Ask for a piece on Pakistan and Bangladesh during December and you’re likely to get something about the 1971 wars — note the plural, because the eastern part of the subcontinent simultaneously experienced an inter-ethnic civil war and ethno-communal cleansing, genocide, inter-state conventional war and a war of national liberation, all climaxing in the crisp Bengali winter of 1971. Naeem Mohaiemen’s seven part series is an example, covering many aspects of that fateful year.
Let me skip 1971 in this post. Instead, I’ll begin by marking the other December anniversary, one that will have a particular relevance for Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2013. And I’ll note the parallels between the post-1971 developments in the two wings of former United Pakistan.
Delwar Hossain Sayedee, an Islamic preacher and a senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the country’s largest Islam-pasand party, was sentenced to death on 28 February for war crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War. Within hours, Jamaat cadres and activists clashed violently with police and law enforcement agencies. Scores have been killed in some of the worst political violence the country has experienced in recent years.
Five other senior Jamaat leaders, including its current and former chiefs, are being prosecuted for war crimes committed in 1971. Another leader was sentenced to life imprisonment on 5 February. That sentence triggered what has come to be called the Shahbag Awakening—a month of largely peaceful gathering of tens of thousands of people in the middle of Dhaka. A key demand of the largely government-supported Awakening is to ban Jamaat.
Will the Jamaat be banned? The ruling Awami League has a three-fourths majority in parliament, while the Jamaat is a key ally of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. A general election is expected before the year is over. So there are complex political calculations involved. Meanwhile, even if the party survives, how will it perform if its top leaders are convicted (and possibly executed) for war crimes?
That’s from the the French comedy OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus. It’s set in the late 1960s. Agent 117 – a French super spy (double one — got it?) – sent to Brazil to track down a en escaped Nazi who has a microfilm of French collaborators and Nazi sympathisers. Our hero successfully concludes the mission, only to find that his boss — the head of the French secret service — is named in the list. The spy chief says something about ‘the war being a difficult, confusing time’ and ‘the need to move forward without opening past wounds’ and appeals to French nationalism, before pinning a medal on the Agent 117.
To compensate for the recent hiatus — caused by microcosmic organisms with evil side effects — a double edition of trashes collected by the senses. Normal ramblings should begin soon.
In a western magazine’s story covering the liberation of Dhaka in December 1971, a Pakistani officer is reported to have quipped that the Indians didn’t know what they were getting into. Another story from the same time showed that the Indians knew exactly what they were getting into, and was anxious to get out — an Indian general was quoted as saying the ‘Indian liberators’ wouldn’t overstay to become ‘Hindu occupation forces’.
It didn’t take long for a sharp rise in anti-Indian sentiment in the ‘Bangla bazaar’. While there are many reasons for this turn of events, I will discuss one particular cause: ‘the war booty’ factor. Even before the ink in the Instrument of Surrender dried on 16 December, there were complaints that the Indian army was ‘looting’ the new country. Over the following couple of years, a perception developed that India was ‘draining resources’ from Bangladesh. And the Mujib government’s alleged complicity in this contributed to his demise.
Much of this stuff is perceived, and the perception is well known to anyone familiar with the period. However, what is perhaps far less appreciated is that there is a solid economic basis for that perception, an economic basis grounded in exchange rate and money supply.