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Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War Asia Bangladesh Sarmila Bose Columbia University Press


10th January 2013 History Books 2 Comments

History emerges only slowly from the passion-filled context of contemporary events. Sarmila Bose’s book sets Bangladesh’s struggle for liberation at the start of this long passage.

(David Washbrook, Trinity College, Cambridge )

The ‘Events in Pakistan, 1971,’ as the International Commission of Jurists called its report on the subject, have been an enduring source of agonized contestation in South Asia for forty years. Subject to endless mythmaking and exaggerations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and their diasporas, all too rarely have these events been considered with the nonpartisan care they deserve. Sarmila Bose’s stunning Dead Reckoning is the first book-length study to meticulously reconstruct the violence based on actual evidence. By showing how the terror of rape and massacre cut across many more cleavages of East Pakistani society than Pakistani and Bengali nationalists like to admit, her book is at once a correction of the record and a tribute to the virtues of humanistic scholarship. Written with courage and searing honesty, it will reset the terms of debate regarding this dark chapter in the region’s history.

(A. Dirk Moses, European University Institute, Florence, and the University of Sydney )

Combining rigorous scholarship and a passionate interest in setting the record straight, Dead Reckoning is the finest study yet of the social, cultural, and political meaning of the 1971 East Pakistan/Bangladesh war. Sarmila Bose writes in the service of the truth. We are in her debt.

(Stephen Cohen, author of The Idea of Pakistan )

I have felt the need for a dispassionate account of the Bangladesh war ever since witnessing that triumph of faith over fact, the Mujibnagar independence ceremony. No one can take on that challenge better than Sarmila Bose, whose courage, disregard for orthodoxy, and meticulous research makes her the enfant terrible of Indian historians.

(Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, columnist and author of Waiting for America: India and the United States in the New Millennium )

Sarmila Bose’s powerful and poignant retelling of the birth of Bangladesh exposes the wounds of civil war and international conflict in a way that has not been done before. This is history as told by participants at the grass roots and it dispels many myths that have been fed by faulty memories of the so-called elites in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Her book should help the people of both countries accept the facts of that tragic and bloody separation of 1971 and to take responsibility for the war that stained the verdant Bengali countryside red.

(Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center, The Atlantic Council in Washington DC and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within )

Bose has written a book that should provoke both fresh research and fresh thinking about a fateful turning point in the history of the subcontinent.

(Martin Woollacott Guardian )

Sarmila Bose is senior research fellow in the politics of South Asia at the University of Oxford. She earned her degrees at Bryn Mawr College and at Harvard University and combined her academic and media work while serving as a political journalist in India.

The 1971 Bangladesh war mired Pakistan in a brutal struggle within its own borders and against neighboring India. Backed by the Soviet Union and the United States, the players in the conflict fought over the territories of East Pakistan, which then seceded to become Bangladesh.

Through a detailed investigation of representative events on the ground, this remarkable history contextualizes the war while vividly theorizing on the nature of the conflict. As with most wars, the narrative of 1971 has largely been written by the victors. Partisan mythologies imprison the remaining actors. This book sets out to rectify this bias, reconstructing events through extensive interviews conducted over a period of four years in Bangladesh and Pakistan. It features published and unpublished recollections, sampling from official documents, tapes, photographs, video documentaries, and reports issued by the foreign media. Many interviewees speak about their experiences for the first time, introducing new, critical perspective strands into an otherwise poorly represented history. Their “contesting” memories diverge from dominant narratives in crucial ways, showing how the war’s reverberations continue to play out within the region.

(7/1/2011)

History emerges only slowly from the passion-filled context of contemporary events. Sarmila Bose’s book sets Bangladesh’s struggle for liberation at the start of this long passage.

The ‘Events in Pakistan, 1971,’ as the International Commission of Jurists called its report on the subject, have been an enduring source of agonized contestation in South Asia for forty years. Subject to endless mythmaking and exaggerations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and their diasporas, all too rarely have these events been considered with the nonpartisan care they deserve. Sarmila Bose’s stunning Dead Reckoning is the first book-length study to meticulously reconstruct the violence based on actual evidence. By showing how the terror of rape and massacre cut across many more cleavages of East Pakistani society than Pakistani and Bengali nationalists like to admit, her book is at once a correction of the record and a tribute to the virtues of humanistic scholarship. Written with courage and searing honesty, it will reset the terms of debate regarding this dark chapter in the region’s history.

Combining rigorous scholarship and a passionate interest in setting the record straight, Dead Reckoning is the finest study yet of the social, cultural, and political meaning of the 1971 East Pakistan/Bangladesh war. Sarmila Bose writes in the service of the truth. We are in her debt.

I have felt the need for a dispassionate account of the Bangladesh war ever since witnessing that triumph of faith over fact, the Mujibnagar independence ceremony. No one can take on that challenge better than Sarmila Bose, whose courage, disregard for orthodoxy, and meticulous research makes her the enfant terrible of Indian historians.

Sarmila Bose’s powerful and poignant retelling of the birth of Bangladesh exposes the wounds of civil war and international conflict in a way that has not been done before. This is history as told by participants at the grass roots and it dispels many myths that have been fed by faulty memories of the so-called elites in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Her book should help the people of both countries accept the facts of that tragic and bloody separation of 1971 and to take responsibility for the war that stained the verdant Bengali countryside red.

Bose has written a book that should provoke both fresh research and fresh thinking about a fateful turning point in the history of the subcontinent.

Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War (Columbia/Hurst)

Pakistan: Beyond the “Crisis State”

Pakistan is an excellent book, one that brings out some very important points about the surprising stability of the country beneath the alarmism of the daily headlines, forming a useful antidote to the general perception about Pakistan in the West.

(Anatol Lieven, King’s College, London )

Written by the country’s top intellectuals, this book provides extraordinary insight into today’s Pakistan.

(Mohammed Yaqub, former governor, State Bank of Pakistan )

This timely study looks beyond the headlines of terrorism and natural disaster that dominate western perceptions of Pakistan. The contributors argue that contemporary security challenges and longer term demographic pressures and energy shortages can be overcome if Pakistan possesses the political will to undergo wide-ranging institutional, educational, and structural economic reform. The themes of governance and the interconnectedness of domestic politics and international relations run throughout the volume. Historical analysis and policy prescriptions of a high order are combined in a text that should be required reading for those not only concerned with contemporary South Asia but also global security concerns.

(Ian Talbot, author, Pakistan: A Modern History )

Far removed from the reductive and excessively alarmist rhetoric pervading foreign policy discourse, Pakistan: Beyond the “Crisis State” offers a sober and comprehensive appraisal of the problems plaguing the Islamic republic. What sets this book apart from others on Pakistan is its detailed account of the country’s intractable crises, accompanied by lucid, compelling, and empirically supported policy recommendations that, in a time of tremendous uncertainty, may illuminate a pathway to hope.

(Malou Innocent, Cato Institute )

A compelling book that examines Pakistan’s challenges and offers a way out.

(Najam Sethi, editor in chief, Pakistan’s Friday Times )

This collection of essays edited by Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Britain and America, is timely and different: a look at Pakistan by seasoned, hard-nosed Pakistanis who know the troubled nation from the inside, toil to set it right

(The Economist )

Bringing together an extraordinary array of experts, including renowned Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani American sociologist and historian Ayesha Jalal, and Zahid Hussain, author of several books on Islamic militancy in Pakistan, Pakistan: Beyond the “Crisis State” takes unique stock of the Islamic republic’s fundamental strengths and weaknesses.

Presenting a picture of the nation as understood by its people, this anthology assesses the political, economic, social, and foreign policies of an embattled government and its institutional challenges. Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University, and Munir Akram, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United Nations, provide critical perspectives on Pakistan’s future. Additional essays capture the complex interplay between domestic and external pressures, such as the variety of powers that continue to manipulate the country’s behavior and outcomes. The contributors gathered here ultimately conclude that Pakistan is capable of transitioning into a stable modern Muslim state, though bold reforms are necessary. Offering a detailed and balanced agenda for such reform, Pakistan takes a bold step in reeling the country back from the brink of crisis.

Pakistan: Beyond the “Crisis State” (Columbia/Hurst)










  • 2 responses to "Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War Asia Bangladesh Sarmila Bose Columbia University Press"

  • BaselineAce
    6:17 on January 10th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Sarmila Bose is being vilified because she has dared to write the story of the West Pakistani side in the brutal and indeed, genocidal war of liberation of 1971. The stories she has written include many brutalities committed by the East Pakistani rebels (Bengalis) and also many committed by the West Pakistani Army. This is one of the rare times when the West Pakistani view has been related and it causes relief to many people of the Pakistan of today because atrocities of the Bengalis are also being highlighted.

    Bose should be thanked for publishing her book, which does not detract from the crimes against humanity by the West Pakistanis. Her connection with General Subhas Chandra Bose is a mark of honor, rather than a stigma; General Bose and his followers were looking for any way at all, to be rid of British rule and were willing to side with the Germans and the Japanese on order to be free…whether they would have been allowed their freedom had the Axis won is an entirely different discussion. General Bose remains a hero among Indians and Pakistanis who struggled for freedom from the British Empire.

    The cliché, “War is Hell” is everlasting; war IS Hell. There is never a war where both sides do not commit atrocities, but there are plenty of times when atrocities committed by one side are overwhelmingly greater than those committed by the other side, the Bangladeshi war of liberation was one of them. The West Pakistani position appears to suggest that the atrocities committed by the Bengalis were enough to justify the atrocities committed by the West Pakistanis…certainly enough to “balance” out the atrocities equation.

    The critics of Boses book appear to be outraged by the fact that anyone should dare to turn the light on to the atrocities committed by the Bengalis…how dare anyone seek to create a moral equivalence between the two!

    Both sides are wrong. There is no moral equivalence between what the West Pakistani military did in Bangladesh and what the Bengalis did during their war for independence, nor is there any justification for either.

    The West Pakistanis went on a shoot-on-sight rampage, killing suspects and suspecting everyone. Their bloody progress was sometimes fuelled by seeing dead West Pakistanis who had been slaughtered by a rampaging mob or an avenging Bengali force. West Pakistani Army went on their rampage in “retaliation” of the killing of their own and the never-ending cycle went on to the end of the war.

    The main question here is not who killed how many of whom, but the real question is, “how did events come to this state of affairs?”

    East Pakistan had been treated as a colony of the West ever since independence when first the Urdu-speaking and then the Punjabi-speaking people took control of the entire country and exploited it to their advantage. It happened that speakers of both those languages, were from the West and therefore, to the Bengalis, it was a clear case of colonization and imperial exploitation by the West. The final straw was when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto refused to allow Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to take over as the head of Pakistan (Mujib won the elections by a landslide) and the Bengalis realized that for them, equal treatment was a dream that was not to come true soon; the civil war began.

    While the Bengalis were also responsible for atrocities, the bottom-line here is that the war was caused by the West Pakistanis, the mass-rapes by the West Pakistanis and the genocide by the West Pakistanis…all ignited by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Today’s Pakistan owes an abject, unqualified, apology to Bangladesh; apologists for West Pakistan should take note.

  • Koozai Mike
    5:07 on January 12th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Most of Bangladesh war history has been written in a patriotic narrative which completely ignores the excesses committed by other sides. This war was fought between four sides, on one side were the Indian Armay and the Bangali militants and on the ther side were Pakistan Army and the nationalist comprising of Bengalis, Biharis and the west Pakistanis. Like any war, excesses were done on both sides. This book gives an impartial view on the excesses. The only thing missing in this book are the details of terrorism excercised by Indian army as a war tactic in their covert operations. As a witness to this war, I find this book fair and recommend it to all who want to get a balanced view of this historic event.

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