January 4, 2012

Dhaka's fall 1971 - The forgotten stranded Pakistanis

By Sahar Farrukh

They say nations which do not learn from their history are condemned to repeat their mistakes. The 40th anniversary of separation of Pakistan just passed away, the Quaid’s Pakistan divided into two on 16th December 1971. The heart of a true Pakistani still breaks at the thought of it.  Regardless of what the reasons were, behind the unfortunate event, it is now an indispensable reality. After four decades we do accept our mistakes verbally but the need of time is to learn from these mistakes. As the result of this war the Bengalis got a separate country; West Pakistan changed into the Islamic republic of Pakistan, and among all these frenzied developments we ignored the third group, the most affected one. Those identity less, homeless people who were looking around on the hopes to be accepted — talking about more than 250,000 Biharis or stranded Pakistanis trapped in camps in Bangladesh, which are still hanging in the balance.

These people are paying the price for the love they had for their country. They supported the Pakistani army but were not given enough importance to think about their evacuation. They were deprived of their properties and are third grade people because they were the supporters of their enemies. Very little attention has been paid up till now over such people. In 1972 when Bangladesh announced nationality for the Biharis more than 60,000 voted in favour of Pakistan. General Zia ul Haq deprived all such people of their nationality and identity in an ordinance in 1978. Later on a few pacts were signed and were tried for implementation too by other governments, but following the tradition it also fell prey to our politics. The fear of racial, cultural, linguistic, ethnic issues and problems that would have risen from accepting the Biharis as Pakistanis was the major propaganda by political parties. In 1993 even these efforts stopped and in 1998 the commission dissolved in mid air too. UNHCR and other organizations refused to consider them as displaced people and from then on these identity-less people had very little attention paid towards them.

After more than four decades and three generations later these camps give a surreal sight of humans living in conditions worse than animal shelters. The later generations though bestowed with the generosity of being called Bangladesh nationals in 2008 are confused, on a crossroad having no past and a dead end to their future. Without any education (illiteracy rate for this group of people is 94%) and healthy environment they are considered a burden on the earth. 70 to 80 percent of Urdu speaking have registered themselves as Bangladeshis but it DOES NOT include those who still want to come back to Pakistan. These true patriots who deserve a high status are living in unexplainable miserable conditions trapped between the conflicting histories and selfishness of governments. These stranded Pakistanis will remain Pakistani till death whether anybody acknowledges them or not. The land mafia vultures are eyeing these camps after the 2008 Supreme Court decision of Bangladesh, stripping them off with their only so called shelters. Will the time ever come that government will realize its responsibility towards them? The life moved on for us and for the Bengalis too but not for them who are living a stagnant life for four decades.

Since that time, no efforts have been made and neither the people nor the media tried to catch up on facts or the presumed efforts form the government which were only directed towards further lies, including the inquiry report --- the Hamood ur Rehman commission report. Further facts were hidden and an altered history was presented to the new generation. The distorted facts were included in Pakistan studies syllabus.

Every year this day comes and passes away, and documentaries about this day are played by a few television channels (always ignoring the plight of Biharis); columns by writers seldom throw light on this issue, and the government at the height of its tepidness, is always silent as if it has simply given up. Sadly the new generation knows nothing about it. If they did or tried to, they would have never forgiven their elders. We have to bear what they sowed for us. We have to pay for their mistakes. They made our past but now we are responsible for the future. As the future of Pakistan, lets join hands and spread it towards our less fortunate, stranded brothers who are hoping against hope that they will be rescued by their dear homeland for which they have rendered relentless sacrifices.

About the author: Sahar is a graduate of MBA from Islamabad.