Imran Khan: “What happened in 1971?” 2023

Love him. One may dislike him fiercely. Imran Khan has been tactless lately. He might have handled his campaign for reelection more tactfully. He’s paying. The mighty Pakistan army is currently fighting him to undermine his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf organization and his politics.

But what fascinates many watchers of Khan’s politics, especially here in Bangladesh, is that the former Pakistani prime minister is the first political leader to publicly explain Pakistan’s December 1971 debacle.

Before Khan, many had ruled Pakistan. But none of them had the bravery or integrity to tell Pakistanis that their soldiers repressed Bengalis before dividing the nation.

Imran Khan questioned, “What happened in 1971?” in a video speech a few days ago. He said, “In 1971, the leader of the party which had won the election was not allowed to become prime minister of Pakistan.”

Just how far one may go with a single inquiry

“A politician and the army conspired to keep the majority party from power,” he continued.

Pakistan broke.” That final part was about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The world outside Pakistan has long known what the Pakistan military did in Bangladesh in 1971 and how successive governments in Islamabad refused to recognise the fact. Pakistani students have been shielded from East Pakistan conflict facts.

Pakistan frequently portrays the independence of Bangladesh as an Indian conspiracy assisted by Bengali leaders. The army, under by General Yahya Khan and Z A Bhutto, disputed the December 1970 election results and committed mass crimes against Bengalis.

Pakistani academics have acknowledged the 1971 disaster. Pakistanis and their governments have mostly ignored the truth. Imran Khan smashed that taboo. He may be penalized for speaking truthfully. He faces the troops today.

The same army brought him to power and ousted him. Let us not forget that the army propelled Bhutto to prominence, went along with his machinations, and made him president of a rump Pakistan in December 1971. The troops then dragged him to the gallows.

The troops’ intentions toward Imran Khan are unclear. The PTI leader’s recent statements have shocked people since no Pakistani politician has ever publicly criticized the army’s political role. Before Khan, only Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman challenged the army.

The troops believed the Bengali commander deserved punishment. Yahya Khan banned the Awami League and flew Bangabandhu to West Pakistan for a military trial. The majority party leader was tried by a brigadier for winning an election.

History favored Bengalis. 52 years after General AAK Niazi surrendered Pakistan in Dhaka, they may support Imran Khan. Khan isn’t liberating. After his detention, his supporters went on a rampage on May 9. The military aims to trial them under army and terrorist laws.

Khan may face a military tribunal. The Pakistani army, now in charge, will likely outlaw the PTI. Trying Khan and his comrades under the army act will incite residents to oppose the military even more.

Imran Khan has weaknesses. Only his admirers praised his resistance to accept his dismissal from office. His decision to have PTI members of the national assembly quit was imprudent because they might have kept the coalition government that succeeded Khan’s administration on its toes by citing all the recent court and street battles.

Khan’s accusation that the US overthrew him was na├»ve. He is being accused of hypocrisy for turning to an American congresswoman for help regaining influence over the troops.

Again, Imran Khan’s refusal to leave Pakistan suggests the military’s plans for him. In the late 1970s, many Pakistanis wanted Bhutto sent to Saudi Arabia with a political ban. General Ziaul Haq suppressed Bhutto. Who knows?

Khan’s political future is uncertain in a country where the military decides politicians’ fates. He may be sentenced for treason. He may be imprisoned at home like Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s. He may serve long sentences like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The army may prevent him from returning to politics.

But Imran Khan’s accusation of the army for all of Pakistan’s misfortune has given Pakistanis something to think about. His audacity. It made his fellow citizens consider the ramifications of military involvement in politics. Khan smashed barriers.

Pakistanis, young and old, have apologized to Bengalis on social media for the 1971 war. Imran Khan has told his countrymen the truth about the Bengali fight against military Pakistan over 50 years ago.

In January 1969, a rising Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared: “The wheel of time will turn; and in the revolution of that turn a better tomorrow will dawn.”

Ironically, Bhutto and Yahya Khan stopped time in 1971. Mud jammed the wheel.

We’ll see if Imran Khan’s war on the army improves Pakistan.

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