The darkness of August 1975 lingers

Syed Badrul Ahsan
Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017
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We have been reassured by the functionaries of the government that the remaining, and absconding, assassins of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman will be brought back to the country. Obviously, if and when that happens, these killers will walk the gallows, for they have already been sentenced to death. No one will weep for them. Indeed, the very logical feeling in a Bengali is that these murderers and their patrons should have been put out of life a long time ago. That they walked free, strutted about arrogantly as if nothing and no one could touch them, remains a shame for the country.


It is here that the nation’s gratitude to Sheikh Hasina must be reasserted. Where no one — not General Zia, not General Ershad, not Khaleda Zia — was willing to have the rule of law and national dignity restored through bringing the assassins to justice, Sheikh Hasina forged ahead, not merely as the daughter of the Father of the Nation but also as Bangladesh’s leader, in making sure that these criminals paid the price for the darkness they caused to descend on the country on 15 August 1975. In the annals of this nation, Sheikh Hasina will be remembered as the leader who restored Bengali self-esteem through having Bangabandhu’s assassins as also the notorious collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army confront the wheels of justice.


We will now wait to see what measures the government takes in bringing back the absconding convicts in the Bangabandhu murder case. Diplomacy and public relations are of the essence here. With two of the convicts living out their remaining days in the safety of asylum in Canada and the United States, it will be for Bangladesh to send out the firm message to Ottawa and Washington that hypocrisy cannot be a yardstick of policy. The American and Canadian governments have long argued that the assassins they have been harbouring for years cannot be handed over to Bangladesh because Dhaka is yet to turn its back on capital punishment. That is perhaps a reasonable thought, from the point of view of men who swear by the Stars-and-Stripes and the Maple Leaf. But where did such moral scruples go missing when they decided to provide safe sanctuary to these murderers? These countries know that these men were part of the killing mission at 32 Dhanmondi and yet try to put wool over our eyes. That is a shame.


Our Foreign Office and our Home Ministry will need to reactivate themselves in stronger and more emphatic ways than they have done thus far. Maximum, relentless pressure needs to be brought to bear on policy makers in Washington and Ottawa on the assassins’ issue. They must be told firmly and without ambiguity that they cannot expect happy relations with Dhaka as long as they protect the murderers of Bangladesh’s founding father. A similar message must go out to Pakistan, where such assassins as Dalim and Rashid are either residents or frequent visitors. One wonders if the Bangladesh authorities have ever taken up the issue with Pakistan. Men like Chaudhry Nisar have already achieved notoriety through their interference in the war crimes trials in Dhaka. They now need to make amends and they can do that through cooperating fully and decisively with the Bangladesh government in locating, identifying and handing over those assassins of the Father of the Nation hiding out in Pakistan.


There are certain other steps the government is today called upon to take, all in the interest of national honour. It can officially inform those governments which during the Zia regime accepted many of the assassins as Bangladesh’s diplomats that Bengalis in retroactive manner protest such acceptance and expect expressions of regret from them. This note should be dispatched to Japan, Pakistan, Libya and China, where the murderers were safely ensconced as ‘diplomats’. Here at home, new measures toward unearthing the vast conspiracy which led to the tragedy of August 1975 will have to be initiated. The conspiracy to physically eliminate Bangabandhu commenced, in concrete form, in 1974 and was pursued till the day of his assassination. The question, therefore, relates naturally to those who were involved in the planning and execution of the conspiracy. Indeed, some good questions persist about the individuals who may have been or were behind the conspiracy and yet were not charged with murder when the case was initiated in 1996.


The roles of Khondokar Moshtaque, Taheruddin Thakur, Mahbubul Alam Chashi and ABS Safdar call for purposeful inquiry. The degree to which General Zia knew of the conspiracy and his reaction to the murders of 15 August, together with his decision to send the killers abroad as diplomats must be thoroughly investigated. Additionally, the issue of why not a single senior officer in the various armed and security services came forth to roll back the coup and instead unashamedly pledged loyalty to the usurpers hours after the carnage at 32 Dhanmondi needs to be researched and brought to public knowledge. Legal proceedings are also called for regarding the remarks General Ershad, in Delhi on a military course at the time of the coup, reportedly made to a Bangladesh mission official on why Bangabandhu’s portrait was yet on the wall, together with his role in the formation of the Freedom Party in the 1980s.


The story is not yet over. The mystery of the intrigue behind Bangabandhu’s assassination yet has a number of questions that have not been answered. It is time they were.

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