Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Analysis - Bangladesh’s War Crimes Trials

RAJEEV SHARMA

IF THE ongoing war crimes trials in Bangladesh are carried out in an objective and transparent manner, the new generation of Bangladeshis will be made aware of the extreme brutalities and distress inflicted on their forefathers by the occupying Pakistani forces and their local collaborators and the heavy cost paid by them during the Liberation war in 1971. The new generation will also then come to know of the gruesome consequences of the abuse of religion to justify heinous crimes. Success in holding trial of war crimes and crimes against humanity will be achieved when exploitation of religion in the country’s power-play is brought to an end, an idea that appears almost Utopian in the present political scenario of the country.

For probing war crimes and crimes against humanity committed forty years ago by the occupation forces of Pakistan and their local collaborators comprising mostly Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) leaders and Muslim Leaguers, the investigators will have to rely mainly on news reports, statements of the accused published in the newspapers of the time, official records and books written by eminent personalities during the period. Citing from the submissions of Nuremberg Tribunal’s Chief Prosecutor Robert H Jackson, Hannan Khan, one of the prosecutors of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) said ‘There is no count in the indictment that cannot be proved by media reports, books and records’.

The JEI mouthpiece ‘Dainik Sangram’ bears ample testimony to the war crimes committed by senior JEI leaders during the liberation war in 1971. The provocative statements of senior JEI leaders published in the ‘Sangram’ had instigated large scale killings, arson, looting and rape in the name of religion. In the so-called civilian government formed by the Pak military junta in East Pakistan in 1971 with Dr A.M. Malik as the Governor, Abbas Ali Khan, former JEI chief (now dead) and Maulana Abul Kalam Mohammad Yusuf, the present JEI Naib-e-Amir were made ministers. According to a report carried in the daily ‘Sangram’ former JEI Amir Golam Azam in his speech at a reception in honour of the JEI ministers at Hotel Empire in Dhaka said, ‘Pakistan is the house of Islam for all Muslims of the world. Therefore, JEI workers and sympathizers do not find any justification for being alive if Pakistan had to disintegrate’.

The present JEI chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, who was the chief of Islami Chhatra Sangha, student wing of JEI in 1971, wrote “Sacred land Pakistan is the home of Allah for establishing His rule” in an article published in the ‘Sangram’. Nizami who subsequently succeeded Golam Azam as JEI chief, labeled the freedom fighters as ‘Khodadrohi’ (rebels against Allah). In the article he also wrote ‘The cowards (freedom fighters) who are against the almighty Allah have attacked the holy land of Allah (Pakistan)’. The daily ‘Sangram’ in its issue of September 15, 1971 quoted Nizami as saying: ‘Every true Muslim should assume the role of dedicated soldier of Islam and kill those who are hatching conspiracy against Pakistan, as conspiracy against Pakistan is conspiracy against Allah’.

Further, ‘Sangram’ archive reveals that Razakar (the term has become synonymous with brutalities and evokes panic in the mind of people even now) was formed by former JEI Secretary General Maulana Abul Kalam Mohammad Yusuf. Al Badr, Al Shams and Razakar which were formed to counter and kill the freedom fighters comprised mostly the JEI and its student organization Islami Chhatra Sangha activists. When these pro-Pak / anti-liberation forces realized that their defeat was imminent they picked up almost all the leading intellectuals and professionals of the erstwhile East Pakistan on December 14, 1971, lined them up and killed them in brush fire with the help of occupying Pak forces. This day is the blackest day in the history of the country and observed as Martyred Intellectuals Day.

Apart from the reports and articles published in the JEI mouthpiece ‘Sangram’, there are plenty of other documents that can serve as evidence of involvement of senior JEI leaders and other anti-liberation/pro-Pak forces in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Much vital information about the role played by these elements are available in ‘Secret Fortnightly Intelligence Reports’ prepared by Home Ministry of the erstwhile East Pakistan Government for the central Martial Law administration. These reports reveal that Golam Azam had urged his followers to crush the liberation war branding freedom fighters as ‘rebels, secessionists and enemies of Islam as well as Pakistan’. One of these fortnightly reports, to be specific, the report covering first half of August, 1971, reveals that at a meeting organized by JEI on August 4, 1971 in Khulna, Golam Azam called upon the people to ‘crush and annihilate the rebels (freedom fighters) in order to establish Islamic rule on the basis of Quran and Sunnah’.

These fortnightly reports disclose that on April 4, 1971, Golam Azam met Gen Tikka Khan and assured him of his party’s full support in protecting territorial integrity of Pakistan at any cost and described the liberation war as ‘naked Indian interference and infiltration’. Azam promised all-out help to the ‘patriotic armed forces’ of Pakistan to foil India’s ‘mischievous intentions’. During the nine month long liberation war, the JEI played an active role in organizing ‘Peace Committee’ for rendering ‘assistance’ to the occupation forces of Pakistan in resisting the activities of the freedom fighters whom Azam described as ‘miscreants’. The role of Peace Committee and its wings – Al Badar, Razakar and Al Shams – in perpetrating inhuman torture and killing of freedom fighters, innocent people and intellectuals in the erstwhile East Pakistan has been well-documented in various studies.

According to fortnightly reports of the East Pakistan government, Azam was directly involved in ordering the systematic genocide. One such report covering the first half of September 1971 mentioned that addressing the workers at a party meeting in Dhaka on September 3, 1971, Golam Azam said, ‘We need to restore normalcy in the country by physically eliminating the rebels and anti-social elements’ (freedom fighters).

All this is crucial evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.

First published in South Asia Analysis GroupPaper no. 4867, January 16, 2012