Friday, August 06, 2010

Bangladesh / Bangladeshi Genocide

Bangladesh: Bringing a Forgotten Genocide to Justice
By Ishaan Tharoor, August 3, 2010
Photo: "Police arrest Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, center, chief of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, in Dhaka on June 29, 2010." (Lutfor Rahman/Reuters)
"Two years ago, TIME met Ali Ahsan Mojaheed at the headquarters of his far-right Islamist party, nestled amid a warren of religious bookshops and seminaries in Dhaka. He welcomed this reporter by peeling a clutch of ripe lychees. 'Our fruit is the sweetest,' said the secretary general of Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami, proffering a sticky hand. But the conversation soon soured. Asked about the traumatic legacy of Bangladesh's 1971 independence -- when the territory then known as East Pakistan split from West Pakistan in an orgy of bloodshed -- Mojaheed dismissed the need for a proper reckoning with the past. 'This is a dead issue,' he almost growled. 'It cannot be raised.' But this month it finally has. Far from the protective, lackey-patrolled confines of his offices, Mojaheed and three other prominent Jamaat leaders (including the party's leader Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami) are under arrest, appearing for the first time in a war-crimes court to face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and against peace -- the last of which has not been invoked since the trials at Nuremberg. They rank among the topmost figures implicated in the systematic murder of as many as 3 million people in 1971 as the Pakistani army and ethnic Bengali collaborators attempted to quash a Bengali-nationalist rebellion. Their prosecution presents a watershed moment for this beleaguered nation of 160 million.
A July 30 op-ed in the Daily Star, a leading Dhaka-based newspaper, says, 'the trials will allow us to close the door, once and for all ... so that we are not forever fighting the battles of the past.' That past -- Bangladesh's tangled history of violence and discord -- goes a long way to explain how one of the 20th century's worst massacres is now largely forgotten in the rest of the world. ... The U.S.'s Cold War alliance with Pakistan's military dictatorship and the opposition of influential Muslim states like Saudi Arabia to Pakistan's partitioning meant there was little international pressure for a proper inquiry into the atrocities of the war. Within Bangladesh, coups, assassinations and vendettas came to define the political landscape. Successive governments became peopled by those with pro-Pakistani or Islamist backgrounds and connections. Mojaheed's Jamaat even found itself in power for a spell within a coalition government. 'The primary issue for politicians was to survive,' says Ali Riaz, a Bangladesh scholar and professor of political science at Illinois State University. 'Thinking about the issue of murders and genocide became secondary.' [...]"

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