BNP and the liberation war
In 1976 Ziaur Rahman lifted the ban imposed by the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on Jamaat that had opposed the liberation war and collaborated with the occupying Pakistani forces in perpetrating brutalities on the freedom fighters to terrorize the people and thwart the emergence of Bangladesh. Rehabilitation of pro-Pak / anti-liberation Islamist forces by Ziaur Rahman facilitated return to Bangladesh of all pro-Pak and anti-liberation elements including the former Jamaat chief and war crimes mastermind Ghulam Azam. All of them had taken shelter in Pakistan following emergence of Bangladesh in 1971.
After gaining independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had taken several initiatives to bring the perpetrators of the 1971 war crimes to justice. Under the Collaborators Act and International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) Act, several steps were initiated by him for trial of war criminals and a few convictions were also secured. But all these came to a naught after Ziaur Rahman captured power. More than 10,000 war crimes suspects were set free in 1975. The war crimes trials were blocked and sent in cold storage. Collaborators Act was repealed and the Constitution was amended to put an end to war crimes trial and allow pro-Pak communal politics to re-establish and flourish in the country. Ziaur Rahman secured support of the Islamic section, particularly the section that had a distinct anti-liberation and pro-Pakistan role during the liberation war.
Ziaur Rahman orchestrated efforts to accommodate well known Pak collaborators who were showered official patronage as long as he remained in power. Well known Razakar and a Muslim League leader Shah Azizur Rahman was appointed as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1979. Muslim Leaguer Shah Azizur Rahman had led the Pakistani delegation to the United Nations in November 1971, where he denounced the liberation war as an ‘Indian conspiracy to create a rift in the Islamic fraternity’ and branded the freedom fighters as ‘India-instigated miscreants’. Following defeat of Pakistan in the liberation war, Shah Azizur Rahman stayed back in Pakistan till 1978 and continued to lobby Muslim nations in the Middle East to decline diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh.
Another prominent pro-Pak leader to have been showered with official patronage by Ziaur Rahman was former Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam whose anti-Bangladesh activities even after surrender of the Pakistani forces and emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country in 1971 continue to puzzle the people even now. He went to London in 1972 and set up Purbo Pakistan Punoruddhar Committee (East Pakistan Retrieval Committee) to carry on anti-Bangladesh activities. He also started publishing a weekly, ‘Sonar Bangla’, in London to carry out propaganda regularly carrying features alleging that Muslims of “East Pakistan were being butchered, mosques / madrassas demolished by the Hindus of India”.
His Bangladeshi citizenship was stripped by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for his anti-liberation activities; but it was restored to him by Khaleda Zia in 1994. He returned to Bangladesh in 1978 with a Pakistani passport to make his dream of ‘Pakistan-Bangladesh confederation’ come true.
There has not been any deviation in BNP’s perceptions about the liberation war. This was evident when Khaleda Zia used the term ‘genocide’ to describe the deaths occurred during the operation launched by the security forces to clear ‘Shapla Chattar’ from the siege laid by the Hifazat-e-Islam militants. ‘Genocide’ is the term used in the context of large scale killings, likeM7 the one that took place during the liberation war in 1971.
While addressing a rally in connection with Victory Day celebrations in 2015 in Dhaka, Khaleda Zia expressed doubts about the oft-quoted number of people killed during the liberation war suggesting by implication that the figures were highly exaggerated. This was a deliberate attempt to distort the country’s glorious history of liberation war. The entire nation was shocked to hear such unpatriotic remarks from a person who was twice Prime Minister of the country.
After the series of violence let loose by Jamaat and its student front Islami Chhatra Shibir in the wake of conviction of some senior Jamaat leaders on war crimes charges, Khaleda Zia chose to remain silent. By keeping silent the BNP was playing a dual role. BNP was in favour of the pro-Pak war criminals and will continue to remain so. But they did not want to antagonize the people by openly supporting the Jamaat’s anti-liberation activities. BNP and Jamaat both seek to undermine and suppress the 1971 liberation war spirit.
BNP and Jamaat both orchestrated violence during the strikes in the name of protests disobeying verdicts of the war crimes tribunal. Both enforced shut-downs in the country and indulged in acts of vandalism. Both joined hands in perpetrating violence throughout the country.
Khaleda Zia not only allowed Jamaat to become a constituent of the BNP-led Alliance headed by her, she also offered them ministerial berth when she formed government in 2001. She did not hesitate to share power with war criminals and rapists such as Jamaat Amir Matiur Rahman Nizami and Secretay General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid who were made cabinet ministers in the cabinet headed by her. This is shameful and something that never happened in any civilized country. Both the war criminal ex-ministers have now been hanged following a due legal process for the heinous crimes committed by them to crush the liberation war.
BNP and its leadership, by clearly taking the side of anti-liberation forces in the ongoing movement for the war criminals to be brought to justice, have chosen to pit themselves against history. Demands for trial of war criminals are the oldest issue linked to the birth of the country.