42 Years Later

Bangladesh is in Turmoil. 42 years later it seems liberation war has not yet ended. Government comes, Government goes. But lasting peace remains elusive. And it is unlikely to return anytime soon. The situation remains as explosive as it was prior to liberation. With uncertainty and instability lingering the prospects of outside interference are becoming a hard reality. Pakistan was quick to strongly condemn the execution of Abdul Qadir Mullah—the notorious collaborator in 1971 war crimes. The immediate response to Pakistan’s naked interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs was massive anti-Pakistan demonstration in Dhaka. The fact remains that Islamabad continues to treat Bangladesh as ‘East Pakistan’ and it will continue to do so for years, if not decades, to come, unless there takes place some radical shift in sub-continental power equation.

No doubt the execution of Abdul Qadir Mullah, a senior leader of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami in war crimes on December 12, 2013 by Bangladesh government under International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) has triggered new controversy within and outside Bangladesh. Abdul Qadir Mullah along with hundreds of other Al-Shams and Al-Badr militants was involved in killing and raping thousands of Bengali intellectuals, academicians, journalists, professionals and women. They were the fifth column in Pakistan's genocidal war against Bengalis.

Between three hundred thousands to 3 million Bengalis were killed, over three hundred thousands women were raped and 30000 war babies born during Bangladesh Liberation war. Pakistan Army and its collaborators Al-Shams and Al-Badr were held responsible for this genocide, which was ought to be investigated and prosecuted under International law. People around the world talk about Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iran, but nobody talks about the wounds of Bengali psyche. Cold war politics and Bangladesh's internal precarious political situation never allowed proper investigation to happen. Bangladesh's military controlled Politics allowed these war criminals to get away from the war crimes accountability while political compulsion kept other parties mainly Hasina Wajid, the surviving daughter of Sheikh Mujeeb, to maintain silence on this issue in her first stint. However, her 2008 landslide victory provided confidence and opportunity to her government to address this long due unfinished agenda—rather a chapter of unfinished Bangladesh Liberation. As a result she initiated the process under International Crimes Tribunal in 2009 (ICT).

Critics of Mullah Qadir question the ICT trial and call it Hasina Wajid's personal vendetta. EU, UN and other Human Rights Organizations had not only supported the establishment of ICT but also had assisted to set up ICT. Albeit, they opposed the capital punishment of any accused that is premised on philosophical grounds, which is wrongly interpreted by its critics by calling it wrong precedence. Bangladesh is not among those countries where capital punishment is banned.

The issue of Bangladesh war crimes was never investigated at least to determine perpetrators’ role and its official closure to satisfy conscience collective of the nation still haunting its collective memory after 42 years of independence.

No government displayed any serious interest in the issues of war crime prior to the Hasina Wajid. The post-Mujeeb's military controlled governments cordoned these war criminals from accountability and formed political alliance with them to keep away Hasina Wajid and other nationalist forces from power that further emboldened them to challenge the very ideology and nationality question of Bangladesh in the garb of Islam. The war crimes closure is deemed very important in order to address the sensitivities of victims and nation and young generation that made ‘Shahbag’ a symbol of rebellion.

Inaction against such crimes shows weak resolve of international law that makes civilian population further vulnerable during the war. However, if action is difficult to take against the main architect of war crimes but national government can initiate investigation against collaborator and perpetrators still present in the country.

In the case of Bangladesh, it was not possible for the Bangladesh government to secure international support against Pakistan Army but action against perpetrators of Bengali people was in reach of the government what she took by fulfilling all standards and merits to set up ICT. The ICT convicted 8 criminals out of 10 and awarded them life sentences. What is important in this entire process that perpetrators didn't show any sign of remorse on their actions. They and their supporters tried to make trial questionable and controversial to cordon their crimes against humanity is shameful act for the party BNP that seeks power once again in Bangladesh.

The government had choice either bringing them to the justice in the form of execution or life sentence or setting up truth and reconciliation Commission. Since Bangladeshi government chose former and one convicted was executed that stirred political agitation there when elections are looming and political storm is gathering in Bangladesh where outside interference is likely to exacerbate the political instability. No doubt the Hasina government has taken calculated risk this time. [contributed]

Vol. 46, No. 27, Jan 12 -18, 2014

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