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.
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.