BNP leader Rafiqul Islam Mia is of the opinion that the government led by Sheikh Hasina is worse than the regime headed in Pakistan by General Yahya Khan between March 1969 and December 1971. Mia is a senior figure in his party, has been a minister and is a frequent guest on television talk shows. He is also a well-known lawyer. His adherence to the politics of his party is understandable. His enthusiasm for democracy is to be appreciated.
But Rafiqul Islam Mia now appears, like so many others in his party, to be getting his understanding of history wrong. We do not need to restate here the many ways in which the regime of General Ziaur Rahman and the governments headed by Khaleda Zia have attempted to distort national history, indeed to fiddle with the moral compass of this country. Mia and others in his party have never explained to the nation why the founder of their party, in his role as military dictator, tampered with the four fundamental principles of the constitution. Never have we had a logical explanation from the BNP on why it dispensed with secularism and why it has for years fruitlessly tried to replace the historically acknowledged principle of Bengali nationalism with the spurious idea of 'Bangladeshi nationalism'.
Mia has spoken of General Ershad in relation to the murder of General Manzur in 1981. His worries are also ours. But the barrister does not tell us why, in an earlier day and age, his party aligned itself with Ershad as a way of bringing down the legally established government of Sheikh Hasina. Mia does not say why the BNP is happy when Ershad comes into its tent but hits the roof when he goes out of it. More to the point, Mia, while he speaks of the Ershad-Manzur affair, fails to enlighten us on the tragedy of the hundreds of soldiers and airmen led to their deaths by the Zia regime. He says nothing about the sham of a court martial which condemned and murdered Colonel Abu Taher. There has been no clarification or regret from this BNP leader or from any of his colleagues about the murder of Khaled Musharraf, Najmul Huda and A.T.M. Haider on 7 November 1975. Mia is a noted lawyer and has always been vocal about the rule of law. Yet he has never been known to condemn the Indemnity Ordinance, inserted into the constitution by General Zia to provide legal protection to the assassins of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
And now Rafiqul Islam Mia has made the discovery that Sheikh Hasina's government is worse than the murderous regime of General Yahya Khan. Let us remind him and his friends of Yahya Khan.
General Yahya Khan seized power from Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan in March 1969 even though the presidency should have gone to Abdul Jabbar Khan, Speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly. Yahya Khan helped organise Pakistan's first general election in December 1970 and then went on to describe Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as Pakistan's future prime minister. He then betrayed the people of Bangladesh when, in cahoots with Z.A. Bhutto, he repudiated the election results. On 25 March 1971, before sneaking off to Rawalpindi, Yahya ordered the Pakistan army into action against Bengalis. Operation Searchlight was the term applied to the genocide that followed.
In the nine months that followed, three million Bengalis were murdered by Yahya Khan's soldiers; 200,000 thousand women were raped and hundreds of villages were reduced to ashes. Scores of Bengali intellectuals were abducted and done to death on the eve of liberation. On Yahya's watch, 93,000 soldiers of the Pakistan army surrendered in Dhaka in December 1971.
The record does not show anything of the kind perpetrated by the Awami League government.
It is thus hard to understand how this horrendous record of Yahya Khan has been beaten by Sheikh Hasina and her government. The respectable lawyer has not explained. We wish he had.