Forty years after the end of the 1971 East Pakistan war – which resulted in the independence and formation of the modern nation of Bangladesh – a new book on the conflict by an Indian author has sparked outrage among Bengalis around the world.
Sarmila Bose, the US-born author of ”Dead Reckoning” claims, among other things, that the atrocities committed by Pakistani soldiers in Bangladesh were greatly exaggerated and that both sides committed crimes against humanity during the independence war.
The civil war – between what was the East Pakistan and West Pakistan – is believed to have caused up to 3-million deaths (a number Bose believes is wildly inflated)
She writes that discussion of the war dominated by the narrative of the victorious side – that is, Bangladeshi nationalists who gained independence from Pakistan. She also said that perspectives on the conflict are still imprisoned by wartime partisan myths.
While conceding that Pakistani military personnel committed atrocities in Bangladesh, including mass murder and rape, she contends that “many Bengalis - supposed to be fighting for freedom and dignity - committed appalling atrocities. And many Pakistani army officers, carrying out a military action against a political rebellion, turned out to be fine men doing their best to fight an unconventional war within the conventions of warfare.”
Bose, of Bengali Hindu descent and a senior research fellow at Oxford University, claims the Pakistani army was demonized and blamed for monstrous actions regardless of the evidence, while Bengali people were portrayed as victims.
This has led to a tendency to deny, minimize or justify violence and brutalities perpetrated by pro-liberation Bengalis, she says.
She adds that Bangladesh is in a great state of denial over what really happened during the war.
Bangladeshi scholars are savagely criticizing Bose’s book and conclusions.
Naeem Mohaiemen, a New York-based writer, told the BBC that Bose is pushing her conclusions to an extreme by assuming that the Pakistan army used “only justified and temperate amounts of retaliatory force.”
Bose said she interviewed people throughout Bangladesh as well as former Pakistani officers and combed through official documents.
She alleges, among other things, that Bengali nationalists in Bangladesh attacked non-Bengalis in the country just prior to the war – including West Pakistanis and Biharis who had migrated eastward during partition in 1947.
Bose told BBC: In the ethnic violence unleashed in the name of Bengali nationalism, non-Bengali men, women and children were slaughtered. Non-Bengali victims of ethnic killings by Bengalis numbered hundreds or even thousands per incident... men, women and children were massacred on the basis of ethnicity and the killings were executed with shocking bestiality.
In response, Mohaiemen told BBC: “The bizarre hypothesis of Sarmila Bose's book is that Pakistani army officers are the most objective source to establish their own innocence. In fact the interviewee list in her book reveals a distinct selection bias. In Pakistan, she interviewed 30 Pakistani army officers, and three civilians. “
Mohaimen added: “She [Bose] also relies heavily on Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, which was done by the post-1971 Pakistan government with the intention of white-washing the war.”