Thursday, June 27, 2019 | ePaper

The bloody birth of Bangladesh

Role of int'l media after Pak army launched Genocide

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On March 25, 1971 the Pakistani military forcibly confined all foreign reporters to the Hotel Intercontinental (currently again got the same name Intercontinental Dhaka) in Dhaka. That night after 11pm the military launched its genocide campaign against the Bengali civilian population of then East Pakistan. The reporters were able to see the tank and artillery attacks on civilians from their hotel windows.
Two days later, as Dacca (Dhaka) burned the reporters were expelled from the country - their notes and tapes were confiscated. One of the expelled reporters was Sidney Schanberg of the New York Times. He would return to East Pakistan in June 1971 to report on the massacres in Bengali towns and villages. He would again be expelled by the Pakistan military at the end of June.
Two foreign reporters escaped the roundup on March 25. One of them was Simon Dring of the Daily Telegraph. He evaded capture by hiding on the roof of the Hotel Intercontinental. Dring was able to extensively tour Dhaka the next day and witness first hand the slaughter that was taking place. Days later Simon Dring was able to leave East Pakistan with his reporter's notes. On March 30, 1971 the Daily Telegraph published Simon Dring's front page story of the slaughter in Dhaka that the army perpetrated in the name of "God and a united Pakistan".
The massacres in Dacca were only part of the story however. The Pakistan army had begun a campaign of genocide that extended to all major cities and towns in Bangladesh and then moved out into the countryside to terrorize, murder and rape Bengali villagers. With foreign reporters expelled and a complete news censorship in place, the Pakistan army declared that the situation in East Pakistan was "normal".
However as Bengali refugees fled to neighbouring India they brought with them stories of horror. The refugee flow had reached millions and by December 1971 about 10 million Bengalis had fled East Pakistan.
In April 1971 the Pakistan army flew in 8 Pakistani reporters from West Pakistan for guided tours with the military. Their mission was to tell the story of normalcy. The reporters went back to West Pakistan after their military guided tours and dutifully filed stories declaring all was normal in East Pakistan. However, one of the 8 reporters had a crisis of conscience. This reporter was Anthony Mascarenhas, the Assistant Editor of the West Pakistani newspaper Morning News.
On May 18, 1971 Mascarenhas flew to London and walked into the offices of the Sunday Times offering to write the true story of what he had witnessed in East Pakistan. After getting agreement from the Sunday Times he went back to Pakistan to retrieve his family. On June 13, 1971 with Mascarenhas and his family safely out of Pakistan the Sunday Times published a front page and center page story entitled "Genocide". It was the first detailed eyewitness account of the genocide published in a western newspaper.
In June of 1971, under pressure and in need of economic assistance, Pakistan allowed a World Bank team to visit East Pakistan. The World Bank team reported back that East Pakistan lay in ruins. One member of the team reported that the East Pakistani town of Kushtia looked "like a World War II German town having undergone strategic bombing attacks" as a result of the Pakistani army's "punitive action" on the town. He also reported that the army "terrorizes the population, particularly aiming at the Hindus and suspected members of the Awami League". The Word Bank president, Robert McNamara, suppressed the public release of the report: To no avail. The report was leaked to the New York Times.
Despite the Pakistani military's best efforts at hiding the truth about their genocide campaign against Bengalis, reports filtered out of East Pakistan to the outside world thanks in part to the efforts of determined foreign news reporters. Following are foreign newspaper reports from the beginning of the genocide in March 1971 to its end. They chronicle the bloody birth of Bangladesh.

(Courtesy: Bangladesh Genocide Archive)                             

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