Sunday, March 25, 2007

Remembering 26th March, 1971

A few days back, when I wrote about plebiscite in Kashmir, I tried to point out the pain of redrawing the border. Ironically, within a few days, I am writing up the next one, exactly on the conditions before redrawing a border. March 26th is known to be the Independence day of Bangladesh. But, the day before marks the beginning of the biggest genocide in post world-war era.

The reason I am writing this article is to educate Indians and Pakistanis about these incidents. I found it to be shocking that most Indians still remember 1971 as the year when India defeated Pakistan in a brisk war. A lot of Pakistanis also think that it was a "fall of Dhaka" due to the betrayal of East Pakistan. While both India and Pakistan continue to protest a few thousand murders in Iraq, they should also look a few years back to see their neighbors and ex-countrymates killed en-masse.

Let's get into the topic now. I can start with the build-up to this incident. After the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, political power began to be concentrated in the President of Pakistan, and eventually, the military. The nominal elected chief executive, the Prime Minister, was frequently sacked by the establishment, acting through the President.The military dictatorships of Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan, both West Pakistanis, only heightened feelings of deprivation of East. Finally, when Sheikh Mujib's Awami League won a clear majority in the elections of 1970, the West Pakistan establishment refused to allow Mujib to form a government. The party won 167 of the 169 seats allotted to East Pakistan, and thus a majority of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. On 3rd March 1971, the two leaders (Bhutto was the other) of the two wings along with the President General Yahya Khan met in Dhaka to decide the fate of the country. Talks failed. General Tikka Khan was flown in to Dhaka to become Governor of East Bengal. A unit of East Pakistan Rifles refused to obey commands to fire on Bengali demonstrators, beginning a mutiny of Bengali soldiers.

Then came the March 25th, 1971. The Army started what was named as 'Operation Searchlight'. The commandos easily captured Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the beginning of the crackdown. Army assaulted the Dhaka University area and killed unarmed students present in the halls, and also some professors, then moved on to attack the Hindu areas and the old town. Captured Bengali soldiers, EPR and Police personnel were executed or improsioned without trial.

In an editorial, The Daily Star, a leading Bangladeshi newspaper, reproduced some accounts of the day. I quote a few incidents of atrocities from the same source :

- "At Jagannath and Iqbal Halls, students were mown down mercilessly. Other students were forced to dig a large grave and once that was done, they too were shot. All the bodies were dumped into the grave, which was then bulldozed by the army."

- "Soldiers burst into the quarters of the philosopher Gobinda Chandra Dev and murdered him. They also killed the mathematics teacher Rafiqul Islam. And they left Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, a senior teacher in the English Department of Dhaka University, seriously wounded."

- "Outside the campus, the soldiers razed the Kali Mandir, a Hindu temple inside the Race Course compound, to the ground. In similar fashion, they blew up the Central Shaheed Minar before the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. On the streets, common citizens were murdered at random. Rickshaw pullers died even as they slept on their three-wheelers."

- "The military also set fire to the Ittefaq and Sangbad newspapers, leaving those inside dead or wounded."

There are many more accounts of the incidents of 25th March by Journalists. The famous ones were from Simon Dring (British Journo to capture the incidents first) and Arnold Zeitlin (Associated Press). Rediff and Globalwebpost sites also reported the same incidents successfully. Among eyewitness accounts, one from Rafiqul Islam is available in English on the net. A private site has also depicted the dateline of 25th March.

What was the reaction in India? There was not much of reaction among the people of India other than in West Bengal. The political leadership was busy chalking out a strategy for separation of East Pakistan. The common people were hardly aware of what was going on. The aftermath was known to all - India-Pakistan war of 1971 and the Liberation of Bangladesh. The world was also kept in dark. More frustatingly, people who cite examplify genocide with Iraq and Afghanistan, take out pocessions and rallies in soliderity with them, simply forget Bangladesh.

I feel Pakistan did absolutely nothing to accept the war-crimes committed by the Military. The atrocities were established in Hamoodor Rahman Commission report. But, the accused were never prosecuted. The Govt of India released all PoWs, including those accused of genocide. Remembering the incident, I hope that people of Pakistan would soon understand the atrocities committed by their Army and pressurize their govt to issue a former acknowledgement of the war-crimes.



Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Plebiscite in Kashmir

Readers can view and comment on my latest updates on Kashmir at my new blog.

The History

UN had once recommended a plebiscite to be held in Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir to solve the dispute of accession. It was in response to the dispute between India and Pakistan over the state. The UN Security Council adopted resolution 47 and still sticks to it. The solution had a few prerequisites and a few methodologies to implement the plebiscite. Pakistan was asked (Refer to 1a) to withdraw the Army and the tribals who entered within the state in course of fighting (Indo-Pak Kashmir war 1947-48). India was asked to establish a Plebiscite commission and conduct the Plebiscite. Neither of the prerequisites did take place, nor the plebiscite. UN still recognises the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed area and shows it accordingly in its’ map. Many of the states (including US) has changed their position since then to support 1972 Simla Agreement as a base of dispute resolution in Kashmir.

What is a Plebiscite?

A referendum (plurals: ‘referendums’ or ‘referenda’) or plebiscite (from plebiscita, originally a decree of the Concilium Plebis) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. In the topic, choice (or preferendum) was given to People residing in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, to join India or Pakistan. There were no option for a free Kashmir in the referendum proposal. An example of plebiscite could be the Quebec referendum in 1980, where the choice was between a free Quebec, against remaining as a state of Canada.

The Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir

The Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir was primarily consituted of five different areas. The areas are - 1) Kashmir Valley, 2) Jammu, 3) Northern Areas, 4) Ladakh and 5) Aksai Chin. Among these, the valley is administered by both India and Pakistan. Jammu and Ladakh are almost entirely administered by India, Northern Areas are administered by Pakistan and the Aksai Chin was administered by Pakistan.

The Diversity

The State of J&K is a diverse geographical region, having people from different ethnicity and religious background. There is a little in similarity between and person living in Northern Area, a Valley resident, a Ladakhi and a resident in Jammu. It might worth noting that the dissatisfaction is mainly centered in Valley, because it is divided between India and Pakistan. Also, the valley dominates over all four regions, because of the higher population it has. The Northern Areas is governed directly by Pakistan yet they don’t have any representation in Pakistani Parliament and understandably they are moving towards freedom struggle. The role of religion in the diversity can not be undermined. The Jammu region is predominantly Hindu and hence they would be happy to get annexed to India as a state. The Ladakh is mainly inhabited by the Buddhists and Shia Muslims (there are some settlers from valley as well) and so far did not wanted freedom from India. Similarly, the people of Northern Areas are mainly Shia and might not be comfortable within Pakistan.

The Solutions to Kashmir Problem

There are many proposals to solve the Kashmir dispute. Some of them contains region give-away, where some other are only some confidence building measures. A very good guide to these possible solutions is presented in this BBC document. It showed that all possible combination of solutions are in fact difficult to achieve and would make grounds for further damage in the region.

Plebiscite as a solution

The traditional proposal of plebiscite raises a lot of questions. The main question would be against linking the fate and aspiration of a Buddhist Ladakhi tied to a Sunni Muslim living in Sialkot. They live complete different lives. Moreover, after 60 years of independence, a lot of Kashmiris, who are legitimate stakeholders of the plebiscite, are living outside the region. A lot of people has also entered these regions (for example - people from Tibet entered Ladakh and people from NWFP entered Northern areas). It is difficult to conduct a plebiscite without bias - whoever conducts it. A role might be played by the vote with force. And at the end, whoever gets defeated, will perceive a loss and threaten to withdraw complaining a foul played by the other party. If, by any chance a lands do change ownership, it might result in a huge list of murdered and displaced people as the victor would in turn engage in routing out the anti-sentiments of the newly gained land.

A Modified Plebiscite

The plebiscite proposal can be modified to be used. The granularity of the decision-making process could be down to district or sub-division level, to minimize the displacements. This would in effect result in a partition of the state among Indian and Pakistani regions. For the continuity purpose, if the minority-pockets are exchanged, minorities could get slaughtered or displaced on either side, something that happened after 1947 Indian partition.

The recent view of India and Pakistan towards Plebiscite

Indians generally refer to Hari Singh treaty of accession and J&K State assembly decision in 1951 to annex the state with India. The claim for plebiscite is mainly raised by Kashmiri (valley) groups and Pakistanis. However, Pakistan is shifting their stance recently. Kofi Annan also said that the plebiscite proposal is irrelevant now. Pakistan President Musharraf even said that they would give up the claim for Kashmir if Indians implement a few peace-proposals.


I would suggest that any further change in boundary should be avoided at any cost. A change in boundary has done a lot of damage in 1947 and in 1971. We should not repeat it. While the advanced countries in Europe are looking ahead to reduce the burden of the boundaries, we should put our best efforts to minimize the impediments of the Indo-Pak boundary, rather than installing a new one.

References :

1) Kashmiris Reject War In Favour Of Democratic Means - A survey by MORI. The five point solution voted for by the people of Indian part of Kashmir are -

* Economic development of the region to provide more job opportunities and reduction of poverty - 93%
* The holding of free and fair elections to elect the people’s representatives - 86%
* Direct consultation between the Indian government and the people of Kashmir - 87%
* An end to militant violence in the region - 86%
* Stopping the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control - 88%

2) Kashmir’s forgotten plebiscite - BBC.

3) Documents related to J&K. It includes Article 370 of Indian Constitution and the speech of Sheikh Abdulla in J&K Assembly in 1951.

4) EU Report on Kashmir.

Kashmir India Terrorism

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