Moment of truth

It would be a travesty of history, if one forgets the enormity of the brutality perpetrated in erstwhile East Pakistan.


For those who fail to understand the outrage expressed over the demand of putting a final end to the radicalisation in Bangladeshi society and politics in the name of Islam, the seismic value of the Shahbag movement would easily slip by. The movement was not merely a call for revenge but rather a signpost of the measure of moral condemnation reserved in, and 41 years down the line handed down to – the collective psyche of the majority of Bangladeshi people.

How often does one get to hear of a Muslim-majority nation demanding ban on Islamic extremists? Rarely before have we seen an Islamic nation raise a voice against the fundamentalist demons, least of all, in India’s bete noire, Pakistan. To hold a candle against Islamic fundamentalism, imported to Bangladesh from Saudi Arabia by the followers of Wahabism, is no mean feat if one understands what havoc the monster of Talibanisation has wreaked in the Indian sub continent.

In India’s terms, here is a nation that could not be friendlier under the ruling dispensation of the Awami League. Under its leader Sheikh Hasina, Dhaka went all out in extending help to India on the prickly security issues, be it uprooting training camps and seizing the Northeast insurgents operating from its territory, or be it acting against terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Indian Mujahideen or containing Pakistan's ISI. Earlier too, the Awami League paved the way for the return to India of thousands of Chakma refugees from Tripura with the signing of a landmark accord that ended decades of tribal insurgency in the border region.

Prime minister Hasina had courage and goodwill to back her resolve and overcome odds – many of which are still bent on stirring anti-Indian bogey and lapsing the country into religious extremism.

The protesters, spiralling out of the Shahbag neighbourhood of Dhaka, and engulfing other parts of Bangladesh, pressed for capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and others. They were convicted of crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, in context of verdict of the International Crimes Tribunal, on February 5, 2013, sentencing Mollah to life in prison after he was convicted on five of six counts of war crimes. What was significant was also the consequent widening of the demand seeking to put a ban on the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party from politics, as its leaders have been convicted of genocide and war crimes, and to boycott institutions supporting or affiliated with Jamaat-e-Islami.

It would be a travesty of history, if one forgets the enormity of the brutality visited upon the people of erstwhile East Pakistan in 1971. On February 22, 1971 when the military junta – a cabal of five Pakistani generals, namely, President Yahya Khan, General Tikka Khan, chief of staff General Pirzada, security chief General Umar Khan, and intelligence chief General Akbar Khan – in West Pakistan, overawed by the ascendancy of the Awami League and its supporters, decided to launch a genocide, there could be no guess as to the scale of the monstrosity. “Not since Hitler invaded Russia had there been so vast a massacre," commented Robert Payne in retrospect, who cared to cast no doubt that the mass killing in Bangladesh was among the most carefully and centrally planned of modern genocides.

Death squads

“Kill three million of them,” said President Yahya Khan at the February conference, “and the rest will eat out of our hands.” The rest is history. Still, since March 25, 1971 when the genocide was unleashed, not only the university in Dacca was attacked and students exterminated in their hundreds, but death squads roamed the streets of Dacca, killing some 7,000 people in a single night. Within a week, half the population of Dacca had fled, and at least 30,000 people had been killed.

India sheltered some 100 million refugees from the former East Pakistan when the Pakistan Army began the genocidal war.

So the jubilation over a Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal verdict that on January 21 this year sentenced Abul Kalam Azad to death in absentia for genocide and murder committed during the nine-month war in 1971 is also rich in symbolism. In the judgment Azad was described as a former leader of the youth wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, a party in then East Pakistan and still Bangladesh’s biggest Islamic party today. Its youth wing was the main source of paramilitaries supporting Pakistan in its efforts to prevent East Pakistan’s independence. Azad fled the country last year and is believed to be in Pakistan.

His conviction, was symbolic, because none of the generals involved in the genocide has ever been brought to trial, and all remained at large in Pakistan and other countries.
It must be put on record that during the post-liberation period, Jamat-e-Islami could not openly carry out any organisational activities due to a constitutional bar, but their secret activities went on. After the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with his family members in 1975 (to the fortuitous exception of his daughter Sheikh Hasina, current prime minister of Bangladesh leading the Awami League party), General Ziaur Rahman came to power and lifted the ban on religion based politics thereby paving the way for Jamat-e-Islami to indulge in open politics.

In fact, the process of Islamisation in Bangladesh began with the deletion of ‘Secularism’ as one of the four state principles from the Constitution by President Ziaur Rahman. While in the 1996 general election, Jamat-e-Islami got a measly 3 seats, in the parliamentary election of 2001, Jamat-e-Islami and Islamic Oikkyo Jote (IOJ) bagged 17 and 2 seats respectively with support from Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other members of the alliance.

India has a stake in retaining a good rapport with Bangladesh in general, and with Awami League in particular, not only for the strategic gains that might come through a Teesta Water Treaty here, or the land boundary agreement there, but for the sheer moral courage of Bangladesh compared to the hypocrisy and canniness of Pakistan. It once lent humanitarian and logistical support to the creation of Bangladesh, now it should play its role to see that the forces like Jamat-e-Islami must not bedevil the sanest and the ablest ruler of Bangladesh to date and in turn the undercurrent of secular, democratic and syncretic values of Bangladesh, earned at the cost of great bloodletting and a number of military coups. An economically strong, secular and democratic Bangladesh is in the best interest of India and its neighbours.

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