Bangladesh observed its Victory Day on Wednesday to mark the defeat of Pakistan in 1971, when the country became independent after a nine-month war, against the backdrop of calls for Dhaka to cut ties with Islamabad for its denial of the genocide during the hostilities.
The Dhaka University has cut all academic ties with Pakistan and newspapers have run reports and analyses criticising Pakistan, while many citizens on the streets are furious.
Foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali has said Bangladesh is “assessing” ties with Pakistan and families of martyred intellectuals have called for cutting all diplomatic relations.
Bangladesh says the genocide claimed three million lives while about 10 million more were forced to flee to India and 200,000 women were raped.
Pakistan has for long claimed there was no genocide in 1971. Pakistan’s recent statement criticising the execution of two convicted war criminals – Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid –also infuriated Bangladesh.
The Sector Commanders’ Forum, an influential platform of war commanders, has sought an apology from Pakistan. Bangladesh also summoned the Pakistani envoy and lodged a strong protest for the stand taken by Islamabad against the trial of suspected war criminals and the “concern and anguish” expressed by Pakistan’s Foreign Office over recent executions.
In a front page report headlined “Pakistan Lying, Still – The blueprint for massacre”, The Daily Star newspaper described how the massacre was planned and executed in 1971.
Abu Bakar Bakar, a businessman, said on Wednesday this year’s commemoration of the victory over Pakistan was different.
“Two top war criminals have been executed despite huge international pressure,” he told Hindustan Times in Dhaka’s Uttara Model Town area while attending a concert with his son as part of the celebrations.
“Pakistan’s recent statement denying genocide is a lie. They should offer an apology immediately,” he said. “Pakistan’s military and its local collaborators have killed our people.”
Hassan Shahriar, a former newspaper editor, said Pakistan had failed to reconcile and resolve disputed issues with Bangladesh. “Seeking an apology from Pakistan for its 1971 role is a popular demand in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cannot ignore that and she has no reasons to ignore that,” he said.
“This is the moment for Bangladesh to stand for its position and intelligently decide the next course of action.”
Such reactions from citizens mirror the mood of the government. Foreign minister Ali said many Pakistanis had admitted the crimes committed during the Liberation War of 1971. “Now there is no benefit of denying it, saying that they did not do anything. It’s ridiculous.”
The relationship with Pakistan has been strained further after police reportedly found evidence of a Pakistani diplomat’s terror links. Bangladeshi newspapers reported that investigators were told by suspected members of the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB) that the Pakistani mission’s second secretary (political) Fareena Arshad was involved with the radical group.
Authorities said at least one member of JMB has confessed to a magistrate that Arshad was linked to the group’s members who were blamed for attacks on minority groups, including Shias.
In January, Bangladesh had expelled Mazhar Khan, a Pakistani official working in the mission, after intelligence agencies accused him of funding Islamist radicals. Police also said two JMB members arrested in November were found with Pakistani passports.
Detective Branch Joint Commissioner Monirul Islam said both suspects had been travelling frequently between Bangladesh and Pakistan. JMB suspect Idris was in possession of a “spy mobile” that he used to communicate with “a foreign intelligence agent” outside the country.
“He was in regular touch with that agent and with a female diplomat based in Dhaka,” Islam said.
Officials of the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka could not be reached for comment.