OUR National Assembly has condemned Abdul Quader Molla’s execution (Bengali citizen, Bengali political leader, hanged after trial before the Bangladeshi International Crimes Tribunal and after appeal and review before Bangladesh Supreme Court). It has “demanded” from Bangladesh “not to give new life to matters of 1971 and close all cases against the leadership of JI [Jamaat-i-Islami] in Bangladesh”.
We have just proved that not only are we still unapologetic over the horrific crimes we perpetrated in ‘East Pakistan’ but are also smug about such bigotry.
Three historical facts are now well documented. One, we treated Bengalis so poorly from 1947 to 1971 that it caused the majority of Pakistanis to seek ‘independence’ from the minority in West Pakistan through a violent struggle that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.
Two, whether it was Awami League zealots, India trained and nurtured Mukti Bahini, or Bengalis within the military, paramilitary and police who rebelled against Pakistan during 1971, Bengali freedom fighters were savage in their treatment of Biharis, non-Bengalis and especially Pakistani soldiers and their families.
And three, the treatment meted out to Bengalis by Pakistan Army, and the private militias it raised and sponsored (Al Badr, Al Shams and Razakars) to enforce the state’s writ in East Pakistan in 1971, was heinous and barbaric.
By asking who started the rape and murders and whether Mukti Bahini was more vicious or the Pakistani Army, we confirm that the bigoted mindset that led 56pc of Pakistanis to carve out Bangladesh to protect their rights is still thriving in Pakistan. This is alarming not just because the resolution passed by the National Assembly has sullied our relationship with Bangladesh and added fuel to fires already raging there, but because the same mindset is responsible for keeping Balochistan ablaze and for Baloch youth going missing.
If citizens indulge in savagery against the state or fellow citizens, can the state respond in kind and inflict revenge not just on criminals but also on others who share their ethnic identity? Explaining the looting of civilian shops in East Pakistan in 1971, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report quotes Lt-Gen A.A.K. Niazi as having stated on the first day of assuming command: “What have I been hearing about shortage of rations? Are not there any cows and goats in this country? This is enemy territory. Get what you want. This is what we used to do in Burma.”
Gen Niazi (nicknamed ‘Butcher of East Pakistan’) acknowledged to the Hamoodur Rehman Commission that ghastly crimes had been committed against Bengalis by stating that four days after assuming command he, “insisted that loot, rape, arson, killing of people at random must stop”.
Another witness, Lt-Col Mansoorul Haq, told the Commission that, “a Bengali, alleged to be a Mukti Bahini or Awami Leaguer, was sent to Bangladesh — a code name for death without trial, without detailed investigations and without any written order by any authorised authority.”
Brig Karrar Ali Agha in the worth-reading Witness to Carnage 1971 has documented in detail the events leading to the emergence of Bangladesh, including the crimes committed by the Bengali freedom fighters and our army. While he explains crimes committed by the army as revenge in response to crimes first committed by Bengali freedom fighters in March 1971, the tales are mind numbing.
He states that, “several officers were given to conducting night raids at private residences and dragging away any girls they found attractive for the night”. When one such report (that personnel of East Pakistan Rifles had sodomised Bengali women) was brought to the notice of Col Fazal Hameed, deputy director general of EPR, “his only outraged reaction was that while rape was understandable under the circumstances, sodomising a woman was rather shameful”.
Agha states that at a meeting of top military brass of East Pakistan held on Dec 30, 1970, when he opined that in case of a military action in East Pakistan the Bengali troops in EPR and the army would revolt, Brig Ghulam Jilani Khan (later governor Punjab) responded in chaste Punjabi with this nugget: “O Agha Sahib, don’t you worry, we will … their mothers, we will … their sisters.” Could the Bengalis be seen and treated as enemy aliens devoid of dignity and fundamental rights even if waging a war against their own state?
Notwithstanding the provocation, what Pakistan did in its eastern province was inexcusable. Pakistan’s response to Molla’s hanging is wrong because we are no innocent bystanders endowed with the moral authority to pass any judgement over Molla’s conviction. Molla has not been executed for his love for Pakistan, but for the murder and rape of fellow Bengalis even if he did so in the name of Pakistan. Where was our honor or sense of justice, pricked by the death of a foreigner, when our state executed and ravaged thousands of our fellow citizens in 1971?
With Bengali blood and gore on our hands, what business do we have lecturing Bangladesh to seek national cohesion by pursuing South African style truth-and-reconciliation instead of delivering victor’s justice (as we did in 1971)? Bangladesh has hanged not a Pakistani but its own citizen.
Whether Molla committed the crimes alleged or is a casualty of revenge is a matter for Bangladesh and its people to ponder. Let’s worry about the extrajudicial killings and quality of justice in Pakistan instead of condemning the justice system of another sovereign nation state.
The writer is a lawyer.