Media reported the hanging of Abdul Quader Molla in Bangladesh, a leading Jamaat-i-Islami leader; the first person to go to gallows for the alleged massacre of 1971. A leading newspaper reported, “Molla’s lawyers had protested the original order, saying the death penalty was awarded based on evidence given by only one prosecution witness, who had also earlier given two different versions of the same event… UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seeking a stay of the execution, saying the trial did not meet stringent international standards for the death penalty.” (12, 12, 2013)
A brief revisit to the 1971 genocide is in order. The facts are well detailed in a book Blood and Tears (Published 1974) by historian Qutubuddin Aziz. It details 170 eye witness accounts of atrocities on non-Bengalis and pro Pakistan Bengalis by Awami League militants and other rebels in 55 towns of then East Pakistan between March-April 1971 with photographs. Another interesting book by B Raman; “The Kaoboys of RAW: Down Memory Lane”’ talks about the role of Israel and Indian intelligence agencies in creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Raman has headed the counter-terrorism branch of India’s intelligence Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
The Indian Express in a piece by Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay, “Didn’t fight on front, yet proud to have helped Mukti Bahini’ writes, ““Kartik Kumar Ganguly, then a Major, was assigned to help a motley group of people from then East Pakistan — some deserters from the Pakistan Army but largely students, other young civilians, factory laborers and farmers — who formed the Mukti Bahini. His task, he says, was to take care of their various needs and give them courage… Ganguly, one of a number of Indian Army officers who interacted with the mukti joddhas, found them lacking in training but not in enthusiasm…”(Published December 16, 2011) Borrowing research from a treatise by Lt. Gen [R] Kamal Matinuddin ,“Tragedy of Errors; East Pakistan Crisis 1968-1971” states that the hard core team leaders of Mukhti-Bahini were the deserters, from the Bengali element [officers, junior-commissioned, non-commissioned, and other ranks] composed in the following Army and para-military formations:. Six battalions of East Bengal Regiment 5,000, East Pakistan Rifles [like our Rangers in West Pakistan] 16,000, Razakars 50,000, Bengali in East Pakistan police and allied services 45,000. This is a total of 116,000 forces. By 3rd March 1971 a de facto Bangladesh Government was in place. It was after the March 1971 crackdown by the Pakistan Army in Dacca and later all over East Pakistan that the 6 battalions of East Bengal Regiment as well as the forces above cited deserted and went over to the Indian Army. Colonel [retired] Osmani; the first commanding Officer 1st East Bengal Regiment in 1952 and later been made the Commandant of East Bengal Regimental Centre at Chittagong having retired from Pakistan Army in 1966 organized, with the help of the Indian Army; a militant wing of Awami League in July 1970. It was he who led the march past of the militant Awami League on 23rd March 1971,in front of Shiekh Mujib’s house. On 17April 1971 the Acting President of the defacto Bangladesh Government made him the Commander in Chief of the ‘Bengal Liberation Army’ with a rank of a ‘General.’
Although Pakistan Army had by end of April 1971 regained all border posts in East Pakistan and Bengal Liberation Army had suffered defeat, it was then that the Indian Army moved in. It set up 6 training centers and unlimited cash flow to induce younger student element from East Pakistan to join and be trained. All of these 6 training centers which encircled East Pakistan on the Indian side of the borders were under Brigadiers of Indian Army. Soon after another 70,000 young Bengali students inspired by Bengali patriotism joined these camps for a three week crash course including use of mortars, mines, machine-gun handling as well as use of PRC 25 wireless sets for communication. Selected 600 became the naval wing of Mukhti-Bahini; trained by Indian special forces as ‘Frogmen’ to plant explosives under the ships and take over boats, barrages and launches plying in the rivers of East Pakistan. Other radical elements arose as well from the men trained in the 6 Indian training centers .They were a force of 20,000 under the two sons of Sheikh Mujib namely Moin & Kamal and three other i.e. Rafiq, Siraj- ul- Islam & Tofail Ahmed. Yet another set of special forces were led by Major Zia-ur-Rehman [later President of BD] called ‘ZED FORCE’ another was ‘Kay force under Major Khalid Musharaff. Yet another was the ‘S’ force under Major Saifullah, another large force; the ‘Kader Bahini’ was under Abdul Kader Siddiqui who styled himself as the ‘Tiger of Tangail’ and had 20,000 men under him. (Reference ‘Dismemberment of Pakistan’ by Brig. Jagder Singh 1988) General Osmani divided his Mukhti-Bahini force of 1,0000 in ten sectors, each under a former officer of East Bengal Regiment . (Reference ‘ Bangladesh at War’ by Major General Saifullah 1989-page 149) Beside the various Bengali Liberation Army outfits the Indian Army had encircled East Pakistan with a total effective strength of 400,000 men. (Seepages -408,411-418, ‘Roots of Tragedy’ by Brig. Asif Haroon 2005)
Now comes the icing on the cake; the total strength of Pakistan Army was just 45,000 out which the actual fighting arm the infantry had 23,000 men, and 11,000 were men from armour, artillery, engineers, signals and ancillary units. A total of 34,000 men. .The other 11,000 were from civil armed forces like the police and other armed, yet non-combatants outfits who were West Pakistani personnel serving in East Pakistan.[page 52-The Betrayal of East Pakistan’ by Lt. Gen. A.K Niazi, Oxford Press.1998]
Martin Woollacott in a brilliant book review of “Dead Reckoning” by Sarmila Bose says, “Bose’s case-by-case arithmetic leads her in the end to estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in 1971.” He goes on to state, “The wider revision of the conflict’s history she implies exonerates the Pakistani government of any plot to rule the east by force, suggests that the Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman let the genie of nationalism out of the bottle but could not control it, and insists that the conflict was a civil war within East Pakistan...Yet when she underlines how stretched the Pakistani forces were, how unready they were for the role of suppression that was thrust on them, and how perplexed they were in the face of a Bengali hostility that seemed to them so disproportionate, what she writes rings very true. The killings by Bengalis of non-Bengali minorities, of Bengalis who stuck with the idea of a united Pakistan, and even of some Hindu Bengalis – all of whose deaths were attributed at the time to the Pakistani army – needs to be reckoned in any fair balance.” (The Guardian July 1, 2011)
Who was outnumbered, who committed atrocities upon who is now clear. Lack of research leads to formation of uneducated opinion. It was under these odds that men of Jamiat-e-Islami in counter outfits like Al Badar and Al Shams fought those who wanted to break Pakistan.
Reports announce death of three protesters and two activists from Awami League. These riots were to be expected in light of a very public execution of Molla. The headline of Wall Street Journal tellingly announced, “Bangladesh Executes Opposition Leader.” The hanging of Molla is likely to lead to polarization within the Bengali society. A friend wrote, “The hanging of the JI leader by Bangladesh was nothing but a witch hunt and a state sponsored atrocity!!”
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.