Trav­esty of Jus­tice

Primee Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina Wa­jed could have let by­gones be by­gones and worked for peace in South Asia but she seems to have a dif­fer­ent agen­daa­genda.

Southasia - - COVER STORY - By S. M. Hali

There was a time when Pak­istan and Bangladesh, orig­i­nally a sin­gle coun­try, were mov­ing closer and there were signs of re­la­tions be­tween the two be­com­ing nor­mal once again. It is clear now that Prime Min­is­ter Hasina Wa­jid, the daugh­ter of the late Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman, had not for­got­ten the past. Bangladesh came into ex­is­tence in 1971 and her father and many mem­bers of her close fam­ily were as­sas­si­nated in a coup in Dhaka in 1975. It has be­come ob­vi­ous now that Hasina Wa­jid was burn­ing in the caul­dron of vendetta and this came into the open when she ini­ti­ated ‘war crime’ tri­als and be­gan send­ing those se­nior per­sons to the gal­lows who were al­leged to have par­tic­i­pated in the crimes on be­half of West Pak­istan in 1971. Per­haps, she even thought that the west Pak­ista­nis were re­spon­si­ble in some way for the as­sas­si­na­tion of her father four year later - in 1975. The up­shot of all this is that re­la­tions be­tween Pak­istan and Bangladesh have again be­come vi­ti­ated and blood­stained.

Bangladesh was born af­ter a bloody strug­gle, mid­wifed by In­dia on De­cem­ber 16, 1971. It con­tin­ues to suf­fer from some kind of post­na­tal trauma even af­ter a lapse of forty four years and its sit­ting Prime Min­is­ter, in­stead of build­ing bridges of friend­ship with Pak­istan, finds ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to fo­ment ha­tred be­tween the two coun­tries.

Pak­istan achieved in­de­pen­dence on Au­gust 14, 1947 when it com­prised two wings, East and West Pak­istan, which were sep­a­rated by a thou­sand miles of In­dian ter­ri­tory. The Ben­galis, who were at the fore­front of the Pak­istan Move­ment, soon be­came dis­en­chanted ow­ing to cer­tain my­opic poli­cies of the cen­tral govern­ment in Is­lam­abad. The dec­la­ra­tion of Urdu as the na­tional lan­guage sowed the ini­tial seeds of dis­cord be­tween the two wings as the Ben­galis wanted na­tional recog­ni­tion of the Ben­gali lan­guage too. Con­se­quently, the lan­guage ri­ots claimed nu­mer­ous pre­cious Ben­gali lives. It would be around their mau­soleum (Sha­heed Mi­nar) that later gen­er­a­tions of Ben­gali free­dom fight­ers would rally. The Pak­istan lead­er­ship's ob­ses­sion with 'par­ity' be­tween the two wings (to off­set the east’s nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage) not only de­layed the for­ma­tion of Pak­istan’s con­sti­tu­tion but also widened the di­vide. An ar­ro­gant at­ti­tude of the West Pak­ista­nis to­wards their East Pak­istani com­pa­tri­ots only vi­ti­ated re­la­tions.

Two cat­a­lysts ex­pe­dited the fi­nal split. Firstly, the gen­uine griev­ances of the East Pak­ista­nis were ex­ploited by In­dia in spread­ing ran­cour and ac­ri­mony be­tween the two wings of Pak­istan. Se­condly, cer­tain West Pak­istani politi­cians, faced with the pos­si­bil­ity of an East Pak­istani led govern­ment rul­ing Pak­istan — as a re­sult of the rel­a­tively free and fair 1970 elec­tions — blocked the mil­i­tary govern­ment’s hand­ing over of power to the vic­tors of the polls, forc­ing East Pak­istan to move to­wards in­de­pen­dence and declar­ing for­ma­tion of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971. The Pak­istan Army, mostly com­pris­ing west Pak­ista­nis, cracked down on the Ben­gali in­sur­gents and con­trolled the re­bel­lion af­ter thou­sands of west Pak­istani army per­son­nel, civil­ians and non-Ben­galis in East Pak­istan were mas­sa­cred by the rebels. The Pak­istan Army, in re­tal­i­a­tion, was equally bru­tal. This led to a mass ex­o­dus of Ben­galis to In­dia. The sit­u­a­tion was fully ex­ploited by In­dia, which was sup­port­ing the Ben­gali in­sur­gents right from the be­gin­ning and was fully be­hind the for­ma­tion and train­ing of the mukti bahini.

Af­ter build­ing in­ter­na­tional sup­port for its ac­tions and hav­ing taken the sur­rep­ti­tious step of stag­ing the hi­jack of an In­dian Air­lines Fokker air­craft to La­hore and blam­ing Pak­istan for it, In­dia stopped over-flights of Pak­istani air­craft across its airspace, thus bar­ring the west from pro­vid­ing lo­gis­tic sup­port to the be­lea­guered east­ern wing of Pak­istan. On the night of Novem­ber 21/22, 1971, In­dia at­tacked East Pak­istan with full force. With its far su­pe­rior nu­mer­i­cal edge, In­dia over­whelmed Pak­istan on the east­ern front, lib­er­at­ing East Pak­istan which be­came Bangladesh and 93,000 Pak­istani sol­diers and of­fi­cers were taken as pris­on­ers of war by In­dia.

Bangladesh was keen to try the Pak­istani PoWs for war crimes but the 1972 Pak­istan-In­dia Simla Agree­ment cur­tailed that. Sub­se­quently, the Bangladesh, In­dia, Pak­istan agree­ment

was signed in New Delhi on April 9, 1974 to repa­tri­ate the Pak­istani Pows. And the then For­eign Min­is­ter of Bangladesh de­clared that the Govern­ment of Bangladesh had de­cided not to pro­ceed with tri­als of those hav­ing al­legedly com­mit­ted was crimes as an act of clemency. How­ever, on Au­gust 15, 1975, the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man, along with his fam­ily, was as­sas­si­nated as a re­sult of a bloody coup d’état while a num­ber of counter coups plagued Bangladesh for decades. Mujib’s daugh­ter Sheikh Hasina Wa­jid, who had es­caped as­sas­si­na­tion be­cause she was abroad, re­turned in 1991 to lead her father’s political party, the Awami League and was elected to rule as Prime Min­is­ter (1996-2001). Later she was charged with cor­rup­tion and mur­der but is cur­rently serv­ing as Prime Min­is­ter since 2009. She was re-elected in 2014 as a re­sult of con­tro­ver­sial polls since the op­po­si­tion de­cided to boy­cott them ow­ing to her high­handed poli­cies, mas­sive cor­rup­tion and poor gov­er­nance. This was an in­ter­nal prob­lem of Bangladesh but for Pak­istan the point of con­tention has been her de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to de­mo­nize Pak­istan and its Army.

Prior to 2009 and the ad­vent of Awami League’s re­turn to power, re­la­tions be­tween Pak­istan and Bangladesh were nor­mal­ized some­what. Pak­istani In­vestors and in­dus­tri­al­ists, tak­ing ad­van­tage of spe­cial in­cen­tives of­fered, set up their busi­nesses in Bangladesh. Sports fix­tures and cul­tural ex­changes re­sulted in cre­at­ing bon­homie, much to the cha­grin of In­dia, which nudged Sheikh Hasina to adopt a num­ber of steps to den­i­grate Pak­istan. She re­fused to at­tend the D-8 sum­mit in Is­lam­abad un­til the Pak­istani govern­ment and the Army ten­dered an apol­ogy to Bangladesh for al­leged war crimes in 1971. She in­sti­tuted a “Friends of Lib­er­a­tion War Hon­our” for for­eign na­tion­als, who sup­pos­edly sup­ported Bangladesh in gain­ing in­de­pen­dence. To rub salt to the wound, a num­ber of Pak­ista­nis were also named, whose next of kin were in­vited to re­ceive the award posthu­mously. The re­cip­i­ents were in­ter­viewed by Bangladesh me­dia and through lead­ing ques­tions, they were co­erced to de­mand that the Pak­istan govern­ment and Army ten­der an apol­ogy to Bangladesh for war crimes in 1971.

The next big step was to in­sti­tute a so-called In­ter­na­tional Crimes Tri­bunal, in which a do­mes­tic court based in Dhaka was es­tab­lished to pros­e­cute Bangladeshis al­leged to have com­mit­ted crimes in sup­port of the Pak­istan army dur­ing the war in 1971 which led the in­de­pen­dence of Bangladesh.

This was deemed to be a de­mand of the peo­ple of Bangladesh, who wanted clo­sure of the wounds of their lib­er­a­tion and sought jus­tice for al­leged war crimes. Com­ing four decades late, prima fa­cie such a step would be ac­cept­able if fair tri­als were con­ducted. The first per­son to be sent to the gal­lows was Ja­maat-e-Is­lami leader Ab­dul Quader Mol­lah, whose trial was con­sid­ered to be a mock­ery of jus­tice and many in­ter­na­tional ju­di­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions and hu­man rights ac­tivists raised se­ri­ous con­cern on this pun­ish­ment. There was vi­o­lent re­ac­tion in Bangladesh and scores of pro­test­ers were killed by the po­lice in a crack­down.

Un­de­terred by the re­ac­tion, Sheikh Hasina per­sisted with the tri­als and Muham­mad Ka­maruz­za­man, an­other se­nior Ja­maat-e-Is­lami leader was ex­e­cuted which led to fur­ther vi­o­lent protests. In Novem­ber 2015, two more sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­ans, Salaud­din Quader Chowd­hury, a leader of the Bangladesh Na­tional Party and Ali Ah­san Mo­ja­heed of the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami, were con­victed of war crimes and hanged. In­ter­na­tional ju­rists and neu­tral ob­servers found se­ri­ous flaws in the tri­als. Among other in­con­sis­ten­cies, the de­fence team for both men was al­lowed only 4 wit­nesses, while the pros­e­cu­tion had 41 wit­nesses.

Salaud­din Quader Chowd­hury was the first BNP leader to have been meted the death penalty af­ter the flimsy trial, giv­ing cre­dence to the al­le­ga­tions by the op­po­si­tion political par­ties that a form of vendetta was be­ing staged in the garb of war crimes tri­als to elim­i­nate the op­po­si­tion.

The du­bi­ous trial of Salaud­din Quader Chowd­hury be­came more far­ci­cal when dur­ing the course of the hear­ings, Al­jazeera TV ran a re­port de­pict­ing five prom­i­nent Pak­istani cit­i­zens, whose ev­i­dence could ex­on­er­ate the ac­cused. Mo­ham­mad Mian Soomro, for­mer Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan, Ishaq Khan Khak­wani, for­mer par­lia­men­tar­ian and fed­eral min­is­ter, Am­ber Ha­roon Saigol, chair­per­son of the Dawn me­dia group and two prom­i­nent busi­ness­men sub­mit­ted sworn af­fi­davits that Salaud­din Quader Chowd­hury was liv­ing in Karachi and later in La­hore in April/May 1971 when the four of­fences, for which he was sen­tenced to death, took place. They of­fered to present them­selves as wit­nesses but their tes­ti­mony was not ad­mit­ted by the tri­bunal ei­ther in writ­ing or in per­son.

Sheikh Hasina had tracked the al­leged as­sas­sins of her par­ents and sib­lings and even­tu­ally sent them to the gal­lows. Per­haps that brought cold com­fort to her heart. It may be her per­sonal grief.

To try the ac­cused for trea­son is a trav­esty of jus­tice. One per­son’s hero is an­other’s traitor. Hasina could have taken a leaf out from Pak­istan’s book. Flight Lieu­tenant Matiur Rah­man, the Ben­gali flight in­struc­tor of Pi­lot Of­fi­cer Rashid Min­has, who tried to hi­jack to In­dia the T-33 trainer air­craft be­ing flown by the lat­ter on 20 Au­gust 1971, lost his life in the en­su­ing strug­gle with his stu­dent pi­lot. Both were de­clared na­tional he­roes and each was awarded the high­est gal­lantry award by their re­spec­tive coun­tries. For Pak­istan, Matiur Rah­man was a traitor but he was buried with full mil­i­tary hon­ours. Many years later, when his daugh­ter, now grown up, wanted to visit her father’s grave at PAF Base Mas­roor (Karachi), she was ex­tended full pro­to­col and cour­te­sies by Pak­istan.

By the same to­ken, Sheikh Hasina should have let by­gones be by­gones. But she has opened a Pandora’s Box by con­duct­ing the war crime tri­als and ex­e­cut­ing in­no­cent peo­ple. Pak­istan re­serves the rights to de­mand trial of those Ben­galis who butchered Pak­istani sol­diers, their fam­i­lies and raped their women along with mas­sacring nonBen­gali East Pak­ista­nis, whose mass graves are be­ing pa­raded as those of Ben­gali vic­tims of geno­cide. A sim­ple DNA test would de­ter­mine the truth.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.