These were men without remorse.
There was never any seriousness or a natural smile on Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury’s face. It was always a smirk, a smirk which insulted Bangladesh at every point. He took delight in suing some of the foremost journalists in the country for daring to print reports about him. He had them rush to court to seek bail. He spewed obscenities in parliament, never for a moment felt ashamed at the sins and the crimes he and his family had committed in the course of the War of Liberation. That his father and he had abducted and killed Hindus and freedom fighters was for him a normal happening. That he had been a murderous cohort of the Pakistan army in 1971 was a shame that did not worry him. The smirk was all.
And yet he served as a minister in a country he hated from the core of his heart.
And, of course, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid did not believe there were any war criminals in Bangladesh. For him, al-Badr was an organisation imbued with the teachings of the long-ago Battle of Badr in the time of the Holy Prophet of Islam. It never bothered him and his mentors and followers that the founder of Islam would have had him consigned to perdition for the brutalities he and his men were subjecting his fellow Bengalis to in aid of an army of occupation. He happily sanctioned the murder of Hindus and the brave soldiers of the Mukti Bahini.
For Mujahid, there were no war criminals in Bangladesh, for he had graduated to being a minister in the country he had tried desperately to murder back in 1971.
The number of the unrepentant is long, often tedious and yet horrific at remembrance of what they did to help Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan and AAK Niazi murder their fellow Bengalis in the name of Islam and Pakistan’s national integrity.
Khan A. Sabur humiliated Bangladesh a couple of days before its emergence. He told his audience, all of them fervent Bengali Pakistanis, that if the new state came into being, it would be as an illegitimate child of India. He hated the thought of Bengalis being free and yet he would go on to serve as a member of Bangladesh’s parliament once the elections of 1979 had taken place. He revived the Muslim League and happily went back to doing what Muslim Leaguers had always done: he lent vociferous support to a new incarnation of the old Pakistani military regimes in the form of the martial law administration of General Ziaur Rahman.
Moulana Abdul Mannan, his hands dipped in the blood of the intellectuals murdered on the eve of Liberation, became a valuable ally of General Ershad and went around the Middle East seeking cash for mosques to build in Bangladesh. He had loads of money flowing in from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. A thoroughly pleased Ershad made him minister for religious affairs. It did not matter that Mannan had made a mockery of religion in 1971 through his treachery. He was a proud collaborator and would go on to become the owner of something of a newspaper kingdom, if not exactly an empire. He died before the law could get to him for his crimes.
Ghulam Azam travelled all across occupied Bangladesh urging holy war against the freedom fighters and Hindu expansionists. The closing days of the war saw him trapped in Pakistan, but that did not worry him. The government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto cheerfully sent him on a mission through the Middle East, where he peddled the lie that Muslims were being killed in Bangladesh by its ruling classes. His message was once again an act of shame on his part, even though he did not feel the shame: he asked Middle Eastern rulers not to accord diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh. He came to Bangladesh on a Pakistani passport. The visa expired, but the Zia regime looked the other way. Azam stayed on, and happily hobnobbed with a new set of killers. He developed a camaraderie with the likes of Farook Rahman. It was a union of assassins coming together.
Fate was kind to Ghulam Azam. He did not have to walk the gallows, for his advanced years saved him. History was not kind, though. The man died as a convicted war criminal.
Shah Azizur Rahman was luckier. Having argued passionately in Pakistan’s defence before the UN General Assembly in 1971, he found himself catapulted to the office of prime minister in the very country that had defeated his Pakistan. Like so many other collaborators, he remained unrepentant till the end. That matters little, for the pages of history are today replete with the tales of perfidy he and his fellow quislings committed even as tens of thousands of Bengalis were being bludgeoned to death by Pakistan’s Islam-loving soldiers.
The collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army have been getting their comeuppance, yes. But history and the scales of justice must now weigh the enormity of the crimes committed by those who went out on a limb to give these personifications of treachery a new foothold in the country they put to the torch forty four years ago.
General Ziaur Rahman happily annulled the Collaborators Act, mutilated the Constitution, cheerfully let the old collaborators into politics, made many of them ministers and parliamentarians in his five-year grip on the country.
History cannot but censure such men for the havoc they have caused in the country’s politics.
General Hussein Muhammad Ershad took the State a few more steps towards damnation when he had the likes of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Moulana Mannan join his regime as ministers. Through decreeing Islam as the religion of the State, he pushed Bangladesh even further away from its core principle of secularism.
History should not let him and the likes of him go scot-free for the corruption they injected into the national political psyche.
Begum Khaleda Zia embraced the Jamaat-e-Islami as a much loved ally and cheerfully gave berths in her cabinet to the notorious war criminals Motiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mujahid. She had Salahuddin Quader become her parliamentary advisor and tried to impose him on the OIC as its secretary general.
She needs to answer to the country, to history, on the disdain with which she has treated its political legacy.
The wheels of justice must move on, and not stop until we can convince ourselves that the time for closure is here.