Sunday, November 30, 2003

Pakistanis Need to Come Home

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

My father was a great believer in Islamic unity. As he loved and admired King Abdul Aziz and King Faisal for their promotion of Islamic unity, so also did he admire Mohammad Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. With its large population and strong army, its modernity and sophistication, Pakistan, he kept telling me, was our big brother who would never let us down in the hour of need, and when the time comes to liberate Palestine. He taught me that to be a good Muslim means to be a Pakistani at heart.
For him and his generation, the dream of a united Muslim nation was still fresh after the demise of the last great unifier, the Ottoman Empire.
I still remember the dark days when the war erupted between the two parts of Pakistan. I was too young then, but I couldn’t miss the gloom that enveloped the neighborhood majlis, where father and his peers listened to the radio and discussed the horrible stories coming from the field. I won’t forget seeing my father cry for the first time in my life when our beloved Pakistan finally disintegrated in a sea of Muslim blood and a world of destruction and despair. As he expected, this disintegration was a bad omen for the unity dream. It was downhill from that day on, one blow after another; until we reached the lowly state we are in today.
I remembered this sorry affair as I awaited my turn to speak to the Pakistan Repatriation Council celebrating Iqbal’s 126th birthday a couple of weeks ago. I remembered it because the council represents the case of one of the worst outcomes of this separation: The stranded quarter of a million Pakistanis in Bangladesh who fought for unity and have been living in miserable refugee camps since then.
In 1988 the Rabita Trust was established and signed by President Ziaul Haq and ex- Secretary General of the Muslim World League Dr. Abdullah Nasseef and assigned for the repatriation of stranded Pakistanis. Land was allocated for 40,000 houses in Punjab. One thousand houses were built, but only 60 families were brought in 1993. After that all efforts were frozen.
I bet most of us are ignorant about this tragedy, while those who know either don’t care or don’t do much. I wish I could do better and help. But, alas, I only have my heart, pen and voice. With the first I pray for them, with the rest I urge the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as international and Muslim organizations to cooperate in ending the misery of these people: They need humanitarian help, they need recognition, and above all they need just to go home.

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