First News
Volume:7, Number:37
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A Bengali in Pakistan

It is deep in the night as I write. All around me is silence, in Islamabad. I arrived in Pakistan’s capital from Karachi a few hours ago at the invitation of the Institute of Strategic Studies, which is affiliated to the Pakistan Foreign Office. In a number of ways, the ISS operates in a manner similar to that of the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), which too is linked to the Bangladesh Foreign Office.

That said, as the night works away, I stay awake in Islamabad and let my mind go into a widening circle of thoughts. All day I was in Karachi, where the team I am part of had lunch at the Karachi Press Club with office bearers of the club. It was a friendly meeting, but you could detect in the air, initially, a certain degree of bashfulness in conversation. The reason was not hard to find. It was 1971. Then the ice broke, when we and those gentlemen of the Karachi Press Club wondered aloud if links could not be established between the journalists of Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Karachi club has already had a memorandum of understanding signed with the Mumbai Press Club. It is also in linkage with the Kolkata Press Club. It makes sense that Pakistani and Indian journalists, being part of society and not being part of government, come together, deal with history and help people to move on.

There was a visit to the mausoleum of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah thrown in as part of the program. I had been there on an earlier occasion and yet this new opportunity to visit the resting place of the man who believed that India could be divided on the basis of a ‘two-nation’ theory was welcome. A simple and recurring thought in me was all: could Jinnah not have been persuaded into not pushing his ideas, that of seeing a country --- India --- split in two? The mausoleum is wellmaintained, situated on sixty acres of land. A museum given over to the many aspects of the life of Pakistan’s founder is part of the structure. Jinnah’s furniture, his writing desk, the cars he used, are all on display.

And, of course, there are the many photographic images of the man Pakistanis revere as Quaid-e- Azam. I went through all the pictures and as I did so, it occurred to me that two important photographs were missing or were not counted. One relates to Jinnah’s putting a lapel on a young army officer at the time --- and we speak of 1948 --- General Officer Commanding (GOC) in East Bengal) watches. The other concerns of course Jinnah’s address before the students of Dhaka University at Curzon Hall, where he added fresh fuel to the state language issue.

And then memory took me down a new flight of stairs. It was March 21 and here I was going through a pictorial representation of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s life. Was it not the very day when he travelled to Dhaka, back in 1948, on his first and last visit to his country’s eastern province? On the same day, nearly seventy years later, that eastern province prepared to celebrate its freedom as a sovereign nation.

History forever assails the senses. At Karachi airport, waiting to board a flight to Islamabad, I saunter into a bookshop looking for political or historical works by Pakistani writers. I ask the salesman if he has the book the journalist M.B. Naqvi wrote some years before the curtain was drawn on his life. Long years ago, Naqvi told me at a media conference in Lahore that his conscience had not been letting him forget the horror of what he saw in Bangladesh in May 1971 when he and some other West Pakistani journalists were sent to the occupied country by the Yahya Khan junta. He would someday put it all in the book he would write.

I did not meet Naqvi after that. Nor have I come across his book. That salesman felt properly sorry that he did not have a copy. It did not matter, for there were other books to choose from. I ended up collecting four, one of them Justice Munir’s (he of the doctrine of necessity infamy) ‘From Jinnah to Zia’. And I mean to go searching for a copy of Air Marshal Zafar Choudhry’s memoirs --- because it contains details of the flight he was in charge of that had the newly freed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman travel from Rawalpindi to London in January 1972.

My flight from Karachi touched down at Benazir Bhutto International airport. The hotel we checked into happens to be located on Khayabane- Suhrawardy, or Suhrawardy Avenue. That sense of history gets reinforced as you recall the past. I tell my teammate Mahmuda Habiba, as we drive from the airport to the hotel that had Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto not messed up things in early 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would have governed all of Pakistan from Islamabad. The ramifications of that blunder have been horrendous

The night rolls on.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is the Associate Editor of Asian Age

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