Tag Archives: Hasina

B’desh: Mir Quasem And His Failed Mission

By Malladi Rama Rao

Finally, as the long arm of law is catching up with the largest fundamentalist party of Bangladesh, it is tempting to say, Well, Hubris falls. For forty years, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) managed to survive with impunity, acted as the power centre behind the thrown and even shared power for a long while as a key player in the BNP led coalition. Why JeI was not hauled up either during the first ANP led government or the military mandated ‘independent’ care-taker regime is a question that demands an answer but the unfolding developments in Dhaka have made the question more or less irrelevant.

The International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh (ICTB) indicted JeI secretary general, Ali Ashan Mohammad Mojaheed on Thursday, June 21. A bench of three judges held him guilty on seven counts of crime against humanity he had committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. These charges were genocide, conspiracy in killing intellectuals, murder and confinement. The prosecution accused him of killing veteran journalist Sirajudin Hossain, and noted musician Altaf Mahmud.

Mojaheed pleaded not guilty, and his trial is set to take place on July 19.

Ali Ashan is the second JeI leader to face the music. Prominent public face of the organisation and media Mughal Mir Quasem Ali was the first big fish to be netted. He has since been arrested by the police and is cooling his heels in a Dhaka jail. Expectedly, his arrest has raised eyebrows in several quarters in and outside Bangladesh.

In recent months, particularly after it became clear that the ICTB would go after him, Naya Diganta, leading Bengali daily with a circulation of some 3.2 million copies a day, and Diganta TV, which reaches out to 10 million Bengali homes globally, have been running a campaign against the ‘war crimes’ trials. The basic thrust of the campaign was (is) that handpicked persons were being forced to act as prosecution witnesses even after they had declined to oblige the powers that be.

Naya Diganta also has been on an ‘expose spree’ to debunk the legal framework of ICTB. Its investigative reporting has been highlighting what it calls the legal flaws in the working of War Crimes Tribunal, which has been set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to redeem her poll-pledge of bringing to book the perpetrators of genocide during the war of independence.

Needless to say, both Naya Diganta and Diganta TV are a part of the Diganta Media Corporation of Mir Quasem Ali. Yet, their campaign did not hurt Prime Minister Hasina. Nor it did it damage the government’s credentials. What is more the campaign generated aversion, instead of sympathy.

Political observers are not surprised though and attribute the cool response to two factors. One the simmering public anger against the villains of the Freedom War. Two the very low credibility the JeI and its leaders have.

A contributory factor is, of course, the colourful past of the JeI leaders, particularly of Mir Quasem Ali, which is still fresh in public memory. He was arrested from the Naya Diganta office with in an hour and half of the tribunal issuing an arrest warrant.

During the War, and in the run upto the War, Mir Quasem Ali was known as the appendage to the ‘occupation forces’ of Pakistan. The torture facility at his Dalim Hotel in Chittagong ruined the lives of thousands of freedom fighters, many of whom died or were maimed for life.

One of the victims, Nasir Uddin Chowdhury was a well known freedom fighter and Deputy Editor of The Peoples View. Like others, he was taken blind-folded to the torture chamber and was subjected to inhuman treatment. Another prominent victim was Saifuddin Khan, President of the Ganatantri Party in Chittagong District. He faced torture from November 17 to December 16, 1971.

A prominent Razakar of the day Abul Kalam who tortured Saifuddin at Mir Quasem’s hotel is very much alive. He has reinvented himself as a corporate Tsar in his own right. He owns the TK group and a number of business establishments. From information on record, it appears he has not been touched thus far, though he has graduated from being a Razakar and Al Badar’s foot soldier to a senior JeI functionary.

Mir Quasem Ali also camp up the fundamentalist ladder through Islami Chhatra Sangha and its later avatar, Islami Chhatra Shibir, the students’ front of JeI. The Sangha became the vigilante Al Badar as the ‘colonial’ master needed an instrument in order to intellectually cripple the new nation in the making.

By the time the War ended, Mir Qaseem Ali, Mintu to friends in and around his native, Manikganj’s Harirampur, advanced in the Al Badar hierarchy. From a district Commander in Chittagong, he became the No. 3 of the outfit; and was close to the top man, Matiur Rahman Nizami, who is the JeI chief today.

The ICTB indicted Nizami in May itself. So was his deputy Abdul Quader Molla. A former JeI head, Ghulam Azam was sent to jail in January after his request for bail was rejected.

Mir Quasem Ali also tried to exploit the loopholes in the law. First he tried the health route saying that he suffered from physical ailments that require constant medical attention and physiotherapy. Second he turned to the land of lobbyists, the United States and hired Cassidy & Associates, which is supposed to be one of six best brains in the business, in order to influence both Capitol Hill and the White House.

His US expat brother Mir Masum Ali put the bill of $310, 000 last year. But the exercise came to a naught. In fact it landed him in a legal tangle as the contract with the lobbyist reportedly violated the provisions of the Lobbying Disclosures Act 1975 of the USA. It also made Mir Masum position rather awkward.

Hasina government restrained the police from targeting Mir Quasem Ali for long apparently worried over his financial muscle, international reach and above all public stature. He is a prominent fund raiser for the Jamaat and played a key role in strengthening its finances. He manages the party accounts maintained with Islami Bank Bangladesh. More over he has cemented his place in the fundamental hierarchy by extending funds to the Rohingya radical groups who had fought along with Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mintu has good equations with Saudi Arabia as Country Director of Saudi based resource rich Rabeta-al-Alam-al-Islami. This NGO liberally funds many ventures in Bangladesh which gives Mir Quasem a privileged ring side seat. So does his position as the founder of Islami Bank Hospitals, Chairman of Association of Muslim Welfare Agencies of Bangladesh and Ibne Sina Hospitals.

Going by what is on record, it can be said without fear of any contradiction that the Media Mughal had invoked Riyadh’s blessings to ward off trouble at home from the War Crime Tribunal. He visited Saudi Arabia in 2010 when it became clear that he was on the most wanted list. He wanted the Saudis to wave the red flag to Prime Minister Hasina and threaten her that the Kingdom would deport Bangladeshi workers if war crimes probe was not halted.

From the turn of events it is clear that the mission failed.

Khaleda’s chargesheet against Hasina

By M RAMA RAO

Hasina, Khaleda and Mujib

New Delhi (Syndicate Features): Bangladesh is again warming up for a bitter war of words between the two begums who have been dominating the political scene for over a decade. Significantly their political fortunes also keep alternating every four-five years. Now it is the turn of Sheikh Hasina to head the coalition government in Dhaka. Her party won a massive mandate at the head of a Grand Alliance of parties opposed to Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Though her party was routed in the elections held in December 2008, Khaleda had won her seat but she has not attended Parliament even for a single day. She gave a go-by even to parliamentary committees, which, like in India, conduct serious legislative business.

Unlike Hasina and her family, Begum Khaleda was no where on the political scene at the time of liberation war. Her husband was a major in the Pakistan army. Zia-ur-Rehman, who went on to become the army chief and head of the country, was among several voices that read the proclamation of independence over the East Pakistan Radio (EPR). This is enough for Khaleda to shine in the reflex glory of the ‘rich’ liberation legacy. And she is using every conceivable occasion to shred the Hasina government into pieces. In fact she used the 39th anniversary of liberation of Bangladesh on March 29 to launch her chargesheet against the Awami League leader. Incidentally the occasion marked by a rally in Dhaka, was also Khaleda’s first public appearance after Grand Alliance’s came to office in January 2009

What are Khaleda’s charges against Hasina, of a former prime minister against the present prime minister? The BNP leader claims that the Awami government is untrustworthy, tells lies, targets political opponents and slaps cases against them. “It (government) is super efficient in signing agreements but absolutely inefficient in implementing the promises. The second most serious charge is that the Hasina government stinks in corruption and that Bangladesh’s future and independence are not safe in AL hand. According to the BNP supremo, who is embroiled in several corruption cases, some ambitious Army officers, notably, former Army chief Gen Moeen u Ahmed are the real force behind the Awami throne. She holds the view that these very officers and the then Chief Adviser to Caretaker Government Fakhruddin Ahmed had helped Awami League to wear the electoral crown. Why did they do so? ‘Only to keep my party out of power’, claims Khaleda

The Khaleda chargesheet makes the mandatory reference to India. It says Prime Minister Hasina, during her India visit (at the beginning of 2010), handed over Chittagong, and Mongla ports and a corridor to India. Since these allegations were made by a person who was a former prime minister herself, there is need to closely examine her chargesheet. Hurtling counter-charges at her and her family as some of the ruling alliance leaders appear to have done is neither fair nor proper for a healthy political discourse, which Bangladesh badly needs.

A caveat will be in order though. One the AL coalition, by the force of circumstances, has to deal with priority national issues with controlled aggression. Two Prime Minister Hasina and her colleagues came to power on the promise of trying war criminals, terrorists and corruption-syndicates that had been enjoying patronage in the country. Court cases against some of Khaleda Zia’s associates are a corollary to the mandate. But these ‘victims’ are in turn making wild allegations which have invited defamation suits against them.

In recent months Bangladesh signed some milestone agreements and initiated MoUs with two regional powers – India and China. Ground has been created to resolve many long outstanding issues and improve relations with neighbours, particularly India. As a small country, Bangladesh, can not afford to keep its doors and windows closed for ever.

Hasina is accountable to parliament for all her actions. If Khaleda really feels so strongly against the Hasina government, the right forum for her to articulate her concerns is the floor of Parliament. It is also the right place where all concerns and charges should be backed by credible supporting evidence. But Khaleda does not attend parliament or its standing committees. The question is why the leader of the main opposition in the country didn’t come forward to substantiate her critique of the prime minister? It could be because she has no evidence to substantiate. Or because she doesn’t have respect to Parliament as the House of the People, where the government of the day in a democracy is made to answer for all its acts of commission and omission to the satisfaction of the people. Or it could be because of a combination of both factors. Whatever be this big if, the end result is same.

Prime Minister Hasina did not open up Chittagong and Mongla ports to India alone. The facility is extended to Nepal, Bhutan and China. This was not done behind the back of Parliament. It was an act aimed to secure the economic interests of the nation as never before. With more imports and exports through these two ports, Bangladesh economy stands to get tremendous boost. Another decision of Hasina which has drawn the ire of her bete noire is joining the proposed Asian Highway Network. During her time in office, Khaleda steadfastly refused to sign the UN brokered agreement on the 140,000 km road network. Her decision was based on a myopic vision – the network would ultimately help India gain transit facility through Bangladesh to reach its north-eastern states, which are presently connected to the mainland by a narrow strip known as the Chicken’s neck at Siliguri.

So, the BNP and its allies have reason to be angry with AL and its allies. Unlike them, Hasina and her colleagues did not see the Asian Highway through the tinted India Prism. In their considered view, the highway connecting 38 Asian countries and linking them with Europe through Turkey will open up tremendous opportunities for trade and commerce. It will also take Bangladesh closer to Europe which is the main destination for the garment exports. More over, Bangladesh would also get the economic benefits of having ‘Trans Asian Railways’.

Now to the criticism that Gen Moeen and some other senior army officers helped the Awami League to come to power and are reaping the benefits. There is absolutely no doubt that Gen Moeen and his colleagues backed the caretaker government and helped in the conduct of general elections. Equally true is the fact that this very group of army officers was benefited largely from Khaleda rule.

Consider the facts. Almost towards the fag-end of her second term as Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia named Gen Moeen U Ahmed as the army chief superseding many senior to him. She owes the nation an explanation why she had picked Gen Moeen bypassing the seniority list. Today she may not like to remember but she ensured that her close relative Gen Mashududdin Chowdhury had a key position in the caretaker government.

But it is her hard luck that these ‘favoured generals’, who were handpicked for top jobs undid her carefully laid re-election plans by ensuring the neutrality of the army. Had Khaleda had her way, the country could have plunged into a civil war with the opposition not accepting the verdict. The international community hailed the December 2008 election as the most free and fair ballot. All right-thinking Bangladeshis also agree with this assessment.

As stated at the outset Khaleda Zia’s charge of corruption against Hasina must be investigated. If the allegations are unsubstantiated, the former prime minister in all fairness must apologise publicly. People have seen how the so-called ‘Islamic nationalism’ propounded by BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami was used as a garb for one of the worst form of corruption in the country. Khaleda’s two sons became extra-constitutional authorities, ran the government, created a virtual mayhem, and siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars.

Who announced on the radio the liberation of Bangladesh? This is not a brain teaser; there is enough evidence to show who made the announcement. Khaleda claims that her husband, Zia made the proclamation over the radio. ‘Since Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was held in a Pakistani prison, my husband made the historic announcement’, she says.
Without getting into a slanging match, it is essential to point out that Mujibur Rahman and Zia-ur-Rehman are not in the same league. In fact, after the historic Mujib speech of 7th March 1971 there was nothing left to formally announce the commencement of liberation war. The then East Pakistan Radio (EPR) broadcast Bangabandhu’s declaration of independence from midnight of 25th March, 1971. Several leaders, big and small, read the declaration through out March 26th on behalf of the Bangabandhu. To his credit it must be said, Gen Zia never claimed credit for announcing the start of liberation war. Instead, he had publicly stated that he did it on behalf of the Bangabandhu.

Khaleda’s rule marked an upswing in the fortunes and reach of terrorists local and international. In her Laldighi Maidan address she did not touch upon the subject – how and why terrorists of all hues made Bangladesh a safe haven during her regime, how so many Pakistani and Indian terrorist organisations found shelter in Bangladesh to run operations against India with impunity. She is yet to say a word explaining why her government could not smoke out the terrorists who had killed senior leaders like ASMS Kibria, Ahsanullah Master, Ivy Rahman and some noted journalists.

Bangladeshis expect Khaleda to focus on her government’s failure with the same zeal with which she is targeting the present government. Alas, introspection is not her fort. Otherwise, she would have at least spoken about her failure to track down terrorists who had made an assassination bid on Hasina on August 21, 2004. Also about why sent the sensational Chittagong arms seizure case to the cold storage? People of Bangladesh want an answer to these questions. To another question as well. It is that why her government could not explore and exploit natural resources or set up power plants to meet the country’s growing energy crisis. It is this failure of her government that is responsible for the power, water and gas crisis staring at the country today.

Khaleda’s chargesheet against the Hasina Government is, in fact, a veiled attempt to put spokes in the trial of her long- term allies – the war criminals of 1971. She has been a supporter and well wisher of the well known war criminals and Pakistani collaborators with whom she had earlier shared power.

During her tenure as Prime Minister she did everything possible to thwart any move seeking trial of either the Mujib killers or the war criminals. The former prime minister knows today people want to see the war criminals, anti-liberation elements and Pakistani collaborators brought to justice. She, therefore, cannot afford to openly defend the anti-liberation forces and thus run the risk of antagonizing the people. Hence the subterfuge. The nation is not short sighted; the vision of the people is not blurred. Khaleda Zia must stop stooping low. Neither spreading canards nor spewing venom is a time tested political tool. Either use or overuse will boomerang on the practioners. (Syndicate Features)