Opening old wounds and Quader Mollah’s execution: What did Bangladesh accomplish?

Published: December 14, 2013
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Quader Mollah may have lived as a Bangladeshi in a very independent Bangladesh for 47 years, but even today, he was one of “our” guys- a Pakistani. PHOTO: REUTERS

About a week ago I was in New York on holiday and at some point got into a cab with a very chatty Bengali cab driver. His first question to me obviously, as all desi cab drivers in NY must ask, was where I’m from; the minute I responded he said to me in broken Urdu,

“Oh! You come from the country that looted, raped, killed and tortured us for 24 years!” 

I am used to being attacked like that; for the past three and a half years I have been married to a Bangladeshi and spend a lot of time in Dhaka. A Dhaka that, since 2008, is being run by Awami League and its supporters who feel duty bound to hate everything that is even remotely connected to Pakistan. So for situations like this, I usually employ one of two strategies, I either engage in a full-fledged, factual debate about ‘71 or I just smile and walk away saying,

“I was born a decade after ’71, clearly you don’t expect me to have an opinion about it” which is what I was about to say and avoid any further discussion but then he went on to make sure I understood just how disgusted he was with us Pakistanis.

“It’s a good thing that one of your guys will be hanged soon for war crimes; give my people some closure”.

The man of course was voicing the popular opinion in Bangladesh; Quader Mollah may have lived as a Bangladeshi in a very independent Bangladesh for 42 years, but even today, he was one of “our” guys- a Pakistani.

Hanging him was believed to be the solution to all problems.

As someone who has seen Bangladesh’s transition in the past five years from a military run country to a democracy; I have seen how the media from having a rather neutral stance towards Pakistan slowly shifted to a strong anti Pakistan propaganda; I have heard liberation war songs being played at the Bongobondhu Stadium during a Pakistan Bangladesh cricket match, at the request of the PM’s staff.

I have seen the Shahbagh movement start as just a protest against Quader Mollahs life sentence (and demand for hanging); perhaps the most disturbing memory I will have is that of a 10-year-old’s bloodthirsty chant “faasi chayee” (I want him hanged). I have witnessed this turn into a more politically driven movement against Jamaat and all Islamic elements within the country. In the name of building a more “secular” Bangladesh, I have seen Shahbaghis demand a complete elimination of Islamic elements from law and constitution of the country. I have witnessed the government give them a nod.

On the other hand, I have witnessed the protest of Jamaat against an “atheist movement” and I’ve witnessed them putting forward their 10 points and giving the government time to think it over. I have witnessed the government completely ignore their demands and refuse to even sit down for talks with Jamaat. I have witnessed Jamaat and students from madrassas march into the city to protest peacefully (much like Shahbagh) and then have “heard” of and seen mobile videos of the killings of these protestors, brutally being shot at and beaten to death by people in uniforms.

There was a complete media blackout that day; so no one knows for sure what went on, but people heard gunshots all night and saw blood in the streets the next morning; the protestors were gone.

One wonders what happened?

One wonders if those who did in fact get attacked that night felt any different than the victims of ‘71. In fact one wonders if the victims of BDR killings of 2009 felt any different than those who were killed in ‘71.

Lest anybody suspect me of being a Jamaat sympathiser, let me clarify, that I do not support or have ever felt any kind of empathy for Quader Mollah. But as someone who is not emotionally invested in the situation and can see clearly right from wrong, I can see what international human rights organisations and world leaders such an John Kerry and Ban Ki Moon have expressed their concerns over; the lack of integrity of the War Crimes trials.

Let’s pretend for a while that the evidence was all true and was enough to justify conviction, was a life sentence for a 65 year old not enough?

How much was accomplished by hanging him?

Today, as Jamaat feels cornered and tries to fight back, the country burns in the aftermath of the hanging; cars and buildings being burnt – people being killed. The economy is at a stand-still.

Did Bangladesh really win?

The country stands divided today; there are those who are celebrating in full fervour and then there are those who feel there was nothing humane about the hanging and that the repercussions outweigh the political benefits of this hanging.

As Bangladesh continues to burn; I wonder if Shahbaghis still see the sense in demanding and subsequently celebrating Quader Mollahs hanging.

I wonder if it will ever cross their minds to ask for justice for the victims of BDR?

Or will it take another 42 years to open old wounds?

I wonder if the government still feels hanging one man was worth jeopardising the entire country’s security over, the loss of so many lives, or worth the loss of business as Bangladesh continues to burn today.

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