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War Criminal to head OIC?

By naeem_bangali
 

-- Naeem Mohaiemen/Shobak.org



News on the world stage gives hope that war criminals face a tough new world. Slobodan Milosevic faces war crimes charges in The Hague. Augusto Pinochet spent months in British police custody and narrowly escaped on a technicality. A Belgian court sentenced Rwandan priests who helped massacre Tutsis. Henry Kissinger is the subject of ?The Trial Against Henry Kissinger,? where he?s accused of abetting war crimes in Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. US officials were so alarmed by these developments that they fought to win exemption for American citizens from the International Criminal Court. Activists hope for a day when war criminals like Idi Amin and ?Baby Doc? Duvalier will not be able to escape punishment for their past atrocities.



Amongst these positive trends, Bangladesh stands apart. In this populous South Asian nation, war criminals are now rehabilitated and powerful political figures. Two alleged war criminals are now government ministers and a third has just become Bangladesh?s nominee for Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).



To understand the context for the present crisis, we need to look back at the bloody birth of Bangladesh. In 1970, Bangladesh was part of ?united Pakistan.? During the 1970 general elections, the Bengalis of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) won an overwhelming majority, electing Sheikh Mujib to Prime Minister of Pakistan. Alarmed at the thought of being ruled by their ?racial inferiors? from East Pakistan, the Pakistan army cancelled the results of the election and launched a brutal crackdown. In the mass genocide that followed, 3 Million Bengalis were killed and 10 Million became refugees in India. During the genocide, the Pakistan army specifically targeted the Hindu population. At the time, it was the greatest man-made disaster since the Second World War. Eventually, the Bengali refugees in India formed a guerilla army. Supported by a worldwide protest movement and with the help of the Indian army, Bangladesh became an independent nation.



As with many other wars, the nine-month conflict in 1971 was plagued by the activity of collaborators. Like the Vichy in France, a segment of Bengalis sided with the Pakistani army. These men formed shadowy death squads called ?Al Badr? and ?Al Shams.? These death squads kidnapped and executed professors, journalists, writers and political activists--anyone who opposed the Pakistani army. After Bangladesh?s liberation, there was a massive, popular call for justice for the collaborators. But faced with a chaotic situation and pressure from Islamic countries (including the OIC), Sheikh Mujib issued a blanket amnesty for all war criminals. Bangladesh?s process of memory erasure had begun. The general amnesty was the first among many political mistakes which opened the door for rehabilitation of the war criminals of 1971.



Today, this process of rehabilitation has found a crucible in Salauddin Quader Chowdhury. In spite of two war crimes cases, and witnesses who charge him with forming death squads in 1971, Salauddin Quader is a rehabilitated and powerful man. Alleged to be a ?crime godfather? with a private paramilitary, Chowdhury is now the Prime Minister?s Parliamentary Affairs Advisor. But the startling news is that Bangladesh has nominated him to be Secretary General of the OIC. Ironically, this nomination has received the enthusiastic support of Pakistan.



Galvanized by the announcement, many sectors of Bangladeshi society have mobilized to oppose the nomination. Newspapers are now active in publicizing the alleged cases of war crimes against Salauddin Quader. Many of these accounts have focused on his alleged involvement with events in Chittagong in 1971.



In ?The Killing Fields & Torture Center of Chittagong?, Sakhawat Hossein Mojnu talks about the incidents at Goods Hill:

?Goods Hill in Chittagong became the site of a torture center during Bangladesh?s liberation war. At the direction of the Pakistan army, people suspected to support the Bengali liberation war were arrested and brought here to be tortured. They would be hung from the ceilings and beaten. Omar Faruk, a famous freedom fighter during the liberation struggle, was tortured to death in Goods Hill. It was rumored that Salauddin Quader Chowdhury was directly involved in helping to run this center.?



In another book, ?The Background of Bengali Freedom War?, Mahbub-Ul-Alam transcribed the testimony of Mr Nijamuddin of Chittagong:

?Nijamuddin was released from Chittagong jail on November 18. He said, I was caught on July 5 by the paramilitary. I was taken to Fazlul Kader. There, I was tied up and beaten with sticks and rods by Fazlul Kader?s son Salauddin Quader, and his followers. After five hours of beatings, I passed out.?



Prominent among Salauddin Quader's alleged victims was Nathun Chandra Singha. This incident is particularly significant because there were several eyewitnesses who later filed a case against Salahuddin Kader. Nathun Chandra Singha was a renowned personality of Chittagong, and founder of both the Sri Kundeshyari Pharmacy and the Kundeshyari School. Mr. Singha was also a Hindu, which was particularly relevant to the incident since the Pakistani army and their collaborators were known to single out non-Muslims for execution. This was based on the propaganda that the ?non-believers? were behind the ?troubles? in East Pakistan (Bangladesh).



According to the case filed by eyewitnesses, Salahuddin Kader is alleged to have led the killing of Professor Nathun Chandra Singha. After the Pakistani army crackdown began in 1971, 47 University professors took refuge at Mr. Singha?s school. Later, when the army took control of Chittagong, these professors escaped to India. Nathun Singha?s family also left, but he stayed behind to guard the school compound. On April 13, four tanks and two jeeps arrived at the Kundeshyari Bhavan. Eyewitnesses report that Salauddin Quader was sitting in one of these jeeps. Singha welcomed the officers and explained the work of the school to them. The officers appeared to be satisfied with the explanation and were about to leave. It is alleged that Salauddin Quader then intervened and said, ?My father has ordered that the malaun (malaun is a slur against Hindus) Nathun Chandra and his sons must be killed.? After hearing this, a Pakistani Major sitting in the jeep shot Nathun Chandra three times, who died instantly.?



After the Pakistan army?s surprise defeat in December 1971, the collaborators tried to escape from Bangladesh. One of the escapees was Salauddin Quader's father, Fazlul Quader Chowdhury. Fazlul Kader was captured trying to cross the border into Burma--he later died in jail. Salauddin Quader then became the target of two separate cases. The first case was filed by Nathun Chandra Singha?s son Satyaranjan Singha, along with twelve witnesses. The case numbered FIR U/S/302/129 (13)/298/BPC started hearings on January 29, 1972. Among the accused were Salahuddin Kader and five others, all of whom were absconding. A second case was also filed against Salauddin Quader--this one by Sheikh Muhammad Jahangir. In this case, Sheikh Jahangir charged that his father Sheikh Mujaffar and brother Sheikh Alamgir were picked up by a group of men, led by Salauddin Quader, on April 17 1971. These men were then taken to the Pakistani army camp at Hathajari--their bodies were never found.



With two war crimes cases against him, how did Salauddin Quader escape punishment and rise to such heights today? The answer lies in Bangladesh?s corrupt and compromised political history. Each political party in Bangladesh had a hand in the slow rehabilitation of the war criminals of 1971. The process began soon after independence. Bangladesh?s first Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib had a personal friendship with Salauddin Quader's father Fazlul Quader. Salauddin Quader was able to parlay this friendship, and the fact that his father died mysteriously in jail, into new opportunities for himself. The war crimes cases against him ran into mysterious roadblocks and stalled. In an astonishing reversal of fortune, Sheikh Mujib then granted Salahuddin Kader a permit to take over his father?s business. FazlulQuader?s business had been seized by the government in retaliation against his alleged war crimes in 1971--now control of the business passed to his son, another alleged war criminal.



Supported by successive governments, Salauddin Quader's business became very successful. Today, he is one of Bangladesh?s wealthiest men. Add to this his political cunning in allying with any political party in power, and we begin to understand how he became Bangladesh?s nominee for OIC Secretary General. After the 1975 assassination of Mujib, the military government of General Zia took over. With Zia?s support, Salauddin Quader was elected to Parliament from the Muslim League. When Zia was also assassinated in 1981, General Ershad took over and Salauddin Quader became a Minister in the Ershad government. A decade later, when popular anger against General Ershad exploded into the streets, Salauddin Quader quickly left the government and formed a new party NDA/NDP.



After Ershad?s fall, Salauddin Quader switched sides rapidly. He worked first with the Awami League (AL), and then joined the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Salauddin Quader soon took leadership of a right-wing faction within the BNP, but was ousted after an internal struggle. This setback was very brief. During the next election, he was welcomed back into the party--a tribute to his wealth, which would help him win a parliament seat for the BNP. Under the present BNP government, Salauddin Quader has risen to become the Prime Minister?s Parliamentary Affairs Advisor. And from this powerful position, he is now Bangladesh?s official candidate for Chairman of the OIC.



Since the OIC nomination was announced, a firestorm of controversy has enveloped Bangladesh. All the leading newspapers have run reports on Salauddin Quader's alleged war crimes in 1971. In retaliation, he has brought lawsuits against the editors of the nation?s three leading newspapers--The Daily Star, Prothom Alo and Janakantha. Bangladesh has already had the distinction of being listed in Reporters Sans Frontieres? annual report for having an alarming number of attacks on the press in 2002. Now in an acceleration of press censorship, the BNP government has gone on the warpath against the newspapers for their reports on Salauddin Quader. All three newspaper editors have been threatened with arrest and intimidation. A chilling fear has descended in newsrooms--many are now afraid to speak out against the nomination.



But not everyone is cowed into silence. An international petition opposing the nomination has been collecting hundreds of signatures from Bengalis all over the world. Condemnation letters are coming in from many Bangladeshi organizations. 1971 is not ?ancient history,? as some claim today. There are many who remember Salauddin Quader and what he represents. In a fiery report, the Weekly 2000 magazine laid out the case against Salauddin Quader, exploding any claim to legitimacy:

?Who is Salauddin Quader Chowdhury? What is his identity? The man who didn?t believe in Bangladesh?s existence, who opposed our creation thirty years ago, who attacks our culture today, how can he represent Bangladesh? How will he represent Bangladesh on the world stage? Do you (the government) have any answers for us??



Battle lines have been drawn. People are waiting for two crucial decisions. Will the BNP government withdraw Salauddin Quader Chowdhury?s nomination and oust him from the party? And if they do not, will the OIC have the guts to reject the nomination on the grounds of evidence of alleged war crimes charges? The future hangs in the balance. Reactionary forces must not be allowed to obliterate history and erase crimes.

 
   Comments: 0     Raters: 1     February 28, 2004 at 1:12am         
 

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