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Try '71 war criminals

Try '71 war criminals

Author: Hiranmay Karlekar
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 8, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/148527/Try-'71-war-criminals.html

This is how Hasina can cripple Jamaat and Islamists

A promise made in the Awami League's election manifesto, whose honouring will have a wide and salutary impact on Bangladesh's public life, is the trial of the war criminals of 1971. The latter's ranks include a number of leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (Jamaat), including its Ameer, Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, and its general secretary, Mr Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid. The former was Industries Minister, and the latter, Social Welfare Minister, in the four-party alliance that ruled Bangladesh between 2001 and 2006 with Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) as Prime Minister. It also includes Mr Abbas Ali Khan, who became Jamaat's officiating Ameer after the ban on the party, imposed after Liberation in December 1971, was lifted in 1979, and Mr Golam Azam, regarded as the most hated war criminal. He had taken the lead in assisting the Pakistani Army's effort to suppress the liberation struggle through genocide and mass rape and had fled the country on the eve of liberation and had eventually found refuge in Pakistan. Allowed to return to Bangladesh by General-turned-President Zia-urn Rahman in 1978, he became the Jamaat's Ameer in 1979 but remained in the shadows until he formally assumed office in December 1991 after Bangladesh's High Court had pronounced his claim of being a Bangladeshi citizen valid.

Trial and punishment of war criminals will not only bring to justice people who had either directly participated, or aided and abetted, in the killing of over three million people and rape of 425,000 women, but deliver a major setback to the Jamaat which is the ideological fountainhead and organisational pivot of Bangladesh's Islamist terrorist outfits. Mufti Abdul Hannan, Operations Commander of the banned Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh, who has been sentenced to death, and Bangla Bhai, aka Siddiqul Islam, Operations Commander of the banned Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, who was hanged on March 29, 2007, were both from the Jamaat's stable. So was Abdur Rahman, Shaikh of the banned Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh who and four others were hanged on the same day as Bangla Bhai.

During the rule of the four-party coalition, the Jamaat and a section of the BNP acted as the umbrella under which terrorist organisations thrived, and made sure that the police dragged its feet when it came to acting against them. For a long time the Jamaat even denied Bangla Bhai's existence, with Maulana Nizami going to the extent of stating at a Press conference on July 22, 2004, that he was a creation of the media and that the Government had found no existence of him.

A major setback to war criminals and the Jamaat will, therefore, also deliver a major setback to the Islamist terrorist groups which continue to function in Bangladesh. This will help prevent these and/or such of their successors as may emerge, from launching the kind of murderous assaults on members of Bangladesh's civil society, intelligentsia and secular politicians they had been launching since the early 1990s, and which attained alarming proportions during 2001-2006. It will also prevent them from using Bangladesh's soil to launch terrorist attacks on India, where most terrorist outrages witnessed since 2001 has had the imprimatur of the HUJIB's involvement.

Trying war criminals will doubtless not be easy. The BNP, Jamaat's ally, will certainly resist the move. It had at one stage decided to boycott the swearing in of Sheikh Hasina and her new cabinet on January 6 evening because the Jamaat had not been invited. Resistance will also come from sections of the Army and Bangladesh's premier intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, both of which have been heavily infiltrated by pro-Jamaat elements. Until his removal in 2007, Brigadier Azam Mir, Mr Golam Azam's second son, was a powerful Deputy Director-General of the organisation and engineering terrorist strikes in north-eastern India.

There is, on the other hand, the overwhelming verdict of an election in which the trial of war criminals had featured as a major issue. Sheikh Hasina will have massive popular support as well as the organised strength of the Sector Commander's Forum, which has emerged as a powerful body, behind her if she holds it now. Delay may cause the hour to pass and enable war criminals to get away once again.

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