Archive for the ‘Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report’ Category

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.