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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Letter From America: Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 6

By Habib Siddiqui

On 24 January 1972 the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) promulgated the Collaborators Tribunal Order (1972) to try the collaborators of the Pakistan government - the so-called enemies within.

In the Ordinance, a collaborator was defined as a person who was found -

(i) to have helped, cooperated with or supported the Pakistan army in maintaining their unlawful occupation in Bangladesh;

(ii) (ii) to have offered substantial cooperation to the Pakistan army directly or indirectly or to have helped the occupation army through speeches or statements, agreements and activities;

(iii) (iii) to have fought or have attempted to fight against Bangladesh;

(iv) (iv) to have given any statement or have participated in any campaign in favor of the Pakistan army, and to have been a member of any delegation or a committee of that army, and to have participated in the by-elections held in 1971.

Accordingly, those people of East Pakistan who supported the Pakistan Army proactively and had worked to preserve the unity of Pakistan by opposing the liberation of Bangladesh, including the paramilitary forces of Razakar, al-Badr and al-Shams, and the members of the pro-Government Peace Committees – which included Farid Ahmad, Khwaja Khairuddin, Nuruzzaman, Maulana Abdul Mannan, Julmat Ali Khan, Ghulam Azam, Mahmud Ali, Yusuf Ali Chowdhury (Mohan Mian), Syed Azizul Haq (Nanna Mian), Pir Mohsen Uddin (Dudu Mian), Raja Tridiv Roy, and ASM Solaiman - were formally declared as collaborators in the Bangladesh Collaborators Special Tribunal Order.

The total number of people arrested under the Collaborator Act was 37,471. According to M.M. Islam, the author of the book - The Forgotten Thousands: Bengalis in Bangladesh Jails - they were the “lucky ones” who “had escaped the indiscriminate killing' of the early days.” They “were rounded up and placed under detention in jails crowded many times over their capacity limits.” [See also: Matiur Rahman and Naeem Hasan, Iron Bars of Freedom,News and Media for Research and Documentation, London, 1980: 15] As already noted earlier, many of the collaborators, Bengali- and Urdu-speaking, were captured by the Freedom Fighters soon after the liberation of Bangladesh, and many were summarily executed without the due process of law. Some of the collaborators also managed to leave Bangladesh and settle overseas.

Most of the collaborators, as noted earlier, in the then East Pakistan came from the political parties that were opposed to the breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country. Those included the various factions within the Pakistan Muslim League, Democratic Party, Nezam-e-Islami and Jama’at-e-Islami – a fact which is also mentioned in Siddiq Salik’s book, 'Witness to Surrender'. [He said that the only people who came forward to form the Army of Razakars were men recruited from the Council Muslim League of Khwaja Khairuddin, the Convention Muslim League of Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, the Muslim League of Khan A. Sabur, the Jama'at-e-Islami of Professor Ghulam Azam, and the Nizam-i-Islam Party of Maulavi Farid Ahmed.]

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leaders Ghulam Azam, Abbas Ali Khan, Motiur Rahman Nizami, and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid (president of the Dhaka unit of East Pakistan Islami Chhatra Sangha) launched a countrywide campaign urging the youth to join the Razakar, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams to resist the liberation forces of Bangladesh. The military in East Pakistan also set up a network of Peace Committees to serve as its agent, informing on civil administration as well as on general populace. They also recruited Razakars. ('The Betrayal of East Pakistan' by A. A. K. Niazi)

It is perhaps proper to give here a brief account of the Jama’at-e-Islami. The party was founded in 1941 in British India as a religious-political movement to promote Islamic values by Mowlana Abul A’la Maududi – a theologian, Islamic thinker and author of many books. An ‘Islamic state’, according to Maududi, must be governed by the shariah – the Islamic Law. He opposed the Pakistan movement believing that the secular leaders seeking an independent Muslim state in the name of Pakistan were not competent enough to lead an Islamic state. On this, history has proven him right. However, he was highly criticized by all secular Muslim leaders of British India for his views that had joined the Pakistan movement. After the partition of India, he moved to Pakistan and led the party until his retirement from politics in 1972. He had a profound influence globally. His ideas on Islamic state were subsequently borrowed and expanded by many other scholars.

Maududi believed that the Indian Congress was a hypocritical organization. He was highly critical of its leader Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who, unlike M.K. Gandhi, was openly opposed to religion. He considered Nehru to be an enemy of any faith who wanted to use Muslims as a vote-bank only. [Note: Gandhi famously said, “I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.” (An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth: M.K. Gandhi)]

In Pakistan, Jamaat remained active in many social fronts. It opposed the military rulers and supported Fatima Jinnah against President Ayub Khan in the presidential election of 1965. It played a major role in the Pakistan Democratic Movement that toppled President Ayub Khan in 1969. In its 1970 election manifesto, the party supported provincial autonomy. In that election, it won 4 national assembly seats (out of 300) and enjoyed only 6% (~ 2m out of 33m) popular support.

After the devastating defeat in the 1970 election, the Jama’at quickly regrouped to defend Pakistan against the polarization of the country between the Awami League and the People’s Party. As to the role of Jama’at in 1971, Dr. Seyed Vali Reza Nasr, the author of the book - The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama‘at-i Islami of Pakistan, writes,“The Jama’at leaders encouraged Yahya Khan not to discriminate against the Awami League and to allow Mujib to form a government. When Yahya Khan refused, the party broke with him, accusing him of unfair partiality toward the People’s Party, which the Jama’at was convinced would have disastrous consequences for Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Jama’at excoriated the People’s Party for lobbying with the generals to deny the Awami League the fruit of its victory.

“As the situation in East Pakistan deteriorated throughout 1971, the Jama’at members became convinced of a Communist-Hindu plot to dismember Pakistan. Driven by its dedication to Pakistan’s unity and unable to counter the challenge of the Awami League, the Jama’at abandoned its role as intermediary and formed an unholy alliance with the Pakistan army, which had been sent to Dhaka to crush the Bengali nationalists.

“After a meeting with General Tikka Khan, the head of the army in East Pakistan, in April 1971, Ghulam A‘zam, the Amir of East Pakistan, gave full support to the army’s actions against “enemies of Islam.” Meanwhile, a group of Jama’at members went to Europe to explain Pakistan’s cause and defend what the army was doing in East Pakistan; another group was sent to the Arab world, where the Jama’at drew upon its considerable influence to gain support. In September 1971 the alliance between the Jama’at and the army was made official when four members of the Jama’at-i Islami of East Pakistan joined the military government of the province. Both sides saw gains to be made from their alliance. The army would receive religious sanction for its increasingly brutal campaign, and the Jama’at would gain prominence. Its position was, in good measure, the result of decisions made by the Jama’at-i Islami of East Pakistan, then led by Ghulam A’zam and Khurram Jah Murad. This branch of the Jama’at, faced with annihilation, was thoroughly radicalized, and acted with increasing independence in doing the bidding of the military regime in Dhaka. The Lahore secretariat often merely approved the lead taken by the Jama‘at and the IJT (Islami Jami’at-i Tulabah) in Dhaka. Nowhere was this development more evident than in the IJT’s contribution to the ill-fated al-Badr and al-Shams counterinsurgency operations.

“In the civil war, two thousand Jama’at and IJT members, workers, and sympathizers were killed and upward of twelve thousand held in prison camps.” [Seyed Vali Reza Nasr, The Vangaurd of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama‘at-i Islami of Pakistan, University of California Press, Berkeley (1994)] [Note: The IJT in East Pakistan was known as the Islamic Chatra Sangha, which is considered the student wing of the JI.]

It is interesting to see how a party which for too long was considered “anti-Pakistan” [for Mowlana Maududi’s serious opposition in British India] was able to transform itself to a “patriotic” party whose members gave blood trying to save Pakistan in its dying days.

In the liberated Bangladesh, all the pro-Pakistan political parties, including the Jama’at, were banned from politics.

In spite of his public declaration about trying the collaborators as war-criminals, Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not carry out the order. Instead, he declared a general amnesty on November 30, 1973, which was carried out by 16 December 1973 on the occasion of celebration of the second anniversary of the Victory Day. Amongst those released included - former Governor East Pakistan Dr. M. A. Malek along with his cabinet ministers (who served in East Pakistan), academics like - Dr. Kazi Din Mohammad, Dr. Hasan Zaman, Dr. Sazzad Hossain, Dr. Mohor Ali, and Pakistan’s former minister - Khan A. Sabur. (Fazlul Quader Chowdhury of the Convention Muslim League had died of natural causes inside the prison on July 18, 1973.)

The general amnesty, however, did not extend to those who had killed people, raped women, set fire or caused harm to damage people’s homestead with explosives or convicted for damaging water-transport.
In the early hours of August 15, 1975 Sheikh Mujib was assassinated with all but two family members (i.e., daughters – Hasina and Rehana) in what is widely believed to be a CIA-inspired plot by a disgruntled group within the Bangladesh army. Most of the top Awami League (AL) leaders were imprisoned. The plotters included military men who had fought against Pakistan military during the liberation war of Bangladesh. But they were widely believed to be against the spirit of liberation. They put a co-conspirator, Khondaker Mushtaque Ahmed – long rumored as Washington’s man within the Awami League, as the president, who later issued the Indemnity Ordinance, which prohibited any investigation and prosecution of the killing of Sheikh Mujib. Mushtaque named Major General Ziaur Rahman as the new Army Chief of Staff.

On November 3, 1975, nearly 11 weeks after Mujib’s assassination, Major General Khaled Mosharraf, a pro-Mujib army officer, staged a counter-coup ousting Mushtaque Ahmed and imprisoning Zia. In the midst of the ensuing chaos, Sheikh Mujib’s killers left the country in that very night after killing four top AL leaders - Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansur Ali and A. H. M. Quamruzzaman – who had led the provisional government of Bangladesh during the liberation war. They had been imprisoned in the Dhaka Central Jail since the August coup. Mosharraf’s coup, however, was short lived and on November 7, just within four days, he was overthrown and killed in an uprising of the regular soldiers and the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) of the army that was inspired by Col. Abu Taher (Retd.) of Jatiya Samajtantric Dal (JSD) – a leftist political party.

The misguided soldiers killed many army officers and their wives. However, Zia was rescued from his captivity by Taher’s forces. He was promptly reinstated as the army chief by the Chief Justice Sayem. Mindful of restoring discipline within the army, Zia arrested Taher on November 24, 1975 on charges of sedition and murder. Many JSD leaders were also arrested. A military tribunal later found Taher guilty and he was hanged on 21 July 1976. Major General Zia would go on to become the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) on November 19, 1975 and later president, after resignation of Sayem, in April 21, 1977.

On December 31, 1975, an ordinance – The Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) (Repeal) Ordinance, 1975 – to repeal the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order, 1972 was promulgated. The political turnaround in Bangladesh allowed previously banned political parties to resurrect their activities. Shah Azizur Rahman, a Pakistani collaborator who was released by Sheikh Mujib, went on to become the prime minister of Bangladesh under President Ziaur Rahman. He also helped President Zia to organize the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has remained a major political party even after Zia’s assassination.

As president, Zia issued edicts to the constitution redefining the nature of the republic. He began expounding "Bangladeshi nationalism", as opposed to Bengali nationalism. He emphasized the national role of Islam (as practiced by the majority of Bangladeshis), a drift which was brought to the fore by the assassins of Sheikh Mujib. In the preamble of the constitution, he inserted the salutation "Bismillahir Rahmaanir-Rahim" (meaning: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful). In Article 8(1) and 8(1A) the statement "absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah"' was added, replacing the state’s commitment to secularism. Socialism was redefined as "economic and social justice". Zia further introduced provisions to allow Muslims to practice the social and legal injunctions of the Shari’ah and Sunnah. In Article 25(2), Zia introduced the principle that '"the state shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity." Islamic religious education was introduced as a compulsory subject in Bangladeshi schools, with provisions for non-Muslim students to learn of their own religions.

President Zia gave assassins of Sheikh Mujib jobs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some of those assassins were later to become ambassadors of Bangladesh.

While President Ziaur Rahman befriended many and gave new lives to pro-Pakistan forces, he alienated many freedom fighters that had participated in the liberation war. While visiting Chittagong on May 30, 1981, he was assassinated by a group of pro-liberation army officers.

Lt. General H.M. Ershad, the Army Chief of Staff, promptly suppressed that military coup. On March 24, 1982 he staged a military coup toppling the BNP President Justice Abdus Sattar and proclaimed himself as the CMLA. Some twenty months later, on December 11, 1983, he claimed himself as the president of Bangladesh. As president, Ershad included amendments into the Constitution of Bangladesh, which legalized the military coup led by himself. He also amended the constitution to declare Islam the state religion, abandoning state secularism. He declared Friday as the official weekly holiday.

President Ershad was forced to resign after a massive uprising, which was jointly led by opposition political parties – BNP, AL and JI. On December 6, 1990, he handed over power to a caretaker government that was led by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed. He has served jail terms a few times on charges of corruption. Notwithstanding those charges, he and his Jatiya Party remain quite popular in Rangpur. In the 2008 parliamentary election, Jatiya Party was part of the Mahajote (Grand Alliance) with the Awami League that ran and won against the BNP-led alliance, which included the Jama’at.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>> To be continued ….

- Asian Tribune -

Letter From America: Bangladesh – A Nation Divided? – Part 6
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