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.