Column
Khaleda Zia hinting at cutting ties with Jamaat

13 Jan 2014

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When it is necessary, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia would consider cutting ties with Jamaat that is an important constituent of opposition alliance headed by her.

 She came up with this statement during an interview with the New York Times on January 6, a day after the recently held parliamentary election in Bangladesh. She, however, added that it was next to impossible to sever ties with Jamaat under present circumstances.

 

Jamaat, a key component of the opposition alliance, has all along played a very active role - mostly violent – in organizing protest movements in the country, particularly against the Awami League-led government. The right wing organization that had collaborated with the Pakistani occupation forces in perpetrating genocide during the 1971 liberation war was also at the forefront of violent street protests resulting in loss of lives and properties in the period preceding the last January 5 election and immediately after it. Earlier, the Islamist militant group waged a violent campaign in the country to derail the ongoing war crimes trials in Bangladesh.

 

Now the question arises – will BNP be able to sever ties with Jamaat ?

 

Both BNP and Jamaat, being pro-Pak in orientation, are natural allies. Political analysts are keeping their fingers crossed, wondering whether BNP will at all be able to shake off its shoulder the Jamaat that was responsible for heinous war crimes committed in 1971 to crush the struggle for independence of Bangladesh.

 

It was none other than BNP’s founder and the first military ruler Late General Ziaur Rahman who, in his bid to capture and consolidate political power, picked up from the dustbin of history all the anti-liberation forces, particularly the Jamaat which was banned soon after Bangladesh’s  emergence as an independent country in 1971. Ziaur Rahman rehabilitated it and gave it political space in order to counter the Awami League, the dominant political force at that time.

 

Many of the pro-Pak elements who opposed the independence war in 1971 were made senior minister, prime minister and cabinet ministers by General Ziaur Rahman who also changed the country’s constitution by supplanting ‘secularism’ as one of the four guiding principles of the constitution to strengthen pro-Pak religion based politics in the country. He allowed the Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam, who had gone into hiding in Pakistan soon after liberation, to return to Bangladesh. Khaleda Zia, true to her late husband General Ziaur Rahman\'s political doctrine, embraced the Jamaat as partners in governing the country. In fact, BNP’s present pro-Jamaat stance is in no way any deviation from its past policies.

 

Since its inception in 1979, BNP remained ambivalent on the issue of liberation war and never found it necessary to draw attention to the genocide in 1971 which left three million people dead and more than 250,000 women raped. In 1976 General Ziaur Rahman lifted the ban imposed by the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on Jamaat and other Islamist political outfits that had collaborated with the occupying Pakistani forces and opposed the liberation war in 1971. Rehabilitation of pro-Pak and anti-liberation forces by the BNP facilitated return to Bangladesh of Jamaat along with all pro-Pak and anti-liberation elements who had taken shelter in Pakistan following emergence of Bangladesh in 1971.

 

After gaining independence in 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had taken several initiatives to bring the perpetrators of the 1971 war crimes to justice, particularly the Jamaat and other Islamist outfits that had directly assisted the Pakistani occupation forces to commit monstrous crimes like mass murder, rape, torture, looting, arson and destruction. Under the Collaborators Act and International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) Act, several steps were initiated for trial of the war criminals and a few convictions were secured. But following the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, the Collaborators Act of 1972 was repealed and the Constitution was amended by General Ziaur Rahman to allow pro-Pak communal politics to flourish, and Jamaat to re-establish in the country.

 

In the five year period from 1975 when General Ziaur Rahman consolidated his dictatorship in Bangladesh the biggest casualty of politics was the architect of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party Awami League. General Ziaur Rahman was an immediate beneficiary of the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that facilitated his elevation as the Army Chief. Although not much is known about General Ziaur Rahman’s role in the August 15, 1975 gruesome murder of the iconic leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, it was by no means above board. Commenting on General Ziaur Rahman’s involvement in the August 15 ghastly killing, General Shafiullah, Chief of Army Staff during Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s rule, in an interview with ‘Janomat’, a Bengali publication brought out from London, had said ‘It was not an assumption; he (Gen Ziaur Rahman) knew everything as he was privy to the conspiracy’.

 

In order to facilitate rehabilitation of Jamaat and all other pro-Pak forces, General Ziaur Rahman ushered in Bangladeshi nationalism, a subtle variation of Islamic nationalism, to replace secular and linguistic Bengali nationalism that is credited with the very creation of Bangladesh. As its fall out, all secular, progressive and pro-liberation forces came to be branded as ‘Indian agent’ and Jamaat along with all pro-Pak / anti-liberation elements assumed the role of champions of ‘Bangladeshi nationalism’. He also deleted secularism from the Constitution as one of the state principles and replaced it with ‘Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim’ (faith in Almighty Allah), a step that was to bring the country closer to the doorstep of Islamic fundamentalism.

 

General Ziaur Rahman orchestrated efforts to accommodate all the collaborators of the Pakistani occupying forces who were showered official patronage as long as he remained in power. He rehabilitated Shah Azizur Rahman, a well known Razakar who was appointed as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. A prominent Pak collaborator, Shah Azizur Rahaman had earlier denounced the liberation war and joined hands with all pro-Pak and anti-liberation forces including Jamaat’s former Amir Ghulam Azam and present Amir Matiur Rahman Nizami (both facing heat of war crimes trial), to thwart the birth of Bangladesh. Shah Azizur Rahman had even led the Pakistani delegation to the United Nations in November 1971, where he forcefully projected the liberation war as an ‘Indian conspiracy to create a rift in the Islamic fraternity’and described the freedom fighters as ‘India-instigated miscreants’. Following the defeat of Pakistan in the liberation war of 1971, Shah Azizur Rahman stayed in Pakistan where he continued to lobby Muslim nations in the Middle East to decline diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh. He returned to Bangladesh at the invitation of General Ziaur Rahman after the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975.

 

Soon after Ziaur Rahman politically rehabilitated Jamaat, its official stance was that the party did not make any mistake in 1971, and that it did what it considered right and necessary by upholding the ideology of a united Pakistan. This automatically meant that Jamaat did not recognize the Liberation War and Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971. Later on, by describing the liberation war as ‘civil war’ in 2007, much after the country traversed a long distance as an independent nation,  the radical organization sent a clear message that even now there has not been any change in its perceptions about the country’s independence. To its followers, Pakistan, Islam and Jamaat are synonymous.

 

At none of the official celebrations of Independence Day and Victory Day, during the period when the country was under Gen Ziaur Rahman’s autocratic rule, was there any mention of the term ‘Pakistan’ in relation to the occupation forces that perpetrated the most heinous genocide after the second World War. Neither was there in these celebrations any hint of the overpowering presence of the political leadership of Awami League that had waged the Liberation War to free Bangladesh from Pakistan’s clutches.

 

BNP’s perceptions about the liberation war were revealed when Khaleda Zia used the term ‘genocide’ to describe the deaths occurred during the operation launched by 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 that took place during the liberation war in 1971.

 

After the series of violence let loose recently by Jamaat and its student front Islami Chhatra Shibir in the wake of conviction of senior Jamaat leaders on war crimes charges, Khaleda Zia chose to remain silent. She remained silent even after burning of national flag and desecration of Shaheed Minar by the Jamaat activist. She appeared to be more concerned at what she called ‘genocide’ being perpetrated at Shapla Chattar and ‘Islam being undermined at Shahbag’ where the youths were raising slogans ‘We are Bengali first and then Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Christian’.

 

Genocide was what the Pakistani occupation army carried out in association with the local anti-liberation elements. And Islam was undermined when the Pakistani soldiers in association with their local collaborators killed the freedom fighters, raped their women and left copies of the holy Quran burning in the villages they pillaged.

 

Even after more than 42 years of independence, the audacious anti-liberation force Jamaat has not apologized for its murderous and pro-Pak role in 1971, rather it feels strong enough to burn national flag and desecrate Shaheed Minar. Khaleda Zia’s silence and implicit approval is inciting them to carry out violent activities, each time with renewed vigour.

 

Khaleda Zia did not even hesitate to offer ministerial berth to Jamaat leaders, sharing power with war crimes masterminds such as Jamaat Amir Matiur Rahman Nizami and Secretay General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid.  Through a deliberate negation of history Khaleda Zia also questioned the ‘Jai Bangla’ slogan (raised by the country’s youth at Shahbag area) saying the slogan lost acceptability owing to ‘partisan nature of the government that came to power in 1971’. ‘Jai Bangla’ slogan became a symbol of secular Bengali nationalism and it inspired millions of freedom fighters, irrespective of religion, caste and creed, to make supreme sacrifice during the nine month long liberation war. ‘Jai Bangla’ slogan which became synonymous with the independence of Bangladesh was discarded in 1975 after murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. General Ziaur Rahman, who assumed power thereafter, introduced ‘Bangladesh Zindabad’, a slogan compatible with ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogan.

 

Khaleda Zia’s rejection of the war crimes tribunal as partisan and her demand for release of all war crimes accused from jail make it amply clear that whatever else it may be the BNP is certainly not a party of the freedom fighters. Dismantling the new born state of Bangladesh would not be feasible, nor will it be acceptable to the people of the country now. This was the reason why BNP and Jamaat  are now pursuing their mission of turning Bangladesh into a satellite of Pakistan.

 

BNP and Jamaat are like inseparable twins. Like the Jamaat, BNP too has fundamentalist political leanings. It is BNP that rewarded the war criminals with high positions and portfolios in Bangladesh. Both have developed a symbiotic relationship. Like the Jamaat, BNP is also a breeding ground for right wing activists and a sanctuary for pro-Pak communal elements. Hence any possibility of BNP cutting ties with Jamaat in future appears remote, if not impossible.




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