The internet is a blessing for those who enjoy browsing archival documents as a hobby. Just a few days ago, I was browsing the headlines of some Pakistani English newspapers from 1971. I wanted to see if the newspapers reflected the horrors that the Ides of March were then planning to unfurl. At times revisiting the past can be illuminating for the present, especially if one is unencumbered by any preconceived notions and prejudices. Interestingly, the headlines and narratives in the newspapers of 1971, despite being more than four decades old, sound very familiar as the same clichés can be found in our print and electronic media even today. For instance, readers are told that the martial law administrators (MLAs) were busy clearing up the mess in East Pakistan, which had been created by a handful of miscreants with the help of our archenemy, India. ‘Chittagong cleared of anti-state elements’, ‘Chandpur cleared of miscreants’ and ‘Armed forces in control of border’ are just a few examples. The newspapers were also teeming with headlines about ‘Peace committees’, ‘Razakars’ and other patriotic sections of East Pakistan. We were reassuringly told “Bangladesh movement dead” in one big headline. A headline on June 22 declares Mascarenhas’ report about the genocide of Bengalis published in Sunday Times as “malicious”. The headlines were dominated by General Tikka Khan, General Hamid Khan and General Niazi making visits to various locations and appreciating a return to normalcy everywhere. The August headlines proudly told us how many ‘miscreants’, ‘trouble-makers’, ‘Indian agents’ and ‘anti-state elements’ had been killed. After the war began in December the headlines told us how we were winning the war on all fronts.
If we go back further in our time machine and land in the 1940s we find that the Pakistan project was passionately pursued by two ethnic groups of what was then India: Muslims in Bengal and the United Provinces (UP). The populace of the Muslim majority provinces was largely unenthusiastic about the Muslim League and its politics. One can thus call Bengalis and Urdu speaking Indian Muslims the chief architects of Pakistan who were able to enforce the project despite many inherent faults and poor project planning. By 1971, we see a gradual rise of chorus in the national media about Bengalis being accused of being Indian agents and their popular leaders as traitors. Our sagacious military leaders considered the problem a mere law and order issue and, while trying to fix it in their peculiar way, severed half of Pakistan.
Now, almost similar kinds of charges are being levelled against the second chief architect of the Pakistan project: the Urdu-speaking Indian Muslims who call themselves Mohajirs. I do not want to stand as an apologist or an unpaid counsel for the MQM. I do not think very highly of the collaborator role of this party with military dictators and have always found Altaf Hussain’s deification of army generals extremely distasteful. But when his party wins convincingly despite a targeted media trial and a meticulously executed plan of prosecution I have to keep my personal opinions on one side and concede to the fact that the MQM, led by Altaf Hussain, represents the Urdu-speaking urban population of Sindh.
No doubt, the rule of law should be blind and all criminals — even if enjoying political support — must be made accountable. However, I expressed my fears in March this year about how my happiness over the Karachi operation was blotted by a feeling of discomfort as manufactured justice often comes with dreadful consequences. Incomplete and partial accountability is no accountability at all. The Karachi operation would have enjoyed unqualified support from sceptics like me if charity had begun at home. The army leadership should have offered complete support in the treason case against Musharraf who, ironically, is also in Karachi. The generals against whom corruption cases are pending should have been returned to the civilian investigation agencies with an assurance of complete neutrality. Once this confidence building and perception dispelling phase were successfully completed then an all-out operation clean up under the overseeing of the federal government should have been launched.
The media seems to be exhibiting many of the colours of 1971 these days as it is promoting the same kind of narrative that was in vogue in 1971. Unlike Bengalis, the Mohajirs of urban Sindh may not be able to wage a liberation war. However, if a deep sense of deprivation and political victimisation is allowed to develop it will do no service to the long-term welfare of the country. In 1947, the Bengalis and UP based Indian Muslims championed the cause of Pakistan while the Pakistan army was then not even born. In 2015, while one of the chief architects celebrated the 45th Independence Day, the second architect was dubbed an Indian agent by the spokesperson of our military establishment. The media failed us in 1971. Will it fail us in 2015 again?