Fariha writing on her trip to Pakistan with such heartfelt emotion and sincerity. I must thank my friend AJ for pointing out this excellent piece.
“ Apko kia pata, ke humara dil apke liye kitna rota hai. Jab aap logo ko koi taklif hota hai to humain lagta hain k taklif humain ho raha hai. Bohot pyar karte hai hum aap se. alag ho gaye to kya hua. Bhai to bhai hota hai. Bangladeshi to humare bhai hai.”
Rafe, 60-something, Bus-driver, Lahore
I’ve met people from different parts of the world and traveled to a few places myself. But never, not once, in any of my interactions or travels, have I ever come across a race of people who have made me feel so proud of my nationality: Bangladeshi. But then, I visited Pakistan. I was born in an independent Bangladesh. I’ve never had to struggle to get my voice heard, I was allowed to vote (till quite recently) and I’m allowed to speak my mind. Until my trip to Pakistan, I had never realized how precious all these things are. I had always regarded Pakistan, a distant country, as a bitter chapter in our history. But only after meeting the people did I realize how close we could be and how much my heritage means to them. Never before have I received so much respect for just being Bangladeshi.
Till quite recently, I had never visited Pakistan. Neither had my parents. Since the only Pakistanis I’d met belonged to the educated bourgeoisie class, I had assumed that it was only this select lot who were aware of the atrocities committed in 1971. I had always believed that most Pakistanis believed that Bangladeshis were Kafirs who had let India take them over and regarded us with disdain. Don’t ask me why I thought all of this or what explanation I have for my notions. My notions had stemmed from the prevalent attitude of our pro-liberation buddhijibis, who have, through their own glorifications of our War of Liberation, somehow equated patriotism as anti-Pakistani feeling and instilled that in some of us. In fact, I still know people who think that to be a true patriot you would have to hate Pakistan, with all its institutions and people. Our elders in Bangladesh, somehow always let us think that Pakistanis don’t care about Bangladesh. I’m not blaming them for my ill-conceived ideas. I was partly to blame for judging a whole race simply on the basis of the half-truths I had heard. I am not proud of what I thought. But my recent trip to Pakistan has made me feel proud of who I am and I am proud of my newly acquired views. Though I think that I now face the threat of being termed a ‘paki-lover’ or ‘Rajakar’, I am writing this because I think that our generation needs to know the other side of the story.
To be perfectly honest, upon our arrival at Islamabad, since the very first people we had met were bureaucrats, I didn’t buy into the whole “Pakistani-Bangladeshi bhai bhai” ideology they seemed to desperately convey to us. To me it seemed too forceful, too elaborate and too far removed from what we in Bangladesh have been led to believe about Pakistani attitude towards Bangladesh. If every shop-keeper, hotel-boy, porter, flight-attendant, bus-driver and almost everyone else I had met hadn’t echoed the same sentiments, I probably never would’ve believed that Pakistani people actually believe that we are still their brothers and they love us. It’s love that is rooted in our shared history, in our present day struggles to make our mark in this world, our efforts to rise above poverty and frustration at watching our neighbors grow at exponential rates as we combat the demons of corruption and bad governance.
“There are so many things we need to learn from Bangladesh. In fact, I personally think that your Caretaker Government system is very effective and we’re trying to emulate that”, an Additional Secretary told the ten-member media delegation from Bangladesh. Nothing was said, but their admiration for our achievements, including in establishing democracy and keeping it for 15 years, was apparent. In Karachi, an official of the Press Information Department under their Ministry of Information regaled the success of our homegrown micro-credit formula and it’s award-winning success. As far as the bureaucracy of Pakistan was concerned, everywhere we went we were greeted by praise and accolade. Even with 106 licensed private TV channels and 60 on-air channels, the Government of Pakistan marveled at how the journalists in Bangladesh are better trained and more sensitized. In a country where GEO News was closed down for violating State of Emergency rules, the Bangladeshi media received accolade from the Pakistani media for the courage demonstrated and the torture survived. In a media world now free of ‘press advise’ from intelligence agencies or foreign ministries, they marveled at the openness of our media. Peshawar Press Club gave the media delegates a reception and Express News threw a dinner. I am told that this is commonplace for all delegates from Bangladesh visiting Pakistan. But it most certainly wasn’t commonplace for me. No one had ever told me that this is how much respect these people have for us. All I have learnt from the learned, well-versed editors of our progressive newspapers is that Pakistan, the monsters who had killed our people in 1971 is now a failed nation. They forgot to mention the people of Pakistan, the warmth and hospitality they extend to all visiting Bangladeshis and the love and respect they still have for us. They never taught us how to help them or how to become friends with Pakistanis. Ulta, this was frowned upon. We weren’t told about how much they crave our friendship.
I had always believed that the atrocities committed in1971 by the Pakistani Military Hanadar Bahini, the genocide and the rapes would be a taboo topic for us in Pakistan. Taboo not just on the account us being invited by the Pakistan Government, but also because I had believed the Pakistani version of the events of 1971 to be different from ours. Therefore, you can imagine my shock when everyone I met mentioned our Liberation War (mind you, not the “Fall of Dhaka”) as ‘mistakes made by us in 1971, that shouldn’t have happened and we wish they hadn’t happened’. Rafe chacha, the man who drove our bus said to me, ‘beta, Bhutto ne jo kia, bohot galat kia. Mujhe to ootni talim bhi nahi hai, par itna to mujhe bhi pata hai’. Roughly translated, he meant that despite his lack of formal education, even he was aware of the atrocities committed by Bhutto (not just Yahya Khan, the executioner, but also the dictator) in 1971. Later on, he even explained to me how now that all of Pakistan is racially divided; they understand how Bangladesh must have felt. Rafe chacha even said to me how the people of Pakistan feel that political leadership in Bangladesh is much stronger than in Pakistan. ‘Benazir Bhutto jo thi, wo bhi zamindar ki beti thi. Oon ko kia pata k 3 din se mere ghar mei atta nahi hai. Aap k muluk mei to kitne acche admi hai, leaders hai. Humai aaj take k bhi sahi admi nahi mila. Aap ka jo dr.yunus hai, un ho ne garib o k barei mei socha, kuch kia. Humare yaha ek bhi aisa admi nahi mila’, he remorses. He said he echoed the sentiments of the rural working class who are always struggling to survive the repeated onslaughts of the political turmoil in the country. The ups and downs of power-play-who wins the elections or who looses, really never affects the common man. He knows that politics is not for him. He knows regardless of who wins the election, if there ever is one, at the end, he looses. Successive regimes have only helped to widen the rich and poor divide and people like Rafe chacha seek a program like micro-credit to improve their financial conditions. There are millions like Rafe chacha who would benefit from the models developed by our NGOs and civil society organizations that help the grassroots people. Even a PID official admitted that Sheikh Hasina is his favorite South Asian leader because she stands for the common man. The sectarian violence, the non-homogenous population and the increasing rich and poor divide has helped people like Rafe chacha and the likes of him realize and empathize with our plights pre-71. We, as Bangladeshis, as an independent, sovereign nation, with our certain successful social organization models are now in the capacity to help them and save them from the fate we had suffered.
“Baji aap Bangladesh se hai? Arre kia baat hai. Phir to aap hamare mehman hai. Aap ko kia pilau? Paani yia Cola? Aap meri puri dukan le jao koi masla nahi. Mehman hai aap humare’. I got tired of hearing these lines. I heard the same lines in Islamabad, in Murree, in Karachi and even in Peshawar. A pukhtun shopkeeper abandoned his shop in the evening, in a jomjomat bazaar just to show a few lost Bangladeshi journalists the way to another bazaar. In fact, the Pathans made these guys have dinner with them, saying that Bangladeshis were not just guests but brothers.I have never received so much love and respect anywhere else in the world, for simply being Bangladeshi. Everywhere I went, everyone I met, somehow managed to show this chit of a Bangladeshi girl, with her uncovered head and bare arms, an amazing display of camaraderie and respect. I really don’t know what I have in common with the man from Waziristan who dragged my luggage across the streets of Saddar in Peshawar or the teachers of Peshawar University who were going berserk trying to find an old picture of my grandfather which could’ve been anywhere in Pakistan. They didn’t have to do any of that. They are not answerable to any government, theirs or mine. They didn’t know me. They belong to a different nation, a different culture and an altogether different world. But somehow, they were able to relate to me before I could relate to them. They called me a sister even before I would consider them friends. They made the first move, they extended their hand of friendship and their love and hospitality. They gave me love because they believed that their leaders had wronged us in ’71, but we have survived and grown stronger, and more successful than them. We have greater literacy rates and more female participation in all sections of the socio-economic system. From Islamabad to Peshawar and in Karachi, all they gave us was love and respect and all they wanted from us was knowledge. They humbly expressed remorse for 1971 for the actions of the Pakistani military. In every action of theirs, I saw a call for help and solidarity. I felt that this nation, once so known to our forefathers, now completely alien to us, needs us to cooperate with them, help them up, just like one brother (even an estranged one) would help another. They made me feel strong and powerful. They made me feel proud of our achievements—all the things that we take for granted at home. This wasn’t the kind of pride you feel when you defeat another team in cricket or when you realize someone else is worse off than you. This was the first time in my life a foreign country and people, by their own good actions, had made me feel so proud of my Bangladeshi heritage.
In war-ravaged NWFP, where the local government is still struggling to accommodate the refugees, ensure minimum security and attain a minimum standard of living for its entire populace, we were perhaps best received. The governor of NWFP, Mr. Owais Ghani only reinstated Pakistan’s new attitude towards Bangladesh, ‘Let us not be prisoners of our past. Let us learn from our past and now look forward’.
In my humble opinion and still limited purview of the world, I feel that Bangladesh and our hard-earned independence have been vindicated. We have proven to Pakistan, home to our military oppressors and bloodthirsty dictator of 1971, that we have survived and we’ve only gotten better. Now, it’s time to show them just strong we are by sharing some of our strengths with them and helping them out in their struggles.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. If we now close our doors to Pakistan, we will be shutting out a friend. The people of Pakistan have nothing but respect for Bangladesh. They want to learn. They want to know. But what will be our call? Will we play into the hands of those who have used the sentiments of 1971 to progress their own vested interests or should we promote our inherently peaceful and progressive way of life to a nation that looks up at us with hope and an offer of friendship. Again, at the risk of being labeled, I dare suggest that perhaps, it’s time to call truce and move on. We will never forget 1971, but then taking pride in our history should not be analogous to hating the people of another country, who were also victims of their circumstances and military oppressors.