Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
The title of this article is the name of a nonprofit charity society founded by Ahmed Karim Jangda and a group of philanthropists in Illinois in the United States. The purpose of this society is to render voluntary services to the stranded Pakistanis or the so-called Biharis who have been stranded since the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. They migrated from the Indian state of Bihar to East Pakistan at the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947.
When Bengalis called for secession from Pakistan, these Biharis stood with the Pakistani army so as to maintain the unity of Pakistan, and this prompted Bengalis to consider them to be their enemies. They were treated as such and were driven out of their homes. Subsequently, they were forced to move to around 66 camps scattered in different parts of Bangladesh where they are today languishing in miserable conditions with a hope that one day they will be repatriated and rehabilitated in Pakistan. Though these people consider themselves to be Pakistanis, successive Pakistani governments have not done their duty toward them for reasons that are still difficult to understand.
What prompted me to write this article was my meeting with the founder of this society. I met him together with a number of Pakistani brothers while Jangda was in the Kingdom recently to perform Umrah. During the meeting, Jangda gave us a detailed explanation about the society, as well as its mission, objectives and activities. He said: “Those stranded people in Bangladesh may be without a state, but are not without hope, and that the mission of the society, which he founded with a number of friends, is to combat their poverty and ignorance as well as their feeling of not having their own identity.”
“The first project that we carried out was in the camps scattered all over Bangladesh where a quarter of a million people, known as stranded Pakistanis or Biharis, live in miserable conditions without food or medicine or a suitable place to live,” he explained, adding that their mission was to instill in them a feeling that they are also human beings.
The president of the society told us that his organization is comprised of a number of hardworking and sincere people. He also mentioned that there are other associations that are cooperating with his society, such as the OBAT Helpers, which carries out the same voluntary nonprofit work. Anwar Khan, president of this organization, noted in a letter sent to the president of the Friends of Humanity that he was happy to cooperate with the Friends of Humanity to empower these forgotten people who are living in terrible conditions. He stressed that his organization has been working in this field for more than 10 years and has achieved many successes in the field of education, healthcare and infrastructure.
Khan also noted that his organization has taken advantage of the expertise and experiences of the Friends of Humanity and other similar organizations, which are working in the same field. While emphasizing the need to do more in this regard, he said that they were able to achieve a lot in improving the living conditions of the camp dwellers. Khan also stressed in the letter that they would continue to extend cooperation to all organizations in implementing a number of projects that will give hope of a better life to the stranded Pakistanis living in their camps.
In my speech, I thanked Jangda, saying “you and your colleagues and other associations are doing a great job and we hope that God may reward you for your good deeds.” I cited the saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in this regard: “The best people are those who are most useful to others.” I also drew his attention to the fact that there should be more things done for the cause of the stranded Pakistanis. It is imperative to find a permanent and inclusive resolution to the problems of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh. It is also high time to convince Pakistani government officials that ignoring these hapless people and trying to escape from shouldering their duty in this regard does not absolve them of their national, moral and humanitarian responsibilities.
I reiterated my position that the Biharis are those who migrated from India to Pakistan and as such whether they migrated to either East Pakistan or West Pakistan does not make any difference. When the movement for the separation of East Pakistan from the West gained momentum, these people stood with the Pakistani army in an attempt to preserve the unity of Pakistan. Moreover, they made great sacrifices for preserving the unity of the nation, but, unfortunately, these sacrifices have been ignored by successive governments of Pakistan, which broke their promises to resolve this problem.
However, the government of General Zia-ul-Haq was an exception to this. During his tenure, Zia agreed with the Muslim World League (Rabita) and its Secretary General Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef to establish the Rabita Endowment with the objective of undertaking the repatriation and rehabilitation of stranded Pakistanis. General Zia said that he would take them to Pakistan, even on his back, but fate did not allow him to fulfill his promise.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org