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The Daily Star

Published Date: Jul 27, 2017

Pakistani poet for 1971 genocide trial

The young generation of Pakistan should come forward to make their government understand about its responsibility to try the perpetrators of 1971’s genocide and offer apology to Bangladesh, Pakistani poet Ahmad Salim said yesterday.
“Now, although the landscape in Pakistan has changed and now thousands of people are there to respect the independence of Bangladesh, the issue of seeking apology at official level is still at the doldrums,” he said.
“It seems that the governments in Pakistan haven’t learnt from the past,” Salim said as he was delivering Jahanara Imam Memorial Lecture 2017 at the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh in the capital yesterday.
Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee organised the programme marking the 23rd death anniversary of war crimes trial campaigner Jahanara Imam.
Ahmad Salim, who was associated with Punjab Students Union and National Awami Party, had to suffer in jail for writing poems protesting genocide in Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971. In March 2012, the Bangladesh government gave him the "Friends of Liberation War Honour" for his contribution.
Salim said today Bangladesh was a reality, and it was now more developed, free and sovereign country compared with Pakistan.
“Our new generation is more enlightened and less prejudiced… It’s now the responsibility of this young generation to come forward and help us to make the government of Pakistan understand that as a responsible country, it should try the people involved in war crimes against the Bangladeshi people and tend its apology to Bangladesh.”
“I am a Punjabi poet and today in this humble capacity, I would like to offer my apology yet again to the people of Bangladesh for committing atrocities on people of Bengal. Hence, I sincerely beg my apology,” he said.
Salim said their party leaders including NAP’s West Pakistan chief visited Dhaka to express solidarity with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and from Baaji Nasim Akhter, one of those leaders, he came to know about the dreadful happenings during the first night of genocide.
He was arrested after his first poem was published, and he stood a summary military trial in August 1971.
Talking about the trial, he said, “When a six months’ sentence was announced against me, I put a question before the magistrate and that was, ‘Are you sure your power would last for another six months?’ On this, five lashes were added to my punishment.”
“One of the questions that I was asked to respond was — you are a Punjabi but still criticise army that belongs to Punjab. My answer was simple. The people that shed human blood cannot be termed Punjabi or Pathan,” he recalled.
Even before his imprisonment, he took part in processions in Lahore in favour of Bangalee people, he added.
Anam Zakaria, an award winning Pakistani author, said it was her first visit to Bangladesh and the denial of genocide in Pakistan brought her here.
“It is the denial of your stories of the martyred families, freedom fighters, women who were raped, harassed and tortured so many ways that I can never comprehend, has brought me here,” she said.
Anam said though it was not possible for her to comprehend the pains victims and their families were going through it was her duty and responsibility to try to find out the truth and try to make Pakistani people know, realise, accept and own the history of Bangladeshi people.
“I cannot make the Pakistani government seek apology but I can take the voice of the people of Bangladesh back to Pakistan,” she said.
Haroon Khalid, another Pakistani writer and journalist, said it was more important for Pakistani people to understand what their government and state did in 1971.
“…because our country is still facing those same issues today. We still are calling our communities, our people not Pakistani enough. We still are calling them not Muslim enough. So we have still not learnt from history,” he said.
“Perhaps, more than Bangladesh, I believe it is more important for Pakistan sanity to acknowledge what happened in 1971,” he added.
This year, Jahanara Imam Memorial Award was given to Ahmad Salim and Dhaka-based Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies.
Nirmul committee’s president Shahriar Kabir, children of martyred intellectuals Shomi Kaiser, Nuzhat Choudhury, Tanvir Haider Chowdhury, and security expert Maj Gen (retd) Abdur Rashid spoke at the programme with the committee’s advisor Justice Md Shamsul Huda in the chair.