Nearly half a century has passed since we achieved victory in our Liberation War in 1971. But still we could not have the sweet smell of its success to the fullest. What we were supposed to gain from this victory has not yet rightly come down to us. This is precisely because of the lack of careful nurturing of our Liberation War ideals, which has once again proved that to earn independence is tough, but to nourish it is tougher. It is getting far tougher for the constant obstruction of the anti-liberation and pseudo- liberation elements in society. They are always working against the true liberation stream, and at times becoming highly vocal in the criticism of the most sensitive national and historical issues like our Liberation War. They court controversy over the proven facts of our national history. Recently some of the anti-liberation eggheads hit the headline by putting a highly controversial gloss on a settled historical matter. They tried to dub our Liberation War as an 'Indo-Pak War'. They have strong aversion to calling it 'Bangladesh War of Independence.'
The bottom line of their brainchild is that Bangladesh fought no Liberation War. It achieved liberation through the Independence struggle, not through any war. The war that occurred in 1971 was between Pakistan and India. This sort of slanderous remarks cannot be sidestepped as mere a slip of the tongue. They must have a far-reaching cause at the back of their mind. They have exploded the idea at such a time when the war criminals are standing trial, and the whole nation is supporting it except for a few of their blind followers, political allies, and beneficiaries. Even many of their young folks are not willing to retain their old leaders' Independence legacy smeared with the innocent blood of their fellow countrymen.
So, while the fundamentalist politics is going through a sticky patch, and the marked war criminals have been punished, their hired men are trying to clutch at straws by manufacturing weird ideas with a view to fishing in the troubled waters. Their motive is to pass the buck to others. They were trying to establish that there was no war between Bangladesh and Pakistan, and hence there should be no question of the existence of war criminals in Bangladesh. They were pointing their accusing finger at the Pakistani occupation army and asking to bring them to justice, which is not possible at this moment on the part of the government. The government, however, has been trying the criminals of the country who were involved in killing, plundering, arson, rape, molestation, and such other crimes against humanity during the Liberation War with the backing of the Pakistani occupation army. They were, too, war criminals for aiding and abetting the war criminals, and in one sense more criminal than their Pakistani masters. The occupation army could not have carried on the massacre by themselves, if their local accomplices had not assisted them.
Our Independence struggle covers the entire gamut of the mass uprising ranging from the Language Movement of 1952 to the Liberation War of 1971, while the Liberation War is the nine-month long armed combat between the Pakistani occupation army and the Bangladeshi freedom fighters. Our dearly bought Independence is the immediate upshot of the Liberation War and the end result of the long-borne mass movement from language to liberty. And the fact that we have earned our Independence by fighting a bloody battle is absolutely self-evident.
So, to ignore the Liberation War is to reject the glorious gallantry of the people. It was a well organized and corporate combat shared by peoples from all walks of life. The military and civil forces stood hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, and fought the war against their national enemies. The Liberation War took place in two phases. The first phase was the war of resistance, which began just after the Operation Searchlight was unleashed on the deadly night of 25 March, 1971. The moment the marauding Pakistani army waged the crackdown on the sleeping people at dead of night, some of our armed forces started fighting back almost instantaneously. Charged by Bangabandhu with the responsibility of making every house a fort and remaining prepared to fight the enemies with whatever they have—the freedom-mad people of Bangladesh did not hesitate to jump into counter-attacks. This war of resistance continued until the Mujibnagar Government was formed on 17 April, 1971.
The second phase of our Liberation War started formally under the auspices of the Mujibnagar Government in an organized way. The whole country was divided into eleven sectors under the command of eleven highly efficient army officers. Apart from that, many civil commanders formed different guerilla forces to fight the enemies. The valiant military and the civil freedom fighters of Bangladesh forged ahead so indomitably that the highly trained Pakistani armed forces were kept at bay. They had no choice but to surrender.
Although the war lasted only nine months, it took a heavy toll on human life and honour. It wreaked havoc on the entire country. As many as three million people were killed, and two hundred thousand women were raped and molested. Numberless houses, buildings, mills, factories, bridges, culverts, roads, highways, and railways were destroyed. If all these do not become a war, then what else is it?
The reactionary minds always look at Liberation from their own vantage point as successors to the defeated forces in the Liberation War. Sometimes they consider it as a 'civil war' waged against the solidarity of Pakistan at the instigation of India, and sometimes as an 'Indo-Pak war'.
India joined the Bangladesh Liberation War just a few days before the final victory. This has prompted the detractors' fertile imagination to call it an Indo-Pak war. If this wild imagination is not kept in fetters, they will go on to spin more yarns about it. And you never can tell, one fine morning they would come up with another queer theory that the Liberation War was a 'US-Soviet' war, because in the same war, America sided with Pakistan and Soviet Russia with Bangladesh giving huge military support and diplomatic assurances. When America sent a nuclear-armed aircraft carrier of their Pacific Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to support Pakistan, Russia sent their Fleet to the Andaman (Indian Ocean) to support Bangladesh and India. But the war ended before any such assistance could be rendered. However, the 'inventive' anti-liberation minds can find ample chances of labeling the war a 'US-Soviet' War. If they can justify a claim like this, the list of the war criminals would be lengthened, and the trial of the Bangladeshi war criminals may be shelved for another four decades. And the accused ones can continue to be safe from the purview of the War Crime Tribunal.
The slanderers also throw into question Pakistan's surrender to the Indian military representative. This is also a flimsy logic. The Pakistani armed forces in Bangladesh surrendered to Lieutenant-General Jagjit Singh Arora as per military hierarchy. He was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian and Bangladeshi forces in the Eastern Theatre. This does not necessarily mean that it was a war between India and Pakistan. It is rather the norm of the war. In fact, India joined the war after Pakistan attacked eight air fields in northwest India, otherwise India might not have participated in the war. The guerilla force called Mukti Bahini had already been fighting the Pakistani forces for about eight months prior to the arrival of the Indian army. So, there is no reason as to why it can be called an Indo-Pak war!
But, these squabbling and backbiting episodes are no laughing matter. This sort of thing should not go unchallenged. This is a treasonable offence. Law should not be broken with impunity especially with regard to such sensitive national issues. The defamers are enjoying all the facilities the state can offer, but refusing to recognize its independence, its sovereignty, and even its glorious birth. They are really the limit! There should be no scope for evasion of their responsibility.
Dr. Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and is Vice Chancellor, Kushtia Islamic University