The biggest losers in the fall of Dhaka

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The state of Pakistan was founded after great struggle and huge sacrifices made by the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. After Mughal rule was weakened and Britain conquered the subcontinent, Muslims and Hindus staged a revolt in 1857 under the leadership of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II, but Britain crushed the rebellion and held the Muslims responsible for it. Subsequently, the British deported many Muslims and approached Hindus, who in turn favorably responded to their wishes and came forward to learn their language.

On the other hand, Muslims withdrew within themselves, stayed away from power and to a great extent from the new rulers and their language of English. This prompted some enlightened Muslims to wage a struggle for the uplift of the community on several fronts. On the one hand, they persuaded Muslims to emerge from the isolation in which they had placed themselves. On the other hand, they demanded, together with Hindus, the independence of India from British colonial rule.

However, Muslims later realized that they needed to have their own homeland. At the All India Muslim League annual conference held in Lahore in 1940, the Bengali leader Fazlul Haq moved the Pakistan Resolution, which was adopted unanimously. The Resolution, which is also known as the Lahore Resolution, stipulated that Muslims would not accept anything less than the state of Pakistan, and the Muslim League continued the struggle until they achieved their demand for a separate nation for Muslims in the subcontinent.

The independent state of Pakistan came into being in 1947, made up of West Pakistan and East Pakistan. But, unfortunately, for a number of reasons, dispute broke out between the two parts, leading to a civil war in East Pakistan that lasted nine months and ended with the intervention of the Indian Army and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh. This was after the surrender of the Pakistani Army and the fall of Dhaka on 16 December 1971.

The Pakistan Repatriation Council recently organized a function to commemorate those who died in the civil war that led to the secession of East Pakistan. The event was also a reminder of the tragedy experienced by Pakistanis who have been stranded in Bangladesh since the fall of Dhaka and who have been languishing since then in miserable camps. Bangladesh considered these people to be traitors because they stood with the Pakistani Army during the war of independence.

On the other hand, successive governments in Pakistan have failed to fulfill their promises for the repatriation and rehabilitation of stranded Pakistanis. There was an exemption for this during the time of President General Zia ul-Haq, who made some efforts in this regard. Gen. Zia was instrumental in setting up an endowment, in cooperation between the Pakistani government and the Makkah-based Muslim World League when Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef was its secretary general.

The Endowment, headed by Gen. Zia himself, was known as the Rabita Endowment. The purpose of the Endowment was to repatriate and rehabilitate stranded Pakistanis but the death of Gen. Zia adversely affected these efforts and stalled the initiative for some time. Later, the efforts regained some momentum during the first and second terms of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister of Pakistan.

But when he assumed the premiership for the third time, he did not do anything and said nothing with regard to stranded Pakistanis. Moreover, even talk about stranded Pakistanis seemed to bother high-ranking Pakistani officials, as if these people had never made any sacrifice for Pakistan. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said about these people: “The massacre of Muslims in Bihar led to the creation of Pakistan.”

Now, no one knows about the fate of either the Rabita Endowment or the sums of money collected for it. It is also not clear how many members of the Endowment are still alive. Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz had been one of the surviving members. (I learned about his death while writing this article. May Almighty Allah forgive him and accommodate him in His paradise, and bestow courage and patience to the bereaved family members to bear the loss.)

As a matter of fact, the endowment (waqf) is a sacred act in Islam and it is not permissible to use it for purposes other than what it has been designated for. Hence, we call upon the current Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, to revive the Rabita Endowment and appoint, in cooperation with the MWL, new members in place of those who are no more.

If the Pakistan government has any reason for not reviving the Endowment, it can at least review the plan for repatriation and rehabilitation of stranded Pakistanis, presented to it earlier by PRC officials. The plan envisages that stranded Pakistanis will be allowed to benefit from a self-financing scheme under which they will be granted passports and allowed to work anywhere so that they can pay the costs for repatriation and rehabilitation in their own country of Pakistan.

It must be stressed that any disregard of their rights does not deprive them of their legal, national and humanitarian rights. The failure to address the problem of stranded Pakistanis is an offense to Pakistan and the very idea on which the state of Pakistan was based.

Even after the passage of 47 years since the creation of Bangladesh, these people are still languishing in squalid camps. Despite all the suffering and the dismal living conditions, these people still consider themselves to be Pakistanis, just like any other Pakistanis.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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