By Bhaskar Roy
Every August 15 observers of Bangladeshi politics are taken back to that fateful day in 1975 when a group of young army officers stormed Dhaka in a meticulously planned operation. The entire family of Sk. Mujibur Rahman, known as the founder of the nation, was gunned down. Even his son, nine year old Russell was not spared. Only two survived because they were out of the country – his elder daughter Sk.Hasina, and younger daughter Sk. Rehana.
Elsewhere in Dhaka, two ministers of Sk.Mujib’s cabinet, Khondakar Mustaque Ahmed and Taheruddin Thakur, were pacing nervously in their house on August 14 late evening. It was only after they received the news of the extermination of Sk. Mujibur Rahman and his family that they relaxed and got to work with their “friends” inside and outside the country.
Far away from Dhaka in Washington D. C., National Security Adviser to the US President De. Henry Kissinger, was receiving real time information of every step of the coup as it proceeded. He had finally extracted his retribution against India and the leader of the Bangladeshi liberation movement.
For Henry Kissinger the liberation of Bangladesh was a personal issue. He and President Richard Nixon viewed the entire issue from the cold war perspective. India was perceived as a Soviet ally. Kissinger was ever grateful to Pakistan for facilitating his secret visit to China in 1970 in the course of US-China rapprochement and forming the anti-soviet US-Pak-China axis. A break up of Pakistan would make Islamabad weaker.
Kissinger, however, failed to convince Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai to move troops to threaten India. China, in 1971, had several serious problems. A coup attempt by Mao’s anointed successor Marshall Lin Biao had been averted. The relationship with Moscow was tense. Mao was also wary about what Japan would do in case China got into an extended face off with India on the Sino-Indian border.
Both Kissinger and Nixon hated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In their understanding Mrs. Gandhi had dared the power and might of the USA. Mrs. Ghandhi and her close advisor had creatively prepared the position. She sent emissaries to all important countries of the world to impress upon them to stop Pakistan army’s genocide in Bangladesh. She, herself, made her pitch with Nixon.
Kissinger extracted his revenge using the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The then US ambassador to Bangladesh is on record saying he was kept in the dark about the CIA operation. An inquiry initiated on this issue in the US was scuttled by Kissinger.
Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Sk. Mujibur Rahman won the first round in 1971. Kissinger won the second round. Henry Kissinger now says that was a thing of the past and history and that has no relevance to current relations. That may seem to be the fact, but the truth lies elsewhere. Kissinger helped eliminate the top Bangladeshi leadership who were followers of the Sk. Mujibur Rahman’s vision of a secular and democratic Bangladesh.
The crimes committed by the Pakistani occupation army and their Bangladeshi radical Islamic supporters in 1971 before surrender, and those committed by the Bangladeshi coup leaders in 1975 emphatically concentrated on liberation leaders who espoused a different political view.
Hundreds of liberals were executed. Subsequent developments stand witness to unmasking of many “freedom fighters” who were actually Pakistani acolytes, who got caught on East Pakistan or Bangladeshi soil when war broke out. One outstanding figure among them was the late Zia-ur-Rahman. As an army major, Zia was a sector commander of the liberation force.
Following Sk.Mujibur Rahman’s assassination, Zia-ur-Reheman manipulated people, assassinated rivals, and finally became the President of Bangladesh. He was assassinated in 1971 when on a tour to the port city of Chittagong, by Maj. Gen, Manzoor, another freedom fighter. In the course of things Manzoor was also killed.
As President of Bangladesh Zia rehabilitated the Jamat-e-Islami (JEI) and the Islamic radicals who helped the Pakistani army. Sk Mujib had delegalized them, and expelled their leader Prof. Gulam Azam, the father of the Razakars, Al Badr and Al Shams. Gulam Azam lives in Bangladesh today.
Zia set on a course to erase secularism from Bangladesh. He banned Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s songs (Rabindra Sangeet), though one of Tagore’s song’s “Amar Sonar Bangla” still remains Bangladesh’s national song. He formed the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is headed by his widow wife Begum Khaleda Zia, and as the main opposition party today. The BNP under Khaleda Zia had two tenures in the government. In their second tenure (2001-2006), the BNP brought in Islamic radicals and terrorists as their instruments to power. They resorted to export of terrorism and militancy in India, political murders, and unprecedented corruption.
Under the BNP government, opposition leader and President of the Awami League, Sk. Hasina faced three attempts on her life. After she took over Prime Ministership in 2009, there were two coup attempts against her government.
What is the importance of being Sk. Hasina? She carries the legacy of her father Sk. Mujibur Rahman – democracy, secularism, women’s empowerment, separation of religion from politics and development. She is also determined to set the history of the liberation straight. Countering terrorism is on top of her agenda, and she believed in firm relations based on equality with all countries including India. She .succeeded in erasing the label of Bangladesh as a state sponsor of terrorism which it had acquired under BNP rule.
The relevance of Bangabandhu is critical to Bangladesh to be seen as a democratic, secular progressive nation in the world. The future of Bangladesh hinges on resolution of the 1971 liberation war and the war crimes. There is strong opposition to a resolution from both within and outside the country. Failure to do this may jeopardise Bangladesh’s future and Bangabandhu’s dream. Relevance of Bangladesh depends on Bangabandhu’s relevance.
Thanks for reading Eurasia Review. For more of our reporting make sure to sign up for our free newsletter!