International communities must officially recognise 1971 genocide

Published : 24 Mar 2023 08:43 PM

March is a very im­portant month in the history of Bangladesh because it was in this month in 1971 that East Pakistan's political unrest turned into a war of independence. Bangabandhu, in his March 7 speech, declared our independence in a diplomatic language in the face of the conspiracies of the military dictator of West Pakistan. After Bangabandhu's March 7 speech, the dictator of the Pakistani army became alarmed because, through this speech, Bangabandhu instructed the citizens of East Pakistan to prepare to participate in the war. After verifying the magnitude of Bangabandhu's speech, the rulers of Pakistan realised that it was impossible to suppress the Bengali movement.

Under the guise of talking to Bangabandhu, the leader of Pakistan army played a shady political game with East Pakistan's political leaders. In the middle of March, President Yahya Khan met with Bangabandhu to try to solve the political problem, even though he knew it would not be solved at that time. He took part in the negotiations so that additional troops from West Pakistan could be sent in to commit genocide in East Pakistan.

On the darkest night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani army killed thousands of innocent sleeping Bengalis, including police, students, and teachers in Dhaka, in the name of "Operation Searchlight". 

One of the main objectives of this massacre was to suppress the nationalist rebellion by capturing the main cities on March 26. By killing teachers, academics, and cultural workers, they indulged in efforts to suppress the Bengali nationalist movement as they realised that this class of people had the power to influence other classes of people against the Pakistani ruler.

As part of this murderous organisation's barbaric policies, they forced all foreign journalists to leave the country. By forcing journalists to leave the country, they tried to ensure that the world would not learn about the genocide through foreign media. Although it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of people killed in the massacre by the Pakistani invaders on a black night, it was clear that thousands of innocent Bengalis were killed that night. Despite hundreds of attempts by the Pakistani invaders, various international media, including the New York Times, reported the massacre. The New York Times stated in an article dated April 1, 1971, that about 35,000 innocent people were killed in Bangladesh on the night of March 25. On the other hand, the Sydney Morning Herald, in their report on March 29, 1971, stated that between 10,000 and 100,000 innocent people were killed in Bangladesh in the massacre that took place on the night of March 25th.

However, many believed that the number of killings reported in foreign media would be several times higher than the actual number. Although historians and government departments disagree on the overall death toll, all agree that on the dark night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani army carried out a massacre of innocent people in Bangladesh. Many historians have compared the brutality of the 25th of March, 1971, in Dhaka to the Soviet POW, the Jewish Holocaust, and the Romanian genocide.

Even though the genocide happened in Bangladesh on March 25, 1971, the rest of the world still hasn't agreed that it was genocide. 

This is true even 51 years after Bangladesh became independent. Many previous governments of Bangladesh did not even pay tribute to the martyrs on this day. They didn't do anything to get the rest of the world to agree that the genocide happened. 

Ultimately, on March 11, 2017, the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government passed a joint resolution in the National Parliament designating March 25 as Genocide Day in honor of the martyrs of the Black Night. Since then, the day has been observed with great respect in Bangladesh. 

We must thank the AL government for initiating the process of honoring the martyrs who were brutally murdered that night.

We can't ignore how important this March 25 event is to the history of our fight for freedom. The people of East Pakistan were inspired to stake their lives for the country by Bangabandhu's March 7 speech. On the other hand, the violence of March 25 resulted in the civilians vowing to fight against the Pakistani oppressors and drive them out of Bangladesh.

Over the past 51 years, the independence of Bangladesh has been the center of a lot of dirty politics by foreign superpowers. We have seen several superpowers refuse to recognise the March 25, 1971, massacre by the Pakistanis as genocide. However, they are now beginning to admit that genocide took place in Bangladesh at that time due to the initiative of the current government. The Government of Bangladesh has submitted to the United Nations that March 25 be designated as Genocide Day in 2019 in order for the international community to remember and condemn the atrocities committed by the Pakistani regime. However, due to the opposition of some countries, international recognition of the genocide has not yet been achieved.

It is very unfortunate that, despite the consensus among international organisations, historians, academics, and foreign journalists about the genocide, we have not yet been able to convince the United States. We have to keep faith in the leadership of our honorable Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, as she has been able to gain international recognition for Bangladesh's various achievements. Although we have not yet achieved official recognition of the genocide, due to the worthy leadership of the Awami League, UNESCO has recognised February 21 as International Mother Language Day and Bangabandhu's March 7 speech as one of the most authentic traditions in the world. The recognition of Bangaban­dhu's 7 March speech made the speech famous beyond the boundaries of country and language.

As mentioned above, the Awami League government presented a UN resolution in 2019 to recognise the 25th March genocide. At various times, key government officials have expressed their commitment to gaining universal recognition of the genocide. Also, UN Special Counselor on Prevention of Genocide - Adama Dieng, in his meeting with our honorable Prime Minister on March 24, 2019, promised to raise the issue of genocide in East Pakistan during Bangladesh's independence war in an appropriate forum. But the hope is that Genocide Watch and the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention have recently recognised this crime as genocide.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh needs to be more strategic in order to achieve universal international recognition of the 25 March Genocide, like international recognition of other issues. We sincerely believe that this recognition can only be achieved under Sheikh Hasina's government. 

Just as the people of Bangladesh are grateful to Bangabandhu for giving the gift of independence to the state called Bangladesh, they will be grateful to the Awami League government for their tireless efforts to achieve various international recognitions for Bangladesh.

Dr. Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor at the Department of Public Administration, the University of Rajshah