It’s Islamabad’s obligation to repatriate stranded Pakistanis


THE Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC) recently organized a symposium in Jeddah on the occasion of the 46th anniversary of the ‘Fall of Dhaka’ (East Pakistan). The function drew attention to the miserable conditions of a quarter of a million stranded Pakistanis who have been languishing in squalid camps for years without access to the basic amenities of life in various parts of Bangladesh. These Pakistanis stood by the Pakistan Army during the civil war that was fought by the Pakistani Army on one side and the militia of the Awami League Party on the other, resulting in the defeat of the Pakistan Army and victory of Bengalis after the intervention of India in favor of Bengalis.

Several leaders of the Pakistani community in Jeddah attended the symposium, titled “Repatriation of stranded Pakistanis our national obligation.” The function began with recitation of a few verses from the Holy Qur’an. Syed Mussarat Khalil gave a brief introduction about the program and it was followed by a session of speeches. In his speech, Syed Neaz Ahmed, the guest of honor, urged Pakistan to issue passports to those stranded Pakistanis, which will eventually enable them to move out of their camps and render noble services for Pakistan.

Addressing the gathering, renowned religious scholar and writer Tariq Mahmood said: “The ‘fall of Dhaka’ was the result of our non-adherence to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah, upon which Pakistan was founded. We have not learned the lessons from the Dhaka debacle,” he said while emphasizing that politicians, judiciary and the media should play their role in alleviating the miseries of stranded Pakistanis. In their speeches, Shamsuddin Altaf and Mohammad Amanatullah paid rich tributes to the martyrs of the conflict following the fall of Dhaka.

In his speech, PRC convener Ehsanul Haque noted that a Senate committee, which had been set up in 2015 under the chairmanship of Senator Sartaj Aziz to solve the issue of stranded Pakistanis, has not taken any measures in this regard. He appealed to the Bangladeshi government to extend basic necessities of life to the stranded Pakistanis so that they can live decently.

All the speakers at the symposium urged the Pakistan government to shoulder its responsibility toward these hapless people who made great sacrifices for the cause of Pakistan. They noted that it was unfortunate on the part of these Pakistanis to have migrated to East Pakistan. Had they migrated to West Pakistan, they would have never been met with such a mistreatment. However, in fact all those who had migrated to either the western or eastern parts of Pakistan should have been considered as Pakistanis without any distinction. If these people joined the secession movement in East Pakistan, they would have never faced such a dismal situation. These people stood by the Pakistan Army to safeguard Pakistan as a united nation, inviting the wrath of Bengalis who in turn treated them as traitors.

In my speech, I thanked the PRC for holding the symposium on this most pressing issue. My speech was focused on the key role of the military establishment in Pakistan in creating the issue of stranded Pakistanis from the very beginning. It was the government of Gen. Yahya Khan that held parliamentary elections under its supervision. The observers were of the view that the election was the best and the fairest among those held in Pakistan.

Subsequently, the Yahya Khan government was supposed to respect the results and hand over power to the winning party, the Awami League. But Khan had committed a big blunder through postponing the date of convening the National Assembly (parliament). This forced Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of Awami League, to declare civil disobedience. Instead of addressing the problem judiciously, the Yahya Khan government thought that its military might, would help resolve the problem. It also did not take into account the fact that India was waiting for an opportunity to attack Pakistan. The so-called Agartala Conspiracy Case was a just prelude to what was shrouded in secrecy.

The Yahya Khan government failed to halt the nine-month-old military campaign as well as to hold negotiations so as to maintain better relations between the two parts of the nation. He also miserably failed to reckon with India’s handling of millions of refugees who entered India crossing the eastern border. His ultimate failure was the surrender of the army without working out the terms and conditions to protect the unarmed civilians who have been left to a doomed future. Some observers believe that if Pakistan Army had put up resistance for several days, it might have led to changing the entire history of the region. There were reports that the surrender was made even before getting orders from the central command.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who became president of Pakistan succeeding Yahya Khan, managed to secure the release of the Pakistani soldiers who were taken by India as prisoners of war and they included some soldiers who were accused of war crimes. He also promised repatriation and rehabilitation of the Pakistani civilians (Biharis) but failed to fulfill his promise. Similar was the case with the successive governments that assumed power after him. President General Zia-ul-Haq was an exception for this. He had taken some steps in this regard and these included setting up of a Muslim World League (Rabita) Endowment after signing an agreement with Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, secretary-general of the MWL at that time. General Zia said that he would take them to Pakistan, even on his back, but unfortunately the fate did not allow him to fulfill the promise.

The problem of stranded Pakistanis still remains unresolved as a black spot in the history of Pakistan. In the speech, I reminded the current Pakistani government that ignoring these hapless people and trying to escape from shouldering its responsibility in this regard did not absolve the government of its national, moral and humanitarian responsibilities. I also appealed to the military organization in the country to shoulder its historic responsibility to stand along with those who fought together with their predecessors in maintaining the unity of Pakistan.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at