Do you remember when they said there were 1000 bodies and they had the graves and then we couldnt find 20? Henry Kissinger to Secretary of State William Rogers A civil war is a bloody internecine strife precipitated by irreconcilable differences, which bring in their wake terrible and long-lasting alienation and hostility that takes considerable time and a deliberate effort to heal. The civil war that led to the separation of East Pakistan and its reincarnation as the independent State of Bangladesh was an extremely traumatic and bitter experience. The seeds of alienation based on rather contestable grievances of economic inequality, political representation and State discrimination were there, but Indias vested interests in causing a break-up of Pakistan turned these smouldering ambers into highly vitriolic wall of an all-consuming fire in the shape of a full-fledged insurgency campaign. Even that could have been controlled, but then India committed military aggression and, despite the fact that a beleaguered and outnumbered Pakistani garrison did its best to avert the impending catastrophe, the odds stacked against its valiant resistance were insurmountable. In the immediate days following Bangladeshs birth, pernicious propaganda about the genocide of an unbelievable number of Bengalis committed by the Pakistan Army began to float. No one less than the Bangla Bandhu, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, was in the lead for spreading this blood-chilling charge. On January 10, 1972, the day he returned to Bangladesh from his prison in Pakistan, via London and Delhi, he publicly claimed: Three million people have been killed. I believe that there is no parallel in history of the world of such a colossal loss of lives for the struggle of freedom. The propaganda did not stop at this preposterous charge alone. Myths were floated that, in addition to the unbelievable scale of genocide, 300,000 women were raped and 800 intellectuals had been killed in Dhaka alone. Mass graves and killing fields, according to these rumours, littered the Bengali landscape. Without any substantiation, confirmation or exhumation, these outlandish charges acquired the persistent status of an official truth and began to find their way in various books, articles, films - and later websites; they even began to be quoted by Western intellectuals and writers. Having staked his claim, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman then unsuccessfully tried to confer upon this propaganda the seal of official authenticity. On January 15, 1972, he ordered his party workers and Members of the Constituent Assembly (MCA) to collect detailed information on 'genocide by the Pakistan Army and file the results with the Awami League office within two weeks. In addition, on January 29, 1972, his government issued a gazette notification appointing an inquiry committee to establish the exact extent of loss of life and property caused by the operations of the Pakistan Army and their collaborators; asking for submission of report by April 30. What was received in response knocked the feet from under the malicious and self-serving charges of genocide et al. What facts were summarised by the returned reports remains an undisclosed enigma in Bangladesh ever since. Whenever enquired one is confronted with a stony wall of silence. In a report, titled The Missing Millions, published in The Guardian on June 6, 1972, William Drummond asserted that field investigations by the Home Ministry of Bangladesh in 1972 had turned up about 2,000 complaints of deaths at the hands of the Pakistan Army. Who gave the magical number of three million Bengali deaths to Sheikh Mujeeb is not known, but an Indian hand is manifestly visible. As Richard Sisson and Leo Rose in their seminal analytical work, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh, commented: India had, of course, a good case to make in terms of Pakistani atrocities in East Pakistan and it found the foreign press incredibly gullible in accepting, without effort at verifying, the substantial exaggerations that were appended to the lists of horror stories from Dhaka. In the same vein, the stories about mass graves were highly exaggerated. In a striking endorsement of Kissingers comments in 1971 about Bengali claims of a thousand bodies in mass graves when fewer than 20 bodies could be found, Drummond wrote in June 1972: Of course, there are mass graves all over Bangladesh. But nobody, not even the most rabid Pakistani-hater, has yet asserted that all these mass graves account for more than about 1,000 victims. Furthermore, because a body is found in a mass grave doesnt mean that the victim was killed by the Pakistan Army. This brings into picture a very important aspect missed out in the dominant narrative concerning the secession of East Pakistan; projecting the Pakistan Army as the oppressor and the Bengalis as victims. Such assertions deliberately ignored the reign of terror let loose by the Indian sponsored guerrilla force of Mukti Bahini, as well as the berserk Bengali mobs, that indiscriminately killed the non-Bengalis, including a large number of Biharis whose recorded casualties could easily surpass beyond tens of thousands. How many and from which ethnic groups got killed by whom and in what numbers in Bangladeshs bloody birth remains the ultimate mystery that goes abegging for an answer. Forty years have passed since the climactic events leading to the birth of Bangladesh. The period provides sufficient buffer to look back and get an objective picture of what actually happened and to revisit the entrenched perceptions of 'Pakistani villains and the 'Bengali victims syndrome. Despite proffering of a great sense of hurt by the Bangladeshis and an uncalled for contrition on part of Pakistanis, there is a dire need for both nations to crawl out of the cocoon of patently false perceptions, and objectively and boldly face the demons of the past. While the accusations from Bangladesh are voluminous and overbearing, it has to be said that they are not supported by well researched, documented and thoughtful inquiries or academic endeavour. A similar situation exists on the Pakistani side. Both countries need to objectively dig out the reality related to their painful separation. Only then the truth shall set them free to be truly able to look positively to the promise of a vibrant camaraderie and brotherhood in the future, enabling them to re-forge the bonds of affection and tap the reservoirs of abundant goodwill that have not dried up, despite mutual bloodletting in the past. The writer is a freelance columnist.