War Crime Trials
Pro-‘independence’ forces in Bangladesh waited for four decades to try those they perceived as collaborators against establishment of the state, despite persistent opposition from inside and outside the country.
The war crime trials in Bangladesh are said to be politically motivated.
Pakistan was carved out of British India in August 1947 as a result of Indian Muslims’ demand for a homeland. East Bengal had played a very significant role in that movement for independence and formed the eastern wing of the newborn state but it could be anticipated even at that time that the two wings – East and West Pakistan – had Islam as the only common factor between them. Thousands of miles separated the two wings and, with the passage of time, a feeling of unfamiliarity by way of culture, language, etc. grew among the majority of the more sensitive and liberal East Pakistanis, for whom religion was apparently not so important. After the 1965 Indo-Pak War, this feeling was further enhanced and gave rise to Bengali nationalism that threatened the very existence of Pakistan as a unified state.
The religious-minded Muslim population, however, continued to believe in the ideology of Pakistan and remained staunch supporters of a ‘united Pakistan’ to defy any effort towards break up of ‘their’ Pakistan. This divide continued to be visible in all spheres and became deep-rooted with the passage of time. The political crisis of post-1970 elections and reluctance of the federal government in Islamabad to hand over power to the majority political party i.e. the Awami League, led to an open rebellion that the military rulers chose to quell with force.
The rebellion further widened the gulf between elements seeking political power and the ones opposing this rebellion by siding with the forces trying to eliminate the rebels. As happens in all such situations, some excesses were committed by both sides in order to gain supremacy. Leaders and members of the religious parties cooperated with the forces against the rebels who were considered ‘freedom fighters’ by the Awami League and its supporters. Those upholding the ideology of Pakistan, as envisaged at the birth of the country in 1947, were singled out by the Awami League as ‘traitors’ fighting against the cause of ‘Bangladesh’.
The year 1971 gave way to a very crucial phase in the history of Pakistan when a battle for its survival was fought in East Pakistan between the forces loyal to the ideology of Pakistan and those led by the Awami League, vying for ‘independence’ to break away from the fold of a ‘united Pakistan’. Both sides believed in their respective thinking and wanted to fight tooth and nail to achieve their objectives. When India took advantage of the unrest in the eastern province and launched an attack on the East Pakistan border, a full-fledged war ensued, resulting in surrender by the depleted Pakistan armed forces and creation of Bangladesh in December 1971. Uniformed personnel were taken as Prisoners of War to India and the civilians who had fought the rebels alongside the Pakistan Army, escaped arrest by fleeing to neighbouring countries or went into hiding.
As was expected, the mood of celebration after winning the struggle for breakup of Pakistan turned into that of vengeance when things settled down after the emergence of Bangladesh. The initial period of the 1970s experienced coups and uprisings that claimed the lives of prominent political and military figures, including the founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The government of the Awami League always claimed to be a progressive party believing in secularism.
Several religious parties including the Jamaat-e-Islami were banned and their leaders or activists went underground to avoid the wrath of the Awami League, as they were blamed for ‘collaborating’ with the Pakistan Army during the military operation. When the Awami League lost power, the periods of military rule by Gen Ziaur Rahman and Gen Hussain Muhammad