The US Census Bureau’s Bengali video

March 30, 2010

How to fill up the US Census Bureau’s 2010 form? The Bureau is broadcasting the procedure in sixty one languages. Bengali is one of them. Here is the Youtube link to the Census video. Jamal Hasan supplies the voice over. 
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhPd089Ckug

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Changes in Iran

June 15, 2009

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By Jamal Hasan

In spite of the steady stream of gloomy news over the years, I had never lost my faith in the Iranian people. I can still recall those days when the tyrannical Shah ruled supreme with the blessings of a superpower. Many a friend had predicted, and correctly so, that the regime was bound to collapse sooner or later. The denouement was sudden even by the standard of the volatile Middle East. Shah’s regime proved rotten to the core and came down like a house of cards in the face of challenge from Ayatollah Khomeni.

The Savak-controlled society suddenly seemed so free. The Iranians on the street were visibly jubilant. Newspapers were publishing articles that never would have seen the light of day during the days of the Shah. Democracy was in the air. I, like many, was convinced of the dawn of a new era.

But gradually, but surely, our jubilation turned into despair. It was soon apparent that the theocracy ushered in by the Ayatollahs could be just as tyrannical as the monarchy that it had supplanted.

Jews and other religious minorities began leaving the country in desperation. The Ayatollahs kept the people intoxicated with religious fervor so that it wouldn’t occur to them to challenge the oppressive edicts imposed under the new regime. The common man in Iran had hoped for a new era of freedom. But the ruling clique, like any other autocratic regime, would rather make hay while the sun shone. Monopoly of favored syndicates and business houses were blessed with official favors.

scan001001I recall seeing a huge political rally at the Lafayette Park in Washington DC way back in the February of 1986. Thousands of Iranians had braved the winter day to make their voices heard. The air was thick with slogans like Markbane Khomeni (Khomeni Murdabad) and Drukbane Rajavi (Rajavi Zindabad). They were Mujahedeen Khalq sympathizers. The educated and the politically astute were looking up to the Mujahedeen Khalq and its leader Massood Rajavi for succor. But his continued linkage with arch enemy Iraq proved disappointing to the nationalistic Iranians. The fervor and enthusiasm gradually waned. But I continued to hope against hope that the Iranians will soon wake up and smell the coffee.

Then came the recent election. It has heralded a much needed change in the political culture. Stagnant fundamentalism seems to have finally yielded to Iran’s thirst for freedom. Hojatoleslam Mohammed Khatami, who is being hailed as Ayatollah Gorbachev, is determined to usher in a democratic order.

The charismatic former culture minister, was a late entrant in the election race in March. His message of tolerance electrified the people as no other Iranian leader ever had in a long time. Khatami seems determined to end the era of obscurantism in which religious fervor had to make up for the lack of everything else. Khatami’s victory in the elections has brought in a dramatic turn in Iranian politics.

Khatami was recently speaking at a women’s conference in Tehran. He spoke out on the subjugation and exploitation of women in the name of religion. Even Taslima Nasrin might have had a heart attack if she had attended to Iranian leader’s feminist discourse.

The Iranian sensation at the Cannes International Film Festival is another portent of the new era. Film maker Abbas Kiarostami’s “Ta’m E Guilass” ( a taste of cherry) was a notable award winner at the Festival. Initially, the Iranian government had been reluctant to allow the director to join the Festival. But, later, in a dramatic change in thinking, the director was allowed to proceed. The movie maker had not been a favorite of the government during the Khomeini era. Moreover the subject of the movie did not quite conform to the line promoted by the establishment. But now Iran is basking in the glory reflected from Kiarostami. Thanks to Khatami’s bold thinking, Iran is now in the forefront of human creativity of movie making.

What is happening in Iran was unthinkable only a short while ago.

But truth is stranger than fiction. I had always believed that Iran, with a cultural heritage that is the envy of nations in every corner of the world, cannot be kept in chains forever by the obscurantist.

I am delighted that Iran is now reclaiming its rightful role as a leader in cultural endeavors.
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Mr. Jamal Hasan writes from USA. His email is: poplu@hotmail.com. This was a Feature Article in News from Bangladesh dated 29th December, 1997

Bangabandhu and BKSAL in perspective.

June 8, 2009

By Jamal Hasan

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“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
. . . Or does it explode?

— Langston Hughes, ‘Harlem’

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib had a dream for Bangladesh in the early seventies, which had to be deferred for various reasons. But what did happen to his dream? This short article examines why Bangabandhu was out on a limb trying to forge a coalition among various political forces to come up with a united political system so that the weak and malnourished child who was born in 1971 had a fighting chance to grow. Without much ado, let me delve into this tangled tale, which is not an easy one to narrate.

The political dynamics of Bangladesh puts the country in a unique position in the world. This is so due to two reasons. Firstly, the nation was born after defeating a ruthless genocidal occupation army. Secondly, within a little more than two and half years the nation became captive of the strategic allies of the brutal force who successfully convinced many as if they were the ultimate guarantors of people’s democratic aspiration in this new republic of 75 million people.

The country coming out of ashes of a bloody liberation war witnessed rampant corruption and nepotism culminated during the short-term government ruled by the party, Awami League, which was assumed to be the vanguard of liberation movement. When the people were ready to sacrifice everything to build their Sonar Bangla, they observed in disgust, a great majority of the Awami League stalwarts were busy making money by hoarding, extortion and manipulating commodity market by buying and selling license and permit which was easy to obtain. Because of nepotism and favoritism a good percentage of the opportunists happened to be “temporary Awami Leaguers,” who were never members of Awami League, but merely chameleons who changed colors in changed circumstances. The shattered dream of the millions of Bangladeshis in the post-liberation era gave the defeated force of 1971 a good opportunity to maneuver. They had allies in the right wing of Awami League and of course in the army barracks of Bangladesh.

Although the whole Bengali nation got direct assault from the marauding Pakistani army junta, the killers and collaborators found a new lease of life because of Awami League’s serious flaw in governing a newly emerged country. The enemies of Bangladesh liberation got a propaganda victory by saying, “oh, those were the good old days of Pakistani raj.” The process of national amnesia of Bangladeshis started. And when on August 15, 1975, the Pakistani evil force succeeded in toppling a government of its disliking, hardly anybody noticed the sinister design, though. The blueprint of 1975’s tragedy did not start on a single day. While Bangabandhu was overconfident about his personal safety and security, he was presumably not fully aware that his tilting toward Soviet bloc resulted in a renewed alignment of Pakistani-Saudi-US Axis. Pakistanis and Saudis were hostile to the nascent republic during all these years of Awami League rule. It was hardly surprising that quite a few Bangladeshi Jamat-i-Islami leaders, hounded for their heinous war criminal roles during the war of liberation would find sanctuary in both of these countries.p146p148

Even after liberation of Bangladesh, USA did not detach itself from the Nixon doctrine of 1971 periods. Soviet leader Brezhnev’s continuous harping of “Asian Collective Security” was a real challenge to US policy makers. Thus, the old bedfellows of 1971 reconnected among themselves with a mission to nip in the bud the prospect of encountering another Fidel Castro in South Asia. It goes without saying that the ” Fidel Castro” was nobody but Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

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Although the architects of BKSAL (Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League) dreamed of redefining the political landscape of Bangladesh in socialistic model, one important thing they totally ignored. True implementation of socialism may achieve some results with a dedicated cadre who could take the bold steps of coming out of petty bourgeois mindset.

Awami Leaguers to the grassroots level had middle-class affinity.
Traditional Awami League politics taught them anything but socialistic values. Moreover, during the two years after liberation many of the party workers in rural areas to urban centers got the taste of “easy money” with corrupt practices. It was not realistic to expect to reach a socialistic goal with such misguided party cadres.

Nonetheless, formation of BKSAL antagonized a number of political forces in Bangladesh. They were as follows:

1. A coterie of the Awami League right-wingers who were sympathetic to US-Pakistan Axis during war of liberation. It is true that many of them believed in multiparty democracy. But the way BKSAL was formed made them apprehensive of the rising tide of Soviet lobby in Awami League itself. Among these factions, a fringe group was determined to reverse the process even if that needed to eliminate the Bangabandhu from the picture.

2. True democrats in Bangladesh who were devastated with the suspension of all political activities and formation of a single party entity. They believed in democratic pluralism but as champions of morality they could not think of supporting bloody toppling of the new political formation or siding with the Pakistani lobby. Their ultimate motto was to wait and see.

3. A group of Bangladeshi army officials who did not abandon the old values of Pakistan where pro-westernism and Islamism mixed in a platter which would be combative to global communism, especially of Soviet variety. Multi-party democracy or democratic pluralism was not their cup of tea as great majority of them were groomed under Pakistani military dictators like Ayub Khan or Yahya Khan. They were alarmed at the possibility of emergence of Soviet style socialism in Bangladesh and they were ready to stop the process at any cost even if it resulted in bloodshed.

Aside from this group, there were other army officials who had become disgruntled with Awami League’s continued policy of benign neglect of cantonment and emphasis of Rakkhi Bahini. The grievance of the latter group gave the former enough strategic inspiration to change the course of history.

4. The defeated forces of Bangladesh, i.e., The Fifth Columnist. They included all the Islamist parties like Muslim League, PDP, Jamat-i-Islami, Nezam-I-Islami, etc. And also the auxiliary forces of Pakistani Army, namely, the former members of Razakar, Al Badr and Al-Shams. It is true that many of these elements saved their skins because of the nepotism policy of Awami Leaguers. But they perceived Awami League to be their eternal enemy and blamed the party for their ill fate. They realized that if BKSAL got full control of the country, they could never make the situation favorable to their ideology.

5. Pro-Chinese political parties and ultra-left parties scattered around the country. Many of these party members openly sided with Pakistani Army and were adversaries of freedom fighters. After the country became independent, some of those ultra-leftists went underground and were active in secret killings of Awami Leaguers and rural landlords. For them, Pakistani influenced politics was far better than Soviet influenced BKSAL. As a significant portion of those ultra-leftists believed in the bloodshed, inevitably they were in favor of a bloody ouster of BKSAL regime.

6. Last but not the least, the formidable enemy of Awami League, namely, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal. This party was getting enough clout in educational institutions across the nation. In the village level its underground fronts, namely, Gono Bahini and Bangladesher Communist League were gathering experience in killing Awami Leaguers and confronting Rakkhi Bahini. Although JSD was proponent of “Scientific socialism”whatever it means, it was not thrilled to see a left wing metamorphosis of Awami League. This party was ready to push the country to a bloody civil war with the clear ambition of eliminating Awami League from the political power.

Some critics of BKSAL often give the reasoning that one-party-system would wreak havoc in Bangladesh as it was against democratic pluralism. The fact is after the liberation, Bangladesh had faced immense difficulty in building democratic institutions. Already the legacy of Pakistan under successive military regimes of Ayub and Yahya kept the Bengalis in dark about the essence of democratic values for more than a decade.

Not only that, prior to Ayub Khan’s ascension to power, a few palace cliques and intrigues deprived the Bengali masses of being active partners in the political process. It is also noteworthy that after liberation, because of Awami League’s absolute majority representation in a national parliament, voice of dissent was not a common-scenario. The parliament became almost a rubber stamp institution. And Awami League hooligans’ muscle power and their regular clash with the rival parties’ muscle men was nothing close to a test case of democratic pluralism.

Most newspapers decided not to rock the boat for fear of reprisals. They showed a symptom of subtle appeasement of the ruling party. Probably only paper, Haq Katha, a tabloid of the National Awami Party (Bhashani) was staunchly critical of Awami League and its party members. So, when BKSAL was formed, the average citizens did not miss much. After all, pre-BKSAL Bangladesh was not an epitome of democracy, as some critics would like to argue.

Expecting democratic pluralism on the basis of simply multi-party system is not always pragmatic. The Institutional Revolution Party of Mexico ( PRI) ruled that country for more than seventy years. The ruling party made sure winning in the election is guaranteed for decades. There was corruption at the highest level; there was drug trafficking and secret killing. The people were living in a less than civil society and the ruling elites amassed amazing wealth.

During PRI’s draconian rule, how the election in that US’s neighbor was stolen is now an open secret. The PRI oligarchy was prudent enough not to antagonize the northern neighbor so the continuity of rule went unabated. Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and General Suharto of Indonesia ruled their countries with iron grip. Both the authoritarian leaders appeased Western allies so that a constant cash flow could be secured. The urban middle class was typically not very unhappy with this arrangement. These “less then democratic” rulers ruled their respective countries for years to come hardly facing serious challenge at home and abroad. The ousted President Alberto Fujimori of Peru showed the world how autocracy thrived in a multi-party democracy. The record of Fujimori may pale many authoritarian rulers’ misdeeds all around the world.

During the time of Cold War, U.S. administrations supported a number of right wing military dictators in the Latin and Central America. From Paraguay to Chile, Argentina to Brazil, Nicaragua to El Salvador, Uruguay to Guatemala, the countries were shadowed by unsavory regimes.

There were numerous instances of human rights violations while most of the regimes were corrupt to the teeth. Death squads were formed to suppress political dissidents. Civilians’ accused of being sympathizers of left politics disappeared in the middle of the night. Death squads acting like the Nazi German Gestapo or East German Stassi were active in their evil designs. Today’s unclassified documents in archives around the globe are showing horrific evidence of the dark days of Cold War.

These documentations are enough to disclose that some democratic nations do not always promote democracy. In Bangladesh, in the post 1975 time, two successive military rulers with western and Islamist leanings proved that infusion of hard cash could make miracles. With a relatively satisfied urban middle class, the iron men from the barracks played Houdini with ease. Both the right wing military dictators ostracized Bangabandhu and the concept of BKSAL as vestiges of totalitarianism. They acted as if they were the ultimate saviors of western style democracy.

In reality, they had iron grip in all matters of state power that included executive and judiciary bodies. During election, their manipulative acts gave them startling results of 80 to 90 percent supports, which is rare in pluralistic democracy. They made sure they would not be ousted by ballot forever. Because of their commitment to thwarting Soviet influence in this South Asian nation, the Bangladeshi military dictators obtained significant support from not only the proponents of western democracy but also from theocratic regime such as the Hashimite Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Bangabandhu’s dilemma was how to bypass the already proven corrupt and nepotistic Awami League hierarchy to significantly change the political dynamics. He was gradually coming closer to pro-Moscow Communist Party of Bangladesh and its front organizations. In a CPB conference, Bangabandhu told the party leaders that he considered them (the Communists) real patriots as his own party men were drowning in corruption. It could be attributed to be just a lip service or a public relations ploy. But the construction of BKSAL proved to be his inclination to the Soviet line politics in Bangladesh.

The experiment of forming Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League was not well received by many old Awami Leaguers who felt that that was tantamount to decimating Awami League. Moreover, decentralization of administration and the concept of agrarian reform were far from the traditionalist Awami League philosophy.

If BKSAL was formulated like the Iranian mullah’s Supreme Council without any socialistic goal, may be Uncle Sam would not be so much perturbed. If BKSAL incorporated notable Razakars, Al Badrs, Jamats and if the newly formed party had an Islamic agenda and insignia, Saudi recognition to Bangladesh would have come immediately. Maybe within a few months after the formation of Islamic BKSAL, Bangladesh would have been flooded with petrodollars.

BKSAL came as a radical concept when the country already passed the stage of “radicalism” of Bangladesh liberation. I am using the term radical in this context because the liberation war itself was too radical for most Awami Leaguers who were used to constitutional form of politics.

Secondly, BKSAL gave power to many well-known corrupt Awami Leaguers in certain areas while they would become little emperors in their domains. Thirdly, BKSAL included most of the notable pro-Soviet Communist party leaders (their student fronts and labor fronts) in its high command. Wasn’t it enough to ring an alarm bell in certain countries’ capitals where democracy and antipathy toward Soviet hegemony were the everyday mantras?

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Bangabandhu was a leader at the time of living dangerously. In the era of superpower rivalry, the birth of Bangladesh occurred rather quickly as a result of consistent effort of Soviet bloc countries and India. And these guardians of the infant country did not have the resources to feed the millions. Like many radical Third World leaders, Bangabandhu thought socialism would be the panacea to all ills and he worked in that direction. In the process he alienated a vital power of the world comity of nations. He was walking on a razor’s edge and thus it almost becomes an academic question whether his early demise was a historical inevitability.
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Originally published in News from Bangladesh on August 21, 2001 in the Feature section

Martyrs, mortuaries and Al-Badri zikr.

June 5, 2009

By Jamal Hasan

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The path to freedom for any nation could be long and winding.  In case of Bangladesh, it was rather bloody and painful.  This is why the period of nine months was not only an epic of an arduous struggle but it also had been a grim reminder of manmade human tragedy – a genocide.

Because of the inept management of the nascent republic, we lost many of the histories during the first few years after the post liberation period. Unfortunately, some of our patriotic citizens indulged themselves into shallow self-serving activities. Consequently, the issue of war crime and collaboration were left in the back burner.

There was a blueprint developed by Pak army at the fag end of the war in 1971 to annihilate the cream of the Bengali intellectuals.  It was chalked out at the army headquarter in Pindi.  That could serve the two prong policies.  Primarily, the Bengalis would never rise to demand an equal share because of there would be nobody to challenge the Oligarch.  Secondly, the influential cultural elites of the Bengali society in Pakistani rulers’ eyes were already proven to be “Hinducized” and “anti- Islamic.”  Trimming of them from the rest of the society could pave the way of reprogramming the general mass in the desired direction. Jamat-i-Islami and its military wings Al-Badr and Razakars fit into the right auxiliary role of the ruthless military junta.

After the 1975 changeover of Bangladesh, the country not only did lose a corrupt inefficient government, but the nation also lost the feeble possibility of restoring the history in its proper perspective.  The most devastating outcome of the changeover was the return of the defeated forces of 1971 in all nook and corners of the Bangladesh society.  This force, in the first place, was not supposed to be underestimated.  After August 15 of 1975, in a favorable equilibrium of the Cold War tussle the killer-collaborators rose from the mortuaries of the martyrs.  This evil force was shrewd enough to clean up any evidence of their misdeeds.  First thing they did to network among the like-minded people of the ministries, media and the court systems.  As a result, most of the documents about the killers and collaborators were systematically purged.  Consequently, liberation war related valuable papers, documentary movies, speeches of leaders, etc., were all trashed. 

Evidences of war criminals in courts were gone with the wind. How did the information and historical documentation were destroyed can be cited by looking into one organization, namely, Bangladesh Betar. The government owned national broadcasting media started a systematic purge to get rid of anything to do with Bangabandhu or activities during the pre-liberation days of the Bangladesh under occupation (those were the historical evidence of Pakistani collaborators).  It is quite a tedious effort to clear the transcription service or the archives of Bangladesh Radio of the “undesired” records.  After the changeover of 15th August, 1975, one radio staff assigned to the Dhaka station by the name Shamsul Alam (of Shadheen Bangla Betar Kendro fame) was transferring Bangabandhu’s speeches from tape to tape.  It is not unusual for radio archivists to preserve or dub historical records that could be a normal routine work.  Some jawans posted at the radio station heard Mujib’s voice coming out from a studio.  And then all hell broke loose.  To this new breed of Bengali army jawans, Bangabandhu’s bojrokontho was as repugnant as it could appear to the barbaric Pakistani occupation force.  The jawans without giving a chance for an explanation tied up Shamsul Alam and tortured him brutally. Later on, the systematic purge continued to rid of Mujib’s voice from the radio and television stations from entire Bangladesh. This is why someone willing to make any documentary on our liberation struggle had to go to India or Great Britain as primary sources.  What a shame!

The ghosts of 1971 could resurrect because of the seed of treachery within the Awami League, the Mushtaque coterie.  Then comes a misguided freedom fighter whose regime basically stabbed in the back of the spirit of liberation. During the martial rule of this freedom fighter, Golam Azam and his cohorts got a new lease of life.  Later on, the final blow came from another army strongman whose activity during the war period was not only questionable – it was in fact unpardonable.

Awami League primarily failed to keep the spirit of 1971 alive because it failed to look into its own turf to scrutiny the activity of its leaders.  Although Khandaker Mushtaque’s overzealous move for a rapprochement with the Yahya regime was tantamount to treason, he remained an influential policymaker of the party even after Bangabandhu’s arrival from the Pakistani jail.  Once a traitor, always a traitor.  He proved that word one more time.  His later political position showed that he was nothing but a “Yahya’s mole” in the Awami party hierarchy.

The exile government of Bangladesh had to go through a number of hurdles.  On one hand, they had to deal with Indian government, the undue interference of RAW, and then the “Yahya moles.”  The freedom fighters were not only fighting the Pakistani soldiers, they had to deal with the internal tension between the so-called Mujib Bahini members and others.  Not only that, the ultra left pro-Peking armed cadres often acted as nothing less than enemies.

Considering the open season for the heinous Al-Badrs during the time of 1976 to 1995, we cannot expect to find too much of any war crime related incriminating evidences from the governmental or semi governmental institutions.  We see a resurgence of 1971 activism worldwide now.  Many of ours young folks are trying to track the truth from the possible sources.  Unfortunately, more and more are coming back empty handed. Talk about the Home Ministry, Ministry of Law or Ministry of Foreign Affairs?  You would hardly find any desired documents that may be crucial to making a research paper or a documentary movie on the 1971 genocide.  Hail Mushtaque, Zia, and Ershad.  Bangladeshis would live another hundreds of years, but those leaders would be remembered as the notable patronizers to efface the history from the collective consciousness of an emerging nation.  Anybody who is interested to dig into the proceedings of war criminals held in Bangladesh during 1972-1974 – I have some news for you. There is slim chance, as the criminals did not waste any time to selectively purge all items that could implicate them in the future.

To some people Zahir Raihan’s disappearance from this mortal world was as mysterious as Agatha Christie’s novel.  Alamgir Kabir, a left leaning filmmaker brought that subject a few times during meetings with Dhaka University audiences.  He hinted that some leaders of Awami League might have been involved in Mr. Raihan’s disappearance.  The fact is Zahir Raihan compiled a good research material on Bengali intellectual killing.  His brother Shahidullah Kaiser’s death in the hand of the Al-Badr criminals made him a valiant crusader.  The government of the newly independent nation showed a flip-flop tendency to resolve the issue of intellectual killing at the time.  This made many Shaheed families quite outraged.  Under the chair of Zahir Raihan, a citizens’ enquiry commission was formed on December 29, 1971. Mr. Zahir Raihan took a rather risky step in visiting the killing field in Mirpur where his brother’s dead body was found.  His escorts were a bunch of Bangladesh army personnel belonging to Gen. Shafiullah’s (at the time of
different rank) troop.  They encountered a barrage of gunfire from a group of unknown plainclothesmen.  Mr. Zahir Raihan probably got into the crossfire and in all likelihood he took some bullets and died on the spot.  Nevertheless, the mystery still lingers and so does the speculation.

I already mentioned that even in the leadership of the exile government there were fifth columnists of the genocidal army junta. Also, in regard to prosecuting the high profile killers and collaborators, the overall track record of the Awami League as a ruling party was not all that good.  In many cases, the ringleaders of the notorious Al-Badr and Razakar took refuge in their Awami relatives’ shelters.  The systematic nepotism was rampant.  That is why it is hardly surprising that such high profile intellectual killers like Chowdhury Moinuddin or Ashrafuzzaman Khan fled the country so easily and so stealthily.  Today, they are living in the safe haven of western societies.  And in the whole world this scenario is possible because of only reality – “after all we are Bangalis.”  Zahir Raihan’s beloved brother Shahidullah Kaiser’s killer A.B.M. Khaleq Majumdar was tried and was found guilty. However, the judicial process was not knitted efficiently. It is possible, Khaleq Majumdar can still provide a treasure trove of information on the blueprint of the intellectual killing. But as New York activist Ms. Farida Majid wrote in a recent article that as there are criminals roaming around streets as legitimate politicians (Jamat-i-Islami is a legitimate political party in Bangladesh) there is no chance of a genuine war crime trial.  In other words, “Bichare’r bani neerobe nivrite kande”.

Nobody knows the whereabouts of Ashrafuzzman Khan’s infamous diary. This notorious Al-Badr operative kept a diary where with his own hand writings he wrote names of Bengali intellectuals who would be slaughtered by him.  A brother of Munir Chowdhury, Kabir Chowdhury is one of the entries.  Munir Chowdhury’s role during Ayub era was controversial.  Many of the Bengali intellectuals have not so glorious past that is true.  For example, Syed Ali Ahsan was the Bengali translator of Ayub Khan’s controversial book, “Friends, not masters.” It is well known among the people of that era.  The veteran journalist Abdul Ghaffar Chowdhury also wrote about it.  The same Syed Ali Ahsan joined the liberation movement and crossed the border in 1971.  He was a regular participant in Shadheen Bangla Betar Kendro. Professor Munir Chowdhury was a pure Bangalee whose students knew it very well.  That includes his own Al-Badr affiliated students as well.  I read a commentary by a reader in the NFB Readers Opinion Column on June 23, 2000.  Regarding the death of Munir Chowdhury, the writer wanted to make a point by decimating truth.  He wrote,  “The fact that RAW-operated Mukti Bahini killed Prof. Choudhury can be concluded from the writings of his sister Dr. Neelima Ibrahim…” The fact is Dr. Neelima Ibrahim was born as a Hindu and she is not related to late Munir Chowdhury.  Now you see, there is now a strange disinformation campaign to set a revisionist history in motion.  The book titled “Genocide ’71: an account of the killers and collaborators”  (Publisher: Muktijuddha Chetana Bikash Kendra) gives a gory detail of an eyewitness to a mass grave.  Hamida Rahman giving her account of her visit to the mass grave site at Katasur writes, ” …They were lying there, one after another. Next to this group of bodies lay the corpses of two men; the heart had been torn out from one of the bodies.  This body was that of Dr. Rabbi.  On a nearby stack were the bodies of Yakub Ali, Chairman of Ramna Union, and Sirajuddin Hossain of Ittefaq.  Someone next to me said the Munier Chowdhury’s body had also been found here.  Kabir Chowdhury had come in the morning and identified the body.”  Kabir Chowdhury is still alive and is very active in rekindling martyrs’ memories.  He can testify to any public forum if his brother’s body was found in the general mass grave set by the Al-Badr killers.

Unfortunately, we do not have any resourceful war criminal hunter like Simon Wiesenthal amongst us.  However, we have plenty of young activists who want to know the truth and the closure of the genocide of 1971. When Great Britain’s Channel Four went to Bangladesh in 1995 to make a historical documentary, the members of the Projonmo Ekattur came to assist them in all phases of production.  Many of the members of this group lost their parents in the hands of the notorious Al-Badr murderers and to their surrogates.  After the documentary titled “War Crime File” was telecast, there was a big uproar in the western world.  Viewers for the first time became aware of three Al-Badr killers’ presence in U.K. The producer did enough research to complete the project.  There were interviews of the victim families; there were narratives of eyewitnesses.  The British Home Ministry was touched by the shocking revelation.  When the final paper flow went to Bangladesh to deport the killers back to their country of origin, there was an interesting development.  It became more evident that some individuals in Bangladesh Foreign Ministry were deliberately sabotaging the deportation proceedings of the war criminals.  Does it sound strange?  Not at all! I hope the readers will agree with me.  Ashrafuzzman Khan’s diary’s pages were depicted in a recently made Bangladesh Television documentary titled “Ganoadalot.”  This Al-Badr ringleader was accused of killing seven intellectuals by his own hand.  In a Bangladesh court, the driver Mofizuddin gave the testimony in which he narrated the gory details of Ashrafuzzaman’s misdeeds of 197.  Today, the same Ashrafuzzaman Khan is living in the safe haven of USA.  Many of the U.S. law enforcement agencies are supposedly aware of the criminal.  The strong pro-Jamati lobby hidden in different ministries of Bangladesh would definitely try its best to squash any attempt for prosecuting this notorious Bangladeshi-American war criminal.

As most of the valuable documentations have gone down the drain, it seems as if the only way to preserve some of the historical gems is to interview the people who witnessed the tragedy of this great proportion.  The Al-Badri zikr has the catastrophic power of tainting the whole history making process.  And consequently the history may fall prey to a revisionist domain of distortion and disfiguration.

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Originally published in News from Bangladesh in its Editorial and Commentary section on  June 27, 2000.

Major General (Retired) Jamil D. Ahsan’s interview

June 1, 2009

Major General (Retired) Jamil D. Ahsan, Bir Protik, psc is a valiant freedom fighter of Bangladesh Liberation War. He is a coordinator of an important freedom fighters’ organization in Bangladesh, namely, The Sector Commanders Forum. General Jamil visited USA in June of 2008. Jamal Hasan interviewed him in Virginia. Here is the link to that interview, which was done in Bengali.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX3-kzr5CMI

Fire in the soul: the predicament of the millions.

June 1, 2009

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By Jamal Hasan

The twentieth century, more than any other, was witness to the most tumultuous events in the history of the subcontinent. And to many of us, 1971 was the year that proved to be the most momentous of the century in shaping our subcontinent.  Other cataclysms of the century like the fulfillment of the vision of “two-nations” in 1947 and the mass killings and migrations that followed, pale into insignificance when compared to the bloodletting, inflicted on Bangladesh in 1971, that forged its 75 million people into a nation.  That is why it is so very important to accurately document the events of 1971 for a proper understanding of the history of the subcontinent.

The survivors of 1971 have a lot to say of those days of fire and blood in 1971.  Unfortunately we, Bengalis,  have never been media savvy enough to do justice to our history, in general, and to the events of 1971, in particular. Furthermore,  to those that suffered personal tragedies in 1971,  it is often as distasteful as it is painful to recapitulate all the butchery and treachery that culminated in the largest genocide since the days of Hitler. Not surprisingly, all these have served to  leave an unfortunate gap in our understanding of the history of Bangladesh.

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Rafiqul Islam, a professor of Bangla at Dhaka University. He was in USA to attend a Conference on Nazrul in Florida. He was kind enough to  invited me for a meeting with him at his sister’s residence in Maryland. It was my opportunity to come face to face  with history. My visit turned out to be more fruitful than I had ever dared to imagine. I met not just Dr. Rafiqul Islam but also a number of other Bengali-Americans who were activists in 1971 and had lived dangerously in the days of fire and blood. They were men of resolve who had chosen to be led by the fire in their soul even through the thickest gloom.

Professor Nurul Islam is one of them. I found Dr. Rafiqul Islam respectfully addressing him as sir. In fact he seems to be one of the most respected Bengalis among the expatriate folks. Dr. Nurul Islam was kind enough to reminisce about those days for our benefit.

During my university days in Bangladesh, I did not have a clue that Dr. Rafiqul Islam had been jailed by the junta in 1971. I  was aware of the ordeal of a few martyrs who had been jailed (like Shaheed Altaf Mahmud). They had ultimately met their end at the hands of a firing squad. After listening to both Dr. Rafiqul  Islam and Professor Nurul Islam I came to the conclusion that but for the grace of God they could not have lived through 1971 to tell their tales. I will now give readers a few glimpses of the 1971 saga from what I heard from Dr. Rafiqul Islam.

When Professor Nurul Islam was lobbying with Senator Kennedy and others at the Capitol Hill to save the lives of Bengali intellectuals, Dr. Rafiqul Islam and four other Dhaka University professors were already in Pakistani prison at the Dhaka Cantonment. They were in solitary confinement in small cells which looked more like cages than anything else.

Fortunately, political pressure from Washington did have some effect. Zulfiqar Ali  Bhutto conveyed the thinking in Washington to Yahya Khan. The army administrators in the erstwhile province of East Pakistan thought it prudent to  take token measures to reassure the world that not every jailed intellectual would face the firing squad. In September, Moulvi Farid Ahmed visited some of the jailed intellectuals. Late Moulvi Farid Ahmed, who supported a united Pakistan, was not unaware of the brutal measures of the junta. In spite of his ideological commitment to a united Pakistan, he had given  shelter to the family of Professor Ahmed Sharif and to many other individuals who were in the bad books of the junta.

Dr. Rafiqul Islam had known Moulvi Ahmed personally for quite some time.  Just before Moulvi Farid Ahmed’s departure from the detention center, Dr. Rafiqul Islam had whispered to Moulvi Ahmed, ” Can you tell me about the situation outside?” Moulvi Farid Ahmed replied, “Rafiq, we are through. There are 10 to 12 Indian divisions encircling East Pakistan. There is no way we can make it.” This extraordinary conversation took place  in the month of September 1971.

Regarding the disappearance of Zahir Raihan, Dr. Rafiqul Islam said that the late film maker went to Mirpur to see for himself the Al-Badr killing field where his brother had been murdered. According to Dr. Rafiqul Islam, Zahir Raihan was escorted by a group of Bangladeshi soldiers. It may be mentioned that during the liberation war, a regular Bangladesh Army had been formed on Indian soil. This army was destined to fight conventional  warfare with the Pakistani fouz.  The present prime minister’s late brother Sheikh Kamal and Major General Jamil D. Ahsan (currently Director General of Bangladesh  Institute of International and Strategic Studies) and Shaheed Lt. Ataus Samad were products of this army that was born during the war. Dr. Rafiqul Islam said he has visited the spot where Zahir Raihan was killed along with a group of Indian soldiers at a later time.

In the occupied city of Dhaka during the days of blood and thunder, the army administration left no stone unturned to keep track of all the city dwellers suspected of pro-Bangladeshi political leanings. All Bengali businessmen were also under constant scrutiny from Pak army intelligence.

For most of the Ayub and Yahya Khan era (1958-1970), the DIB or Police intelligence in the city of Dhaka had maintained dossiers on suspected political activists.  After the crack down of 25th March, the barbaric Pak army had easy access to those files which came in very handy. A veteran  politician like ex-Awami Leaguer Abul Mansur Ahmed was in no danger, but not because he had sold his soul to the devil. Thanks to the dossier on him, the military rulers were in a position to make sure that Mr. Abul Mansur Ahmed would find it prudent to acquiesce to the rule from Islamabad.

One of my close relatives used to be a local leader of the National Awami Party (Muzaffar) in Comilla town. During the war period he decided not to flee the country. He first sought refuge in his village home. But still feeling insecure, he came back to Dhaka and stayed at our house in Dhaka which was lying empty after we had fled to Tangail.

In September when I came to Dhaka for a brief visit. I saw my relative quite content with living in “exile” in the city under siege. He had decided to turn inactive in the political sense. But, in the end, that wasn’t enough to save him.  One fine morning, in October, the Pak army surrounded our Dhaka house and arrested our relative.  He was taken to the Cantonment prison where he was detained indefinitely and tortured.

Another relative, the Chief Executive Officer of a gramophone record company was luckier. He had not underestimated Pak army intelligence. After the crack down, he took shelter on the outskirts of the city. Later, he lived for a while in a cousin’s house in yet another part of the city. Fortunately, he had obtained a passport during the good old days of Ayub Khan. After the army crack down on 25th March, 1971, everyone had been made to fly via West Pakistan to go overseas.  It seems that the army junta had failed to anticipate that anyone would dare to flee from its clutches by flying into West Pakistan! My relative was astounded by what he saw when he landed in Karachi. Life was quite normal in West Pakistan. There was no curfew in the evenings, no knock on the door in the middle of the night. West Pakistan was oblivious to what was going on in the East wing. My relative had no problem in booking a flight to U.K. from Karachi. He stayed in U.K. till Bangladesh was liberated.  His departure from Pakistan proved to be just in time – a few days after his departure, the army knocked at the doors of his Dhaka shelter only to discover that “chireya bhaag gaya.”

As I was writing this article, the Islamic Circle of North America
concluded its convention in Baltimore, Maryland. Ashrafuzzaman Khan, an accused war criminal of 1971 graced the event with his presence. This soft-spoken Islamic scholar is well respected in the Islamic circle of this region. But his dark past is hard to ignore. He was accused of killing seven Dhaka University professors with his own hands. Mofizuddin, who had chauffeured the accused killer, has testified against Ashrafuzzaman in a court of law.

One of the victims of Ashrafuzzaman was Professor Ghiasuddin Ahmed of the History Department. On 24th September 1997, a complaint case ( case no. 115/1997 Ramana Thana) was filed against Ashrafuzzaman Khan, now resident in USA, and  others,  for alleged crime committed by him in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Mrs. Farida Banu, sister of martyred intellectual Professor Ghiasuddin Ahmed, filed the case at the Ramana Police Station in Dhaka under the Penal Code of Bangladesh ( Sections: 120(b), 448, 364, 302, 201, 34, 114). In the  complaint, it was reported  that on  14th December 1971 morning , Professor Ghiasuddin was abducted by Asrafuzzaman Khan, Chowdhury Mueen Uddin ( now resident in London)  and others.  Professor Ghiasuddin was never again seen alive and his dead body was finally found at Rayar Baazar killing Fields on 5th January 1972.

The fire in the soul of millions of Shaheed families is still burning. I mentioned Moulvi Farid Ahmed’s name. Unlike many other supporters of Pakistan’s integrity, politics did not blind him and that is why he saved a number of innocent lives during the war of liberation. His membership in a local Peace Committee gave him some leverage in influencing the auxiliary forces of the Pakistani killing machine. It was almost like Oscar Schindler’s scenario. His son recently mentioned in a news group discussion about his father’s role in 1971. According to him, Moulvi Farid Ahmed made a number of phone calls to various places after Professor Ghiasuddin Ahmed was abducted by “Pakistani paramilitary force.” And that paramilitary force is nothing but the infamous Al-Badr, the military wing of Jamat-i-Islami, now a legitimate party of Bangladesh. Moulvi Farid Ahmed’s life died a  horrible death. According to his son, a faction of overzealous freedom fighters tortured Moulvi Farid Ahmed to death. He didn’t even get a decent burial.

We need to document more and more facts to get a broad perspective of our liberation war. The pains and sorrows of all victims need to be made known to the world.  We have an obligation to tell the world about our ordeal in 1971 so that our cry of, “Never again,” takes on the urgency that it deserves in a world that had watched from the sidelines in 1971 as Islamabad’s army junta perpetrated the most horrendous genocide since the days of Hitler.

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Originally published in NEWS FROM BANGLADESH / Readers’ Opinion / July 6, 2000

The ISI’s perilous chess game with the Bengalis: Is it almost over?

May 29, 2009

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By Jamal Hasan

The fallout of political events after the Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner Irfan Raja fiasco is too numerous to mention in this article.  Nevertheless, Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina showed enough courage putting her political life into jeopardy by kicking out the shameless member of a military regime’s diplomatic corps from Bangladesh soil.  She should be given due credit for that.  But the story does not end here.

Last weekend I attended a social gathering in a Maryland town.  Most of the guests I talked to were appreciative of Hasina’s bold political gesture. Interestingly, all the folks were found to be staunchly anti-Awami League and anti-Hasina.  I was amazed to see they came out of their long tenure of indifference toward our spirit of liberation.  I take it as a good development in the right direction.  I felt when the chips were down, the apathetic Bengalis always gathered under the fold of Bengali nationalistic camaraderie.  It was no different this time.

Bangabandhu had a history of sacrifice and uncompromising role in most of his time of political activism during Pakistan Raj.  When he was rotting in jails during much of the period of Ayub era, he did not have a crystal ball that could predict that someday he would be the chief architect of a struggling nation.  He never allowed him to sell himself to the interests of Punjabi oligarchy.  Nevertheless, there is a great probability that an objective account of history will not portray him bigger than what he was. Some of the historical mistakes he committed will be a topic of continuous debate among secular nationalist historians in the days ahead.  One thing was quite apparent that Bangabandhu was the unchallenged leader of the seventy five-million souls during the days of our blood and tears.  But an important segment of history did not get the due exposure that it deserved. That is the Bengali leader’s unfortunate failure in the diabolical chess game that he was playing with the Yahya junta and their cohort the Lord of Larkana, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the month of March of 1971.

A few months ago, a notable Bengali media person in the Washington region gave me startling information.  He told me that he had a chance to see the veteran journalist K. G. Mustafa on the evening of March 25, 1971, at the premises of Dhaka Press Club.  K.G. Mustafa had strong rapport with Bangabandhu and as an insider he gave his scoop to his acquaintances at the Press Club.  And that was, according to Mr. Mustafa, “Bangabandhu is optimistic about the talks with Yahya and Bhutto and some positive resolution is going to come out tonight.” During this conversation another person was present and he was Mazhar Ali Khan, a liberal and left-leaning Punjabi journalist of Lahore Times.  He gave a completely opposite picture. According to the Lahore Times journalist, the talks failed and Yahya Junta was planning a brutal crackdown on the Bengalis.  When I heard the interesting newsworthy history from the Washington media person, I first could not believe my ears.  As I read the recently published Brigadier Majumdar’s oral history on the web, I had no other way but to digest the bitter truth. I felt probably the Press Club incidence had some credibility.  I am now quoting from Brigadier Majumdar’s memoir published in “Tormenting 1971″‘s web edition [http://e-bangla.net/torment/]. “….I waited tensely in the evening for the phone call.  At 8 pm, Osmani rang me and said, “Mujib is now reached a settlement with Yahiya.  He has asked you to be patient.”   It seemed Bangabandhu was naive enough by giving the brutal Pakistani military brass the benefit of doubt.  In other words, it was quite possible that Bangabandhu had failed the first chess game against the most notorious clique of the Indian subcontinent, the military junta under the command of General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan.

Bangabandhu, being the founding father of the nascent nation of Bangladesh had  too big an aura.  Average citizens of the war ravaged nation expected more from him than he could deliver.  Nobody took notice of the limitation of the leader, though.  His primary weakness was trusting people close to him.   Also, he became engulfed with the sweet talks of the sycophants and political operatives who were very aware of the leader’s idiosyncrasies. For example, the collaborator issue put him in such a moral dilemma that he would have been “damned if he became hard on them or not damned if he did not.”   Mind you, I am borrowing this from the famous quotation of US Attorney General Janet Reno after the 2000 Presidential election controversy.

The 16th of December of 1971 gave Pakistan a limited setback.  They did not lose heart so easily.  Pakistani oligarchy knew that they had their first line of defense hiding among the right wingers of Awami League under anything like Khundkar Moshtaque, Shah Moazzem and Taher Thakur. They also had some liking for the old time Awami Leaguers who were nationalists but not as radical as they would desire to see East Pakistan secedes from the union.  And there was no dearth of such Awami Leaguers.  The founding father was hardly uncomfortable when he intermingled with such characters. Sometimes his partisan and big brotherly attitude led him to protect the chickens that were waiting in the wings to kill him.  Second lines of Pakistani fans were found in the different cantonments of Bangladesh where a good number of repatriated army brasses had a negligible passion for Bengali nationalism.  General H.M. Ershad is the symbol of such a constituency. Col. (Ret’d) Shafat Jamil’s thought provoking book depicts this dictator as another Fifth Columnist working for the brutal regime of Yahya Khan during Bangladesh liberation war.

The birth of Bangladesh occurred at a time of heightened Cold War rivalry. As many policy makers of USA saw it in a plain black and white parameter, the struggle of a nation against an oppressive regime was not a factor in formulating US foreign policy direction.  Also, before President Carter’s crusade against human rights abuses the Executive Branches of USA hardly showed any sympathy toward suffering souls where genocide was perpetrated hardly five years ago.   In the eyes of Nixon Administration, the emergence of Bangladesh appeared to be a victory of Soviet Lobby in the South Asian region.  And as the founding father of Bangladesh embraced the pro-Moscow communists to form BKSAL, the alarm bell was raising high in parts of the Pennsylvania Avenue and the Pentagon.

To combat communism, some of the US agencies had allowed having strange bed partners.  That included unsavory characters like Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan as well.  During much of the 1970’s Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus had a good honeymooning.  When Al-Badr operatives slaughtered the Bengali intellectuals in the heat of the night they knew very well who their guardians were.  Be mindful that Osama bin Laden was being groomed during this time with the blessing of this alignment.

According to the assessment of the Inter-services Intelligence of Pakistan (the notorious military intelligence agency of that country) and the nexus that I mentioned, the formation of BKSAL may bring the Soviets to the doorstep of the Bay of Bengal.  The ISI was more concerned to bring Bangladesh to Pakistan’s fold and the nexus wanted to de-Sovietize Bangladesh polity.  Some of the right wing dictators in the world amassed more wealth and made more terrible human rights abuses than the Awami Leaguers of 1972-1975.  Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran, Somoza of Nicaragua, Batista of Cuba are a few in the list.  In the eyes of US policy makers, Mujib’s sin was not being soft on the corrupt Awami Leaguers, nor his Rakkhi Bahini’s excesses against the armed cadres of Sarbahara Party or Jatiya Samjtantrik Dal.  The danger perceived by many analysts in the land of freedom was Mujib’s coziness with the Kremlin leaders that could allow the Red Bear to a new frontier. So the 15th August seemed to be a historical necessity for quite a few methodical planners.

The 15th of August 1975 was a big victory for the Punjabi clique. They won yet another chess game against the Bengalis.  In Bangladesh, some new faces were emerging who would not mind to be the pawns of Islamabad. Ziaur Rahman was notable in this case.  Although his wife was captive at the hands of the brutal Pakistani machinery during much of 1971, he cared less for his personal predicament.  He very shrewdly worked to enhance the ISI’s agenda in Bangladesh.  As a renowned freedom fighter, he used his Muktijoddha garb and his Podobi, whenever necessary, only to fool the gullible Bengali masses.  But slowly, did he stab the back of the spirit of liberation.   Zia could fool millions of Bengalis but he could hardly masquerade his true identity in front of sensible Bengali nationalists.

You don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to figure out that Pakistani ruling elite got back their lost colony after mid 1975.  They understood as long as subservient Bengali army rulers would serve their purpose the idea of a reunification would not arise.  They were fully aware the wound from a bloody war was still fresh in the memory of millions of Bengalis.  Zia scrapped the 1972 Constitution that included secularism as one of the founding principles of the emerging nation. Zia followed his Fouzi leadership style from the textbooks of his role model Ayub Khan.  During national days of mourning or remembrance, he did not allow the state owned media to utter the taboo word, “Pakistani army.”  He embraced the most heinous Jamaati killers and gave them a new lease of life; he allowed them to organize politically.  He brought a notorious collaborator like Shah Azizur Rahman to a high echelon of state power.  He broke many freedom loving peoples’ heart but gave the Pakistani masters a sigh of relief.  The successors of Yahya regime in Islamabad understood the lost colony had been won again.

During the late 1970’s, as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan the Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus got a big boost up. This was the time when General Ziaul Huq of Pakistan and General Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh became blood brothers.  The Bengali Zia might have been ashamed to remember his freedom fighting days.  He provided the necessary platform to ISI for conducting its business in Bangladesh.  The Pakistanis got total upper hand in the chess game.  General Ziaur Rahman became the ultimate Trojan Horse of the Punjabi ruling elite.  The ISI had two-tier objectives in Bangladesh. Primarily, in order to give India a good lesson, the shipments of arms under the guidance of the military ruler in Bangladesh were destined to insurgency movements in the northeastern corridor of India.  It goes without saying that Indian rebels got a guaranteed sanctuary on the soil of Bangladesh.   Secondly, the infusion of political Islamic ideology would help diminish the hatred against the Pakistani rapists and killers of 1971.  They were successful in both the fronts.  On the other hand, India did not stay quiet either.  As a tit for tatting, India reciprocated by further fomenting the Chittagong Hill Tracts insurgency.  That did not bring a positive feedback from the Bangladesh citizenry.  Rather, India’s approach backfired and Pakistani clandestine activity got the desired outcome.  The shrewd and power hungry Zia made Bangladesh a hotbed of tussles between India and Pakistan, which went on unabated without public knowledge.  General Ershad simply took the mantle from his predecessor and ran with it for almost a decade.

As Pakistani dark shadow engulfed the whole nation after 1975, Zia’s calculated oratory could appease two patrons.  Off and on, he articulated his stand against “foreign isms.”  Some of the US State Department officials might have perceived Zia as a crusader devoted to thwart socialism or communism. The Pakistani policy makers could have considered it a crusade against secularism.  The ISI operatives did have a serious distaste for secularism, not to say their hatred for left leaning politics.  Ziaur Rahman had a vendetta against Awami League, and the Bangabandhu in particular.  Was it merely because of Awami League’s corrupt politicians’ wrongdoing or its non-democratic formation of BKSAL?  His track record shows otherwise.  Some critics may argue that Zia had shown his grudge against that party for breaking up Pakistan. He methodically transplanted pro-BNP and pro-Jamaati Judges thus making the country’s judiciary subservient to his political philosophy with a slant toward Pakistani interest. No wonder, even today Bangladeshi Judges are too  “embarrassed” to try Mujib killers and they show split decision on Bangabandhu Murder Case.

After the demise of the Soviet empire a positive outcome came into the periphery.  The Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus lost its important component the USA.  Once upon a time, the US policy makers found reliable friends in Islamic fundamentalists but they also realized the need for them was no more.  A direct attack on citadels of secular democracy opened their eyes. Bombing of the World Trade Center or the Embassies in Africa gave them the chill of their life.  In a hurry they realized that pan-Islamists or Islamic fundamentalists were the ultimate enemies of secular West.  This realization, albeit late, came as a blessing in disguise for the secular Bengali nationalists.  The tide has turned and today the common enemy of the Bengalis and USA is the Islamist movement emanating from the hornet’s nest in Pakistan.

During 1975 to 1991, Bangladesh has been governed by the shadow of ISI backed Bengali army dictators. They did not attempt to make the sovereign nation a confederation of Pakistan overnight.  But they proceeded to go in a manner that can be equated with a situation of slow poisoning.  During Zia’s time any questionable artistic endeavor critical to the regime or Pakistani values was surreptitiously suppressed. I can give the example of film director M.A. Samad’s “Surjo Grohon.”   Without any explanation, this film was banned in the country. Also, Zia’s ruthlessness occurred behind the iron curtains of Dhaka cantonment.  After quelling a coup in 1977, he randomly arrested hundreds of noncommissioned officers of Bangladesh Air force.  Many of them were sent to different jails where they were hanged after the verdicts from Zia installed Kangaroo Courts.  Many officers perished from the face of the earth. Their main offense-they were suspected to be a threat to the regime.  Under Zia’s rule, a pattern of purge in the country’s defense services was getting crystal clear to political analysts. In a good number of cases only freedom fighters in various branches of the armed services were singled out to be punished.  During the time of Zia’s gross account of human rights violation, the Amnesty International or any other human rights organizations were noticeably silent.  Was it because of the Cold War legacy, who knows?

Let us now delve into the tidbits of the dynamics of Bangladesh politics after seventeen years rule of the ISI- virus infected Bengali generals. After the ouster of dictator Ershad from the power, the ISI had to be apprehensive. This was more so as Bengali nationalist party Awami League allied with Bangladesh Nationalist Party to kick out the army despot from power. Although Khaleda Zia was no friend of pro-liberation forces of the country, she did not systematically purge Muktijoddhas (freedom fighters) from the defense forces.  I recall notable writer and commentator Hasan Ferdous once pointed out about one interesting aspect of Khaleda Zia administration. According to Ferdous, Khaleda gave four or five key and strategic positions to army officers who happened to be freedom fighters. Tarek Masud, an aspiring Bengali film buff told me in 1995 about the fait accompli of his remarkable documentary, “The Songs of Freedom.”  He revealed to me that at the outset  the Khaleda Zia administration made conspicuous attempt to obstruct the release of this historical documentary.  This powerful camera work depicted the plight of the Bengali refugees and a group of singers’ motivational songs in various refugee camps through out the liberation war period. After a good fight the film maker was successful in releasing the film, which drew big crowd in theaters all across the nation. I have serious doubt if this was ever possible during one time freedom fighter General Ziaur Rahman’ rule.   During Khaleda Zia’s regime, the grass root movement of the Ekatturer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee [Committee to annihilate killers and collaborators of 1971] had the opportunity to mobilize into a formidable movement that left an indelible mark on the national political landscape.  In this case, I would like to hypothesize a comparative scenario.  If Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam had endeavored to start the anti-killer and collaborator movement in Ziaur Rahman era, she could hardly finish her goal.  Freedom fighter Ziaur Rahman, who sold his soul to the war criminals of 1971 was barely in a position to let the movement flourish.  He would have crushed  the grassroots mass movement by hook or by crook.  I am afraid he would have succeeded in his dubious design not because he was a heartless despot, but he was out there to please his Pakistani bosses.

As before, US policy makers and think tankers are divided on the issue of supporting the current Pakistani military regime.  But the promising sign is, unlike in 1971, the majority of them are not sympathetic to the army brass.   It is mention worthy that ISI’s dark claws have spread to USA and the US capital in particular.  The operatives of the shadowy group are playing game, steadfastly.  They now realize that the offspring of Sheikh Mujib is a bad news for them.  Sheikh Hasina’s temporary tactical alliance with the Jamaatis during the past general election of Bangladesh proved she is a lot more shrewder political element than her deceased father.  In politics, skillfully dealing with the dirty dealers could be a plus point.  Hasina must have been aware of the emerging global movement among expatriate Bengalis who are relentlessly working to put the killers and collaborators of 1971 to justice.  She definitely felt its significance whenever she went out of the country.  These expatriate Bengalis are constantly networking and winning new friends among policy makers and conscientious opinion leaders of many countries that includes Pakistan as well. But she dares not expect unconditional support from the pro-liberation lobbies.
Respect for a civil society and rule of law will be conducive to tightening the bond  between different pro-liberation forces.  There is light behind the tunnel.   In the long run, the Bengali nationalists will be the victors by checkmating the most unsavory coterie of the South Asian region- the military regime of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.  Their influence in Bangladesh is on the wane.  Irfan Raza fiasco is a living testament of that.  Shall I be more discreet?
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This essay was published in the Editorial & Commentary section of NEWS FROM BANGLADESH on December 19, 2000.

Ambassador Waliur Rahman’s interview.

May 28, 2009

Ambassador Waliur Rahman is a former secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh Government. He is now the Director of  the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs. During his last visit to USA in September of 2008,  Jamal Hasan interviewed him  in Virginia. Ambassador Rahman discussed Bangladesh’s political situation and war crime issue. Here are the links to that interview, which was conducted in Bengali.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ_tWjA4WAQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgOf65YbI1Q

Glimpses from my trip to the good old Dhaka.

May 28, 2009

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By Jamal Hasan

A sudden family urgency prompted me to visit Bangladesh, which became my top priority. It was going to be my sojourn to our native land after almost a decade. My frequent flier relatives warned me one thing about the first encounter in Dhaka. They told me quite a few horror stories. How some greedy officials of the airport and civil aviation jump on the tired and unwise Bengali visitors like vultures on a robin’s nest or how the countless transportation agents fall onto their preys, etc. etc. I was also told not to give my luggage to anyone unless I have absolute confidence in that person. As the typical demand from the over-enthusiastic helpers is for U.S. dollars, I was well advised to carry as many single dollar bills. My preparedness for unforeseen circumstances became futile. As I reached my final destination, things did not come out as I apprehended.

After an exhaustive journey through the Middle East, my plane landed in a sweaty summer-day in Dhaka. I realized the humidity is much more in abundance than that of the tropical South Florida, which used to be my place of residence for more than sixteen years. Now a bonafide Marylander who is being accustomed to shoveling snow in the front yard, my body is yet to readjust to fresh barrage of humidity. But I was mentally prepared to embrace any kind of maladjustment of mundane physical comfort.

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My journey to my native land was primarily occurring at a time of historical ethos. The leakage of Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report could produce such a ripple effect was hard to fathom. After I arrived in Dhaka, I found a few dailies were carrying excerpts from the report on a daily basis. Twenty-nine years is a long period and a calculated policy of erasing the memory of 1971was successfully conducted during much of the two successive army generals’ rule. And suddenly, the HRC report comes in the forefront and things would never be the same! I thought my trip to Dhaka was occurring at a time where an Ekattur activist may find the ultimate Nirvana.

The colossal buildings and apparent affluence of certain segment of the population gave me the awe. The well-decorated restaurants catering to authentic oriental and South Asian cuisine could make a westerner spellbound. The excessive glamorization of eateries may someone wonder is the country one of the least developed countries in the world? As I peeped through the 19th floor window of a multistoried BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) building, Dhaka’s skyline reminded me of a South Florida urban landscape. The concrete jungles are reminiscent of any metropolis. But the road condition and traffic situation? I would rather say we are destined to a black hole to comment rather mildly.

Going back to Ekattur matters. The invitation to join a seminar by the esteemed editor of Ajker Kagoj, a Bengali daily was something I could hardly reject. The seminar was a Round Table Conference on the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report. On a September day the meeting was scheduled at five p.m.

The Meena House (where the Paper office is located), a multistoried building is not too far from my Dhaka residence. The round table in the meeting place could fit the literal meaning of the terminology. I reached the place may be half an hour before the scheduled time. The presence of wireless microphones was an indication that Bangladesh is not far behind in present day technology of audio matters. I was contended to see that most of the participants took their seats before the bell struck five. Two BNP MPs, namely Col. (Ret’d) Oli Ahmed (Bir Bikram) and Col. (Ret’d) Akbar Hossain, two former Muktijoddhas were the star participants. The other Muktijoddha from across the aisle was Awami League MP Major (Ret’d) Rafiqul Islam who happened to be a former Home Minister. Three Dhaka University Professors, namely, Dr. Rafiqul Islam, Dr. Shamsul Huda Haroon and Dr. Momtajuddin Ahmed represented the liberal and secular wing of the complex and effervescent Bengali intelligentsia. Also were present a veteran leftist political leader Haider Akbar Khan Rano, Ambassador Waliur Rahman and the Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Abdul Matin Khosru. I realized, the moderator of the session the newspaper editor Kazi Shahed Ahmed had quite a big task to conduct.

I was totally impressed and definitely amazed watching the exchange of  comments between the minister and opposition MP’s. It was an extraordinary example of civility. I was thinking if Bangladesh politics in every facet could be an arena of such civility, we would seldom be termed as a nation of uncivilized political elements. While the moderator appeared to have good rapport with most of the participants, sometimes he had to face the hurdles of smoothing out the bitter and often emotional outburst of seemingly divergent points of view. I found, although, the common denominator of the participants’ background to be pro-liberation, there was definitely certain difference of angle. This became more evident in the deliberation of BNP MP’s presentations. In his speech MP Col (Ret’d) Oli Ahmed made it a point that the present lawlessness in the society gets precedence over the tragedy of 1971. Similarly MP Col. (Ret’d) Akbar Hossain brought the now debated subject of the exact casualty figure of 1971. He mentioned that the total figure of the war casualty would not be more than few hundred thousand. Interestingly Major (Ret’d) Rafiqul Islam became forthcoming in refuting that argument. He brought a number of sample scenarios and gave some statistical inferences that might be attributed to estimating a figure close to three million. The difference in Ekattur philosophy gave me a realization of the bottom line where the partisan politics had some layers of influence. I assessed that there was evolving an unparalleled linkage among the pro-Ekattur political personalities going beyond partisan lines. This I felt a healthy sign in a nascent democracy.

Dr. Rafiqul Islam gave startling background information of Hamoodur Rahman, the person. He made the case that the one time Chief Justice of Pakistan could be anything but a friend of Bengali cause. Dr. Shamsul Huda Haroon provided a vivid conjecture of the menace of parochial politics in Bangladesh history. While exchanging divergent opinions, the often usage of “apology” gave an ideal parliamentarian setting. In this respect, Ambassador Waliur Rahman should be given due credit. Most interesting thing to observe was the presence of Stanley Wolpert’s autobiography of Z.A. Bhutto in the Parliamentary Affairs Minister’s hand. He was quoting from the book a few times. And interestingly Zulfi story became very relevant with the discourse.

An acting minister on my left side and an opposition member of parliament on my right, I was having the ultimate surreal experience. My dream of seeing all the Bengali pro-Ekattur activists beyond party lines might come true was becoming true. From far away through the Internet we may gather the stereotypical view that all the Bangladeshi politicians are on each other’s throat, the Round Table Conference did not give me that idea. Rather, I had every element to be positive about future. I became more than a bit of optimistic that the figments of unresolved issues of 1971 may get a chance to be resolved.

When the microphone came to me, I gave a rather dismal picture of expatriate Bengalis in USA. I mentioned about the noble activism of Armenians worldwide who even lobbied US Congress during Soviet era to launch a Congressional hearing on Armenian genocide converting the then
Senator Bob Dole as a great champion of Armenian cause. Interestingly, at the Ajker Kagoj meeting I did not have any clue that Armenian genocide issue could once again hit the consciousness of American psyche and open a Pandora’s box in American politics today. Just a few days ago, Washington Post carried big headlines about the ultimatum from the powerful Turkish lobby to halt any more condemnation of Ottoman Turkish genocidal act occurred eighty years ago. Pakistan strategically, in US view, falls far behind Turkey. Yet, the expatriate Bengalis failed miserably to create any uproar in Capitol Hill opening the old wound of 1971. May be that is why Pakistani Chief Executive’s spokesperson Javed Jabbar or Abdus Sattar show the audacity to forget the past. What a cruel joke!

My short trip to Bangladesh gave me high hope of fulfilling the political obligation of the nation where our roots belong. I think the current dynamic should lead us to the ultimate destination of resolving the unresolved issues of Bangladesh genocide of 1971. The timely disclosure of Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report gave a new jolt in the moribund politics of 1971 activism. I felt there was a resurgence of Spirit of Liberation in Bangladesh. That was the biggest hope I gathered during my short trip to Dhaka.

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The essay was originally published in News from Bangladesh in the Feature section on October 11, 2000.

America’s dangerous liaison with Bangladesh Jamaat: an optimistic scenario for global jihadists.

May 28, 2009

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By Jamal Hasan

I have contemplated to write an essay on rising tide of Wahhabi Islam in my birthplace, Bangladesh.  But a succession of events in Bangladesh in the last couple of months triggered by rising fundamentalism has captured my time.  In this article, I will objectively analyze the spate of words delivered by a diversified bunch of people in and outside Bangladesh to hammer down my thesis that Uncle Sam nurtured Islamic fundamentalists quite unwittingly and now they are coming home to roost.  For the sake of brevity, I will only discuss the case of Bangladesh leaving aside myriad of similar problems that had plagued other Islamic nations.  

The Washington Post on July 17, 2004 had this front-page story with the title, “Interviews of Muslims to Broaden / FBI Hopes to Avert a Terrorist Attack.”  The news goes on like this….  “FBI agents have launched a series of interviews of Muslims and Arab Americans in the Washington area and across the country, hoping to glean information that could prevent a major terrorist attack during the election year.”  The story also disclosed the following, “this is not a general population.  They are identified by intelligence or investigative information,” said an FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with department policy.  He added that the questioning did not signify that the people were under investigation themselves.”

Folks, juxtapose the above news story with a revealing diplomatic dispatch that came to my knowledge a while ago from a source in USA. The source said, the former U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Harry K. Thomas in a meeting in Washington DC praised the Islamic fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami party.  Quite a few expatriate Bangladeshis, I was told, had attended the meeting among others.  I cannot exactly quote what Ambassador Thomas told the audience.  It went something like this, “We should not be concerned about Jamat-i-Islami of Bangladesh.  Jamaat came to power through democratic process.”  What an outrageous statement!  I was literally falling from the chair when I realized how ignorant our Ambassador was about the organizational structure of Bangladeshi jihadists!  I thought if we continue to have such ignorance and naïveté in our State Department, dozens of 9/11 would not be totally impossibility.  We need to do some homework before we venture to speak on a subject, which is not our forte.  Ambassador Harry K. Thomas must know for a starter that Islamic Chhatra Shibir (or Shibir as a short version) is a part and parcel of Jamat-i-Islami of Bangladesh.  Undoubtedly, it is the youth or student wing of the party, which is definitely lot more militant and violent than its parent organization.  The Shibir activists have been notorious for cutting ligaments of political opponents’ hands so that the victims die slowly.  In a sense it was worse than beheading because the victim felt the pain while heading towards death.  The youth wing of the Jamaati outfit has been indulging in such practices for more than a decade.  These jihadists terrorized college and university campuses all over Bangladesh.  They had started their bloody act after the military ruler the pseudo Islamist General Hussain Mohammad Ershad took control of Bangladesh illegitimately.

Now some critics may say, U.S. policy in different parts of the world is not coherent.  They may argue, while USA did not object to secular Algerian military’s suppressing the Islamist political party Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), which became widely popular as far back as in the early nineties, the same USA is incredibly soft on Bangladeshi Islamists.  If our memory is not too short, a little more than a month ago the same Ambassador opined in Dhaka that the Bangladesh government should be allowed to end its term. The critics have a good example of the other end of a double standard where USA has welcomed the unconstitutional removal of a democratically elected government in the recent past.  Quite a few high officials of the U.S. State Department welcomed the ouster of democratically elected Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who could hardly finish his term. Now let us dissect the validity of assessment of the two situations.

The Haitian leader, Aristide, might have been a left-oriented politician or he could be a bit of anti-Western. However, it is crystal clear he was neither Islamist, nor did he have any ambition to destroy Western civilization.  On the contrary, Bangladesh’s garden variety Islamists of all hue and color cannot be trusted, period.  They are part of a mysterious global cobweb of Ummah that has the ultimate agenda to destroy the West, including the United States of America.

USA’s kowtowing the Bangladeshi Islamists is a continuation of a now defunct Cold War policy.  One-time religious extremists of different nationalities were very much needed to combat global communism.  USA and some other Western nations supported and nurtured Islamic fundamentalists quite blindly because it served their purpose.  In 1971, the members of Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan occupied Bangladesh killed scores of innocent secular Bengali intellectuals cold-bloodedly.  At the time that gross human rights violation was not a big factor for many Western countries.  As long as the Jamaatis acted against Soviet hegemony, that was okay for them.  That is why, immediately after liberation some killer ringleaders of al-Badr (military wing of Jamaat-i-Islami) fled to USA and UK and had been living in those countries quite peacefully.  But the tragedy of September 11 had changed the situation drastically.  Nowadays, they cannot do everything as freely as before.  Quite a few mosques in USA and UK had been found to be tied to al-Qaeda jihadists.  Although Bangladeshi Islamist leaders living in Western land are by far smartest in the crop, but little do they realize that it may not be too difficult to unearth the subtle linkage among all the jihadists of the world?

While in case of Bangladesh, the U.S. foreign policy direction did not change drastically from the Cold War period, in the Afghanistan theater that is quite a different scenario.  Immediately before the start of the Afghan War, the U.S. Administration skillfully aligned itself with the anti-Taliban (and anti-al-Qaeda) Northern Alliance force.  This force was again had been closely linked with Russia, some countries of the former Soviet Union and India.  In short, the new scenario was just the opposite of what went on during Afghan Mujahedeens’ war against Soviet occupying force a decade ago.  This new alignment worked well and apparently, the result was better than what happened in the recent Iraq war.  The ultimate result is the diminishing power of the Talibans and al-Qaeda, the entities, which are ideologically very close to Bangladesh’s Jamaat-i-Islami.

Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh evolved from the womb of Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan.  Do the readers care to know that the Pakistani Jamaat was responsible for massacring minority Ahmadiya more than forty years ago?  Therefore, the Jamaatis traversed a bloody path to the present stage.  But can they be trusted?  Primarily the Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh is a purely Wahhabite outfit which has a global agenda to conquer and rule the world under a utopian Caliphate.  Till their final goal is reached, the Bangladeshi Jamaatis, the most patient and conniving among the bunch, are ready to wait for hundred years if the need be.  It is unique that this is the same party, which resisted the birth of a nation, could become part of the national government today.  It is also ironic that two notorious war criminals are gracing the present Bangladesh cabinet today.  But that hardly ruffles feathers amongst amnesiac Bangladeshis.

USA has acted reactively in the Afghan theater aligning itself with the former Soviet Asian Republics.  Some of the leaders of the newly born Asian countries neighboring Afghanistan are former communists.  Nevertheless, the United States had no problem forging a unique coalition with new partners in its global war on terror.  Conversely, in case of Bangladesh, the United States showed a cold shoulder to almost all the secular nationalist and left-oriented political parties.  It is such a big blunder on the part of USA, the price she may have to pay in the future could be quite heavy.

Before the October 2001 parliamentary election, according to some Bangladesh watchers, USA’s favor tilted towards Bangladesh Nationalist Party.  Khaleda Zia’s late husband General Ziaur Rahman was U.S.’s favorite.  Conversely, Awami League with all its baggage of socialism, nationalistic protectionism did not become an attractive choice for America.  The 1996 parliamentary election in Bangladesh was closely watched in Europe.  Some German South Asia analysts felt that many U.S. policymakers did not have much liking for Sheikh Hasina.  The main reason for this view, according to the German analysts, Sheikh Hasina being a daughter of the “pro-Socialist” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could move the country back to a socialistic model in a cinch.  Of course, this apprehension later turned out to be totally baseless.  Hasina was no less capitalist than many of the current leaders of the Third World countries.

Dealing with familiar faces is typically the most viable option in bilateral relations.  USA had a history of distrusting secular nationalist forces of India and Bangladesh.  That is why, even in post-9/11 climate the victory of Indian National Congress in the last Indian Parliamentary election was greeted with a lukewarm support in US capital.  Even a moderate daily like Washington Post was far from being soft on the new victors.  In the backdrop of global war on Islamic terrorism, siding with Hindu nationalists of India may not be an illogical step.  But, there is hardly any justification for linking with a Wahhabite Islamist group like Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh.

Jamaatis are the people who are undoubtedly cold-blooded, calculative, cruel, sneaky, manipulative, pragmatist, brutal, determined, dedicated, patient, flexible and adaptive to change.  While the U.S. failed to read the mind of the Jamaatis, they were glad to be back in business in full swing.  The smartest decision for the Jamaat-i-Islami was to forge a coalition with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party before Bangladesh’s general election.  During the time of 2001 election, the Islamic fundamentalist party leaders could not imagine that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia would be a manna from heaven.  Who could have imagined that she would metamorphose to be “more Catholic than the Pope”!

Immediately after coming to power, BNP-Islamist coalition’s first step was to sack forty senior police officers; many of them did not even attain the retirement age.  The new government alleged those officers were not efficient, they were corrupt, and were leaning towards Awami League.  In reality, those officers were the individuals who were not Islamists, some of who were freedom fighters and despised the Jamaatis.  The BNP-Islamist coalition’s ascension to power opened the floodgate of Islamizing the security services of Bangladesh.  In today’s Bangladesh, the chameleon Wahhabites’ omnipresence can be felt everywhere. After the targeted purging in National Security Intelligence, Defence Forces Intelligence, Customs Department, Border security and many other auxiliary services, Jamaati influence in the whole country’s security apparatus have been increased manifold.  In addition, Bangladesh army’s rank and file is well represented by fresh Madrassah graduates who were deprived to go through the channel of secular education.  Jamaatization has also touched Bangladesh’s diplomatic corps as well.  The appointment of Golam Arshad, a staunch Jamaati, as the Press Minister in Bangladesh Embassy in Washington DC is a glaring example of how much the anti-liberation force has penetrated into the power structure of Bangladesh government.  Like the aliens of the TV series “The Invaders,” the sympathizers of this Islamist outfit can be found in all facets of Bangladeshi civil society, who have close ties with expatriate Bangladeshi Jamaati operatives.  Some security experts were baffled to realize that for many years the Jamaatis have successfully penetrated the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh.  The moles were well placed there too!

When Sheikh Hasina was in power, there were a few attempts on her life.  At the time, many analysts suspected Islamists’ hand behind the attacks.  Ironically, Khaleda Zia did not have to face such nuisance.  Not a single attack was targeted against her.  Critics of her sarcastically comment, “A darling of the Islamists cannot be the bull’s eye of the fanatics.”

Slowly and steadily, Bangladesh is inching forward to becoming an intolerant Islamist state.  Gross human rights violation is a very common scene.  The primary enemies of the state are the secular and liberal intellectuals.  Secondly, the authority would not tolerate anybody who would bring the “unpleasant” subject of Bangladesh Genocide and war crime of 1971.  With each passing day, increasingly liberal intellectuals and academicians are getting death threats by the mullahs.  The fundamentalist government claims they do not have any clue about the origin of the threat.  When Dhaka University Professor Dr. Humayun Azad’s throat was almost slit by Islamic extremists, the investigative farce led to the arrest of a few Awami League sympathizers.  Dr. Humayun Azad again received a death threat along with Dr. Muntassir Mamoon and Dr. M.M. Akash and a few other university professors.  Dr. Muntassir Mamoon, the academician has been a researcher of Bangladesh Liberation War also.  In the eyes of Bangladeshi Islamists, this type of individual has no right to live in “Jamaat-i-Islamic Bangladesh.”  Some observers say, anytime anyone among the liberal intellectuals may be slaughtered at the hand of Bangladeshi Islamic terrorists.  I hope this dire prediction by the pessimists in Bangladesh never come true but there is no telling what lies ahead for those who were declared murtaad or apostate in recent days. 

Jamat-i-Islami leaders try their best to appear squeaky clean in front of the world audience. In order not to antagonize Uncle Sam, they are hardly vocal against U.S. foreign policy. Nonetheless, wolf cannot hide beneath sheepskin. The Bangladeshi Jamaatis’ connection to global Jihadists is hardly a rumor anymore. Let us take into account the Al-Haramain fiasco. On September 23, 2002 seven aid workers of Arab origin were arrested in Dhaka on suspicion of trafficking in children. All of them worked for Al-Haramain Islamic Institute, a Saudi funded charity. The arrest brought an internal tension inside Bangladesh government. The Islamists, notably the Jamaati cabinet members were not pleased to see Arab aid workers being prosecuted by Bangladesh government. One fine morning the arrested foreigners were hurriedly taken to the airport and were deported out of the country. Some observers were convinced a Jamaati minister played a crucial role in deporting the arrestees. Today, the Al-Haramain charity is suspected of funding al-Qaeda. The U.S. Treasury Department moved to block the charity’s assets of the U.S. branch. Another high profile Jamaati leader had been alleged to be involved in maritime arms smuggling helping the cause of South East Asian Islamic militants. For reason unknown, the same leader is not welcome into USA.

For the last several years, a number of law-enforcement officials from Bangladesh have been trained in America under a bilateral agreement between the two countries.  Bangladeshi police and army personnel have the opportunity to be trained in USA under a program called Anti Terrorism Assistance Program (ATAP), sponsored by the United States Department of State.  Law enforcement officers under Bangladeshi Islamic fundamentalist dominated government also got the chance to be trained by U.S. anti-terrorism experts.  But the expertise obtained abroad cannot justifiably be implemented at home in some cases.  Although Bangladesh’s Islamist dominated regime liberally utilizes all tools of modern security needs, it “failed” to identify the perpetrators behind the death threats against secular intellectuals.  Moreover, harassment of the moderate Bangladeshis continues unabated.  Their telephones are routinely tapped, overseas phone calls are carefully scrutinized, and their Internet activities are closely monitored.  While this scenario exposes the symptom of a police state, Khaleda Zia and her Islamist coalition partners took considerably long period of time to identify the whereabouts of a notorious al-Qaeda type Bangladeshi warlord, the so-called Bangla Bhai.  This Bangla Bhai had been continuing a rein of terror in a great part of the North Western Bangladesh.  In fact, he was almost running a parallel puritanical Taliban like rule.  The local law enforcement authority was found to be supportive of the Islamic terrorist’s terror tactics.  What does that mean?  The Talibanization of rural Bangladesh has just got started.  Actions speak louder than words.  That is what we are seeing in western districts of Bangladesh.  The police there were in cahoots with Jagrata Muslim Janata cadres, the army of Bangladesh’s Mullah Omar- Bangla Bhai.   

More than a year ago, a German Radio Bangla Service broadcaster got a first hand experience of encountering the deadly Bangla Bhai’s cadre.  The Deutsche Welle reporter had been aggressively pursuing his investigative reporting on the Bangladeshi al-Qaeda from his Bonn office.  While visiting Bangladesh a couple of years ago, he had the bone chilling experience of being face to face with a group of Islamist goons in the heart of the capital city.  That happened in the broad daylight.  He was threatened not to continue his anti-Bangla Bhai reporting from the German Radio.  The Deutsche Welle higher ups did not take the threat lightly.  They took up the matter with the highest authority at the German Foreign Ministry.  It happened at a time when German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was planning a tour to Bangladesh. 

While any civilized society always takes death threat issue against its citizens very seriously, Bangladesh had proven to be playing a manipulative game of judicial deceiving.  We can recall another episode of investigative caricature happened when a few movie theaters in Mymensingh city were bombed a year and half ago.  It was becoming more evident that the homegrown Bangladeshi Islamic zealots were becoming less tolerant of movie theaters where “immoral things” were being played.  After the December 2002 movie theaters bomb blast in Mymensingh, Shahriar Kabir, and Dr. Muntassir Mamoon were arrested.  Shahriar Kabir is an internationally known human rights activist and a notable researcher of Bangladesh Genocide.  Who else can be the best scapegoat?  Both Dr. Mamoon and Shahriar Kabir were brutally tortured at the hand of Bangladesh law enforcement personnel who were already brainwashed by the BNP-Jamaat clique who are at the catbird seat in Dhaka since October 2001.

In a Voice of America interview broadcast on July 19, 2004 Dr. Muntassir Mamoon, Professor of History of Dhaka University said, “I have been threatened to be killed for, what they say, anti-Islamic activities.”  Dr. Mamoon said, “I have not been saying anything anti-Islamic, although I have always opposed to fundamentalism.”  Dr. Muntassir Mamoon said, “Unless relevant actions are taken against these terrorist outfits who have been threatening journalists and intellectuals and have already killed some journalists, the situation can take a serious turn and Islamic fundamentalists will gain ground in Bangladesh.” Professor Mamoon also said, “The good sign is this that people throughout the world have recognized that no good could be done to religion through fundamentalism and terrorism.”

The majority of the Bangladeshis were relieved to hear the good news of  the arrest of Bangla Bhai and Shaikh Abdur Rahman, two notorious godfathers of Islamic terrorism. But the story does not end there. The puppeteers of the Islamist killers can be traced in the ruling oligarchy and Jamat-I-Islami of Bangladesh. The notable politician and lawyer Dr. Kamal Hossain was in the U.S. capital recently. He spoke before a selected audience at a Washington think tank. Dr. Hossain vividly described the danger posed by Bangladesh Jamaat. He emphasized on convincing the U.S. policymakers not to depend on the Jamaatis in the Bangladesh’s political landscape. In his speech, Dr. Hossain exposed the opportunistic and tactical policy of the Islamist party.

Some time ago, in a Charlie Rose Show Dr. Rohan Gunaratna of the Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore said, “The future clash will not occur between civilizations, rather the clash will happen within a civilization and that will be the Islamic civilization.”  Dr. Gunaratna further said the clash within Islam would be between the moderates and the extremists.  He urged the United States to strengthen the hands of the moderates.  Not too long ago, the U.S. President George Bush while visiting Turkey spoke about the need for secularization of Muslim societies.  Against this backdrop, the Bangladesh situation is completely a hopeless case.  Strengthened by state patronization of the Islamists are heading towards a collision course against the marginalized secular and liberal creed of the society.  The possibility of a bloodbath in the near future cannot be ruled out completely.  Without knowing the dire consequence, the U.S. is now patronizing the BNP-Jamaat axis in Bangladesh as they have done so in the late seventies and early eighties in Afghanistan when they armed the Mujaheedins to their teeth.  The proverbial chicken came home to roost in Afghanistan in the 1990s.  There is no telling; the same may also happen in Bangladesh.  Therefore, Caveat Emptor! 

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Jamal Hasan writes from Washington DC.  He can be reached at poplu@hotmail.com. This article was first published in July, 2004.