Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Hasina Regime to Begin War Crimes Trial

Photo: Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (Courtesy Daily Star)
RAJEEV SHARMA

FORMAL CHARGES of war crimes and crimes against humanity will now be filed against senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury in the International Crimes Tribunal on November 14, 2011. The agency investigating war crimes charges against him has finalized its probe report. Investigators found evidence of Chowdhury’s involvement in at least 32 specific war crimes and crimes against humanity including killing and torturing the freedom fighters. Nearly 8000 pages of statements of witnesses, victims and their families and documents have been attachedS to the 119 page probe report. The agency recorded statements of 146 witnesses to crimes committed by Chowdhury, who is now in jail facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Chowdhury’s father Fazlul Quader Chowdhury was a former Cabinet Minister of the Pakistan Government and later Speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly in the 1960’s. The Chowdhury family had always been affiliated to the Muslim League and Fazlul Quader Chowdhury was a known Pakistani collaborator during the Liberation War of 1971. Chowdhury, who was in London pursuing post graduation in Marine Engineering at that time, returned to Chittagong after outbreak of the war to assist his father in helping the occupying Pakistan forces by organizing the cadres of Al Badar and Razakar, also known as Pakistan collaborators, who terrorized and brutally killed the members of Hindu community and looted their properties.

Chowdhury’s Goods Hill residence in Chittagong was used in 1971 as torture cell where innumerable freedom fighters were maimed and subjected to brutal torture during the liberation war. Any list of war criminals of Bangladesh would be incomplete without Chowdhury heading it. After collaborating with the occupation forces of Pakistan to kill thousands of freedom fighters, perpetrate all types of brutalities on them, rape Bengali women and take part in loot and arson during the liberation war in 1971, Chowdhury fled to London on the eve of surrender of the Pakistani forces. Other members of his family, including his father, were caught by the Indian Navy while trying to flee to Myanmar by boat on December 18, 1971, just two days after the emergence of Bangladesh. They were subsequently handed over to the Bangladesh authorities. His father Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, who was tried and imprisoned for being a Pakistan collaborator, died in Dhaka Central Jail in 1973.

Chowdhury returned to Bangladesh after murder of the founding father of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975 and entered active politics in 1977 by reviving the Muslim League after the military ruler Gen Ziaur Rahman had lifted the ban imposed on all militant Islamic parties that had opposed the Liberation War and collaborated with the occupying Pakistan forces. As a true Muslim Leaguer, Chowdhury was at the forefront of killing freedom fighters, particularly Hindus, in Chittagong and adjoining areas. Prominent among distinguished freedom fighters killed by Chowdhury and his men are Natun Chandra Singha, founder of Kundeshwari Oushadhalaya, a brand of Ayurvedic medicine in Chittagong, Bikash Barua, Pankaj Barua, Ranjit Kumar Rudra, Swapan Kumar and Srikrishna Chowdhury. After killing them their houses were set on fire.

Despite being a staunch Pakistani agent who had opposed the liberation war, tooth and nail, Chowdhury remained a Minister and Adviser to Prime Minister after the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country. In both theses capacities, he moved throughout the country in vehicles flying national flag. It is an irony that the Bangladesh national flag, for which thousands of freedom fighters had laid down their lives, adorned the vehicle that carried Chowdhury, a well known Pakistan collaborator.

Chowdhury served as Cabinet Minister from 1985 to 1989 during Gen Ershad’s regime and joined BNP prior to 1996 parliamentary elections. In the BNP led Four Party Alliance Government formed in 2001 he was made Adviser to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Through his family’s close links with the Muslim League and Pakistani political leaders he established a close nexus with the Pakistan Army and the ISI. The BNP/JEI Government even wanted to make him Secretary General of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

The ongoing investigations in the Chittagong arms haul case have revealed Chowdhury’s involvement in arms smuggling and his association with Indian insurgent group ULFA, for whom the arms were smuggled in. Chowdhury’s role in arms smuggling, in collusion with officials of the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka and Dubai-based ARY group, has confirmed that he was the lynchpin of ISI network in Bangladesh. If the Chittagong arms haul case is brought to its logical conclusion, Chowdhury will automatically stand convicted as the entire consignment of arms was smuggled into Bangladesh by vessels ‘MV Orient Freedom’ and ‘QC Honour’ owned by him.

Chowdhury launched ‘ARY Bangladesh TV’, a channel affiliated to ARY Television Network, in Bangladesh in 2007. ARY Television Network, a subsidiary company of Dubai based ARY group, had come to adverse notice for its links with the al Qaeda and ISI. The ARY group’s involvement in terrorist activities as an associate of al Qaeda was confirmed following the 1998 bombing of the US Mission in Nairobi, Kenya. The ARY Bangladesh TV channel was however shut down on September 6, 2007 following a decision by the Army-backed Caretaker Government.

Chowdhury and his compatriots in JEI, BNP and Pakistan military intelligence network played a significant role to engineer mutiny in BDR to destabilize the Sheikh Hasina- led Government soon after it took over in January 2009. Political and business circles of Bangladesh are fully aware of Chowdhury’s multiple criminal nexus. They feel so intimidated by his strength that they prefer to keep quiet about him. He patronizes a well organized armed cadre who indulge in criminal activities in Rauzan and Chittagong area and enjoy his protection. 72 criminal cases were pending against him in various police stations in Chittagong, Rauzan, Rangunia, Hathazari and Fatikchari. But he was never arrested or asked to appear before any court in connection with these criminal cases. He was arrested for the first time by the army-backed Caretaker Government that had launched a virtual crusade against crimes and corruption. Then Pakistan brought pressure on Dhaka to secure his release from jail. Chowdhury’s wife even made several rounds of Pakistan and pleaded with the high and mighty in Pakistan establishment and the ISI to secure her husband’s release. It will not be out of place here to mention that when the Bangladesh Army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed, who was the main force behind the caretaker Government, visited Pakistan in 2008, his interlocutors explicitly enquired about Chowdhury and not about Sheikh Hasina or BNP chief Khaleda Zia who were also in jail during this time.

First published in South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG), November 8, 2011