Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bangladesh: fade into the conveyance of martyrs

Photo: Civil society and secular activists hold a rally to demand trial of war criminals


THE GLORY, prestige and identity of the people of Bangladesh began with the essence of their language, heritage and cultural values. The Liberation War in 1971 and the utmost sacrifices of the citizens will remain as one of the famed episode in the global human history. It is the first successful instance of an ethnic linguistic nationalism movement succeeded by independence and became the International 'Mother Language Day' of United Nation officially observed by all over the world. The ardent fabric of the remarkable ethnic and cultural homogeneity haplessly always has been chased to instigate imported ideology by home grown perpetrators and interlopers.

The conveyance of martyrs who laid their lives for the freedom of Bangladesh to the February 25-26, 2009 mutiny at the Bangladesh Border Guard (BDR) headquarters is not a delusion. Anti-Liberation war supporters, conspirators, suspected war criminals, pro-Islamic, so called political experts utilize the situation for their own agenda diverting attention otherwise. The air is filled with thick slogans and promises, but it is very thin in reality.

The docile people of Bangladesh are God fearing and are totally unaware of the nature of political Islam. They encouraged some religious parties without fully understanding the potential consequences of the nation. After the 1971 liberation war, they prevailed numerous problems of a war ravaged country, and the ruling party leaders became more autocratic. Their unpopular measures not only further alienated from the people, the country’s political power began to reside with the military. Subsequently, the military dictators facilitated to rehabilitate 1971 Bangladesh liberation war collaborators, killers and the suspected war criminals.

In the 1971 Liberation War, the fight for the freedom is the greatest national achievement which was stirred by the oppression of law, religion and political rivalry. Consequences begin to arise as people try for an arduous phenomenon for a sustainable, effective and a meaningful democratic system. Again in 2009 when the political landscape in Bangladesh has begun a dramatic shift from imported ideology to linguistic and cultural nationalism, one looks around at the mass funerals of Bangladesh Army officers with tearful eyes.

Bangladesh Border Guard mutiny
The recent BDR carnage was a planned killing spree phrasing as a rank'n'file grievance and was a deep-rooted conspiracy to destroy the progress of the new democratic government of Bangladesh. The BDR regular soldiers killed most of the high officials present in the Border Guard headquarter. A country like Bangladesh has established the fact that the civilian government that is usually in a crisis always faces many challenges. It should deal with the crisis since there is every possibility that the military will intervene and takes control of the government as custodian.

In the short history as a nation, the citizen does not have the full confidence of the country’s political leaders. The present mutiny threatened to damage relations between the country's democratic civilian government and the military leadership. Certain groups want to shift the balance of power toward the army. According to BBC's reporter Mark Dummett in Dhaka, he says there had been anger in the army over the government's decision to negotiate with the mutineers, rather than immediately sending in troops to crush their revolt. The west and conflicts elsewhere in the continents probably persuaded the Bangladesh army to leave governance at home to the politicians.

The unprecedented atrocities, looting and brutally killing army officers and civilian by certain section of BDR so far claimed 75 lives. There is a legacy of bloodshed in this country. The Bangladesh Prime Minister didn’t have any other option except negotiation with the perpetrators delegation or to give the chance to others to seek the revenge. The PM and all three army chiefs focused seriously to avoid other border guard camps in the country to revolt and create a twist to start a civil war. The fact remains to world viewers that the members of the government’s negotiating team comments were contradictory.

Bangladesh’s criminal investigation department has already identified a number of border guard perpetrators who communicated over mobile phones to the ministers, lawmakers and a few influential persons. The plotter used the prolonged core sentiments and grievances of the border guards, initially exploiting the innocence of media to involve the common people with their 50-point demands. They committed terrible crimes and created an explosion of protest and anger. The world became sympathetic with the bereaved families of the slain army officers. It is obvious that some one directly or indirectly aided and abetted the conspirators to pull off this barbaric assault in Pilkhana.

In a third world country there is always a link that exists between poverty, population, and the environment. The scale of the brutality of the BDR perpetrators was far more ferocious than reasonably required to press scanty economic demands. The home ministry’s committee, the army and the Criminal Investigation Department are investigating to submit their findings on BDR rebellion report. The nation hopes to see a very comprehensive and accurate report. It is widely believed that certain elements in the Government intelligence agencies knew the plot but consciously let it proceed for various political, military and economical reasons. However, the fore knowledge and conspiracy theory debate will remain.

Anti-Liberation force and war criminals
I like to fade into oblivion about the Bangladesh Liberation War and the war criminals. Playing the religious sentiments by the Pakistani army and their collaborators, the Al-Badr, Al-Shams and Razakars committed genocide with the indiscriminate killing of intellectuals, innocent people where women were subjected to sexual violence in Bangladesh (formerly known as East Pakistan). After the Liberation war, though it was a massive call for justice, trail of war criminals didn’t materialized. It went reverse due to the political polarization; the history of liberation war began to get distorted with a willful perversion of facts.

The country’s bloody birth came into being on a sentiment of Bangladeshi nationalism which was free from any religious overtone. Within a couple of years a void space has generated anti-Awami League sentiments in Bangladesh. Freedom fighter General Zia-ur Rahman had gotten the nation entangled in the 'Bismillah' politics, which was later flourished by General Ershad. They gradually tapered the 1971 genocide episode from the proverbial consciousness of Bangladeshi masses and subtle eclipse of the country's secular fabric in the society. Fact remains that pro-Islamic forces have gone from strength to strength within the army ranks in Bangladesh.

With the analysis of the past religious influences and political scenarios of the world, one can easily conclude that armed forces, Para-military of partitioned Muslim states in India were not insulated from the influences of growing fundamentalism prevalent in society funded and well patronized by external forces. Now it is an uncouth shock to the Americans who had, after the inception of Pakistan, been taking the military and civilian leadership for granted! To understand the bottom line of religious extremism, the situation in Pakistan is the living example to the world.

The world stage gives hope that war criminals will face a tough world. The former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in what was described as a landmark ruling for human rights cases in Latin America. General Augusto Pinochet was indicted in 1998 and Milosevic died at The Hague while on trial for war crimes. The trial of the Bangladesh War Criminals of 1971 intensified the popular campaign both in and outside Bangladesh. The previous government’s lack of willingness, favors and their leader’s unbridled chauvinism was only limited by placing wreaths at the national Mausoleum to the Liberation War heroes.

The UN Human Rights Commission in its 1981 report said that the genocide in Bangladesh was one of worst in world history. The UN general assembly passed its resolution 3074 on December 3, 1973 entitled ´Principles of international cooperation in the detection, arrest, extradition and punishment of persons guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity´. Most of the suspected war criminals and collaborators belong to Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami, who opposed the country’s liberation war against Pakistan.

The George Washington University's National Security Archive published a collection of declassified documents on December 16 2002, most of the communication between US embassy officials and USIS centers in Dhaka and India, and officials in Washington DC. One can find details of some of the Pakistan army’s atrocities from telegrams of former US President Nixon archives released by United State Department of State. Part of telegram 978 from the Consulate General in Dhaka to the Department of State, March 29, 1971 has given below:

"In old Dacca report army acted with no provocation on part of Bengals except barricade erection........... Technique was to houses afire and then gun down people as they left their homes. Unwilling estimate number of casualties but advised that must be very high.........Recurrent reports many university professors killed. Although circumstances vague. Many say attempt underway wipe out all source potential intellectual ferment."

The spirit of the Bangladeshi nationalism has been resurrected with a deep reverberation to seek vengeance against the killers and rapists of 1971. Terming it a national demand, the present parliament approved a resolution and looked for a speedy prosecution of the country's 1971 war criminals. These war criminals were barred from fleeing Bangladesh. Taking the side of a terrorist’s nation in the name of religion citizens already paid heavily as its image got tarnished in the eyes of world.

Remarkably the young generation’s hard work brought the attention of the people of Bangladesh, the 1971's Pakistani army sponsored Genocide in Bangladesh and role of rehabilitated collaborators. Fakrul Arefin Khan is one of them. His courageous debut work as a film director, writer and sensational researcher on atrocities committed during the Liberation War mesmerized country and world audience by the 61-minute documentary 'Al-Badr' released on November 2008. He wrote about his hardships, life threatening experiences and the sheer force to make the documentary. Arefin didn’t see the liberation war; sitting on his mother lap he has heard the stories.

The trial of the war criminals has not been started in Bangladesh, but the official preparatory process has been initiated. The war criminals could be prosecuted by the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act 1973 which is protected by Article 47(3) of the Bangladesh constitution. The War Crimes Fact Finding Committee (WCFF) spent two decades documenting war-time incidents and announced the publishing of the list on Friday April 3 2009. The nation wants the trials to begin immediately, that is a fact.

The United Nations´ resident coordinator, Renata Lok Dessallien, has offered to help Bangladesh with their specialists so that the trial process meets international standards and experts with experience in dealing with war crimes tribunals. The government formally requested the United Nations to help to probe the atrocities committed in 1971 by the Pakistani army and its local collaborators and to prosecute the war criminals. Four war crimes experts, Louis Bickford, Priscilla Hayner, Bogdan Ivanisevic and Alexander Mayer-Rieckh, probably will assist the Bangladesh government according the UN office in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Civil society in Bangladesh is intelligent and vocal, needs to take care of corrosive effect of protecting fundamentalists and criminals. Second World War collaborator, Denier Ernest Zundel was deported from Canada to face charges in Germany in the trial of Holocaust. Zundel immigrated to Canada in 1958 and lived in Toronto and Montreal until 2001. So, in Bangladesh, the documentary evidence, the testimonies of witness are in favour of the prosecution.

The present government with new strength and feelings at any cost must show the world that crimes against humanity will not go unpunished. The Bengali culture and linguistic identity can’t be superseded by imported ideology. One must end the deliberate act of deviating from the truth. The world excoriates the defender of war criminals. Any flaws could never be used to exonerate the killers. #

First published in American Chronicle, April 15, 2009

Momtaz Ahmed is a Bangladeshi-Canadian who writes from Toronto, Canada. He enjoys writing about world events that come up in day-to-day life as a freelance writer. He firmly promotes heritage as well as an understanding of all cultures in our ever expanding multicultural society, despite their language, religious or political beliefs, or social opinions