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ZAFAR SOBHAN
DATELINE DHAKA

Zafar Sobhan is editor of the Dhaka Tribune, a daily newspaper.

Bose is more Pakistani than Jinnah the Quaid

People celebrate the recognition of Bangladesh.

t is possible that Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War by Sarmila Bose is the definitive impartial account of Bangladesh's liberation war that the author smugly claims it to be. But if her previous scholarship on 1971 is anything to go by, I wouldn't count on it.

The reason that I doubt her grandiose and self-satisfied claim is that her previously published work on 1971 is replete with shoddy research and riddled with bias. Indeed, her arguments in her two articles published in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) on 1971 are so specious and her stated methodology so laughably amateurish that it is hard to credit that they are the work of a historian who even aspires to impartiality.

Nor does Bose's previous history support her claim that she is an unbiased academic, concerned solely with setting the record straight. How many unbiased academics co-author articles with ex-US ambassadors advocating for the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan, as Bose did in 2005?

Now, Bose is perfectly entitled to her viewpoint that Pakistan gets a bum rap from analysts, and that, especially in India, it is important to question and deconstruct the simplistic goodies versus baddies narrative that she feels dominates the discourse surrounding 1971 and South Asian geo-politics in general. But, whatever else it is, scholarship aimed at furthering this particular agenda is anything but impartial and unbiased.

Her two EPW articles on 1971 are laughably one-sided and have been thoroughly eviscerated by critics. As Nayanika Mookherjee of Durham University points out in her response to Bose's piece (also published in EPW), the very title of Bose's first article "Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971" is indicative of her bias, as by using the terms "civil war" and "East Pakistan" Bose apparently refuses to recognise the Bangladeshi government-in-exile's 10 April 1971 proclamation of independence, showing clear partiality to the Pakistani viewpoint.

Everywhere in her two EPW articles Bose gives priority to Pakistani accounts and dismisses Bangladeshi ones. Pakistani accounts are unquestioningly accepted and where there is a conflict in views, Bose treats the Pakistani version as both Gospel truth as well as evidence of the unreliability of the Bangladeshi account, a rhetorical trick which a grade-schooler could see through.

Bose takes at face value the transparently self-serving accounts of the Pak military and consistently dismisses Bangladeshi accounts as being unlikely or not credible, the criteria apparently being her own subjective judgment. She is uniformly sympathetic to the Pak viewpoint and hostile to the Bangladeshi one.

Sarmila Bose

Bose's most controversial "finding" in her EPW pieces was the fact that in the case studies she analysed she was not able to find any evidence of rape, which, if extrapolated to the war as a whole, would make it unique in the history of conflict. So absurd was this finding that she was forced to subsequently qualify it, but the fact that her "findings" were so outlandish did not apparently incline her to question her obviously faulty methodology.

Bose has since gone on record questioning the official number of rapes (estimated as between 200, 000-400, 000) with the specious reasoning that it would not have been possible for Pakistani soldiers to rape so many in such a short period of time, nonsensical reasoning which is rendered even more problematic by the fact that she undercounts the number of Pak soldiers by two-thirds.

What makes Bose's shoddy scholarship even harder to stomach is her preening self-importance and smug superiority. She suggests that her work is ground-breaking, the only impartial scholarship extant on 1971, and rubbishes or dismisses anything else, a position as offensive as it is incorrect.

here is no doubt that more research needs to be done on 1971 and that much of the nationalist historiography is indeed questionable. The official death count of three million is unlikely to stand close scrutiny and certainly there were horrendous atrocities also committed by pro-liberation elements.

But something tells me that nothing produced by a scholar who has shown such naked bias and partiality in the past and whose scholarship is so flawed and methodology so wilfully obtuse is going to be worth much.

I could be wrong and I will withhold judgment on Dead Reckoning until I read it. But I am already plenty familiar with Sarmila Bose's work — and her record as apologist for the Pak military establishment does not inspire me with much confidence.

 
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