April 1971. The then East Pakistan (the name Bangladesh has yet to be used publicly for fear of reprisal) is in the grip of brutal Pakistani military repression. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is in military custody somewhere in West Pakistan and an exile government representing Bangladesh has been established somehow in Calcutta and India throws the lifeline to the East Pakistani Bengalis by opening up the borders. Targeted murder, random killing, torture etc. by the Pakistani army and their lackeys are all over the country. Pakistan is being supported to the hilt by America and China supports Pakistan on the basis of ‘your enemy’s enemy is your friend’.
Fast forward the situation some 42 years. The situation has not changed a lot as far as lawlessness, vandalism, torture, random killing etc. are concerned in Bangladesh at the moment. The changes that have taken place are that East Pakistan has come to be known as Bangladesh and Pakistan is in tatters both politically and economically. But the overarching socio-political-religious situation in Bangladesh remains very much the same as in 1971. The struggle that raged at that time in Bangladesh to uphold Bengali language and literature, Bengali heritage and culture, Bengali liberalism and liberty is now being replayed in earnest in 2013. The struggle that was assumed to have been won decisively in 1971 is now back to traumatise the nation – did we really win at that time? Who would have thought that the country would face the same struggle after long 42 years of independence?
Within the last 42 years Bangladesh had gone through ups and downs – politically, socially and economically. Monumental political mistakes had been made; traumatic political events had taken place; democracy had been killed and then revived; secularism had been kicked out and then brought back. Only enduring thing over the last 42 years was endemic political mismanagement and corruption. Despite all of these things, the country had progressed economically tremendously. The country is no longer or had never been the ‘basket case’ which Kissinger would have liked to see.
The central question then was, as it is now, that are we Bangladeshi first upholding Bengali language and culture followed by being Muslims or are we Muslims first upholding Pakistani or Arabic culture and then, if possible, remain Bengali? Pakistani authority suspecting our natural inclination towards Bengali-ness first wanted to force Muslim-ness on us by sheer brute force. There were many Bengali “Quislings” who had gone out of the way supporting Pakistani viewpoint and engaged jointly in undermining, brutalising and terrorising people under the tutelage of the Pakistani Army. The Razakars, al-Badr, al-Shams and many more were the fifth-column forces supporting and doing the dirty work for Pakistan. Abdul Quader Molla was one of these top ranking vicious murderers in and around Mirpur area of Dhaka.
After 42 years Abdul Quader Molla, the vicious murderer of innocent civilians in the name of Islam and Pakistan, had been brought to justice and on 11 December 2013 he was hanged in Dhaka. It was done following a legal process which lasted more than two years. Admittedly the legal process falls short of best international practice, but that does not negate the overwhelming evidence that this man was the perpetrator of murder of a number of civilians in Mirpur area and terrorising the whole area in the name of supporting Pakistan.
But what is infuriating is that the hanging of this man for war crimes during 1971 is being condemned in Pakistan parliament. This condemnation is, in fact, a testament of Pakistani government’s direct complicity with these murderous people and now the country’s parliament feels that it is letting down those gangsters. What is even more infuriating is that of all people Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), who setup this Justice party with laudable aim of upholding justice and fairness in politics now supports the condemnation. He asserted that this man was innocent and hence should not be hanged. How does Imran Khan know whether Quader Molla was innocent or not? Could he have heard something from his uncle, General Niazi, who had the ignominy of surrendering Pakistani forces to the Indo-Bangladeshi forces on 16 Dec 1971? General Niazi who assumed the title of Tiger Niazi while killing unarmed innocent civilians in Dhaka ‘turned into a lamb’ when he faced the victorious Indian Major General Nagra. When Major General Nagra entered into Niazi’s office in Dhaka cantonment and said, “Hello Abdullah, how are you?” Niazi broke down and sought mercy (his tiger-ness had gone completely)! With an uncle like this, the nephew may easily turn from the Insaaf leader to a duplicitous politician. Imran Khan’s humanity and principles of insaaf have taken a second stage to his political Machiavellianism and jingoistic mentality. What right is there for the Pakistani parliament to condemn any action, whatever it may be, in an independent sovereign state? It would be better if Imran Khan and his fellow parliamentarians mind their own business and try to mend their broken and failed state, rather than meddle illegally in another country’s internal affairs.
Quader Molla was the demonic image portraying things against which the Liberation War was fought. The Liberation War was against the forced imposition by West Pakistan of their values (if they had any!) and culture on East Pakistan. The province was to be subjugated into total submission to the West Pakistan. Now the same aim the Islamist political parties are pursuing and trying to impose surreptitiously in Bangladesh.
This reincarnation does not stop with Pakistan’s jingoistic attitude towards Bangladesh. Even America thinks that Bangladesh should follow American liking and disliking and any other independent behaviour contrary to their wishes is unacceptable. As was in 1971, America views India’s meddling in Bangladesh’s affairs as totally unacceptable and intolerable. America supported Pakistani whisky-drinking perpetually drunk military dictator, Yahya Khan and the pathological liar, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the hilt right up to 16th of December 1971. Even after the independence of Bangladesh, American stated policy was not to recognise the country and not to make any contact with Bangladesh government in Dhaka unless ‘it was an emergency to save American lives’. In fact, on 20th Dec 1971 when Richard Nixon, American president, met Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister, in Bermuda, he said quite categorically, “We won’t recognise Bangladesh”. On the same day, when Bhutto took over the position of president and martial law administrator from Yahya Khan, he hallucinated by asking his subordinate, “Can the two wings yet be held together?” This was the mindset of the America/Pakistani clique in those days.
Have things changed in the intervening 42 years? Not a lot. Pakistan still thinks that it has some inalienable rights and responsibilities to enforce its will over Bangladesh! What Pakistan could not do by force in 1971, it wants to do it now surreptitiously through the transfer of millions of dollars and other currencies to Islamic organisations like Jamaat and others in Bangladesh, offering military logistics and support through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and maintaining strong links with military officers who served in Pakistan. On top of that, Saudi money to Jamaati groups including Ibn-Sina conglomerate kept coming in endlessly to propagate Wahhabism. When all these activities are put together, a situation is seen to have evolved in the country when the Islamist fundamentalism is stacked against Bengali liberalism and a conflict between the two becomes inevitable – which was precisely the situation in 1971.
With regard to American policy towards Bangladesh, it has not changed much either. America thinks that it retains the right to dictate Bangladesh what should or should not be done. America is becoming increasingly intolerant at India’s role in Bangladesh overruling American position.
The recent spat between India and America over Bangladesh is a timely reminder of foreign interference in Bangladeshi affairs. Bangladesh is regarded by these powers as nothing but a little pawn to be kicked around. Of course, Bangladesh by its incompetence, servility and perpetual corruption has rendered itself into such an ignominious position. When US ambassador to Bangladesh, Mr Dan W Mozena and the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Mr Pankaj Saran met recently in Dhaka to discuss country’s political impasse, it was not a flattering tale for an independent country like Bangladesh. Subsequent to Mr Mozena’s meetings with Indian officials in New Delhi on 16 October, when India rebuffed America by saying that India was not on the same page as America on Bangladesh, America did not like it an iota. Geo-political power game that was played in 1971 is now in full swing with vengeance.
In order to humiliate India for its insolence, America is resorting to big arm tactics. Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul in New York had been arrested, hand-cuffed and strip searched in contravention of Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity. The allegation was that it underpaid her maid she brought with her from India. Although it was a bilateral spat between India and America, Bangladesh affair may have muddied the waters. America may have lost the game to India in 1971, but this time it seems to want to humiliate India in the eyes of the world for ‘helping to create Bangladesh and steering it through’.
A Rahman is a retired Nuclear Safety Specialist in the UK. He is an author and a columnist.