Bangladesh’s victory in the Great War of Liberation in 1971 is pretty nearly approaching its golden anniversary, but still the sweet smell of success about it has not fully come down to us. This is precisely because of the lack of careful nurturing of our Liberation War ideals. To win a victory is tough, but to nourish it is tougher. It is getting far tougher for the obstruction of the anti-liberation and pseudo- liberation forces on one hand and the stoic indifference of the pro-liberation people on the other. The enemies of our Liberation War seem to be more active than its friends. They are working against the true liberation stream with all their might while the friends are basking in their past glory. Taking advantage of their prolonged hibernation, the independence enemies are at times gaining upper hands. They dare court controversy over the proven facts of our national history. Their hired eggheads sometimes hit the headline by putting a highly controversial gloss on the settled historical matters. If this highhandedness of the anti-independence elements and callous inertia of the pro-independence forces continue to exist, the true spirit of our Liberation War may diminish with time. To uphold the spirit is a thing to foster, not to wallow in.
The anti-liberation people and their hired hands try to establish that there was no war between Bangladesh and Pakistan, and hence there should be no question of the existence of war criminals in Bangladesh. They also try to ignore the role of the freedom fighters in the war to tactfully skirt around the role of all anti-liberation forces-the Razakar, Al-Badr, Al-Shams. Their arguments are, however, feeble, flimsy, lame, and ludicrous. Stuff and nonsense! There are a hundred and one ways to blow their claim out of the water.
Our Independence struggle covers the entire gamut of the mass uprising ranging from the Language Movement of 1952 to the Liberation War of 1971, and the Liberation War is a nine-month long armed combat between the Pakistani occupation army and the Bangladeshi freedom fighters. Our dearly bought independence is the immediate upshot of the Liberation War and the end result of the long-borne mass movement from language to liberty. And the fact that we have earned our independence by fighting a bloody battle is absolutely self-evident.
So, to ignore the Liberation War is to reject the glorious gallantry of our freedom fighters. It was a well-organized and corporate combat shared by peoples from all walks of life. The military and civil forces stood hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, and fought the sanguinary war against their national enemies. The war took place in two phases. The first phase was the war of resistance, which began just after the Operation Searchlight was unleashed on the deadly night of 25 March, 1971. The moment the marauding Pakistani army waged the crackdown on the sleeping people at dead of night, some of our armed forces started fighting back almost instantaneously. Charged by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with the responsibility of making ‘every house a fort’ and remaining prepared to fight the enemies with whatever they have (7 March Speech), the freedom-mad people of Bangladesh did not hesitate to jump into counter-attacks. This war of resistance continued until the Mujibnagar Government was sworn in on 17 April, 1971.
The second phase of our Liberation War started formally under the auspices of the Mujibnagar Government in an organized way. The whole country was divided into eleven sectors under the command of eleven highly efficient army officers. Apart from that, many civil commanders formed different guerrilla forces to fight the enemies. The valiant military and the civil freedom fighters of Bangladesh forged ahead so indomitably that the highly trained Pakistani armed forces were kept at bay. They had no choice but to surrender.
Although the war lasted only nine months, it took a heavy toll on human life and honour. It wreaked havoc on the entire country. As many as three million people were killed, and two hundred thousand women were raped and molested. Numberless houses, buildings, mills, factories, bridges, culverts, roads, highways, and railways were destroyed. If all these do not become a war, then what else is it?
The reactionary minds always look at the Liberation War matters from their own vantage point as successors to the defeated forces in the war. Sometimes they tend to consider it as a ‘civil war’ waged against the solidarity of Pakistan at the instigation of India. They regard Mujib as ‘India’s agent’ who agitated for breaking their ‘holy’ Pakistan. This was basically the view of the Pakistani rulers inculcated into their local lackeys of Jamaat-e-Islami who went one worse than their masters in the war, but to no avail. Victory was in favour of the mass people. The collaborators could not put up with their defeat nor could they stomach people’s victory in the war. So, they tried and are still trying to avenge upon the pro-liberation peoples and their ideals. They are still harping on the same old thing with the Goebbelian hope that someday people would believe them. They are, perhaps, ignorant of the fact that all people can be fooled for some time or some people for all time, but all people cannot be fooled for all the time.
India joined the Bangladesh Liberation War just a few days before the final victory. This has prompted the detractors’ fertile imagination to call it an Indo-Pak war. If this wild imagination is not kept in fetters, they will go on to spin more yarns about it. And you never can tell, one fine morning they would come up with another queer theory that the Liberation War was a ‘US-Soviet’ war, because in the same war, America sided with Pakistan and Soviet Russia with Bangladesh giving huge military support and diplomatic assurances. When America sent a nuclear-armed aircraft carrier of their Pacific Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to support Pakistan, Russia sent their Fleet to the Andaman (Indian Ocean) to support Bangladesh and India. But the war ended before any such assistance could be rendered. However, the ‘inventive’ anti-liberation minds can find ample chances of labelling the war a ‘US-Soviet’ War. If they can justify a claim like this, the list of the war criminals would be lengthened, and the continuation of the trial of the war criminals may be shelved for another four decades.
The slanderers also throw into question Pakistan’s surrender to the Indian military representative. This is also a flimsy logic. The Pakistani armed forces in Bangladesh surrendered to Lieutenant-General Jagjit Singh Arora as per military hierarchy. He was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian and Bangladeshi forces in the Eastern Theatre. This does not necessarily mean that it was a war between India and Pakistan. It is rather the norm of the war. In fact, India joined the war after Pakistan attacked eight air fields in northwest India, otherwise India might have not participated in the war. The guerrilla force called Muktibahini and the newly formed Bangladesh Army had already been fighting the Pakistani forces for about eight months prior to the arrival of the Indian army. So, there is no reason as to why it can be called an Indo-Pak war!
But, these squabbling and backbiting-episodes are no laughing matter. These sorts of things should not go unchallenged. This is a treasonable offence. Law should not be broken with impunity especially with regard to such sensitive national issues. The defamers are enjoying all the facilities the state can offer, but refusing to recognize its independence, its sovereignty, and even its glorious birth. They are really the limit! There should be no scope for evasion of their responsibility.
The people, who killed and who had been accessories before and after the fact, can be considered as war criminals by all implications of the term. They must be accused of aiding and abetting all heinous crimes against humanity, i.e. killing, rape, arson, plunder, abduction etc. They joined hands with Pakistan occupation force that wilfully launched an armed war of aggression against the peace-loving people and unarmed civilians. They caused untold sufferings, irrecoverable physical and economic harm to them, and wanton destruction to national wealth. They made the abducted intellectuals undergo cruel confinement and barbaric torture in the torture chambers, until they were killed which can be compared to the torture in Auschwitz concentration camp of the Third Reich during World War II. This is how they have successfully fulfilled all the criteria for being war criminals. Though much later, they have been brought to justice on the sovereign soil of independent Bangladesh. But it has come halfway to reaching the goal, for there are still many to be brought to justice. To stay half-done in regard to the war crime trial is as dangerous as treading on the tail of a venomous snake. However, there is every reason to believe that the whole legal procedure of the war crime trial would come to a halt if the state power is changed. There is a growing feeling of apprehension that criminals such as these may be allowed to get away scot-free if their political allies are in the ascendant. The trial of the rest of the war criminals would be a far cry from reality. The pro-liberation people should awake to this fact and keep holding kind of a candle-lit vigil to guard against the coming of anti-liberation forces into power—now and always.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a writer, columnist, fictionist and vice chancellor of Islamic University Bangladesh.