WEB DESK: In functioning democracies, the sitting governments try keeping political opponents out of the power corridors by defeating them in elections – but there are exceptions also. For example, Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina wants absolute control over the levers of state power essentially, by keeping the door shut on her traditional rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia.
The corruption cases against Khaleda Zia hadn’t worked, and the election, set-up as it was, was boycotted by the opposition. It was a Pyrrhic victory, depriving Sheikh Hasina of her much-craved democratic legitimacy. Physical elimination of her political opponents was the only option now with the incumbent prime minister of Bangladesh, and she hasn’t shrunk back from exercising it.
Two of her principal political opponents, Salahuddin Qadir Chowdhury and Jamaat-i-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, were executed on Sunday following a trial that was found to be seriously flawed by global human rights bodies and others. Both of them had refuted the war crime charge, but they did not file mercy petitions with the BD president because they had not committed any crime. But no one in the kangaroo courts listened to them, much less hearing their witnesses.
Salahuddin, six times elected MP and son of former Speaker of Pakistan National Assembly Chowdhry Fazalul Qadir, was in Karachi at the time he allegedly committed the ‘war crime’. Unfortunately, however, he was still charged with ‘war crime’. And in support of that alibi, the former President of Pakistan Mohammad Mian Somroo had sent an affidavit to the trial court and offered his presence as a witness. But of no avail; he was not called to elicit his observation:
It is a dangerous precedent in Bangladesh. What goes around comes around. The US House Foreign Affairs Committee has voiced concern over “very flawed trial and political retribution … the democratic space is shrinking in Bangladesh”. In the words of ranking US Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, “It is a tragedy that there appears to be little wish for calm, political reconciliation for the sake of the country”. Bangladesh is now on high alert.
What miscarriage of justice means to the image of a society and how dangerous political vengeance can be to the stability of a country, Sheikh Hasina doesn’t seem to be concerned about. If the people around the world are disappointed about the quality of trial she seems to be unconcerned – but there is one person she wanted to be gloating over these executions and he surely is glad – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is he who has publicly confessed his part in breaking up Pakistan.
Not only is the execution of two prominent members of political opposition a case of travesty of justice, it is also a violation of trilateral agreement signed by the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan on April 4, 1974 at New Delhi. It was decided “to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past”, and the government of Bangladesh had also “decided not to proceed with trials as an act of clemency”. Rightly then, Pakistan’s Foreign Office has expressed its “deep concern and anguish” over the latest spate of executions in Bangladesh as these are in violation of the 1974 agreement. The same very ‘conspiring elements’ who hatched rifts and conspiracies in 1970-71 are “once again more active in Bangladesh”, says Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Pakistan is sad over these executions but can do nothing to alleviate the fate of those Sheikh Hasina is bent upon physically removing from the political scene. But she should not forget that by these hangings, according to Senator Mushahid Husain Syed, “the Bangladesh regime has hung the future of Bangladesh in balance, as it will provoke polarization and promote politics of confrontation”.
The Khaleda Zia-led BNP is no small fry in BD politics; it is a major political stakeholder, a former government and now amenable to instructions and injections of the ultra-right in the country. With liberal, secular bloggers being killed regularly, the government in Dhaka should have been quite discreet and suppressed its impulse to accord this raw welcome to Begum Zia who is returning home after a lengthy stay abroad. But the arrow has been shot. In the emerging scenario Sheikh Hasina is on a weaker wicket than ever – her international standing all the more vulnerable in the wake of these murders.