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The Bangladesh Genocide

The genocide in Bangladesh began on 26 March 1971 with the launch of Operation Searchlight, as West Pakistan began a military crackdown on the Eastern wing of the nation to suppress Bengali calls for self-determination rights. During the nine-month-long Bangladesh war for independence, members of the Pakistani military and supporting Islamist militias from Jamaat-e-Islami killed up to 3,000,000 people and raped between 200,000 and 400,000 Bangladeshi women, according to Bangladeshi and Indian sources in a systematic campaign of genocidal rape. In December 2011, a BBC News report cited unnamed "independent researchers" as claiming that between 300,000 and 500,000 people were killed. The actions against women were supported by Muslim religious leaders, who declared that Bengali women were "public property". As a result of the conflict, a further eight to ten million people, mostly Hindus, fled the country at the time to seek refuge in neighbouring India. It is estimated that up to 30 million civilians became internally displaced. During the war, there was also ethnic violence between Bengalis and Urdu-speaking Biharis. Biharis faced reprisals from Bengali mobs and militias and from 1,000 to 150,000 were killed. Other sources claim it was up to 500,000.

There is an academic consensus that the events which took place during the Bangladesh Liberation War constituted a genocide, and warrant judicial accountability. However, some scholars deny it was a genocide.

Background Female students of Dacca university marching on Language Movement Day, 21 February 1953. Following the partition of India, the new state of Pakistan represented a geographical anomaly, with two wings separated by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. The wings were not only separated geographically but also culturally. The authorities of the West viewed the Bengali Muslims in the East as "too Bengali" and their application of Islam as "inferior and impure", believing this made the Bengalis unreliable "co-religionists". To this extent, politicians in West Pakistan began a strategy to forcibly assimilate the Bengalis culturally. The Bengali people were the demographic majority in Pakistan, making up an estimated 75 million in East Pakistan, compared with 55 million in the predominantly Punjabi-speaking West Pakistan. The majority in the East were Muslim, with large minorities of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. The West considered the people of the East to be second-class citizens, and Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, who served as head of the Pakistani Forces in East Pakistan in 1971, referred to the region as a "low-lying land of low-lying people".

In 1948, a few months after the creation of Pakistan, Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared Urdu as the national language of the newly formed state, although only four per cent of Pakistan's population spoke Urdu at that time. He branded those who supported the use of Bengali as communists, traitors and enemies of the state. The refusal by successive governments to recognize Bengali as the second national language culminated in the Bengali language movement and strengthened support for the newly formed Awami League, which was founded in the East as an alternative to the ruling Muslim League. A 1952 protest in Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, was forcibly broken up, resulting in the deaths of several protesters. Bengali nationalists viewed those who had died as martyrs for their cause, and the violence led to calls for secession. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 caused further grievances, as the military had assigned no extra units to the defence of the East. This was a matter of concern to the Bengalis who saw their nation undefended in case of Indian attack during the conflict of 1965, and that Ayub Khan, the dictator-ruler of Pakistan, was willing to lose the East if it meant gaining Kashmir.

The slow response to the Bhola cyclone which struck on 12 November 1970 is widely seen as a contributing factor in the December 1970 general election.[citation needed] The East Pakistan-based Awami League, headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a national majority in the first democratic election since the creation of Pakistan, sweeping East Pakistan. But, the West Pakistani establishment prevented them from forming a government.[38] President Yahya Khan, encouraged by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,[39] banned the Awami League and declared martial law. The Pakistani Army demolished Ramna Kali Mandir (temple) and killed 85 Hindus. On 22 February 1971, General Yahya Khan said: "Kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands."

According to Indian academic Sarmila Bose, a significant minority of Bengalis, especially from the Islamic parties, continued to support a united Pakistan and a section of Awami League voters may not have supported secession from Pakistan at all; rather, they were hoping to achieve provincial autonomy. Additionally, some Bengali officers and soldiers remained loyal to the Pakistani Army and were taken as prisoners of war by India along with other West Pakistani soldiers.[46] Thus, according to Sarmila Bose, there were many pro-regime Bengalis who killed and persecuted the pro-liberation fighters. Sydney Schanberg reported the formation of armed civilian units by the Pakistani Army in June 1971. Only a minority of the recruits were Bengali while most were Biharis and Urdu speakers. The units with local knowledge played an important role in the implementation of the Pakistani Army's genocide. American writer Gary J. Bass believes that the breakup of Pakistan was not inevitable, identifying 25 March 1971 as the point where the idea of a united Pakistan ended for Bengalis with the start of military operations. According to John H. Gill, since there was widespread polarization between pro-Pakistan Bengalis and pro-liberation Bengalis during the war, those internal battles are still playing out in the domestic politics of modern day Bangladesh.

Operation Searchlight

Operation Searchlight was a planned military operation carried out by the Pakistani Army to curb elements of the separatist Bengali nationalist movement in East Pakistan in March 1971. The Pakistani state justified commencing Operation Searchlight on the basis of anti-Bihari violence by Bengalis in early March. Ordered by the government in West Pakistan, this was seen as the sequel to Operation Blitz which had been launched in November 1970. On 1 March 1971 East Pakistan governor Admiral Syed Mohammed Ahsan was replaced after disagreeing with military action in East Pakistan.[52][53] His successor Sahibzada Yaqub Khan resigned after refusing to use soldiers to quell a mutiny and disagreement with military action in East Pakistan.

According to Indian academic Sarmila Bose, the postponement of the National Assembly on 1 March led to widespread lawlessness spread by Bengali protesters during the period of 1–25 March, in which the Pakistani government lost control over much of the province. Bose asserts that during this 25-day period of lawlessness, attacks by Bengalis on non-Bengalis were common as well as attacks by Bengalis on Pakistani military personnel who, according to Bose and Anthony Mascarenhas, showed great restraint until 25 March, when Operation Searchlight began. Bose also described the "atrocities" committed by the Pakistani Army in her book. According to Anthony Mascarenhas, the actions of the Pakistani Army compared to the violence by Bengalis was "altogether worse and on a grander scale". On the night of 25 March 1971 the Pakistani Army launched Operation Searchlight. Time magazine dubbed General Tikka Khan, the "Butcher of Bengal" for his role in operation Searchlight. Targets of the operation included Jagannath Hall which was a dormitory for non-Muslim students of Dhaka University, Rajarbagh Police Lines, Pilkhana which is the headquarters of East Pakistan Rifles. About 34 students were killed in the dormitories of Dhaka University. Neighbourhoods of old Dhaka which had a majority Hindu population were also attacked. Robert Payne, an American journalist estimated that 7,000 people had been killed and 3,000 arrested in that night. Teachers of Dhaka University were killed in the operation by the Pakistani Army. Sheikh Mujib was arrested by the Pakistani Army on 25 March. Ramna Kali Mandir was demolished by the Pakistani Army in March 1971. The original plan envisioned taking control of the major cities on 26 March 1971 and then eliminating all opposition, political, or military, within one month. The prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated by Pakistani planners. The main phase of Operation Searchlight ended with the fall of the last major town in Bengali hands in mid-May. The countryside still remained almost evenly contested.

The first report of the Bangladesh genocide was published by West Pakistani journalist Anthony Mascarenhas in The Sunday Times, London on 13 June 1971 titled "Genocide". He wrote: "I saw Hindus, hunted from village to village and door to door, shot off-hand after a cursory 'short-arm inspection' showed they were uncircumcised. I have heard the screams of men bludgeoned to death in the compound of the Circuit House (civil administrative headquarters) in Comilla. I have seen truckloads of other human targets and those who had the humanity to try to help them hauled off 'for disposal' under the cover of darkness and curfew." This article helped turn world opinion against Pakistan and decisively encouraged the Government of India to intervene. On 2 August 1971, Time magazine correspondent sent a dispatch that provided a detailed description of the destruction in East Pakistan. It wrote that cities have whole sections damaged from shelling and aerial bombardments. The Dispatch wrote: "In Dhaka, where soldiers set sections of the Old City ablaze with flamethrowers and then machine-gunned thousands as they tried to escape the cordon of fire, nearly 25 blocks have been bulldozed clear, leaving open areas set incongruously amid jam-packed slums." It quoted a senior US official as saying "It is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland."

Archer K. Blood, American diplomat wrote in the Blood Telegram: "with the support of the Pak military, non-Bengali Muslims are systematically attacking poor people's quarters and murdering Bengalis and Hindus."