COMMENTARY: Bangladesh must try Pakistan’s 195 military officers

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Syed Badrul Ahsan Syed Badrul Ahsan

General Tikka Khan went back to Rawalpindi from Dhaka in September 1971 and took charge as Corps Commander. In 1972, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Pakistan army by President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He subsequently served as Governor of Punjab during the administration of Benazir Bhutto and was also Secretary General of the Pakistan People’s Party.
Lt. Gen. Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, following his repatriation to Pakistan after nearly three years as a prisoner of war in India, saw the Bhutto government deprive him of his pension rights and demote him in rank, ostensibly for reasons of his having surrendered to the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Command in Dhaka in December 1971. He later joined a religious political party, became its leader but did not make much headway in his new career.
Major General Rao Farman Ali Khan was taken to India as a prisoner of war in December 1971 and would stay there until he was repatriated with his fellow soldiers to Pakistan three years later. In the martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq, he served as a minister and thus was able to rehabilitate himself in public life fully and conclusively.
Lt. Gen. Khadim Hussain Raja was transferred to Rawalpindi from Dhaka in early April 1971 and was to serve in various positions until he retired from the Pakistan army.
Lt. Gen. SGMM Peerzada left Dhaka surreptitiously on the evening of 25 March 1971 along with his chief and would serve in the army till late December 1971, until a new government took over in Rawalpindi.
General Abdul Hamid Khan served as Chief of General Staff of Pakistan’s army in 1971 and obviously hoped to rise to being chief of the army and Pakistan’s future leader. He was dismissed from service by the new government which took over in Rawalpindi in late December 1971.
7BC5AD0D-A425-40D3-9C85-BB101FDB4019General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, the last President of a united Pakistan, departed from Dhaka stealthily on 25 March 1971 after ordering the army to move against the Bengali population. He would preside over the genocide of Bengalis and stay in power till 20 December 1971.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party — which won the second largest number of seats in the elections to the Pakistan national assembly in December 1970, the Awami League led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman becoming the majority party in all of Pakistan — would travel to New York in early December 1971 to speak for Pakistan at the UN Security Council in his capacity as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. He took over as President of Pakistan on 20 December 1971 and on the adoption of a constitution for Pakistan in August 1973 took charge as Prime Minister.
All of these men are dead. All of them have a legacy in common. All of them had major roles to play in the genocide that was unleashed in occupied Bangladesh on 25 March 1971, leading to the murder of 3,000,000 Bengalis, the rape of anywhere between 2,00,000 and 4,00,000 Bengali women and the flight of 10,000,000 Bengali refugees to India. All of them went scot-free over their acts and responsibilities over the disaster that came over the people of Bangladesh. Not a single one of these men was ever taken to task for his criminality in Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, having prepared the legal grounds for a trial of 195 Pakistani military officers, was eventually compelled to free them under the terms of the April 1974 tripartite agreement reached by Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. A desperate Bhutto government, afraid that the trials, obviously programmed to be conducted in Dhaka, would lead to its fall in Rawalpindi, promised Bangabandhu’s government that it would on its own try the 195 officers in Pakistan. The promise was never kept.
Forty six years after the battlefield defeat of Pakistan through the surrender of 93,000 of its soldiers in Bangladesh, it becomes important for the government of Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to reopen the case against the 195 military officers as also against Z.A. Bhutto over their roles in the cataclysm which was to cost Bangladesh so much in the course of the War of Liberation in 1971. Those war criminals who have already died can also be proceeded against posthumously.
This reopening of the case will necessarily involve two steps.
The first will be to inform the government of Pakistan that it must round up those among the 195 officers who are yet alive and agree to hand them over to Bangladesh for trial on charges of waging war against the people of Bangladesh and presiding over a systematic genocide of Bengalis.
The second step, on the probable ground that Pakistan will not agree to hand over the officers, will be for Bangladesh to initiate proceedings against the 195 war criminals in absentia. All evidence, all documents oral and 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 held in Nuremberg and Tokyo following the end of the Second World War, will be to project a proper, substantive picture of the well-planned, systematic genocide perpetrated in Bangladesh by Pakistan’s army in 1971. It will also be aimed at compelling Pakistan to offer a full, unambiguous and unconditional apology to the people of Bangladesh for the horrors inflicted on them by its army.
The trial will not be a symbolic one. It will be a real prosecution of Pakistan’s war criminals — to inform the world that the crimes of these men will not have gone without condemnation and conviction, to let Pakistan know that as long as it does not acknowledge the murder and rape committed by its soldiers in Bangladesh it will remain in denial of reality and cannot and should not expect normal relations to define its links with Bangladesh now and in the future.
History has no place for ostriches to bury their heads in the sand. It has little patience with peoples and nations which look away from the wrongs they have committed on and against other peoples and nations.
For us in Bangladesh, the moral question is all: if we have been able to try the local collaborators of the Pakistan military junta of 1971, we can very well name and shame the 195 Pakistani military officers and their political patrons formally in public and let the generations born around the world after 1971 know of every sin and every crime these men committed in Bangladesh.

Syed Badrul Ahsan: Associate Editor, The Asian Age. Contributing Columnist, Shottobani.

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