Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thoughts on Bangladesh – Election 2014 - by Dr. Habib Siddiqui

The article below has appeared in the Asian Tribune and may be of interest to our readers, esp. of Bangladeshi heritage.
My Two Cents on Bangladesh – Election 2014
Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Last week, I had the misfortune (and that is the only way I can describe it) of witnessing the effect of a country-wide strike (Hartal) in Bangladesh that was called by the opposition 18-party alliance, led by Madam Khaleda Zia’s BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party). The protest was for 60 hours and it was extremely violent. The opposition wanted a total closure of everything – all government offices, business centers, educational institutes, and even all forms of road and rail communication networks – totally paralyzing the country.
Protests of this kind are nothing new in Bangladesh and are a common feature, esp. during the election time. Bangladesh is scheduled to have a parliamentary election early next year. Public worries are around fairness of that election and the transfer of power. Although Bangladesh government has an Election Commission (EC) to ensure a fair election to take place the opposition alliance does not believe that it is neutral or would remain so during the important parliament election. This doubt is somewhat exasperating to the ruling party given the fact that in recently held municipal elections, the EC demonstrated its neutrality in which candidates affiliated with the ruling Awami League were defeated miserably. The opposition says that those municipal elections were more like baits used by the ruling party to draw the opposition alliance to accept the government proposal. It wants a caretaker government instead to conduct the election, more like what had been the norm in Bangladesh since 1991.
Interestingly, every time after the election since 1991, the incumbent party has lost which had accused that the election was unfair and hijacked by the caretaker government, which was biased in making sure that it lost. So, why this fallacy about hosting an election under a caretaker government when no matter how neutral it was and how fairly it may have been conducted the election process, the losers are always going to cry foul?
The ruling alliance of Sheikh Hasina does not want the next election to be held under a caretaker government and says that it wants to conduct it following the dictates of the constitution in ways that have become the norms in all democratic countries around the globe. That is, it wants to hold the election when it is in office, albeit under some restrictions imposed a priori by the EC, and not under a caretaker government. It has brought in constitutional amendments to justify its stand, which it says will avoid a repeat of 1/11. The problem is: the opposition alliance does neither trust in the sincerity of the ruling alliance nor the constitutional amendment.
Since no major political leader wants to compromise in this current political tug of war, street politics with corpses, sadly, has become the fate of this unfortunate nation of 154 million people, resulting in violent clashes, injuries and deaths, let alone suffering of the people.
In the last week’s 60-hour protest, nearly 20 individuals had died. A young girl lost her two eyes. The low-income day laborers, rickshaw pullers, and vendors could not work and suffered miserably. Some of them were beaten mercilessly by the members of the opposition parties who did not want them to work or go out. Trains were derailed, smashed and set on fire, injuring many and killing some. Buses, cars, trucks and taxis were set on fire. Some drivers were pulled out from their vehicles, beaten and killed. Even offices, shops and business centers were not spared of this senseless violence. It was a total breakdown of law and order, and police had difficulty controlling. Some of its own members had suffered serious injuries.
I don’t know of any country which witnesses this kind of criminal violence during an anti-government protest. I am told that every day Bangladesh lost some 1.6 billion taka as a result of the nation-wide closure. Students who were scheduled to take their A or O level test could not appear, thus falling behind by a year. It is a big loss for those students and their parents. But none of these losses, pains and sufferings seems to matter to either the ruling alliance or its opposition. Without a compromising formula, the people had to suffer. And this kind of violent protest will go on until a compromise is reached, which seems highly unlikely. As I write, the opposition alliance has called for another 3-day total shutdown strike beginning on Monday. That is sure to further worsen the prevailing delicate situation.
I am sure a reasonable solution can be found if the parties are willing to make some concessions. If they don’t get to that desired solution, they will take the country to a situation in which a repeat of the so-called 1/11 when military took control would become inevitable. And this time, guessing the public mood, a minus-two formula (i.e., without both madams Hasina and Khaleda – the leaders of the two major parties in the country) may become the reality, whether either the powerful business leaders or the major political party leaders of the country like it or not. That would be a sad event for an emerging democracy, which has failed to learn the D of democracy in the last 42 years of its existence as an independent nation!
As I see it, politics has become an investment these days – a big one, which I must add, in which every investor wants to win. This is true everywhere, even in the western democracies like the USA. The cost of defeat at a party level is simply unacceptable under the current setup for many politicians. But only in an illiberal democracy like Bangladesh, the losing party loses all the government connections for business dealings, tenders and contracts, flow of money to its region and the potential benefits thereof that could be passed on to its cadre and the sycophants, let alone the sponsors and lobbies. Even if they are elected to the parliament, as a member of the opposition party, no money may flow into those areas from which they are elected.
Unless, therefore, this culture of cost of defeat is addressed, i.e., reduced to a minimum, I see little hope that Bangladesh would move forward in which pre- and post-election era violence would become an exception and not a norm. For this to happen, however, not only does Bangladesh require an effective shadow government to monitor the activities of the government, but it must also make sure that her politicians understand that the Bangladeshi pie is a big one which can be shared between all its members, and that democracy need not mean a majoritarian rule in which the winner – the majority party - takes it all, and that legitimate grievances and demands of the opposition members are heard and addressed properly.
I, thus, believe that simply moving to a caretaker government will not in itself solve the post-election era violence and the rejection of the election outcome on the part of the losing party. These are all the alarming episodic symptoms of a chronic legal, economic and political sickness and not the root causes. Unless the fundamental issues around that cost of defeat are addressed, the politics of violence and insanity will not ebb an iota in Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi politicians have forgotten that we have only one tongue and only one mouth to talk, but two ears and two eyes to listen and see. Instead, they are terrible listeners, and behave like the deaf, dumb and blind (soom-moom, book-moon, oom-youn). Just a recently released video of phone conversation between the leaders of the two major parties is sufficient to prove my case here. This attitude must change so that they can respect each other and do what the nation deserves from them. If the political leaders can’t tolerate each other as fellow human beings, politics is a wrong profession for them in a democracy.
Leadership is ultimately about accountability – to God the Creator and to His creation. If one is oblivious of that hard fact, only ruination awaits that person both in this world and in the afterlife. It was this fear of accountability which led Amir-ul-Mu’meneen, the Caliph, Umar ibn Khattab (R) to say 14 centuries ago, “Should a lost goat die in the Shat al-‘Arab I tend to think that Allah, the Most Exalted, will question me about it on the Day of Judgment.” [Wisdom of Mankind; Hilyat’ul Awliya wa Tabaqatul Asfiya] If that be the concern of a ruler for a mere goat, how about saving human lives? Don’t they deserve better as the best of the creation?

Surely, the Bangladeshi nation hates bloodshed, but craves for sustainable peace and prosperity. And its politicians can deliver this if they have the will and sincerity of intention and purpose. But do they?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In the future Bangladeshi Expatriates Will be able to Vote in Elections from Abroad

For years, we, the Bangladeshi expatriates, have been demanding greater inclusion in matters relating to Bangladesh. One of the major demands has been the right to vote in elections from here without requiring us to travel to Bangladesh. Thanks to the relentless lobbying by directors and members of the BEC and NRB Council, USA, the Government of Bangladesh is moving in that direction.

You can read the news below from BDNews24:

Expatriate Bangladeshis will be able to vote from abroad, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Wednesday.
Necessary amendment to the Representation of People Order, 1972, will be made for this to happen,” Hasina told the Parliament in reply to Awami League MP Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun.

“Now expatriate Bangladeshis have to come to the country to vote in elections, but that will be no longer necessary” she said.

“The Representation of People Order, 1972, will be amended so that they can apply for exercising their voting rights from their locations abroad during the upcoming parliamentary elections.”

Humayun had asked if any steps were afoot to ensure expatriates could vote by ‘digitally’ from abroad.

The Election Commission is not considering that at the moment, Hasina replied.

The Wednesday budget session began after a day holiday chaired by Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 8 by Dr. Habib Siddiqui

In recent months, hundreds have died in Bangladesh as a result of political violence. As more International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) sentences are announced, the violence is likely to continue between the security forces and angry supporters of the political parties whose members are tried and sentenced. So, why are these trials taking place now – 42 years after country’s independence? Can Bangladesh right the historical wrongs - and at what cost to its unity? How about the Bihari and Urdu-speaking victims of the liberation struggle? Will their families see justice for the violence suffered, too?

Whatever may be the wisdom and true agenda behind the highly controversial ICT, the people in Bangladesh has every right to see that the trial process is fair and unbiased so that no innocent person is punished, and that the system is neither politically motivated nor abused. Otherwise, it would not only stain the memory of all those who died in the war but would permanently divide and polarize this country into hostile camps. That is not the future for which its valiant freedom fighters fought for or the martyrs died for.

It would be irresponsible of the ruling party to ignore Bangladesh’s culture and history, which has invariably shown time and again that her people don’t like extremes – neither Talibanization nor secular fundamentalism that is devoid of God. Like most people living in South Asia, and vast majority of Americans living in the southern states of the USA, religion is important to most Bangladeshis. Their religious devotion, however, has not intoxicated them to be intolerant of others. As such, whereas religious and ethnic riots have been norms in neighboring countries of Myanmar and India, Bangladesh has been spared of such perils.

As much as the Muslim majority of undivided Bengal had opted for East Bengal when it realized that it was severely discriminated and its due rights were overlooked by the ‘Bhadro lok’ Hindu minorities in Kolkata (Calcutta), and as much as it voted overwhelmingly for Pakistan when it feared its marginalization in a hostile Hindu-majority India, it did not take too long for the same Bengali-speaking Muslim majority to demand parity and autonomy from its more powerful and, yet, minority siblings living in and ruling from the western part of Pakistan. Thus, it would be foolish to envision that the decision of all those who had opted for Pakistan was a historical mistake. And, so goes for Bangladesh.

Truly, there won’t be any Bangladesh today had it not been for the emergence of Pakistan. (Note: The people of Kashmir still have not achieved their independence.) A comparison of the status of Muslim minorities in nearby Indian states is enough to prove that the economic and social progress that the Muslim majority had made under Pakistan and Bangladesh would have been simply impossible in India.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been recognized as the greatest Bengali (Bangali) ever because he was able to personify that fusion of nationalism and religion better than most others and turn it into a force unifying the nation to rally behind him for its legitimate demand for regional autonomy. His nationalism did not divorce him from his religious root. By remaining firmly grounded on both he was a unifier and not a divider.

Can the same be said about others who led Bangladesh later? When vengeance was sought, Bangabandhu characteristically ‘turned the other cheek’ and forgave. With all the support he enjoyed soon after liberation, he could have afforded to behave like Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro and Josef Stalin. But he chose not to. Some political observers have argued that his clemency resulted in his own death and that he should have finished off the job around war crimes when in office. Those who came later have proven to be vindictive, perhaps trying to avoid the fate that awaited Bangabandhu. But not all have succeeded to dodge the bullet when destiny has allotted it. And none will be able to blot what has been allotted to him or her!

Sheikh Mujib is not above criticism though. In the post-liberation period, notwithstanding his BAKSAL policy, his introduction of secularism in the Constitution of Bangladesh has been a highly controversial subject. Its preamble states, “Pledging that the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in, the liberation struggle, shall be the fundamental principles of the constitution.”

As noted by T. N. Madan and many other sociologists the western concept of secularism does not find its recognition in culture and morality in entire South Asia – including in Gandhi, Azad and Nehru’s India. It is impossible as a credo of life because the great majority of people of South Asia are in their own eyes active adherents of some religious tradition. Professor Madan noted in his speech in Boston in 1987 that secularism has failed as a widely shared worldview in India [T.N. Madan, Secularism in Its Place, JSTOR: The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 4 (1987), pp. 747-759]. To Gandhi, religion and politics are inseparable; without the former the latter would become debased. He famously said, “For me, every, the tiniest, activity is governed by what I consider to be my religion,” and “those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”

So what could have justified the inclusion of secularism in the Constitution of Bangladesh? A closer look at the Article 12 of the Constitution makes it clear that the writers and signatories of the constitution were greatly influenced by their bitter experience in Pakistan where they witnessed firsthand how religion was exploited to deny the rights of the people of East Pakistan. Realizing that public may misinterpret the loaded term, borrowed from European experience, Sheikh Mujib was always quick to point out that Bangladeshi secularism had little in common with western concept of secularism where God is divorced from public life. To him, secularism was a policy of religious neutrality on the part of the state. No rule was, thus, enacted during the Mujib-era which was emphatically anti-Islamic. [True though that Jama’at and all pro-Islamic parties were banned. But this exclusion had everything to do with the politics of the liberation struggle when these parties and their student wings were on the wrong side of history – being Pakistani patriots they opposed dismemberment of the country and resisted the popular independent struggle.] There was no government sponsored programs or events in Bangladesh, unlike some so-called Islamic countries, where gambling was promoted. It can be argued that in spite of all the hypes around it, secularism in Bangladesh did not conflict with the notion of “full faith and trust in God (Allah).”

The scheming and unscrupulous politicians – religious and secular alike - have always exploited religion to win votes not just in more conservative South Asia but also in more secular Europe and the Americas. With the changing political development in Bangladesh, the new leaders – never mind that they were perhaps less religiously observant than their predecessors -- did not waste any time to rephrase the constitution to impress the majority. Bismillah was introduced. They also revived previously banned political organizations and formed alliances with those ‘defeated’ forces. ‘Islam’ as the ‘state religion’ was inserted in 1989 by the 10th Amendment. The constitutional experts are divided on such amendments. They question: since 90% of the population of Bangladesh professes Islam and the Constitution itself upholds that no law would be passed that opposes Islam, was such an amendment necessary?

The ruling alliance is now revising the amended constitution of the Bangladesh, trying to put the state back to 1973 before the BAKSAL days.

With the all-too-expected verdicts against some of the leaders and members of the Jama’at-e-Islami (JI), some secular fundamentalists and anti-Muslim bigots within Bangladesh are raucous with their demand to ban the JI. It would be, however, ill-advised of the government to pass laws that would ban the JI - the largest and most organized political movement inspired by Islam. History has repeatedly shown that when dissenting voices are forcibly silenced they trigger underground militancy. Such actions can also be interpreted as fascistic and utterly hostile to Islam. Already government’s heavy handed policies and actions have alienated many conservative Muslims. They perceive the government of being soft on blasphemers and hostile to Muslims, and hypocritical about Muslim interest. And perception is often the reality! Unless such negative perceptions are removed, the government will lose much public support. If the past elections are any barometer to judge how people vote, the current government should know that voters have punished the incumbents more for their failings than rewarded them for their accomplishments.

In the long run, it is thus better to see a ‘mildly Islam-centric’ party like the JI engaged in parliamentary politics than forced into becoming a clandestine militant group that is at war with the state.

Regardless of whether the Jama’at is formally banned, it has experienced severe restrictions on its ability to function as a political party under the current government. Such draconian measures have radicalized its student wing, and ignited passion amongst many apolitical, conservative Muslims against the government, although they may not agree with JI’s version of political Islam. The huge rallies recently hosted by the Hefazat-e-Islam are a sufficient testament to that development.

As I have pointed out before, many see the war crimes trial process unfair and a grave miscarriage of justice. Speaking to the Arab News, Toby M. Cadman, a legal expert on war crimes tribunals, said, “The present law in Bangladesh is outdated; there are no clear definitions for war crimes; prosecution had called only a small number of witnesses and few of whom are able to provide any direct evidence; the judicial procedures lack transparency in many respects; we cannot challenge the jurisdiction of tribunal, the legislation, the appointment of judges and the tribunal’s decisions; the same judges are conducting investigation, issuing decisions and reviewing their own decisions; and there is a very limited time for the defense to prepare.”

Barrister Cadman said that the Tribunal had arrested those leaders who might have opposed independence. “Opposing independence is not a crime,” he pointed out. In the newly independent Pakistan and India, both Jinnah and Nehru had called upon their fellow countrymen to bury their old hatred (“hatchet”) and become effective citizens. Similarly, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib said that Bangladeshis were a forgiving nation and that Bangladesh should look to the future not the past in the interest of peace and reconciliation. According to Cadman, this was principally the reason for the trials being abandoned in 1973 and resulted in a tripartite agreement between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. He said that the Hasina government was showing its political vendetta by arresting the leading members of Jama’at and BNP: “It is actually punishing the Jama’at for siding with the last BNP government. If the government wants to end the culture of impunity, it should depoliticize the judicial process and appoint international judges and prosecutors, and there should be a foreign council for the defense and government members should stop making comments in breach of the presumption of innocence.”

Even if the tribunal process is corrected of its ‘defects,’ what about the other war criminals? After all, the main perpetrators are not in the dock, since they are either dead or living in Pakistan. What about the tribal followers of (late) Raja Tridiv Roy who killed many Bengalis and Freedom Fighters in 1971? How about the Bengali-speaking killers that killed innocent Biharis and Urdu-speaking citizens of Pakistan? How about those who killed surrendering Pakistani forces violating the Geneva Convention? Will the Hasina government have the same zeal to go after these latter categories of war criminals?

Life is sacred in Islam and cannot be taken unless there is absolute proof justifying it. Has the ICT proven its cases beyond any doubt against each of those ‘perpetrators’ of war crimes? Will justice be served by hanging some 80 or 90 year old ‘patriot’ Pakistani who had opposed the emergence of Bangladesh, and yet did not kill or molest anyone personally? History has repeatedly shown that blood sheds more blood, especially when there is the strong perception that it was shed wrongfully. So where and when will this blood-letting end? How about forgiveness and compassion shown, esp. to those sentenced to death by sparing their lives? Are not there enough examples in history of former tormentors transforming into saints later? What would Christianity be without Paul, or Islam without Umar, and so on and so forth?

Could Bangladesh instead opt for a Truth and Reconciliation dialogue, much in common with how South Africa has dealt with its own bloody past?

These are some serious questions that Bangladeshi intellectuals need to discuss openly and objectively, and ultimately mend their fences. They must also avoid any exaggeration about the casualty figures of the war of liberation. Those exaggerated figures do no good but only simmer hatred in a world that requires facts and not myths towards bridging the gaps and moving forward for mutual benefits of all.

It is high time to let sanity rule. Already hundreds have died in the ensuing violence since February, and probably more will die in the coming days when more verdicts are read that are considered unfair or unjust. The economic losses are estimated at billions of dollars. No one is winning in this divided house. The loss in trade and commerce in Bangladesh is resulting in gains for her equally impoverished neighbors. Is that development desirable for millions of highly skilled labors in Bangladesh whose life depends on seeing their factories remain open for business? Surely not!

Finally, in a globalized, well-connected world that we live in today, politics is increasingly becoming global. The post-9/11 Global War on Terror has come to be seen in the Muslim world, and for good reasons, as non-Muslims’ crusade against the community of Muslims. Naturally, some Muslims are fuming and getting radicalized. The Government of Bangladesh cannot afford to be oblivious of such outside pulls which are rewriting the internal politics. To succeed, it must learn to respect people’s emotional attachment to their faiths, and the changing environment that they live in. Putting the clock back to 1972 or 1975 may not be the right formula in 2013 or beyond. As such, it may not be a bad idea to leave sensitive issues like Bismillah and ‘trust in God’ intact in the amended Constitution. There are surely more important issues for the government to tackle than get involved in issues which only divide the nation.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 7 by Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 7


Habib Siddiqui

In 2010 the Government of Bangladesh (GOB), led by the Awami League (AL), set up an International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) court to prosecute the people who allegedly committed war crimes during the liberation war. It was part of her 2008 election promise and touted as an effort to "provide justice for victims of atrocities in the 1971 war of independence." Many in the opposition parties have charged that the ICT trials are politically motivated and are part of the ruling party’s fascist agenda to liquidating its formidable opposition, esp. the Jama’at. Many have questioned the wisdom behind the ICT after nearly four decades when eyewitnesses are hard to find and memory of the war days fading. To many victims of the 1971 War, the trial, however, is seen as a closure of their past wounds. They see the trial and the verdict as justice delayed but not denied.

Several trials were concluded in early 2013: Abul Kalam Azad, a popular TV personality, was convicted of eight charges and sentenced to death in absentia in January 2013. Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of the opposition Jama’at-e-Islami (JI), was convicted of five of the six charges and sentenced to life imprisonment on February 5, 2013. His sentence was greeted with much cynicism and anger. Given the history of Bangladesh’s back-door political deals, there was speculation of an AL-JI d├ętente whereby the JI leaders’ lives were to be spared in return for JI breaking its alliance with the BNP. It’s against that backdrop that the so-called ‘Shahbag Awakening’ began. Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis took to the streets and gathered in Shahbag Square, Dhaka in protests to demand that Mollah be hanged.

Forgotten was the notion of innocent until proven guilty, or the concept of a fair trial, or the independence of the judiciary.

In addition to banning the JI, the Awakening called for social boycott and government actions against banks, businesses and social service providers linked with Jama’at. Within days, several Islamic financial and charitable institutions – perceived to have ties with the JI – were attacked by miscreants who were directly linked or indirectly influenced by the Shahbag movement - creating panic, especially, within the banking sector. As the protesters in Shahbag Square grew rowdy and the law and order situation deteriorated, bearded Muslims in the capital city felt insecure about going out, even to mosques, alone. Copies of some pro-JI and pro-BNP newspapers were symbolically burned by the protesters who demanded banning of all Muslim religiously motivated political parties, esp. the JI. The offices of newspaper, Naya Diganta, deemed pro-Jama’at, were subsequently attacked and burnt by miscreants within the movement.

With the revelation, thanks to the opposition daily – the Amar Desh, that some of the key organizers had previously blogged in the Internet mocking Islamic practices and using profanity against the Prophet of Islam, the movement soon came to be perceived as being hijacked by rabidly anti-Muslim, secular fundamentalists. At least two of the organizers had anti-Islam blogs. In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, one of them said, “Us pushing for the death sentence is the tip of the iceberg; this is a way to begin to unravel religion from politics.” The movement, increasingly, came to be seen not only as anti-Muslim but also fascist. Subsequently, a blogger known for spewing his hatred of Islam in the Internet was murdered by some Muslim zealots. And worse yet, some of the key organizers of the movement were seen staying at the nearby government-run medical university, thus, creating the obvious impression that the government was patronizing anti-Islamic rogues.

The situation took a more violent turn after the ICT, on February 28, sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a popular preacher and the Nayeb-e-Ameer of Jama’at. He was convicted of eight charges of war crimes and sentenced to death by hanging after finding him guilty of two war crimes. Following this verdict, supporters of the JI took to the streets in protest, leading to clashes between them, the Shahbag protesters (who arguably had influenced the verdict), and the security forces attempting to control the protests. More than a hundred people died between February 5 and March 7, most of them in police firing according to media and human rights groups. The video clips from Chittagong also showed that some Hindu police officers had abused power to kill JI protesters in what can only be described as execution-style murders.

Sayeedi’s defense lawyers at the ICT trials have argued that his was a case of mistaken identity saying that the notorious Delwar Hossain Shikdar alias "Deilla Razakar", responsible for war crimes, had been apprehended and executed by freedom fighters after the liberation. Reacting to Sayeedi’s verdict, the International Commission of Jurists said the perpetrators of atrocities “should be brought to justice, not subjected to vengeance.”

In late 2012, near the end of Sayeedi's trial, Skype conversations (17 hours between August and October of 2012) and e-mails (230 exchanged up to September 2012) between the presiding judge of the ICT, Nizamul Huq, and Ahmed Ziauddin, a Brussels-based lawyer, were leaked out in the media (including the YouTube), which showed that the GOB had pressured and attempted to intervene in the ICT deliberations in order to speed up the proceedings. The neutrality and independence of the presiding judge was also called into question by the Economist, UK, which noted that “even before the court had finished hearing testimony from the defence witnesses, Mr Nizamul was already expecting a guilty verdict. These concerns are so serious that there is a risk not only of a miscarriage of justice affecting the individual defendants, but also that the wrongs which Bangladesh has already suffered will be aggravated by the flawed process of the tribunal. That would not heal the country’s wounds, but deepen them.” (December 15, 2012)

Although Mr. Huq promptly resigned, and a new presiding judge was appointed, according to the Economist (March 23, 2013), “The number of defence witnesses was curtailed. One was even kidnapped on the steps of the court. In one case, the presiding judge resigned and the death sentence was handed down by three men who had not heard all the witnesses. In another, the defendant was represented by a lawyer who did not have nearly enough time to prepare a case. That also ended in a death sentence. These are profound judicial failings...”

On May 16, 2013, the New Age - an English newspaper – trusted for objective journalism, published extracts from a statement of Sukhranjan Bali, a long missing Hindu witness in the ICT, which he had given whilst in jail in India. He said that he was abducted by the Bangladeshi police from the entrance to the ICT and after six weeks in detention, forced across the border into India where he was arrested by the BSF for trespassing. “The apparent abduction of a witness in a trial at the ICT is a cause for serious concern about the conduct of the prosecution, judges and government,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Among many questions is who ordered the abduction, and how senior the officials involved were.” The press release pointed to the failure of both the government and the tribunal to set up an independent investigation of the alleged abduction at the time it took place.

Interestingly, on May 18, the Daily Star, quoting a BBC report, claimed that Bali had confessed to entering India illegally and that during police interrogation he had not mentioned of either being abducted or later pushed in. Given the conflicting nature of the reports, the ITC should initiate an enquiry, preferably by an independent commission, to determine the veracity of the allegations and, in case these are true, identify the people who had masterminded and perpetrators of the abduction so that they could be prosecuted and punished.

The Human Rights Watch, New York, has been critical of the conduct of the ICT since November 2011, accusing that it has not provided enough protection for the defense of the accused. It has said that "lawyers representing the accused before the ICT have reported being harassed by state officials and threatened with arrests. Several witnesses and an investigator working for the defense have also reported harassment by police and threats for cooperating with the defense." It has long called for the ICT to establish an effective victim and witness program which would ensure protection for both prosecution and defense witnesses.

Progressively, the protests for and against the verdicts sharpened along the religious/irreligious lines with extremists on either side – destabilizing the state. The former group, led by Hefazat-e-Islam, an almost obscure group unknown to the public until lately, has held some of the largest rallies and procession marches in various parts of Bangladesh in recent months alleging that ‘Islam is under attack’. Its million-man rally in Dhaka on April 6 is probably the largest rally ever in Bangladesh’s history. It enjoys grass root support from thousands of religious seminaries and has pressed for, amongst 13 demands, a blasphemy law to punish all those bloggers who had satirized and insulted Islam or had made statements supporting anti-Islamic and atheist principles, largely through blogs and other electronic media. The group also decried the omission of the dictum of “full faith and trust in Allah” from the book of the Constitution.

In response, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reaffirmed that Bangladesh is a secular state. Her government arrested four bloggers for hurting religious sentiments of the people. Two of them have since been released on bail. Police in Bangladesh also arrested the acting editor of Amar Desh on several charges, including sedition. The newspaper is accused of epitomizing yellow journalism to polarize the public.

On May 5, 2013 hundreds of thousands of Hefazat supporters, which included many teenagers and students drawn mostly from the madrassas, led a “siege of Dhaka” from the early hours of Sunday to press home their 13-point demand. The activists blockaded the entry points of the city and staged a grand rally at Shapla Chattar of Motijheel Commercial Area. Bloody clashes followed, and the political elements within the Hefazat leadership who maintained liaison with the 18-party opposition leaders, began echoing the opposition slogan of dislodging the government from power. With sticks, bamboos, bricks and rocks, they fought pitched battles with the police and ruling party vigilantes turning the Purana Paltan, Bijoy Nagar and Kakrail areas into virtual battlefields. They were seen attacking the office of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) at Purana Paltan and setting fire to it. They attacked the central office of the ruling Awami League at Bangabandhu Avenue in the afternoon.

On Sunday evening, Hefazat leader Shah Ahmed Shafi declared that their 'peaceful' Shapla Chattar sit-in would continue until their 13-point demand is met, defying a government warning to evacuate the area. Soon thereafter the electricity was cut off from the Motijheel area. Later, smokes of fire were seen coming from the small shops on the footpaths in the Baitul Mukarram area, which were blamed on the Hefazat activists. The government also shut down two TV channels (the Diganta and the Islamic TV), which had been covering the anti-government rally.

Hefazat and some anti-AL dailies, however, disputed those reports of arson and vandalism saying that the ruling party goons had carried out destruction of properties and torched small shops including bookstores which were selling the holy Qur’an. They also accused the security forces of indiscriminate shooting of the protesters.

Soon after the midnight, in the early AM hours of Monday, May 6 government security forces went on the offensive, arresting some and chasing out other leaders of the Hefazat, and gunning down several members. The Amar Desh reported that some 3,000 were killed in what it described as the ‘midnight massacre’. Most of the corpses were reportedly hidden and transported to some remoter places by trucks by the law enforcement agencies to escape public wrath and international condemnation. Hefazat leaders said their workers were victims of pre-planned massacre without any warning and the death tolls stood between two and three thousand. The opposition BNP has compared it to the dishonorable Jalianwalabagh massacre of the colonial British government. “It may only be compared with March 25 midnight massacre of unarmed people in the city by the Pakistani forces in 1971 in our time,” BNP leaders said. Never before in the last 42 years’ history of Bangladesh had such political killings occurred, they said, adding voice with rights groups at home and abroad including the Amnesty International for an international probe into the killing.

Independent news sources, however, put the figure at approximately 50 dead, with others succumbing to injuries later. The dead include several security personnel.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Hefazat recruited boys from madrassas to participate in the “siege.” Many of the boys were unaware of the risks of marching into Dhaka. “Putting children in harm’s way is extremely irresponsible,” Brad Adams of the Human Rights Watch said. “Hefazat can’t credibly claim that it didn’t understand the risks, particularly as many of its supporters engaged in attacks on police that were then met with an armed response.”

“The toxic swirl of rumour and rhetoric surrounding the protest of May 5-6 will only get worse unless the government acts quickly in a transparent manner,” Brad Adams said. “Given the lack of trust between various parties, it is imperative that these answers come from an independent and impartial body.” “The Bangladeshi government has a responsibility to victims, whether protesters, bystanders or police, to ensure that an effective investigation is carried out into each death.”

Recently Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has accused the BNP leadership of conspiring to topple her administration by forming an alliance with the Hefazat.

The crisis in Bangladesh is sure to widen as more war crimes verdicts are handed down at the ICT and as elections scheduled for late 2013 or early 2014 approach. On May 9, the ICT handed down death sentence to Mohammad Quamruzzaman, an assistant secretary general of Jama’at. He is the fourth accused who was convicted for the 1971 crimes siding with Pakistani troops. The prosecution lawyers earlier said he was the chief the Al Badr, an auxiliary force to the Pakistan army during the liberation war, who had led several operations in Mymensingh and Sherpur region.

The ICT verdicts handed out thus far gives the unmistakable impression that the government priorities are to totally annihilate the Jama’at one way or another. Not a single alleged war criminal from the Muslim League (now mostly belonging to the BNP) has yet been sentenced. In contrast, the entire top tier leaders of the JI are in jail for alleged war crimes, and the second tier are in jail for opposing the war crimes trial process. Much of the third and fourth tier has gone underground to avoid arrest. Its grass-root meetings have been frequently disrupted by local administration.

Many see in such draconian measures Awami League’s election strategy to neuter the BNP and its alliance of a vital support from the religious elements which it had otherwise enjoyed. Will this strategy work or will it backfire?

>>>>>>>>>>>> To be concluded in the next part.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 6 by Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 6

Habib Siddiqui

On 24 January 1972 the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) promulgated the Collaborators Tribunal Order (1972) to try the collaborators of the Pakistan government - the so-called enemies within. In the Ordinance, a collaborator was defined as a person who was found (i) to have helped, cooperated with or supported the Pakistan army in maintaining their unlawful occupation in Bangladesh; (ii) to have offered substantial cooperation to the Pakistan army directly or indirectly or to have helped the occupation army through speeches or statements, agreements and activities; (iii) to have fought or have attempted to fight against Bangladesh; (iv) to have given any statement or have participated in any campaign in favor of the Pakistan army, and to have been a member of any delegation or a committee of that army, and to have participated in the by-elections held in 1971.

Accordingly, those people of East Pakistan who supported the Pakistan Army proactively and had worked to preserve the unity of Pakistan by opposing the liberation of Bangladesh, including the paramilitary forces of Razakar, al-Badr and al-Shams, and the members of the pro-Government Peace Committees – which included Farid Ahmad, Khwaja Khairuddin, Nuruzzaman, Maulana Abdul Mannan, Julmat Ali Khan, Ghulam Azam, Mahmud Ali, Yusuf Ali Chowdhury (Mohan Mian), Syed Azizul Haq (Nanna Mian), Pir Mohsen Uddin (Dudu Mian), Raja Tridiv Roy, and ASM Solaiman - were formally declared as collaborators in the Bangladesh Collaborators Special Tribunal Order.

The total number of people arrested under the Collaborator Act was 37,471. According to M.M. Islam, the author of the book - The Forgotten Thousands: Bengalis in Bangladesh Jails - they were the “lucky ones” who “had escaped the indiscriminate killing' of the early days.” They “were rounded up and placed under detention in jails crowded many times over their capacity limits.” [See also: Matiur Rahman and Naeem Hasan, Iron Bars of Freedom, News and Media for Research and Documentation, London, 1980: 15] As already noted earlier, many of the collaborators, Bengali- and Urdu-speaking, were captured by the Freedom Fighters soon after the liberation of Bangladesh, and many were summarily executed without the due process of law. Some of the collaborators also managed to leave Bangladesh and settle overseas.

Most of the collaborators, as noted earlier, in the then East Pakistan came from the political parties that were opposed to the breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country. Those included the various factions within the Pakistan Muslim League, Democratic Party, Nezam-e-Islami and Jama’at-e-Islami – a fact which is also mentioned in Siddiq Salik’s book, 'Witness to Surrender'. [He said that the only people who came forward to form the Army of Razakars were men recruited from the Council Muslim League of Khwaja Khairuddin, the Convention Muslim League of Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, the Muslim League of Khan A. Sabur, the Jama'at-e-Islami of Professor Ghulam Azam, and the Nizam-i-Islam Party of Maulavi Farid Ahmed.]

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leaders Ghulam Azam, Abbas Ali Khan, Motiur Rahman Nizami, and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid (president of the Dhaka unit of East Pakistan Islami Chhatra Sangha) launched a countrywide campaign urging the youth to join the Razakar, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams to resist the liberation forces of Bangladesh. The military in East Pakistan also set up a network of Peace Committees to serve as its agent, informing on civil administration as well as on general populace. They also recruited Razakars. ('The Betrayal of East Pakistan' by A. A. K. Niazi)

It is perhaps proper to give here a brief account of the Jama’at-e-Islami. The party was founded in 1941 in British India as a religious-political movement to promote Islamic values by Mowlana Abul A’la Maududi – a theologian, Islamic thinker and author of many books. An ‘Islamic state’, according to Maududi, must be governed by the shariah – the Islamic Law. He opposed the Pakistan movement believing that the secular leaders seeking an independent Muslim state in the name of Pakistan were not competent enough to lead an Islamic state. On this, history has proven him right. However, he was highly criticized by all secular Muslim leaders of British India for his views that had joined the Pakistan movement. After the partition of India, he moved to Pakistan and led the party until his retirement from politics in 1972. He had a profound influence globally. His ideas on Islamic state were subsequently borrowed and expanded by many other scholars.

Maududi believed that the Indian Congress was a hypocritical organization. He was highly critical of its leader Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who, unlike M.K. Gandhi, was openly opposed to religion. He considered Nehru to be an enemy of any faith who wanted to use Muslims as a vote-bank only. [Note: Gandhi famously said, “I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.” (An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth: M.K. Gandhi)]

In Pakistan, Jamaat remained active in many social fronts. It opposed the military rulers and supported Fatima Jinnah against President Ayub Khan in the presidential election of 1965. It played a major role in the Pakistan Democratic Movement that toppled President Ayub Khan in 1969. In its 1970 election manifesto, the party supported provincial autonomy. In that election, it won 4 national assembly seats (out of 300) and enjoyed only 6% (~ 2m out of 33m) popular support.

After the devastating defeat in the 1970 election, the Jama’at quickly regrouped to defend Pakistan against the polarization of the country between the Awami League and the People’s Party. As to the role of Jama’at in 1971, Dr. Seyed Vali Reza Nasr, the author of the book - The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama‘at-i Islami of Pakistan, writes, “The Jama’at leaders encouraged Yahya Khan not to discriminate against the Awami League and to allow Mujib to form a government. When Yahya Khan refused, the party broke with him, accusing him of unfair partiality toward the People’s Party, which the Jama’at was convinced would have disastrous consequences for Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Jama’at excoriated the People’s Party for lobbying with the generals to deny the Awami League the fruit of its victory.

“As the situation in East Pakistan deteriorated throughout 1971, the Jama’at members became convinced of a Communist-Hindu plot to dismember Pakistan. Driven by its dedication to Pakistan’s unity and unable to counter the challenge of the Awami League, the Jama’at abandoned its role as intermediary and formed an unholy alliance with the Pakistan army, which had been sent to Dhaka to crush the Bengali nationalists.

“After a meeting with General Tikka Khan, the head of the army in East Pakistan, in April 1971, Ghulam A‘zam, the Amir of East Pakistan, gave full support to the army’s actions against “enemies of Islam.” Meanwhile, a group of Jama’at members went to Europe to explain Pakistan’s cause and defend what the army was doing in East Pakistan; another group was sent to the Arab world, where the Jama’at drew upon its considerable influence to gain support. In September 1971 the alliance between the Jama’at and the army was made official when four members of the Jama’at-i Islami of East Pakistan joined the military government of the province. Both sides saw gains to be made from their alliance. The army would receive religious sanction for its increasingly brutal campaign, and the Jama’at would gain prominence. Its position was, in good measure, the result of decisions made by the Jama’at-i Islami of East Pakistan, then led by Ghulam A’zam and Khurram Jah Murad. This branch of the Jama’at, faced with annihilation, was thoroughly radicalized, and acted with increasing independence in doing the bidding of the military regime in Dhaka. The Lahore secretariat often merely approved the lead taken by the Jama‘at and the IJT (Islami Jami’at-i Tulabah) in Dhaka. Nowhere was this development more evident than in the IJT’s contribution to the ill-fated al-Badr and al-Shams counterinsurgency operations.

“In the civil war, two thousand Jama’at and IJT members, workers, and sympathizers were killed and upward of twelve thousand held in prison camps.” [Seyed Vali Reza Nasr, The Vangaurd of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama‘at-i Islami of Pakistan, University of California Press, Berkeley (1994)] [Note: The IJT in East Pakistan was known as the Islamic Chatra Sangha, which is considered the student wing of the JI.]

It is interesting to see how a party which for too long was considered “anti-Pakistan” [for Mowlana Maududi’s serious opposition in British India] was able to transform itself to a “patriotic” party whose members gave blood trying to save Pakistan in its dying days.

In the liberated Bangladesh, all the pro-Pakistan political parties, including the Jama’at, were banned from politics.

In spite of his public declaration about trying the collaborators as war-criminals, Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not carry out the order. Instead, he declared a general amnesty on November 30, 1973, which was carried out by 16 December 1973 on the occasion of celebration of the second anniversary of the Victory Day. Amongst those released included - former Governor East Pakistan Dr. M. A. Malek along with his cabinet ministers (who served in East Pakistan), academics like - Dr. Kazi Din Mohammad, Dr. Hasan Zaman, Dr. Sazzad Hossain, Dr. Mohor Ali, and Pakistan’s former minister - Khan A. Sabur. (Fazlul Quader Chowdhury of the Convention Muslim League had died of natural causes inside the prison on July 18, 1973.)

The general amnesty, however, did not extend to those who had killed people, raped women, set fire or caused harm to damage people’s homestead with explosives or convicted for damaging water-transport.

In the early hours of August 15, 1975 Sheikh Mujib was assassinated with all but two family members (i.e., daughters – Hasina and Rehana) in what is widely believed to be a CIA-inspired plot by a disgruntled group within the Bangladesh army. Most of the top Awami League (AL) leaders were imprisoned. The plotters included military men who had fought against Pakistan military during the liberation war of Bangladesh. But they were widely believed to be against the spirit of liberation. They put a co-conspirator, Khondaker Mushtaque Ahmed – long rumored as Washington’s man within the Awami League, as the president, who later issued the Indemnity Ordinance, which prohibited any investigation and prosecution of the killing of Sheikh Mujib. Mushtaque named Major General Ziaur Rahman as the new Army Chief of Staff.

On November 3, 1975, nearly 11 weeks after Mujib’s assassination, Major General Khaled Mosharraf, a pro-Mujib army officer, staged a counter-coup ousting Mushtaque Ahmed and imprisoning Zia. In the midst of the ensuing chaos, Sheikh Mujib’s killers left the country in that very night after killing four top AL leaders - Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansur Ali and A. H. M. Quamruzzaman – who had led the provisional government of Bangladesh during the liberation war. They had been imprisoned in the Dhaka Central Jail since the August coup. Mosharraf’s coup, however, was short lived and on November 7, just within four days, he was overthrown and killed in an uprising of the regular soldiers and the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) of the army that was inspired by Col. Abu Taher (Retd.) of Jatiya Samajtantric Dal (JSD) – a leftist political party.

The misguided soldiers killed many army officers and their wives. However, Zia was rescued from his captivity by Taher’s forces. He was promptly reinstated as the army chief by the Chief Justice Sayem. Mindful of restoring discipline within the army, Zia arrested Taher on November 24, 1975 on charges of sedition and murder. Many JSD leaders were also arrested. A military tribunal later found Taher guilty and he was hanged on 21 July 1976. Major General Zia would go on to become the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) on November 19, 1975 and later president, after resignation of Sayem, in April 21, 1977.

On December 31, 1975, an ordinance – The Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) (Repeal) Ordinance, 1975 – to repeal the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order, 1972 was promulgated. The political turnaround in Bangladesh allowed previously banned political parties to resurrect their activities. Shah Azizur Rahman, a Pakistani collaborator who was released by Sheikh Mujib, went on to become the prime minister of Bangladesh under President Ziaur Rahman. He also helped President Zia to organize the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has remained a major political party even after Zia’s assassination.

As president, Zia issued edicts to the constitution redefining the nature of the republic. He began expounding "Bangladeshi nationalism", as opposed to Bengali nationalism. He emphasized the national role of Islam (as practiced by the majority of Bangladeshis), a drift which was brought to the fore by the assassins of Sheikh Mujib. In the preamble of the constitution, he inserted the salutation "Bismillahir Rahmaanir-Rahim" (meaning: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful). In Article 8(1) and 8(1A) the statement "absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah"' was added, replacing the state’s commitment to secularism. Socialism was redefined as "economic and social justice". Zia further introduced provisions to allow Muslims to practice the social and legal injunctions of the Shari’ah and Sunnah. In Article 25(2), Zia introduced the principle that '"the state shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity." Islamic religious education was introduced as a compulsory subject in Bangladeshi schools, with provisions for non-Muslim students to learn of their own religions.

President Zia gave assassins of Sheikh Mujib jobs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some of those assassins were later to become ambassadors of Bangladesh.

While President Ziaur Rahman befriended many and gave new lives to pro-Pakistan forces, he alienated many freedom fighters that had participated in the liberation war. While visiting Chittagong on May 30, 1981, he was assassinated by a group of pro-liberation army officers.

Lt. General H.M. Ershad, the Army Chief of Staff, promptly suppressed that military coup. On March 24, 1982 he staged a military coup toppling the BNP President Justice Abdus Sattar and proclaimed himself as the CMLA. Some twenty months later, on December 11, 1983, he claimed himself as the president of Bangladesh. As president, Ershad included amendments into the Constitution of Bangladesh, which legalized the military coup led by himself. He also amended the constitution to declare Islam the state religion, abandoning state secularism. He declared Friday as the official weekly holiday.

President Ershad was forced to resign after a massive uprising, which was jointly led by opposition political parties – BNP, AL and JI. On December 6, 1990, he handed over power to a caretaker government that was led by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed. He has served jail terms a few times on charges of corruption. Notwithstanding those charges, he and his Jatiya Party remain quite popular in Rangpur. In the 2008 parliamentary election, Jatiya Party was part of the Mahajote (Grand Alliance) with the Awami League that ran and won against the BNP-led alliance, which included the Jama’at.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>> To be continued ….

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 5 by Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 5


Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Crime should never be condoned and criminals need to be punished for their crimes. So, in the context of Bangladesh/East Pakistan of 1971 who should be punished for all those crimes that took the lives of so many – probably anywhere from 50,000 to 3 million, depending on whose version one accepts?

There were at least four groups to share the blame – (1) Pakistan Army who planned and executed their program to pacify Bangladeshis, (2) their collaborators within the non-Bengalis – e.g., Urdu-speaking Biharis, many of whom joined paramilitary forces like the Razakar, al-Badr and Al-Shams, (3) their supporters within the pro-Pakistan civilian Bengalis – mostly affiliated with political parties, who collaborated with the regime towards recruiting Razakar, al-Badr and al-Shams paramilitary forces, and (4) political leadership in West Pakistan that provided the justification for the massacre of Bengalis.

Besides these groups, it is worth mentioning here that the vast majority of the people living in the Tribal regions of Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) opposed the liberation movement. They had voted for Raja Tridiv Roy (only one of the two outside AL candidates to have won the 1970 election) who actively collaborated with the military Government of Pakistan. The armed miscreant groups within them killed many Bengali civilians and freedom fighters. One of my uncles, who worked as an engineer in the Kaptai Rayon Mill, was abducted by them and simply vanished, presumably killed.

The genocide – if we can call it as such - also included killing of serving Bengali senior army officers of the rank of Lt. Colonel and above in East Pakistan within the first few days of Operation Searchlight. The deaths included Col. Badiul Alam, Lt. Col. MA Qadir, Lt. Col. S.A. Hai, Lt. Col. M.R. Choudhury, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Ziaur Rahman, Lt. Col. N. A. M. Jahangir and another dozens of senior majors who were executed by April 1971. Also, around a hundred junior officers and thousands of unfortunate captured Bengali soldiers, including members of the East Pakistan Rifles and Police, serving in East Pakistan were executed.

These killings happened as part of the strategy of the Operation Searchlight and are unacceptable under any law – military or civil. The accountability lies with the top brass within the Pakistan military that approved this strategy towards pacifying Bengalis in East Pakistan. Lt. General Tikka Khan who executed this strategy cannot evade his responsibility on this crime.

After the defeat of the Pakistan Army, there was a call to try 195 Pakistani POWs for war crimes, but no trials took place. Along with other POWs, all of them returned from India to Pakistan.

It has often been speculated that the Operation Searchlight was formulated by Major General Khadim Hussain Raja, GOC (General Officer in Command) of the East Pakistan-based 14th Infantry Division, and Major General Rao Farman Ali, military advisor to the Governor of East Pakistan, as a follow-up of decisions taken at a meeting of the Pakistani army staff on 22 February.

However, Major General Rao Farman Ali was exonerated in the Hamoodur Rahman Commission (HRC) Report, and has denied any such involvement in planning that “genocidal” campaign. Nevertheless, in the HRC Report, he is recorded admitting that serious excesses and abuses were committed by the Pakistan military. He said, "Harrowing tales of rape, loot, arson, harassment, and of insulting and degrading behaviour were narrated in general terms.... I wrote out an instruction to act as a guide for decent behaviour and recommended action required to be taken to win over the hearts of the people. This instruction under General Tikka Khan's signature was sent to Eastern Command. I found that General Tikka's position was also deliberately undermined and his instructions ignored...excesses were explained away by false and concocted stories and figures."

It is difficult to imagine such a breakdown in chain of command within Pakistan Army – undermining Gen. Tikka Khan’s directives - that early in 1971.

In his memoirs, “A Stranger in My Own Country: East Pakistan 1969-1971,” Major General Khadim Hussain Raja mentioned the “sincere and frantic efforts” made by Lt. Gen. Yaqoob Khan, Vice Admiral Ahsan and Major General Rao Forman Ali till the last moment to avoid bloodshed. He claimed that he hated to be part of an unfavorable militaristic solution that was decided at the Headquarters of the CMLA Yahya Khan in West Pakistan with the connivance of Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party.

As noted earlier, General Tikka Khan, who was calling the shots for a month in East Pakistan from mid-March of 1971, when much of the violence took place against the Bengalis, was also exonerated in the HRC Report. He became the Army C-in-C of Pakistan during Bhutto’s time. Neither he nor his boss was blamed for the crimes in East Pakistan.

Instead, the blames were put on Lt. General Niazi, mostly for the loss of East Pakistan on December 16. The latter took control on April 11, 1971 after Lt. General Tikka Khan had already led the ‘genocidal’ campaign – the Operation Searchlight. As we have also noted, Niazi himself, in his interview, had pointed fingers at Bhutto, Tikka and Rao. “I volunteered to face court-martial proceedings. But my offer,” said Niazi, “was denied by the then army chief, Tikka Khan. He did not want the Pandora's Box to be reopened.” When asked about arson, loot, rape and killings in East Pakistan, he replied, “Immediately after taking command in East Pakistan, I heard numerous reports of troops indulging in loot and arson, killing people at random and without reason in areas cleared of anti-state elements. Realizing the gravity of the situation, I approached my bosses through a letter dated April 15, 1971, informing them of the mess being created. I clearly wrote in my letter that there have been reports of rapes and even the West Pakistanis are not being spared. I informed my seniors that even officers have been suspected of indulging in this shameful activity.”

A closer look at those accusations and finger-pointing against each other within the top brass of Pakistan military suggests that Niazi might have been telling the truth. It is also reasonable to suspect the intent of the HRC, which rather than finding the Yahya-Bhutto-Hamid-Tikka clique responsible for the circumstances that finally led to the dismemberment of Pakistan made the scapegoats out of the Eastern Command and its senior commanders.

General Niazi was the last Pakistani military administrator in East Pakistan when it surrendered. On 14 December 1971, two days before his surrender, over 200 of East Pakistan's intellectuals including professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, and writers were seemingly picked up from their homes in Dhaka by the Al-Badr militias. They were taken blindfolded to torture cells in Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Nakhalpara, Rajarbagh and other locations in different sections of the city. Later they were executed en masse, most notably at Rayerbazar and Mirpur. It is widely speculated that the killings of 14 December was orchestrated by Major General Rao Farman Ali. After the liberation of Bangladesh a list of those Bengali intellectuals was discovered in a page of his diary left behind at the Governor's House. The existence of such a list was confirmed by Major General Ali himself although he denied the motive of genocide.

On the alleged killing of intellectuals, the HRC Report said:

24. This again is a matter, which was specifically raised by Sk. Mujibur Rehman during his meeting with the Prime Minister [Bhutto] at Dacca. According to Maj. Gen. Farman Ali it was on the 9th and 10th of December 1971 that he was rung up in the evening by Maj. Gen. Jamshed, who was the Deputy Martial Law Administrator for Dacca Division and asked to come to his headquarters in Peelkhana. On reaching the headquarters he saw a large number of vehicles parked there. Maj. Gen. Jamshed was getting into a car and he asked Maj. Gen. Farman Ali to come along. They both drove to Headquarters of Eastern Command to meet Lt. Gen. Niazi and on the way Maj. Gen. Jamshed informed Maj. Gen. Farman that they were thinking of arresting certain people. Gen. Farman Ali advised against it. On reaching Lt. General Niazi's headquarters he repeated his advice, on which Lt. Gen. Niazi kept quiet and so did Maj. Gen. Jamshed. Maj. Gen. Farman Ali has stated that he cannot say anything as to what happened after he came away from the headquarters but he thinks that no further action was taken.

25. When questioned on this point, Lt. Gen. A. A. K. Niazi stated that the local Commanders had, on the 9th of December 1971, brought a list to him which included the names of miscreants, heads of Mukti Bahini etc., but not any intellectuals but he had stopped them from collecting and arresting these people. He denied the allegation that any intellectuals were in fact arrested and killed on the 9th December 1971 or thereafter.

26. Maj. Gen. Jamshed has, however, a slightly different version to offer. He says that it was on the 9th and 10th of December 1971 that General Niazi expressed his apprehension of a general uprising in the Dacca city and ordered him to examine the possibility of arresting certain persons according to lists which were already with the various agencies, namely the Martial Law Authorities and the Intelligence Branch. A conference was held on the 9th and 10th of December 1971 in which these lists were produced by the agencies concerned and the total number of persons to be arrested came to about two or three thousand. According to him, arrangements for accommodation, security guards, missing and the safety of the arrested persons from bombing/strafing by the Indian Air Force presented insurmountable problems and therefore, he reported back to Lt. Gen. Niazi that the proposal be dropped. He states that thereafter no further action was taken in this matter.

27. From the statements made by the three Generals who appear to be directly concerned in the matter, it seems that although there was some talks of arresting persons known to be leaders of the Awami League or Mukti Bahini so as to prevent chances of a general uprising in Dacca during the closing phases of the war with India, yet no practical action was taken in view of the circumstances then prevailing, namely the precarious position of the Pakistan Army and the impending surrender. We consider, therefore, that unless the Bangladesh authorities can produce some convincing evidence, it is not possible to record a finding that any intellectuals or professionals were indeed arrested and killed by the Pakistan Army during December 1971.” (Chapter 2)

Sadly, no supporting evidence was subsequently either requested from or provided by the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) to its counterpart in Pakistan to follow up on this crucial issue of killing of Bengali intellectuals. With that we probably shut the door to connect the dots in this gruesome murder, let alone prosecuting the Pakistani war criminals.

As per the HRC Report, Rao Farman Ali was not convicted with any charges and was the only Major General Rank officer, serving in East Pakistan, who was not charged. The HRC report noted, “He frankly admitted before the Commission that he was associated with the planning of the military action of the 25th of March 1971, and also with the subsequent political steps taken by the military regime to noramlise the situation, including the proposed by-elections necessitated by the disqualification of a large number of Awami league members of the National and Provincial Assemblies. Nevertheless, as a result of our detailed study of the written statement, submitted by the General and the lengthy cross-examination to which we subjected him during his appearance before us, as well as the evidences from other witnesses from East Pakistan, we have formed the view that Maj. Gen. Farman Ali merely functioned as an intelligent, well-intentioned and sincere staff officer in the various appointments held by him, and at no stage could he be regarded as being a member of the inner military junta surrounding and supporting General Yahya Khan. We have also found that at no stage did he advise, or himself indulge in, actions opposed to public morality, sound political sense or humanitarian considerations. In this context, we have already commented at some length, in a previous Chapter of this Report, on the allegation made by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at General Farman Ali was wanting to "paint the green of East Pakistan red," and have found that the entire incident has been deliberately distorted.” (Chapter 3)

However, along with other senior officers stationed in East Pakistan immediately before and during the war of 1971 who were held collectively responsible for the failings and weaknesses, which led to the defeat of the Pakistan Army, Rao Farman Ali was reprimanded in the Report.

The HRC Report is also shockingly reserved about the political leadership within West Pakistan, e.g., the role of Bhutto and his People’s Party, that provided the political justification for the heavy-handed policy of the military that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan. It is simply improbable that the ‘genocidal’ activities of the Operation Searchlight would have been carried out without any tacit approval of those politicians. Ultimately, however, the accountability for their crimes rests with the military government of Yahya Khan.

After the humiliating defeat against India and the loss of Bangladesh, General Yahya Khan resigned on December 20, 1971 and handed over power to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Within weeks, Bhutto put him under house arrest until being released by General Ziaul Huq who came to power in a military coup on July 5, 1977.

Yahya Khan died on August 10, 1980. Twenty-five years after his death, in December 2005 the Pakistan government released Yahya Khan’s affidavit that was placed with the Lahore High Court in 1978. In that 57-page long affidavit, Yahya Khan said, "It was Bhutto, not Mujib, who broke Pakistan. Bhutto's stance in 1971 and his stubbornness harmed Pakistan’s solidarity much more than Sheikh Mujib’s Six-Point demand. It was his high ambitions and rigid stance that led to rebellion in East Pakistan. He riled up the Bengalis and brought an end to Pakistan’s solidarity. East Pakistan broke away."

Interestingly, Yahya Khan said that he did not launch the Operation Searchlight on March 25, 1971 at the behest of Bhutto or anyone else. He said he had issued those orders in his capacity as President and Army Chief in order to quell the uprising. According to him, it was Tikka Khan who issued the orders to capture Mujib dead or alive.

One can only pity a wretched character like Yahya Khan who wants to leave behind a legacy of a responsible captain of a sinking ship taking accountability for his ill-conceived decision while is nonchalant about finger pointing his immediate junior for the outcome. One wonders what deterred him from stopping Tikka! We shall never know that answer!

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged at the Central jail, Rawalpindi, on 4 April 1979 - not for his Machiavellian role in the dismemberment of Pakistan but for the murder of a political opponent.

To be continued….>>>

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bangladesh - A Nation Divided? - Part 4 by Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Bangladesh: A Nation Divided? – Part 4


Dr. Habib Siddiqui

How many people died in the civil war of 1971 in East Pakistan that culminated in the emergence of Bangladesh? Is the casualty figure even important?

No official record exists. Instead, what we have are conflicting claims on the two sides – the perpetrators and the victims - that are off by a factor of 100!

As has been noted in the Guardian, UK (May 23, 2011) by Mr. Serajur Rahman, who was the deputy head of the BBC Bangla Program, when Sheikh Mujib arrived in London (after being released from Pakistan prison) on January 8, 1972 and was met at the Claridge Hotel by many Bangladeshis, he was informed there that based on information from various sources that up to "three lakh" (300,000) people might have died in the conflict. However, during his interview with journalist David Frost later, Sheikh Mujib was heard saying that "three millions of my people" were killed by the Pakistanis. That mention of the 3 million casualties would eventually become the official version in Bangladesh. As we have already noted the Hamoodur Rahman Commission (HCR) Report in Pakistan, in contrast, puts the figure at only 26,000.

This gross anomaly with the casualty figures reminds me of the response I wrote to al-Ittihad (a Quarterly Journal of Islamic Studies, published from the USA) back in December 1980 challenging its editor - M. Tariq Quraishi’s views on the split of Pakistan. In the July-September, 1980 issue, Mr. Quraishi, commenting on Sheikh Mujib’s assassination, had stated, “Mujibur Rahman’s honeymoon with his people was of short duration. Once his treason was exposed, he was assassinated.” I was then a graduate student at the University of California, and found the remark absurd. In my letter, published under the title “Who was the traitor?” (al-Ittihad, vol. 18, no. 2, 1981, pp. 45-6), I wrote, “Muslims would like to know the real reasons that brought the emergence of Bangladesh, not lies. The second largest Muslim country [Bangladesh] came into being not for the so-called ‘treason’ of Sk. Mujib. It was solely owing to the mass extermination of Bangalis (3 million people were killed, 0.2 million women were raped, 90% of these victims were Muslims) by the heinous un-Islamic forces of Pakistan’s Army to preserve the Yahya-Bhutto brand of Islam. Bangladesh would have stayed with Pakistan had her rulers respected the majority wish (i.e., transfer of power to the Awami League, which captured 160 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly election of 1970)…. During the first 25 days of March, hundreds of innocent people were killed in several cities of the then East Pakistan by the Pakistani forces. The time was ripe for Sk. Mujib to declare independence during this period, had he really wished. But he did not. He fell victim to Yahya’s satanic ‘time-buying’ phony talks. The result was the genocide of an un-prepared people by a minority. The very night of March 25, when the blood-thirsty Pakistan Army, under the satanic guidance of Generals Hamid and Tikka Khan started killing its ‘24-year twin-brothers,’ the unity of Pakistan was dead; a new generation of nationalist Bangladeshis was born, which eventually led to the emergence of Bangladesh…”

In his long response to my letter, Mr. Quraishi, quoted at length from Dr. Matiur Rahman’s book – Bangladesh Today – an indictment and a lament – trying to prove that the hegemonic tendency of India was at the root of the split and that one of the latter’s objectives was to “embitter relationship between east and west Pakistan so that any reconciliation between them would be rendered impossible. This last objective could be realized only by means of a civil war, in which each side would commit unforgivable atrocities, perpetrate crimes against humanity, which would continue to hurt them as memories long…” (al-Ittihad, op. cit., pp. 46-49)

While Dr. Rahman may be absolutely right about the intentions of India to see Pakistan divided, it would be foolish to overlook the culpability of West Pakistani leaders whose attitude towards East Pakistan had been anything but brotherly. To put it bluntly, it was colonial, which had only widened the gap between the two wings ensuring that the majority wing had no participation in the governance of the country. Pakistan’s colonial policy was simply unsustainable for a geographically divided third world country. And the 1970 election result was a rude awakening call for mending the broken fences; it was Pakistan’s last best hope to remain united. By refusing to address the disparity issue that was at the heart of East Pakistani grievances, Pakistani leaders played into the hands of India, giving a reality to their strategic dream of a dismembered Pakistan, which they hate to confess. They also forgot to learn from history that whenever any government becomes destructive of its people's inalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, it has ceased its right to govern, and that people has every right to alter or abolish it.

Dr. Rahman’s claims that Sheikh Mujib refused to accept premiership of united Pakistan and that “Each concession extracted from Yahya Khan was used as a springboard for the next demand” seem too ludicrous to be taken seriously. As reviewed earlier, General Yahya Khan wanted to retain power while Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wanted to attain it. The transfer of power to Sheikh Mujib was not part of that formula; the powerful civilian-military clique in Larkana and Islamabad had no wish to transfer power to Mujib. Had they done so, Pakistan would have survived and remained united. My view on this matter has not changed in the last four decades and has been echoed recently by B. Z. Khasru and many other researchers. In his book, Myths and Facts of Bangladesh Liberation War: How India, U.S., China and the USSR shaped the outcome, Khasru shows that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had a tacit preference to let East Pakistan secede (and leave West Pakistan to be governed by him) than be the subject to a weak federation ruled by Bengalis. Bhutto preferred power over unity of Pakistan. Yahya Khan’s allusion to Mujib as the future PM of Pakistan was more to scare the politicians in West Pakistan and the army to unite behind him than to hand-over power.

As to the casualty figure, Mr. Quraishi commented, “Again the figure of three million Bengalis killed by the Pakistani troops, as alleged by you, is an echo of the infamies created India and her anti-Islamic troupe.” He went on to write, “No wonder even the subsequent government in Bangladesh, despite its venom, could not corroborate it. Mr. Matiur Rahman quotes William Drummond of the Guardian, London, June 6, 1972: ‘My judgment, based on numerous trips around Bangladesh and extensive discussions with many people at the village level as well as in the government, is that the three million deaths is an exaggeration so gross as to be absurd. Since the third week of March (1972), when the inspector general’s office in Bangladesh home ministry began its field investigations, there have been about 2,000 complaints from citizens about the deaths at the hands of the Pakistan Army.’” (Op. cit., p. 48; William Drummond, The Missing Millions, The Guardian, London, 6 June, 1972.)

As to the matter of allegations relating to rape of Bangladeshi women, the HRC Report said, “The falsity of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's repeated allegation that Pakistani troops had raped 200,000 Bengali girls in 1971 was borne out when the abortion team he had commissioned from Britain in early 1972 found that its workload involved the termination of only a hundred or more pregnancies.”

One can understand why raped victims would not come forward because of the social stigma that they might face in a conservative Muslim society like Bangladesh. One can also disagree with the HRC Report, accusing it to be highly biased to save the neck or skin of the war criminals of the Pakistan military apparatus, but what about the Guardian’s William Drummond? Can he be accused of twisting facts? I was somewhat dumbfounded by such citations of which I had no knowledge. I needed to do my homework and check the veracity of claims and counterclaims on either side from both available and reliable sources.

It is true that within the days of his return to Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had asked the Awami League workers and elected members of the 1970 election to collect detailed reports on genocide, arson and looting committed by the Pakistani Army in Bangladesh and to submit those data to the Awami League Office within 15 days. (The Bangladesh Observer, January 16, 1972) He also formally instituted a 12-member Inquiry Committee on January 29, 1972. However, the Government of Bangladesh never said a word about officially receiving the report, which was, as per the original Gazette notification, due on or before 30 April 1972 or what happened to the Inquiry Committee's work.

In January 1972 Sheikh Mujib also announced a compensation scheme for the families of those who had been killed at the hands of the Pakistan Army and their collaborators. Under the scheme, every victim's family was promised TK 2,000 (taka) as compensation. A media campaign was started to encourage victim's families to apply for the compensation. However, as per Ministry of Finance, Government of Bangladesh, only 72,000 claims were received. The relatives of 50,000 victims were awarded the declared sum of money. [Behind the Myth of Three million by M. Abdul Mu'min Chowdhury, p. 29]

In Chittagong, during the military occupation, one of our female Bengali tenants was abducted by Urdu-speaking Razakars. After the liberation, several women, once kept as sex slaves of the military, were reportedly rescued from various army camps. Some of the victims even included wives of fleeing Bengali officers and soldiers who had joined the liberation war. They were given the honorific title of Birangana (or heroine) to alleviate any social stigma that they might face in the society, and the government tried to provide incentives for their repatriation into the society.

Regrettably, no further Bangladesh government initiative was launched to record the casualty figures about the dead or raped victims of the 1971 War of Liberation in Bangladesh.

In late June of 2005 the Office of the Historian of the United States Department of State held a two-day conference on U.S. policy in South Asia between 1961 and 1972. Bangladeshi speakers at the conference stated that the official Bangladeshi figure of civilian deaths was close to 300,000, which was wrongly translated from Bengali into English as three million. Ambassador Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury acknowledged that Bangladesh alone cannot correct this mistake and suggested that Pakistan and Bangladesh should form a joint commission to investigate the 1971 disaster and prepare a report. A 2008 study in the British Medical Journal concluded that 269,000 civilians were killed by all sides in the war.

In her recently published book “Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War,” Dr. Sarmila Bose (who is a senior research associate at Oxford University) has also challenged the Bangladesh government’s official figures on death casualty and rape victims. She estimates that during the conflict of 1971 a total of somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 combatants and non-combatants perished on all sides. She also raises troubling questions about veracity – a massacre said to have killed 8,000 Hindus probably killed only 16 at most – as well as its effect.

Dr. Bose says that both Pakistan and Bangladesh are still “imprisoned by wartime partisan myths". She has also recorded cases of Bengalis committing "appalling atrocities" against the Biharis and other pro-Pakistani elements during and soon after independence. "In the ethnic violence unleashed in the name of Bengali nationalism, non-Bengali men, women and children were slaughtered," Dr. Bose says, arguing such atrocities took place in the towns of Chittagong, Khulna, Santahar and Jessore during and after the 10-month war. "Non-Bengali victims of ethnic killings by Bengalis numbered hundreds or even thousands per incident... men, women and children were massacred on the basis of ethnicity and the killings were executed with shocking bestiality."

In his book - Death By Government, Professor Rudolph J. Rummel estimates that perhaps 150,000 Biharis were murdered by the vengeful victors in a “brutal bloodletting following the expulsion of the Pakistani army” after 16 December, 1971. (p. 334) Qutubuddin Aziz’s book "Blood and Tears" contains the harrowing tales of inhuman crimes committed on the Biharis, West Pakistanis and pro-Pakistani Bengalis living in East Pakistan during that period. Quoting various citations, he estimates that between 100,000 and 500,000 Urdu-speaking and pro-Pakistani Bengalis (e.g., Razakars) might have been killed by the Bengali militants.

Again all such claims on any side are only guess works, and nothing more.

As a teenager back then, I can only testify to the things that I witnessed or heard from reliable sources. In 1972 when my cadet college reconvened, I was sad to learn about the death of some of our cadets and instructors – Bengali and Urdu-speaking. Eight of our students and 10 staff members got killed, and 4 were missing (after the war). That is like 5% of the entire cadet college population! While such a small sample cannot be generalized to mimic the entire population in Bangladesh, it does underscore the enormity of xenophobic violence on all sides.

Cadet Shah Abdul Momin (Hitlu) was one of the first freedom fighters to die in Bogra on March 29, fighting against the military. Cadet Hannan Ashraf, a 12-year Urdu-speaking student, was killed along with his parents by local Bangalis in Thakurgaon in March. Being away from home his older brother cadet Hasnat miraculously survived. Many Urdu-speaking cadets never returned and some later settled in Pakistan. I don’t blame them for making that decision. We, as a nation, have failed to safeguard their lives and properties!

There was wanton violence on both sides from March to December of 1971. With rapidly changing events, the former tormentors had become victims and vice-versa. And being caught in the middle, many innocent lives were unnecessarily lost.

My friend, cadet Tazeem Hasan’s older brother – Shameem bhai - a Chittagong Medical College student then, who was affiliated with the Students’ League (the student wing of Mujib’s Awami League), was saved by his mother in what she described as a tug-of-war between her and some Bihari Razakars trying to snatch him away. Later, however, Shameem bhai was picked up from the college campus by pro-Pakistan members of the Al-Badr paramilitary forces and taken to the Fayes Lake area to be shot at. Fortunately, after much torture, they decided not to kill him and instead handed him over to Salauddin Qader Chowdhury, son of F.Q. Chowdhury (ex- Speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly), in their Goods Hill house, possibly to extract information about the Mukti Bahini. There Shameem bhai was tortured inhumanly and then handed over to the military who took him to the Circuit House, which by then has become a torture house for torturing pro-liberation forces. For three days, he was hung upside down from the ceiling and beaten mercilessly, and then handed over to the prison authorities where he stayed until being released after Bangladesh got liberated. As I hinted earlier, there were many Bengali students like him that suffered serious injuries under detention, and many were killed, too.

The railway colonies in the Pahartali and Tiger Pass/Dewan Hat area of Chittagong city were notorious venues for xenophobic crimes. Many low-income Urdu speaking employees of the East Pakistan Railway had traditionally lived there. Before liberation, some Bangladeshi youths were killed and tortured there by the Urdu-speaking Razakars. After 16 December, I heard that the Urdu-speaking people living there were targeted by some members of the Mukti Bahini for their alleged Razakar activities. And this, in spite of the government directives not to take law into their hands!

Oddly, soon after 16 December, there seemed to be a mushrooming of a new brand of armed Mukti Bahini (the so-called 16th Division) – who during the 9-month long liberation war did not shoot a single bullet against the Pakistan military! As opportunists, they were taking advantage of the new reality. They appeared more zealous than the real Mukti-Bahini in some of the post-liberation period vendetta against the pro-Pakistani elements still living inside Bangladesh.

In certain parts of the newly liberated Bangladesh there were reported incidents of forcible and unlawful possession and occupation of properties, once owned by the Urdu-speaking people. In our neighborhood, a “16th division Mukti Bahini” hijacked the car of Mr. Baig, a very nice Urdu-speaking gentleman, who had done his utmost to save our entire community from any Pakistani inflicted harm. But after the war, we could not save his property! Those rifle or gun totting 16th Division guys were irresponsibly trigger-happy!

Taking advantage of the almost total breakdown of the law and order situation soon after 16 December, some of the Bengalis were hunting for the Urdu-speaking people, still stranded in Bangladesh, for sheer greed, if not for tit-for-tat revenge. Out of fear for their lives and those of the loved ones, many of the wealthy Urdu-speaking people fled Bangladesh, and many took shelter in the Red Cross camps. Many of them wanted to sell off their properties and possessions for a very small fraction of the market price. Most of their homes were later taken over by the Bangladesh government and put under Mukti Joddha (Freedom Fighter) Trust to cater for the needs of the family members of the freedom fighters – dead or alive.

My cousin Reena’s family who’s married to a bi-lingual Muslim from Calcutta did not feel safe in Bangladesh. Her husband, Abdul Mannan, was the Assistant Regional Director of Radio Pakistan, Chittagong. He was instrumental in transmitting Sheikh Mujib’s March 7 historic speech from Ramna Park when government directives were against any such transmission. And yet, he, his siblings and parents, living in Chittagong, felt insecure. They later settled in Rawalpindi.

In his book ‘Ami Bijoy Dekhechi’ (I Have Seen Victory), journalist M.R. Akhtar Mukul, who ran the Shwadhin Bangla Betar Kendra (Free Bangladesh Radio Center), stated: “For three days in Shantahar medieval fiendish killings have been carried out. Now the town cannot be entered into, because of the stench from the dead bodies.” He continued, “The non-Bengalis from Jaipurhat-Pachbibi area who have been fleeing towards Dhaka through Bogra were finished off here on the bank of the river. Women and children have been kept unharmed in a homestead.”

A Urdu-speaking friend of mine, Dr. Jawaid Ahsan (who was a fellow cadet then) said that he had personally witnessed the killing of scores of Biharis by Bengali vigilantes in the early days of the civil war. However, he and his family members were unharmed in their neighborhood in Rangpur. Ian Jack has also noted in the Guardian that Bengali jute mill workers in Khulna slaughtered large numbers – probably thousands - of their fellow Urdu-speaking workers on 28 March 1971. (As I have noted earlier, soon after the Pakistan military had moved in Khulna, my cousin Munna was picked up and he vanished; possibly killed by the Biharis.) After liberation, “Bengali mill workers repeated their original atrocity of the previous year and sent thousands more non-Bengalis into the rivers,” notes Ian Jack. [Guardian, 20 May, 2011]

The matter of the killings of the Bihari Muslims and Razakars was brought up by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in her interview of Sheikh Mujib. She mentioned how on December 18, two days after Bangladesh had achieved independence, in Dhaka Stadium she had witnessed the Liberation War hero Kader Siddique (Bagha Siddique) lynching the presumed ‘Razakars’ with bayonets while their hands and legs remained fastened with ropes. “He had bullets loaded in his guns, he could have had shot them to death.” Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib did not believe her and abruptly stopped the interview.

The greatest casualty in war times is always the truth. And that is what seems to have happened with Bangladesh/East Pakistan liberation/civil war of 1971. It is conceivable that while Bangladesh authorities exaggerated the casualty figures of their Bangladeshi victims to draw sympathy to their cause, they discounted the casualty figures of those Urdu-speaking and pro-Pakistani residents. Similarly, the lower estimates provided by the HRC Report seem aimed at arresting anti-Pakistan feelings and possibly exonerating the war crimes of their planners.

History emerges only slowly from the passion-filled context of contemporary events. Forty-two years have passed by since Bangladesh earned her independence. I think we are now better placed to look at this dark chapter in history objectively and dispassionately. It is, therefore, high time to set up a joint Bangladesh-Pakistan commission to investigate and prepare a report on this highly controversial issue around the 1971 casualty figures.

Whatever the true figures are, there is no denying that Pakistan government’s actions in 1971 in the then East Pakistan were utterly criminal and inexcusable by any book, something that was also admitted in the HRC Report, recommending court martials for several top generals. Their actions should fall under war crimes and can’t be whitewashed. The soldiers that they brought in from West Pakistan were brainwashed to justify their violent actions against the Bengalis –who were different in identity – in language, diet, dress and customs. And if journalist Anthony Mascarenhas can be believed, he reported that senior military officers in East Pakistan had told him that they were seeking a "final solution", determined "to cleanse East Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing 2 million people and ruling the province as a colony for 30 years." [Genocide, Sunday Times, London, 18 June, 1971] In their heinous crimes it did not matter that 90% of their victims shared the same religion as they did.

Ultimately, of course, neither the numbers nor the labels would matter. What matters is the pragmatic wisdom that political problems should not and cannot be solved through the barrel of a gun.

>>>> To be continued…

Bangladesh - A Nation Divided? - Part 3 by Dr. Habib Siddiqui

After the promulgation of East Pakistan Razakar Ordinance of June 1, 1971, some Bengalis either volunteered or were recruited to work as a paramilitary force or collaborators for the Pakistan’s military regime. They were called the Razakars. Some of the political parties that did not like the division of Pakistan actively sought out recruits for the Razakar (and other militia groups like the al-Shams and al-Badr) to fight and weaken the Mukti Bahini (the freedom fighters for Bangladesh) so that the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate state could be halted. More zealous of those party leaders even allowed their homes to be used as torture chambers for anyone suspected of belonging to the Mukti Bahini. In Chittagong, I was told by Rafiq bhai’s friends how the Goods Hill residence of Mr. Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, ex-speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly, was used to torture many students who were suspected of being members of the Mukti Bahini. Some members of the Razakar came also from the Urdu-speaking Bihari community. One day, my first cousin brother Munna was picked up in Khulna City by a Razakar; he never returned. Apparently, he was killed.

The pro-Pakistani paramilitary groups terrorized the rural areas of East Pakistan trying to find Mukti Bahini, suspecting anyone young in age who had not joined their forces. Since an overwhelming majority of the East Pakistanis supported the freedom struggle, they would often pass on tactical information on the Razakars to the Mukti Bahini, and hide information on the latter when pressed by the Razakars. Thus, the Mukti Bahini had comparatively much more success in ambushing and killing the members of the Razakar. Consequently, by the last quarter of 1971, the recruits to Razakar fell drastically, and they hardly dared to go out of their camps without superior firepower coverage provided by the Pakistan military.

By the last quarter of 1971, India had started not only providing material support to the Mukti Bahini but had also been training select groups of freedom fighters -- the Bangladesh Liberation Front (BLF), who would later come to be known as the Mujib Bahini. The Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces grew in size and numbered around 100,000. In his insightful book, Witness to Surrender, Brigadier General Siddique Salik estimated that Pakistan needed at least 250,000 to 300,000 troops, but even after organizing the Razakars (estimated strength 40,000), Pakistan could field only 150,000 (45,000 regular army, the rest paramilitary units) soldiers in East Pakistan.

With the added material support provided by the Indian government, the insurgency grew ever stronger. And with their guerilla-style hit-and-run tactics, the morale of the Pakistan military, deployed in East Pakistan, waned down. It was quite evident that tensions would reach a climax towards triggering a full blown war between India and Pakistan. That came on December 3, 1971. The eventual failure of combating the insurgency caused Pakistan to attack Indian air bases in Jammu and Punjab on that day with the objective to stop the Indian support for the Mukti Bahini. In response, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared war at midnight, December 3. Thirteen days later, Pakistani troops under Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi surrendered in Dhaka. Bangladesh emerged as an independent state on December 16, 1971.

The surrendering Pakistani forces – numbering more than 90,000 - were taken to India as Prisoners of War (POWs). They were later released in 1974 to Pakistan after a supplement to the Simla Agreement (July 2, 1972) was signed about repatriation between India and Pakistan. Those released included 195 POWs who were accused of committing war crimes or genocide in Bangladesh.

Amid overwhelming public anger in Pakistan over the loss of East Pakistan, the chief martial law administrator (CMLA) General Yahya Khan resigned on December 20, 1971 and transferred power to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who became president, commander-in-chief and the first civilian CMLA in Pakistan’s history. Bhutto immediately placed General Yahya Khan under house arrest, and ordered the release of Sheikh Mujib, who was held prisoner by the Pakistan Army. To implement this, Bhutto reversed the verdict of Sheikh Mujib's court-martial trial that had taken place earlier, in which the latter was sentenced to death.

Bhutto also created a judicial commission in December 1971 with Chief Justice Hamoodur Rahman, the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan as its Chairman, to investigate military and political causes of the country's defeat in the 1971 war, or more specifically, "the circumstances in which the Commander, Eastern command, surrendered” and also to investigate the accusations of atrocities committed by the military personnel in 1971 in what was once East Pakistan. The commission’s first report, prepared based on the interview of 213 people, was submitted to Bhutto in July 1972. After the return of the POWs, the inquiry was reopened. The final report, based on the interview of some 300 people altogether, also called supplementary report, was submitted on October 23, 1974, showed how political, administrative, military and moral failings were responsible for the surrender of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. The commission challenged the claims by Bangladesh authorities that 3 million Bengalis had been killed by Pakistan army and 200,000 women were raped. The commission put the casualty figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties.

The report accused the generals of what it called a premature surrender to India. The report said Pakistan's military ruler at the time, General Yahya Khan, 'permitted and even instigated' the surrender, and it recommended that he be publicly tried along with other senior military colleagues - General Abdul Hamid Khan (Chief of Staff, Army), Lieutenant General S.G.M.M. Pirzada, Lieutenant General Gul Hasan (Chief of General Staff), Major General Umar and Major General Mitha (commandant of Army SS Group) - for being party to a criminal conspiracy to illegally usurp power from President Mohammad Ayub Khan. Five other Lieutenant-Generals (which included Lt. General A.A.K. Niazi) and three Brigadier-Generals were recommended to be tried for willful neglect of duty during the 1971 War.

It is worth noting here that Lt. General Gul Hasan, who had become the Army C-in-C after the 1971 War, was ousted on March 3, 1972, and was dishonorably discharged from the army by Bhutto. His alleged involvement and controversial approvals of military operations in East Pakistan during 1971 created a public resentment towards him, as he was the Director-General for the Military Operations (DGMO). Bhutto later appointed General Tikka Khan as the new Chief of the Army Staff in March 1972, just about a year after the latter was responsible for directing the brutal military crackdown in Bangladesh.

Major General Mitha was particularly active in East Pakistan in the days preceding the military action of March 25, 1971. After General Yahya Khan had secretly departed on the evening of March 25, 1971, Major General Mitha is said to have remained behind. He allegedly planned the military action with Lt. General Tikka Khan, Major General Rao Farman Ali and Major General Khadim Hussain Raja. His retirement was announced by Bhutto in December 1971, months before the Commission report was submitted to him. After retirement he was stripped of his medals and pensions without due cause. He was however never court-martialed, as recommended by the Hamoodur Rahman Commission.

After his return to Pakistan, Lt. General Niazi was blamed for the defeat and was removed from the army in 1975. Though the Hamoodur Rahman Inquiry Commission had recommended his court-martial, Lt. General Niazi did not face a trial. The final report included his statement, which supports some allegations of war crimes against the Pakistani Army in the early days of Pakistani crackdown in East Pakistan: “Damage done during those early days of the military action could never be repaired, and earned for the military leaders names such as ‘Changez Khan’ and ‘Butcher of East Pakistan.’” The report said, “He [Niazi] went on to add: "on the assumption of command I was very much concerned with the discipline of troops, and on 15th of April, 1971, that is within four days of my command, I addressed a letter to all formations located in the area and insisted that loot, rape, arson, killing of people at random must stop and a high standard of discipline should be maintained. I had come to know that looted material had been sent to West Pakistan which included cars, refrigerators and air conditioners etc." When asked about the alleged killing of East Pakistani officers and men during the process of disarming, the General replied that he had heard something of the kind but all these things had happened in the initial stages of the military action before his time. He denied the allegation that he ever ordered his subordinates to exterminate the Hindu minority. He denied that any intellectuals were killed during December, 1971. He admitted that there were a few cases of rape, but asserted that the guilty persons were duly punished.” (Chapter 2)

The report quoted Brigadier Shah Abdul Qasim (witness No. 267) about the use of excessive force on the night between the 25th and 26th March 1971: “Army personnel acted under the influence of revenge and anger during the military operation."

The report also quoted Brigadier Iqbalur Rehman Shariff (Witness no. 269), who alleged that during his visit to formations in East Pakistan, General Gul Hassan used to ask the soldiers "how many Bengalis have you shot." The report quoted Lt. Col. Aziz Ahmed Khan (Witness no 276) who was Commanding Officer 8 Baluch and then CO 86 Mujahid Battalion: "Brigadier Arbbab also told me to destroy all houses in Joydepur. To a great extent I executed this order.”

The Report said, “There is also evidence that Lt. Gen Tikka Khan, Major Gen. Farman Ali and Maj. Gen Khadim Hussain were associated with the planning of the military action. There is, however, nothing to show that they contemplated the use of excessive force or the commission of atrocities and excesses on the people of East Pakistan.”

Interestingly, thus, the Commission did not find any of the major players, including Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and General Tikka Khan, guilty of the crisis which led to the dismemberment of Pakistan. As noted by Lt. General Niazi in his interview with journalist Amir Mir (December 2001), Pakistan’s new Army chief General Tikka Khan and his boss President Bhutto did not want to open the Pandora’s Box.

According to Lt. General Niazi, “Yahya and Bhutto viewed Mujib's victory in the 1970 election with distaste, because it meant that Yahya had to vacate the presidency and Bhutto had to sit in the Opposition benches, which was contrary to his aspirations. So these two got together and hatched a plan in Larkana, Bhutto's hometown, which came to be known as the Larkana Conspiracy. The plan was to postpone the session of the National Assembly indefinitely, and to block the transfer of power to the Awami League by diplomacy, threats, intrigues and the use of military force. Connected to this conspiracy was the 'M. M. Ahmed plan', which aimed at allowing Yahya and Bhutto to continue as president and prime minister, besides leaving East Pakistan without a successor government. After the announcement of the date of the assembly session (to be held at Dhaka), there was pressure on the politicians to boycott it. The reason given was that East Pakistan had become a hub of international intrigue, therefore, it should be discarded. In the end, this clique achieved its aim.”

Commenting on the Hamoodur Rahman Commission of Inquiry Report, Lt. General Niazi said, “Similarly, Tikka has not been mentioned in the report, although his barbaric action of March 25 earned him the name of butcher. The commission overlooked his heinous crimes. As far as Rao Farman is concerned, he was in-charge of the Dhaka operations. According to authentic press reports, tanks, mortars and artillery were ruthlessly employed against the Dhaka University inmates, killing scores of them. Rao remained military adviser to five governors and had his finger in every pie.”

In its concluding remarks on allegations of war crimes, the Hamoodur Rahman Commission of Inquiry Report said, “From what we have said in the preceding Paragraphs it is clear that there is substance in the allegations that during and after the military action excesses were indeed committed on the people of East Pakistan, but the versions and estimates put forward by the Dacca authorities are highly coloured and exaggerated… Irrespective, therefore, of the magnitude of the atrocities, we are of the considered opinion that it's necessary for the Government of Pakistan to take effective action to punish those who were responsible for the commission of these alleged excesses and atrocities.” It further recommended a fruitful inquiry to be undertaken to investigate all the allegations by requesting the Dacca authorities to forward whatever evidences they might have.

In December 2000, 29 years after the inquiry was completed, the full report of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission of Inquiry was finally declassified in Pakistan by President Musharraf's Military government.