Sunday, December 16, 2007

Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Indianism Once Again


USING information obtained from the detective branch, several newspapers published imaginative articles on August 28 and 29 about my meeting in Delhi with Pranab Mukherjee, which has left me both amazed and despondent. Although all the newspapers were informed on this matter by the detective branch, the only newspapers that actually published were those are known to serve as mouthpieces of the BNP-Jamaat alliance and the detective branch itself.

The Naya Diganta newspaper of Jamaat first published the incident on its front page on August 28. The headline was, “Shahriar Kabir meets Pranab Mukherjee in Delhi—Discuss Sheikh Hasina’s Release”. The report went as follows, “Writer Shahriar Kabir held a secret meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to discuss issues such as: releasing Awami League chairperson Sheikh Hasina; starting a revolution against the caretaker government; preventing the disintegration of Awami League, etc. The writer also met Salam Azad, Awami Jubo League chairman Jahangir Kabir Nanak, who is in hiding in India, as well as four others.

“Reliable sources have confirmed that the Indian foreign minister participated in the meeting with took place on the second week of this month, and has pledged full support to the assist with Sheikh Hasina’s release, that they are even pressurizing the caretaker government in this regard, and that they would never support any measure that would eliminate Awami League as a political entity. He also said that Awami League leaders Abdur Razzak and Tofail Ahmed have been advised on behalf of India on matters related to the prevention of Awami League’s dissolution.

“It is also known that Shahriar Kabir informed the Indian foreign minister about the plight of Awami League. With regard to the release Sheikh Hasina from prison and the current state of affairs in Bangladesh, he was concerned by the fact that the Indian government did not create sufficient pressure on the caretaker government. Shahriar Kabir said that India’s inaction has threatened the demise of Awami League, and has weakened secularism in Bangladesh. Awami League’s existence as a political entity is also in danger. Awami League leaders are aggrieved by India’s stance in this regard, as are the secular minded intellectuals in Bangladesh, he said.

“Pranab Mukherjee assured them that although India will not take any direct action against the caretaker government, but will pressurize them from other quarters. He also expressed his concern regarding Sheikh Hasina’s imprisonment, saying that India had expected her to be released on bail.

“Regarding the issue of Awami League’s survival under threat, Pranab Mukherjee said that Abdur Razzak and Tofail Ahmed were provided with the essential advice on how to preserve unity within the party. He hoped that the reformist leaders will not undertake any course of action that would bring about Awami League’s disintegration.

“However, on the issue of providing counsel on matters relating to Sheikh Hasina’s release and restoring democracy in Bangladesh, the Indian foreign minister mentioned that it is the responsibility of the Bangladeshis to make use of the current scenario in order to instigate any social upheavals. In this case, India can go so far as providing moral support. In this regard, he indicated to the writer Salam Azad, saying that Salam Azad and many other Bangladeshi political activists have not only been offered asylum in India, but have also been given the opportunity to continue their political activism while in exile. He reassured once again that India will not support any measure to threaten Awami League’s political strength. A close associate of Shahriar Kabir has confirmed this information.”

Regarding the source of information, Naya Diganta mentioned “reliable sources have confirmed” at the beginning, and “A close associate of Shahriar Kabir has confirmed this information” at the end. The following day, Amader Shomoy published the same report, citing sources from the detective branch. On August 28, my friends from reputed dailies told me that they had received such information from a news bulletin from the detective branch, but did not intend to publish due to the lack of reliable sources.

During my recent visit to India, I did get the opportunity to meet the foreign minister, but it was not under secrecy, and it did not include people such as Salam Azad, Nanak and others. The source of information for the detective branch can be obtained by taking them under remand and interrogating them. I had never had any association with Jubo League leader Nanak, and I have never even met him. I had a chance encounter with Salam Azad in a book store in Delhi two years ago. Although I knew him as a columnist, he was never a close acquaintance of mine that I would let him accompany me to a meeting with Pranab Mukherjee or with anyone else for that matter.

The manner in which the detective branch portrayed my meeting with Pranab Mukherjee, one would get the impression that either a representative of the detective branch was present on the occasion, or Mr. Mukherjee or I talked about our meeting afterwards with such a representative. Such callousness on the part of our detective agency not only distresses me—but it should be disconcerting for the government as well. What baffles me even further—why would I have to meet under secrecy with Mr Mukherjee or with anyone else in the first place?

As the chief executive of “South Asian People’s Union Against Fundamentalism and Communalism, I not only met Pranab Mukherjee, but other leaders as well. The forum chairs on this occasion included former Prime Minister I. K. Gujral and former speaker P. A. Sangma, both of whom I had the opportunity to confer with. I also had discussions with CPI leader A. B. Burdhwan, CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yachuri, and NCP leader D. P. Tripathi. The main subject of our discussion was the second convention of the South Asian People’s Union in Delhi—which was supposed to have taken place in 2003. Since we had decided that the second convention would include other Asian countries apart from the five South Asian countries, and that the organization structure would be enlarged, it was not possible to hold the convention as per the original schedule. Besides, since it was not possible to hold a convention on such a scale without the approval of the government, it was necessary to include government leaders and ministers in the discussions. The fact that I met two sitting ministers of NCP, Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel, is nothing worth hiding or advertising.

As a human rights activist recognized in the international arena, whenever I visit any country, the local human rights organizations, public representatives and intellectuals are always eager to know about the situation in our country, just as we are eager to know about their country whenever they visit us. While discussing about the state of human rights in Bangladesh, it is quite natural to have discussions relating to the arrest of Sheikh Hasina, the movement restrictions of Khaleda Zia, freedom of speech, the condition of minorities, militant fundamentalism, war criminals, etc. Prior to India, I went to the United States, where I discussed the same subjects with the chair of the Bangladesh caucus in congress, Joseph Crawley, other congressmen, “C. P. J.”, “Centre for Inquiry”, “Amnesty International”, “Human Rights Watch”, and other human rights organizations and their leaders. Regarding Sheikh Hasina’s arrest, the statements in the United States and India were the same as those I gave in our own country. We had said immediate after Sheikh Hasina’s arrest that, the manner in which she was arrested, even the manner in which her movements were restricted, was a direct violation of the constitution of Bangladesh as well as the internationally recognized United Nations human rights laws. Any allegations against her can be disputed in court, and if the allegations were proved to be true and warranted arrest, only then could she be arrested. The manner in which she was arrested without the allegations were proved would be objectionable to any human rights organization or to any conscious citizen. “Conviction before trial” was a modus operandi that was introduced by the BNP-led alliance government. Since the present caretaker government is not a government formed by a political party, we would not want to see any bias towards or against any political party.

For protesting against the human rights violations committed by the Khaleda-Nizami coalition government infested with militant fundamentalists and war criminals, I was arrested twice in 2001 and in 2002. The first time, the detective branch, through various puppet newspapers, published incredible fabricated stories of my intention to ruin the image of our nation in collusion with India, and even went to the extent of putting me on trial for treason. Even after six years, they have not been able to produce a single charge sheet against me. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations wrote to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia so that the false accusations against me may be dropped. I had remarked at that time—I am not against the charges being dropped. I am ready to take the fight to the court and prove to them that not only I am not a traitor; the very people who brought forward the allegations against me are the real traitors.

The kind of allegations and resultant arrests and repression that were brought upon anti-Jamaat and secular minded journalists, writers, professors and human rights activists by the detective branch during the Khaleda-Nizami regime are still continuing to this day. After he undesired conflict involving the law enforcement agencies against students and the general public during August 20 to August 22, and the unfortunate destruction of vehicle, public and private resources that came out of it, the detective branch, like the days of old, passed it off as a conspiracy hatched by India and Awami League (and also to BNP to maintain the balance). Their puppet newspapers alleged that, a month prior to the incident, the general secretary of the Dhaka University Teachers’ Association, Anwar Hossain, secretly met with a high ranking diplomat at the Indian High Commission in order to conspire against the government. While elaborating on the profile of the freedom fighter Anwar Hossain they also mentioned—he had attempted to kidnap the Indian ambassador in 1975. As if the present Indian High Commission would indulge in strategic planning to overthrow the government with the same person who was supposed to be involved with the kidnapping attempt of a previous Indian ambassador! There should be a limit to such fiction.

During our discussion with Pranab Mukherjee and I. K, Gujral, it never seemed that the Indian leadership harboured any misgivings against the caretaker government headed by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. Last week, special correspondent Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury reported from New York that the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not say anything against Sheikh Hasina’s arrest. Such anti-Indianism and conspiracy theories weaved by our detective branch is enough to alienate any allies of the present caretaker government. If our foreign ministry does not view India as an “enemy state” the way the Jamaat did, then they should take preventive measures against such negativity.

The BNP-Jamaat alliance had an agenda while they were in power. One of the main objectives of that agenda was to annihilate any free thinkers who were against the Jamaat and against fundamentalism. Before an inquiry commission could be formed, the manner in which five anti-Jamaat professors in Dhaka University and Rajshahi University were arrested, the manner in which they were linked to the Indian High Commission, which is so much similar to the way in which I am being ensnared by such fictitious allegations, it is quite clear that our detective branch is continuing the agenda set by the coalition government of Khaleda-Nizami. These conspiracy theories did not save the Khaleda-Nizami alliance from the wrath of the people, just as the Ayub-Yahya regime was not spared in the past. I hope that the caretaker government takes this undeniable truth into consideration in their decision making process. #

First published in Uttorshuri discussion group on November 1, 2007 and translated from Bangla by Mohammad Arafat

Shahriar Kabir is a Bangladeshi defiant journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker. He leads a civil society campaign for trial of war criminals and crime against humanity during the war of independence in 1971. He was imprisoned and tortured in 2001 and 2002, but he could not be intimidated despite threats