The search for justice in Bangladesh – analysis
On April 12, Abdul Majed, one of the assassins involved in the killings of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family, was hanged in Dhaka. A former army captain, Majed was hidden in Kolkata. In 1998, a court of first instance sentenced him and 11 others to death, and in 2009, the Bangladesh Supreme Court upheld the sentence. When his last resort, the petition for clemency to the president, failed, he was finally executed just after midnight.
In 2010, five others convicted of participating in the murder conspiracy were hanged. One of the twelve convicted, Major Aziz Pasha died in 2002 in Zimbabwe while in hiding. The remaining five continue to flee. Bangladesh will not be able to bring the Bangabandhu murder to a close until the five conspirators still alive are brought to justice.
When Majed was arrested last month, Bangladesh’s interior minister hailed development as the “greatest gift” for his country, which has had to postpone a centennial celebration of Bangabandhu’s birth due to a coronavirus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to attend the celebrations.
Bangabandhu’s assassination changed the course of the country’s history. In 1977, shortly after the assassination, the country came under the military dictatorship of General Ziaur Rahman, the then army chief, after overthrowing President Khondoker Mostaq Ahmad. Zia was a reluctant “freedom fighter” and left the Pakistan army when he realized that Pakistan’s defeat was inevitable.
He did, however, show his true colors after Bangabandhu’s murder. As soon as he took power, he forgave the Bangabandhu assassins and rewarded them with diplomatic publications. He allowed leaders of organizations, such as Jamaat-e-Islami (H&I) and the Razakars, who collaborated with the Pakistani army in the genocide, to return. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had banned these organizations and declared them war criminals after the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Zia passed a compensation law in 1975, granting amnesty to those who were part of the murder conspiracy (the compensation law was revoked when Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996). It also allowed many to form political parties and contest elections in the 1980s. It sponsored pro-Pakistan politicians and organizations. With other politicians, he improvised the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose leadership was passed on to his widow, Khaleda Zia, after he was assassinated by army personnel in an attempted coup in 1981. Khaleda Zia, in coalition with a Pakistani collaborator JeI served as the country’s prime minister for two terms. During his rule, ties between Bangladesh and India had bottomed out.
Only two family members survived the murder of Bangabandhu and his family: Sheikh Hasina, the incumbent prime minister, and his younger sister, Sheikh Rehana, who were in Germany on August 15, 1975, the day the murders took place. .
As Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina has shown remarkable determination and tenacity in pursuing the assassins. In 2008, he included the war crimes court issue in his manifesto. She persisted despite national and international criticism, and the court finally completed the commissioned job. Several assassins and leaders of JeI were condemned and hanged.
Sheikh Hasina has always believed that Zia was part of the murder conspiracy and played a key role in it. This fact is at the core of the bitterness and rivalry between her and Khaleda Zia.
Intelligence sources point to the role of Zia and her army colleagues in the assassination conspiracy, which was encouraged and funded by Pakistani generals and Inter-Service Intelligence, complaining of their defeat and humiliation in the 1971. Zia war, trained under the Pakistani army, it had absorbed his spirit and instincts. The military coups were part of his DNA. This led Zia to anchor the country’s nationalism in Islamic and anti-Indian terms, as opposed to the secular values of the Liberation War, advocated by Bangabandhu and his colleagues in the Awami League. General Hussein Muhammad Ershad, Zia’s successor as army chief, who later served as the country’s president, amended the Constitution to make Islam the religion of the state of Bangladesh.
Majed’s arrest led to speculation about the reasons and circumstances under which he returned to Bangladesh. It may have been located and identified by Indian intelligence agencies and turned over to Bangladesh. Previously, agencies had launched a failed search to find Risaldar Muslehuddin, another assassin, who was also hiding in India.
The hunt for the assassins will continue. Intelligence cooperation between the two countries has improved during the Sheikh Hasina regime. She will not give up on bringing the killers to justice. India must give its unconditional support in this effort.
Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty is a former high commissioner for Bangladesh and a former secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; He is currently a visiting member of the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.
The opinions expressed are personal.