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Bangladesh: 1971 War Crimes coming full Circle

Paper No. 6041                                    Dated 27-Nov-2015

by Bhaskar Roy

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind extremely small.  On November 22, Ali Ahsan Mohammed Mujahid and Saluddin Quader Choudhary, two of the worst perpetrators of atrocities against freedom loving Bengalees, were hanged to death.  After 44 long years the sufferers got some justice.  More importantly, the ghosts of 1971 haunting the nation, are beginning to be exorcised.

Mujahid, till now, the Secretary General of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), was the President of Islamic Chaatra Sangh, the student’s wing of the JEI.  The same year, the Sangh was converted to Al Badr in collusion with the Pakistani occupying army.  Al Badr’s murderous and rapist activities are well recorded including by Pakistani army officers who served in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971.

Mujahid’s worst calculated crime was, perhaps the rounding up and killing of Bengalee intellectuals only a few days before the Pakistani army surrendered to the Indian army.  His diabolical aim was to exterminate as many as possible from among the cream of leaders who would build the newly born nation of Bangladesh.

Salauddin Quader Choudhry harboured a special hatred for Hindus.  His father Fazlul Qadar Choudury, then the President of the Pro-Pakistan and anti-liberation convention Muslim League, blamed the Hindus of Rowzan, Chittagong, for his defeat in the 1970 elections. Salauddin was charged with killing 111 Hindus.  He converted his hill top house into a torture chamber and murder palace for pro-liberation Bengalees.

Mujahid is the third JEI leader to be executed for war crimes after Abdul Qader Mollah and Munammad Kamruzzaman.  Salauddin is the first BNP leader to be executed, though he was also a minister in the government of H. H. Ershad.  Both Mujahid and Salauddin held ministerial positions in the BNP-JEI led four party alliance government from 2001 to 2006.  It is an irony that those who opposed the liberation of the country were brought back to govern the same country by politicians who are suspected to have extra territorial allegiance.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the government of Pakistan expressed concern and the anguish at the execution of Mojahid and Salauddin as well as the execution of Mollah and Kamruzzaman earlier.  This is a disturbing sign for Bangladesh.  It exposes the support that these anti-liberation forces still enjoy in Pakistan, and the threat these forces pose to secular and progressive Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to run terrorists and sabotage intelligence operations in Bangladesh through its old allies.  Earlier this year, a Pakistani official from their High Commission in Dhaka was caught giving money to their local agents to foment terrorism.  These acts have the potential to cause instability in the region, and create a fertile ground to attract foreign Islamic terrorists.

The weak attempt by the BNP and JEI to put up an alibi for Salauddin boomeranged on them.  A forged certificate of Punjab University (Pakistan) was produced to try and prove Salauddin was not in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971.  The court threw out this evidence.

Substantial pressure from abroad, especially the west has been brought on the Bangladesh government to scrap the International Crimes Tribunals (ICTs) – I & II.  The BNP and JEI worked hard for it and with some success.  International human rights organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) were most active.  They alleged in their campaigns that the Tribunals were illegal, did not meet international standards, and were biased.

The political leanings of both Amnesty International and HRW are well known.  They have apolitical agenda, very selective, but are also fast losing credibility.  These organisations had also meddled in India especially on Kashmir.  India responded with firm position, not getting into debate, but rejecting them without dignifying them.

Amnesty International and HRW must answer what they have done on the state of affairs in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) where the locals have hardly any rights, both legal and human rights.  Have they launched a campaign on killings and disappearance of nationalists in Balochistan?  No.   Then why bleeding hearts for war criminals in Bangladesh who killed people in hundreds and thousands in 1971?

The European Union States want an end to executions as they have done for themselves.  But they must understand that they arrived at this moral and legal position after devastating wars, and advancement of their modernity.

Bangladesh and South Asia as a whole have not reached the position of the EU.  Societies and conditions are very different.  Pakistan’s official position on the execution of the war criminals, and stepped up assassination of liberals and secularists in their own country need to be studied by the international community.

Bangladesh continues to be under the threat of unravelling.  JEI wants to establish Sharia law in the country, and they are ably supported by forces from outside, the same forces who unleashed terror in 1971.  To prevent repeating of such events, these forces need to be rooted out.  As reactions to the executions show the overwhelming population was behind Prime Minister Sk. Hasina and her government.  Right thinking people do not want the country to roll back.

Sk Hasina must be lauded for her unwavering determination to bring a closure to 1971.  She must continue with the catharsis.

(The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached at e-mail