What is really happening in Bangladesh

Delwar Sayedee

by Dr. Ali al-Ghamidi

I have received many comments on the articles that I have written in this newspaper over the past few weeks with regard to the situation in Bangladesh. Most of these comments support my point of view; however, some object to it and accuse me of ignorance and not knowing what really happened in East Pakistan and how those events led to the foundation of Bangladesh.

I would like to thank all, including those who supported my point of view and even those who opposed me, because the latter have prompted me to explain some facts once again. As an Arab proverb says: “Repetition will enlighten those who are wise”. I would also like to point out that I am not claiming to know everything. But with all humility, I can say that I have been following the developments associated with East Pakistan since the beginning of the crisis in that part of United Pakistan, including the detention of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the Agartala Conspiracy Case, Pakistan President Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s invitation to Sheikh Mujib to the Round Table Conference, and his refusal to attend the conference. This made Ayub Khan drop the conspiracy case with the hope that it would lead to a solution to the issue so as to preserve the unity and stability of the country which would allow him to stay in power.

But the attempts by Ayub Khan to remain in power were not successful and subsequently he handed over power to Yahya Khan who promised to hold free and fair elections at the earliest possible time. He fulfilled his promise and elections were held, but the results were not what he had expected them to be. In that election, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won all but two or three seats in East Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib was poised to form the government after winning a majority in parliament, but Zulfikar Ali Bhutto categorically refused to attend sessions of the National Assembly, demanding power-sharing between him and Sheikh Mujib as his party had secured a majority in West Pakistan. Bhutto was not against the transfer of power in East Pakistan to Sheikh Mujib provided that he would be allowed to form the government in West Pakistan. Their disagreement prompted Yahya Khan to put off convening the session of the National Assembly. But that decision sparked protests in East Pakistan and Sheikh Mujib called for civil disobedience. Subsequently, a nine-month civil war broke out and that came to an end with the intervention of the Indian army and the surrender of the Pakistan Army. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released and he returned to Dhaka.

Nobody denies the fact there were scandals during the civil war involving all parties concerned. There were also similar scandals after the surrender of the Pakistan army and the domination of the militias loyal to the Awami League party, especially for Biharis who still suffer today.

After things were settled in favor of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who faced virtually no opposition and whose words were law, a law was passed to establish a war crimes tribunal to try 195 Pakistani troops. There was not a single civilian among these war crimes suspects. Another law was also enacted to try those who collaborated with the Pakistan army and accordingly, about 100,000 were detained. Later all of them were released except for about 700 people, some of whom were tried at the time.

However, a general amnesty was later declared, mainly because the Pakistan army personnel who were included among the war crimes suspects were in the custody of the Indian army as prisoners of war. As a result of talks with the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto managed to secure the release of all the Pakistani war prisoners, including the 195 war crimes suspects. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman then declared a general amnesty with his famous saying: “Let the world know how Bengalis can forgive.” He also found it difficult to try those who collaborated with the Pakistan army and at the same time he opposed a trial of those who committed war crimes who were members of the militias loyal to his Awami League party. He also saw the benefit of looking forward to the future and forgetting the past with all its difficulties.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ruled the country from the beginning of 1972 until the third quarter of 1975. He detained no one and he did not frame charges against anyone. His government was succeeded by both civilian and military governments, and these included his party the Awami League, which ruled from 1996 until 2002. During that period, the government did not detain or frame charges against anyone. Moreover, the party came to power with the support of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami under the leadership of those who are now facing war crimes trials. The party also worked together with Jamaat during the military rule of Gen. H.M. Ershad. Is there any logic in the party now framing charges against them and putting them behind bars? The government constituted an international tribunal but there is nothing international in it except its name. Also, there are no international judges, and international lawyers have not been allowed to appear for the suspects or even to meet them. How is it possible for the government to pay no heed to the criticism made by international human rights organizations and prominent international law experts? All of them have criticized the validity of the International War Crimes Tribunal and have expressed serious reservations about its credibility and have asked it to amend its status especially after the Skype scandal, disclosed by the British magazine The Economist. The scandal led to the resignation of the tribunal’s presiding judge which was sufficient to halt the tribunal proceedings for a while and to avoid an uproar and the possibility of another civil war.

The leader of the opposition and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party President Begum Khaleda Zia has criticized the brutal suppression of protests by calling it a genocide that was unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh. People took to the streets against the death sentence awarded to Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the most famous scholar of the country and leader of Jamaat, after a trial that did not conform to international legal standards. The court relied on the testimony of witnesses even though the prosecution failed to produce these witnesses before the court. Some of these witnesses appeared on television to vehemently deny that they had given any testimony against Sayeedi. These witnesses included Usha Rani Malakar who said that she was on her death bed and did not want to do an injustice to Sayeedi or anyone else. Shukho Ranjan Bali, another witness, arrived at the court to testify in favor of Sayeedi but was kidnapped from near the gate of the court and his fate is still unknown.

Those who have denounced the tribunal verdict are not only leaders of the opposition but even include former President Gen. H.M. Ershad, who is a member of the ruling coalition. He slammed the genocide vehemently and described it as a black phase in the nation’s history.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com.

Source: saudi gazette