Elisa Giunchi

The 1971 War in the Pakistani Narrative. Representation and Memory of Violence Against Civilians

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On 25 March 1971 the Pakistani armed forces intervened in the Eastern Wing to restore the full control of the federal government, preserve the traditional Punjab- based power elite, and avert the risk of a secession. The war that ensued, which was intermeshed with regional disputes and global politics, was characterised by widespread acts of violence that had religious, political, and ethnic connotations. Massacres, torture, and rapes were committed by the Pakistani army and their local collaborators against Bengalis, but also by Bengali insurgents against Biharis and civilians from the Western Wing. The combined forces of the insurgents and the Indian army defeated the Pakistani army in mid-December, paving the way for the emergence of independent Bangladesh. Today, over 50 years after those events, the war remains a controversial issue that casts a shadow over Pakistani- Bangladeshi ties. These two countries still give conflicting interpretations of the magnitude of the violence, the identity of the perpetrators and victims, and the issue of premeditation. Drawing on memoirs by Pakistani military officers and politicians, government documents, and newspapers, the essay addresses Pakistan’s official discourse on the war, with a focus on understanding whether violence has been denied, rationalised, or justified by those who took part in it or in the decision to intervene.


  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Violence
  • Memory
  • Narrative


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