A long-awaited apology | The Daily Star


During a symbolic visit to Kigali, Rwanda this year, French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged France’s important role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, asking for the “gift of forgiveness” from those who survived the atrocities, without however issue a formal apology. Although this disappointed many, Rwandan President Paul Kagame praised Macron, saying: “His words were something more precious than an apology. It was the truth.

Bangladesh, which is currently celebrating its Golden Jubilee of Independence, has achieved remarkable feats in economic and social indicators, moving from a plundered and devastated state to gradually becoming a country on the way to becoming the world’s 28th largest economy. ‘by 2030. At the other end of this glorious timeline, however, lies a dark and painful episode steeped in atrocities, which ended in the surrender of West Pakistan, but without a formal apology. Fifty years have passed, and it seems that we have been remarkably raised from the ashes, but this long duration and this success on our side do they dispense with the need for an apology or simply, as the Rwandan president said, to recognition of the “truth”? And that too, a truth which formed the basis for the birth of these two nations in question? As flags are proudly raised and songs are sung on December 16, commemorating the independence of Bangladesh, the same day is uncomfortably remembered in Pakistan, somewhat unpleasant for us and conveniently for them, as the “Fall of Dhaka ”or the“ Dismemberment of Pakistan. “

Time and time again, Bangladesh has urged Pakistan to issue a formal apology for the 1971 Bangladeshi genocide, and each time the demand has been elusively met – perhaps under the guise of partial amnesia from the crimes. that had been committed – or simply the ruthless political logic that military actions in wartime are no excuses. Not to be confused with superficial and lightly discarded diplomatic regrets – such as that expressed by President General Pervez Musharraf during his visit to Dhaka in 2002 – a national apology is a real condemnation of a grave historic wrong and a collective commitment to establish justice and truth, generally done by the Head of State. It supports the changed values ​​of the wrongdoer and facilitates reconciliation with those who have been raped. Interestingly, the apology not only attempts to rectify wrongdoing from the past, but it spills over into the big story (s) present (s) and future (s). However, it also raises the question of whether such apologies risk causing waves of wartime guilt among future generations, or whether they allow the country to move forward in restoring national dignity.

Germany might be the ideal lawyer to argue in favor of the latter. The historic 1970 moment when then-Chancellor Willy Brandt silently knelt before a Warsaw Ghetto memorial has become the image of atonement for the contrite nation. Explaining his gesture, he commented: “… I did what we humans do when words fail. From the Nuremberg trials and unequivocal apologies to denazification-oriented educational reforms, their entire apology mechanism was not only aimed at mending the horror of the past, but also enlightening future generations. To prevent the repetition of such a horrific crime, every effort was made to ensure that subsequent generations had no confusion as to Germany’s guilt.

If we juxtapose this to the government-approved textbooks that are still rife in Pakistani schools, it is evident that the authorities, even today, are trying to spoon-feed their absurd young “conspiracy theories” about the 1971 war. , while washing their own hands of all responsibility for the massacre. These theories – which propagate the state stratagems of India, Russia, and the United States – are actually taught in their history lessons, which in turn ignores the bloody sacrifice. of about three million people. The nine-month democratic struggle of the Bangladeshis and their terrifying memories of the genocidal military operation are reclaimed and misused time and time again, making us appear as a byproduct of the Indo-Pakistan conflict.

Beyond a classroom lesson, the Lahore Army Museum, inaugurated in 2016, proudly displays a plaque that states, … “(The) Indian government has resorted to state sponsorship of terrorism in the country. inside East Pakistan through the creation of various terrorist organizations like Mukti Bahini… “blatantly labeling our national heroes as terrorists. The denial then took the form of a canceled conference this year. Hosted by two Pakistani institutions, the conference aimed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bangladesh Liberation War by highlighting new analytical literature and research to better understand the 1971 conflict.

Their deeply rooted institutionalized tendency to erase history and use selective national memory still appears to be in practice at the state level. A distorted account of our liberation war has already been established in Pakistan’s dominant national discourse, with the report of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission (HRC) – a Pakistani government-sanctioned post-war commission of inquiry to the era – hidden from the public for decades. Every copy of the report was ordered to be burnt by then-President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, allowing those responsible, including many Pakistan military bigwigs, to escape blame for so long.

On the other side of the coin, there are some strong opinions and theories that revolve around political excuses. When asked to apologize for the mistreatment of Aboriginal peoples, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard asserted that today’s generation is not responsible for the wrongs committed by their predecessors. A few studies taking into account variables such as time and the generational gap, between the crime committed and the offered apologies, suggest that this “… temporal break should theoretically weaken the need for an apology”, affirming Howard’s contention.

Despite the idea that guilt is not passed on, there is no diversion from the fact that history shapes our present identity and, therefore, it is in the present that responsibility for past actions must be. assumed. According to a study report titled “Why are countries apologizing?” conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, “Values ​​such as human rights and justice are timeless and, therefore, their violations in the past persist and shape the present. As a result, the apologies remain relevant and necessary despite the passage of time. “Even more, heads of state are the guardians and custodians of national values ​​and official memories, holding them accountable for the historical accuracy of their public memory. official and paving the way for reconciliation.

This brings us to the recent chain of events indicating attempts at reconciliation by Bangladesh and Pakistan. Ministerial and diplomatic meetings hinted at strengthening diplomatic and economic ties between the two countries, with Pakistan’s eyes set ambitiously on wider regional connectivity and economic activity. Prime Minister Imran Khan made their resolution even more concrete by congratulating Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Bangladesh’s 50th Independence Day, an initiative hailed by many. However, for meaningful bilateral development to occur, Pakistan must issue an unconditional official apology for the heinous atrocities of 1971, a position which was reiterated by Bangladesh.

An apology is the ultimate prerequisite for making public amendments, initiating social redress and restoring confidence, which means Pakistan’s idea of ​​emphasizing economic recovery while neglecting and minimizing responsibility in time of war will prove to be ignorant and futile. For these two nations to start a new chapter on a clean slate, it is essential to come to terms with their collective past. Bangladeshi survivors of the 1971 Liberation War and their families live lives of transgenerational loss and trauma, and this has only been compounded by Pakistan’s failure to recognize past injustices and simply ask for forgiveness. . While this recognition and apology will not erase the horrors, it can renew the scope of appropriate awareness for future generations, pave the way for true reconciliation, and, perhaps, bring some relief to those. who are still tormented by vivid memories of roaring bullets.

Iqra L Qamari is a junior consultant at the Public Private Partnership Authority.


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