Jamaat – will it remain as a political party?

It is dangerous to demand exclusion of any political party on the basis that it did not want East Pakistan to be Bangladesh. In a war, opposing forces are the basic elements, else war won’t be required. After the war, the winners must accept that the war is over. The elements that are working to divide the people into two classes: Pro-Bangladesh and anti-Bangladesh, based on the war of 1971, are truly the destructive elements. Jamaat is not one person and a mere wish of Awami League will not extinguish Jamaat.

Everyone knows move by Al is to destroy the coalition of Jamaat with BNP. It is like a move on a chessboard, not one iota better than that. Yes; the people indicted by the so called International War Crimes Tribunal could be guilty of inciting havoc against the movement of Bangladeshi independence. From their perspective they felt obligated to keep Pakistan intact and they fought for their belief. The fighters and supporters of Bangladeshi independence would rightfully see them as adversaries and traitors. Some of the indicted persons had actively supported tormenting the independence warriors and their supporters. But we have to look deeper. Do we forgive them or do we go through a torturous process of putting them on trial and hang them to show that we took revenge? In the seventies it was decided to look ahead and go forward for the sake of the posterity and good of Bangladeshi nation. Re-igniting this issue now is totally political and has very little nationalism in it.

An actual war crimes trial should put all criminals on trial, many of whom already died. If the aim is to set the history right, those criminals should be tried in absentia if necessary. Bangladesh should cut its relationship with Pakistan as a symbol of solidarity as most live there or died there. If we were to do this, we would have dragged the country back to an unnecessary episode. If it is to harass the opposition coalition, Awami League is barking the wrong tree. In a war there are two elements; the winners and the losers. The losers are the party on trial today. They have already lost the war and what else will they lose more?  Can we not be magnanimous and look forward? A politically motivated trial may be expedient but AL will be losing credibility of the people and the international community in the long run.

Bangladeshis have waited decades for justice and the aims of the tribunal are broadly popular at this time. But critics say the process has been politicized to target allies of Sheikh Hasina’s main opponent, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). There have also been questions raised about its impartiality. In December The Economist reported on contacts by e-mail and Skype between the presiding judge in one of the tribunals and a lawyer in Belgium who was not an official part of the court. The judge eventually resigned and was replaced. The verdict on Mr Azad came from a second tribunal.

Mrs.  Zia has found it impossible to distance her party from Jamaat-e-Islami, an ally whose support the BNP needs if it is to win the election, likely to take place this year. Among the ten other senior figures to be tried are two leading party officials, both former ministers in Mrs. Zia’s 2001-2006 government. It may be that almost the entire leadership of Jamaat will be hanged before the polls. So, too, may two members of Mrs. Zia’s party, including one of her close advisers. Sheikh Hasina will hope that the taint of 1971 will make the BNP-Jamaat alliance so toxic to voters that she will be returned to power.

Many in the Jamaat and Shibir think that Jamaat can be reorganized jettisoning the current top leadership if they are indeed hanged. They have alternate plans to re-organize their party leaving the estranged leaders of the party. Party policymakers have been gripped by fear after the International Crimes Tribunal-2 sentenced to death former Jamaat member Abul Kalam Azad, also known as Bachchu Razakar, for genocide and murder during the Liberation War.

Seven top leaders of Jamaat, including its current and former ameers and secretary general, are behind bars on war crimes charges. Many younger Jamaat leaders are of the opinion that the party should not suffer for the “alleged misdeeds” some of their top leaders committed during the war. They do not want to be tarnished by these allegations of war crimes.

We have no doubt, Sheikh Hasina will proceed with what she started and would need all the goodwill from India and allies throughout the world. Unfortunately the number of allies is not too many. The reliable allies have backed out of her path and have asked her to conduct with trials in a manner that befits an international norm. Right now, the process and manner it has conducted the affairs is shoddy at best. The judges have been induced to give a speedy and favorable trial and that is enough to call this drama a show of politics. The nation is waiting uncomfortably to her last actions before she is ejected from power; if a fair and non-partisan election is allowed to be held later this year.

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