Thursday, 14 March 2013

The (Hacked Daily) Star

Again!? (see here and here)

Unidentified miscreants

From today's Daily Star - if all the mysterious unnamed Jamaatis mentioned below are counted (and added to the 50.000 from this), they outnumber the Shahbag crowd without any doubt:

Five cases were filed with Banshkhali Police Station since February 28 accusing 258 identified persons and 12,000 unidentified people in connection with Jamaat-Shibir violence in Banshkhali upazila of Chittagong.
Jamaat-Shibir activists went berserk in the upazila as International Crimes Tribunal on February 28 gave death penalty to Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee for war crimes.
Banshkhali police Sub-inspector Ratep Chandra Das filed a case against 211 identified and 12,000 unidentified people on charge of ransacking the police station on February 28.
Rapid Action Battalion on Sunday filed a case accusing 13 identified and 6,000 unidentified people in connection with attacking them.
Shrimat Ramananda Puri Maharaj of Adaitananda Ashram filed a case against 4,000 unnamed people for vandalising the ashram.
Khokan Chandra Dhar, office assistant of Judicial Magistrate Court, filed a case accusing 17 identified and 4,000 unidentified people for torching the court house.
Abul Kashem, general record officer of Senior Assistant Judge Court, filed a case against 17 named and 4,000 unnamed persons for setting the court ablaze.

And you thought that America has a suing culture. Plus it's not only Jamaat:

Thirty eight BNP leaders, including its acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and standing committee member Moudud Ahmed, were sued yesterday for violence in the capital on Saturday.
Some 1,200 unnamed activists of the main opposition were also accused in the five cases filed.
A case was filed yesterday against 40 named and around 100 unnamed activists of the youth and volunteer wings of main opposition BNP in connection with Thursday's vandalism in a Bogra court.


Earlier in the day, police sued over 190 leaders and activists of the alliance on charges of attacking law enforcers and blasting bombs during a rally in front of BNP’s central office at Nayapaltan.
Two cases were filed with the Paltan Police Station mentioning 153 names, Nasima Akhter, additional deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Media Centre, told The Daily Star.
The cases also sued at least 40 unnamed people, the ADC added.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

More media bias and politicisation of Shahbag

Time for our daily helping of bias from the Daily Star:

Police excesses at BNP’s central office

Law-enforcers on Monday stormed into BNP’s central office at Nayapaltan and arrested some 200 leaders from there.  In their two- and-half hour raid, the police also reportedly confiscated papers and party documents.
But amid this worrisome development,  a bit of relief is that the next day (Tuesday), three of the arrested senior opposition leaders including the party’s acting secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir were released.

On Monday, the police acted with vengeance and in an extremely highhanded manner. What is of utmost concern is what led them to barge into the central office of a major political party, break down doors and manhandle senior opposition leaders. It was outrageous, unprecedented and uncalled-for. We condemn their action in the strongest possible terms.

I don't remember the Daily Star being too bothered with the actions of the police just a few weeks ago which Odhikar termed a "killing spree"  - did I miss something?

As for Shahbag, here's the events over the last few days. First this:

Shahbagh protesters at a large rally at Uttara in the city rally on Sunday said that no threats could stop them from holding their scheduled rally in Chittagong on March 13.

Then Hefajat-e-Islaam (what a name) - reaffirmed their rally for Wednesday, which the government apparently tried to avert in order to make sure the local branch of Shahbag is opened without any annoyances:

In order of Government high officials,Chittagong District Commissioner and High officials of Low-enforces urged Hifazat-e-islam Amir , President of Qawmi Madrasah education Broad Shah Ahmed Shofi to withdraw Wednesday Chittagong Hartal .But Shah Ahmed Shofi instantly rejected the proposal to withdraw Wednesday hartal.

He informed the government officials that, Chittagong is the holy land of Oli-Auliya and Pir Masayekh , and they will resist  atheist anti-Islamic Shahbaghi to come on  that holy land.

He also added , On 13th March they will enforce a strict hartal and thousands of Touhudi Janata will be on the  street. He added they will do their best to resist Atheist Shahbaghi to come on this holly land .

Elsewhere, Hefajat denied any connection with Jamaat: “We do not have any link with Jamaat-e-Islami or are engaged in any activity to implement agenda of any political party,” Hefajat leaders claimed.

Their other demands include closure of blogs where ‘atheist bloggers’ are defaming Allah, Hazrat Muhammad and Islam, stopping ‘conspiracy’ to remove High Court Justice Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan and withdrawal of the cases filed against Amar Desh acting editor editor Mahmudur Rahman.

The programmes also include long march toward parliament from all districts and grand rally at all divisional headquarters next month, special prayer for fall of atheists at all 4,50,000 mosques across the country, grand rally of Imams of the mosques and grand rally of 40,00,000 Olama Mashayekh.  

(if anyone can make any sense of these zeros and commas, I'd love to know)

Once it became clear to Imran H Sarkar and Co. which way the wind is blowing (and Hefajat-e-Islaam is certainly closer in their epistemology to being 'Taliban' than Jamaat, despite Shahbagi insistence that the latter are a terrorist organisation) the Shahbag-like rally in Chittagong was cancelled.

Note also the following from the Uttara rally referred to above:
Bangladesh Chhatra Union president SM Shubho, Chhatra Maitree president Bappaditya Basu, Bangladesh Chhatra League general secretary Siddiqui Nazmul Alam, JSD-backed Chhatra League general secretary Shamsul Islam, Samajtantrik Chhatra Front general secretary Mehedi Hasan, Biplabi Chhatra Maitree president Abdur Rauf, Chhatra Oikya Forum convener, Sohan Sobhan and Chhatra Federation office secretary Samia Rahman spoke at the rally.

Who can possibly believe this is a non-political movement?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Dissecting the mind of a Homo Shahbagicus

Another analysis of the Shahbag phenomenon appeared during the last few days, written by a sympathiser who is also a budding academic in the field of social work. The article belongs to the by now well-established genre of poetic glorifications of Shahbag written by Western educated deshis. It has a number of characteristic hallmarks of that genre, including the serious scholarly feel provided by the long list of references at the end of the article. Equally characteristically, it fails to mention any concerns with the trials, and explains the ongoing violence in Bangladesh as a mindless reaction to the Shahbag by the quasi-terrorist organisation that Jamaat-e-Islaami is. Here is what I posted in response to the article:

Thank you for that incredibly shallow and one-sided analysis of the current events in Bangladesh. It is useful insofar it provides us with insight into the mind of Homo Shahbagicus, and his (or her) uniquely banal approach to history, law and justice. Here are some points you may want to consider:

- the violence in Bangladesh caused by the trials at the ICT started much earlier than February this year. Large scale clashes took place in November, after it became evident even to the most obtuse observer that the court will not stop at anything to make sure the defendants are found guilty. That first wave of clashes between JI supporters and the police was triggered by the abduction of a defence witness in the Sayedee case. He was 'disappeared' by intelligence officers outside the ICT gates, and no investigation whatsoever was undertaken by the court or the police. The witness is missing to this day - quite probably dead. Then again, you don't care about the deaths of anyone except the 'Shahbag bloggers', do you? Not to mention the tens of JI activists (a number of whom were teenagers) murdered by the trigger happy Bangladeshi police. In the eyes of a Shahbag fan, Islamist lives are worth much less than those of enlightened secularists (who peacefully call for death penalties in trials which have not yet been completed), and the violence meted out by the police is but a necessary action to stop those faceless marauding Islamist barbarians.

- the violence started to get really bad when the Skypegate scandal occured in December 2012, revealing a collusion between the judges, government and prosecution. What did the court do? Nothing. The chairman of the tribunal quit for "personal reasons" and the trials went on. As a result, in the Sayedee case, "one of the three sentencing judges had heard only a fraction of the prosecution’s evidence, another had heard none of it and the third had heard no evidence whatsoever". But wait: evidence is not really relevant when it comes to 'rajakars', is it?

- As for your quote from Rao and Murshid: you are of course aware that (a) Mujib himself rehabilitated plenty of 'collaborators' and gave them posts in his government and administration, as is thoroughly documented in Mascarenhas' 'Legacy of Blood' and Lifschultz's 'Unfinished Revolution' and (b) Mujib did not only ban 'JI and other groups that collaborated with Pakistani forces' but
also eventually banned all political parties except his own, the Awami League. It's entertaining to see how Shahbag sympathisers, in typical Awami League fashion, blame Zia & co. for bringing about the culture of impunity for 'collaborators'.

- You say that JI threatened to carry out suicide attacks - any references for that claim, or did you get it from Prothom Alo(o) and the Daily Star, which in turn picked it up from a well informed Shahbag blogger?

- Don't you think it's worth mentioning that the current leader of the Shahbag movement is an Awami Leaguer, Imran H Sarkar, and that another leading figure in the movement (Lucky Aktar) had been beaten by AL goons for not allowing AL politicians to grace the crowd with their words of wisdom?

This is the problem with Shahbag and its sympathisers: they are completely blind to the obvious fact that the ICT trials have been a miserable failure and that no closure or justice can possibly result from them. Instead of recognising this and channeling their anger towards the ones responsible for this failure (the Bangladeshi government), they blame Jamaat, which, as a consequence, is becoming more reactionary by the day.  

PS The interesting question that arises here is how it is possible for cultured and educated Bangladeshis to be so oblivious to the failings of the court, and the politicisation of the entire process. Is this a conscious denial of reality, a sort of moral compromise necessary in order to avoid facing the possibility - by now a certainty - that there will never be any real closure for the tragedy of 1971?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Selective compassion of the Bangladeshi press and Shahbag sympathisers

Notice the pattern: if a relative of a prosecution witness in the Ghulam Azam case is killed, the "liberal secularist" press will interview his family, uncles, aunties, neighbours; they'll even talk to cats or dogs that they think may have witnessed the murder. And they will happily blame it all on Jamaat without bothering to investigate any other potential motives for the murder.

This, for the Daily Star, is the big news of today:

Law enforcers are clueless about the motive behind the murder of Ahmed Miraz, brother of a prosecution witness in war crimes trial, a day after Miraz was found dead near Kuril flyover in the capital. Victim’s elder brother Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul, who testified against alleged war criminal and ex-Jamaat chief Ghulam Azam, has expressed a deep sense of insecurity following his brother’s murder. A freedom fighter and noted musician, he has sought security from the state for him and his family. “I feel insecure and so do my wife and son,” he said while talking to The Daily Star at his Moghbazar house yesterday. He pointed fingers at the defeated forces of 1971 for the murder of his brother.

The story also mentions the 'mysterious death' of a prosecution witness in the Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (SQC) case; the Daily Star reported the story in detail a few weeks back:

Junu's family members said he had been threatened with dire consequences many times if he testified against the BNP leader. They alleged Junu had been murdered for giving testimony against Salauddin. Junu's daughter Shamima said there were injury marks in her father's chin.
However, Abdul Latif, officer-in-charge of Khulshi Police Station, told The Daily Star that they were chasing leads to the death.
“We will take steps after receiving the post-mortem report.”

Interestingly, the New Age (which is taking a more non-partisan line towards the ICT than the Daily Star)  reported that the witness died of a heart attack. What really happened? It's difficult to know amid these contradicting reports. What is interesting here is the blatant bias of the Daily Star: when the defence witness in Sayedee's case, Shukho Ranjan Bali, was alleged to have been abducted by intelligence personnel outside the ICT, the Daily Star didn't bother investigating the allegations. Instead, they ran a few stories with carefully chosen titles such as 'It's Jamaat's drama', which parrots the prosecution's version of events i.e. that they are a fabrication by the defence.

It was David Bergman who, to his great credit, took the allegations seriously, and conducted an interview with Bali's wife, where she not only corroborated the abduction story but also said that the prosecution wanted Bali to give false testimony at the trial.

The paper Bergman works for, the New Age, also carried a story on concerns from the HRW regarding Bali's disappearance. I quote here an excerpt from the HRW report:

Justice Nizamul Huq, then the chairman of the trial chamber sitting on the case, told Human Rights Watch that he had asked the prosecution at the ICT to verify all allegations of irregularities, including the disappearance, even though the prosecution is an interested party in the trials. He acknowledged that this was not the normal practice in Bangladesh and provided no legal or practical reason for this decision.

Although he vociferously denied any bias against the defense, Justice Huq had a member of the prosecution team and the deputy registrar in his chambers during the entire interview with Human Rights Watch, as he had in previous meetings. Justice Huq has since resigned as chairman of the ICT following publication by The Economist of intercepted email and phone conversations showing that there was prohibited contact between Huq, the prosecution, government officials, and an external adviser.

Human Rights Watch noted that Bali’s disappearance followed prosecution claims that they were unable to produce certain prosecution witnesses, including Bali. As a result, the prosecution applied for and was granted a motion allowing them to put into evidence written testimony without either direct or cross-examination. A defense challenge to this motion, which included evidence from government safe-house logbooks showing that witnesses were available to testify, was rejected by the court without a serious investigation.

How can anyone in their right mind think these trials are anything but a joke after reading this?

Amusingly, many Shahbag sympathisers are foaming over the murder of Ahmed Miraz, with some accusing Bergman of being biased because he does not seem to be conducting any investigations this time round. Have any of them stopped to think that the police are clearly actively investigating the murder (as they are investigating in the case of the SQC witness), while they dismissed the allegation of Bali's disapperance as (yet another) fabrication by Jamaat? Then again: these people don't seem to be too bothered by abductions, lies and fabrications - as long as they're directed against Jamaat.

Also note that major riots of JI and clashes with the police happened in the wake of Bali's disappearance and the refusal of the court to do anything about it, in November. It's important to keep this in mind in order to understand the underlying causes of the violence we're now witnessing.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

National Commission for Repression of Human Rights

If any political party tries to damage public properties resorting to militancy, it can be banned with an executive order, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief said on Saturday.

“This type of parties had not been banned earlier. But if any party continues such destructive activities, it can be banned constitutionally,” Mizanur Rahman said after visiting victims of recent vandalism and arson by Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir men in Banshkhali upazila.

You may wonder: what on earth does the chief of a human rights organisation have to do with commenting on issues of a political nature? Well, it's all rather easily explained once you realise that this man, Mizanur Rahman, happens to be one of the most unprincipled, spineless, immoral and politically compromised clowns to have walked on the face of the planet. He was appointed as head of the NHRC in 2010, when he said that

...his office will work with a view to making people aware about human rights and establishing the rule of law to ensure people's welfare like the human rights commissions of other countries.
The government will have to tolerate criticism if any of its offices violates human rights of the people, he added.

Here's his record since  then:

- in December 2011, he said that the ICT 'fulfils all international standards'

- at around the same time, he comes up with this:

Jamaat-e-Islami, he pointed out, had appointed.
lobbyists in the US, the UK and the European Union to lengthen the process of the trial, and had been spewing propaganda against the tribunal in the international media.
The NHRC chairman said there were political motives behind the opposition to the trial.
"The High Court has also heard appeals regarding the law that deals with the creation of the tribunal. Which country in the world has given more privileges to perpetrators of crimes against humanity?" he asked. 

(making it quite clear there that he already considers the defendants guilty)

- in January 2012:

Anyone who is questioning the International Crimes Tribunal is questioning the national judicial system and therefore, the very sovereignty of the country, said Prof Mizanur Rahman, chairman of National Human Rights Commission.
"The government answered these questions many a time and gave assurances that the war crimes trial will be of international standard," he said.
"If it were me, I wouldn't even bother answering such questions", the NHRC Chairman said while addressing a roundtable discussion at CIRDAP Auditorium in the city yesterday. 

- July 2012, on HRW criticising RAB:

 A foreign organisation like Human Rights Watch cannot recommend disbanding the Rapid Action Battalion, Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Mizanur Rahman said yesterday.
"It solely depends on Bangladesh. The government will decide which force will be in action and which will not," he told a view-exchange meeting at the court premises in Narayanganj city's Chandmari area.

 - January 2013, after Azad is sentenced to death in absentia - having been defended by an Awami League sympathiser who presented no witnesses or documents in defence of his client:

“We were eagerly waiting for this verdict. I am happy over the death sentence being given for crimes against humanity ... but at the same time, the verdict also leaves me a bit unhappy,” Rahman said.

He was happy as this verdict had started the culture of accountability, and he was somewhat frustrated since Bachchu Razakar was still out of law’s reach, the NHRC chief explained.

He also emphasised on implementation of the verdict fast. “Now I only wish that he [Bachchu Razakar] is nabbed anyhow and the verdict is executed. Trial of all those who committed crimes against humanity must be finished quickly.

Mizanur Rahman may well be the first human rights activist ever to have called for the swift execution of a death penalty.

- Feburary 2013, after the parliament passed retroactive legislation enabling the prosecution to demand a harsher penalty for Mollah - a move described by HRW as a mockery of justice:

"In war crimes trial process, prosecution didn't have the scope like the defence (for appeal against verdict on any war crimes case). Now, the prosecution has been empowered with equal scope and the trial has been promoted to the International standard through the amendment to the act," the NHRC Chairman said while addressing the same programme.

How this guy became a professor of law at Dhaka University is beyond me. Then again, in Bangladesh, everything seems possible.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Injustice meted out left, right and centre

To take a break from the ICT and surrounding chaos, let us remember that there are other trials taking place in Bangladesh which may even more rightly be termed 'show trials'; namely, the BDR mutiny trials. This is what HRW had to say on these in October 2012:

“Each accused has the right to a fair trial, meaning there must be specific evidence against him, a lawyer with sufficient time and access to represent him, and an impartial court. None of these basic principles have been met.” said Adams. “It is likely that many of those convicted had nothing to do with the mutiny, causing them and their families massive and unnecessary hardship.”

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous concerns about these trials. In July 2012 Human Rights Watch released a report, “‘The Fear Never Leaves Me’: Torture, Custodial Deaths, and Unfair Trials After the 2009 Mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles,”which provided a detailed account of the mutiny and the response of the authorities. It documented serious abuses by the authorities in the aftermath, including at least 47 custodial deaths and widespread torture of BDR members by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and other security forces. The government has claimed that all deaths in custody were due to natural causes.

The government explained that a few of the men in custody had unfortunately committed suicide by beating themselves up and subsequently shooting themselves twice - in the head.

A similar report prompted that indefatigable bideshi champion of fair trials in Bangladesh, David Bergman to write an article challenging the Bangladeshi government to answer 25 tough questions on the trials. Now, despite my respect for Bergman and the extremely useful service he's done to everyone via his website on the war crimes trials, he often manages to annoy me greatly by trying to sound unnecessarily impartial when there is no need to do so. Consider his article mentioned above:
Custodial deaths, torture and unfair trial?

(you don't need that question mark there)

HAS any member of the Awami League government actually read the recent Human Rights Watch report alleging custodial deaths, torture and unfair trials following the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny?

(yes they have - and they swiftly binned it and got back to corruption, torture and other pastimes)

Human Rights Watch is generally respected for the quality of its research, but even it can make mistakes — and it is always difficult to investigate and corroborate allegations of custodial torture. There is, therefore, nothing wrong with a government contesting allegations made by the organisation — but for any criticisms to have credibility they must actually engage with the substance of the report’s findings.

Aaaagh! Why does he have to go to such lengths explaining that there is a theoretical possibility that  HRW got it wrong and that the government may have a valid excuse? Then again, Bergman here managed to refer to Bangladesh as a 'thriving democracy'; perhaps he may be somewhat restrained in his criticism of Hasina's regime because of family history.

The Daily Star hacked - again

This is what kept coming up yesterday on the Daily Star website:

I must say I find this rather amusing, and fully concur with applying the term 'yellow journalism' to the Daily Star when it comes to any issues related to the ICT, war crimes trials or JI. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Razakar-free country, or: nationalism on steroids

Consider the wording used in this Daily Star article:

On the day in 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced to the thunderous roars of hundreds of thousands: “The struggle this time is for emancipation. The struggle this time is for independence.”
Forty-two years after that independence was won, the Shahbagh demonstrators on the same ground declared the struggle this time was to rid the country of Razakar and Jamaat-Shibir.

This call sounds quite ominous to my ears - how exactly are you going to 'rid the country' of Jamaat-Shibir? And who is going to define the meaning of 'Razakar'? The mob at Shahbag? Notice also the huge portrait of Sheikh Mujib in the photo accompanying the article. One cannot help being amazed by the extent to which the personality of Mujib is revered by Bangladeshi nationalists. The picture of Mujib, the Father of the Nation, is everywhere, and respect ought to be paid to it, as was dutifully done by the President of India during his recent visit. Perhaps the most bizarre manifestation of the Mujib cult is the custom of cutting birthday cakes to mark that blessed day of his coming to this world.

Now, the cult of the portrait tended to develop around most dictators in recent history; a particularly striking example is Saparmurat Niyazov, the late dictator of Turkmenistan. As is well known, Sheikh Mujib, shortly before his assassination in 1975, banned all political parties except his own, and gave himself dictatorial powers - all under the pretext of facing a very difficult situation in the country. That difficult situation, however, was largely of Mujib's own making. An editorial in the Times from December 1974 warned that

the government must now not only put an end to the violence it attributes to its opponents and to hooligans, but it must also restrain the brutality and indiscipline of its own paramilitary forces. No political factions can escape blame. Millions of pounds are needed to keep people alive and will not be forthcoming because aid givers lost heart. Governmental administrative corruption goes from top to bottom.

Soon after, Mujib shut down all opposition newspapers, in order to make sure the people of Bangladesh hear only news which the government wants them to hear. Within a few months, Mujib was ruthlessly assassinated together with most of his family (including a number of children) by men who a few years earlier fought for the independence of Bangladesh.

In this manner, even a cursory reading of Mujib's political career - especially its final years - reveals what a flawed character he was. How, then, is it possible that a man who presided over one of the most corrupt regimes in recent memory, and under whose rule up to 1.5 million people died due to a famine caused by corruption and mismanagement, is still revered by so many? The answer to this question is the key to understanding the Shahbag phenomenon.

Peace Committees and Razakars

Your humble correspondent jokingly suggested the other day that Sheikh Hasina should simply dispense with the police and replace them with ruling party men instead. Well, today, that's one step closer to becoming a reality:

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has directed the cabinet secretary to officially start forming terrorism resistance committee in each district, upazila and union in consultation with the deputy commissioners to counter BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami’s anarchy.

Hasina, who heads the governing Awami League, also asked the leaders and workers of the party to assist the committees by providing names and addresses of the BNP and Jamaat men who are resorting to killings, arson, and vandalism.

Let me translate that for you: our Great Leader announced the formation of Peace Committees which will be assisted in eliminating the miscreants from BNP and Jamaat-e-Islaami by volunteers (aka razakars) recruited from the leading party.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

BREAKING NEWS: War Criminal Arrested

Shafique Ahmed, the law minister in the Bangladeshi government, just announced the arrest of a war criminal. His photograph, soon to be circulated in the press, is shown below. Ahmed stated that the criminal was known to have been assisting the Pakistani army with presents, and that his bushy beard is incontrovertible evidence of his affiliation to Al Badr and Jamaat-e-Islaami.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Indian involvement in the 1971 war

I collect here some material on the contentious issue of India's involvement in the 1971 war. One purpose of this is to shed some light on the numerous strongly worded statements of Pakistani military and civilian figures regarding India and its support for the secession of what was then East Pakistan. Were those statements completely disconnected from reality and merely based on historical suspicions existing ever since the partition? The other purpose is to provide some counterweight to the narrative in which India played no role in the events of 1971 until their "humanitarian intervention" at the end of the year.

There are three distinct elements to consider here:

  • the start of open all-out war
  • cross-border operations by Indian forces in support of  the Mukti Bahini
  • material support and training provided to the Mukti Bahini by India

The Pakistani perception of a probable Indian involvement in the political developments of early 1971 is yet another interesting element which I plan to come back to in a future post.

First, on the start of open war, from Sarmila Bose's "Dead Reckoning":

The date of the start of full-fledged war between India and Pakistan in 1971 is a contested issue. The date popularly given out is 3 December, the one announced by India, but this is merely the date the war spread to include the Western sector. In a sense India's involvement in the war may be taken to be from March, and its involvement in the politics of the province perhaps from even earlier. Numerous Bangladeshi pro-liberation ac­counts blithely recount close contact and coordination with Indian authori­ties prior to the military action taken by the Pakistani regime, as well as In­dian involvement and casualties in 'actions' in East Pakistan throughout the year. Many of the Pakistani officers I spoke to described Indian penetration of the territory as pervasive. 'The big operations are always done by the Indians', reported The Guardian on 18 September 1971, after an ethnic Bengali, who blended in with the local population and needed no translation, visited the training camps of the Mukti Bahini in India and crossed into East Pakistan with a guide on his own. Of the couple of hundred Bengali 'volunteers' who were said to be in the border area he visited, only six had been given any train­ing at all and only three had taken part in any operation. 

The start-date of the open all-out war in East Pakistan turns out not to have been 3 December after all. General Niazi, the Eastern Commander of the Paki­stan army, was irritated enough by claims of a 'lightning campaign' by India to devote a separate section in his book to the subject, entitled 'The Date of the War': 'On the night of 20/21 November 1971, the Indian Army attacked East Pakistan from all directions'. General Niazi is of course an interested party in this debate, but his assertion is supported by the work of the American scholars Sisson and Rose. They conclude that India decided in favour of even­tual direct military intervention as early as April 1971, and then devised a phased strategy. "The American government was correct in its assessment that India had already decided to launch a military operation in East Pakistan when Mrs. Gandhi came to Washington in early November pretending that she was still seeking a peaceful solution'. 

Roughly speaking then, all-out war can be said to have started at the end of November, while large scale cross-border Indian operations took place as early as September. What about training and material support? We saw above that Sisson & Rose conclude that the Indian administration decided on military intervention as early as April 1971. Here is what they have to say about India's support for the Mukti Bahini:

By late July the decision-making group around Mrs. Gandhi had achieved a broad consensus on the issue of Bangladesh, laying the foundations for the domestic and foreign policy of the government thereafter. One of the more immediate consequences was the perceived need to establish more direct supervision of the Bangladesh government in exile and the Mukti Bahini and other Bangladeshi "liberation forces." The Indian army had assumed primary responsibility for the arming and training of the Mukti Bahini forces from the Border Security Force on 30 April. Even occasional participation by Indian military personnel in raids across the border was now permitted. An effort was also made to bring the different autonomous resistance groups under Mukti Bahini (that is, Indian) supervision and direction, but with only limited success.


The first effort to create an organized armed force from among these groups was made on 14 April by the Bangladesh government in exile when it appointed Col. M. A. G. Osmani, a military adviser to Mujib and a retired Pakistani army officer, as commander in chief of the Bangladeshi armed forces. Osmani had entered the army prior to independence and had been instrumental in raising and forging the East Bengal Rifles. He was a well-trained senior officer who had had high-level staff, but limited command, experience, and was reported to have felt that his career had been thwarted in the Pakistani army. He had not achieved the rank held by the Indian officers with whom he had to deal. Osmani was instrumental in creating a series of training camps along the Indo-Pakistani border in late April and May, first as centers to receive and temporarily house recruits and armed personnel coming from East Pakistan, but subsequently to impart training in small-unit tactics and in the use of firearms and explosives. Initial training was given by East Pakistani personnel in collaboration with personnel from India's Border Security Force (BSF) established after the 1965 war for policing functions, like the East Pakistan Rifles on the Pakistani side. The BSF was under police command, but included many retired Indian army personnel in its ranks. As the ranks of the Mukti Bahini recruits swelled, however, the Indian army assumed training and organizing functions. By the time serious hostilities commenced in November, Pakistani intelligence reported fifty-nine training camps in operation around the perimeter of East Pakistan. By the end of May a command structure had been created that incorporated a substantial proportion of the Bengali freedom fighters into company units, ultimately organized into three brigades responsible for guerrilla operations, with East Pakistan divided into various sectors, each under the charge of Bengali officers.

According to Pakistani intelligence, the Indian army started a more concerted effort to train Mukti Bahini personnel in June. Three hundred recruits were reportedly sent to Cochin for training as underwater saboteurs, and another three hundred, almost all university students, were trained at Plassy on the Bhagirathi River in West Bengal as frogmen. Student trainees were sorted in terms of their education. Science graduates were given two months' technical training; undergraduates were trained in small arms, mortars, recoilless rifles, rocket launchers, map reading, and commando tactics; non-matrics were trained as saboteurs in the use of explosives, mines, and grenades. Others were trained at artillery-and signal-training centers in Lucknow and Dehra Dun or selected for short courses in officer training in Dehra Dun. By the end of June some thirty thousand Mukti Bahini recruits had been trained, although in a rather slipshod manner; by November seventy thousand were under arms, with another thirty thousand reportedly undergoing training. According to both Pakistani and Indian sources, the weapons made available to the Mukti Bahini by India were limited and largely obsolete. Modern weapons became available when the Mukti Bahini could purchase them on the international and West Bengali arms markets. Indian political and military leaders considered it prudent to provide some training and weapons to guerrilla activities in East Pakistan; otherwise, the Mukti Bahini would have had to become directly involved in West Bengal in their search for arms, something that New Delhi preferred to discourage. They had to be kept involved in East Pakistan regardless of their military effectiveness.


Having concluded that India would eventually have to resort to the direct use of force against Pakistan, New Delhi set about devising a strategy that would achieve its objectives on the most cost-effective terms. A decision had been made as early as April to give some assistance to the Bangladeshi resistance forces as a form of pressure upon the Pakistani government to make basic concessions, but by midsummer it was clear that this would not be sufficient. The newly organized Mukti Bahini had not been able to prevent the Pakistani army from regaining control over all the major urban centers on the East Pakistani-Indian border and even establishing a tenuous authority in most of the rural areas. The next phase in Indian tactics, from July to mid October, involved both much more intensive training of the Mukti Bahini and direct involvement in Mukti Bahini activities by Indian military personnel. This enabled the Mukti Bahini to launch major organizational and sabotage campaigns in East Pakistan at the height of the monsoon season, at a time when the Pakistani army's maneuverability was reduced because of its dependence on vehicles and armored personnel carriers. The Mukti Bahini campaign, with some disguised Indian involvement, was directed, and with some success, at such strategic facilities as bridges, power stations, communication systems, and ships in Chittagong harbor. The destruction of bridges handicapped the Pakistani forces in this period, but it proved to be a major obstacle to the Indian invasion forces in December. Indian artillery stationed on the border was used on occasion to support Mukti Bahini activities in the immediate transborder areas, usually in response to Pakistani army shellings and incursions if the Indian reports are taken seriously.


The next phase in the preliminaries to open and direct intervention by Indian forces was the period from mid October to 20 November, in which both quantitative and qualitative changes occurred in Indian military support of the Mukti Bahini, particularly in several key strategic border areas. Indian artillery was used much more extensively in support of rebel operations in East Pakistan, and Indian military forces, including tanks and air power on a few occasions, were also used to back up the Mukti Bahini. Indian units were withdrawn to Indian territory once their objectives had been brought under the control of the Mukti Bahini, though at times this was only for short periods, as, to the irritation of the Indians, the Mukti Bahini forces rarely held their ground when the Pakistani army launched a counterattack. Nevertheless, quite substantial, if scattered, areas of East Pakistan had been brought under tenuous Mukti Bahini control by mid November, since the Pakistanis had to concentrate their limited forces on those sections of the border that were considered strategically critical.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Shahbag and women

Word is out on twitter that Shahbag is preparing a special programme for the International Women's Day, 8th of March. In other words, they will be demanding equality of the sexes and immediate hanging of all women war criminals and rajakars.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

This is what happens when you're critical of the ICT trials

Can someone please explain what a Sharia-Bolshevik is? Are there also Sharia-Mensheviks? David Bergman's article can be found here.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Daily Star and police brutality

Look how the Daily Star justifies the murder of a teenager:

Jamaat-Shibir men brought out a brisk procession at Rajarhat in Jaldhaka upazila in the afternoon and vandalised several shops.
Police and BGB personnel opened fire to disperse the unruly activists, leaving Atiqul Islam, 15, son of Anisur Rahman of Khutamara village, dead on the spot.

They don't mention what sort of bullets were used - presumably live rounds, as this seems to have become quite common over the past few days. Is that the appropriate response to "vandalising several shops"? The murder by the police of a 15-year old is deeply disturbing, no matter how one may feel about Jamaat's own contributions to the ongoing violence. But then: the Daily Star would justify everything and anything when it comes to supporting the ICT, war crimes trials and Shahbag.

Chakma Chief Tridev Roy and Bengali nationalism

I recently came across this article reviewing the life and career of Raja Tridev (or Tridiv) Roy, the Chakma leader who sided with the Pakistan regime during the 1971 war, written shortly after Roy's death in 2012. The writer, Syed Badrul Ahsan (a staunch supporter of Shahbag and what it stands for) reproaches Tridev Roy for not supporting the liberation struggle and failing to recognise the "genocide" that the Pakistani army carried out. In the words of Ahsan,

Throughout the terror-driven months of 1971, Tridiv Roy saw little reason to condemn the Pakistan army over the genocide it had launched against the Bengalis. He honestly believed that the Chakmas stood a better chance, where acquiring political rights were concerned, with Pakistan staying intact than with a soon-to-be Bangladesh. In late 1971, as General Yahya Khan went ahead (and he did not see the writing on the wall) with drafting a constitution for a Pakistan that was rapidly coming to an end in its eastern province, he reassured Tridiv Roy about a grant of autonomy to the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. The Chakma chief believed him and probably supposed that that indeed was what would happen. Surprisingly, he did not foresee Pakistan's impending doom. 

...once the Pakistan army took recourse to genocide, it became the moral responsibility of every inhabitant of Bangladesh to resist Pakistan. Tridiv Roy did not resist.

This reflects a general trend of Bangladeshi nationalist narratives of 1971; anyone who was sympathetic to the idea of attempting to maintain a unified Pakistan is seen as a quisling and morally defective, even if there may have been legitimate political motives and justifications for such a position. In the case of Tridev Roy, the motive seems to have been the expectation of greater autonomy for the tribal people of East Pakistan, as well as a mistrust of Awami League's Bengali nationalist agenda. In addition, Roy accuses the Bengali nationalists of committing atrocities against his people; the accusations are dismissed by Ahsan as 'mere hearsay' - rather ironic, given that hearsay is acceptable as evidence against alleged war criminals in the International Crimes Tribunal:

In the case of Tridiv Roy, as his memoirs make it clear, there did not appear to be a genocide at all. He says little or nothing about the conspiracy by the generals and the West Pakistani political establishment to undermine the majority party elected in December 1970. But he does go into a narration of what he calls the rampant killing of Chakmas by the Mukti Bahini in the first few days of the armed conflict. It is all based on hearsay. At a time when Bengalis all over the land were scrambling for shelter in the face of an advancing marauding army, they would have had no time to kill. Tridiv Roy disappoints on this score.

In this manner, the legitimacy of Tridiv Roy's political position is undermined - the Bengali nationalists could not have possibly massacred his people, and there is therefore no way of viewing the nationalists as morally equivalent (if not on the same scale) to the murderous West Pakistani military. Hence, it was an obligation on Tridiv Roy to support the liberation struggle, and his failure to do so is a despicable act of betrayal. One wonders whether Ahsan would make the same argument about Biharis, who had every political argument for supporting a unified Pakistan and who were massacred in large numbers by Bengali nationalists even before the Pakistani army started committing atrocities. Was it morally incumbent upon them too to support the Mukti Bahini?

As for Tridiv Roy, this is how he viewed the events of 1971 one year later:

The principle of autonomy was accepted in both wings of Pakistan after the electoral victory of the Awami League. The difference, however, arose over the quantum of autonomy demanded and its implications for the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan. This was a political and constitutional problem which could have been resolved through political accomodation and agreement. The generals failed to grasp this essential fact and instead attempted to impose a military solution. But, even a basic military analysis of the situtation should have shown the untenability of the action that was taken in East Pakistan. The province was geographically surrounded by a historically hostile and more powerful neighbour, and the crisis was too good an opporunity for it to overlook. 

(speech at meeting organised at the Pakistan Council of Asia Society, New York, 1972)

Thus Tridiv Roy blames the military regime of Yahya Khan for the failure of 1971. The generals understood no language other than force - and Tridev Roy would presumably concede that large scale atrocities were committed by the Pakistani army during the war (although he does not in this particular speech) - but the question is whether that is reason enough to have stopped supporting the idea of a unified Pakistan under civilian rule. From a Bengali nationalist point of view, the answer - especially in hindsight - is a resounding yes. From the point of view of a Chakma, the issue is a lot more complex - here are a people who would most gladly have been autonomous or independent from both Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh, but since they could not realistically achieve that aim, they had to resort to playing political games with regimes of both countries and siding with whoever they expected would best support their own interests. In the case of the Biharis (who had absolutely no reason to support Bengali nationalism) and Jamaat-e-Islaami (whose ideological principles were averse to the idea of a dismembered Pakistan), the support of a unified Pakistan was a natural political decision.

In many ways, the mistrust of Tridev Roy towards Bengali nationalism was justified. The history of the Chakma people under consecutive post-independence governments is that of repression and exploitation - a topic that deserves a separate future post. The irony of this is inescapable, given the long history of denial of rights to Bengalis of East Pakistan which ultimately led to their secession and establishment of Bangladesh. On the other hand, history is replete with many examples of multiple layers of colonialism existing in parallel. It is enough to think of the United Colonies of North America under British rule where Americans were struggling for "independence" while oppressing native Americans; or modern day Israel in which the Ashkenazi Jews stand at the top of the colonial power structure that discriminates against the Mizrahim, both of which in turn violate the rights of the "native" Palestinan below them.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Dumb statement of the day

This should become a regular feature of my blog; however, one would have to sift daily through large numbers of potential candidates which I have no time for at present, alas.

Yesterday, Khaleda Zia at the press conference said, "I am stunned. I am outraged. I am deeply hurt. I have no words to condemn and protest. Heinous genocide is taking place again in our country. People are being killed like birds. 

"The government has gone on a barbaric killing spree. Old people, children, adolescents and even chaste women are not being spared. It looks like foreign occupation forces are committing atrocities against the people of Bangladesh.

“It's beyond our imagination that a government can carry out genocide against its own people. We 
liberated our motherland in 1971 standing against such genocide. We cannot accept that any government for any reason would choose the path of genocide in that independent country." 

The words "genocide", "war criminal" and "razakar/rajakar" are used most liberally by Bangladeshi politicians (and public, unfortunately), to the extent that they have become completely meaningless. 

Come chill with the police - and leading party men

Look at the language of this Daily Star article:

"Alert to possible violence, a couple of thousand AL men also joined the prayers at Kataban Mosque, said Chhatra League General Secretary Siddiqui Nazmul Alam.
The atmosphere in and outside the mosque was completely different from other Fridays. There was calm all around with the heavy presence of law enforcers and AL men outside the mosque."

In fact, why don't we just dispense with the police altogether and make sure the lovely men from the AL provide peace and security for all of us? This reminded me of a HRW article on the violence from a few weeks ago:

Although the demonstrations were initially peaceful, violence has erupted in the last few days. Human Rights Watch was told by the spokesperson at Jamaat-e-Islaami that some members of its youth wing, Shibir, threw homemade bombs at the police, and that the police retaliated against these attacks. Photographs have emerged, taken by unknown people, which appear to show both police and protesters resorting to violence. In one photo at least, police in riot gear are pictured standing next to men in civilian clothes, who appear to be firing on protesters.

Also compare the Daily Star account above with the latest from HRW here:

The police in Dhaka and other places used live ammunition against protesters. Media reports suggest that most deaths were at the hands of police, but supporters of the ruling Awami League party have also engaged in vandalism and violence. The initial information received by Human Rights Watch suggests that the police were responding to attacks by Jamaat members and supporters that resulted in police and civilian deaths after the party called for protests against the verdict. The Jamaat party has denied that their members are responsible for any lethal violence, but media reports indicate that members of Jamaat’s Shibir group were responsible for several attacks, including against Hindu temples and houses.

Violence by Jamaat thugs is repulsive, but hardly any more so than the violence regularly meted out by the Bangladeshi police and Awami League thugs. Also worth noting from the latest HRW statement is this, on the ICT trials:
...the trials conducted thus far have been replete with irregularities. The defense has alleged intimidation and harassment of their witnesses, including the November 2012 abduction of a witness from the gates of the courthouse. In December 2012 The Economist published a series of intercepted communications between the senior judge and an external adviser, suggesting close and prohibited collaboration between the judge, prosecutors, and the government. The defense called for retrials in all the cases, but the ICT has refused to consider the matter.