(By Faiz Alnajdi)
MARCH 3: I was in Jeddah (the western port city and otherwise also known as the bride of the Red Sea) during this Eid Al-Adha holidays. Jeddah is a different city altogether; its known for its lovely night-time aerial view, beautiful sky lines, impressive corniche, mushrooming of sea-food outlets, Al-Baik (the Saudi equivalent of KFC, which we don’t find in Riyadh as yet)) and a transit station for the Hajis (the intending pilgrims) who come to the holy city of Makkah for Umrah or Hajj.
Besides having a rendezvous with old friends there, I also had the opportunity of meeting Engr. Ehsan. He is very well known as a dedicated and devoted spirit behind promoting the cause of repatriation of the erstwhile forgotten people (known as the stranded Pakistanis) living in a sub-human conditions in shanty camps in Bangla Desh. Agile team of his, under the banner of Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC), is doing a fine job in keeping this issue of repatriation alive and has been quite effective so far in offering moral support to these poor stranded Pakistanis who are yearning for years to be repatriated to Pakistan. PRC is a non-political and a non-profit making body which was founded in Karachi way back in 1971 by the young students (from former East Pakistan) to promote the cause of repatriation of their kith & kin stranded in there, due to fall of Dhaka. Ehtesham Uddin Arshad (a one time student leader now working for PRC in the US ) was then the main spirit behind it. Although PRC voices the cause of the stranded Pakistanis, it has over the years been able to project this issue as a pure humanitarian one which needed support of all Pakistanis alike irrespective of his/her ethnic leaning. This is the reason, as explained by Engr. Ehsan, the PRC organization structure now has on board people represented from all ethnic background.
The events before and after 1971, culminating in the transformation of the then East Pakistan into Bangla Desh, were a big human tragedy for the Indo-Pak sub-continent. The only prior precedent is the human catastrophe seen after the partition of the British India into a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan in 1947. In both these events millions of innocent lives were lost who fell prey to the madness of hate fuelled by the selfish politicians. Although millions of innocent people died and/or were rendered homeless in the Punjab, the scene of the worst riot (on both sides of the divide) the Biharis (Muslim minority in the Hindu-majority Indian State of Bihar) were perhaps the most unfortunate of them all.
The Biharis became victims of premeditated hate campaign geared by the extremist Hindus right before and after the partition in 1947. Millions of innocent men, women & children were murdered and an equal number of them were rendered homeless. These resulted in a mass exodus of the Muslim refugees who escaped to the then East Bengal (which being a Muslim majority area had then become the eastern wing of the newly created Pakistan ) for refuge and shelter. In the then East Pakistanthe local Bengali populace had welcomed them, at that time, with open arms but historically over the years things didn’t remain as pleasant as before; the history has recorded numerous reasons for the same. But most importantly, after the 1970 elections (the first ever of the United Pakistan, based on one-man-one-vote), the events that followed resulted in an army action by the then Pakistani Military Government. The army was able to quell, temporarily though, the mutiny in former East Pakistan. And, the Urdu speaking populace, driven by their sheer patriotic feelings for Pakistan, had openly sided, abetted and collaborated with the controlling Pakistan army. As a result, they became an easy target of hate campaign all over again before and after the December16, 1971 debacle (for the 2nd time after1947)when Pakistan was dismembered and Bangla Desh was created with the help and connivance of its arch enemy India.
Hundreds & thousandths of them were brutally murdered (a repeat of 1947) and equal number rendered homeless. Many of them (especially those with some economic effluence) were able to escape (a large number of them before the fall and some after) and then finally were able to reach the then West Pakistan.
Some non-Bengali civilians were also lucky to be taken POWs (Prisoners of War) along with the Pakistan army (who had negotiated a cease fire with India) and finally also managed to reach the then West Pakistan. But those poor and unfortunate ones, who were neither lucky to have been taken POWs nor were effluent enough to muster resources to escape (and finally migrate to the then West Pakistan, like others before them) were left alone at the mercy of the hostile Mukti Bahani; the Mukti Bahanis were the stooges and cohorts of the invading Indian army who were mostly responsible for the excesses done.
One can imagine what it is like to be captive in the siege of hostile and freaking out gun wielding local populace who is already inebriated with joy of their new found independence. Events that followed are very well recorded in the history and speak volumes of degradation of Humanity. In short the miseries, that followed, resulted in the 66 Refugee Camps (called Geneva Camps because they are managed by Geneva based ICRC; acronym for International Committee of Red Cross) spread all over Bangla Desh. In these shanty habitats, which present pictures of ghettos, these poor Pakistanis (who once migrated from their well established homes in undivided India to live peacefully in their newly found Country called Pakistan) were literally dumped with little or no basic amenities. They were offered citizenship of Bangla Desh but they refused and hoisted the Pakistani flags, instead, in their camps demonstrating their unfettered resolve to return to Pakistan gracefully as Pakistanis only.
But on the other hand, the irony of the matter is that they are still being denied their right to return to the Country for which they have waited too long really. Its been over 30 years since then during which young have grown old and old have perished with their dreams unrealized.
According to reports documented by PRC, some 100,000 plus were repatriated by the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1973, as per Simla Accord signed between India & Pakistan . Later in July 1988, an agreement was signed between the Government of the Late Gen. Zial Ul Haq and the Muslim World League (known as Rabta Alame Islami) resulting in establishment of a TRUST to foresee the repatriation of the stranded Pakistanis. Later in 1993, following the spirit of this agreement, additional few hundreds more were repatriated by the Government of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, although there was a plan in place to repatriate at least a 1000 families for which housings were built also which are still lying vacant to date. Ever since the matter stands politicized unnecessarily and further repatriation is on halt since then.