There are quite a few reasons, other than the one he has come forth with, why the Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir may have decided to hand back to Bangladesh the Friend of Bangladesh Liberation War award conferred posthumously on his father a few years ago. Of course, Mir does not state those reasons, a major one likely being the severe criticism he has been under over his position in Pakistan regarding the role of his country’s army in Bangladesh in 1971. Mir has been politely critical of the army’s action that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan. On several talk shows he has exposed the roles of such men as Lt. General AAK Niazi during the war. And he has been one of those Pakistanis who have publicly called for an apology from Pakistan to Bangladesh over the tragedy of 1971.
In deciding to return his father’s award to Bangladesh, however, Hamid Mir made no mention of these facts. Neither did he refer to the opprobrium he has encountered from many of his countrymen, who have variously referred to him as an enemy of the Pakistan army and indeed of the Pakistan state itself. Perhaps he felt the pressure was growing too much on him around his Bangladesh-related thoughts, given especially that diplomatic relations between Dhaka and Islamabad are today at the lowest ebb since the Bengali victory in 1971. Perhaps the pressure came from those who really matter in Pakistan, individuals and institutions that have looked at him with suspicion over the past many years and that have always harboured ill will toward Bangladesh.
Mir did not mention this pressure factor when the other day he made that rather sudden statement on Geo TV, where he has been for years, on the award issue. But he did link his decision to return the award to Dhaka to a pretty spurious and therefore untenable reason. The explanation comes with holes in it. He had thought, said he, and so had other Pakistanis regarded as friends of Bangladesh when they were invited to Dhaka that Sheikh Hasina intended to improve Bangladesh’s relations with Pakistan by her gesture. Hamid Mir has now stumbled on the discovery that the awards for his father and for the other Pakistanis was a trick — he uses the Urdu term ‘dhoka’ — by the Bangladesh Prime Minister who, he has come to believe, does not want better ties with Pakistan. The reality, for Mir, is that Sheikh Hasina has presided over a deterioration of her country’s relations with Pakistan and is keen on breaking off all links with Islamabad.
And so Hamid Mir feels he should give the award for his late father back to the Bangladesh government. We will not be surprised if some other Pakistanis, similarly honoured by Bangladesh, follow in his footsteps. If and when that happens, we will know more definitively what has been going on in Pakistan around the issue of these awards from Bangladesh. But for us here in Dhaka, it is important to note the fallacy in Hamid Mir’s rationale for repudiating the award. He has chosen not to remember that the Friend of Bangladesh Liberation War awards have nothing to do with the Bangladesh government’s exercise of diplomacy, especially in relation to Pakistan, at present. But they have everything to do with the contributions of those individuals abroad, around the world, who drew attention to the sufferings of the Bengali nation in the face of the genocide being committed in Bangladesh between March and December 1971. Such Pakistanis as Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, Ahmad Salim, Waris Mir and Malik Ghulam Jilani braved the odds to demand an end to the military action in Bangladesh.
Hamid Mir missed the point, perhaps deliberately. In his condemnation of the Bangladesh Prime Minister, he conveniently stayed clear of making any reference to the fundamental reason why Bangladesh-Pakistan relations have plunged so badly in the last three years or so. That fundamental reason is of course the Pakistan government’s interference in the war crimes trials in Bangladesh. The Pakistan federal cabinet condemned the trials and executions of the ageing collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army. Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in patent violation of diplomatic norms, introduced a resolution condemning the trials in the Pakistan national assembly. Once the resolution was adopted, it was not hard to predict the way Bangladesh would react.
Of course, Hamid Mir did not cite these facts in his award-return statement. Neither did he refer to the move by Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser, not long ago to influence the Commonwealth at a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) into condemning the war crimes trials in Dhaka. Aziz did not succeed, but his efforts to humiliate Bangladesh only contributed to a worsening of Dhaka-Islamabad ties. As the good journalist he has always been, Hamid Mir should have made these facts known to his audience. He did not. Or could not.
Postscript: Every 16 December for the last few years, Hamid Mir has been hosting a programme on Geo TV on the anniversary of the Pakistan army’s surrender in Bangladesh in 1971. He refers, as do other Pakistanis, to the anniversary of the surrender as Sakoot-e-Dhaka, or Fall of Dhaka. Civilian and military veterans who had roles to play in the conflict as part of the Pakistani establishment appear on Mir’s programme, where everything except the killings and rape of Bengalis by the army is discussed. And, yes, Hamid Mir remains guilty of referring to the Mukti Bahini a few years ago as a force which introduced cross-border terrorism in the subcontinent. So much for dispassionate historical analysis.