Every March, I am increasingly reminded of the military crackdown the Pakistani Army launched in Dhaka that night in 1971 and then extended it all over what was then known as East Pakistan, the role of the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and its supporters who collaborated with it, and the efforts of the military oligarchy ruling Bangladesh from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination on August 15, 1975 to the general elections of 1991, to wipe out the liberation War’s legacy of secularism and democracy, Islamise the country and move close to Pakistan.
Had I not seen the aftermath of what the Pakistani Army had done, I would not have thought that human beings could even think of, far less carry out, the kind of atrocities that it perpetrated during women raped, hundreds of them kept as sex slaves in cantonments, and 10 million people forced to flee their homes and become refugees in India, constitute chilling figures. But the figures do not tell half the story, particularly of the tortures that accompanied the crimes.
The Bangladeshi collaborators acted not just as informants of the Pakistani Army, identifying to it the families and friends of those who engaged in the Liberation War,who were then subjected to acts of utmost savagery, but themselves perpetrated murders, rapes, torture and expropriation of properties. The expectation that they would be tried and punished, which soared after Bangladesh’s liberation following the India-Pakistan war of 1971, was, however, not met then. The Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order, of December 31, 1975 came into force on March 26, 1972. By October 31,1972 were arrested and charges were brought allegations. By October 31, 1972, however, the 73 special tribunals, created under the had been convicted.
Around 26,000 of the collaborators who had been arrested were released when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared in May, 1973, a general amnesty which, however, did not extend to those convicted of heinous crimes like murder, rape and arson. Of those who remained in prison, 11,000 were released when, after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination on August 15,1995 the military oligarchs ruling Bangladesh under Major General Zia-ur Rahman, with President Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem as the front, repealed the Bangladesh (Special Tribunals) Order by the Bangladesh (Special Tribunals)Order by the Bangladesh (Special Tributes) prohibiting the formation of communal parties or associations, thus preparing the way for the re-emergence of the Jamaat and its auxiliaries, which had been banned after Liberation in Bangladesh’s politics.
Major General Zia-ur Rahman, who made himself Bangladesh’s President in April, 1977, also paved the way for the country’s Islamisation by issuing a proclamation order which removed secularism from the fundamental principles of state policy, stating that the latter should comprise “The principle of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy and socialism…” The order also introduced the invocation “Bismillah-ir-Rahmanir- Rahim (in the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful) above the Preamble to the Constitution.
These changes were ratified by the Sixth Constitution Amendment Act of 1979. The General-turned-President also allowed, in 1978, one of the principle col laboratories of the Pakistanis during the Liberation War, Gloam Azam, to return ostensibily to attend to his sick mother, and stay on. Meanwhile, ties with Pakistan were growing fast. The Directorate-General of Forces Intelligence, Bangladesh’s principal intelligence-cum-unconventional warfare arm, was established after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s murder, virtually as a clone of Pakistan’s Directorate- General of Inter-Services Intelligence. The two organisations operated in close coordination, promoting insurgency in India’s North-East and subversion elsewhere in this country, until Sheikh Hasina’s second innings as Prime Minister when, armed with formidable parliamentary strength, she began to systematically sanitise the DGFI.
Earlier, the process of Islamisation had continued under another Generalturned- President, HM Ershad, who, 1998, proclamied Islam as Bangladesh’s state religion and continued the DGFI’s close ties with the ISI. Nor was there any change in Begum Khaleda Zia’s two stints as Prime Minister. The second, where she headed a coalition comprising the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party, included in the Ministry two war criminals of 1971, Matiur Rahman Nizami and Abu Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed, who have since met their just desserts in the trial of war criminals initiated by Sheikh Hasina.
Hiranmay Karlekar, has been a journalist for 53 years. He is an author and is currently Consultant Editor, The Pioneer. This article first appeared in the Pioneer, Thursday, 23 March 2017.