The Government of Bangladesh has seized momentum from the recent death of Ghulam Azam to advance its War Crimes Trials Agenda on the remaining leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. In recent days former Minister Matiur Rahman Nizami and media pioneer Mir Quasem Ali have been given death sentences. Perhaps most tragically, the reformist Muhammad Kamarazzaman’s appeal was quashed and he looks likely to be executed soon, in time for the ruling party’s National Independence Day celebration.
A Rare Reformer
I haven’t met any of the Jamaat official leadership, but Kamarazzaman is one figure I would like to . Last year I wrote about his Strategy for Change, a lengthy document circulated among Jamaat’s leadership, rejected, then leaked by supporters. Weirdly, its one of this 10 year old site’s most read posts.
The Strategy recommends a number of measures to lift the party, rather its interpretation of the socio-political cause of Islam to a better situation. Written before the Arab Sting, it seems very inspired by Turkey’s AKP experience, as Shah Abdul Halim narrates on a Muslim Brotherhood blog, It engages with party nepotism, clearing out 1971 era dinosaurs and social shrapnel, demands that the party cease manipulating its student wing and proposes organisational gender justice. Personally, I’d like to know more about how a new party would implement and maintain the social justice focus his writes of and steer clear of narrowing shariah politics.
A short analysis of the charges and evidences brought against Kamarazzaman can be found on the Kaagoj blog collective, which is sympathetic to the politics of the accused. The BBC’s Sabir Mustafa, (an ex Daily Star hack) is maintaining an editorial line in favour of the Government of Bangladesh as we saw throughout his cover up of the massacre of protesters in Dhaka last May. David Bergman, whose white privilege works differently, has organised court transcripts and his own analysis on his war crimes blog, and the original court judgement can be accessed here.
The Problem of Knowing
The conditions for knowing (reliably and exactly) what happened during the Bangladesh war year do not exist. This is no thanks to the gravity of the Bengali Nationalist motanarrative and the epistemic autism of its victims, but also the failure of Jamaat-e-Islami’s misleadership to honour the public’s right to know their detailed side to the story, and the stories of their own dead. The public sphere is closed to empathy for situational environment for ‘loyalist’ auxilliaries to the late East Pakistan.
It is really hard to know what really happened, even if you want to as the assemblage of institutions, informations, human’s and knowledge supply chains perpetuates dubiosity. I’m not saying that everybody needs to eat themselves up over this, but some need to investigate thoroughly, against the grain.
The practice of fabricating and manipulating people prosecution witnesses during these tribunals has been established with the (apparent state) abduction, disposal and detention (in India) of prosecution witness Shokranjan Bali and new video evidence suggesting malpractice from Investigating Officer Abdur Razzaq Khan . The lack of integrity, judgement and competence of the judges involved, given their coaching by diehard ideologues and manipulation by the state has been evidenced by leaked or hacked skype conversations and emails.
On the other hand, crimes are committed, selectively remembered, represented and mobilised with deadly and debilitating political effects, like we saw on 28th February and 5-6th May 2013.
Advocates of the ‘these trials are fine, messy, but fine, line of thinking’ which dominates the small and inbred elite establishment voice in Bangladesh commonly argue that there needs to be justice for the victims as well as the alleged perpetrators. This may be a rhetorical tool, but there are many who are sincere who hold this line and the legalistic and lobbying defence doesn’t touch the core of the matter, which is ‘ If you didn’t kill X , then who did? what was your role?’
One of the terrible events Kamrazzaman stands accused and condemned for is the case of the Shohagpur massacre. We might connect the event with the war machine operating in the area and time, comprising the Lt Col Sultan Ahmad’s Army garrison at Jamalpur, the army riverbank killings at Shashan Ghat on 21 June, and the Mukti Bahini attack on Capt Ahsan Malik’s Kamalpur border outpost on 31st July.
This is not Dhaka, or the beginning and end of the Dhaka-centric experience of the war, it is north Bangladesh, and the middle of the monsoon near the borderlands. Its not the suffering of the globalised urban elite, it is the forgotten rural poor.
Born on 4th July 1952, the condemned is just a few months older than Pakistani cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan. He would have just turned 19 at the time of the 25th July/10th Srabon Shohagpur Massacre. He wasn’t to finish his A-level equivalents until 1972, before graduating in 1974 and completing a masters in Journalism at Dhaka University in 1976.
Years ago, establishment columnist and 1971 film maker Afsan Choudhury wrote a piece on Shohabag, which he first visited in 2000 after UBINIG’s Farida Akhter’s efforts to highlight the truly awful and continuing plight of the village of widows whose 120 menfolk were massacred at dawn, and who suffered all sorts of deprivation.
Kamarazzaman is absent from the scene recreated by the journalist who focuses instead on a local quack Kader Daktar, who, enraged at miscreants raiding his storehouse full of ill-gotten items, took out his vengeance on the villagers by playing the War on Terror card of those times, reporting them to the local Pakistani garrison ( presumably connected with Jamalpur headed by Baloch 31 Regiment’s CO Lt Col Sultan Ahmad )
Absence in previous accounts is a recurring theme in this tribunal, but one which is summarily dismissed by the jurisprudence upon which it runs. Hasan Iqbal, the son of the condemned made the point today, that no book on the subject before 2011 includes the name of Kamarazzaman in connection to this shaytanic event. Indeed, this absence can be noted when googleing around the usual areas of knowledge production, of mukto mona and uttor shuri. Given this, the vulnerability of witnesses to prosecution inducement suggestion and manipulation, and the degree of influence that a 19 year old could have on such a situation even if they were in the fray, and it requires a leap of faith or calousness to assign Kamrazzaman command responsibility and guilt for genocide.
Because the tribunals are so singularly about destroying the current leadership of Jamaat, they do not connect with the ebb and flow of the war and the two (main) military establishments experiences of the place. Unless these knowledges are interacted, reconciliation and understanding will be incomplete. Without accounts from the JI accused’s experience, how might their presumed guilt be unproven to the court of kangaroos?
Don’t talk to me about heroes
At the time of the massacre, there was Mukti Bahin and Pakistani auxiliary activity in the area, but the Indian account, so far that I can tell, doesn’t really attribute much effectiveness to Mukti operations at this time (July). Much later however, banter between Indian and Pakistani commanding officers at the siege of Jamalpur garrison in December,reproduced here, is relevant. MachoPaks extoll Sultan Ahmad as an ‘unsung hero’ for ‘fighting talk’, despite his post cowardly escape ‘gallantry award‘. I think it points out a key lead and potential villain.
Just like in Sarmila Bose’s multiple angle account of a handful of war situations, the precision, arrogance and helicopter bragishness of military accounts, stands in sharp contrast with the narrative of human sorrow of the survivors. It is really unfair, but legal epistemologies (sorry) privilege the most established and familiar forms of knowing, mitigating the weird, the alarming and strengthening the powerful.
So my questions for now are.
- What kind of investigation is possible in Shohagpur?
- Who will invest resources there?
- What does restorative justice look like?
- Will Imran Khan’s PTI agree with proposals for truth and reconciliation with the truths?
- What to Farida Akhtar and Afshan Choudhury have to say?
- When will Bengali Nationalists officially be able to bear razakar historiographies?
Fratricide + Politicide = 0?
Most people will not have heard of Kamarazzaman before these tribunals started because he was never picked out as a specific figure of hatred. This is because of the underlying intention of the tribunal,revealed by its rough sampling strategy of pin the crime on the Jamaati. However, there is something more holistic going on if we consider the capabilities, psychic impact and public perception of each individual. Given supportive public pronouncements and actions from the Awami League government and its supporters, the term politicide is very appropriate.
Late Ghulam Azam was singled out by the Shahriar Kabir and the Nirmul Committee in 1992 as he and his party decided that his leadership would be a good idea given his seniority during the Bangladesh war. Delwar Hussain Sayeedi, who it transpired wasn’t even in the Jamaat party during the war, was targeted by BRAC’s Asif Saleh and his now defunct Drishtipat “Human Rights” organisation, to align the Islamophobic UK press with the Awami League’s political imperative to disarm Jamaat’s most charismatic connector and mover of the masses.
Nizami and Mujahid’s inclusion in Khaleda Zia’s cabinet and reportedly good individual performances as ministers for Agriculture, Industry and Social Welfare must have provided strong motivation amongst the disgruntled urban elite. In the case of Mir Quasem Ali, his innovative Diganta media outfit challenged the idea that Islamists were destined to remain poorly presented and inarticulate in this media driven age. That was until the TV station was shut down on the morning of the May 6th Massacre.
It seems to me that it is Kamarazzaman’s reformative approach to political practice, frustrated by internal opposition that completes the sense of politicide of Jamaat. Contrary to some opinion, the personality-cult politics of Bangladesh does operate in its biggest Islamist party and it is unfortunate for him, his family, party and the general society that it is doing him wrong. He presented a transformational option with Strategy for Change a continuing good deed proportional its eventual unfolding, inshAllah.