Peter R. Kann, in Wall Street Journal, New York, July 23, 1971



No Immediate Solution Seen ; Residents Barely Subsist ; Police State Grips Bengalis




'Problems ? There Are None'


The doctor sits behind a desk in his street-front office in an East Pakistani town, occasionally glancing out at the road lined with the charred debris and looted shells of shops and homes.


A vehicle with UNICEF markings on its doors but Faith armed West Pakistani soldiers inside cruises by. Otherwise, the street is all but deserted.


The doctor sits in his office only because he has been ordered to. His family is hiding in a village somewhere outside of town. He speaks in a whisper because any passerby could be an informer. At night, when the army goes knocking on doors, he lives with the fear that his name may be on one of its lists.


He whispers of recent events in this town : the streets littered with bloated and decomposing bodies ; the burning, looting and raping and the continuing terror. "We are afraid to speak the truth. Those who speak the truth are punished, and the only punishment is death," he says.


The doctor is an army veteran, which makes him a special target for his former colleagues. But his real crime is being a Bengali in a land of Bengalis that also happens to be part of the map of Pakistan, It is now a land of death'

and fear.


Causes washed away by blood


It is less than four months since the civil fighting in East Pakistan began, but already the causes of the conflict seem almost academic. Its geographical and historical roots, the legalities and moralities-all seems to have been washed away by blood. No one really knows how many people have been killed in East Pakistan since March 25, but Western diplomats say the minimum is 200,000. The maximum exceeds one million.


The events fall into three stages.


The first was a Bengali political movement aimed at ending two decades of economic and political exploitation by the West Pakistanis. It culminated, in March elections in national political victory for the Bengali Awami League and its platform of greater East Pakistan autonomy. But on March 25 the Pakistan army (an almost entirely West Pakistani institution), fearing that East Pakistan was moving toward independence, cracked down in Dacca, the East Pakistan capital. Bengali students were massacred, politicians were arrested and the Awami League was outlawed.


The second stage was a fairy-tale few weeks in which the Bengalis proclaimed and celebrated their independence. Some thousands of East Pakistan's non­Bengali minority were killed during this period, in which the army, perhaps overly cautious, remained in the capital and in a number of military camps. But the illusion of independence ended in mid-April when the army emerged to crush the revolution. Tens of thousands of Bengalis were salin as town after town was retaken, burned and looted. There was little military opposition. Some six million Bengalis, most of them from the Hindu minority group that became a special army target, began fleeing into India.


Now the third stage


The third and present stage is army occupation-a terrorized Bengali population being ruled by military force and crude police - state tactics. West Pakistan officials say everything is rapidly returning to normal. But the economy is woefully disrupted, factories are idle, schools are closed, roads are mostly empty and towns are largely deserted. Millions of Bengalis, particularly Hindus and middle­class Moslems, are still hinding in the countryside. About 50,000 refugees are still fleeing to India each day. And army rule is being challenged by Bengali guerrilla forces (the Mukti Bahani, or Liberation Army) that seem to have massive support among the Bengali population. The guerrillas are still lacking in training and organization, but supplies and border sanctuaries arc being provided by India.


Ten days of travelling across East Pakistan and talks with scores of diverse people here indicate that the fourth stage eventually will be an independent East Pakistan : Bangla Desh, or Bengal Nation. But clearly much more killing will take place before Bangla Desh comes to pass.


No solution. including independence, holds any bright hopes for East Pakistans predominana, peasant society, which, in accordance with the Mohammed's Prophet instruction to " go forth and multiply," is propagating itself into starvation. Its 75 million people already are barely subsisting 1,600 to the square mile, and this population will double within 25 years. A half-million Bengalis were killed by a cyclone last fall. A half million more were born in 87 days. Perhaps only in East Pakistan could a disaster of the cyclone's magnitude be overshadowed by a greater one-this civil war -only six months later.


Primitive conceptions of guilt


Poverty. ignorance and frustration have turned this conflict into Congo as well as an Algeria. Men are killing each other not only in the name of politics but also over race and religion. The Moslem philosophy of an eye for an eve and a tooth for a tooth is made more terrible by primitive conceptions of collective guilts.


The army kills Bengalis. The non-Bengali minority of about two million (commonly called Biharis) backs the army. So Bengalis kill Biharis. The army and the Biharis see this as ample reason to butcher more Bengalis. The Hindu minority of bout 10 million becomes a convenient army scapegoat, and even some Bengali Moslems can be persuaded to join in their salughter. Amid this chaos, various villages, gangs and individuals have been attacking each other for economic gain or to settle private scores.

These are the tales of some of the people encountered on a trip through East Pakistan. As with the doctor, the names of Bengalis and the towns in which they live are omitted. Bengalis, in talking to a reporter, fear for their lives. Most don't talk at all ; in some towns not even beggars will approach a stranger. Normally among the world's most voluble people, the Bengalis now talk mostly with their eyes-eyes that look away in fear or that stare down in shame or that try to express meanings in furtive glances.


A lawyer and his sons have been fortunate. When one asks a Bengali how he is these days. he replies, " I am alive." The lawyer and his sons not only are alive but are living in their own home. They are also hiding in their own home, for they leave it only rarely. " It is too easy to be arrested on the street ," the lawyer says, " A seven-year-old can point a finger at me and call me a miscreant, and I will be taken away."


Miscreant is the term the Pakistan army applies to all who oppose it. " All Bengalis are miscreants now," the lawyer's younger son says. He is a law student, but students are a special army target, and most are in hiding. The universities are closed. " What use would there be learning law anyway now that there is no law in our country ?" the son asks.


It is evening, and the discussion is taking place in the lawyer's home. Before talking, he closes the wooden shutters on the windows. Then he has second thoughts-" someone who passes by may report a conspiracy "-and so the shutters are partly reopened.

They talk of " the troubles," of' how, when word of the army's March 25 attack in Dacca reached this town, the Awami League took control. There was orderly rule under the Bangla Desh flag until mid-April, when air-force planes strafed the town. People panicked. The Awami Leaguers and their military force, the Mukti Bahani, began to flee along with thousands of others. But it was several days before the army reached the town, and during that time angry Bengali mobs attacked and slaughetered hundreds of Biharis.


Relative to its actions elsewhere, the army, when it arrived, showed restraint. Most of the town remains undamaged, although much of it was looted by the army and its mobs. About half the population has returned and many shops have reopened, though not under former management. Hindu shopkeepers have disappeared, and Biharis and other army backers have taken over. And, as every­where, the arrests continue.


Four Christian Bengalis are arrested by the army at a roadblock. Not many buses travel East Pakistan's roads these days, and those that do are frequently stopped, and their passengers are lined up and searched. Few of the soldiers at these checkpoints speak any Bengali (Urdu is the language of West Pakistan), and so a common way of finding " miscreants " is to lift men's sarongs. Moslems are circumcised ; Hindus aren't. Some West Pakistani soldiers came to East Pakistan thinking all Bengalis were Hindu. More sophisticated soldiers simply think that all Hindus are " miscreants," but then so are many Bengali Moslems. So it is all very confusing for the soldiers, and the four Christians are arrested.


For Christians, No Beatings


They are taken to a military cantonment and beaten for several hours by interrogators who don't speak their language. A Westerner hears of their arrest and protests. So the matter comes to the attention of an army major, who summons the four Christians and offers apologies :" It is our policy not to beat Christians," he explains.


A shopkeeper, a thin Bengali with wirerimmed spectacles, glances out from his shop at two strangers walking down the deserted street. They enter the shop and inquire about "the troubles" in this town, The shopkeeper is visibly trembling " There is nothing I can say ", he replies. Then he glances again at the flattened buildings lining the main street and whispers, " Look around you." As the visitors leave, he adds, voice cracking, " I am ashamed I cannot ………….”


Further down the street a youth approaches. " The army destroyed our city. Many Bengalis are being arrested. They are being shot every night and thrown into the river. We no longer eat the fish from the river," he whispers.


The youth guides the strangers to the local hospital to talk to a surgeon. The surgeon is a Bengali but is employed by the government, which means he is particularly vulnerable. He is asked about killing in the city. " Killing ? What killing ? Killing by whom?" He is asked about general problems. " Problems? What problems ? There are no problems."


Belaboring the obvious


The visitors take their leave. Outside the hospital the youth whispers: " You have talked to the doctor, but I think he has concealed the truth. He is afraid." It is explaining the obvious.


A professor and his student are talking about the prospects of students returning to classes in early August, when the university is supposed to reopen. They are pessimistic. Some students are hiding in their homes, others have fled to outlying villages or to India. Some have joined the Mukti Bahani. The campus has been turned into a military camp, and troops are quartered in the dormitories, using books to fuel their cooking fires. " Would you come back?" the professor asks.


The student, a girl, has a room in a house that overlooks an army interrogation center. " All day the students, young boys, are brought in and beatern," she says. " Three soldiers walk on them with boots. All night we hear the sereams. I cannot sleep. We cannot stand to see and hear these things."


" Our army had a good reputation, " the professor says. " We had a great army. But look what it has done. How can an army be great when it fights in an immoral cause?"

Two army majors are standing at a ferry landing on the east bank of the Ganges River. One is a frogman, the other one served in the camel corps. Both seem to be civilized and charming men. The} explain that they are fighting a patriotic war to defend the integrity of their country against Indian agents, mis­creants and misguided individuals. "« e saw atrocities that made our blood boil. Had you seen them, even you would have wanted to kill," he says of a town where some Biharis "ere butchered by Bengalis. (The town was later leveled by the army and a far greater number of Bengalis were killed).


The majors are asked why so many Bengalis have fled, particularly Hindus. The answer is imaginative. They say that in April, before the army restored order, Hinuds told Moslems that the " holy Koran is just an old book. So the Moslems came out of their homes to defend the holy Koran and many Hindus fled." There has been much killing, the camel-corps major grants. "The crocodiles have gotten fat," says the frogman, glancing out at the Ganges.


But all is returning to normal, they say, and the Bengali people aren't afraid of the army. A ferry is landing, and a group of Bengali labourers, recruited by the army to reopen a jute mill, edges past the majors in single file. Each of them bows his head in a subservient salute as he passes the officers.


Not all army officers are as sympathetic as these majors. Western residents of one town tell of an army captain approaching a young Hindu girl and telling her to feel the barrel of his gun. "You feel it is still warm," he said. "From killing Hindus," he added, laughing-but not joking.


An old Bihari who served as a bearer in the British Indian army many years ago is now a waiter at a roadside hostel on the outskirts of a town more than half destroyed. He supports the army and thus isn't afraid to talk. He explains that for several April days, after the Awami League people fled but before the army arrived, things were bad for the Biharis. Mobs of Bengalis ran through the streets shouting (and he lapses into his old Indian-army English), " Kill the Bihar buggers, burn the Bihari buggers." Some Biharis were killed, he says, but most weren't. Then the army arrived. " The army kill many Bengali buggers," he says, "And the Hindu buggers, they run away to India. It is very bad days, Sahib."


A Hindu, one of the richest and most respected men in his community before the fighting, was a philanthropist who had built schools, hospitals and irrigation systems for the predominantly Moslem peasants in his area. He considered himself fully Pakistani. Although a Bengali, he hadn't backed the Awami League but rather had supported the more conservative and even anti-Hindu Moslem League.


The hunter becomes the hunted

For nearly a month after the civil war began but before the army arrived in his area (and thus during the period Biharis were in danger from Bengalis), the Hindu sheltered two Biharis in his home. When mobs came looking for them he protected them. But, with the arrival of the army, roles reversed, and Bengalis -particularly Hindu Bengalis-became the hunted.


Hindu villages were burned by the army, and mobs were encouraged to plunder Hindu homes. Under army orders the local Hindu temple was smashed to the ground by men wielding sledgehammers.


The Hindu and his family fled to the village hut of a friend, where they have been hiding for more than two months. His first daylight emergence from this hiding place was for a rendezvous with two reporters. He walked across the rice paddies in the late afternoon, dressed as a peasant and shielding his face with a black umbrella.


He hadn't fled to India like so many other Hindus because he hoped the army would move on and life might somehow return to what it had been before. But the army remains, Hindus are still being searched out and shot, and now it is too risky to try to reach the border from this area.


Only a few close friends know his hiding place. One of them is a Moslem League official, an influential man these days since many Moslem Leaguers are supporting the army. " He knows where I am hiding, but he dare not help me," the Hindu says. He believes that nearly all Moslem Bengalis sympathize with the Hindus. " But what can they do? They, too, are in danger and they are afraid."


All the Hindu's property is on an army list of " alien properties." In other areas it is called " enemy properties," but in either case it is scheduled to be confiscated and put up for auction. The Hindu talks much about losing his property-but the greater danger is losing his life.

" My Moslem friends tell me that Hindu bodies taken from the river are so disfigured from tortures that the faces cannot be identified," the Hindu says before picking up his umbrella and heading back across the fields to his hiding place.


A Headmaster Recites His Lesson


The travelers visit a town near the Indian border. One of the last towns to be retaken by the army, it is heavily damaged and is still largely deserted. Here the local peace commitee-a unit composed of some Biharis and conservative Bengali Moslem Leaguers who serve as the local eyes and ears of the army-assigns two youths to guide and shadow the visitors. " Come to the school and talk to the headmaster," they say.


The headmaster, a middle-aged Bengali, sits behind his desk. The reporters sit facing him. And standing behind the reporters, also facing the headmaster, are the young peace-committee shadows. In a faltering voice the headmaster begins to recite statistics of school enrollment, dates when schoolhouse corner­stones were laid-anything uncontroversial. At the end of each sentence he glances up, past the reporters, to the shadows, like a schoolboy reciting his lessons to a teacher with a stick.


How was the school damaged? the reporters ask. " There was some strafing," he mumbles. Then, looking up at the teen-age shadows, he hurriedly adds, " and may be it was damaged by miscreants."


As the reporters and their shadows leave, the professor mumbles, " We are trying to hold together," and then he stares down at the ground.



Peter R. Kann in wall Street Journal,

New York-July 23, 1971.