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Nawaz Sharif Must Help Repatriate The Stranded Pakistanis

08 February 2016

By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

The Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC) recently organized a symposium to commemorate the Martyrs' Day after the fall of Dhaka during the civil war in East Pakistan. Several prominent figures from the Pakistani community in Jeddah attended the function. Their speeches focused mainly on the plight of the stranded Pakistanis, who are also known as Biharis. These people never expected the fall of Dhaka and the secession of East Pakistan to create the independent state of Bangladesh. Their expectation was that the Pakistan army would come to their rescue in view of the fact that they stood by the army and made great sacrifices to safeguard a united Pakistan. These people speak Urdu, the language of Pakistan, and they did not take part in the struggle started by Bengalis known as the ''Language Movement'' which was the first sign of the differences between the two parts of Pakistan.

Before partition, Muslims were a minority in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. There were clashes between Muslims and the majority Hindus because of differences in religion, culture and ethnicity. Muslims were the weaker section and their losses were immense in these clashes. This prompted Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to declare that the ''massacres that took place in Bihar led to the creation of Pakistan.''

At the time of the partition of the subcontinent, Muslims from Bihar moved to East Pakistan because of its proximity to their native land. They filled the posts vacant at the railway, jute factories and paper mills when Hindus who worked there migrated to India.

These Muslims made great sacrifices to realize their ambition of living in the nation of their choice. During the civil war fought mainly by the Pakistan army and the militia loyal to the Awami League party, these people stood by the army in order to safeguard the unity of Pakistan.

Following defeat in the war, the Pakistani general surrendered and he along with other Pakistani soldiers were taken to India as war prisoners. The prisoners of war also included some civilians belonging to the West Pakistan regions, which later became part of Pakistan after the secession of Bangladesh, leaving behind the Biharis in Bangladesh. The Biharis felt cheated as they were not welcomed in the new state because of their allegiance to the Pakistan army during the civil war. The Bengalis considered them to be enemies and subsequently, they were subjected to murder and rape, and they were driven out of their homes and their property was confiscated. As a result, they were forced to move to squalid and crowded camps where they were deprived of even the basic amenities of life.

These stranded Pakistanis are living with the hope of being repatriated one day to Pakistan. However, they are yet to realize their dream as successive governments in Pakistan have failed to fulfill their promises in this regard. There was an exception for this during the period of President General Zia-ul-Haq. The Zia government, in cooperation with the Makkah-based Muslim World League (Rabita), created the Rabita Endowment. At that time, Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasif was the secretary general of Rabita. The endowment was designed to ensure the repatriation of stranded Pakistanis who would be settled on land donated by Nawaz Sharif, the then chief minister of Punjab province. General Zia-ul-Haq showed keen interest in the repatriation of the stranded Pakistanis. But the tragic death of Zia dashed all hopes of repatriation because the successive governments showed no interest in the matter.

When Sharif assumed power as prime minister of Pakistan, there were renewed hopes of reactivating the MWL endowment for Biharis. He expressed his keenness and desire to revive the endowment and took charge as its president. Sharif managed to construct a number of houses and repatriated some Bihari families after allotting houses to them. But the project was halted by the Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf, who became president after ousting Sharif from power. Musharraf gave up the endowment's presidency.

However, there has been no follow up action on the part of either the Pakistan government or Rabita to resolve the issue of the stranded Pakistanis. These people are denied help from the UN fund for refugees even though their plight is worse than that of some refugees. The stranded Pakistanis now receive help from a few charity societies and Pakistan-based NGOs as well as from some individuals, including those from Bangladesh, but this assistance is quite insufficient to meet their basic requirements for food, education and healthcare.

I would like to emphasize the fact that the Pakistan government must shoulder its humanitarian, moral and political responsibilities in resolving the issue of the stranded Pakistanis. Otherwise, this will remain a blot on the image and history of Pakistan. I appeal to Sharif to take steps to accomplish the great mission he embarked on during his first two terms as the prime minister of Pakistan.

Allah will help us as long as we are in support of weaker sections among us. This is what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stressed when he said: ''Are you not fed and helped but because of your weaker sections.''

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

  EsinIslam.Com

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