THE icon of the massacre of the Bengalis, the symbol of repression and torture in 1971, has been handed down a 90-year prison term. That Ghulam Azam’s age was the mitigating factor in the award of the verdict is very clear. His cohort and leader of the infamous Al-Badr gang in 1971, Mojaheed, has been awarded the death penalty.
Understandably, the degree of Ghulam Azam’s punishment has disappointed many; and for different reasons opinion is divided on the verdict. Some feel that he has not got his just desert. His party men think otherwise, and they think the same about Mojaheed.
However, if the Ghulam Azam verdict has divided opinion, just as Quader Mollah’s had, it may seem to some that the ICT trials have just about divided the nation. In our view it has been used to divide the nation. And that is what begs the question. Should an issue that has to do with our nationhood, like the trial of war criminals, which has been long pending, be allowed to divide the nation?
It should not be lost upon anybody that the trials under International Crimes Act, for crimes against humanity, perpetrated in 1971, is neither to seek revenge nor to victimise. For those not conversant with our history may be misled to think so, given that all the six accused who have been sentenced so far belong or belonged to a particular political party, and that too it is a part of the BNP- led opposition coalition.
Through the trial the nation is seeking justice for the grave hurt the people suffered as a result of the heinous activities of the accused. They had attempted to thwart a nation’s aspiration for independence, its struggle to break free of Pakistani shackles. And that they did, not politically but by brutalising the people of Bangladesh. They were the acolytes of the occupation army in 1971. And they were complicit in the killing of innocent Bengalis, in the wanton rape and arson.
And for far too long they have gone about with impunity. And all these they were able to do after the cruel killing of Bangabandhu when the changes after August 15, 1975, went in favour of the reactionary elements. President Zia’s policies not only revived the defeated forces they were also rehabilitated in politics that allowed them to regroup in the form of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and eventually call the shots. I feel it was then that the actual hiatus in the nation started to appear.
It is reprehensible that all the major parties, and certainly the military rulers, had tried to curry favour with Jamaat at some time or the other, for political gains. This party is now the largest member of the 18-party alliance.
To those who say the trials have created a divide in the nation my question is would we have had real integrity without the trials? Was it possible for us to forget the dark chapter of our history? More so when these people had never reconciled with the idea of Bangladesh and when they had been going about asserting that the Liberation War was a civil war and that no war crimes were committed in 1971, and that there were no war criminals in the country? And would that unity have survived long, knowing that it was built on a loose foundation.
In this regard the BNP’s ambivalence on the trial has confused many. One is not sure what is meant by ‘transparent’ and ‘international standards.’ A party that was created by a freedom fighter who gave out the clarion call for liberation on behalf of Bangabandhu should be opaque on the issue is disappointing.
There are a few national issues which politics must not be allowed to influence. Trial of war criminals is one such. No doubt BNP’s position on the issue is compelled by its association with Jamaat. BNP should realise that Jamaat is a dead weight around BNP’s neck, and any short-term dividend by associating with it is certain to be lost in the long run. There is every possibility that Jamaat, like the old man of the sea in Sinbad will never descend from BNP’s shoulder. And one is not sure whether BNP possesses the political adroitness to get it off its shoulders like Sinbad.
The ICT verdicts should help heal long festering wounds. The trials should unite the nation rather than divide. And those who say it will divide the nation are in fact the ones who want to divide us.
The writer is Editor, Oped and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.