By Rajeev Sharma
Now the International Crimes Tribunal has charged Nizami for involvement in murders and torture of unarmed people during the country’s Liberation War in 1971.The other charges Nizami is facing are hatching conspiracy, planning, incitement and complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity during the liberation war against Pakistan. After framing 16 charges against Nizami, the International Crimes Tribunal set July 1 for beginning his trial. The International Crimes (Tribunal) Act, 1973 only allows a convict to appeal to the Appellate Division of Supreme Court against his conviction and sentence.
The most notable charge Nizami is facing now is his role in eliminating the best brains of the nation through planned killing of intellectuals and professionals prior to Bangladesh’s victory on December 16, 1971.The Pakistani occupation and local auxiliary forces, especially Razakar and Al Badr formed with the members of ICS, carried out selective elimination of respected professionals and intellectuals in the country to give a mortal blow to independent Bangladesh. The victims’ houses were burnt; they were drugged out, often blindfolded, tortured, murdered, and their bodies were dumped in mass graves and other places.
Through above acts and commissions, Nizami committed the crime of genocide to eliminate the intellectuals and professionals. Nizami had conspired with the Pakistani occupation forces, planned and incited crimes, and was complicit in murders, rapes, looting, destruction of property and was responsible for commissioning of crimes in 1971. He had assisted former JEI chief Ghulam Azam, who is also facing similar charges at the tribunal, in forming different auxiliary forces including Peace Committee, Razakar, Al Badr and Al Shams. The Tribunal earlier framed charges against Ghulam Azam saying he played a key role in forming these auxiliary forces that helped the Pakistani forces commit atrocities across the country.
JEI receives money through many covert channels including Hundi. Resalah Courier Service is exclusively used for channeling money to JEI. This courier service is headed by Mujibur Rahman Mandal, a former ICS President who is currently based in Dhaka.
Apart from its business earnings JEI has been receiving funds from organizations like the Qatar Charitable Society and UK based NGOs including Institute of Islamic Political Thought and Muslim Aid, UK. Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, director of Muslim spiritual care provision in the NHS, a trustee of the major British charity Muslim Aid and a central figure in setting up the Muslim Council of Britain, who was known to be channelizing funds to JEI, has now been identified as one who was deeply involved in killing of intellectuals in Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh Law and Justice Minister Shafique Ahmed said that Mueen-Uddin was a JEI leader in 1971 and he was an instrument of killing intellectuals.
JEI has been providing jobs to unemployed youth in Saudi Arabia against donation. A former JEI leader Al Haj Md Habibul Islam who is staying in Jeddah, has been regularly arranging employment of Bangladeshi youth in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, JEI run coaching centers spread across the country generate around Tk 40 crore annually. There are 35 branches of 12 coaching centers run by JEI and located in various parts of the country. Retina Coaching Center which prepares students for admission in colleges offering professional degrees including medical and engineering is the biggest JEI run coaching center set up in 1980 and it has 15 branches spread across the country. The amount of income generated by the coaching centers for the party is kept a close guarded secret. Moreover, JEI has a dominating presence in transport sector of the country.
While the Bangladesh authorities have recently observed that the financial sector needed to be scrutinized and monitored in view of terrorist funding and money laundering issues, the JEI stands as a party with significant financial resources which enables its NGOs to penetrate the society at large, especially the lower middle class and the poor. The party hopes that it will be this section of people in the society who will come forward to its rescue in the event of verdict on the ongoing trial of war crimes and crimes against humanity going against the six party stalwarts now facing trial.
JEI has been working hand in glove with BNP leaders to overthrow the government of Sheikh Hasina and huge funds have been generated for this purpose. The involvement of BNP Standing Committee member Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (SQC), presently facing war crimes charges, who pumped in huge funds amounting to more than Tk 40 crore to encourage and incite the mutineers as well as to sustain their morale, came to the fore.
SQC is known to patronize a large number of armed cadres and gangsters. There is no dearth of such elements in JEI too. It was these elements who took part in killing and looting, wearing BDR uniform. Deputy Assistant Director of BDR Towhid Alam who was at the forefront of the BDR mutiny and is presently in police custody has also confessed that outsiders were also involved in the mutiny. Participants in the mutiny were mostly a group of young BDR soldiers recruited during the BNP-JEI regime. The brutality with which senior army officers were killed, their bodies mutilated and dumped in sewer pipes bear tell-tale evidence of the involvement of Islamist pro-Pak elements that had a similar modus operandi during the liberation war in 1971 to annihilate the freedom fighters. Media reports also pointed out presence of arms, ammunition and a vehicle near mutiny site which did not belong to either BDR or Army. Media reports also revealed that calls were made through satellite phones from Dubai to persons in Dhaka soon after the outbreak of BDR mutiny.
Vernacular daily Janakantha reported the presence of a “prince” (a reference to Tariq Rahman, Senior Vice Chairman of BNP and Khaleda Zia’s son who is presently undergoing medical treatment in UK) in Dubai to monitor developments at Pilkhana on the fateful day. Another media report revealed that BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia disappeared from her Cantonment residence soon after outbreak of the mutiny and remained underground for three days. The mutiny was part of a well thought out plot to overthrow the Sheikh Hasina led Government and bring to power the BNP/JEI Alliance. It shows deadly machinations of BNP and JEI even when they are out of power. However, Sheikh Hasina has successfully overcome this crisis by thwarting the challenge with a firm hand. According to the probe committee report, the premeditated mutiny was intended to create chaos and anarchy in the country and topple the Awami League led Government with the help of a “foreign state” (an indirect reference to Pakistan).
Bangladesh has regained political democracy after an interregnum of two years, when an army backed civilian regime ruled the country. Return of Awami League (AL) led secular forces to power with unprecedented majority (AL led alliance won 262 of the 300 seats, with AL itself winning 230) through the parliamentary elections held on December 29, 2008, has ended all apprehensions about instability in that country. The army had indirectly taken reins of power on Jan 11, 2007, following turmoil created by failure of the two main political parties Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and AL to reach an understanding over instituting an acceptable and credible mechanism to hold parliamentary elections originally scheduled for Jan 25, 2007. The opposition parties had walked out of electoral process alleging that the previous BNP-JEI regime had subverted all institutions and manipulated even voters list to rig the polls.
After seizing power, the army-backed regime had initiated a series of measures to reform the political system and eradicate corruption, which apparently received considerable popular endorsement. A large number of politicians, including heads of the two major political parties – AL President Sheikh Hasina and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia – were put behind bars over various charges of corruption. After toying with several ideas including minus two theory designed to send both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia into political oblivion, the army backed civilian regime dropped the idea of altering the contours of polity. It released all prominent politicians, except the two sons of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, and handed over power to an elected regime after holding a credible and most participative election in the history of Bangladesh on the basis of a flawless voters list.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assumed power in January 2009 with considerable promise. She promised to change the confrontational political culture of the country and work for realizing aspirations of converting Bangladesh into a developed country by 2021. She has also assured to stamp out terror from the country and seek closer and friendly ties with all countries in the region. While it is yet to be seen how her regime seeks to address specific security issues, but compared to previous BNP-Jamaat-e-lslami (JEI) government, which virtually patronized the radical Islamic groups as well as pro-Pak forces and was even involved in engineering a grenade attack on a rally of AL President Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka in 2004, the Hasina government must be a huge relief for all those who are opposed to Islamic radicalism and terrorism.
Ever since its formation in 1949, the AL has remained the most credible vanguard of secular-linguistic politics in Bangladesh. The party, despite all its inadequacies and shortcomings, has contributed to making Bangladesh a relatively liberal Muslim majority State with reasonably acceptable democratic credentials.
The party still commands the widest popular support base in the country, even though in the major power structures of the State, like the armed forces, media and business, its penetration has remained limited. Legacy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman again confers a unique symbolic identity to the party, which is credited with the very creation of Bangladesh and laying of foundation for the Bengali nationalism – as something different from Islamic nationalism.
However, for the most part of independent history of Bangladesh, the party has faced violent challenges from the so-called Islamic nationalist and pro-Pak forces who do not believe in the concept of democracy and who wish to capture state power in the name of religion. Certain sections of the armed forces, some mercenary elements and sections of pro-Pak political entities have often come together to subvert institutions of democracy and hijack the State power to use it for their selfish ends. These groups have always found religion as a convenient tool and hence they advocate a strong Islamic nationalist identity for the country and paint India in a negative light to generate a sense of psychological insecurity among the masses.
The last BNP-JEI rule (2001-06) was clear demonstration of the fact that Islamic nationalism had only been used as a garb for probably the worst form of political corruption. The two sons of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia virtually created mayhem in the country by siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars. At the end of its tenure, BNP led regime was still not willing to face a fair election. It had subverted the entire electoral democratic machinery and positioned its loyalists in all key positions of the Caretaker Government – a novelty of Bangladesh that had to be introduced by amending the Constitution in the wake of persistence of BNP regime to rig the polls.
However, within the army only unscrupulous elements have showed eagerness to join the mullahs and mercenaries to subvert democracy and grab state power. There are still important sections within the army who do not wish to get involved in politics. Refusal of the army to fire upon unarmed protesters during the fall of Ershad’s autocratic regime, or the way senior army officers remained supportive of the Sk Hasina led democratic Government during the BDR mutiny in February 2009 despite provocation, are a pointer to both a fair degree of professionalism within the military and even resilience of democratic traditions in the country.
Further, the power dynamics in the aftermath of indirect military intervention of January 2007 created such conditions that the army had to dissociate itself with the Islamic nationalist elements represented by BNP and its more hard-line associates like JEI and Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ). Hence, what has been certified by international community as the fairest election in the history of independent Bangladesh, AL returned to power with a resounding majority. The AL-led Grand Alliance came to power with an unprecedented majority. During these elections, AL largely focused on development related issues and promised to curb terrorism, as enunciated in AL’s election manifesto entitled “Charter for Change – Vision 2021”. The voters also clearly disapproved the corrupt practices of the previous BNP/JEI regime and they were not much enthused about political appeals in the name of religion and Islamic nationalism.
The first violent challenge to the Sheikh Hasina-led Government from the pro-Pakistan forces came in the form of BDR mutiny (February 25-26, 2009) which resulted in killing of more than 70 people, including 57 senior army officers and the DG BDR. But the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina steered through the crisis in a very tactful manner forcing the mutineers to lay down arms within a very short time. In the process she also asserted her authority over army, which was under tremendous pressure from middle and junior rank officers at the instigation of BNP/JEI alliance and Pak ISI for launching a counter attack on the BDR mutineers. BDR mutiny has turned out to be the outcome of a meticulously thought out conspiracy in which involvement of BNP, JEI and Pak ISI is clearly discernible.
Anis-uz-Zaman Committee that probed the mutiny in its preliminary report released to the media stated that the mutiny was instigated by people “who do not believe in the independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh”. The report while recommending further investigations to unmask the mastermind behind the incident, pointed out the involvement of former Deputy Minister of BNP, Nasir Uddin Ahmed Pintu, and former BNP Ward Commissioner Suraiya Begum and her two sons who facilitated escape of many mutineers. The report also took note that processions were brought out near the BDR HQ at Pilkhana on the fateful day in support of the BDR mutineers.
It is now known that it was the JEI cadres who organized the processions. The motive was to drive a wedge between the army and the BDR in order to create civil war and also to boost the morale of the mutineers and incite them. The probe report also made a passing mention of the “High Commission” of a country (an oblique hint at Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka) for its involvement in it and huge funds pumped in to make the mutiny a success.
Thanks to the astuteness displayed by the then Chief of Army Staff Gen Moeen U Ahmed and his highly professional and disciplined band of soldiers who remained strongly supportive of the democratically elected Sheikh Hasina led government. Otherwise there would have been another upheaval in the country on the pattern of August 15, 1975 (when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was brutally assassinated along with his family members) and this could have swept Sheikh Hasina away.
The BDR mutiny was the first of a series of attempts initiated to overthrow the duly elected Sheikh Hasina led Government and pave the way for BNP-JEI alliance’s return to power. To conceal BNP/JEI duo’s involvement in the episode, significant number of pro-BNP/JEI entities in civil society, media, political groups and pro-Pak lobbies launched a propaganda against India saying that BDR mutiny was planned and executed by India in complicity with AL to weaken Bangladesh Army and lower its resistance to Indian aggression. This malicious propaganda was also spread among some influential members of Bangladeshi Diaspora.
Some developments during the last couple of months are clear indications that destabilizing forces have been operating with vengeance in Bangladesh to overthrow the democratically elected AL led Government. The so-called Islamic nationalist forces in the country have embarked upon a meticulously worked out plan to create large scale lawlessness and anarchy with the objective of subverting the ongoing trial of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the anti-liberation forces and collaborators of Pakistan in 1971.
Earlier this year, Bangladesh army disclosed that it had foiled a plot by more than a dozen “religiously fanatic” officers to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. “We have unearthed a heinous conspiracy to overthrow the democratic government through the army”, Army spokesman Brig Gen Masud Razzaq said in a statement on January 19, 2012: “The attempt has been thwarted with the wholehearted efforts of army soldiers,” the statement said, adding that the plot had been fomented by Bangladeshi expatriates in touch with ‘religiously fanatic’ army officers. Giving details about the failed coup, which was unearthed in December last, Gen Razzaq said an officer of the rank of Major who was now on the run circulated emails to different serving officers detailing a plan to overthrow the Government on January 9-10. The Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), banned in Bangladesh in 2009 was directly involved in the attempt to overthrow the Government, the statement added. The plot involved up to 16 Islamist officers, raising fears about the prevalence of hardliners in the upper ranks of the country’s 140,000 strong Army.
The banned radical outfit HuT that enjoys covert patronage of BNP/JEI clique recently published and circulated a huge number of pamphlets in Dhaka in May 2011, throwing an open challenge to the Government by announcing its decision to hold rallies and processions in Dhaka and across the country in support of its demand for introduction of ‘khelafat’ (caliphate) in the country. Posters visible at different strategic points and locations in Dhaka and its outskirts contained various calls including call for establishment of ‘khelafat’ by overthrowing the democratically elected AL led Government. Saving the country’s independence and sovereignty, its natural gas and oil and creating powerful defence forces, free of the influence of the United States, the UK and India were among other demands on these pamphlets and posters. These also termed Sheikh Hasina as an agent of anti – Islamic forces including India and the US.
Leaders and activists of HuT have been very active in various ways. Around 350 HuT leaders and workers including its Chief Coordinator Professor Mohiuddin Ahmed of Dhaka University, senior leaders Golam Mawla, Kazi Morshedul Haque and Mahmudul Bari were arrested on October 20, 2009 when the organization was banned. But activities of the radical organization continue unabated even now. HuT activists are openly carrying out subversive and anti-democratic activities in support of their demand for introduction of Islamic rule in the country. HuT is an international Islamic militant group originally set up in Jerusalem in 1953 to fight for a separate Palestinian homeland. It started its activities in Bangladesh in 2000.
On the occasion of anniversary of the BDR mutiny, the HuT circulated leaflets in cantonment areas appealing to the army personnel to take up arms and rise in revolt to overthrow the Sheikh Hasina led Government and establish Allah’s rule. These leaflets accused Hasina of having staged the BDR mutiny to kill Army officers. The objective was to arouse camaraderie among army personnel and whip up their passion for revenge. After being banned in Bangladesh, the UK chapter of HuT has been providing funds through many covert channels to sustain activities of its Bangladesh counterpart. HuT militants are being secretly organized to join hands with JEI and its student organ Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) to destabilize the country.
In its attempts to create anarchy and lawlessness in the country, the BNP-JEI clique is working on a plan to utilize the HuT and Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants as their assets on the ground. The HuT and JMB militants have a very active grassroots level network due to the covert support and patronage received from the BNP-JEI Alliance when it ruled the country. The network of these two radical groups are now so powerful that although the security forces have seized huge stockpiles of explosive materials, broken numerous terrorist cells and apprehended thousands of militants, there has not been any let up in their activities.
Of late, there are media reports of unrest in the readymade garment industry as well. Recently, three garment workers were killed and more than 30 injured in Tongi industrial area in police firing following outbreak of violent labour unrest there. This unrest, caused due to non-payment of back wages, is being fuelled by some well identified quarters bent on fomenting trouble and fishing in troubled waters. The BNP/JEI Alliance accused the AL Government of conspiring to destroy the garment industry to give advantage to a ‘foreign country’ (an euphemism for India) in exporting readymade garments. Efforts are also being made to misguide the people and instigate them against the diplomatic offensive launched by the Government to settle outstanding disputes with Myanmar and India.
The government’s proposed education policy and the women’s empowerment policy have also come in for scathing criticism from these so-called Islamic nationalist lobbies demanding introduction of Islamic education system and establishment of Islamic values in the society. The daily Star in its issue of January 29, 2012 reported that twelve ‘Islamic’ minded parties announced their vehement opposition to the ongoing war crimes trial. These parties have even threatened to try ‘Indian agents’ if their demand for stopping the trial were not met. Nothing could get more audacious, reactionary and outrageous than this. How dare this group, hideous in its intentions, belittle and oppose the war crimes trial that may provide a small amount of solace to the gaping wounds the dear and near ones of these victims continue to bear. The other demands these people are making — one of them is to scrap the women’s development policy — are ominous expressions of fanaticism and distortion of religion that directly contradict the spirit of Bangladesh’s constitution and Liberation War.
The arrest in Bangladesh of the mafia don Dawood Ibrahim’s nephew Daud Merchant alias Abdul Rauf and his associate Zahid Sheikh has led to disclosure of plans of the don in collusion with ISI and the Pakistan based international terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to destabilize not merely the AL Govt in Bangladesh; the plan is to target India as well.
All these incidents are integral to a plot aimed at destabilizing the AL Government with an ulterior motive. The AL Government is viewed as an enemy of the ‘two nation’ theory propounded by Pakistan and therefore, to the so-called Islamic nationalist forces, it is an anathema. These forces are now seeking help from the mafia and radical Islamic groups to overthrow the Hasina government.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and strategic analyst)