December — winter of despair!

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Notwithstanding the fact that in the month of December was born Holy Christ (S.A.W), the founder of world’s largest religion Christianity, so were Muslims of Indian sub-continent fortunate to see the birth of their leader Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who single-handedly changed the course of modern history for them. While that being that, to quote Charles Dickens, it were the best of times but then as the great writers adds to it, December too had its season of darkness and currently a winter of despair.

Two most tragic events in this month — years in between — cast spell of doubt; uncertainty shrouding our future. December 16, shall remain the darkest day in our history for our criminal failures that led to the break-up of the largest Islamic country in the world and biggest surrender of a Muslim army. On this day the coterie of generals under the command of their Army Chief Yahya Khan usurping the seat of absolute power in Islamabad, laid down their to the Indian army without much of resistance. Forty seven years down the tragic road, even today despite our best efforts — our eyes well up with tears of remorse.

The wound of East Pakistan’s fall has become a permanent ulcer with no balm to dry it.

Though today we have an elected government with military establishment backing it to the hilt, the situation in the country is much deplorable germinating in fears of repeating history. When the Pakistani media that had enjoyed comparatively greater freedom in the past gets ordered by the top tweeting master to hold on reporting reminding me of the days of General Ziaul Haq’s martial law when newspapers were subjected to draconian martial law regulations making it punishable under MLRs to even print truth in the best national interests. Remember newspapers left empty spaces when the news and views not palatable for the regime were pulled out from the copy before it went to print. How can journalist of my age forget the whipping in public of journalists who defied MLRs and dared to expose the misdeeds of the most oppressive regime.

1971 and more so month of December was a traumatic time. Civil war was at its peak, genocide had converted East Pakistan into a killing field. I would not like to quote how many were killed and what was the gruesome number of women raped and how proudly General “Tiger” Niazi displayed their blood stained saris, hung everywhere as a mounted trophy of the large scale genocide.

I am sure many of my colleagues in the West Pakistani media would  bear me out how meekly we surrendered to the massacres without mentioning about them in our newspapers as we had been firmly directed much like today, by the then tweeting master, who has advised us to bear with the government fall out of its bloody actions and watch the situation patiently as soon all would be honkdory once the first out-come of chickenomics would result in hatching millions of chicks to bail us out from the desperate state of our pathetic economy.

Not in so many words something like MLR of the yore has been clamped on the media as an advice to let the ugly chicken come home to roost. When I ask my journalist friends from Pakistan about the state of the media, their response is disheartening when they say that matters have come to be much worse than General Zia’s martial law. And then when we are told that we don’t have to worry everything is going according to the plan, we get memory jitters reminding of the last days of East Pakistan when the spokesman at the ISPR in contact with us, kept on repeating — don’t worry, everything is going according to the plan!

We were witness to most ignominious surrender on December 16, 1971, at the famous Paltan Maidan in the historic city of Dhaka where ironically All India Muslim League was established in 1906, initiated by Nawab Salimullah Khan of Dhaka. In subsequent years Bengali Muslims provided leadership to the liberation of Muslims finally led by the Quaid. Separation of East Pakistan with majority of population from West Pakistan was sum total of our national crimes, follies and intrigues by the power troika comprising of military, civil and judicial bureaucracy backed by the Punjabi feudal class and the renegade clergy that had opposed Pakistan and dubbed Jinnah as Kafir-e-Azam.

Indeed there could not be worst catastrophe than the fall of Dhaka in Muslim history. However, on December 27, 2007 skies were to fall when Pakistan’s most dynamic leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on her return to Pakistan to reclaim democracy and people’s power. Her murder most foul executed under the regime of the then dictator General Pervez Musharraf remains to this day a mystery. Cases are pending against GPM, he is in exile getting himself treated for some lethal disease — thanks to safe passage to the fugitive arranged by the then army chief General (now retired) Raheel Sharif. Obviously the way he was allowed to leave without facing trial lays it bare the fact that powers that be were at his back and they don’t want him to be punished. Historically speaking Benazir Bhutto’s murder at a juncture when Pakistan needed her leadership — was a premonition for the worst to come.

No doubt it must have been a matter of satisfaction for her soul that her sacrifice in blood did not go waste. It culminated in the return of democracy. And it goes to the credit of her party PPP that it brought in constitutional changes of seminal consequences to the extent that the Praetorian establishment had to resort to massive engineering to bring in their man in the election with the promise to roll back the constitutional amendments as well to collectively take steps to replace the parliamentary system with the presidential contraption that suits the Establishment.

(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)