Underlining that Bangladesh, or East Pakistan, was the 'Golden Goose' to Pakistan's ruling elite, Husain Haqqani said feudal Pakistan rulers never considered Bengalis as equals

Dhaka: A former Pakistani diplomat has said Islamabad should offer a “formal apology” to the people of Bangladesh for the “genocide” committed by its military in 1971, according to media reports.

Bangladesh — previously known as East Pakistan — broke away to become an independent nation in 1971 after a war between Bangladeshi freedom fighters, backed by India, and Pakistani forces.

Officially three million people were killed and thousands of women were raped during the nine-month long war.

“The military’s reaction in the form of imprisoning Sheikh Mujib (Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) and initiating genocide against the Bengalis. To this day, no apology has been forthcoming…an apology is the most courteous thing,” Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US from 2008 to 2011, was quoted as saying by The Daily Star newspaper on Wednesday.

“The people of Pakistan should urge their government to offer a formal apology to the people of Bangladesh for all the atrocities committed by the Pakistani military in 1971,” he said at a virtual talk titled “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: An Iconic Leader of People’s Struggle for Freedom” on Monday.

The internationally renowned scholar from Pakistan now lives in the US, according to the state-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS).

Underlining that the then East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) was the “Golden Goose” to the Pakistani ruling elite as most of the foreign exchange was earned from there, the former envoy said feudal Pakistan rulers never considered Bengalis as equals.

The ruling elite of Pakistan were not ready to hand over power to the elected representatives of then East Pakistan after the electoral victory of Bangabandhu’s party, Awami League, in 1970 national elections, Haqqani said at the event organised jointly by the Embassy of Bangladesh to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Mission to the European Union in Brussels.

Haqqani, who currently works as a senior fellow and director South and Central Asia at for Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute, said Bangabandhu belongs to the same league of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, the BSS news agency reported.

Bangabandhu, he said, “is one of the greatest leaders emerging out of South Asia and a great leader in the history of the world, and an iconic figure of struggle for freedom that the world has seen throughout the 20th century .

Foreign Minister Dr A K Abdul Momen joined the talk virtually as the chief guest, while Bangladesh Ambassador in Brussels Mahbub Hassan Saleh moderated it.

Momen said it was expected that for the genocide committed by its military in 1971, Pakistan would apologise formally on the occasion of the the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Bangladesh this year.

Though the Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan, sent a message at the last minute on the occasion, but unfortunately he did not apologise for the genocide committed by Pakistan military on the unarmed Bengali civilians of Bangladesh in 1971, he said.

In a letter to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheik Hasina on the eve of the country’s 50th Independence anniversary, Pakistan prime minister Khan had said, “We would like to fortify our existing bonds with brotherly Bangladesh and build new ones for our succeeding generations, as we believe the destinies of our two peoples are intertwined.”

Without mentioning anything on the Liberation War or the atrocities by the Pakistani army, Khan wrote, the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujib and the golden jubilee of Bangladesh remind of the “far-sighted vision of reconciliation and friendship between our two peoples, so dearly cherished by the leaders of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan remains a sincere partner in the fullest realisation of this vision”.

Bangladesh celebrated its 50th Independence anniversary on March 26.