Article: Remembering the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War

My last day at The Times was also the 40th anniversary of Victory Day for Bangladesh.  I wrote two pieces – one for The Times and one for The Vibe.  The one below was written for The Times – you’ll see plenty of similarities with the one I wrote for The Vibe…!

You can find the original article by clicking here.

Today is a very important day for my family. Not only does it mark 23 years since my grandfather’s death but also 40 years since Victory Day for the country that came to be known as Bangladesh.

Pakistani Armed Forces surrendered to the Allied Forces of East Pakistan, the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters) and Indian forces (who joined the war effort on December 3, 1971) on December 16, 1971. With a patriotic Bangladeshi mother and a similarly patriotic Pakistani father, I always witness the most fascinating family dynamic around this time of year.

The war was bloody. The scale of atrocities moved Anthony Mascarenhas, a (West) Pakistani journalist based in Dhaka, to flee to London to expose the atrocities in The Sunday Times and his book,Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood. He got the world’s attention. A senior US official at the time described Operation Searchlight, the initial offensive by West Pakistan, as “the most incredible, calculated thing since the Nazis in Poland”.

There was harrowing brutality and a great human cost. This has been captured in part by a BBC Asian Network report today. Some 10 million people fled East Pakistan to India and three million people were reported to have died (though the exact figure is now being disputed). Women like Ferdousi Priobhashini were repeatedly raped and large scale killings were the norm.

My uncle, a Chief Superintendent of Police, was taken away from his wife and four young children and was never seen again. His wallet, shawl and walking stick are on display in the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka.

On December 14, 1971, the Day of the Martyred Intellectuals, my mother narrowly escaped death after my grandfather was tipped off by the Indian General J. S. Aurora and told to leave the house.

Henry Kissinger, the then US National Security Adviser, famously said that Bangladesh “is and always will be a basket case”, offering US support to West Pakistani forces during the war and at one point removing his own Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, for criticising the failure of the US government for “failing to denounce the suppression of democracy” – as highlighted by none other thanChristopher Hitchens.

The surrender of the Pakistani army made the front page of The Times.

As I remember those who passed, I leave you with Bob Dylan as he performs in The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.