Bangladesh Nationalist Party Chairperson Khaleda Zia, currently in London, has called upon the government to create an atmosphere to hold a national dialogue to overcome what she calls 'the national crisis.' Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, however, has rejected the call disagreeing with Mrs Zia on the point of her allegations of the national crisis. The Finance Minister, in his usual disposition, rubbishes it. Any national dialogue on the country's betterment should always be welcomed. But why Khaleda's clarion call is turned down immediately must have grounds. As a matter of fact, no political move taken by this one-time premier has been showing any results for last few years. The point is, why!
There is, however, no denying the fact that the whole series of events-murder of foreigners, serial killing of bloggers, grenade attack on Tazia procession, killing of law enforcers and above all, the US' nagging complaint about foreigners' security---might place the country in a looming crisis. But the call for solution to this existing or looming 'crisis' does not befit her, especially at this moment. The reasons why all attempts taken by BNP are ending in failure are obvious. People are not wholeheartedly supporting them for their allegiance to the anti-liberation forces. Their chairperson's calls for national unity are sure worth considering, but her slant on Jamaat has left a serious blot on her politics. The present premier, however, has promised her that she (the PM) would respond to her call if she could dissociate herself and her party from Jamaat and other rightwing parties and anti-liberation forces. This is a projection of a growing popular demand that BNP should step back from the edge of the abyss of jamaatisation and raise a clear voice of reason and conscience. The politics of ifs and buts, which BNP is used to doing in regard to their relations with Jamaat, can no longer be a comfortable cushion against their current political crisis!
In the present political scene in Bangladesh, BNP seems to be caught in the cleft stick. BNP claims in theory that theirs is the party of freedom fighters, but in reality, they have come down on the side of the anti-liberation forces in regard to their stance on the ongoing war crimes trial. They argue that they too want the trial of war criminals if it is held fair and square, but they are covertly and overtly working in favour of war criminals to secure their release or to suspend the process of the trial. What they really mean by 'fair and square' is not, however, clarified. It is beyond our wildest dreams to see BNP trying the war criminals most of whom belong to Jamaat-e-Islami. Because, BNP and Jamaat are Siamese twins in the politics of Bangladesh. BNP is born of rightwing parents and always has fundamentalist political leanings. It is BNP who had lifted the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and rewarded the earmarked war criminals, like Golam Azam, Nizami and Mujaheed, with high positions and portfolios after Sheikh Mujib was killed in 1975. Although there are some misplaced freedom fighters in BNP, the party is basically a breeding ground for rightwing activists and a sanctuary for the religious fanatics.
So, while the earmarked war criminals are languishing in prison and the whole gamut of fundamentalist politics in Bangladesh is going through a sticky patch, BNP is trying to clutch at straws by way of spinning strange tales and manufacturing weird ideas with a view to fishing in troubled waters. Their motive is to pass the buck to others, and prove their accused allies innocent. They try to establish that the real war criminals are not the ones who are being tried by the tribunals. They point their accusing finger at the Pakistani occupation army, and ask to try the 195 captured Pakistani soldiers who were acquitted as per the conditions of the Simla Treaty drawn up on July 2, 1972. But that was virtually impossible at the moment.
There were obvious reasons for that. Four lac Bangladeshis stranded in West Pakistan during the Liberation War were held hostage by the Pakistan government, who used them as a bargaining chip to free the Pakistani war criminals captured in Bangladesh. Besides, 16,000 Bangladeshi civil servants were dismissed from job and barred from leaving Pakistan. Many of army officers were put in concentration camps. So, while Bangladesh made an attempt to try those 195 POW (prisoners of war) keeping them out of the repatriation process negotiated for the release of most of the stranded Bengalis and Pakistanis, Bhutto furiously refused and threatened that if Bangladesh carried out the trial, Pakistan too would hold similar tribunals against the Bangladeshis detained in Pakistan. The Pakistan Government also rejected Bangladesh's right to try the prisoners of war on criminal charges and quickly seized 203 Bengalis as 'virtual hostages' for 195 soldiers. They, however, expressed their willingness to constitute a judicial tribunal and try those 195 after the fashion of similar international tribunals. Bangladesh, being apprehensive about the fate of 400,000 Bengalis trapped in Pakistan and to gain access to the United Nations beating China's veto, called a halt to its attempt at trying the Pakistanis in Dhaka with hope that Pakistan would keep her promise, and hold the trial of the accused 195 Pakistani soldiers in their own country. Upon this formal understanding, the last group of 203 detained Bangladeshis were repatriated to Bangladesh on March 24, 1974. But it is clear that the 195 Pakistanis were not freed without charges. The trial of local collaborators however was being carried out in Bangladesh under different tribunals until the killing of Mujib.
To make the current trial process conditional upon the trial of those 195 accused Pakistani soldiers, as BNP is making, is nothing but a legal sleight of hand to save the local war criminals. It is also an indirect denial of the strong popular demand raised in favour of the trial. The Grand Alliance Government is trying to try the local criminals who were involved in killing, plunder, arson attacks, rape, molestation, and all other crimes against humanity perpetrated against people of Bangladesh during Liberation War (1971) with backing of Pakistani occupation army. The local criminals, too, are war criminals for aiding and abetting the war criminals, and in one sense more criminal than their Pakistani masters. The occupation army could not have perpetrated the massacre by themselves, if these local collaborators had not assisted them.
But, BNP is mysteriously soft on the crimes against humanity committed during Liberation War. They are treating the unprovoked brutal attacks on the unarmed civilians and the heinous genocide of that time and the resistance of law enforcers and the stray accidental killings of some armed vandals on equal footing. It does not necessarily mean that they do not know the rights and wrongs of the matter. They are doing everything possible for their self interest, nothing for the national interest. They can clearly hear the song that floats the people's boat. So, to simultaneously save their face and their friends, they are running with the hare and hunting with the hound. Therefore, they are using the conditional-ifs and buts---to hide their real stance on the war crimes issue. By doing this they are actually burying their heads in the sand, for people can very well nose out their ulterior motive. Standing against the vast popular demand for trial of the local war criminals, they are committing political suicide. This is how Muslim League, once political giant, gradually died away. If BNP keeps doing this politics of ifs and buts and stands against public interest, it will sure meet its waterloo.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University. Email: [email protected]