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….>>>