Newsweek June 28, 1971; pp. 43-44
Ever since the Pakistani civil war broke out last March, President Mohammad Yahya Khan has done his utmost to prevent reports on the ruthless behavior Pakistani Army in putting down the Bengali fight for independence from reaching the outside world. Most foreign journalists have been barred from East Pakistan, and only those West Pakistani newsmen who might be expected to produce “friendly” accounts have been invited to tour East Pakistan and tell their countrymen about the rebellion. In at least one instance, however, that policy backfired. Anthony Mascarenhas, a Karachi newsman who also writes for London Sunday Times, was so horrified by that he and his family fled to London to publish the full story. Last week, in the Times, Mascarenhas wrote -that he was told repeatedly by Pakistani military and civil authorities in Dacca that the government intends “to cleanse East Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing off 2 million people.” And the federal army, concluded Mascarenhas, is doing exactly that with a terrifying thoroughness.”
That the Pakistan Army is visiting a dreadful blood bath upon the people of East Pakistan is also affirmed by newsmen and others who have witnessed the flight of 6 million terrified refugees into neighboring India. NEWSWEEK’s Tony Clifton recently visited India’s refugee-dogged border regions and cabled the following report:
Anyone who goes to the camps and hospitals along India’s border with Pakstan comes away believing the Punjabi Army capable of any atrocity. I have seen babies who’ve been shot, men who have had their backs whipped raw. I’ve seen people literally struck **** by the horror of seeing their children murdered in front of them or their daughters dragged off into sexual slavery. I have no doubt at all that there have been a hundred My Lais and Lidices in East Pakistan-and I think there will be more. My personal reaction is one of wonder more than anything else. I’ve seen too many bodies to be horrified by anything much any more. But I find myself standing still again and again, wondering how any man can work himself into such a murderous frenzy.
Slaughter: The story of one shy little girl in a torn pink dress with red and green Bowers has a peculiar horror. She could not have been a danger to anyone. Yet I met her in a hospital at Krishnanagar, hanging nervously back among the other patients, her hand covering the livid scar on her neck where a Pakistani soldier had cut her throat with his bayonet. “I am Ismatar, the daughter of the late Ishague Ali,” she told me formally. “My father was a businessman in Khustia.
About two months ago he left our house and went to his shop and I never saw him again. That same night after I went to bed I heard shouts and screaming, and when I went to see what was happening, the Punjabi soldiers were there. My four sisters were lying dead on the floor, and I saw that they had killed my mother. While I was there they shot my brother-he was a bachelor of science. Then a soldier saw me and stabbed me with his knife. I fell to the floor and played dead. When the soldiers left I ran and a man picked me up on his bicycle and I was brought here.”
Suddenly, as if she could no longer bear to think about her ordeal, the girl left the room. The hospital doctor was explaining to me that she was brought to the hospital literally soaked in her own blood, when she pushed her way back through the patients and stood directly in front of me. “What am I to do?” she asked. “Once I had five sisters and a brother and a father and a mother. Now I have no family. I am an orphan. Where can I go? What will happen to me?”
Victims: “You’ll be all right,” I said stupidly. “You’re safe here.” But what will happen to her and to the thousands of boys and girls and men and women who have managed to drag themselves away from the burning villages whose flames I saw lighting up the East Pakistani sky each night? The hospital in Agartala, the capital city of Tripura, is just half a mile from the border, and it is already overcrowded with the victims of the rampaging Pakistani Army. There is a boy of 4 who survived a bullet through his stomach, and a woman who listlessly relates how the soldiers murdered two of her children in front of her eyes, and then shot her as she held her youngest child in her alms. “The bullet passed through the baby’s buttocks and then through her left arm,” Dr. R. Datta, the medical superintendent, explains. “But she regained consciousness and dragged herself and the baby to the border.” Another woman, the bones in her upper leg shattered by bullets, cradles an infant in her arms. She had given birth prematurely in a paddy field alter she was shot. Yet, holding her newborn child in one hand and pulling herlelf along with the other, she finally reached the border.
“Although I know these people, I am continually amazed at how tough they are,” says Datta. Still, there are some who cannot cope. I step over two small boys lying on the floor, clinging to each other like monkeys. ..Refugees say their village was burned about a week ago and everyone in it was killed except these two,” the doctor says. “We have had them for three days and we don’t know who they are. They are so terrified— by what they saw they are unable to speak. They just lie there holding onto each other. It is almost impossible to get them apart even long enough to feed them. It is hard to say when they will regain their speech or be able to live normal lives again.”
New Jersey Congressman Cornelius Gallagher, who visited the Agartala hospital, says he came to india thinking the atrocity stories were exaggerated. But when he actually saw the wounded he began to believe that; if anything, the reports had been toned down. A much-decorated officer with Patton in Europe during World War II, Gallagher told me: “In the war, I saw the worst areas of France-the killing grounds in Normandy-but I never saw anything like that. It took all of my strength to keep from breaking down and crying.”
Rape: Other foreigners, too, were dubious about the atrocities at first, but the endless repetition of stories from different sources convinced them. “I am certain that troops have thrown babies into the air and caught them on their bayonets,” says Briton, John Hastings, a Methodist missionary who has lived in Bengal for twenty years. “I am certain that troops have raped girls repeatedly, then killed them by pushing their bayonets up between their legs.”
All this savagery suggests that the Pakistani Army is either crazed by blood or, more likely, is carrying out a calculated policy of terror amounting to genocide against the whole Bengali population.
The architect appears to be Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan, the military governor of East Pakistan. Presumably, Pakistan’s President knows something about what is going on, but he may not realize that babies are being burned alive, girls sold into virtual slavery and whole families murdered. He told the military governor to put down a rebellion, and Tikka Khan has done it efficiently and ruthlessly. As a result, East Pakistan is still nominally part of Pakistan. But the brutality inflicted by West on East in the last three months has made it certain that it will only be a matter of time before Pakistan becomes two countries. And those two countries will be irreparably split-at least until the last of today’s maimed and brutalized children grow old and die with their memories of what happened when Yahya Khan decided to preserve their country.