ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has denied committing war crimes during Bangladesh’s independence conflict in 1971, in what analysts said Tuesday was an unusually strong statement signaling worsening ties. The move follows the executions in Bangladesh last week of senior opposition leaders convicted of war crimes during the conflict. Pakistan has engaged in a war of words with its former eastern wing, which broke away in 1971 following the rise of a separatist movement and genocide as well as rape by Pakistani forces of Bangladeshi civilians. In a statement by the foreign office on Monday, Islamabad “rejected insinuation of ‘complicity in committing crimes or war atrocities.’”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the statement added.
Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s Herald magazine, said the statement was a “stiffening of Islamabad’s stance” that marked a retreat from former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s 2002 statement of regret for “excesses committed during the unfortunate period.” Bangladesh has been roiled by violence for much of the last three years since a domestic tribunal began delivering its verdicts on opposition figures accused of orchestrating massacres during the 1971 war. Four people have so far been sent to the gallows in trials criticized by some groups for failing to reach international standards.
“Both countries have to cater to their internal gallery. If you look at the war crimes trials that are happening in Bangladesh, most observers are seeing them in the context of current domestic politics in that country,” Alam added. “Pakistan is also playing to its own gallery. At this time Pakistan appears to be in conflict with every country in South Asia,” he told AFP Tuesday, noting worsening ties with Afghanistan and India.
Dhaka says the 1971 war left 3 million people dead, though independent researchers put the toll much lower. Pakistan formally recognized Bangladesh’s independence in 1974, but has never issued an official apology for its actions during the war. A 1972 Pakistani judicial inquiry said genocide had been committed, but its recommendations to try the generals responsible were never followed.