Skeletons in your closet


FOR a country that discovers fresh, unique ways to fail its people every day, we`re awfully weird about acknowledging failings of the past. Consider one of the greatest failures in modern history: 1971.

I`ll admit, this is something I hesitate to bring up. See, as a patriot, love for one`s country is often persistent and inexplicable. This place has its flaws, but it`s ours.

The subject of our loyalties. The sole friend in a crowd of strangers. And if a friend has been through a bitter divorce, one`s immediate reaction isn`t to start interrogating. We listen to their version of events, nod along (even when we notice holes in their story), and offer our assurances that they are wonderful and deserve better.

But what if it transpires that our friend isn`t too innocent? Say, if the other side alleges unspeakable abuse, pulls out evidence, and points to a pattern of behaviour that persisted long after things fell apart? If all signs point to our friend being a bit messed up in the head, and emboldened by lack of consequence, we might not feel very safe in their presence either.

In April this year, the Guardian published the following report: `We lay like corpses. Then the raping began: 52 years on, Bangladesh`s rape camp survivors speak out.` It features eyewitness accounts of the women who lived through Pakistan`s violent break-up with its East. The stories they tell are so dark, anyone with a heart would shiver.

But let`s assume for a moment that they`re a pack of lies. That these war-surviving old women are conniving imposters, and this 200-year-old British newspaper is conspiring to malign our glorious, angelic past. Did the Foreign Office issue a rebuttal? Has any government body contradicted the testimonies? If we don`t deny them, do we have an ounce of shame to address the living, breathing proofs of our country`s sins? Of course, Pakistan isn`t the only country with a sinful past. America had the slave trade. Britain had colonialism.

Germany was Germany. Where we are unique is being the only major country that views `shut up, act cool, and pretend it never happened` as a viable policy decision. We`ll teach our kids that the split with East Pakistan was infinitely complex; one of the profound mysteries of the universe, riddled with nuances like `actually, we only killed 30,000 people`. Everything except `the narcissistic authoritarians in charge of this country treated their own people like idiots who wouldn`t mind their rights being robbed from them`. What does this accomplish? In 2008, the US Congress formally apol-FOR a country that discovers fresh, unique ways to fail its people every day, we`re awfully weird about acknowledging failings of the past. Consider one of the greatest failures in modern history: 1971.

I`ll admit, this is something I hesitate to bring up. See, as a patriot, love for one`s country is often persistent and inexplicable. This place has its flaws, but it`s ours.

The subject of our loyalties. The sole friend in a crowd of strangers. And if a friend has been through a bitter divorce, one`s immediate reaction isn`t to start interrogating. We listen to their version of events, nod along (even when we notice holes in their story), and offer our assurances that they are wonderful and deserve better.

But what if it transpires that our friend isn`t too innocent? Say, if the other side alleges unspeakable abuse, pulls out evidence, and points to a pattern of behaviour that persisted long after things fell apart? If all signs point to our friend being a bit messed up in the head, and emboldened by lack of consequence, we might not feel very safe in their presence either.

In April this year, the Guardian published the following report: `We lay like corpses. Then the raping began: 52 years on, Bangladesh`s rape camp survivors speak out.` It features eyewitness accounts of the women who lived through Pakistan`s violent break-up with its East. The stories they tell are so dark, anyone with a heart would shiver.

But let`s assume for a moment that they`re a pack of lies. That these war-surviving old women are conniving imposters, and this 200-year-old British newspaper is conspiring to malign our glorious, angelic past. Did the Foreign Office issue a rebuttal? Has any government body contradicted the testimonies? If we don`t deny them, do we have an ounce of shame to address the living, breathing proofs of our country`s sins? Of course, Pakistan isn`t the only country with a sinful past. America had the slave trade. Britain had colonialism.

Germany was Germany. Where we are unique is being the only major country that views `shut up, act cool, and pretend it never happened` as a viable policy decision. We`ll teach our kids that the split with East Pakistan was infinitely complex; one of the profound mysteries of the universe, riddled with nuances like `actually, we only killed 30,000 people`. Everything except `the narcissistic authoritarians in charge of this country treated their own people like idiots who wouldn`t mind their rights being robbed from them`. What does this accomplish? In 2008, the US Congress formally apol-ogised for slavery and the Jim Crow laws.

In 2018, Justin Trudeau apologised for Canada`s failure to help a ship of Jews escaping the Nazis. One ship. Seventy-nine years ago. Did these countries lose anything by acknowledging a mistake? Did some humility and self-reflection make them weak, or did it strengthen their moral position? Pakistan has an honesty problem.

Mostly with itself. One grounded in childlike insecurity and pathetic chest-thumping hubris. But here`s my question: what is there to be so insecure about? Have you ever seen the Germans trying to hide, censor or downplay the dark parts of their history? If they did, would it not be a lingering reminder of their willingness to do it again? These persistent cruelties evoke the kind of anger these pages would struggle to carry the weight of. But we know that the folks running this country don`t take nicely to bitter truths. So, I`ll address it like a friend that`s made terrible mistakes,but can still correct course. To quote a modern lyricist, T.

Swift, `it must be exhausting always rooting for the antihero`. We do it anyway. Because critique can come froma place of love, and this struggling young nation has been through a lot.

In its history, it`s seen wholesale assaults on its peoples` civil liberties. Some who dissented, shot dead. Others, many others, gone missing. Politicians persecuted until they folded. Collective punishment on those around them until they bent and broke.

It`s seen fundamental rights treated like suggestions, discardable at a whim. The will of millions displaced by a handful of men in Islamabadi drawing rooms. It`s seen the Constitution treated like a joke, judges taking its butchered, bloodied remnant and rewriting its most basic principles. It`s seen the persistent delusion that free speech can be crushed into submission. The hubris of the powerful declaring at every juncture that they know what`s better for you, not you. And, it has seen columnists unable to speak freely about any of it.

But you know what`s wonderful? That we learned so much from all this history, and never allowed it to repeat itself. Of course, we can continue showering our friend with unquestioning, unconditional love and support. Surely, he`d never turn on us. • The wúter is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

Twitter: @hkwattoo1

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