Honouring The Brave

The Pakistan Army recently honoured the civil armed forces personnel who resisted the separation of Pakistan’s eastern wing.

By Hussain Raza | December 2021

The valiant civil armed forces comprised men and women in East Pakistan in 1970-71. They put up a brave resistance against Indian aggression when the Bengalis of East Pakistan launched a separatist movement under India’s encouragement. They managed to severe Pakistan’s eastern wing with open help from the Mukti Bahini (a local ‘freedom’ army actually raised on the behest of India) and succeeded in creating Bangladesh.

The role of the civil armed forces in East Pakistan in those days was very important. They did not agree with what the separatists wanted and how the Mukti Bahini were jumping into the fray so they started a civil movement to stop the onslaught.

The survivors among the civil armed forces who managed to travel and settle in Pakistan, were recently invited by the Pakistan Army to an elegant event in Lahore Cantonment and were presented with commemorative awards in appreciation of their heroism.

The refugees or ‘Stranded Pakistanis’ were stateless people for a long time. They mostly comprised immigrants from India, especially Bihar state, who had migrated to nearby East Bengal in 1947 and in later years. They wanted to travel to the western wing of Pakistan to settle down there after the eastern wing became Bangladesh.

The Pakistan government under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the seventies did settle some of the refugees in Pakistan. So did the government of Nawaz Sharif in later years. The OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) also made some efforts in this regard. For its part, the Bangladesh government accommodated the so-called ‘Stranded Pakistanis’ in makeshift camps near Dhaka and other East Pakistani cities.

They were never shifted to proper residences and it is in these temporary camps that these Pakistanis led their lives. Now, fifty years later, the stranded people have entered their third generation but are still living in temporary camps and have never been accepted by the Bangladesh government as people who deserve the same status as its own citizens as they claim to be citizens of another state.

Offers were made by the Bangladeshi government for the stranded people to merge with the local population and take on Bangladeshi nationality but they refused and continued to live in their temporary dwellings. Their demand has been that they are Pakistanis and should either be repatriated to Pakistan or other countries or live in Bangladesh with the same respect and facilities as the country’s own people.

The Pakistan Army has indeed performed a great service by recognizing those who heroically contributed to the resistance in East Pakistan. These people acted against the machinations of the Mukti Bahini which promoted the separatist elements in East Pakistan’s civilian population as well as the military.

Acknowledgement of the civilian armed forces who saw through East Pakistan’s separatist mindset came late but it is a befitting tribute to the deeds of valour of civilians in East Pakistan who wanted to stamp out the separatist movement that led to the creation of Bangladesh under Indian patronage and help of the Mukti Bahini. The latter, it was revealed. were trained and sent in from across the border.
Many stranded Pakistanis were sucked in at one time or another into the Bengali population of Bangladesh. The government relocated those who refused to blend into the local population in basically-equipped refugee camps across Bangladesh. It is estimated that the population of these camps rose to 250,000.

The camps are crowded and undeveloped and became slums. Families of up to 10 typically lived and continue to live in single rooms, with one latrine shared by some 90 families. Also, no more than five percent of the population has formal education. Health and sanitation problems persist in these camps due to poor drainage and sewage systems. The economic condition of the people, still known as refugees or ‘Stranded Pakistanis’, is extremely poor.

It is therefore thoughtful of the Pakistan Army to reward the civil armed forces who acted so bravely in the East Pakistan war. Pakistan also has a duty towards the stranded Pakistanis and must find ways to improve their lot.