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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mu­nir Ishrat Rah­mani

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

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