Introduction to Stateless in Bangladesh and Pakistan
 
 
The Muslims of the Indian sub-continent demanded and eventually created a country for themselves. Before the British departed, India was partitioned in to two countries. Muslim majority areas became Pakistan and the rest became the present day India. Pakistan consisted of two provinces East Pakistan and West Pakistan, more than a thousand miles apart. After the partition India went through a great turmoil, and a huge transfer of population took place. Millions of Muslims of India moved either to West Pakistan (and are often referred to as “Mohajirs”) or to East Pakistan (and are often referred to as “Biharis”). Although there were many languages among the émigrés from India, the majority spoke Urdu.

The new country Pakistan was supposed to have received her share of the assets of undivided India, but she didn’t. Pakistan was poor in every way imaginable, resources, trained personnel and infra-structure. Most of the machinery of government was located in what was now India. Pakistan was mostly agrarian, and economically underdeveloped with almost no industry. At a time like this the founders of the country considered it necessary to direct the new émigrés to go to areas of the country where their services could be best utilized. As a consequence a large number of Biharis who worked for the Railway in India proceeded to East Pakistan and those employed with the central government in Delhi and elsewhere in India moved to Karachi.
After the birth of Pakistan, Karachi was chosen as the capital, and Urdu was declared the official national language, the language identified by Muslims of the sub-continent as theirs. However a large segment of population, the Bengalis in East Pakistan were very unhappy with this decision and they made it known. The neglect of the aspirations of the East Pakistanis continued under many governments in Pakistan. The Politicians of East Pakistan spoke to these and many other grievances of the people of East Pakistan and eventually achieved a convincing victory at the ballot box. The Government of Pakistan and West Pakistani politicians were unable to reach necessary compromises with respect to sharing of power which resulted in a civil war.

The Biharis, the Urdu speaking minority of East Pakistan, not only stood for a united Pakistan, they also identified with language and culture of West Pakistan. During March-April 1971 the non-Bengali population mainly Urdu speaking were viciously attacked during which nearly 64,000 were killed and many more injured. Eventually the federal government called in the armed forces to restore law and order, and for a period of time they were successful. Due to recent disturbances the Biharis were also very afraid of the Bengali majority. Toward the end of 1971 the Bengali nationalists with over-whelming support of the local population and Pakistan’s chief rival India managed to militarily beat Pakistan.

East Pakistan had declared herself the independent state of “Bangladesh” in March 1971 with government in exile in Calcutta. On December 15, 1971, ninty five thousand Pakistani armed forces and other personnel surrendered in Dhaka, and were taken to India. The minority, which cooperated with the Pakistani government, were now considered traitors and were under assault by the Bengali majority for their language and political views. For the protection of this population they were given sanctuary by the International Red Cross in certain areas of the country, which later came to be known as camps. There are still 70 camps in various parts of Bangladesh with a population of more then 250-300,000 people. In the newly liberated Bangladesh thousands of Biharis were killed on the streets, maimed, raped and looted. Their homes and businesses were confiscated. They were fired from their jobs and Bihari students were expelled from schools.
After break-up of Pakistan Mr. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto hailing from the province of Sindh, became the President of the country and had the responsibility for negotiating release of prisoners and settlement of other outstanding issues such as transfer of population. By this time 535,000 Pakistanis had registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Bangladesh and had indicated their preference to move to West Pakistan. However the Pakistani Administration introduced conditions upon who or how many, shall be accepted for repatriation to Pakistan. In the end Pakistan accepted the return of only 173,000 Pakistanis. Introduction of limitations and conditions on the repatriation of this population was not only unconstitutional (according to the constitution of Pakistan) i.e. illegal it was also an abuse of authority and an immoral act by the Pakistani head of state. Mr. Bhutto knew that the extermination of the citizens of his State was in progress in Bangladesh yet he chose to deny responsibility for protection of these citizens of the Pakistan.

These Pakistanis left in Bangladesh became the first group of stateless, because Bangladesh did not accept them as citizens either. Realizing the government of Pakistan was not going to repatriate them, Pakistanis in Bangladesh continued to repatriate themselves and their families by whatever means were available to them. Government of Pakistan issued a presidential ordinance in March 1978 stripping all Pakistanis left in Bangladesh after December 1971 of their nationality, unilaterally, retroactively, arbitrarily and en masse . This ordinance was and is illegal and the sole purpose of the ordinance was to deprive a group of citizens, the common feature of the group being their language, of their basic right as citizens of Pakistan. There are around one hundred thousand Pakistanis who returned without the blessing of the Government of Pakistan, now living in Pakistan who are not recognized as citizens and are denied all amenities of citizenship. This is the second group of stateless. We advocate for restoration of full rights of citizenship for both these groups.

 
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