This Wednesday, March 23, 2011, Pakistan played West Indies in a quarter final match of the cricket World Cup. It was a knock-out game - the loser would go home and the winner on to the semi finals. The venue was Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, one could be mistaken for thinking Pakistan was playing a home game, with the 25,000 fans at the stadium solidly behind the men in green, some even painting the Pakistan flag on their cheeks or waving the star and crescent flag [source: Dawn].
On Facebook, I posted a Youtube video of a Bangladeshi spectator and a Pakistani visitor exchanging T-shirts. I was also supporting Pakistan over West Indies. This prompted a discussion by some people that these Bangladeshi supporters of the Pakistan team were a "disgrace to the nation". As a Bangladeshi, I was told, I should not be supporting the Pakistan team (which I was in this game).
This is why.
“…… we were told to kill the hindus and Kafirs (non-believer in God). One day in June, we cordoned a village and were ordered to kill the Kafirs in that area. We found all the village women reciting from the Holy Quran, and the men holding special congregational prayers seeking God’s mercy. But they were unlucky. Our commanding officer ordered us not to waste any time ...”
- Confession of a Pakistani Soldier
Gendercide Watch has an account of the genocide unleashed by the Pakistan army on the civilian population of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971. Information can also be found on Genocide Bangladesh.
The details are horrible. The number of dead in Bangladesh in 1971 was almost certainly well into seven figures. It was one of the worst genocides of the World War II era, outstripping Rwanda (800,000 killed) and probably surpassing even Indonesia (1 million to 1.5 million killed in 1965-66) [Source: GW]. Apart from the killings, as many as 400,000 women were raped (and these figures are from unbiased Western sources; Bangladeshi numbers quote a higher number).
Now why do these atrocities, which occurred over 40 years ago, still have a resonance today? In particular, these are due to the shameful attitudes of modern day Pakistani citizens and their government. For example, if you talk to an average Pakistani, his or her attitude to 1971 can be categorized as one of the following:
1) These atrocities did not happen. The numbers are wildly exaggerated (possibly an Indian conspiracy to destabilize the "brotherly relations" between Pakistan and Bangladesh). Yes, there were some deaths, since this was a military action, but not anywhere close to the numbers mentioned here.
2) The army only had orders to kill Hindus.
3) Yes, these atrocities happened. But so what? It was a long time ago, and I, a modern day Pakistani, had nothing to do with it. So why should I apologize?
4) This was a shameful chapter in Pakistani history and I am truly sorry. Pakistan should formally apologize to Bangladesh and acknowledge her actions.
Sadly, not enough Pakistanis feel like the last scenario. Recently, former cricket captain Imran Khan has demanded an official apology from the Government of Pakistan to the people of Bangladesh for the atrocities allegedly committed by the Pakistan Army in 1971 [Source: 1 and 2].
As for (1), it's just not true because Pakistan's own Hamoodur Rahman Commission agreed that genocide occurred and recommended their leaders to be tried. As for (2), so what? Killing "only Hindus" is supposed to make genocide acceptable?
It's (3) that provokes debate. Should citizens today apologize for actions committed by their government years ago? I believe that in the absence of an official apology by their government, for actions that occurred with full support of the elite amongst the citizens of the time, likely their fathers or that generation, today's generation bears some responsibility to acknowledging the hurt and shame of 1971.
Why did, then, Pakistan get such support in Dhaka on Wednesday? I believe it was due to several of the following reasons.
1) They were playing West Indies, who had badly defeated Bangladesh in the group stages. People therefore wanted to see West Indies similarly humiliated.
2) In the absence of their home team, people support their neighbours or those they feel a cultural closeness with. This is why Sri Lanka, India or Pakistan get good support in Dhaka, or why Pakistan enjoyed good support when they played in Colombo.
3) It's been 40 years. If we still remained angry we wouldn't support England in any games (you could write an encyclopedia on the atrocities committed by the British Empire, apologies for which are still to be dragged out in many instances), or even Australia (the descendants of the worst of British convicts).
Personally, I keep politics and sports aside, and I genuinely like this Pakistani team. They play good cricket, are led by a terrific captain (who leads from the front), are a bunch of talented athletes that have overcome huge hurdles in their God-forsaken country to reach this stage. The Bangladesh cricket team would do well to learn from the attitude and resolve of these players.
Besides (other than cricket) Bangladesh now no longer has any need to have an inferiority complex of Pakistan. By ever standard our country is in much better shape than theirs. The Guardian congratulated Bangladesh on a vibrant economy and a strong women's movement on her 40th birthday, something unimaginable in Pakistan. It's no longer a basket case. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently compared Pakistan and Bangladesh, and Pakistan can only look on in envy. This is why today most Pakistanis support Bangladesh and wistfully imagine how different the scenario would have been had the two nations prospered together, while Bangladeshis are proudly marching ahead charting their own course.
Of course, on March 30, 2011, when India take on Pakistan in the semi final, I will be fully supporting India, inshAllah. :-)