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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Should Pakistan extend its hands?


ALTHOUGH JOHN Demjanjuk was 89 years old and was not able to take flight due to his deteriorating physical and mental health, but was deported from US to Germany in last May. Demjanjuk, who is a native Ukranian and is a naturalized US citizen, is a Nazi war crimes suspect who is charged with being an accessory to the murder of about 29,000 civilians at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in World War II.

Because there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity, each and everyone who committed genocide must be held accountable for his/her inhumane actions.

The term “war crimes” evokes a litany of horrific images. The world has suffered much genocide in human history, but the worst genocide in the annals of history in 1971 was not simply possible by the state-sponsored Pakistani army against Bangladesh. People suffered such attempted extermination with the help of local allies. What weren’t happened with general Bangladeshis- murder, ill-treatment, torture, mutilation, corporal punishment, rape, enforced prostitution, indecent assault, summary executions, hostage taking, collective punishment, or pillage?

This is not quite the Bangladesh where lives were sacrificed; blood was shed for in 1971. So is it possible for any Bangladeshi to forget the barbaric killings of 1971 and to let bygones be bygones with regard to that atrocities committed by the Pakistani army and their local allies?

While government of Bangladesh has pressed on with the planned war crimes trial with the support of UN, EU, US, and even asked cooperation from Pakistan, a senior Pakistani government spokesperson replied and warned that such attempt would hamper ties and cast a shadow on the two country's relations. “The atrocities during 1971 were a sad chapter and we should not remain frozen in time but should look forward," Masood Khalid, the additional secretary for Asia Pacific of Pakistani foreign ministry, said to a visiting Bangladeshi media group in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, June 07, 2009.

However, on Wednesday, June 10, 2009, the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka replied in a statement saying Masood Khalid’s remarks have evidently been misconstrued and quoted out of context. Earlier on May 14, 2009, Pakistan replied negatively and rejected Bangladesh foreign minister’s demand for apology over alleged 1971 atrocities. According to Dawn, an English daily newspaper in Pakistan, foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit said that under the 1974 agreement Pakistan had regretted the incidents that took place in 1971 and in 2002 the then President Musharraf had also expressed regrets for the 1971 incidents during his visit to Bangladesh. “Let bygones be bygones,” he concluded.

Forgiveness is not in the gift of those who have not themselves been the victims of those who committed atrocious crimes. We could not do anything else than to forgive such a person. But if people believe that their actions were justified, they have to vindicate themselves.

People too are tempted to want to forgive and forget. But when a person or a group is involved against national, racial or religious groups to destroy their political and social institutions, culture, language, national feelings, religion, economic existence, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups, there is no forgiveness for them as they commit moral atrocities.

Forgiving or forgetting does not mean ignoring injustice. Letting go of grudges is one thing, and it takes an immense amount of moral muscle to do so, but the most controversial aspect of the entire subject of forgiveness, concerns confronting not ignoring the great evils perpetrated by people. And in case of war criminals, whoever is merciful to the cruel is indifferent to the innocent. People never forgive, in this view, because forgiving or forgetting is a sign there is a moral escape valve, that to forgive acts of brutality is in effect to endorse and perpetuate rather than combat their evil deeds. The blood of the innocent cries out forever.

So much is certain, that no civilized society, any more than a society at peace, can allow unpunished criminal activities and certainly not war crimes.

War criminals should be hunted down, tried and convicted, no matter how long it may take. By doing so, a message will be sent out to any potential war-criminal that the world community will hunt them down and prosecute them and should expect no mercy. War criminals should be prosecuted regardless of the amount of time that has elapsed. As a way of deterring criminals from their crimes, everyone should know that no matter how long it takes, or how far they go from their original crimes, they will be found and punished. This is important because among other things, such prosecutions allow society as a whole to re-examine the shared values that gave rise to such crimes.

Bangladesh can’t be lenient towards war criminals as the crimes like genocides and the movements against humanity that can make Bangladesh to be an orthodox Islamic republic, negating the concept of secular Bengali nationhood, which was the basis of the liberation war. To further consolidate their grip on the country, the defeated forces of the 1971 liberation war are now carrying out their misleading fundamentalist ideologies across Bangladesh. They don't believe in democracy, rather they use it as a way of surviving, and propagating their views.

Showing respect of millions of peoples’ expectation that influenced the Bangladeshi voters to vote massively in favor of them in December ’08 elections, the present government reasonably asked Pakistan not to make any adverse comment on the trial of those accused of war crimes in the 1971 war since it is an internal matter of Bangladesh and is also beyond diplomatic norms.

However, people in Bangladesh, who are speaking for a war crimes tribunal, their intentions are not to seek revenge and undeserved retribution, rather, they are advocating for the establishment of a realistic and credible examples that will deter future criminal liberators from feeding death and destruction to any human mankind. Because they believe bringing war criminals to justice can have a positive effect in unifying a nation, legitimizing its government, and keeping it on the right path.

Though German government never took responsibility for World War II, but it helped track down war criminals for the Nuremberg Trials and opened its wartime archives to researchers and investigators. Japanese government felt sorry and said that it had no objection to the international tribunal's verdict in 1948 which found the Japanese military responsible for forcing Chinese women to provide sex to Japanese servicemen during World War II.

Pakistan has moral responsibility to try their war criminals as international laws on crime against humanity are also obligatory for them and can extend their hands to Bangladesh. #

First published on June 11, 2009, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas ( is a freelance writer based in New York

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