Space For Rent
Tuesday, November 24, 2015, Agrahayan 10, 1422 BS, Safar 11, 1437 Hijri

Preaching on human rights from Islamabad and Washington!
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Published :Tuesday, 24 November, 2015,  Time : 11:43 AM  View Count : 59
Interesting noises are being made in some countries about the war crimes trials. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, never a credible defender of popular rights in all the years since its creation in 1947, is disturbed about the war criminals being executed in Bangladesh for their murderous role in 1971. But, again, that is natural because these war criminals are those very people the Pakistan occupation army took into confidence in its programme of genocide in what they still thought was East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). We do not expect Pakistan's political classes ever to welcome the restoration of justice now going on in Bangladesh, for to do so would be an admission of guilt on their part about the systematic killings and rape and pillage their soldiers perpetrated in 1971. Pakistan cannot apologise, can it? It can only look for scapegoats to explain the tragedy of a war that left three million Bengalis dead, two lakh Bengali women raped, villages and towns destroyed.
We do not think Pakistan's collective psychological make-up will induce it into acknowledging the murderous programme it initiated and implemented in Bangladesh 44 years ago. But what does cause us outrage is the sheer audacity it has been demonstrating through trying to draw attention to the 'flawed trials' of the war criminals it still loves beyond measure. That is a bit rich coming from a country which gave short shrift to the rights of Bengalis who had elected the Awami League as the majority party in the Pakistan national assembly in 1970. Pakistan's foreign office, indeed the government it is part of, is deeply saddened by the executions of the war criminals and seeks to remind us of the spirit of the 1974 tripartite agreement reached by Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Islamabad speaks of the need to look to the future. Yet it takes umbrage when we in this free country seek to settle accounts with those who made genocide, mass rape and tragedy on a nation.
It is time for Bangladesh, its people and its government, to adopt a firm position where dealing with Bangladesh's internal matters are concerned. Our Foreign Office has summoned the Pakistani High Commissioner and has handed him a stiff protest note. It is a welcome and necessary move.
By the same measure, the government should make it clear to the men and women of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, indeed to the State Department and the US government as a whole, that they need to study a bit of history before rounding on Bangladesh over the 'very flawed' war crimes trials. Before they accuse the Bangladesh government of indulging in 'political retribution' through the trials, they must get their facts right. And those facts will easily emerge once these honourable people take the trouble of revisiting Bangladesh's War of Liberation, go through the archives. They speak of the human rights of the war criminals, but they are reluctant to recall the gross manner in which the human rights --- to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness --- of the men and women done to death by the war criminals and their Pakistan army patrons were dispensed with.
No, democratic space has not been shrinking in Bangladesh. The US House Committee clearly has a poor sense of the travails Bangladesh's people have been going through since the war criminals have been rehabilitated in the country. Yes, space is shrinking, but only for those who committed crimes against humanity back in 1971 and who 44 years on remain unrepentant about their crimes. And that concern about a 'growing climate of violence, fear and self-censorship'? Where were the State Department and the House Committee when the non-secular, bigoted political classes in Bangladesh tried in early 2014 to put the country to the torch? Citizens were killed in petrol bomb attacks; scores of others have been scalded for the rest of their lives. And yet no condemnation came from Washington of the terror perpetrated by political parties which clearly wished for a violent upheaval and an overthrow of constitutional government in Bangladesh. That was the time of fear, of violence. None of these ladies and gentlemen had any advice or warning for the purveyors of that violence and that fear. And self-censorship? Perhaps these people remain unaware of the vitality and dynamism with which the media in Bangladesh operate in the country? Or do they mean to convey the message that media freedom in Bangladesh is guaranteed only when the war criminals are treated as honourable men?
All said and done, there is the irony before us. Back in 1971, even as Pakistan perpetrated its genocide in Bangladesh, the US administration of President Richard Nixon looked away. Henry Kissinger's need for Yahya Khan's help in US's opening to China was more important than asking Pakistan to stop its genocide and mass rape in Bangladesh. Towards the end of the war, as Pakistan attacked India in a desperate move to divert the course of the Liberation War, the Seventh Fleet of the United States steamed into the Bay of Bengal in a show of intimidation. However, we as a nation gratefully remember the support of the American people and media to our Liberation War.
It is that old sense of unity between Islamabad and Washington which appears to be at work again. Neither country has studied the lessons of history. We as a nation will look for friends but not preaching that goes against the spirit of our Liberation War and sovereign status as a country.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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