THE WAY IT WAS: The small matter of patriotism —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Bhutto could have asked Mujib ur Rehman for a list of individuals suspected of genocide, rape and loot. The alleged criminals could have been tried for violating the law and for conduct unbecoming of officers and soldiers of the Pakistan Army. The Hamood report could have been made public. But being a super nationalist Bhutto would not have the army humiliated and the generals cut to size

The other day I was visiting a friend when quite inappropriately over a cup of cream-infested coffee he surprised me by declaring, “The trouble with Bhutto was that he was a super patriot”. “What do you mean?” I enquired. “I mean, he was super patriotic”, he repeated. An aside: some may wonder whether a Sindhi can be patriotic. Are not the people from Sindh, Balochistan and Frontier a bunch of troublemakers like the Bengalis — who, in the end, got away. We should have kept our fist tighter. According to one survey the Americans have suffered a collateral damage of one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians dead. The price poor US is paying for trying to democratise the country! Sometimes that is what one has to bear in order to help others. Would you say the Generals erred in their martial responsibility?

Bhutto had many failings. The most prominent, as my friend opined, was that he was a super nationalist. He paid a heavy price for it. Bhutto had a bright vision of a strong and prosperous Pakistan. He also cherished a vision of unity in the Middle East and the Third World. He wanted to have the finest army; a strong nationalist army that would work closely with the people to build and defend Pakistan — a model for other developing nations. The Islamic summit held at Lahore was symbolic of the unity among Muslims that he dreamed about. He declared then that the armies of Pakistan were the armies of Islam.

Bhutto had built a splendid fighting force. He had totally overhauled the army. He armed, refurbished and modernised it as no general before him had ever thought of doing. In collaboration with the Chinese, he established the Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila and the Aircraft Rebuild Factory at Kamra. He upgraded the Ordnance Factory at Wah, the Precision Instruments Factory and the Special Steel Factory and built the Pakistan Steel Mills at Karachi. The industrial growth touched 30 per annum. But look at what the generals did to him in return.

Bhutto was obviously wrong in assuming that the state machinery steeped in colonial tradition and linked to neo-colonial interests would respond eagerly to his nationalist vision. How could his dreams materialise with the imperialist monster watching his each move, sniffing over his shoulder? Remember what happened to Soekarno, one of the greatest nationalist leaders of the time. Aided and abetted by the CIA and a very efficient propaganda machine, General Suharto had millions slaughtered before taking over Indonesia to preserve the Free World from the threat of jihad — nay communism. They say all streams in that country ran red with the blood of his countrymen. Imperialism had no patience with popular nationalist leaders like Nyerere, Nkrumah or Sekou Toure, who had struggled for freedom, independence and African unity. Most of them were overthrown by the CIA and replaced by thugs. One of them savoured democrat flesh and literally ate the entire opposition. When he was finally removed, the leader of the opposition — who had been mysteriously missing — was found carefully stored in one of his deep freezers. Most of the body was in tact but some of the limbs had been served to his foreign friends.

Bhutto’s acquired the nuclear fuel re-processing plant from France. The process, I am told, permits you to leapfrog the nuclear fuel cycle. The nuclear deterrent would forever make the race with India for parity in conventional weapons less consequential. The deterrent would also help the Muslim countries under perpetual threat from Israel. That is why the ‘bomb’ instantly got branded as ‘Islamic’. But look what the generals did to him.

Would you call Bhutto’s errors result of his super patriotism or his inability to understand the nature of the war machine he had carefully assembled? Some people wonder what course democracy and civil society would have taken had Bhutto chosen a different course. I am curious how, Mira Nair the renowned filmmaker who was recently in Lahore to screen and comment on her 11-minute documentary titled 9/11 — would have tackled the other options.

Ms Nair, I trust, would have zoomed in first on the Fall of Dacca. She would have hurriedly, but steadily, captured some graphic images of death and slaughter that littered the streets, before moving on to the Palton Maidan where our defeated army was assembled. Most, if not all, soldiers present there had been sent there without their eager consent for the purpose of killing their countrymen and to conquer the other half of their own country. Accompanied by the top brass, Tiger Niazi was on the podium in his well-pressed uniform. The Tiger didn’t even meow at the surrender. Later, he would claim that he had been totally abandoned by Rawalpindi and that in spite of his efforts the Command Headquarters observed a silence. What could the Tiger do in the circumstances? He concluded that surrender was the better part of valour. A question here: “Wouldn’t it have been more patriotic to surrender to the will of the people of Bengal rather than to an Indian General?”

What should Bhutto have done after being projected into power by popular will of the people? Should he have gone to Simla to negotiate the release of prisoners of war or taken some other measures first? Let us try to recount the measures he could have undertaken. He could have asked Mujib ur Rehman, the president of Bangladesh, to provide a list of individuals suspected of genocide, rape and loot. After a comprehensive list had been jointly prepared the alleged criminals could have been tried for violating the law and constitution and for conduct unbecoming officers and soldiers of the Pakistan Army. Then the matters concerning the causes of popular nationalist uprising, the military defeat and surrender could have been taken up. The Hamood ur Rehman Commission report could have been expedited and made public. Simultaneously, he could have negotiated the release of prisoners of war and the return of occupied West Pakistan territories lost to India.

But being a super nationalist Bhutto would not have the army humiliated and the generals cut to size. As we all know he negotiated and secured the release of his soldiers. The ‘bloody civilians’ pressed the prisoners to their hearts, tears rolling down their sallow cheeks, when they walked across the Wagah-Atari border. My friend, the late Musleh ud Din, reporting the event live for the television, choked with emotion. The documentary report on the Fall of Dacca was stopped with an admonition to the ministry of information and broadcasting that had released it without his knowledge. Bhutto, the super patriot, would not have his army and the Generals humiliated. Look what they did to him!

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist