EDITORIAL: New impartial evidence debunks 1971 rape allegations against Pakistan Army
A study of the 1971 conflict by an Indian academic, Prof Sarmila Bose, says the Pakistan army personnel did not rape Bengali women as has been widely alleged by Indian and Bangladeshi writers. While Prof Bose’s study focuses on certain specific cases, the finding is very interesting, based as it is on extensive interviews with eyewitnesses. The study also determines the pattern of conflict as three-layered: West Pakistan versus East Pakistan, East Pakistanis (pro-Independence) versus East Pakistanis (pro-Union) and the fateful war between India and Pakistan.
As Prof Bose has noted, no prior study of the conflict has been done. What we have are narratives that strengthen one point of view by rubbishing contending viewpoints. The Bangladeshi meta-narrative, for instance, focuses on the rape issue and uses that not only to demonise the Pakistan army but also exploit it as a symbol of why it was important to break away from (West) Pakistan. Indeed, the sheer number of Bangladeshi women raped is placed in the millions, a fact to which the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report also referred and declared as absurd. Even so, over the years the charge of rape has stuck to the Pakistan army and weighed it down in moral terms. Prof Bose, a Bengali herself and belonging to the family of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, has done a remarkable job of investigating the charge and paving the way for independent scholars to probe the issue further.
Prof Bose, who unveiled her study at a US State Department conference convened to mark the release of declassified US government documents from that period, also spoke about the violence generated by all sides. “The civil war of 1971 was fought between those who believed they were fighting for a united Pakistan and those who believed their chance for justice and progress lay in an independent Bangladesh. Both were legitimate political positions. All parties in this conflict embraced violence as a means to the end, all committed acts of brutality outside accepted norms of warfare, and all had their share of humanity. These attributes make the 1971 conflict particularly suitable for efforts towards reconciliation, rather than recrimination,” says Prof Bose.
It goes to Prof Bose’s credit that while studying the conflict she retained her professionalism and integrity, two essential traits normally absent in studies done of that period by all sides. Under the circumstances, if she wants to explore the issue further the Pakistan army should not hesitate to give her access to raw material in its archives so that she can expand her work. Indeed, here’s the Pakistan army’s chance to wash this stigma off it once and for all. We are reasonably sure that elements within Bangladesh — and even India — will criticise Bose’s study because it goes against the grain of Bangladeshi nationalism. But this will not take away from its impartialness and significance. *
EDITORIAL #2: Growing US-India relations and Pakistan’s options
India and the United States have signed a 10-year agreement on defence cooperation, which includes joint weapons production, cooperation on missile defence and possible lifting of US export controls on India for sensitive military technologies. The mechanism for this includes setting up a “defence procurement and production group” to oversee defence trade, as well as prospects for co-production and technology collaboration” and deals on military “research, development, testing and evaluation”. Predictably, Pakistan has reacted adversely to the agreement and the various deals under it, saying that this could destabilise the military balance in the region that is already tipped in favour of India. Is Pakistan right?
Yes. Growing India-US military ties will definitely give New Delhi an edge and help it emerge in the region as a dominant player. But let’s face the reality. Pakistan can do nothing to change this course of events, especially not by prevailing upon the United States and preventing it from getting into a strategic partnership with India. So what can Pakistan do?
First, it needs to remember that the United States is now embarked upon a non-hyphenated South Asia policy. While Washington has its interests tied in with Pakistan, it looks at India in a different, and broader, perspective. As a sovereign nation, it (US) has a legitimate right to do that. Similarly, as a sovereign nation, Pakistan has the legitimate right to pursue its own interests. This can be done in four ways: Pakistan must cooperate with the US in all areas where the interests of the two sides converge; it must continue along the road to normalisation with India because that reduces the chances of conflict between the two sides; it must continue to improve its military preparedness to the minimal optimal level without getting embroiled in an arms race for the sake of nominal weapons parity; and it must balance scarce resources between defence and social sector requirements.
Military preparedness itself is pegged to four factors: nuclear, conventional, indigenous research and development and import of weapon systems from other countries. Underlying this effort is the economic health of the country. Pakistan’s economy has shown an upward trend in the past five years or so and it is important that the country should build on that. Military hardware is not cheap, especially if Pakistan moves towards technology-intensive systems, moving in the process from a personnel-intensive military to a capital-intensive, lean outfit in keeping with the revolution in military affairs. The Chinese model is a good example. China is using its economic strength, among other things, for military modernisation. Pakistan can also take that route.
The nuclear capability holds the key to Pakistan’s defence. The country needs to upgrade its arsenal within its technological and financial constraints. Simultaneously, it needs to enhance its conventional potential to decrease the likelihood of an early escalation to the nuclear option in the event of a conflict. R&D is important and the Pakistan Ordnance Factories have done well and qualified for ISO 17025. Its 14 concerns will be the first industrial group in the region to get that certification. It also has collaborative programmes running with China including the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet. Pakistan would also need to diversify its sources for military equipment.
The essential point is that while Pakistan may not be able to prevent certain developments in the region it can still remain pro-active and pursue its interests without getting into a conflict with other states. The real issue will be to balance the minimal optimal level of military preparedness with the maximum potential pursuit of the social sector so that the quality of human capital and human life in the country is enhanced exponentially. In the ultimate analysis, and beyond a certain level, it is not weapons but the quality of manpower behind the weapons that counts. *