Dec 21, 2016 890 4
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Dr. Ali Al-GhamdiDr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Several prominent figures from the Pakistani community of Jeddah spoke at a seminar organized recently by the Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC). The speakers dealt with the unending saga of suffering of the stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh. The topic of the seminar was the ordeal of the stranded Pakistanis after the fall of Dhaka and surrender of the Pakistan army. The speakers considered the fall of Dhaka to be the worst incident in the history of Pakistan as well as one of the worst in Islamic history. The Pakistan army’s surrender took place at the end of a nine-month civil war fought between the Pakistan army and the militia affiliated to the Awami League party. The civil war ended with the intervention of the Indian army and that resulted in an all-out war. In the short war, the Pakistan army suffered defeat and the Indian army took the surrendered Pakistani soldiers to India as prisoners of war.
This scenario was the byproduct of errors committed by political leaders from the two parts of United Pakistan after the partition of the subcontinent between India and Pakistan. The role of Muslim leaders from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the creation of the Islamic state of Pakistan was remarkable. It was A.K. Fazlul Haq who moved the famous Pakistan Resolution or Lahore Resolution at the All India Muslim League Conference held in Lahore in 1940. Haq, the chief minister of United Bengal, was popularly known as the “Lion of Bengal.”
During the civil war, Urdu-speaking Biharis stood by the Pakistan army so as to safeguard the unity of Pakistan, and subsequent to the defeat of the Pakistan army in the war, it was evident that these people might not be welcome in the new state. When Pakistani soldiers were taken to India as prisoners of war, these Biharis were subjected to killing, rape and the confiscation of their property. Those, who escaped death, were forced to live in extremely pathetic and destitute condition in squalid and crowded camps where they were deprived of all the basic necessities for a decent living. These people today are fighting against poverty, illiteracy and disease in their camps scattered all over the country and they see no one to save them from this perilous situation. There was no provision in the pact inked by both sides following the surrender of the Pakistani soldiers to ensure the protection of these people who stood by the Pakistan army.
Renowned Bangladeshi academic Syed Sajjad Husain, who was the vice chancellor of Dhaka University, wrote his memoirs titled “The Wastes of Time: Reflections on the Decline and Fall of East Pakistan.” He wrote these memoirs when he was put behind bars by the Bangladeshi government after the secession. Those who read the book get a clear picture of the severity of the torture that the Mukti Bahini militia meted out to him as well as to those who sided with the Pakistan army. It also tells about the extent of the anarchy that prevailed in the new state and the atrocities committed by the militias after the surrender of the Pakistan army.
Following the creation of Bangladesh, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then president of Pakistan, was successful in repatriating Pakistani military personnel, who were taken by India as prisoners of war, after clinching a treaty called the Simla Agreement with India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. However, there was no provision in the pact with regard to the fate of the stranded Pakistanis, who today are still languishing in their camps with the hope that they will one day be repatriated to Pakistan. It was said that Bhutto promised the repatriation and rehabilitation of these hapless people but neither he nor his successors did anything in this regard during their rule.
During the period of President General Zia-ul-Haq, the government of Pakistan, in cooperation with the Makkah-based Muslim World League (Rabita), created the Rabita Endowment. At that time, Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasif was the secretary general of Rabita. General Zia-ul-Haq showed keen interest in the plight of the stranded Pakistanis and announced that he would help repatriate them to Pakistan even if it was on his back. But the tragic death of Zia dashed all hopes of repatriation because successive governments showed no interest in the matter.
However, when Nawaz Sharif assumed power as prime minister of Pakistan, there were renewed hopes of reactivating the MWL endowment for Biharis. He expressed his keenness and desire to revive the endowment and took charge as its president. Sharif managed to construct a number of houses and repatriated some Bihari families after allotting houses to them. But bad luck continued haunting the project as it was then halted by Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf, who became president after ousting Sharif from power.
The dismal condition of stranded Pakistanis continues to remain a black spot on the image of Pakistan. The slackness on the part of successive governments has denied them the right to be repatriated to the nation of their choice. No one is entitled to ban them from entering the country for which they made great sacrifices.
Once again, I appeal to the prime minister of Pakistan to fulfill his national obligation and complete the major steps taken by him during his previous two tenures by repatriating and rehabilitating the stranded Pakistanis. I also draw his attention to the saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that Allah will definitely help this Ummah through its weaker sections because of their supplications, prayers and sincerity.
— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org