Column
War crimes mastermind Ghulam Azam deserves hatred

30 Nov 2014

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Ghulam Azam, the lynchpin of the genocide perpetrated by the marauding Pakistani army during the liberation war in 1971, was handed a 90 year jail term, drawing the curtain on a dark chapter of Bangladesh’s history. People of Bangladesh take satisfaction from the fact that war crimes mastermind Ghulam Azam has been tried and sentenced, even though it has taken 43 years to do so. He had been an icon of all the tribulations and sufferings that the people of Bangladesh had to undergo during the liberation war.

 On July 15 last year the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) found 91-year old Ghulam Azam guilty of 61 charges including murder, rape and torture during the nine month long liberation war. Azam, the main brain behind the conspiracy to thwart the emergence of Bangladesh, had backed a united Pakistan and did everything possible to assist the marauding Pakistani forces. He was instrumental in forming Peace Committee and other collaboration forces such as Razakar and al-Badr (Jamaat’s secret death squad). 

 
ICT observed that although he deserved death sentence for the horrendous war crimes committed by him in 1971 to thwart the emergence of Bangladesh, he was sentenced to 90 years in jail out of consideration for his old age. 
 
The trial of Ghulam Azam and the judgment delivered on him are a reminder that criminals and their crimes must not be allowed to escape justice and must never be forgotten. It also underlines the lesson that evil may continue to live and thrive for decades, but a time will come when it will have no place to hide. Azam, however, died of heart attack at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in Dhaka
 
He was arrested and sent to jail on January 11, 2012 on charges of committing horrendous crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. There were 61 specific charges of war crimes against him and all of them have been proved. He directly led the pro-Pakistan militias that carried out genocide, rape and various other war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war.
 
Azam organized ‘Peace Committee’ for rendering “assistance” to the Pak occupying forces in resisting the activities of the freedom fighters whom he described as “miscreants”. After the genocide of 25th March, the occupying Pakistani forces lost control of erstwhile East Pakistan. To help control this situation Azam set up peace committee that was superimposed upon the civil administration as Pak army couldn’t rely upon the civil administration. 
 
Peace Committee members were drawn mostly from Azam-led Jamaat. Peace Committee served as the agent of army, informing on civil administration as well as general public. Its members were also in charge of confiscating and redistribution of shops and lands taken away from the Hindus and freedom fighters, their relatives and friends. Almost 10 million Bangladeshis fled to India and they were looted and their properties consficated by these elements. 
 
The role of Peace Committee and its wings – Razakar, al Badar and al Shams – in perpetrating inhuman torture, looting and killing of  innocent people, freedom fighters and intellectuals as well as raping innocent women, mostly wives, mothers and sisters of freedom fighters, in the erstwhile East Pakistan has been well documented in various studies.
 
At a time when the occupation forces of Pakistan perpetrated worst form of brutalities on the freedom fighters and civilian people of the erstwhile East Pakistan under ‘Operation Searchlight’, when Bengali speaking people were being systematically eliminated on a large scale and reports of thousands of bodies with hands tied at the back floating in rivers were coming daily, Pakistani media quoted Ghulam Azam saying in Rawalpindi on April 18, 1971, ‘There is no example in the history of a nation at war surviving with no retaliation. .. .. .. Aggression is the best form of defence’. He was also quoted as saying “Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his ‘Hindu followers’ are misguiding and instigating the people of East Pakistan by launching secessionist movement.”
 
Azam’s anti-Bangladesh activities even after surrender of the Pakistani forces and emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign country in 1971 continued with his efforts to revive ‘East Pakistan’ and spread propaganda against Bangladesh for several years. 
 
Just when Pakistan was on the verge of losing the war, Azam shifted to Pakistan on November 22, 1971.  He formed Purbo Pakistan Punoruddhar Committee (East Pakistan Retrieval Committee) in 1972. He campaigned extensively to mobilize public opinion against Bangladesh and its recognition in the Islamic world.
 
He went to London in 1972 and set up office of East Pakistan Retrieval Committee. He also started publishing a weekly, Sonar Bangla, in London to carry out anti-Bangladesh, anti-India propaganda regularly carrying features alleging that Muslims of ‘East Pakistan’ were being butchered, mosques / madrassas demolished by the Hindus of India. He used the weekly primarily as propaganda tool to denigrate India and project Pakistan as ‘the abode’ of Islam. He also continued to project the liberation of Bangladesh as ‘outcome of Indian conspiracy to dismember Pakistan and create rift in the Islamic fraternity’.
 
With help of some pro-Pak elements based in London, he endeavored untiringly to launch an international movement to re-establish East Pakistan. In 1973, he lectured against Bangladesh’s independence at the annual conference of Federation of Students\' Islamic Societies held in Manchester and also at the conference of UK Islamic Commission held in Lester. 
 
In 1974, he arranged a meeting of the East Pakistan Retrieval Committee with a group of anti-India elements based in London and in the meeting it was deliberated that as they had failed to thwart the secession of East Pakistan, they will have to organize a movement to secure the formation of a confederation combining Bangladesh and Pakistan. 
 
Speaking at the annual conference of Muslim Students\' Association of America and Canada held at Michigan in 1973, Azam urged everybody to participate in the movement for re-uniting Bangladesh with Pakistan. Again at the international conference of Islamic Federation of Students\' Organizations held at Istanbul in 1977 he lectured extensively against Bangladesh’s independence and reiterated his idea of Pakistan-Bangladesh confederation. 
 
He participated in the International Islamic Youth Conference held at Riyadh in 1972 and fervently begged for help of all Muslim countries to re-establish East Pakistan. From 1973 to 1976 he met Saudi monarch several times and asked him not to acknowledge Bangladesh or help the country by any means. He also lectured against Bangladesh’s independence at the international conference arranged by the Saudi based NGO Rabeta-e-Alam-al-Islami in Mecca in 1974 and at King Abdul Aziz University in 1977.
 
In 1975, during his visit to Saudi Arabia, he met the Saudi monarch and told him that Hindus of India captured East Pakistan, the holy Quran has been burnt, mosques have been destroyed and turned into Hindu temples and Muslims were being killed. By projecting the so-called plight of the Muslims in East Pakistan he collected huge funds from Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries.
 
 Prior to his visit to Saudi Arabia in 1975, an advertisement appeared in the leading newspapers of Middle East countries in the name of a fake organization. It read ‘Mosques are being burnt in East Pakistan. The holy Quran has been set ablaze. Hindus are killing Muslims and destroying their properties’. On the plea that Muslims had to be saved, the advertisement appealed for generous contributions.
Azam lobbied against the acknowledgment of new born Bangladesh at the conference of Foreign ministers of the Muslim countries held in Benghazi  in 1973. In the same year he again campaigned against Bangladesh at the Islamic Youth Conference held in Tripoli.
Azam returned to Bangladesh on August 11, 1978 with a Pakistani passport and Bangladesh visa during the rule of Bangladesh’s first military dictator and BNP founder General Ziaur Rahman. He got back his Bangladeshi citizenship that was stripped of him after the emergence of Bangladesh by the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who also banned Jamaat and other Islamist organizations that acted as collaborators of the Pakistani occupying forces in 1971. In 1976 he also rejoined his post as Amir of Jamaat after General Ziaur Rahman lifted the ban. Azam continued to hold this post till Matiur Rahman Nizami replaced him in 2001.
 
After more than four decades of waiting, the people of Bangladesh got an opportunity to vindicate their grievances for wrongs done to millions of freedom fighters and freedom loving people. Although it was not possible to round up all the culprits responsible for the atrocities perpetrated in 1971, it is nonetheless admirable that sincere efforts are being made to catch hold of the kingpins who were identified with commission of these crimes, and the nation is hoping that justice will be finally done to the victims of atrocities.



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