The Genocide the U.S. Can’t Remember, But Bangladesh Can’t Forget

…. the Rwandan genocide, or the Holocaust, or the killing that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the genocide in Bangladesh that ended 45 years ago this week has largely slipped out of public awareness—even though the upper estimate for the death toll is 3 million…..


For six days as I travelled with the officers of the 9th Division headquarters at Comilla I witnessed at close quarters the extent of the killing. I saw Hindus, hunted from village to village and door to door, shot off-hand after a cursory “short-arm inspection” showed they were uncircumcised.

I have heard the screams of men bludgeoned to death in the compound of the Circuit House (civil administrative headquarters) in Comilla. I have seen truck loads of other human targets and those who had the humanity to try to help them hauled off under the cover of darkness and curfew. I have witnessed the brutality of “kill and burn missions” as the army units, after clearing out the rebels, pursued the pogrom in the towns and the villages.

I have seen whole villages devastated by “punitive action.” And in the officers’ mess at night I have listened incredulously as otherwise brave and honourable men proudly chewed over the day’s kill.

“How many did you get?” The answers are seared in my memory.

All this is being done, as any West Pakistani officer will tell you, for the “preservation of the unity, the integrity and the ideology of Pakistan.” It is, of course, too late for that. The very military action that is designed to hold together the two wings of the country, separated by a thousand miles of India, has confirmed the ideological and emotional break.

East Bengal can only be kept in Pakistan by the heavy hand of the army. And the army is dominated by the Punjabis, who traditionally despise and dislike the Bengalis.

The break is so complete today that few Bengalis will willingly be seen in the company of a West Pakistani. I had a distressing experience of this kind during my visit to Dacca when I went to visit an old friend. “I’m sorry,” he told me as he turned away, “things have changed. The Pakistan that you and I knew has ceased to exist. Let us put it behind us.”  

Will Pakistan Apologize to Bangladesh for its War Crimes?

The war between East and West Pakistan in 1971 lasted only nine months. But the atrocities were cowering – an estimated three million people dead, 400,000 women raped, 600,000 children killed, and scores of targeted intellectuals slaughtered in an attempt to cripple East Pakistan’s social and cultural backbone.

Besides politics, atrocities against the people of East Pakistan by the West Pakistani army stemmed from ethnic hatred. In his book, Death by Government, R. J. Rummel wrote, “Bengalis were often compared with monkeys and chickens.” It was a statement West Pakistani General Niazi once made about how he viewed the people of East Pakistan. The dead are long gone. But many of the rape victims still bear scars from shame and loss of their dignity. The government of Pakistan has not yet apologized for its crime against humanity, much less has it shown any remorse for the rape victims.

How Nixon and Kissinger Aided Genocide in Bangladesh

Dire is too mild a word. As many as 100,000 Bengalis lost their lives in state-sanctioned violence. And something like 10 million refugees, one-sixth of East Pakistan’s population, fled to neighboring India; the vast majority were Hindus, stoking fears of communal violence in the multilingual, multireligious nation. That came on the heels of a major cyclone that received only lackadaisical attention from Yahya’s regime.

“Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy,” the telegram said. “Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. . . . Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy.” Kenneth Keating, the U.S. Ambassador to India, likewise called on the Nixon Administration to “promptly, publicly, and prominently deplore this brutality.” But Nixon stonewalled Keating, and recalled Archer Blood from Dhaka. He and Kissinger showed contempt for dissenting American voices both within the Administration and in the Democratic opposition and the media. Bass draws up a severe indictment of Nixon and Kissinger, holding them responsible for “significant complicity in the slaughter of the Bengalis.” He writes, “In the dark annals of modern cruelty, it ranks as bloodier than Bosnia and by some accounts in the same rough league as Rwanda.”

Bangladesh: The Forgotten Genocide

During the 1970s, a genocide took place in present-day Bangladesh. Rough estimates approximate a death toll numbers of nearly 3 million. The systematic annihilation of the Bengali people by the Pakistani army during the Bangladesh Liberation War, targeted Hindu men, academics, and professionals, spared the women from murder, but subjected nearly 400,000 to rape and sexual enslavement.



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