Answer #1: "No - it's a made-up astronomical number intent on destablising and undermining Pakistan"
"Secessionist aided by Indians bloat figure"
Advocates against the 3 million figure claim it is a falsehood of 'unprecedented proportion'. According to them, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was 'confused' over the exact number and his fabrication can be judged from his "faltering figures which he blurted within a span of few days" after his freedom in January 1972 from Mianwali Jail.
While at London on 8 January 1972 on his way to Dhaka after he was unconditionally released by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he claimed that one million people had been killed. But after his stop over at New Delhi where he was given intelligence briefing, he 'puffed up' the figure to three million when he arrived at Dhaka on 10 January 1971. According to these advocates, the figure of 3 million is a great international conspiracy against Pakistan spearheaded by none other than their 'greatest enemy' India who "wanted to take revenge for the defeat of 1965 war" and eventually succeeded "due to the inefficiency of a retarded and drunk general Yahya Khan". India wanted a bloated casualty figure to justify interfering in the internal matters of Pakistan and now the 3 million figure has been firmly instilled in the minds of Bangladeshis.
At the end of the '71 war Bangladesh was brought under full control of Delhi and Bangladesh coalition. Delhi, so euphoric on defeating a small nation, could have launched an investigation to count those killed. Did it do it or not? If not, why not? The answer is obvious, India was fearful of repercussion against its role in the massacre.
Even then the world powers opted to side with the rebels and their abettors. Force used by Pak Army in 1971 against the Indian aided secessionists when compared with other examples was inconsequential.
Significantly, Syed Anwarul Karim, Bangladesh’s first foreign secretary and a Special Envoy of Mujibnagar Shorkar to USA during Muktijuddho, supported the contention that Sheikh Mujib picked the figure of 3 million from an article in Pravda and believes the figure to be "a gross overstatement".
Mujibur Rahman’s honeymoon with his people was of short duration. Once his treason was exposed, he was assassinated.
M. Tariq Quraishi, editor of al-Ittihad (a Quarterly Journal of Islamic Studies, published from the USA, on July-September 1980 issue)
No evidence has ever been offered as to how a mere 45,000 Pakistani troops – scattered in small formations across the province, dealing with a domestic insurgency, facing the prospect of an Indian invasion, short of supplies, without using any poison gas or weapons of mass destruction – could achieve this incredibly high number of [3 million] casualties [and between 200,000 - 300,000 women raped]. The 90,000 Pakistani prisoners-of-war included over 50,000 civilians. According to this fabricated story, in only about 262 days, on every single day, over 11,000 people were killed and over 1,000 women were raped.
This bizarre fantasy has become a calumny which maligns both the people and the state of Pakistan, as well as the country's armed forces and the Bihari Pakistanis, tens of thousands of whom still languish in Dhaka as Pakistanis abandoned by their own country. The falsehood is part of the history of the liberation of Bangladesh fed into the minds of millions of young children in that country, who grow up with the conviction that massive, merciless evil was perpetrated by Pakistanis. Leading journals, newspapers and favourably reviewed books around the world repeat the charge of genocide ad nauseam.
In some instances, in those nine months, some sections of Pakistan’s armed forces did commit atrocities. These include the attack on Jagannath Hall in Dhaka University on March 25, and subsequently in the villages and areas of Shankaripura, Jinjira, Tangail, Thanapara, Chuknagar and Boriotola. There was also the inexplicable murder of intellectuals on Dec 15 in Dhaka, apparently by pro-Pakistani militias.
In cruel counterpoint, mass killings of West Pakistanis and Biharis took place in Joydevpur/Gazipur, twice (1971 and 1972) in Khulna Jute Mills, Mymensingh, Santahar and Kushtia. Hundreds of West Pakistani army officers, soldiers and families were killed by their Bengali colleagues during the mutinies. If the factually supported versions are noted, which estimate that the total number of persons of all categories and from all sides killed in the conflict were between 100,000 and 200,000, then it is likely that as many West Pakistanis and non-Bengalis perished in 1971 as did Bengalis.
If apologies are to be tendered, as they certainly should be, there are strong grounds for mutual apologies, if not simultaneously then consecutively. Though Pakistan was fighting both a civil war and an external war, it should take the first step, with the understanding that the gesture will be reciprocated.
Sheikh Mujib's confusion over 3 lakh
In another version, Sheikh Mujib is believed to have mistaken 3 million with 3 'lakh' (300,000).
According to Serajur Rahman, former deputy head of BBC Bengali Service, who was one of the first people to meet Sheikh Mujib when he arrived in London after his release from Pakistani jail, he and others had given Sheikh Mujib a 'full picture of the war'. Serajur had explained that no accurate figures of the casualties was available but their estimate, based on information from various sources, was that up to "three lakh" died in the conflict.
To my surprise and horror he told David Frost later that "three millions of my people" were killed by the Pakistanis. Whether he mistranslated "lakh" as "million" or his confused state of mind was responsible I don't know, but many Bangladeshis still believe a figure of three million is unrealistic and incredible.
Field research and investigation suggest much lower figures
In 1976 the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka (now ICDDRB) published an article entitled "Demographic Crisis: The Impact of the Bangladesh Civil War 1971 on Births and Deaths in a Rural Area of Bangladesh" in a prestigious journal called 'Population Studies' where it estimated that 500,000 people had died. The three co-authors of the article, George T. Curlin, Lincoln C. Chen and Sayed Babur Hussain compared population data (including details of birth and deaths) in Matlab Bazaar Thana (county) in Comilla District for the years 1966-67 with 1970-71 and estimated that 868 'excess' deaths had occurred in the area in 1971. Extrapolating, to the whole of Bangladesh it estimated that about 500,000 people had died because of the war.
First, mortality is considered to be one of the most sensitive and reliable measures of the extent and magnitude of a crisis. Secondly, studies of a mortality differentials facilitate identification of sub-groups in a population which are at high risk to the impact of a disaster. Thirdly, short-term fluctuations in births and deaths have longer-range demographic consequences, particularly on the age-sex composition of populations.
In Matlab Bazaar Thana the Cholera Research Laboratory has registered the births, deaths and migrations in a population of approximately 125,000 since 1966. Although this rural area was not the scene of any significant armed encounters, striking changes in birth and death rates were registered during and after the conflict. Birth rates did not change during the relatively brief period of the civil war, but a small decline was registered for one year after the war. Fertility rates which had been declining slightly and irregularly in the pre-war baseline period may have increased slightly during the war and fell substantially in all age groups in the year following the war. The crude death rate, which rose by 37% during the war, was a very sensitive reflection of the administrative and economic problems.
Overall infant mortality rose by only 15% over pre-war levels because all of the increase was observed in the post-neo-natal component, which traditionally accounts for less than one-third of the total infant mortality in Bangladesh. Children and older adults accounted for the majority of excess deaths which were largely attributed to acute diarrhoeas and other gastro-intestinal causes. The death rate at ages 1-4 rose by 43% and at ages 5-9 soared to 208% above pre-war baseline rates. All increases in age-specific mortality rates fell to baseline levels during the year following the war, except the 5-9-year age group, in which rates continued to be high largely because of deaths due to dysentery.
The article does concede, of course, that there are limitations to making such a generalisation - and the article does not suggest that 500,000 can in any way be said to be an exact figure. However, the detailed neutral objective analysis of one particular rural population using data that was collected systematically before, during and after the war makes it an extremely important piece of research.
It should be noted, in fact, that a considerable number of the 'excess' deaths that this study recorded in 1971 were the result of malnutrition and diseases caused by the war, and not deaths as the result of specific violent action by the Pakistan military, and its collaborators. In fact, since the system of data collection was initially set up in peacetime, without anticipation of war, there was no direct category to put atrocity deaths, so they would have been put in the categories of 'other' or 'general' which both showed significant increase in death rates in 1971.
What this suggests is that, assuming for one moment that the ball park figure of 500,000 dead is about right, then the number of 'atrocity' deaths amongst the excess 1971 deaths will be, according to this study, less than 500,000.
The authors themselves conceded that Matlab Bazaar Thana "was not the scene of any significant armed encounters" therefore, even though their technique is based on empirical evidence, their extrapolation to the rest of Bangladesh where intense and mass killing did take place is highly questionable and misleading.
Another notable field research was conducted by Dr. M. A. Hasan, the Convenor of the War Crimes Facts Finding Committee (WCFFC) who had estimated that 450,000 Bengali women were raped by Pakistani officers and their collaborators. After the war ended Dr. Hasan went in search of his brother and fellow muktijuddha Selim, who had been killed in one of the last battles of the conflict. He could not find his dead brother's corpse, but instead stumbled through a marsh, wet wasteland at the northern edge of Dhaka, an area called "Black Water". What he saw was going to change his life forever.
That day, 31 January 1972, I saw a few hundred bodies, mutilated dead bodies, littered all around that place. There were marks of torture on every body; nails turned out, eyes gouged out, hearts taken out. Some were female, their breasts were amputated, private parts mutilated. I had to push the bodies one by one to make my way. Mostly they were the innocent public.
This ghastly scene inspired Dr. Hasan to form the WCFFC to investigate the massacres and pressurise the government in holding war crime trials.
Dr. Hasan and a group of researchers traveled around the country, 'village to village', to uncover accurate information on the numbers of dead. He came to the conclusion that 3 million was an "exaggerated" number and a more realistic figure of death toll is between 1.2 - 1.8 million.
The war that was initiated by the Pakistani army in the soil of Bangladesh in 1971 was not a civil war; it was a preplanned act of genocide. There may be debate regarding the definition of genocide. But, there is no doubt that nearly 1.8 million people were eliminated during the war of 1971. Three millions was the official figure of death. At that time, nearly 10 million people were displaced due to the preplanned pogrom conducted by the Pakistani army and their collaborators. There were many incidents of enforced disappearance and violence on women.
Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these gruesome war crimes, genocide and crime against humanity have not been brought to book.
More unfortunate and regrettable is that the perpetrator Pakistani army and their ally could successfully bury that act of horrendous crimes for sometime. They portrayed those events as matter of internal conflicts, civil war, rightful reprisal actions, ‘little bit excess in brotherly quarrels’ etc. As a result the hue and cry about the atrocities raised by the human rights activists in 1971 died in the vicious political row and ugly international diplomacy. Following that, the brutal episode of preplanned program and violence against women got lost in the layers of dark chapter of history of the civilization.
Till today, there are about 5,000 alleged mass graves all over Bangladesh resulting from atrocities and indiscriminate killing of Pakistani military force. After 37 years of the incident, self-revelation of some mass graves allowed me to participate in excavation of some Genocide spots since July 1999 and examine about 196 fresh site to make a scientific observation of mass grave and genocide remains.
In 1971, the whole Bangladesh were made mass grave and marsh grave. Of these, 940 mass graves have been identified by WCFFC. There are more than 70 mass graves in Dhaka district; 23 of them are at Mirpur only. Highest number of mass grave (74) were found in Dhaka district. Next highest were (52) mass graves which were found in Mymensingh an adjacent district of the Dhaka. Highest killing that took place in the month of April and May 1971 when highest number of mass exodus did happen. Gender based genocide statistic revealed male female ratio as 6:1.
Identification of remains of the victims itself is a challenge and a bigger challenge is to medico legally prove the identity and the cause of the death of victims and correlate it with the artifacts like empty cartridges, live ammunitions, explosives, sharp and blunt weapons found in the mass graves in close association with the remains. Though radioisotope strontium test are being tried yet it will be difficult task to determine the specific time of death.
Besides oral statements of eyewitnesses supporting torture and killing of alleged victims by the Pakistan Army and their collaborators causing their death and later dumping of them in graves in front of some witnesses are the only strong evidences of crime which can be placed in proper Court of Justice.
Scientifically correlation of offender’s onslaught and victim’s death and association of artifacts - cartridge, casings and other blunt and sharp weapons after 30 years is a quite a difficult task. However, documentation through mapping and photographs of site and victims with summing up of ante-mortem and post mortem evidences and testimonies of the witnesses as well as DNA profiling of victims and correlating it with relations of the missing peoples shall act us basic foundation of the case. Other post mortem findings and audio visual record of the whole procedure would provide the slim hope to put the matter in the proper court of justice to punish those war criminals who conducted one of the biggest crime against humanity and genocide and escaped punishment earlier.
Dr. M. A. Hasan
Critics have also pointed to the lack of systematic research and weakness of empirical evidence.
None of the popular assertions of three million Bengalis allegedly killed by the [Pakistani] army cites any official report. Claims of the dead in various incidents wildly exceeding anything that can be reasonably supported by evidence on the ground - 'killing fields' and 'mass graves' were claimed to be everywhere, but none was forensically exhumed and examined in a transparent manner.
Sarmilla Bose says 3 million "gigantic rumour" is not based on accounting or survey on the ground
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.
William Drummond's "The Missing Millions" article in The Guardian newspaper (6 June 1972)
Finally, the Hamoodur Rahman Commision Report, set up by new Pakistan government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto - the man whom many Bengalis believe co-planned the genocide with the Pakistani generals - stated that the figures of 3 million killed and 200,000 raped are "obviously highly exagerated" and so much damage could not have been carried out by the Pakistan Army "even if it had nothing else to do".
According to the Bangladesh authorities, the Pakistan Army was responsible for killing 3 million Bengalis and raping 200,000 East Pakistani women. It does not need any elaborate argument to see that these figures are obviously highly exaggerated. So much damage could not have been caused by the entire strength of the Pakistan Army then stationed in East Pakistan even if it had nothing else to do. In fact, however, the army was constantly engaged in fighting the Mukti Bahini, the Indian infiltrators, and later the Indian army. It has also the task of running the civil administration, maintaining communications and feeding 70 million people of East Pakistan. It is, therefore, clear that the figures mentioned by the Dacca [old spelling for Dhaka] authorities are altogether fantastic and fanciful.
Hamoodur Rahman Commission
The report puts the death toll at 26,000 - a figure based on the "situation reports submitted from time to time by the Eastern Command to General Headquarters".
Make of this what you will. But I think this figure [of 26,000 by Hamoodur Rahman Commission], for obvious reasons, has as much credibility as the 3 million figure: Not very much at all!
The Commission Report does contradict itself by roundly criticising the Pakistani Army for "excesses" committed on Bengalis and that it was "clear that the final and overall responsibility must rest on General Yahya Khan, Lt. General Pirzada, Major General Umar, [and] Lt. General Mitha" http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9J81URUlTnsC&pg=PA42&lpg=PA42&source=bl&ots=sPNEqL5Oc9&sig=3w6XPHWNcFh8OOLwUnnj-nt3owA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=I8DSUeCHLKr60gXO5YHIDg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&f=false.
Bengalis, and also a good number of Pakistanis, believe that the report was done by the post-1971 Pakistan government with the intention of white-washing the war.
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.
Dr. Habib Siddiqui (Asian Tribune)