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Bangladesh's Own Nero


In a bid to remain at the helm of affairs, Sheikh Hasina is driving Bangladesh towards uncertainty, says Saurabh Kumar Shahi.
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: December 29, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Sheikh Hasina |Abdul Qader Mollah | Bangladesh |Toby Cadman |BNP |Begum Khaleda Zia |Shahbagh | |
If there is a classic example of how an elected government can work towards destabilizing its own country, it has to be Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh. As this report goes to print, as many as 30 people have died in the fresh round of violence that has rocked the country following the execution of Jamaat leader Abdul Qader Mollah on charges of committing during Bangladesh’s war of independence against Pakistan in 1971. 
Molla was held guilty in February by a delegitimized domestic tribunal of having led the Razakars, or pro-Pakistan militia that resisted the attempt by Bangladeshis to gain freedom, and having allegedly killed some of country’s top intellectuals including writers and journalists. The tribunal convicted him on several counts of rape, mass murder and abduction. Nicknamed “Butcher of Mirpur” by the opponents, Mollah had killed over 350 people in a planned massacre. Mollah and other four Jamaat leaders were condemned to death by the International Crimes Tribunal triggering worst violence since 1971. 
Since January, over 400 people have been killed and properties worth billions destroyed. The violence has since spiralled leading to attacks and revenge attacks by activists of ruling Awami League and its opposition Jamaat and Bangladesh National Party led by Begum Khaleda Zia. 
While the idea to try those accused of war crimes has been welcomed in several quarters, the manner in which it was done has been severely criticised. The pressure tactic applied by Shahbagh protestors and the manner in which the Tribunal has operated has led to an environment where justice process has been compromised.
The Tribunal has come under severe international criticism, including by those who had advocated for years for it to be set up. Toby Cadman, the renowned international genocide attorney who has also appeared in the Kosovo Tribunal is one of them. Toby worked for years to have the Bangladesh Tribunal see the light of the day. However, when it finally came, he got disillusioned. 
“The demonstrations in Shahbagh epitomise the current political climate. The streets are filled with simply thousands of screaming supporters calling for death. Adults and children alike are sporting bandanas and T-shirts calling for the Islamist party leaders to be hung until dead. One must ask what therefore the point in a trial is where the only acceptable result is execution?” he asks. 
When it comes to independent trials, the words of Justice Jackson, Chief Prosecutor of the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, still remains the guiding principle. “If you are determined to execute a man in any case there is no occasion for a trial. The world yields no respect to courts that are merely organized to convict. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today, is the record upon which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poised chalice is to put it to our lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task, that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspiration to do justice,” he had maintained. 
Surely, the Bangladeshi Tribunal is lacking that legitimacy. One of the biggest criticism of the Tribunal is that it does not take call for prosecution members of Awami League and the then Mukti Bahini that systematically cleansed the Urdu speakers, collectively and popularly known as Biharis. The Tribunal is unsurprisingly silent on these acts as it involves many of the names from the ruling party. 
Also, the entire processes of calling the witnesses and recording their statements have been flawed. What more, witnesses who were ready to testify on behalf of the accused have been systematically threatened and in some cases even abducted on the very day they were to record their statements.
“The danger in what is occurring on the streets of Dhaka today is that mob rule prevails and the country is descending dramatically and rapidly towards civil war. The current Government is doing little to stem the flow of violence. If anything, by supporting the protesters, it is throwing fuel on the flames of discontent. To this point, the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, has been reported as saying in Parliament that she would talk to the judges to convince them to take the sentiments of the protesters into account in formulating their decisions.
It is notable that one of the first judgments issued by the Tribunal referred to the ‘will of the people’ in reaching its decision clearly demonstrating the emotive manner in which these trials are now being conducted,” adds Cadman.
Experts believe that one of the reasons why the entire process was done in haste was because Prime Minister Hasina knew that the chances of winning the upcoming elections were dim. The gross mismanagement of economy and general anger against the government has rattled the present administration. Even pro-government newspapers give a healthy 12-18 percent lead to the opposition BNP if they fight the election. Naturally, the ruling administration clung to that “If”. 
There is a serious chance that the election will be delegitimized. The date for the elections has been fixed for 5th January but the main opposition party BNP and its coalition, as well as Hasina’s ally Col Ershad, is boycotting the elections. Their demand to conduct the elections under a care-taker government was turned down by Hasina. Consequently, the election is expected to be one without opposition leading to its illegitimacy both domestically as well as internationally. But Hasina is not concerned. She just wants to hold on to power indefinitely.
Although there have been several rounds of negotiations between both the parties, more than anything, Hasina seems to have only toughened her stand, leading to impasse. Meanwhile, Bangladesh is spiralling towards an unending cycle of violence. In the days to come, government will start brutal crackdown on Jamaat cadres and this might lead to further destabilization of country. Experts also believe that foreign terror outfits will try to take advantage of the current situation and disillusionment among the conservative mass to strengthen their presence in the country. Nothing can be more disastrous for India. 
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017