Bangladesh and its religious parties

Published: May 14, 2012

Wheelchair-bound Azam pleaded not guilty after the charges were read out to him for two hours. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Wheelchair-bound Azam pleaded not guilty after the charges were read out to him for two hours. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE The AL has made many enemies by targeting mainstream Islamic parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami. In this photograph taken on August 18, 2011, JI leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee (C) emerges from the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka. PHOTO: AFP

The former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh Ghulam Azam has been indicted by a special court — International War Crimes Tribunal — set up by the Awami League government in Bangladesh for the crimes committed during the war in then-East Pakistan in 1971. He has been charged with complicity in the “killing of three million citizens”. Mr Azam is the head of the party that adhered to its loyalty to Pakistan and allegedly took part in what is often called ‘genocide’. More precisely, his party is accused of “creating and leading militias that carried out many killings and rapes during the nine-month war”. He is the third accused put through the tribunal since 2010 after the Supreme Court of Bangladesh reverted the Constitution of Bangladesh to its original secular character. Both the Jamaat-e-Islami and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have dismissed the court as a “show trial”, while Human Rights Watch has said procedures used by the tribunal “fall short of international standards”. The 2010 verdict by the ‘activist’ Supreme Court of Bangladesh has become politicised because the BNP refused to accept it, somewhat similar to what the PPP has done in the contempt court verdict by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

In 2010, the Court in Dhaka revived the constitution of 38 years ago, getting rid of the bulk of the document’s Fifth Constitutional Amendment, 1979, which had included provisions that were seen by the Court, and by others in Bangladesh as facilitating the rise and spread of religious political parties and legitimising military dictatorship. This was followed by a ban on political parties that propagated Islamic ideology. It called these parties “extra-constitutional adventurers” and suggested “suitable punishment” for them. Few will doubt that if this train of thought is followed, then the BNP too, will have to be indicted as it supports the religious parties and leans on the country’s right-wing religious vote. However, a major blow has been delivered to those religious outfits which advocate imposition of Sharia and scare the non-Muslims (a tenth of the population) of Bangladesh with discriminatory laws. Nearly 11 Islamic parties are likely to fall under the axe of the independent Bangladesh election commission which will decide who participates in the next election. Bangladesh is divided down the middle over what kind of state it wants to be. One half is reacting against the way the army took over after assassinating the founder of the state, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1975, and inserted verses from the Holy Quran into the Constitution’s guiding principle, in 1979. This step legalised the religious parties under the Fifth Amendment. Unfortunately, Bangladesh’s right-wing elements became involved in the Afghan war that brought the Taliban into power. Linkages in Pakistan facilitated the training of many more in the madrassahs of Karachi.

The Awami League came back to power in 2008 — the same year the PPP won in Pakistan. It has survived a coup within the Bangladesh Army, which kind of mirrors the fact that army officers alleged to be linked to the Hizbut Tahrir are on trial in Pakistan. The Awami League government has moved to normalise its relationship with India just like the PPP, expecting nine billion dollars in direct investments from New Delhi. But another parallel with Pakistan may not be very positive: the activism of the Bangladesh Supreme Court. There is nothing wrong, per se, in the courts being ‘activist in nature’; it is only after the polity politicises their verdicts that justice becomes impossible to enforce. Already, the BNP has prepared its agitational agenda for the next election.

It is remarkable how Pakistan and Bangladesh have trodden the same kind of path. Pakistan was taken over by its army after its establishment; so was Bangladesh. The military in Pakistan changed the constitution to legitimise itself through Islam; so did the army in Bangladesh. And after 2008, both armies have no stomach to interrupt civilian rule and impose their own junta.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2012.

Reader Comments (14)

  • Deb
    May 15, 2012 - 12:24AM

    And the point is??????

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  • Mirza
    May 15, 2012 - 12:56AM

    Great editorial, thanks ET.
    You do the crime, you do the time! All murderers are criminals of the worst kind and must be brought to justice. If they are allowed to go free, then everybody would become a criminal. Thanks BD for making an example of extreme rightwing leaders who have worked against your liberation. This should be a lesson to Paksitani murderers and those who have committed the worst crimes called “high treason”.

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  • SM
    May 15, 2012 - 6:59AM

    There were people killed in the 1971 war but not 3 million. Killing 3 million people in 9 months makes the Pakistan Army more efficient a killing machine than the Nazi military machine.

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  • Anonymous
    May 15, 2012 - 8:18AM

    @Deb:
    Point is that it is senior Mulla and army people are infected with same virus of JI . That virus has wide presence in our …..but in BD hopefully each passing year infected population will die here in Pakistan it will flourish so we will always be in trouble.

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  • unbeliever
    May 15, 2012 - 10:42AM

    @SM:

    wrong. when pakistanis say this they understand it only in terms of numbers of jews killed. if you sum up the entire no. of people killed by nazis it comes close to 12 million. also the resistance faced by them was huge, but pak army was attacking an unsuspecting people(while jews did get an hint of things to come through earlier treatment at the hand of nazis) already ravaged by a cyclone a year earlier., with biharis on their side. learn to acknowledge your faults.

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  • Noman
    May 15, 2012 - 11:42AM

    Thanks, It is sensitive question for us to identify the real criminals who were angage in that connection. It occured before 40 years ago, gov. has no suffucient papers against so called criminals. Not only that, judges role in this connection is dicotomous. We are in confusion to see the judgement.

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  • ukmuslim
    May 15, 2012 - 3:10PM

    short term solution is that, ban the religious parties to contest in election or raise funds (even if it is charity), and bring all madarasas under centralised control.
    believe me in 10 years, you will see the effect.

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  • R.A
    May 15, 2012 - 4:31PM

    Will the J.I in Pakistan stand up to
    speak out and tell us the truth
    Under similar situation in the
    now Pakistan what they will do.
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  • SM
    May 15, 2012 - 5:54PM

    @unbeliever:
    The fact is that on both sides, the political parties were so greedy for power that they diidnt want to compromise and India took advantage of the division. If Sh Mujib was such a great leader or if ZA Bhutto was such a visionary, why were both of them killed within less than a decade from their own people.
    What I said about the numbers killed is that it was not that huge a number in reality that were massacred; however even one killed was unacceptable.

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  • Cautious
    May 15, 2012 - 7:21PM

    If your going to compare Bangladesh to Pakistan then I would observe that a secular Bangladesh is moving forward both economically and socially while Pakistan is heading in the opposite direction. It’s obvious that hanging the title Islamic on a country doesn’t make it more holy – doesn’t make it more Muslim – but does make it more susceptible to manipulation by those who use religion to gain power.

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  • May 15, 2012 - 9:11PM

    I think there is a case to be made for the emergence of Religious parties in Bangladesh and Pakistan because they are Muslim majority states.

    One might argue that India too possesses Religious parties, but Religious parties in India are infinitely more Constitutional, barring a few aberrations, than the Religious parties in Muslim Majority Countries.

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  • Aryan Imtiaz
    May 16, 2012 - 3:40AM

    It’s worse Bangladeshis and Pakistanis are being demorilized on religious grounds on Islam in UK.

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  • Adnan
    May 21, 2012 - 4:13AM

    most Bangladeshis know its a kangaroo court. jamaat remained neutral in the 1971 war because they were against an india/russia-aided struggle. but they were staunchly opposed to the west pakistani army operations. how is that a crime? and some people just start name-calling when these jamaat people have not even been convicted with evidence yet

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  • A concerned Bangladeshi
    May 26, 2012 - 8:10PM

    The trial is taking place under the International crime (tribunal) Act 1973 made for 195 Pakistani Army officers whom Bangladesh identified as war criminal. In 2009 it was amended by BD Govt., allowing them to try any civilian. These Islamist can easily be hanged with a made up witness statement for which the eyewitness need not to be present at the court. No appeal except for the final verdict.

    I saw in the news few weeks back that your PM was punished for 30 seconds, rare in sub subcontinent. You have a judicial system where people can go to as a last resort. But here Govt. influenced by leftists, who doesn’t even represent 0.1% Bangladeshi voters, destroyed all the institutions including, higher courts.

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