan. A big number of Pakistanis want to apologise because the majority of them were actually not aware of what happened in 1971. The reason is that there was military rule in Pakistan at that time. The press was not free and communication between East and West was very limited.

But the Pakistan of today is different from the Pakistan of 1971. Now, Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed from Philadelphia, USA, can contact me after reading my column and he can tell me that his father was a worker of the Pakistan movement who migrated from Assam to Sylhet in 1947. His father was killed by the Pakistan army on April 9, 1971 in Sylhet Medical College Hospital when he was treating some wounded people.

Dr. Ziauddin used to hate Pakistan, but a turning point came in his life in 2005. He was invited by Dr. Omar Atiq, the then president of the Pakistani Medical Association in North America. Dr. Atiq and hundreds of Pakistani doctors apologised to their Bangladeshi brothers for the genocide committed by the Pakistan army in 1971. Dr. Ziauddin wants Major Riaz and Colonel Sarfraz to be tried in a court of law for the murder of his father.

I also received an email from Lt. Col (rtd) Omar Huda, who was a captain in 1971. He was posted in Lahore but refused to accept the orders of his commander after the operation started in Dhaka on March 26. He was arrested by the Pakistan army. He was released in 1974 and eventually became a colonel in the Bangladesh army. Now he is retired and lives in Los Angeles. He still has many friends in Pakistan.

He is worried about the operations of the Pakistan army in Baluchistan and the Frontier Province (now Pakhtunkhwa) and thinks that perhaps one day someone like me will again write about the loss of human lives in these operations. He want that the armies in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh should not open fire on their own people, or even on each other. I agree with him.

I cannot mention all the emails and all the names of those who wrote their words with tears and finished my tears. I thank all of them. I assure my Bangladeshi friends that I will no more write only columns in newspapers. I will write a letter to the president and the prime minister of Pakistan and demand that they apologise to the Bangladeshis. If they do not, I will write a book on that issue. After that I will make a documentary so that the new generation of Pakistanis comes to know about the blunders committed by their elders in 1971. I am sure that one day my words will come true because I am fighting for truth.

This is my promise to the people of Bangladesh. This is a promise of a Pakistani who, like Bangladeshis, always hated military dictators. This Pakistani will always be thankful to Bangladeshis because their founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman not only created Bangladesh but was also part of the movement which created Pakistan in 1947. Bengalis actually created two countries. First Pakistan and then Bangladesh. You are really great people.

Hamid Mir on fellow Pakistanis supporting Bengali cause

As if in a chorus, breaking out of the selective amnesia of that period, they have urged their government to formally apologise to Bangladesh.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

War trial adds pressure

On 22 November 2012 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina skipped the D-8 Summit held in Pakistan's capital Islamabad after accepting Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar's invitation to attend. Hina Rabbani Khar had personally handed over the invitation to the Prime Minister at her Ganobhaban residence in Dhaka on behalf of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. It was the first time a high-ranking Pakistani Minister had visited Bangladesh since Sheikh Hasina came to power for the second time in 2009. For her part, Sheikh Hasina had visited India, China, Bhutan, Myanmar and other countries within the region but not Pakistan.

The Bengali prime minister along with her Foreign Minister Dipu Moni allegedly handed over a list of demands to Hina Rabbani Khar during her visit. These demands included putting former military and political personalities involved in the 1971 military action on trial and an official apology from Pakistan for actions during the 1971 war.

The reception of the Pakistan Foreign Minister to Dhaka appeared to be cool as the media reported that she was not received or seen-off at the airport by her Bangladeshi counter-part. She was received at the air port by the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary.

Earlier Ms. Hina Kar's visit to Dhaka on 25 October 2012 was abruptly cancelled without showing any reason. On 9th November, she remained only five hours in Dhaka. No bilateral discussions were held. Her courtesy meeting with her Bangladeshi counter-part Dr. Dipu Moni was reportedly not more than 20 minutes and the meeting was perceived as “cut and dry” in diplomatic terms.

During the meeting, according to the Bangladesh foreign secretary, Bangladesh Foreign Minister raised with Ms. Hina Khar "some unresolved issues" including an apology from Pakistan for the atrocities committed on Bangladeshi innocent civilians in 1971. Ms Khar reportedly stated that Pakistan had "regretted in different forms and … it was time to move on".

Before Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar left she called on the leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia and invited her to visit Pakistan.

Apart from the government to government relations, economic relations at the private sector level between the two countries are minimal although huge potentialities remain.

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In fact, during the last four years, Dhaka’s ties with Islamabad have been limited to visits of Bangladesh's education and commerce ministers and the parliamentary speaker to Islamabad and foreign secretary-level official consultations in November 2010. Then on a six-hour visit to Bangladesh Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar came to Bangladesh on 8 November 2012 to formally invite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to attend the D-8 Summit in Islamabad on 22 November 2012. She called on both the PM and the leader of the Opposition. However, at the start she had a 'cut and dry' meeting with her Bangladeshi counterpart Dipu Moni at the latter’s office. Later, foreign secretary Mijarul Quayes in a press brief disclosed that during the talks Dipu Moni asked Hina Rabbani that Pakistan should seek unconditional apology to Bangladesh for the atrocities committed during the war of liberation and expected that Pakistan would apologize at one stage. In an instant response Pakistani foreign minister said that they have regretted in different forms in the past and that it was time 'to move forward'.

It was just a reiteration of Pakistan’s old stand and was impregnated with a kind of evasive but politico-diplomatic expression setting aside the burning issue standing as ALPS between these two brotherly Muslim countries of OIC. Notwithstanding anything contained in the words and expressions of the leaders of Pakistan about apology to Bangladesh, the issue is gaining good ground gradually in various circles, medias and civil societies in Pakistan. Furthermore, major issues such as apportionment of assets and liabilities and repatriation of stranded Pakistanis (non-Bengalis) have not been resolved till today.

Therefore, at the end of Bangladesh’s passing of forty years of Victory Day again the hunting question is that will Pakistan look into the issue from the standpoints of crude reality and history bearing in mind that the healing power of true apology is so appealing, extensive and encompassing, which, if applied correctly and reasonably, is almost sure to touch the very heart(s) of the sufferer(s) piercing through or going beyond all limitations, factual or fictitious?

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However, Hina Rabbani Khar denied such speculation and declared she was "received warmly" by the PM and her foreign minister and there was "good atmospherics". She also said that PM could not travel to Pakistan as doctors had advised Sheikh Hasina not to undertake air travel as she had an eye problem. However, it was widely believed that Sheikh Hasina skipped the summit as many Bengalis still bear a deep grudge against West Pakistani military action of 1971 and there were also security fears as the absconding convicted killers of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman might be there.

In 2013 the Government of Bangladesh started war crime trial of Bangladesh nationals who allegedly assisted the Pakistan military to commit 1971 atrocities. And with "clemency" provided to the alleged perpetrators under the 1974 Tripartite Agreement, thus providing protection to surviving high-ranking Pakistani military officers, observers say now more than ever it is all the more necessary for Pakistan to at least apologise to Bangladesh for the atrocities perpetrated on Bengali civilians.

...Over 42 years later, Bangladesh's search still continues.

In the civilian sphere, the lesson of the 1971 tragedy is to give importance to establishing rationality and universal human values in institutional structures and in political behaviour. The first step in rectifying the degeneration of politics in Pakistan would be to offer an apology to the people of Bangladesh. As a citizen of Pakistan, I humbly do so now

Dr Akmal Hussain, Professor of Economics, Beaconhouse National University, and FC College University