15th December, 2012
M. Serajul Islam
Those nine months of 1971 were for the people of Bangladesh, the worst of times and the best of times in human sufferings and human spirit .The worst was that they were trapped inside Bangladesh with a military armed to the teeth and on a rampage. For them, every moment of those nine months was a tryst with death. The Pakistani army’s only agenda was to keep the territorial integrity of Pakistan where they considered the entire population of Bangladesh as the enemy. They therefore were embarked on a course where they were prepared to kill as many as they considered necessary. The Pakistan army’s agenda was ensuring the country’s territorial integrity at any cost. That made the action of the Pakistan military in 1971 against Bangladesh one of the worst unanswered genocides of history.
The Pakistan army’s action was backed by governments abroad, except India and the former Soviet Union, because those were the times when sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country were considered sacrosanct; where a people’s right of self-determination existed only on paper. Any other oppressed people would have surrendered to save themselves from the genocide of the Pakistan army. But then those were also the best of the times. In 1971, the people of Bangladesh showed the world that even genocide and indifference of governments abroad to that genocide were not enough to deter them from uniting for freedom. They united under the leadership of one of the great leaders of history, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in one of the most exceptional and glorious wars of liberation fought in modern history.
Earlier, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s leadership and charisma had encouraged the entire population of then East Pakistan to vote the Awami League to power in Pakistan where many were not AL supporters to wrest from Pakistan, their present and future that was hijacked after Pakistan was created. The Muslims of Bengal created the main pressure on the British rulers that forced them to divide India and create Pakistan as the home of the Muslims in 1947. Yet when Pakistan was created, the capital and all other institutions of power of the newly independent country went to West Pakistan from where a neo-colonial pattern of governance was established. The rulers of Pakistan did to East Pakistan what the British had done to colonial India. West Pakistan treated East Pakistan as a colony. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman challenged this neo-colonial structure of Pakistan helped by another visionary leader Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani.
The speech that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave in Suhrawardy Maidan on 7th March, 1971 will very easily find a place in history of great speeches for its power to motivate and unite a nation for freedom. People went that day in hundreds of thousands to hear his speech, aware that their leader could opt for unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) that could lead the Pakistani rulers to use their Air Force to strafe on the meeting and kill those who had gone there. Yet the people were not afraid. The fiery and inspirational speech united them to overcome the fear of death to free their motherland from the illegal and unconstitutional rule of the Pakistani military government.
The Pakistanis went about their killing spree with single minded dedication for exterminating the Bengali speaking people of East Pakistan. That made the Bangladesh genocide the same type of genocide that was committed by the Nazis on the Jews during the Second World War. Then a Major, Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman, defected from the Pakistan army, and declared Bangladesh’s independence in the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after he was taken into custody by the Pakistanis on the dark night of March 25, 1971. With his brave and fearless fellow soldiers who also defected from the Pakistan army, he started the armed struggle against the Pakistani military that received from the people qualitatively better and greater support than what those leading the Chinese, Russian and other successful revolutions had received from their respective peoples. The whole nation came together as a monolith and willing to give everything to help the FFs in their efforts to liberate the country. The Bangladesh liberation war was thus able to establish itself as one of the best examples of a successful people’s war in modern history.
True there were local collaborators, the Jamat, the Razakars and the Al Badars. But their numbers were insignificant. They were cowards who committed their crimes only because they were given indulgence by the Pakistani military. Their acts did not deter the determination of the people even a bit from supporting and fighting for their freedom. The spirit of unity for the cause of freedom was so strong that there was no force that could break it. It is a matter of extreme regret that 41 years after the people of Bangladesh had united like few nations in history ever united that had earned them worldwide respect and set Bangladesh up for reaching any height in social/economic/political development; the country is seeing such unbelievable disunity today. Mindless and senseless conflict is pushing the country further and further away from the reasons for which the country had united in 1971; an unity that was achieved through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of martyrs.
Bangladesh is at a dangerous cross road. Every citizen needs to take a deep breath and reflect for the sake of the country that politics is pushing to destruction. The establishment of the International Crimes Tribunal to try the local collaborators of crimes against humanity has been welcomed by all except those who would be directly affected by the verdict of the trials. Jamat’s hartals and other civil disturbances should be seen rationally as acts of desperate people. It is not surprising that Jamat is carrying out these activities; it would be unrealistic to expect Jamat to be silent. These acts of Jamat should not be blown out of proportion. Further, these acts are in no way physical obstacles to the ICT; neither directly nor indirectly. The ICT now has had nearly 4 years to do its work where neither Jamat nor any other force has directly interfered with its work. Is the government crying wolf because it cannot enforce the judgment on the Jamat leaders that the people expect for reasons that it does not want to reveal? Is the government looking for a scapegoat knowing the people would not forgive the ruling party for failure on the trials? The details of the Skype conversation of ICT Chairman Justice Nizamul Huq and his resignation suggest that the reasons for the un-satisfactory status of the trials rest with the Government.
The BNP’s current struggle is political; to force an unwilling government to hold an election in which it can participate. The BNP is asking the same of the ruling party that it had asked the BNP in 1996 when the latter was in government, when politics was less conflict ridden than it is today. The BNP did not turn around and call the AL anti-liberation force. Instead, it gave the AL what it demanded and lost power! Why would the AL be calling the BNP anti liberation force today for demanding the same? There is of course a point here; that the BNP is allied with the Jamat which many would question. But then in 1996, the AL also allied with the Jamat against the BNP. In this month of liberation, the ruling party should consider that its attitude of calling any party that opposes it as anti-liberation force makes little sense for that would make half the country and perhaps more, anti-Bangladeshi! Even a thought in these lines is illogical and defeatist.
It is time to push such thoughts aside and let the ICT deal with the anti-liberation forces in a process that is transparent. Let those who exercise political power today ensure that the country has a peaceful transition of government through a free and fair election. The visiting Assistant Secretary General of the UN for Political Affairs has called for political dialogue between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to ensure that. The US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake on his recent visit to Dhaka has said very much the same. In fact, as is widely believed in the country, the dark clouds before the nation would dissipate if only the Government would make ways for the opposition to participate in the next general elections.
The ruling party owes to the nation in memory of its leader who united the people in 1971 to ensure a level playing ground for the next general elections that alone will bring the country back from slipping into the abyss. It must allow the people the opportunity to elect the party of their choice. This would be in the spirit of Bangladesh’s liberation war; anything else would be to the contrary and a disaster for the country.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador