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To bring closure to liberation trauma, Bangladesh should try Pakistani military officers

Now, 46 years after Pakistan was defeated in war and 93,000 of its soldiers surrendered, it is important for the government of Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to reopen the case against those 195 military officers and also against Z.A. Bhutto, writes Syed Badrul Ahsan for South Asia Monitor

Dec 19, 2017
By Syed Badrul Ahsan
 
General Tikka Khan returned to Rawalpindi from Dhaka in September 1971 and took over as corps commander. In 1972, he was appointed Pakistan army chief and subsequently served as Governor of Punjab during Benazir Bhutto’s administration. He was Secretary General of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
 
Lt. Gen. Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, following his repatriation to Pakistan after three years as a prisoner of war (PoW) in India, saw the Bhutto government deprive him of pension rights and demote him, because he surrendered to the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Command in Dhaka in December 1971. He later joined a religious party.
 
Major General Rao Farman Ali Khan was taken to India as a PoW in December 1971 and repatriated with other soldiers to Pakistan in 1974. He served as a minister in the martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq and was able to fully rehabilitate himself in public life.
 
 Lt. Gen. Khadim Hussain Raja was transferred to Rawalpindi from Dhaka in April 1971 and served in various positions until he retired.
 
Lt. Gen. SGMM Peerzada left Dhaka surreptitiously on March 25, 1971 and served in the army until a new government took over in Rawalpindi in December 1971.
 
General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, the last President of a united Pakistan, left Dhaka surreptitiously on March 25, 1971 after ordering the army to move against the Bengali population. He presided over the genocide of Bengalis and stayed in power till December 20, 1971.
 
General Abdul Hamid Khan served as Pakistani army chief in 1971 but was dismissed from service by the new government in late December 1971.
 
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Chairman of the PPP - which won the second largest number of seats in the elections to the Pakistan national assembly in December 1970 (behind the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which became the majority party in all of Pakistan) - would travel to New York in December 1971 to speak for Pakistan at the UN Security Council. He took over as President of Pakistan on December 20, 1971.
 
All these men are dead. They all have a common legacy. They all had major roles in the genocide unleashed in occupied Bangladesh on March 25, 1971, leading to the murder of 3 million Bengalis, the rape of between 2,00,000 and 4,00,000 Bengali women and the flight of 10 million Bengali refugees to India.
 
All these men went scot-free despite their acts and responsibilities for the disaster that overcame the people of Bangladesh. Not one of them was ever taken to task for his criminality in Bangladesh.
 
The government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman prepared legal grounds for the trial of 195 Pakistani military officers, but was eventually compelled to forego the trial under terms of the April 1974 tripartite agreement reached between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. A desperate Bhutto government, afraid that the trials, to be conducted in Dhaka, would lead to its fall in Rawalpindi, promised Rahman’s government that it would try the 195 officers in Pakistan. That promise was never kept.
 
Now, 46 years after Pakistan was defeated in war and 93,000 of its soldiers surrendered, it is important for the government of Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to reopen the case against those 195 military officers and also against Z.A. Bhutto for their roles in the cataclysm which cost Bangladesh so much in their 1971 Liberation War. The deceased war criminals can be proceeded against posthumously.
 
To reopen the cases, Bangladesh must first ask Pakistan to round up the living among those 195 officers and agree to hand them over to Dhaka for trial on charges of waging war against the people of Bangladesh and presiding over a systematic genocide of Bengalis.
 
Should Pakistan not agree to hand over the officers, Bangladesh should initiate proceedings against the 195 war criminals in absentia. All evidence, oral, written and visual, should be collected and collated. Genocide experts, scholars and lawyers from around the globe should be notified and invited to the trials that should get underway at the earliest.
 
The aim of this trial, on the pattern of the trials of war criminals in Nuremberg and Tokyo after the end of the Second World War, will be to portray an accurate picture of the planned, systematic genocide perpetrated in Bangladesh by Pakistan’s army in 1971. Pakistan must be compelled to offer a full, unambiguous and unconditional apology to the Bangladeshi people for the horrors inflicted on them by its army.
 
The trial should not be a symbolic one. It must be a real prosecution, to inform the world that these crimes have not gone unpunished and to let Pakistan know that until it acknowledges the murder and rape committed by its soldiers in Bangladesh, it will remain in denial of reality and cannot expect normal relations with Bangladesh now or in future.
 
For Bangladesh, if Dhaka has been able to try the local collaborators of the Pakistan military junta of 1971, it can publicly name and shame the 195 Pakistani military officers and their political patrons and let those born after 1971 know the full horror of those crimes.
 
(The author is a veteran Bangladeshi journalist. He can be contacted at ahsan.syedbadrul@gmail.com)

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