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Bangladeshis protest outside in Washington outside Pak embassy seeking apology for 1971 ‘Operation Searchlight’: Read details

It is believed that around 10,000-35,000 Bengalis were killed by the Pakistan army under the Operation Searchlight while the death toll to increased to over 3 lacs in the months to follow.

Two days ahead of the ‘Bijoy Diwas’, a US-based Bangladeshi organisation staged a protest outside the Pakistani embassy in Washington seeking an apology for the human rights violations committed by the country in 1971. The demonstration included Bangladeshi nationals as well as other South Asian minorities.

“Pakistan! Stop sheltering 175 war criminals,” a banner read. “Time for Pakistan to apologise for the 1971 genocide”, read another placard. The protestors demanded an ‘unconditional apology’ from the State of Pakistan for 3 million deaths and 4 lac rapes committed by its forces during ‘Operation Searchlight’.

The development comes just 2 days ahead of the 39th anniversary of Pakistan’s humiliating defeat to India and the ‘Mukti Bahini’ in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. As such, December 16 is celebrated as Bijoy Diwas in Bangladesh and Vijay Diwas in India to mark the victory to honour those who laid their lives in the line of duty.

The Prelude to Operation Searchlight

The story began in 1970. In the General elections held on December 7 that year, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of the Awami League secured a huge majority (167 seats) in the provincial legislature in East Pakistan. With constant interference in the affairs of East Pakistan by its Islamic counterpart, Rahman had begun demanding for greater regional autonomy.

This was just within 13 years of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent, when Muslims sought for a separate country of their own. Although united by the common Faith, the resentment between the West and East Pakistan towards each other continued to grow. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who won the most seats in West Pakistan in 1970 elections, was opposed to the demands of Rahman. He had threatened to boycott the Assembly and sought for the dissolution of the provincial legislature in East Pakistan, if PPP was not included in the government.

Miffed over the denial of power and autonomy to East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called civil disobedience movement, on March 7, 1971. Bhutto feared civil war and President Yahya Khan, therefore, declared martial law and ordered the arrest of Rahman and other leaders.

What happened during Operation Searchlight?

In order to contain the civil and political unrest, the Pakistan army launched Operation Searchlight on March 26, 1971. Rahman, disillusioned by the high-handedness of West Pakistan, had already called for independence from West Pakistan.

The Pakistani soldiers launched their attack on the Bengali population in Rajararbagh and Peelkhana area. They put Mujibur Rahman behind bars and ambushed the Dhaka university, resulting in the death of 9 teachers and 200 students in Iqbal Hal. Similarly, the Pakistan army continued with its barbaric attacks on civilians in Old Dhaka, Tejgaon, Indira Road, Mirpur, Kalabagan and other places.

On the same night, several people in Chittagong were shot dead by the army personnel. National newspapers, including, Daily Ittefaq, the Daily Sangbad were shut down and their offices were set ablaze, resulting in the death of several media personnel. Mass graves were dug out and hastily bulldozed. An estimated 700 people were burnt to death in Dhaka. Similarly, they set fire to the houses of slum dwellers, fired bullets at those running away to save their lives, razed a Kali Mandir and also destroyed the Central Shaheed Minar.

The aftermath of Operation Searchlight

It is believed that around 10,000-35,000 Bengalis were killed by the Pakistan army under the Operation Searchlight while the death toll to increased to over 3 lacs in the months to follow. “Thanks to God that Pakistan could have been saved,” Bhutto had famously remarked. The genocide against the Bengali population intensified. In the months to follow, around 4 lac Bengali women were raped by the Pakistan army while a majority of the victims being Hindus.

The situation worsened, forcing neighbouring India to step in to prevent the further continuation of genocide. In 14 days, Pakistani forces under AK Niazi signed the Instrument of surrender and thus a new nation of Bangladesh was born. While Bangaldesh has tried and hanged several war criminals, Pakistan continues to dispute the 1971 genocide, far from being apologetic about the heinous crimes.

Bangladesh Prime Minister lambasts Pakistan over 1971 genocide

Recently, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina confronted Pakistan over the atrocities it unleashed against Bangladesh during the 1971 war. Hasina said that human rights violations Pakistani forces unleashed during the war of independence in 1971 are “unshakeable memories” for Bangladesh.

Her strong remarks against Pakistan came during her meeting with Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, the Pakistani high commissioner in Dhaka. “Incidents of 1971 cannot be forgotten. The pain will remain forever,” she said as she met Pakistan High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in Dhaka on Friday. Citing to the volumes of the book titled “Secret Documents of Intelligence Branch on Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said all can learn many historical facts from 1948 to 1971 from the books.

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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