News one way or the other keep pouring in just to add insult to our injuries. On December 12, just days before the Fall of Dhaka anniversary, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh leader and a pro-Pakistan politician Abdul Quader Molla was hanged.
Bangladeshi government accused Mollah of atrocities during the country’s independence war. He had been found guilty in February by a much-criticised, controversial International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), established in 2010 to investigate atrocities committed during the 1971 civil war. The Tribunal found Molla to be a leader of a pro-Pakistan militia that fought against the country’s independence and killed some of Bangladesh’s top professors, doctors, writers and journalists.
Besides a number of other senior JI leaders are still behind bars awaiting trials on similar charges, it fell to the lot of Molla to have his trial completed and be sentenced to death. All hopes for his reprieve dashed when the Bangladeshi Supreme Court refused to reverse the death sentence.
There has been concern internationally that the ICT trial did not meet the international standards of fair trial. UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay even wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seeking a stay of the execution, arguing that the trial did not meet stringent international standards for the death penalty. As a Human Rights Watch official has observed with reference to the case, “Changing the law and applying it retroactively after a trial offends basic notions of a fair trial under international law.”
There also does not appear to be in place a proper appeals process to ensure justice is not only done, but is seen to be done. The surprising fact is that these trials and the hanging of Molla come 42 years after the events that finally led to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country following an army crackdown, an indigenous insurgency led by the Mukti Bahini and a relatively short war with India that saw the Pakistan garrison in the eastern wing cut off and finally forced to surrender on December 16, 1971.
Mollah did not seek presidential clemency and chose death. In doing so, he embraced martyrdom as perceived by the common man in countries where religious undercurrents are strong, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Molla’s execution has caused a deadly backlash as was expected by the analysts and writers in Bangladesh. In immediate reaction to the execution, Jamaat-e-Islami said that everyone involved with the trial and the execution process would have to face “dire consequences”. The party announced a series of programmes including a dawn-to-dusk hartal (strike) protesting for “planned political killing” of Quader Molla.
The main opposition party in Bangladesh the BNP, led by Khalida Zia, does not agree with the one-sided dispensation of ‘justice’ being initiated by the government of Sheikh Hasina Wajid. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee established by the Bangladeshi government may not be extracting the whole and all-encompassing truth to help Bangladeshi courts dispense justice.
Apart from the legal lacunae, the hanging and other planned executions of those who have been convicted, will only widen fissures in Bangladeshi society. The punishments appear to be driven by vengeance and political expediency rather than justice. This capital punishment to Abdul Quader Molla is also in sheer violation to the pact agreed upon between Mujeeb-ur-Rahman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
We as Muslims and Pakistanis, and believers in Two Nation Theory must raise our voice for the people who remained loyal to Pakistani state—a country in whose creation their noble ancestors played a leading role—during the 1971 war. Our government first declared the hanging as Bangladesh’s internal matter. How can it be an internal matter when the indicted person was found guilty of helping the Pakistani state in 1971. Just imagine, God forbid, if Swat or Balochistan or Fata are separated from Pakistan, what fate will be waiting for the population who are helping and fighting for the Pakistani state, and what message will it give to them.
However, on December 16, the National Assembly expiated this by adopting a resolution against the hanging of Abdul Quader Molla with majority votes. A paragraph from the resolution reads:
“This house expresses concerns over the execution of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader of Bangladesh, Abdul Quader Molla, for supporting Pakistan and [we give our] condolences to his family and the JI Bangladesh. This house demands of the Bangladesh government not to rake up the memories of 1971 and all cases against JI leaders [of Bangladesh] should be settled amicably.”
The Fall of Dhaka is, undoubtedly, one of the scars of the Islamic history and the recent execution might be construed by some as another Fall of Dhaka. There is no doubt that in spite of Justice Hamoodur Rehman Commission’s detailed report, it was not possible to precisely raise an accusing finger against a particular individual or a party or an institution for the tragic episode of the Paltan Maidan. It was collective misdoings of all concerned and all are to be blamed for that.
Elections in Bangladesh are just weeks away. But if the opposition continues to be hounded, there will be genuine concerns about the legitimacy of the polls.
Sheikh Hasina’s government should refrain from executing the other individuals it says are guilty of war crimes. The administration in Dhaka should learn from the legacy of Nelson Mandela that is being celebrated in the whole world. The icon of millions, despite his sufferings, urged reconciliation, not revenge. Dhaka would do well to emulate this spirit.