Memories of the Bangladesh war

Ian Jack in The Guardian:

Then, on 18 June 1971, the Sunday Times published a long piece of reportage that more than any other single piece of journalism changed how the world saw, and would remember, the conflict inside Bangladesh. The writer, Anthony Mascarenhas, had been flown from his home in Karachi to Dhaka by the Pakistan military to report on the army’s good work, but he returned with a different story, unpublishable by Mascarenhas’s newspaper or any other in Pakistan. Instead, he’d flown with it to London to meet the Sunday Times’s then editor, Harold Evans.

According to Evans’s autobiography, Mascarenhas told him that the army’s outrages against Bengalis far outweighed those of Bengalis against non-Bengalis. Hindus in particular were army targets. Senior officers had told him that they were seeking a “final solution”, determined “to cleanse east Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing 2 million people and ruling the province as a colony for 30 years.” His eyewitness testimony and sincerity were impressive. Once his wife and family had been evacuated from Pakistan – neither he nor they could ever go back – the paper ran the story across two pages under the headline: GENOCIDE. Indira Gandhi, then India’s prime minister, later told Evans that it had set her on a campaign of personal diplomacy that prepared the ground for armed intervention.

It was a courageous act of reporting, and it may have changed the world for the better; the US never offered more than lukewarm support for its ally, Pakistan, which was defeated in weeks.

Bose’s book, however, raises troubling questions about the report’s complete veracity – a massacre said to have killed 8,000 Hindus probably killed only 16 at most – as well as its effect. Soon after the war ended, a prediction (or threat) of 2 million dead had been elevated to the widely publicised fact of 3 million dead, which is still commonly accepted in India and Bangladesh. A truth about the Bangladesh war is that remarkably few scholars and historians have given it thorough, independent scrutiny. Bose’s research has taken her from the archives to interviews with elderly peasants in Bangladesh and retired army officers in Pakistan. Her findings are significant. More:

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