Tag: Pakistan

Why India and Pakistan are wrangling over money launderer Altaf Khanani


For decades, Khanani, one of the world’s most-wanted money launderers, had maintained business ties with groups like al-Qaida. He could now prove to be damaging for Pakistan’s efforts to get out of a terror funding list.

Altaf Khanani was considered one of the world’s most-wanted money launderers. The Pakistani fraudster was involved in the illicit international movement of money between countries like Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. His organization also moved money for drug cartels and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and al-Qaida.

After a massive hunt involving five nations, Khanani was arrested in Panama in September 2015 by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He was later sent to the US, where a court sentenced him to 68 months in prison.

Khanani was released from prison on July 13, but there isn’t much information about his current location.

A Pakistani Interior Ministry official told DW that Khanani’s network is no longer active. “Khanani & Kalia International (KKI) and his money-laundering organization were banned by the Pakistani government,” the official said.

Despite Islamabad’s measures against the notorious money launderer, Khanani can still prove to be damaging for his home country. The United Nations Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) virtual plenary  is likely to keep Pakistan on its “grey list” as most countries in the group believe that Islamabad has not fulfilled its obligations to curb money laundering and terror financing from its soil.

The Paris-based intergovernmental body was established in 1989 to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. Being “blacklisted” by the 37-nation bloc could have serious implications for Pakistan’s already fragile economy, as possible sanctions would not allow the country to seek the financial loans it needs on a regular basis.

Damning FinCEN revelations

Recently, both Khanani’s network and Pakistan featured prominently in the so-called FinCEN Files, a probe led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). More than 400 journalists spent 16 months investigating confidential US Treasury documents shared by BuzzFeed News. The investigation, which involved leaked documents from 1999 to 2017, has revealed the role of global banks in large-scale money laundering.

According to documents contained in the FinCEN Files, Khanani and his organization reportedly moved an estimated $14 billion (€11.81 billion) to $16 billion annually for drug cartels and terrorist organizations like al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the Taliban.

 According to the Indian Express newspaper, Khanani has also been a key financier for fugitive underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian national.

Khanani has been on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies for his relationship with Ibrahim, who faces terrorism charges in India for his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai serial bombings, which killed 257 people and injured over 1,400. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of harboring him, a claim that Pakistani authorities have repeatedly denied.

 ”Khanani, the head of the Khanani MLO, and Al Zarooni Exchange have been involved in the movement of funds for the Taliban. Khanani is known to have had relationships with Lashkar-e-Taiba, Dawood Ibrahim, al-Qaida, and Jaish-e-Mohammed,” the US Department of the Treasury said in a press statement in November 2015.

In 2016, the UAE’s Central Bank revoked the licence of local money exchange firm Al Zarooni Exchange due to anti-money laundering compliance violations. The move came after the US Treasury said it had imposed sanctions on the Altaf Khanani Money Laundering Organization and its Dubai-based supporter, the Al Zarooni Exchange, for laundering money for criminals and political extremists.

“The Khanani Money Laundering Organization exploits its relationships with financial institutions to funnel billions of dollars across the globe on behalf of terrorists, drug traffickers, and criminal organizations,” then US Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam J. Szubin said in a statement at the time.

Can Khanani and FinCEN Files create problems for Pakistan?
Some experts are of the view that Khanani’s recent mention in the FinCEN Files is unlikely to impact the FATF’s decision on Pakistan. “Khanani used a global network of shell companies, which means that it is unlikely that Pakistan will be dragged into it,” Graham Barrow, an anti-money laundering expert, told DW.

The South Asian country was put on the grey list in 2018 for the second time. In February, the FATF kept Pakistan in its grey list, which forced Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government in August to imposed strict financial sanctions on 88 terrorist outfits and their leaders, including Jamaat ud-Dawa’s (JuD) head, Hafiz Saeed, and Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) Masood Azhar. For the first time, the authorities also imposed sanctions on the Afghan Taliban.

But Barrow believes that Islamabad needs to clear its position on Khanani’s money laundering and terror financing to militant groups. “All parties interested in putting a stop to global money laundering and terrorism financing would expect Pakistan to ensure they have sufficient resources devoted to monitoring the activities of anyone suspected of having been, or still being involved in any of these activities. This would clearly be true in Khanani’s case,” Barrow added.

 US officials have long accused Pakistan of supporting militant Islamist groups to use them as proxies to destabilize Afghanistan. Islamabad denies these allegations and points to its role as a “facilitator” in the ongoing Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar.

“The Khanani development has no direct link to our ongoing engagement with the FATF review,” Zahid Hafeez, a spokesman at Pakistan’s Foreign Office, told DW.

Osama Malik, an international economic law expert in Islamabad, told DW: “While the annual figure of $14 to $16 billion laundered by the Khanani network is startling, it was generated between 1999 and 2017. Unless there is something to indicate that Pakistan has shown an unwillingness or inability to deal with such suspicious transactions after being greylisted, FinCEN leaks should not adversely affect Pakistan’s chances at FATF.”

“However, the fact that known companies operated by Khanani, who is a convicted money launderer, held business transactions with reputable financial institutions such as Deutsche Bank, should indeed be a serious source of concern for Pakistan, the UAE and Germany,” he added.

Spotlight on Indian banks

In India, the revelations have once again turned the spotlight on Khanani and some of its banks. According to FinCEN Files, the Dubai branch of the Bank of Baroda, an Indian multinational bank, was being used by Mazaka General Trading LLC — one of the entities listed in 2016 by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for supporting Khanani’s money-laundering organization — for transactions with another trading company, the Rangoli International Pvt. Limited, according to the Indian Express.

The FinCEN Files mention some 70 transactions listed for Rangoli International, mostly with the UAE-based firms. Several Indian banks, including the Punjab National Bank, the Central Bank of India, the Oriental Bank of Commerce, the Corporation Bank, the Vijaya Bank and the Bank of Maharashtra, were reportedly used to move the money from these transactions.

“It is difficult to detect which funds come for terrorism purposes and which organizations are connected to terror financing groups. In this case, as per reports, Khanani was arrested by the US drug enforcement agency, which shared relevant information with India,” said Karnal Singh, a former director of Enforcement Directorate, an Indian law enforcement agency responsible for tackling economic and financial crimes. 

“We cannot say that all transactions that take place through banking channels are suspicious. If the suspicious transaction report is generated by banks, or if somebody comes to an adverse notice, only then we can start investigating and collecting intelligence,” Singh told DW.

But some experts believe that financial institutions get carried away because of the scale of the business being generated.

“One of the possibilities as to why Khanani was able to operate under the radar for so long could be that he was able to get past that [bank] scrutiny,” Vivek Chadha, a retired Indian colonel and a research fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, told DW.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has its own concerns about the alleged Indian money laundering nexus.

“The involvement of Indian banks in money laundering has been widely reported in media after the FinCEN revelations. FATF should now look into this issue when it carries out India’s evaluation next year,” Pakistani Foreign Office’s spokesman Hafeez told DW.

India’s case against Pakistan
Indian authorities have been lobbying to put Pakistan on the FATF money laundering “blacklist.” Indian officials believe that the revelations about Khanani’s operations in the FinCEN Files could strengthen their case against Pakistan.

“This information will certainly help because it indicates that UN [Security Council's] resolutions 1267 and 1373 [related to terrorism] are not being followed thoroughly by Pakistan,” Singh told DW.

Security analyst Chadha believes that the Khanani revelations in the FinCEN Files could be useful for the FATF committee.

“These are important inputs for FATF to try and understand as to what more can be done to make its systems more stringent and more effective against countries and organizations that have been able to somehow subvert the existing systems. The present system of greylisting is probably not sufficient. There is a very wide gap between the grey list and the blacklist,” Chadha said.

Source- dw.com


Pakistan risks losing Arab allies over its ‘new Kashmir policy’

Lacking support from Arab countries for its stance on the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan is looking for new alliances under China’s leadership. How practical is it for Islamabad to pursue its new foreign policy? DW analyzes.


Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi blasted the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, accusing the OIC of failing to support Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. Qureshi’s comments infuriated officials in Saudi Arabia, which plays a key role in the OIC’s affairs and froze a $3.2 billion (€2.72 billion) oil credit facility and demanded that Pakistan repay part of a $3 billion loan, according to the Financial Times newspaper.

“I am once again respectfully telling the OIC that a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is our expectation. If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris,” Qureshi told a broadcaster in Pakistan.

“We have our own sensitivities. You have to realize this. Gulf countries should understand this,” the foreign minister said.

Later, Qureshi laid out a four-point strategy for the Kashmir issue, which entailed “confronting, exposing and pushing back against New Delhi’s intentions; deterring it through military preparedness, conflict resolution and confidence-building; not being distracted by India’s actions; and continuing with regional integration projects through participation in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Economic Cooperation Organization.”

The diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia prompted Khan’s government to send Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa to Riyadh. “The army chief’s visit is being viewed in the context of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s criticism of the Saudi Arabia-dominated Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” according to the Dawn newspaper.

Does Pakistan have a real plan on Kashmir?

Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the special constitutional status of the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The region’s autonomy and its own constitution, as well as its special rights for permanent residents, the majority of whom are Muslims, were abolished. Furthermore, the parliament in New Delhi passed a bill to split Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories — J&K and Ladakh — which would be directly administered by New Delhi.

Modi said the move was aimed at ending separatism and remove terrorists from Kashmir. He said that Article 370 was being used as a weapon of terror and that the people of the region were missing out on key laws and protections afforded to people in the rest of India.

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir – a region of 12 million people, about 70% of whom are Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Islamabad condemned New Delhi’s move to abrogate Kashmir’s special status and urged its allies in the Muslim world to act against India. Experts say it has so far failed to get much support for its Kashmir stance.

“Islamabad wants to push back against the well-founded criticism that Pakistan doesn’t really have a plan on Kashmir. It has been waging an international diplomatic offensive over the last year, but this effort — which is not exactly a new thing for a country that has long sought to push the Kashmir issue in global forums — has not garnered the results Islamabad has wanted,” Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW.

“And that leads to a natural question: If the international diplomatic campaign doesn’t pay off, then what’s the second plan,” Kugelman added.

Experts also say that Pakistan’s foreign policy on Kashmir and India lack clarity, and the country’s recent measures, such as the unveiling of a new map showing the entire disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir as its territory, are only meant for domestic consumption.

“The situation needs aggressive diplomacy. Apart from China, Malaysia, and Turkey, no other country supports Islamabad on Kashmir,” Raja Qaiser Ahmed, an assistant professor of International Relations at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, told DW.

Vali Nasr, an international affairs professor at Johns Hopkins University, told DW that Riyadh is unlikely to take measures against India over New Delhi’s Kashmir policy. “Saudi Arabia sees India as an important trading partner. It would prefer to have ties to both India and Pakistan but is clearly no longer willing to support Pakistan [on the Kashmir issue]. The manner with which it is punishing Pakistan also reflects the fact that Islamabad has little leverage with Riyadh,” Nasr said.

Pakistan looking for new allies
In the absence of support from powerful Arab nations, Pakistan is looking to strengthen ties with other powers.

“Pakistan’s increasing outreach to Iran, Malaysia, and Turkey — and more broadly to Russia, as deepening US-India partnership is reducing the scope of Russia-India ties — is a space to watch in the coming months,” said Kugelman. “I don’t think we should overstate the damage to Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia, but that dust-up does suggest that a new foreign policy framework is taking shape that reasserts Pakistan’s deep ties with Beijing while scaling up ties with Russia and with Muslim-majority states outside of the Arab Gulf,” he added.

Amid these changing regional dynamics, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Qureshi began a two-day visit to China on Thursday, which he dubbed “very important” to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries.

“The visit aims to project Pakistan’s political and military leadership’s vision,” Qureshi said in a video message before leaving for China.

Experts say that Pakistan wants to play a key role in the emerging China-led alliance, which could possibly include Iran as well.

“In the past, Islamabad tried to get closer to China, Russia, and some Southeast Asian states, but except China, no one pushed India to change its position on Kashmir. Pakistan should keep in mind that having close relations with a state does not guarantee consensus on all international disputes,” according to Ahmed.

The experts DW spoke to are of the view that Islamabad’s desire to be part of new regional alliances may not yield the desired outcome or lead to the permanent solution of its long dispute with India. At the same time, Pakistan may risk further diplomatic isolation by angering Saudi Arabia and its other Gulf allies.

Source- dw.com

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting Pakistan’s economy

Photo- dw.com

Pakistan has so far registered nearly 270,000 cases of the coronavirus and over 5,700 related deaths. A week ago, President Arif Alvi congratulated the nation for its “victory” against COVID-19 during an interview with a local broadcaster. Alvi said the government successfully saved the country’s poorest from the financial impact of the pandemic.

At the time of Alvi’s commendation, the confirmed number of COVID-19 patients in Pakistan stood at 259,998 and 2,085 new cases had been recorded in the last 24 hours.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government says the drop in the daily number of new coronavirus cases in July is due to its “smart lockdown” strategy. But observers say the trend could be a result of misreporting and inadequate testing.

The pandemic has also taken a devastating blow on the Pakistani economy.

“Pakistan’s economy is shrinking, unemployment is rising and various sectors are in crisis,” warned Zafar Moti, the former director of the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE). Moti told DW he is less concerned about Pakistan’s financial markets and more concerned about the long-term impact of the pandemic.

“The country’s exports primarily comprise of textile products, which will not be in demand post-pandemic. All of this will negatively impact foreign reserves and ultimately the currency value. In the long run, financial markets will also be negatively affected,” he added.

When Khan took power in 2018, Pakistan’s GDP growth was around 5.8%; now it is 0.98% and is likely to decline further. The country’s fiscal deficit is almost 10% and revenues have plummeted in the past two years.

Khan’s cash relief program

Pakistan’s public health system was overstretched long before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. On average, Pakistan has one doctor for every 963 people and one hospital bed for every 1,608 people, according to UNDP figures. Pakistan faces a shortage of 200,000 doctors and 1.4 million nurses to cope with the crisis.

In early 2019, in the face of a monetary crisis, Pakistan reached out to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package worth six billion dollars. The economy was only just recovering from the crisis when the pandemic struck.

Due to the pandemic, an additional 2.45 million people now suffer from food insecurity. One-third of Pakistan’s population live below the poverty line while 66% of the population — or 145 million people — living in poverty, requires immediate relief.

Prime Minister Khan launched the Ehsaas Emergency Cash financial relief program on April 1 in an attempt to help the most vulnerable part of the population in the wake of the pandemic.

A total of 144 billion rupees ($0.86 billion, €0.74 billion) was handed out to some 12 million families with each family receiving 12,000 rupees per month.

But for business journalist Hamza Farooq Habib, the short-term solution is not sustainable. He thinks the government has been downplaying the crisis right from the beginning and doubts the president’s claims of giving relief to the poor.

“We still don’t know the real number of the [coronavirus] cases,” Habib told DW. “The National Institute of Health (NIH) recently conducted a survey which shows that the number of affected people in the capital city of Islamabad stood close to 300,000, although according to official statistics, just over 14,000 people are infected,” he said.

Woeful economic indicators

Investment banker and risk analyst Khurram Schehzad expects Pakistan’s economy to shrink by $15 billion as a result of the pandemic. He also predicts a 10% decline in gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter of the financial year 2020.

“Complete or semi-lockdowns can result in no real GDP growth for or over 2% negative growth in FY-20, spreading over to the first quarter of the next fiscal,” Schehzad told DW.

Arecent survey byIslamabad-based research organization Gallup found that Pakistan’s unemployment rate is predicted to surge to a whopping 28%. The number of unemployed people in the country is estimated to reach 6.65 million during the fiscal year 2020-21, compared to 5.80 million in the outgoing financial year.

A 30% layoff in the formal sector is also projected due to a prolonged lockdown, resulting in a 189 billion rupees impact on the private sector, Schehzad explained.

International aid

In June, the Pakistani federal government unveiled an economic recovery plan worth 1.2 trillion rupees. Provincial governments are also in the process of preparing their own financial packages.

In addition, Islamabad announced support funds for businesses which include 100 billion rupees in tax refunds and an additional 100 billion rupees in deferred interest payments.

The State Bank of Pakistan cut interest rates for its borrowers by 225 basis points in mid-June, easing pressures from the federal government and businesses facing cash flow problems.

Considering Pakistan’s limited financial capacity to bear the costs of the pandemic, experts warn that the country may in the future require assistance from not only the IMF and the World Bank but also from strategic allies like China and Saudi Arabia.

Source- dw.com

BOOK REVIEW: 1971 – A People’s Perspective

SOURCE: Penguin India

By Rajesh K.Jha

The year 1971 is perhaps the most important geopolitical event of the South Asian region since 1947 which saw the birth of two independent nations India and Pakistan. The year marked the emergence of the newest country in the region with Bangladesh attaining liberation.

The brutal violence that preceded the partition of India was repeated again. In less than 25 years after the partition of India, another partition took place. This time Pakistan got partitioned. The bond of religion proved inadequate to hold Pakistan together. The bond of language proved to be stronger. Indeed, the socio-economic disparity between East and West Pakistan was an important factor in the alienation of the people who had agreed to be part of Pakistan just about two and a half decades ago.

The birth of an independent Bangladesh was another bloody chapter in the history of the subcontinent. It was marked by an unprecedented level of violence unleashed by Pakistani forces on the Bangalees.

The violent birth of Bangladesh was preceded by ‘genocide’ in which, it is claimed, 3 million people of Bangladesh were killed, lakhs were raped and an unknown number of people faced the most brutal repression before Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bangabandhu, gave his historic call on March 7, 1971. Subsequent to the historic speech in which he said Ebarer sangram amader muktirsangram, ebarer sangram swadhinatar sangra, the country reverberated with the slogan of Bir Bangali Astra Dharo, Bangladesh Swadhin Karo. Within 9 months, Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation with India playing a stellar role.

The story above has been told many times. Countless books and articles, films and plays, folk stories, and textbooks have narrated the story in their own ways. But is it the whole story? What is the true story of the events that led to 1971?

Truth is the most slippery thing. Upanishads proclaim एको सत्यः विप्राः बहुधा वदन्ति- the truth is one but sages tell it in different ways. Or perhaps more aptly, the truth is like the proverbial elephant whose various parts are touched by the blind people, each coming with his own conclusion about the reality as experienced by him.

1971 seeks to unravel the mystery. Navigating the psychological universe of people through intimate conversations, the book explores the complex reality of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan through various vantage points.

It is not an easy task as memory and imagination, the past and the present, are so irrevocably linked that it is often impossible to separate one from another. Both memory and history are dynamic. They evolve, they mutate and they are shaped by a multitude of factors including the textbooks we read in our formative years. This is the reason the governments are so keen on writing and rewriting the history of a nation. Indeed, the way one looks at the past provides the key to the way one wants to make his future. The memory must be molded if the imagination is to be steered in one direction or the other. Governments know it well.

Text Books
Looking at the chequered democratic history of Bangladesh, the author underlines the alternating political phases of the country between the rule of Awami League currently led by Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with its roots in the military government. She shows in great detail how it is reflected in the school textbooks of this period.

The textbooks reflect the fact that during the Awami League rule, the brutality of Pakistan, the role of Sheikh Mujib, and the Bangla language are the key factors to define the national identity. For the period of military rule and BNP governance, it is the Islamic character of Bangladesh which matters.

‘Textbooks in Bangladesh have undergone revisions depending on which regime is in power, with history often written along party lines.’ Anam Zakaria points out that the textbooks written during the military government in Bangladesh after Sheikh Mujib’s assassination in 1975 didn’t explicitly mention Pakistan as the enemy. The slogan of ‘Joy Bangla’ was banned and the role of freedom fighters erased from the books. The role of the Indian army in the liberation of Bangladesh was also omitted. BNP didn’t change it when it came to power in 1991 as the party’s origin lay in the military government headed by Gen. Zia Ur Rahman earlier. But when Awami League came back to power in 1996, the syllabus changed. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib’s role again became central. Murder of intellectuals and brutality of the Pakistani army found a central place in the textbooks.

Again in 2001 when BNP came back to power, references to Sheikh Mujib as Bangabandhu were excised from the textbooks. The role of Jamaat as collaborators was removed from the textbooks. The cycle turned back again when Awami League came back to power in 2008. Bangabandhu was reinstated in the textbook. India is portrayed as a friend, Pakistan as the enemy.

Genocide is another concept which has diametrically opposed meanings in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Since its independence, Bangladesh has referred to the massacre of its citizens in 1971 by Pakistani’s as genocide. It has demanded Pakistan to tender an apology for perpetuating the genocide against Bangalees during that period. However, the Pakistani’s completely ignore the large scale killings and atrocities in the then East Pakistan and focus on the killings of ‘non-Bengalis’ and Pro-Pakistanis during the 1971 war. They call it ‘genocide’.

Anam Zakaria points out that the word ‘selective genocide’ was used by the US diplomat Archer Blood, who was based in Dhaka those days, in his telegrams to the US state department. Pakistani journalist Anthony Mascarenhas, who was part of a team of journalists taken to Bangladesh on a ten-day tour to report on the war by the Pakistani army in 1971, also published his article named ‘Genocide’ in the Sunday Times of UK in June 1971. While giving details of the killings of a large number of Biharis and non-Bengalis in Bangladesh, he wrote that the West Pakistan army in East Bengal was doing genocide with ‘terrifying thoroughness’ and ‘amazing casualness’.

The academic debate about the exact definition of genocide may have continued but the difference in the perspectives between Pakistan and Bangladesh is stark. The author brings out this complexity in understanding the truth through her incisive analysis and interviews with people of both the countries without in any way diluting the gravity of the crime committed by the Pakistani army during the 1971 war.

Biharis of Bangladesh
A continuing dark chapter of the liberation war of Bangladesh is the plight of Biharis in Bangladesh. The Biharis are the non-Bangla speaking Muslim settlers mostly coming to Bangladesh from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the pre-independence days. During the liberation war of Bangladesh, this community, in general, supported the Pakistani army often collaborating with their militia force ‘Al Badr’ and ‘Al-Shams’ to help in their atrocities against the native Bangla speaking Bangalees. This has marked them as permanent traitors.

Later, after Bangladesh became independent in December 1971, the Biharis became stateless people. Bangladesh treated them as Pakistanis and Pakistan too backed out from its promise of taking these people back and give citizenship. A whole new generation of Biharis born after 1971 is now almost 50 years of age and yet they are still alienated and bear the cross of history in their lives in Bangladesh. Anam Zakaria brings out the psychological knot of this community, its identity crisis in the face of this complexity. On the other hand, the disillusionment of the Bangladeshi’s who went over to Pakistan in 1971 brings out the stark reality of betrayed hopes and continued statelessness of Bangladeshi Pakistanis.

It also unravels the complex and often unresolved reality of ‘truth neatly packaged into Pakistani and Bangladeshi categories of acceptable truth’. While the Pakistanis would only look at the killing of Biharis and West Pakistanis, a Bangladeshi only sees the genocide heaped by the Pakistani army.

The differential memory of events relating to 1971 is also reflected in the way it is remembered in Pakistan and India. For Pakistan, the liberation war of Bangladesh and its eventual independence get only fleeting references. ‘The fall of Dacca’ is projected as an outcome of India’s role in fomenting uprising in Bangladesh and not so much a direct result of Pakistan’s flawed policy and subsequent repression of Bangladesh. In the words of Anam Zakaria, ‘there are two versions of 1971. The one before March 25 is the one Pakistan has chosen to remember. History seems to end on this date when it comes to 1971. In contrast, for Bangladesh, official history begins on 25 March. These different histories have their own victims and perpetrators, neither state willing to blur these binary lines to reach a more holistic truth.’

An interesting chapter of the book relates to the people in Pakistan who stood up against the rulers of those times to support the liberation war of Bangladesh. Nationalism being the dominant and hegemonic ideology of modern times, this was an act of courage no doubt just as it was for the American students to oppose their own government during the Vietnam war. Pakistani Punjabi poet Ahmad Salim wrote a poem ‘Long live Bangladesh’ in March 1971 which landed him in jail for six months and flogging. Awami Awaz which published the poem was also forced to stop publication for giving space to the voices against the military government of Pakistan. People like Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib, Sahar Ansari, Fahmida Riaz, Ajmal Khattak, and many other poets and literary people opposed the military operation in Bangladesh. Indeed, people like Ahmad Salim and Faiz defied the forgetting of the atrocities through their act of resistance in writing.

Anam Zakaria points out that this act of memory rebelling against forgetfulness has continued in more recent times in literature through novels like Kamila Shamshie’s Kartography, Sorayya Khan’s Noor and many others. Apart from writers and poets, other sections of Pakistani society like the lawyers, politicians, and even some military officers opposed Pakistan’s action in Bangladesh in 1971. The entire point of this detail is to add shades of grey in otherwise black and white narrative people carry in their heads about an event like 1971 where we assume that a Pakistani would be supporting its government and oppose the liberation of Bangladesh.

The book ’1971-A people’s History from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India’ is an important contribution in understanding the momentous events of 1971 from the perspective of people of the three countries. At one level, the book is an attempt to present history through peoples’ voices. On another level, it presents a compelling human story of suffering and longing, hope and betrayal going beyond the mundane world of politics and geo-strategic calculations of countries in conflict with each other.

It also provides a fresh approach in nudging people out of their soap-bubble universe of perception to recognize the multiplicity of ways in which reality is perceived by various people which may perhaps be as valid or wrong as the person looking at the leg of an elephant and shouting that he has found the pillar of a building.

1971- A People’s History of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India by Anam Zakaria

Vintage, an imprint of Penguin Random House India, 2019

Source: The Citizen, May 2020

Video: The Persecution of Minorities in Pakistan is Institutionalised, has Constitutional Sanction: Rabia Mahmood

Source: Sabrang/Hillele TV