Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bangladesh Liberation War: A Personal Diary

Dr. ABDUL MOMEN

"Bangladeshi governments and political leaders may have the luxury to ignore those dead ones and squabble over leadership, but how can I forget them? How can I forget Bilkis whose father was an additional SP of Comilla and was shot dead? How can I forget my relatives, my neighbours and my friends that were killed for no fault of their own? Our Hindu neighbour’s college going daughter was raped. How can I forget her pure face and affectionate behaviour? On the Victory Day each year, while we rejoice, I feel pain as we could not honour the dead, nor the victims, nor the freedom fighters yet with due solemnity. I feel bad when I find the national leaders questioning the ‘Muktijudder Chetona”. What a travesty of justice, what a shameful act!! How can we make friendship with those that still refuse to accept their guilt and deny the existence of injustice and atrocities of 1971?”

March 23, 1971: Journey to Sylhet
I just came to pick up my sister who was a medical doctor at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). While entering the building, I met Tajuddin Ahmed, Molla Jalaluddin, Obaidur Rahman and few other Awami League (AL) leaders. They came to see some wounded AL supporters at the DMCH. I knew Tajuddin and Molla Jalaluddin. I met them in Rawalpindi and Lahore in 1969 during Ayub’s Round Table Conference (RTC). I asked them about the progress of their dialogue with President General Yahya Khan. He did not show much enthusiasm, and instead asked me about my well being. I went to my sister’s (Apa) room. She was not there. I met a class friend of mine, Shohidul Huq, who was a Medical Representative at the time. Now he is a big businessman. He is a good soul, always very friendly, helpful and forthright. When Apa came to her room, Shohid advised her to send her kids to Sylhet to avoid any likely trouble if ‘dialogue’ fails. Shohid had always been very close to Obaidur Rahman and he assured that he would let us know the latest developments. Apa was worried as she had two small kids, Sayyied, an infant and Lubna, a toddler. Now Lubna is a mother and a financial consultant. Their father, a young promising surgeon, Humayun Kabir (31) died in a car accident in Khulna in June 1970 when Sayyied was an infant. Now Sayyied is the General Manager of the ETV television channel. Expatriates like me are thankful to Sayyied and his boss, A. S. Mahmud, Chairman of the ETV as their private TV channel did a wonder… it facilitated us to watch Bangladeshi news, dramas, cinemas, and life of Bangladesh even from abroad, for example, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The ETV news is objective and therefore very popular. Due to ETV, the cable sales has gone up significantly especially amongst its 900,000 Bangladeshi expatriates and many in Riyadh would ask you to join dinner parties after the 8 O’clock news of ETV [Dhaka’s 11 PM is Riyadh’s 8 PM].

We left for Sylhet on 23rd March 1971. My immediate boss, a Pakistani did not allow me leave of absence. However, I just vanished and reported to work on December 19, 1971 from Guwahati (India)... This does not mean that I was always in India during this long 8 months and 26 days. In fact, I mostly lived within then East Pakistan during the war of liberation and went through the horrors and tension of the occupation army.

On 26th morning when there was no ‘Radio Dhaka’, we knew that the situation went wrong. However, reports of massacre in Dhaka reached to us on 27th morning…. More details came on 28th. On 28th March we first listened the voice of Major Ziaur Rahman from the clandestine radio who in the name of ‘Sheikh Mujib’ announced that the Bangladeshis are at war with Pakistani occupation forces [Ami Major Zia bolchi…Jatir Mohan Netha Sheikh Mujibur Rahman er na-mee ami swadhinotha gushona…].

On 2nd April, we heard sounds of fire exchange at night. The following day, we learned that when the Pakistan army asked the Bengali jawans to surrender their arms and ammunitions, they refused at the Telikhal BDR camp and therefore, there was an exchange of fire. The martial law government imposed curfew and therefore, it was difficult to gather information.

April 4, 1971: A Historic Day for Sylhet
On this day, the independence movement started in Sylhet town from my house. On that morning I went to see my friend, Shabbir Ahmed, formerly VP of Sylhet M. C. College Chattra Sangshad and Chattra League. He was a very close friend of mine. East Pakistan Governor Monayem Khan barred Shabbir from studying in any of the colleges of the province as he threw his sandal at the podium of President Ayub Khan at a meeting at the Sylhet Circuit House. I requested many people including Dr. AKM. Rabbani, then DC of Sylhet, Minister Abdus Salam, Police Chief Kazi Anwarul Huq, then Chattra League leaders Fazlul Huq Moni and Abdur Razzaque, et al to release him from jail but in vain. We employed Advocate Chowdhury ATM Masud [later Justice and Chief Election Commissioner] to get his bail. Finally, Zamir Ali, a NSF leader of S. M. Hall managed to get him released. When Bangladesh was created, he became a JSD leader. Later he went to England to do CA and settled in Cambridge (UK). While we were talking, suddenly I was informed that firing started in my locality, Dhupadigirper. I rushed to my home but could not proceed further. There were none on the road, the rickshaw puller was afraid to move. I got down and walked fast. When I reached my house, the main gate was locked. I somehow managed to enter. On entrance, I saw 10/12 Bangladeshi BDR jawans in our compound. They have taken positions. They assured us and asked me to get a barricade erected near the Agricultural Office, 20 yards from my house. We did erect the barricade. My parents were afraid and my father reminded me that the military government had declared that if any barricade were erected in front of the house, they would demolish the house. We heard that a young Punjabi, a body builder, who works at the nearby United Engineers (Aslam Co.) had been shot dead earlier.

Soon a military van came and stopped near our gate. It was about 3 PM in the afternoon. This is the military’s announcement van. Our house is located between two roads, one leading to Tamabil known as Sylhet-Shillong Road and another to Jatarpur-Chalibander area and therefore, it was easy to see even the Banderbazar, 1or 2 kilometre from home--very strategically located. When the road was built, my grandfather, Khan Bahadur Abdur Rahim then a SDO donated the land for the road and my father’s maternal uncle, Abdul Hamid, a member of Assam Legislative Assembly was a big leader, a powerful Minister and a Speaker of the assembly.

As soon as Sikander, the announcer, started announcement of curfew, the valiant BDR fighters opened fire. But the van escaped. After it left, we knew that the Pakistani army would arrive soon. Therefore, we started putting up all sorts of barricades in our wooden doors and glass windows. We put up piles of bookshelves, tables, chairs, and mattresses. The bookshelves were very heavy…bookshelves of bounded law books/documents belonged to my father who was a lawyer. Very interestingly, God gave us enormous strength to move those heavy bookshelves at the time. I wonder how we did that. They saved us from bullets. We found so many bullets inside the pages of those books and voluminous documents later.

Within 20 minutes, two armoured vehicles came. A few soldiers got down nearly 40 yards from our home and started walking forward by the roadside. Soon they started shooting and it continued for hours. Mortar shells demolished the walls of our home. The handle of the easy chair on which my father was seated suddenly hit and went away. But miraculously, he was unhurt. We lay down on the floor. The sun was setting and the house appears to have caught fire. By 8 PM the shooting stopped. The BDR and the Pak army left. We could see couples of roadside shanty stores burning. There was not a single human being around. All was very quiet. We were extremely tired and exhausted. I don’t know when I slept on the floor. At midnight, I wake up as rainwater was falling on me. Then we could realize that the rooftop of the house had been blown away at the mortar attacks. Before dawn a couple of people showed up and they were surprised as we were still alive under the debris. Soon we decided to escape. We went to our neighbour’s house, Abdul Mannan Chowdhury, a businessman. He is originally from Karimganj, India. Two of his brothers were politicians; one was a member of the Indian Lok Sabha and another in the Assam Assembly. Mr. Chowdhury was a staunch supporter of Ayub Muslim League and his best friend, Ajmal Ali Chowdhury was Ayub’s Minister for Commerce and Industry. Mannan family also was surprised to see us alive. None could ever think that we could survive such an onslaught and barrage of bullets. I have also never seen Sikander, the announcer since that day.

By 8:30 AM, the whole area was crowded with thousands of people. There were two dead bodies. It was difficult to identify them as foxes have eaten them up. However, they had khaki uniforms. When we went back to collect money and ornaments from our house, we found people were looting our stuff. It was very sad. Before dawn when we left we did not take any money even. By 9 AM, we saw a Pakistani jet came and strafed the area. People vanished... Many dived into the waters of Dhupadighi, a lovely pond [now most of it is filled up to erect shanty stores]. Soon we saw, two more jets come and dropped bombs. We thought our Kitchen, separated from the main house, the 1st Muslim League Office of Sylhet, was on fire [when my father joined All India Muslim League and started organizing it in Sylhet, he had to leave his parental home, named ‘Shaheb Bari’ in Raynagar as his father was an SDO, a British Civil Servant. Initially, our kitchen was only built and it soon became the Muslim League Office as he was its Secretary]. As jets started coming and coming again, we all ran out and finally could not proceed further as shooting started all around us. We settled at a ‘lakrier dum’ or store for fuel-woods near Howapara, nearly 1.5 miles away from our house. There was no bathroom and no food. Infant Sayyied and Lubna were crying.

However, by afternoon we could reach Zindabazar at our maternal uncle’s house, Dr. Syed Shah Anwar Chowdhury. We had a good meal after 24 hours and we could listen to the Indian and the BBC radio as well. We observed that the world was still functioning and normal although last night, we thought ‘everybody died’!! Since our uncle was a strong supporter of AL, we decided to move out of his house and later, we settled at the house of Mohammed Ishaque, another uncle (Fufa) at Howapara, Sylhet. He was a retired government official, a Muslim Leaguer and he had a neat and lovely bungalow.

The whole of Sylhet by the time was liberated. When I was going back to my house to release our chicken, pigeons, cows, dogs, I met a few prisoners that were just released from the Sylhet jail. There was great relief as well as uncertainty. When I reached my home, I reflected on my father’s saying. He said before leaving home, ‘Pakistan was created in this house and its destruction started from here. Ayub Kha, Yahya Kha, Tikka Kha, Choto Kha, Boro Kha --- none fought for Pakistan. They have no love for the country. They destroyed our dream…’ In fact, our home was the first Muslim League Office of Sylhet. My father who was very active in the Indian independence movement especially Pakistan was fully devastated. He quit his college when Gandhi called for ‘non-cooperation movement’. However, his father who was Deputy Commissioner in Guwahati at the time forced him to finish his BA, MA and LLB. During Sylhet referendum through which Sylhet was included into Pakistan, my father was its Secretary and our home was virtually the Sylhet Referendum Committee Office. His maternal uncle, Maulvi Abdul Hamid was a Minister in the Assam and a senior Muslim League leader. The President of Sylhet Referendum Committee was Maulvi Abdul Matin Chowdhury (Khola Miah) and he used to stay in our house as his house was away from Sylhet town by 10/15 miles [on those days it was very difficult to travel]. Many political leaders of undivided India, for example, Maulana Akram Khan, Sadre Isphani, HS Suhrawardy, AK Fazlul Huq, Abul Hashem, Maulana Bashani, Abdur Rab Nisthar, Maulana Sahul Osmany and young political workers like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Fazlul Qader Chowdhury, Molla Jalaluddin, Hamidul Huq Chowdhury, Mahmud Ali, Abdus Samad Azad, Dewan Farid Ghazi, ATM Masud (later judge & Chief Election Commissioner), Sarequm Abdullah, Dewan Abdul Baset, Syed AB Mahmud Hussain (later Chief Justice), Moqbul Hussain, Tassadduq Ahmed Chowdhury (UK) et al spent days in this house … meetings after meetings were held beginning 1940 in organizing Muslim polity, referendum and Pakistan. It is an irony that, the Pakistan occupation army destroyed this house, a virtual symbol of Pakistan and Referendum. Alternatively, the struggle for sovereign Bangladesh started first in the Sylhet town again from the same house that achieved independence of Sylhet from the British Raj, 24 years ago. Freedom fighter, Al-Amin Chowdhury, Bir Bikram, once thus stated, ‘this house is our national pride as Mukti Juddo was launched from here’. He was very much saddened to see that it was transformed to a poly clinic at the time.

Soon we moved out of town and went to Fulbari, 10 miles from the town. We took shelter at the houses of two brothers, Mugoi Miah and Luboi Miah Chowdhury, close friends of my father and also relations of ours. Many families like us, for example, the Regional Manager of Pakistan State Bank (Sylhet) and his family took shelter in the same house. Nearly hundred people took shelter. Our hosts were great and they did their best to keep us comfortable and well fed. In fact, we enjoyed our stay and their hospitality. We used to spend our time either by playing carom-board or other indoor games or listening to the radio, Bangladesh Betar, BBC and Akash Bani. During the war, M.R. Akther Mukul’s “Choram Patro” was our most favourite radio program and it used to uplift our hopes and spirit. We met Dewan Farid Ghazi, the elected member (MNA) and Chief of Sylhet AL party when he visited us. He came to see my father. The Akash Bani, the Indian radio in its national news reported that my father, Abu Ahmed Abdul Hafiz, a very senior Muslim League leader, President of Sylhet District Bar Association and formerly Secretary General of the Sylhet Referendum Committee was killed by the Pakistan army when they attacked his house. Actually, our house was destroyed but my father escaped unhurt; but Abdul Hafiz, a colleague and a namesake of my father, was killed by the Pakistan army. Dewan Farid Ghazi reported that Dr. Shamsuddin Ahmed, Principal Sylhet Medical College and Civil Surgeon of Sylhet were shot dead by Pakistan army. We were very saddened at the news. Dr. Ahmed was a very fine man. His wife, Hosne Ara Chowdhury, Principal of Sylhet Women College, was very close to us. His two sons and daughters are now living in the U. S. His son Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed of Philadelphia and Mr. Tareq Ahmed of Connecticut are actively involved with the Bangladeshi community welfare.

At Fulbari, my sister helped deliver a baby to the wife of Dr. M. Samad Chowdhury, a Professor of Sylhet Medical College. He also took shelter like us. That baby must be a grown up person now!

April 20, 1971: The Day of Humiliation
Around 9 O’clock in the morning, the Pakistan army launched a campaign against the Mukti juddah that were organized in Fulbari. It is known as the famous ‘Baitikorer Juddo’. It lasted for hours. When the war was over, the Pakistani army arrested us and took us away. However, they released the old ones including a local doctor who was nearly 80. They kept us and started asking me questions, one after another. They brought us to a school near Ronikhail. They ordered me to get undressed and checked my penis to ascertain whether I am a Muslim [as if, if you do not have circumcision then you are not a Muslim] and made sarcastic remarks. One young person being afraid fled away and he was shot. As I wanted to help, they beat me mercilessly. We were kept on the roadside [Fulbari-Badeshor-Karimgonj road] in a kneel-down position for the whole night. It was cold and at times drizzling. But we had to endure the tortures, as we were Bangalees by birth! It reminded me Poet Nazrul’s poem titled “Fariyad”…’a noyeh thobo bidan… sontan thobo koriche az thumar osamman, Bhogovan, Bhogovan’ [it must not be Your rule that we would only suffer…Your sons are dishonouring You, my Lord].

The following morning, a young officer, Major Rob ordered us to march with them. They kept us in the front line and asked us to show them Mukti, Awami League and Hindu houses. Since I never lived there, I argued. It did not help. Instead, they got mad and cut my wrist with a bayonet. Those marks of tortures are my pride of liberation movement and they vividly remind me of my duty to my motherland.

We led five columns of army, three on the main road, two off the road. If there were any habited locality, they would fire the big gun to get response. If there was no response, we proceed. We did this for the whole day in wretched condition, no shoes, no sandals, no food, and no water. As I objected, they beat me again and in the process, I believe, I lost consciousness. When I was on my senses, I found myself in front of Lt Col. Sarfaraz Malik, the commanding officer. He asked me a variety of questions. He commented that ‘You are an Awami Leaguer, a Mukti’. He said, he had my photograph among the demonstrators in Sylhet. I challenged him and explained to him that I was living in Rawalpindi during 1969 and 1970 and I just came to Sylhet only on March 24th. He asked many questions on my stay in Rawalpindi and by miracle, he found that I was close to his cousin who was a teacher at the Rawalpindi Women College. I knew the names of his nieces and nephews. Finally, he released me and said, he would visit my parents.

He dropped me at Fulbari and said, he would come back tomorrow. When the villagers saw army vehicles, they all were afraid. They ran for their lives. However, I returned alive and my mother started weeping. On the following day, photos of Jinnah, Liaquat, Ayub and General Yahya were hung up and Pakistani flags were hoisted atop each villa out of fear. All green coloured lungis were torn apart to make flags. I cannot forget the debate between Luboi Miah (Luban Ahmed Chowdhury) and his son, Saniath Jamshed Ahmed Chowdhury. Saniath, a fresh graduate from the Dhaka University would like to keep his personal photos of 1969, some with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib; many of which were the hallmarks of Bangladesh history and 1969 mass movement. His father being afraid of the army wanted to destroy them all --- Saniath was willing to upkeep history at the cost of his own life while his father wanted to save life at the cost of history. Now Saniath lives in London and I wonder did he ever look back and reflect?

Soon at the insistence of Col. Malik, we had to move to our Dhupadigirpar house that was destroyed by them. Col. Malik and Brig. Rana arranged special flight for us to fly to Dhaka. The Pakistani occupation army realized an opening for a good public relations campaign and to nullify the Indian news (Akash Bani) media claim. They pressed my father to make a ‘radio broadcast’ that he refused. They flew my brother, Sujan A. Muiz along with others to check and state that my father was alive. General Tikka Khan sent ‘Peace Committee Member’ Mahmud Ali and General Rao Forman Ali to see our house and the passers-by were forcibly recruited to rebuild the house overnight. The house was rebuilt and army officers used to come by to loot all precious collections, for example, gold coins of Emperor Akbar, the coins of Tuglak, coins of many countries that my mother collected over the years, rare books and old copies of Quran, gold and silver collections, a part of which were rescued and later was donated to the Dhaka Museum. For the next nine months, no one could live in that house for fear of the occupation army.

My father was sent to Dhaka Medical College hospital for treatment as a mortar splinter caused infection on his right leg. We could not take care of it when we were on the run. His next-door patient was Poet Jasimuddin, the Palli Kobi. He dictated many poems to my younger sister, Shipa Hafiza that possibly have never been published yet!

One of my elder brothers, Shelly A. Mubdi, was working as the Sales Manager for the ICI Pharmaceuticals and he left Dhaka through Canadian embassy on 27th March and joined the Bangladesh liberation movement in London. Another one, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, who was working at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC left Pakistan government service on protest and became a lobbyist in Washington DC for the Bangladesh liberation movement. He was the senior most CSP officer who switched allegiance to Mujibnagar government. I came back to Dhaka and was working with Professor Giasuddin Ahmed of the Dhaka University, a close family friend. We used to collect medicines and relief materials for the Mukti Bahini. My sister, Dr. Shahla Khatun used to get medicine samples and a number of my brother’s friends (Mubdi of ICI) were very cooperative and they used to supply us boxes of medicines. For example, Mr. M. R. Osmany of the Wyeth Laboratories, a cousin of Gen. M.A.G. Osmany was a good contributor. My sister’s Morris Minor car with customary ‘doctor’s emblem and ‘Red Cross’ sign was very helpful to transport medicines for the freedom fighters without any body’s suspicion. One day, Gias Bhai and I got caught at the Mirpur Road near Dhanmondi Road No. 2. They inquired about the boxes of medicines. However, the doctor’s emblem and Red Cross signs saved us from disaster. I felt awful when I learned of the cruel death of Gias Bhai, a man of great dignity and a towering personality. Al Badr/ Al-Shams Bahini murdered him on December 14, 1971, along with many other intellectuals two days prior to independence. May Allah bless him. Surely the martyrs did not give their lives for nothing-- they are indeed a blessed lot.

In Assam, we had to maintain low profile as the Assamees and the Indian Muslims did not like us there. In Karimganj, neither the brothers of our neighbour, Abdul Mannan Chowdhury, were happy with us although they were MPs from the Congress-I (Indira Congress) party. They rebuked us for breaking Pakistan. However, we got help from Bengali speaking Indians especially relatives of Hindu friends of Bangladesh. Finding difficulty in Karimganj, I came back to Dhaka to collect medicines and money for the refugees and the Mukti-Bahini. In passing, I must mention one thing. During the occupation period, one of my elder sisters, Fauzia Khatun died in Dhaka as no one was able to shift her to the medical emergency owing to the ‘curfew’. We could neither bury her at our family graveyard in Sylhet. A couple of weeks earlier, she flew from Rawalpindi to my parents rented new home in Dhaka near Pak Motors on Mymensingh Road and their downstairs’ tenant was Dr. S. D. Chowdhury, former Vice Chancellor and next door neighbour was advocate Ahmedur Rahman, son-in-law of former Chief Minister, Nurul Amin. At times, I stayed with my sister at the Sobhanbagh Colony and under occupation, all our neighbours [both in Pak Motors and Sobhanbagh colony], Mr. M. A. Samad (Agri.. Dept), Professor A. Hasheem (Dhaka College), Dr. Idris Lasker, Dr. Badiul Alam (Medical Professors) and their families, to name a few, became a close-knit family. No wonder people in distress become close friends! It is interesting that during 1971, one of my younger sisters, Nazia Khatun got married to Dr. A. H. Shibly, a teacher at the Rajshahi University. Many of our own relatives did not attend her wedding out of fear as her brothers were working for the Bangladesh cause. In addition, one of my maternal uncles, Syed Shah Jamal Chowdhury, a resident of SM Hall and a Final Year student at the Dhaka University never returned home since 25th March 1971.

An Unique War Experience: Even Soldiers Hardly Get It
On November 19, 1971 my parents went back to Sylhet for the first time since April 4th and all of us joined them to observe the Eid-ul-Fitre. I was supposed to return to Dhaka on November 27th. However, all the flights were cancelled and on December 4, 1971, we had to move our family away as occupation army set up a camp behind our house. When I was about to leave, the Pakistan army did not allow me to leave. I insisted on my leaving and therefore, they said, they would kill me. They added, they were at war with India. Till April 20, I was never been afraid of Pakistan army. But after that day and after I returned from India, the sight of Pakistani army used to create fear, shivering, and real tension.

However, I remained at home alone. At the evening, the Pakistani army started shooting at random at the Indian paratroopers and Mukti Bahini, they said. I looked around but could not see anything. By 8 O’ Clock, it was clear to me….I listened to the speech of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who declared war. I was delighted and had been waiting for that hour. As the sounds of shooting intensified, I took shelter at a small trench in our backyard. The shooting continued throughout the night. You could hear different kinds of sounds…ketor ketor, tash tash, woo-woo, gurum gurum, gumm. It reminded me of Lord Tennyson’s poem, ‘cannons to right of them, cannons to left of them, cannons in front of them, volleyed and thundered”. Like Srikanto’s ‘Somudro Jatra”, I thought, if I die, let me enjoy the war and its ferocity and therefore, I started looking up. I could see flashes of lights and flashes of fire projectiles all around me. They were never-ending. What a great wonder that men’s creations developed weapons of self-destruction!! What a great mystery that it is human beings that created more problems, tensions and disasters for themselves!!

It might be near impossible for many professional soldiers to be ‘in-between the opposing forces’ but I had a rare chance. I was in-between the Pakistan army and the joint forces of India and Bangladesh. At late night, I could hear the Pakistan army retreating. Their big armoured cars, jeeps and trucks had gone leaving behind tons of ammunitions and varieties of guns. So many weapons! The following morning, when I heard a Bengali voice, I got up from my trench. I met an Indian Captain. He was originally from Faridpur. They were trying to jump start a car. They took it and he told me not to move around the ammunitions. Within half an hour, he came back along with an Indian Colonel and asked me to accompany them to the Army HQ. I did. I met General DQ, the Indian Army General. He told me not to allow anyone to touch the ammunitions. Soon Indian trucks came and loaded the leftovers; varieties of guns, rifles, recoilless guns, and tons of ammunitions, might be worth of millions of dollars. Our entire backyard where we used to play football was full of ammunitions and arms. They dug so many trenches all across the football field and destroyed our pineapple gardens, hundreds of them.

I went out by bike to see my family that took shelter at Masimpur, 8 miles from our home. On the way, I saw dead bodies near the Hasan Market, the State Bank premises and the Kane’s bridge. One dead body was hanging on the grill… he must have tried his best to flee away but failed. I did neither have time nor the courage to bury the dead ones. Still today those scenes haunt me in my pensive or in-pensive mood.

Conclusion: Should We Forget Muktijudder Chetona?
Bangladeshi governments and political leaders may have the luxury to ignore those dead ones and squabble over leadership, but how can I forget them? How can I forget Bilkis whose father was an additional SP of Comilla and was shot dead? How can I forget my relatives, my neighbours and my friends that were killed for no fault of their own? Our Hindu neighbour’s college going daughter was raped. How can I forget her pure face and affectionate behaviour? On the Victory Day each year, while we rejoice, I feel pain as we could not honour the dead, nor the victims, nor the freedom fighters yet with due solemnity. I feel bad when I find the national leaders questioning the ‘Muktijudder Chetona”. What a travesty of justice, what a shameful act!! How can we make friendship with those that still refuse to accept their guilt and deny the existence of injustice and atrocities of 1971? How can we not ask them to solicit mercy and forgiveness for their crime against mankind? A crime is a crime. It cannot be ignored with the lapse of time. Lord Cromwell was tried from his dead and the Nazis of World War II are still being sought after. The Nazis and the KKK are barred from getting elected in democratic societies. We must not condone a criminal or his crime, nor should we give shelter to criminals. We can only forgive them provided they ask for forgiveness and mercy---there is no alternatives known to me. Those who believe in Islam know that even the Almighty Allah will not forgive those who have committed crimes against His creatures unless they forgive them first. Therefore, unless they solicit mercy and forgiveness and confess their guilt publicly, they must not be forgiven. If a group or a person forgive them for group or personal interest, then they share the same loathe and disdain of our dead. They cannot be our heroes nor can they be the torchbearers for our future generations.

Muktijudder Chetona is very simple and pure. It stands for justice and fair play in human relations. It abhors racism, intolerance, dehumanization discrimination and communalism that the occupation force represented. It seeks equity in society and equal opportunities for all. It upholds democratic values; after all the 1971 war was fought to ensure democracy and economic emancipation. Can we therefore forget Muktijudder Chetona?

We know that ‘past is past, future is uncertain, and present is a gift of God’. Since the ‘present’ is a gift of God, therefore, should we not use this gift to the best of our ability to enhance Muktijudder Chetona, more fellow feeling, more tolerance, better economic opportunities and justice for all? #

Dr. Abdul Momen, a professor of economics and business management, Boston, USA Sylhet@Verizon.net

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bangladesh: basket case or recipe for success?

DOUGLAS BRODERICK

OUT in the ravaged fields, days after cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh last month, the devastation was everywhere. Houses, crops, trees, livestock were destroyed — and sadly, so were people. Yet even more evident was the resilient Bangladeshi spirit. Traders started selling rice again with little or no increase in price; villagers salvaged what they could and began rebuilding their fragile homes; children dried textbooks, unsure when classes would resume. There, before my eyes, was the intriguing Bangladesh: resilient and vulnerable, secure and insecure, developing and retrogressing, all at once.

The Bangladesh puzzle has two distinct dimensions. One goes back to a remark by Henry Kissinger in 1971, in response to an assertion that Bangladesh would be a "basket case." His reply that it would "not necessarily be our basket case" still sums up many people's views of the country and can be heard quite often in expatriate clubs in Dhaka and among policy circles in members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The recent macroeconomic trends of creeping inflation, rising inequality and a sluggish economy, topped by two neck-to-neck disasters (the November cyclone followed July's massive flooding) give these Cassandra-like voices more credence.

The other dimension has been provided in recent analysis, including that by economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen: Bangladesh has reduced social poverty better than some of the regional giants, such as neighbouring India. The 2005 UN Development Program Human Development Report moved the country from the low development group into the category with medium development indicators.

Partitions and disasters figure prominently in the past century of regional history. Cyclones, floods and famine have killed millions. In recent years, the incidence of serious disaster has increased. Near-famine situations in the north are a perennial problem. In 2004, almost 50 per cent of Bangladesh's surface area was submerged for more than two months.

The future may hold more of the same, with poorly planned construction and urbanization clogging the natural drainage systems and aggravating localized droughts in the north and the northwest — exacerbating existing problems and adding new ones, such as expected subsidence in Dhaka due to the lowering of the water table. Even without projected sea-level rises, which are predicted to displace 30 million people within the next 40 years, Bangladesh is slowly sinking into the sea as the Himalayas rise. The expected effects of climate change worsen all of the above, affecting the basic food security and hunger status of a country that has struggled hard to attain near-self-sufficiency in food production.

Bangladesh's troubles should be of concern for all of us. A country of almost 150 million people cannot be ignored. These problems will not simply disappear — they will present massive issues for Bangladesh's neighbours and could add another country to the list of failed states that worry the world so.

But wait. Bangladesh has weathered every storm, reduced poverty, improved life expectancy and living standards and is performing well on many of the Millennium Development Goals. The frequency of disaster is increasing, but the cost in lives is nowhere as high as it was. Disaster preparedness and early warnings have worked. Food security has improved. This cyclone has killed thousands, but if it had hit 30 years ago, it would have killed hundreds of thousands.

Indeed, far from being a basket case, Bangladesh should be held up as a model for poorer countries that could suffer from worsening global conditions. If this country can do it, with its massive poverty-stricken population, widespread corruption and a history of intermittent political instability, then surely any can.

However, Bangladesh is again standing at a crossroads and needs more friends — especially friends who will stay for the long term and help the country deal with the challenges of geography, climate change and human shortcoming.

The methods and practices for effective disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction are known and in part put into great effect. But erratic commitment and present-day needs mean that it is always at the bottom of pressing priorities, such as importing food grains and fuel, supplying electricity or expanding education. That future needs to be secured through planned, external assistance.

Seeing the damage, I realize that we in the humanitarian community have a hard road ahead. At the World Food Program, we are well known for providing emergency food assistance in the aftermath of emergencies. What is less well known is that we are working to expand programs to help the population become less vulnerable to shocks and to start vital public works projects to secure both the short- and long-term prospects of these people as we have successfully done in the past.

But more is needed. Bangladesh has always had to improve on what existed before; it must swim quickly just to stay afloat. Like anything, this requires commitment and support. History shows that neither are squandered when given to Bangladesh — and that the benefits can spread across the region and the world as a whole. #

First published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada on December 18, 2007 Douglas Broderick is the Bangladesh representative for the United Nations World Food Program

Fighting for the soul of Bangladesh

Dr AYESHA SIDDIQA

In their eagerness not to be compared to Pakistan, the Bangladeshis have failed to notice that they are slowly creeping towards a situation subtly comparable to Pakistan and that if they are not careful, the military would soon begin to play a decisive role in the country’s politics

TALK to an average Bangladeshi about civil-military relations and they will tell you that their country is not like Pakistan and that they will never allow the military to take control of politics.

Unfortunately, in their eagerness not to be compared to Pakistan, the Bangladeshis have failed to notice that they are slowly creeping towards a situation subtly comparable to Pakistan and that if they are not careful the military would soon begin to play a decisive role in the country’s politics. They must also realise that the elite of any country might be as myopic as that of any other country and may push the country to political disaster.

Bangladesh started its transition to democracy in 1991 when public protests put an end to the rule of General Ershad who had taken over after the assassination of his predecessor General Zia-ur-Rehman. Since then, the army has not returned to politics. Bangladeshi political historians always forget the botched coup attempt of 1996 when Generals Naseem and Hilal Murshed conspired to take over. Had the military been fully professional then, which means tightly organised as a hierarchy, it would have managed to take control of the government. The fact that the conspiring generals did not have good communication channels with the battalion guarding Dhaka and could not convince some generals to move from strategic positions saved the country. So, in 1996, there were elements in the army who had the ambition to gain power.

However, the civilian rulers entered into an informal partnership with the military according to which the government would ensure the military’s interest in return for the latter staying out of politics. This arrangement could be managed because the armed forces were not completely professional. The legacy of the Bangladeshi military is a mix of freedom fighters and officers repatriated from the United Pakistan armed forces. The friction between the two schools of thought did not allow for the kind of consolidation of perception and interests which would result in building up of a praetorian military. The officer cadre was further enticed into submission through the opportunities gained from participating in the UN peace keeping missions. Apart from the defence budget, the military depends on the UN to obtain resources for the gratification of its personnel.

Some of the UN money was later re-invested in exploring other possibilities for economic expansion by the armed forces. The Bangladeshi military has used some of this money as venture capital and established stakes in business and industry which is also a carry forward from the pre-1971 Fauji Foundation.

Since the past ten years, there have been three developments in Bangladesh which have had an impact on its politics.

First, the military has consolidated its corporate ethos and culture which means that the organisation is building cohesion within itself which it lacked earlier. Along with this, the military has also become more conscious of its interests, which includes personal stakes of the officer cadre. For a military which was basically meant to provide security against external threat to Bangladesh, the bulk has now become engaged in the UN peacekeeping missions. Whether peace-keeping missions are the core task of a professional military is a moot point.

Second, a gap has emerged between the people and the political leadership. The politicians have become more intensely authoritarian and myopic in their thinking. Such a transformation is not new but dates back to the times soon after the country was born. However, the predatory instinct of the politicians has intensified resulting in policies which would destabilise the country.

Third, there is the development of an equally predatory middle class which is willing to use the military as a secondary partner to change the current political arrangement. Since the Bangladeshi political system is patronage-based, the common man is not able to look beyond Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. The problem of the educated middle class, on the other hand, is that while it is not willing to ‘soil their hands’ in the ‘dirty game of politics,’ they would like to take power away from these two female leaders. Resultantly, the educated middle class is quite happy to use the military and unfair political means to change the domestic scene.

For instance, while making a speech in Canberra the Bangladeshi advisor on foreign affairs claimed that the caretaker setup in the country denoted the rule of ‘Baudrulok’ (elite). This term means educated and more capable; it was traditionally used by the Calcutta elite to refer to themselves. The underlying message of the gentleman, which more or less represents the perception of the educated middle class, is that there are new groups which are ready to replace the old leadership. Since mass politics is too dirty a game, these new power aspirants will use unfair means and the military to negotiate power. These people would rather have military help them with some rigging than let Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia return to power.

Surely, the two ladies must share their part of the blame for letting things come to this point. The misuse of power and ill-conceived policies rarely bring fruit. For example, the BNP strategically encouraged the Jamaat and other religious extremist factions to their own advantage. Interestingly, Khaleda Zia was not the only beneficiary of cultivating religious extremism. The military benefited both directly and indirectly. A more rightist society is bound to be more nationalistic in a narrow sense.

However, the problem is that using the military is never a good option. This is not an organisation which can be trusted to remain a junior partner once the civilian policymakers and stakeholders begin to use it to gain power.

Pakistan’s example is a case in point. The 1958 coup by the civil bureaucracy was not meant to bring in the military. But once General Ayub decided to take over power, there was nothing which could stop him. Sadly, we are still unable to check the military from gaining power.

Any Bangladeshi might argue that their armed forces and society are different. They will not let the military rule for long nor will the army try to come into power directly. There are two points which are worth making.

First, the army does not necessarily have to come directly into power. The organisation could become influential while remaining in the back seat and yet constantly destabilise politics.

Second, the Bangladeshi ruling elite is no different from any other, especially when we look at the manner in which it has sought to use authoritarianism and military force to its own advantage. They, like any other short-sighted and predatory elite, have completely forgotten that people are not to be taken for a ride. Too much tempering with the masses, the propensity to use extra-constitutional methods for transfer of power, and inability to deliver services to the public leads to a certain disenchantment amongst the common people. The people no longer take active interest in politics nor do they offer their lives to stand up for right against wrong; in any case, after a while, they are unable to tell the difference.

The Bangladeshi state and society at this point is very close to getting on the track of Pakistan’s politics. Its elite and middle class must evaluate the advantage of using short-term versus long-term perspective to life and politics. #

First published in The Daily Times, Lahore, Pakistan on December 17, 2007

[Ayesha Siddiqa is a scholar specializing in military & security affairs & the author of the recent well received book entitled, “Military Inc, Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy”. She did her doctorate from King’s College London in 1996 and has worked on issues varying from military technology, defence decision-making, nuclear deterrence, arms procurement, arms production to civil-military relations in South Asia. She can be reached at ayesha.ibd@gmail.com]

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Indianism Once Again

SHAHRIAR KABIR

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Political Fallout: Caught on the Back Foot

FARID BAKHT

The caretaker government in Bangladesh has been severely criticised for its incompetence in organising relief after cyclone Sidr devastated large parts of the country. By arranging for movement of people to high ground, the government did see that the casualties were kept relatively low, but it has refused to recognise the enormity of physical damage wrought by the cyclone and has been inept in relief management.

THE reputation of the caretaker government in Bangladesh has touched a new low. The issue is its handling of cyclone Sidr. What started off as a clinically successful operation quickly deteriorated into a management fiasco. The category four cyclone slammed into south-western Bangladesh on November 15. From four days before the storm made landfall, the government began warning people about the seriousness of the situation. The BBC reported how "advertisements in newspapers, megaphone announcements from mosques and (even) internet messages" sent a constant stream of messages.

Winds of speeds of up to 250 km per hour and waves over six metres high made this comparable to the terrible cyclone of November 1970. In 1991, more than 1,40,000 people had died when another cyclone hit Bangladesh. Within the first few days of the current disaster, officials were saying that less than 2,000 deaths had occurred. By November 22 the death toll had climbed to just above 4,000. While still tragic, the death toll seemed miraculously low in comparison to 1991.

One reason initially put forward for the low casualties was that the army was able to mobilise 600,000 people to move to the nearest shelter or at least inland. Less mention is made of the fortuitous factor that as the cyclone struck, the tide in the Bay of Bengal was low. Had it been high tide, many thousands more, caught in the open, might have perished. Nevertheless, the authorities did display efficiency in ensuring massive evacuation and they have been universally commended for their efforts. However, after a good start, things began to go horribly wrong.

The self-styled caretaker government, in charge since January, seemed to loathe making an appeal for assistance. The gaffe-prone law and information advisor (and owner of powerful media interests), Mainul Hossein, said that the government did not want to officially term it a national disaster. He told reporters, "We have discussed the matter several times, but finally did not make the national appeal because many kinds of people, with questionable motives, will become involved, which will create a situation very difficult for the government to control" (New Age, Bangladesh). Five days after the storm, under mounting condemnation, the interim leader, Fakhruddin Ahmed, changed course and described the cyclone as a national calamity. The foreign ministry then declared that, "We will welcome support from the international community…. We are doing as best as we can do ourselves".

The government is out of tune with most other institutions and its figures consistently minimise the tragedy. Even then, its data is appalling enough. The number of families affected is supposedly around 900,000, with nearly 250,000 cattle dead and 23,000 acres of crops totally destroyed. Numbers continue to creep up. It is reported that 360,000 homes are completed shattered, with 1.2 million damaged and more than a million homeless.

Effectively disregarding government dithering, the aid agencies got into gear. Foreign donors have pledged over $ 550 million in assistance. The World Bank accounts for $250 million, though unfortunately this will come mostly as a loan, which means that a few years down the line this will add to the country's increasingly unmanageable debt burden. Japan has offered $ 10 million. Among the neighbouring countries, India is giving $22 million in "operation sahayata". This will include 40,000 tonnes of rice, 10,000 tonnes of wheat, 1,000 tonnes of milk powder, 10,000 blankets, 400 tents and 24,000 kgs of medicines. Pakistan despatched two C-130 airplanes and is setting up a 30-bed mobile hospital.

Too Little, Too Late
Within the first week, the relief operation degenerated into chaos. On November 21, 2007, Associated Press reported fist fights among desperate survivors waiting for rice at a food distribution centre. In line with other media channels, they mentioned that, "food, fresh water and temporary shelter still had not reached many of the exhausted survivors six days after..." Television channels showed many instances of people in tears, pleading for food and drinking water. Aid was not getting through.

Journalists wrote that, "relief efforts … seem to centre in areas that have been widely reported in the media while out-of-the-way places still wait to receive much needed food and medical supplies" (The Daily Star, November 24, 2007). In another report, one individual was asked what he would like most from the relief operation he replied, "I just want someone, the government, NGO, whoever it is… help me rebuild my house". Inadvertently, this points to another aspect of the caretaker government's strategy in the immediate aftermath of the storm. They insisted that all aid be channelled via them and not via non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Similarly, they did not make a move to include local activists of the political parties. While undoubtedly relief materials go missing, as evidenced during the trials of former ministers, much of the supplies do get through. The political parties have a widespread network in place and are a traditional conduit. A week later, the administration belatedly called for their participation. For many thousands, it would have been too late.

Climate Change Link
Given the frequency of cyclones in this region, there has not been much comment about its connection to climate change. However, it should be noted that the storm intensified as the water in the Bay of Bengal was abnormally warm, reaching 26 degrees celsius. The realistic reaction would be to say that rising temperatures would make cyclones of this magnitude a much more common occurrence, rather than a once in a generation event. This will require more planning to prepare for the worst.

For example, it has been clear that there has been a shortage of boats and helicopters. There are still not enough cyclone shelters. Experts suggest that the ideal number would be 3,500. Cyclone shelters can house anything from 200 to 800 people. After the 1991 disaster, nearly 4,000 shelters were constructed. Unfortunately, 1,576 were damaged by river erosion or were abandoned due to their dilapidated condition, according to sources at the food and disaster management ministry (Daily Star, November 23, 2007). Similarly, 700 shelters built in the 1960s and 1970s were not maintained properly and thus useless.

In all likelihood, there will be another round of building construction over the next few years. The authorities would be wise to plan for proper maintenance to prevent the criminally high level of deterioration of the shelters.

Economic Impact
The National Board of Revenue (NBR) chairman Abdul Mazid claimed, "the current financial year looks very critical for the national economy", when addressing businessmen of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (New Age, November 22, 2007). Cyclone Sidr will now fuel more inflation, having already hit 10 per cent in July.

None of this seems to perturb the finance adviser, A B Mirza Azizul Islam. In a public discussion with some of the top economists of the country, he brushed aside their advice and warnings. He insisted that the loss of one million tonnes of the "aman" crop would not have a severe impact on the national economy (New Age, November 20, 2007). He explained that, "since agriculture contributes only 22 per cent to the gross domestic product, damage to the aman crop will not have a significant effect on our economy".

The president of the Bangladesh Economic Association retorted, "If someone says it will not have a significant effect on food security, I will say he does not know the reality of either the country or the national economy. After all, agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and aman, too, is a major crop."

Initial assessments suggest that one million tonnes of the aman season crop have been lost, out of a national target of 12.4 million. To put this into perspective, the government has only 0.73 million tonnes in its buffer stock (way short of its minimum requirement of one million tonnes). When a poor and vulnerable country loses more than what it has in its entire food reserves, it beggars belief that the highest finance official in the land can be so blasé.

The economists continued to advise that the critical challenge is to generate purchasing power among the affected people and get money to circulate immediately. That means providing jobs, writing off farmers' debt, and rebuilding basic infrastructure. Given budget pressures, this will be difficult. It is not clear if senior functionaries have the will to implement such a programme, once the media has moved on.

A primary estimate is that the loss to property alone will be taka 6,500 crore, loss of aman paddy of taka 3,500 crore, roads and bridges of taka 1,100 crore, houses at taka 750 crore and trees of the Sundarban mangrove forest of taka 500 crore.

Political Fallout?
The US administration failed miserably after hurricane Katrina and that may be offered as a defence of the poor relief programme so far. It has to be said however that Bangladesh, along with its permanent aid partners, has decades of unparalleled experience in coping with natural disasters. At present, 10,000 troops are engaged in international operations worldwide, with over 40,000 having served abroad at some time. Lacking the sheer weight of resources, it does have the knowledge and familiarity of dealing with these types of occurrences. Even within an increasingly self-censoring environment, there has been a barrage of criticism from all sides within the country. This will become another nail in the coffin of incompetence displayed by the caretaker administration.

First published in Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai, India on December 1, 2007
http://www.epw.org.in/uploads/articles/11267.pdf

Farid Bakht ( faridbakht@yahoo.com) is a commentator on south Asian affairs. He is the author of “Arrival or Departure: Bangladesh in Dangerous Times” and spends his time between London and Dhaka

The interim government’s get-tough-policy with academicians just fizzled out

A.H. JAFFOR ULLAH

I took time out from writings because it was too painful to watch the downward journey of my motherland with Fakhruddin, the crony of Bangladesh military, at helm. However, I was watching the drama being played in Dhaka by none other than the top leaders of the illegal (unconstitutional) government backed by the military establishment of Bangladesh.

The military was mightily upset when students and professors of Dhaka University became vocal over the presence of a military camp right inside the campus. The military was finally booted out. Thanks to the spontaneously generated protest session in which outsiders also joined the professors and students. The teachers from other campuses notably from Rajshahi University also joined the protest movement. This was too much for General Moeen and his lieutenants. They were defeated unceremoniously and when the press published the famous photo of a retreating officer while a protester kicked him in the butt all hell broke loose in Kurmitola cantonment. General Moeen had to take valium to soothe his nerve.

To teach the professors a lesson of a lifetime, the military had the police arrest a few professors. They humiliated the academicians by huddling them with common criminals, denied handing medicines, and did not even allow family members to meet the arrestees. The so-called “free” court of Bangladesh passed judgment in favor of the government. The professors from Rajshahi were convicted by the “independent” court. And now on the face of a growing resentment in the civil society the government backed down. Fakhruddin and his gang engineered a presidential clemency as a face saving technique. The government thought by awarding the clemency this illegal government’s stature will be enhanced.

The proof that this government is run from behind by the military is so obvious. The government sent members of DGFI to meet the family. Why DGFI? Any of the civilians who are serving in this unconstitutional government could have gone to Rajshahi to meet the family members of the “convicted” professors. What was the deal DGFI had in their sleeve? Did they think that the relatives of the professors will cringe in fear by seeing a few muscle men in army fatigue? Time has surely changed. Wake up fellows! This is the age of the Internet. Those days of Ayub Khan, Gen. Zia and Gen. Ershad do not exist any more.

I request everyone to analyze the entire sequence of events with objectivity. This un-elected and extra-constitutional government who is now managing the country somehow is directionless. Do you care to know that the military boss (General Moeen) gets more attention in the press than the Chief Advisor or the president? The military four-star General who engineered his promotion pronto after grabbing the power is a shameless fellow. He pretends as if Bangladesh is his paternal property. He took the cues from General Musharraf. I will not be surprised to hear that in near future General Moeen will run for president. Let the dust settle. Everything will be clear in good time.

The nation is drifting in the ocean of uncertainties. The economic growth was stunted since January 2007. On top of it, the monsoon-led flood and cyclone Sidr had plunged the nation into a state of hopelessness. The inflation of commodity prices had escalated so much so that ordinary people simply cannot afford many necessities of life. People cannot protest against the repressive government that has incarcerated more than 250,000 people. The newspapers in Bangladesh stopped mentioning about the plights of these people who are rotting in jails.

The government’s scorched-earth policy did not work with the academicians. The professors are valiant heroes of the nation. Their family members did not agree to the terms laid down by the DGFI bosses. Therefore, to end the stalemate Iajuddin, the master bungler of Bangladesh, had to come up with the “presidential clemency.” I hate this sort of pardon. Why? In the first place, the professors of Dhaka, Rajshahi, and Chittagong Universities did the right thing. University teachers are the conscience of the nation. If they would not have protested against the repressive government, then who would.

The government in this case simply caved in by engendering a laughable presidential clemency. The government was too coward to execute the judgment handed down by the kangaroo court. It thought if the professors are put in jail to serve the sentence, there may be more demonstration allover the nation.

This repressive and unconstitutional military-driven government has not yet learned the proper lesson. Historians will not treat them lightly either. All the major players in Bangladesh in respect to governance such as Fakhruddin, Mainul, Matin, Moeen, Iajuddin, and the rest will be mired in infamy. Mark my word.

In the meantime, Bangladesh’s downward journey to abyss is continuing. It is a sad testament that 150 million teeming people have no democratic rights whatsoever. The rest of the civilized nation could care less for the plights of the people. I characterized this government an oligarchy from the very beginning. What looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, is a duck. This is a repressive and autocratic military regime with a civilian façade. Make no mistake about it. #

A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jamaat's denial of 1971: What lesson (if at all) does it teach us?

JAHED AHMED

"History is to the nation as memory is to the individual. As persons deprived of memory become disoriented and lost, not knowing where they have been and where they are going, so a nation denied a conception of the past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future."
-Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pulitzer Prize winner American historian & biographer


IN the context of the current controversy surrounding some noted anti-liberation and 1971 war collaborators’ statements denying the occurrence of genocide and terming ’71 war merely a ‘civil war’, instead of ‘liberation war’ as it is known to the people of Bangladesh and the rest of the world, historian Arthur Schlesinger's above saying points out at least one important character of our nation: we forget our heroes but forgive our proven enemies. We have miserably failed to deal with and decide on an issue that largely defines our country’s birth, history and glory. Needless to say, the statements made by the Jamaat Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mujahidi, Jamaat sympathizer Shah Abdul Hannan and Jamaat leader Quader Mullah are false and outrageous; yet I think we cannot get away from our own responsibilities simply by showing our outburst at them. They said it because we, collectively, may have helped them arrive at a stage where they think they do not, or need not remember their anti-liberation role in 1971; they see themselves more as the legitimate leaders of an Islamic political party which exerts significant influence in the political arena of Bangladesh. And that did not happen overnight. Years of opportunistic, unpatriotic and power hungry political trends—common among the main stream political parties including the one that led our liberation war—have raised their level of confidence. Or else, how many nations do we know of where the documented war criminals dared to deny the very country’s sovereignty and birth as early as 36 years after its independence? To the contrary, we know, even 62 years after the World War II, collaborators and sympathizers of Nazis are still being prosecuted and brought to justice in many European countries. A few months ago, a man as eminent German Nobel Laureate author Günter Grass drew acrid criticism—some even demanded the Nobel Laureate title be withdrawn from him—after he confessed his involvement with the Waffen S.S.—an organization known to have committed many war crimes during WW II.

I see a lot of protests and reactions coming out from the people of Bangladesh: intellectuals; freedom fighters; politicians; secular, cultural & progressive organizations and beyond. This is a good sign that shows, our nation still has not forgotten its greatest heroes and their sacrifice for liberation and however factionalized and divided otherwise we might be, we would not let anyone go unchallenged if the legitimacy of this nation’s birth and sacrifice is doubted. Yet I have some concerns whether ultimately we would be able to initiate trials of war criminals and collaborators. I think so not because we have any lack of proof, documents or witnesses as to who those people were that cooperated with the Pak army in killing several hundreds of thousands of freedom fighters, or who formed Al-Badr, Al-Shams etc killer forces; my concern, rather, lies elsewhere. I am afraid, as a nation with long history of dementia, these outbursts and protests may soon turn out to be just a whim or someday the issue might lose priority in our minds. It is also not impossible, political opportunism would instead go in favor of those whom we are trying to put on trial, as it has happened in the past. But I truly hope my fears do not come true.

The current interim government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed has taken quite a few essential and bold steps (although I have reservations about certain actions of his government) that were long due and given their past history, most probably would not have been taken if any main stream political party ascended to power. For example, separation of judiciary from the executive branch; prosecuting corrupt political leaders regardless of their personal status and ranks. May I request His Excellency the Chief Adviser of the caretaker government that his government takes initiative to start trials of 1971 war criminals and collaborators? If Mujahidi-Hannan–Quader Mullah gang could show impudence of denying our liberation war when several thousands of freedom fighters, political leaders, organizers, sector commanders, and other direct and indirect victims in the hand of Pak army and their appointed local agents in 1971 are still alive, what might happen when some day we would lose these people from us? Do we wish to leave behind a history of our nation’s birth with a question mark for our present and future generations? We must find answers to these questions. Let us also not forget, Bangladesh was not liberated for becoming a platform for any opportunistic person, political party or organization which deceives people in the name of religion. If history is to be taken into account, the use of religion in politics has always had deleterious effect on people and society. Hence the use of religion is banned in any civilized society. It is not a question of East or West. It is for our own sake, and to facilitate ways to a pluralistic, democratic and progressive Bangladesh that we need to ban all political use of religion, be it Islam or any other kind. We do not want our motherland getting transformed into another Afghanistan, Pakistan or Nigeria. Of course, those who did not recognize this country’s liberation and have no faith in its sovereignty would always try otherwise.

I was born in 1972 in independent Bangladesh. All my knowledge about 1971 is based on secondary information and sources: books, tale from eyewitnesses and the media. But in the independent Bangladesh I saw, to what extent Jamaat-Shibir could become dishonest, hypocrite and immoral in order to grab power. For years, they have been deceiving and exploiting the religiosity of this country’s people in the name of Islam. I vividly remember the wall writing of Jamaat during elections in Bangladesh: “Vote dile pallay, Khushi hobe Allay” (Cast your vote on Scale Symbol and Allah shall be happy). As if Jamaat-e-Islami was the authorized sole agent of Islam and Allah in Bangladesh! Therefore, I need not be any more convinced than I am already as to what "ideals" (!) Jamaat-Shibir really stand for and what role they played in 1971. To the contrary, I do not have even a shred of doubt about the courage, devotion and patriotism of several millions of men and women who sacrificed their lives for our independence (that the exact figure, whether 3 million or less, is hardly an issue to me). However, I am yet to be convinced that our leaders, politicians really care about this country and its people. If they do, I am sure they will unite, work collectively and take steps to ensure- no one in the future would dare to raise question about the legitimacy of our liberation war. In this direction, identifying our enemies is just as important as our heroes.

Echoing the words of valiant freedom fighter Syed Muhammad Ibrahim (Daily Star, Oct.29, 2007), I would also like to say, let us “resolve this issue once and for all.” #

First published in Mukto-Mona, New York on 01 November, 2007

Jahed Ahmed is co-moderator and editorial board member of Mukto-Mona (www.mukto-mona.com), a South Asian Network of Secular Humanists and Freethinkers E-mail: worldcitizen73@yahoo.com

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bangladesh: Guilty at birth?

The politicians are still fighting the war of independence, 36 years on

AFP/Nizami's youth comes back to haunt him

THE army-backed interim government running Bangladesh since January has been struggling to bring corrupt politicians and businessmen to trial. Now it faces mounting pressure also to prosecute those involved in “war crimes” during the country's war of independence in 1971. In recent weeks, the big political parties—in a rare display of unity—have jointly demanded that the government ban “war criminals” from contesting the parliamentary election due late next year.

In effect, this would transform the government's “minus-two” strategy—the removal from politics of Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia, leaders of the two biggest political parties—into “minus three”. Talk of war-crimes trials leads inexorably to one person, Motiur Rahman Nizami, leader of the third-largest party, Jamaat-e-Islami. Shahriar Kabir, the head of the Nirmul Committee, a group campaigning for the trial of the 1971 war criminals, says he has “no doubt” that the case against Nizami and his associates would stand up in a court of law, and wants the government to set up a tribunal.

Bangladesh became independent in December 1971, after a nine-month war that pitted Bengali-dominated East Pakistan against West Pakistan. The West's army, with its appeal to Islamic unity, had the support of many of East Pakistan's fundamentalist parties. The most extreme of these was the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose student wing became the main source of a pro-army paramilitary body called Al Badr, which was led by Nizami. Its members are alleged, among other atrocities, to have abducted and murdered dozens of senior journalists and academics.

Frequent calls for war-crimes trials have been ignored. This time, however, the unelected government's hand may be forced by the new unity among the big parties, and by support for the demands among parts of the army. The army may want only to clip Jamaat's wings and cleanse it of the taint of 1971. Many civilians, however, are motivated by distrust of religion-based politics.

Time is running out. Many witnesses, and many of the accused, have died. The head of the interim administration, Fakhruddin Ahmed, has said that the government would welcome prosecutions initiated by private citizens. But citizens' groups insist that the state must act as prosecutor in crimes of such magnitude.

So far, the interim government has not faced a serious political challenge. But election boycotts are a common tactic in Bangladesh, and could be used to put pressure on it—provided, of course, that its military backers decide to go ahead with the polls. Trials relating to crimes committed so long ago may seem irrelevant in a country facing so many immediate disasters. It is still reeling from Cyclone Sidr and devastating floods. But for those demanding trials, Bangladesh's very identity is at stake. Many agreed with Zafar Sobhan, a political commentator, when he wrote recently that the immunity enjoyed by Jamaat since 1971 is the country's “original sin”, polluting the body politic far worse even than financial corruption. Is there another country, he asked, where those, like Jamaat, “who opposed the birth of a country or those who collaborated with its enemies” have been rehabilitated? #

First published in The Economist, London on Dec 6th 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

The continuing rape of our history

MASHUQUR RAHMAN demolishes Sarmila Bose's revisionist history of 1971

Genocide denial is a phenomenon that crops up to challenge almost every accepted case of genocide. The genocide committed by the Pakistan army during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 is no exception. Because of the scale of the atrocities in 1971 against a civilian population of 70 million people, it has proved impossible for genocide deniers to claim that the atrocities did not occur. Instead, they have focused on two tactics used to deny most genocides: that the magnitude of the killings was not that great, and that the Pakistan army had no systematic policy of genocide.

The grim numbers of 1971: Genocide versus denial
Most estimates of the 1971 genocide put the death toll between 300,000 and 3 million Bangladeshis, with between 200,000 to 400,000 women raped. R.J. Rummel, in his book Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900, puts the death toll at around 1.5 million. Gendercide Watch terms the 1971 genocide as one of the most concentrated acts of genocide in the twentieth century. Susan Brownmiller, in her book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, puts the number of women raped by the Pakistan military and their local collaborators, the razakars, between 200,000 and 400,000. According to Brownmiller, the Pakistani army raped Bengali girls as young as eight and grandmothers as old as seventy-five.

After the War, the Pakistan government produced a report -- the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report -- on the actions of the Pakistan army in 1971. While the report acknowledged that the Pakistan army had indeed committed atrocities in Bangladesh, it downplayed the extent of the atrocities and denied that there was any systematic policy of genocide. The report put the death toll from the genocide at 26,000, based on "situation reports submitted from time to time by the Eastern Command to the General Headquarters."

The Pakistani report's estimate of 26,000 dead stands in stark contrast to every other estimate of the death toll of between 300,000 to 3 million. The report was an attempt by the Pakistan government to dictate the narrative before the true extent of the genocide became evident to the world. The Pakistani report has, nonetheless, stood as the document of last resort for most 1971 genocide deniers.

Sarmila Bose's (questionable) claims
Following up on her 2005 paper denying the extent of the 1971 genocide, published in the Economic and Political Weekly, Sarmila Bose has now published a paper denying the extent of the rape of Bangladeshi women by the Pakistan army and the razakars. In her paper titled "Losing the Victims: Problems of Using Women as Weapons in Recounting the Bangladesh War," she states:

"That rape occurred in East Pakistan in 1971 has never been in any doubt. The question is what was the true extent of rape, who were the victims and who the perpetrators, and was there any systematic policy of rape by any party, as opposed to opportunistic sexual crimes in times of war."

At the very beginning of her paper, she lays down the two tactics familiar to all genocide deniers: she questions the extent of the rape and questions whether there was any systematic policy of rape. Ms. Bose argues that claiming "hundreds of thousands" were raped trivialises "the possibly several thousand true rape victims" of the war. She, however, does not offer a good explanation as to how she reached the "several thousand" number, other than saying that so many rapes would not be possible because of the size of the Pakistani army in 1971. She also, unsurprisingly, quotes the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report to support her assertion that so many rapes could not have occurred.

To try to bolster her argument, she claims that the size of the Pakistani army in Bangladesh was only 34,000 men. Then she asserts: "For an army of 34,000 to rape on this scale in eight or nine months (while fighting insurgency, guerrilla war and an invasion by India), each would-be perpetrator would have had to commit rape at an incredible rate."

The actual number of Pakistani forces at the end of the war, and taken POW by the Indians, was 90,368, including over 54,000 army and 22,000 paramilitary forces. It is not unreasonable to conclude that a force of 90,000 could rape between 200,000 to 400,000 women in the space of nine months. To rape 200,000 Bangladeshi women a Pakistani force of 90,000 would have to rape 2 to 3 women each in nine months. Not only is this scale of atrocity possible by an army engaged in a systematic campaign of genocide, it also has parallels in other modern conflicts (for example, the rape of between 250,000 to 500,000 women in Rwanda within 100 days).

The Pakistan army: Gentlemen in uniform at a time of war
Ms. Bose also paints a picture of the Pakistan military as a disciplined force that spared women and children. Citing her field research she writes: "Bangladeshi participants and eyewitnesses described battles, raids, massacres and executions, but told me that women were not harmed by the army in these events except by chance, such as in crossfire. The pattern that emerged from these incidents was that the Pakistan army targeted adult males while sparing women and children."

However, her field research is contradicted by all available evidence. From the early days of the war, women and girls were targeted for rape and killed. On March 30, 1971, the American Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, sent a telegram to the State Department recounting the Pakistani atrocities in Dhaka. In it he wrote about the massacre at Rokeya Hall at Dhaka University where, according to Blood, the building was "set ablaze and girls machine-gunned as they fled the building."

On March 31, 1971, Archer Blood sent another telegram which recounted atrocities against girls. Blood wrote: "Six naked female bodies at Rokeya Hall, Dacca U. Feet tied together. Bits of rope hanging from ceiling fans. Apparently raped, shot and hung by their heels from fans."

The reports from the American Embassy in Dhaka give us a small window into the systematic killing spree that was Operation Searchlight, the code name the Pakistani army gave to the first stage of the genocide operation.

Throughout her paper, Ms. Bose continues to paint the Pakistan military as a disciplined force not capable of systematic rape. She cited a memo written by General Niazi that reminds his officers that they have a "code of honour" and as "gentlemen and officers" they should abide by it. She then writes that Pakistani officers she spoke to were "indignant" at charges of large-scale rape and claimed that these charges were false.

Ms. Bose follows a similar pattern throughout her paper. She gives credence to the stories told to her by the Pakistani military, the perpetrators of the rapes, and dismisses as "alleged" and not credible the accounts of the rape victims. However, contemporaneous news reports from 1971 tell a different story. For example, an October 25, 1971, a Time Magazine article, detailing the Pakistani military atrocities, reports on women and girls held captive and raped at Pakistani military headquarters in Dhaka:

"One of the more horrible revelations concerns 563 young Bengali women, some only 18, who have been held captive inside Dacca's dingy military cantonment since the first days of the fighting. Seized from Dacca University and private homes and forced into military brothels, the girls are all three to five months pregnant. The army is reported to have enlisted Bengali gynecologists to abort girls held at military installations. But for those at the Dacca cantonment it is too late for abortion. The military has begun freeing the girls a few at a time, still carrying the babies of Pakistani soldiers."

A problematic methodology
Having portrayed the Pakistan military as a benevolent force, Ms. Bose then attempts to discredit a handful of accounts of rape victims as a way of casting doubt on the rapes committed during the 1971 genocide.

She begins by trying to cast doubt on an eyewitness, named Rabeya Khatun, whom she dismisses as illiterate, to rape at Rajarbag. Ms. Bose then dismisses accounts of two other corroborating witnesses because their testimony was similar to Ms. Khatun's and they, too, were illiterate. Ms. Bose declares the witness's testimony not credible because, "the language is not what would be used either by illiterate sweepers or by educated Bengalis in everyday conversation."

She then finds refuge in the account of a Pakistani Lt. Col. Taj who, unsurprisingly, "categorically denied that any molestation of women had taken place at Rajarbag by his men." Ms. Bose then informs us Lt. Col. Taj was not actually present at Rajarbag after the first night of military action. Yet, she felt the need to inject him as a fact witness.

Night of military action. Yet, she felt the need to inject him as a fact witness. Then, she dismisses Ms. Khatun's account as "highly dubious," declaring "until and unless other, credible witnesses come forward, the hellish account attributed to one illiterate woman simply will not suffice."

Dismissing witnesses simply on the grounds of illiteracy is a serious methodological fallacy. Eyewitnesses do not need to read or write to know what constitutes sexual violence. The Pakistan military did not discriminate between illiterate and literate classes in its campaign of killings and rape against Bangladeshis.

Ms. Bose then tries to cast doubt on the account of rape victim Ferdousi Priyabhashini, an educated woman and well-known sculptor. Ms. Bose's argument here is somewhat muddled, but it appears that she is claiming that Mrs. Priyabhashini was less of a rape victim and more of a willing participant.

Ms. Bose writes: "It is highly unusual for someone of her background to admit to having been a rape victim, especially in the conservative societies like Bangladesh." Ms. Bose goes on, "According to her own account, in 1971, Ferdousi Priyabhashini was a mature woman, a divorced mother of three, working for many years."

After a muddled discussion of Ms. Priyabhashini's account of rape by Pakistani soldiers, Ms. Bose concludes that there is an "inconsistency" in Ms. Priyabha-shini's account because she feared she would be killed by the freedom fighters. Ms. Bose declares: "Only those who were perceived to have willingly fraternised with the Pakistani regime were at risk of the wrath of freedom fighters, not victims of the regime." It appears Ms. Bose is asserting that since Ms. Priyabhashini feared for her life, she must have consented to having sex with Pakistani soldiers.

In the legal sense, rape is an act of sexual intercourse carried out "against a person's will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the person or another." The calculated rationale of the act of war-time rape constitutes a political act, and an attack on the collective political identity of the group of females under attack, not necessarily on their individual identities. Rape during genocides is not exclusively an attack on the body -- it is an attack on the "body politic." Its primary goal is not to maim or kill a person (though that does, in fact, happen, in great numbers) but to control an entire socio-political process by crippling it.

Put another way, during genocides, rape has been used as a weapon of social control and cultural destruction, of devaluation and commodification.

Genocidal rape is not rape out of control, it is rape under control. All existing evidence points to the fact that the Pakistani military specifically targeted Bengali women and girls. This targeting was not a by-product of war, but a systematic campaign of genocidal rape. The historic Akayesu trial in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda established that rape constitutes an act of genocide, and an egregious violation of international law, when it is committed to destroy a targeted group. Given the scale and systematic way in which Bangladeshi women and girls were subjected to rape and sexual violence in 1971, even a rudimentary understanding of the effect of rape on the victim casts doubt on Ms. Bose's argument.

Ms. Bose goes on to try to cast doubt on the account of Akhtaruzzaman Mandal -- a freedom fighter who accompanied Indian soldiers as they took control of a Pakistani position. There, Mr. Mandal states, he saw the corpse of a Pakistani captain lying beside a dead Bengali woman who showed signs of rape. Mr. Mandal also states that four naked women were discovered locked in a building, and one of the women was six months pregnant. Another 16 women were also discovered locked in an adjacent high school, some showing signs of torture.

In discounting Mr. Mandal's account, Ms. Bose writes that she interviewed Pakistani officers who told her that the dead captain was "humane" and had only recently arrived at the location. She accuses Mr. Mandal of "character assassination of an officer who had died defending his country, and therefore, cannot speak in his own defence."

Ms. Bose, once again, is ready to accept the word of the Pakistani soldiers, the perpetrators of rape. However, there are many cases of rapists in this world who appear to be "humane" to those who know them.

In critiquing accounts of seven rape victims describes in Neelima Ibrahim's book Ami Birangona Bolchhi, Ms. Bose notes that four of the seven women were abducted by Bengalis and one by a Bihari before being handed over to the Pakistan army. Some of the women were raped by their initial abductors before being handed over to the Pakistan army, to be held in barracks and raped again. Ms. Bose neglects to mention that those who abducted the women were local collaborators, razakars, working with the Pakistani military. Nonetheless, she makes the bizarre observation that since the razakars had already raped the women, "for the majority of these women, therefore, even if the Pakistan army had done nothing, they would still be rape victims."

The point, of course, is that the Pakistani army had done something -- they had raped these women. Whether their initial abductors had also raped the women does not make the Pakistani army any less complicit in their rapes.

An apologia
In this latest paper Sarmila Bose tries mightily to diminish the atrocities committed by the Pakistan military in 1971. She, however, offers very little of substance to back up her assertion that the existing research and documentation of the 1971 genocide overestimates the death toll and the rapes. Her claim that, in her words, the "unsubstantiated and implausible" claims of hundreds of thousands of rape victims distracts attention from the "true rape victims" and "insult the true victims by trivialising their suffering" is itself an insult to the victims of rape in Bangladesh. The number of rape victims does not diminish the suffering of any individual rape victim; the vast number of rapes only demonstrates the heinous magnitude of the Pakistani campaign. If there is any insult, it is that there is no acknowledgement of all the victims of the Pakistan army's rapes; rather, there is an attempt to dismiss the experiences of rape victims by asserting that these rapes did not take place.

In her attempt at denial, Sarmila Bose relies on the Pakistan government's report on the atrocities and the accounts of Pakistani soldiers, the perpetrators of the genocide. She overlooks news reports from the time, eyewitness accounts, academic works, and case studies. Instead of addressing the issue of genocidal rape in 1971, Ms. Bose tries to deconstruct and discredit a handful of accounts of rape. She targets personal narratives, such as that of Ms. Priyabhashini's, to try to prove the victims were not raped. She does not engage the issue of the number of rapes in any substantial way, or address how her assertions of "several thousand rapes" can be reconciled with numbers put forward by international agencies or independent reports, nor does she engage the discussion of genocidal rape as a war strategy.

In the end, her paper is neither scholarly nor neutral. It is an apologia for the Pakistan army and for the genocide it perpetrated against the Bangladeshi people in 1971.

Notes:
1. Sarmila Bose's paper: "Losing the Victims: Problems of Using Women as Weapons in Recounting the Bangladesh War" can be found on the Internet at http://www.Epw.Org.in/uploads/articles/11060.pdf
2. An expanded version of this article can be found on the Internet at http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2007/10/10/the-continuing-rape-of-bangladesh
Artworks by PABLO
Mashuqur Rahman is a US-based member of the Drishtipat Writers' Collective.
http://www.thedailystar.net/forum/2007/december/rape.htm