BNP has finally thrown down the gauntlet. After months of what clearly was a skirting around the bush, the main opposition party has now made its position on the question of the 1971 war crimes trial unequivocally clear.
And it has done so at a time and in a manner that can only leave a whole lot of questions about its perceptions of the Liberation War in need of credible answers. Observe.
The party has demanded that the proceedings of the International Crimes Tribunal be put an immediate stop to because of what it believes is a violation of the rights of the accused on the part of the tribunal itself.
From the perspective of strict legality as also from its own assessment of conditions in so far as existing circumstances vis-à-vis the trials are concerned, the party can certainly raise questions about the modalities on which the ICT is or has been functioning. It is of course quite a different matter as to whether or not one agrees with BNP.
BNP's argument that foreign counsels be allowed into the country to act as consultants to the legal teams of the accused is a point not entirely to be dismissed. If an accused in a trial, any trial, wishes to employ the services of lawyers from abroad, there ought not to be a fuss about it on the part of the local authorities. After all, it is the rule of law that matters. The search for justice must always be based on a plugging of every loophole along the way.
Having said that, though, it is rather a matter of surprise that BNP has not only called for a stop to the war crimes trial proceedings but has also appealed to the international community to exert pressure on the government of Bangladesh towards bringing the trial proceedings to a halt. The nature of the pressure is obvious: foreign governments must come into the scene to demand that the trials not be held, that indeed the ICT itself be decreed out of existence.
This raises two very fundamental issues. The first is that BNP's demand for an end to the trials process is effectively a rejection of history on its part as it was shaped in 1971 through the macabre activities of the Pakistan occupation army and its local collaborators.
The second is that by openly calling on the international community to come to the defence of the accused, in so many words, the party has not only called into question the system of justice in Bangladesh but has also patently invited foreign nations and governments to interfere in the workings of a sovereign state. That BNP has not, now or earlier, spoken of the trauma millions of Bangalees went through in 1971, that it has consistently made it a point to look the other way every time a demand for the trial of war criminals has come up, is telling.
Bangladesh's particular tragedy has been the swiftness with which its original ideals were sent packing in the post-1975 period. Where the liberation of the country in December 1971 was quickly complemented by a ban on religion-based parties, especially those which had cheerfully participated in the pogrom committed by Pakistan's soldiers, the advent of military rule in August-November 1975 saw the happy return of the old collaborators of Pakistan to centre stage, with horrifying results.
That, of course, was preceded by a repeal of the Collaborators Act of 1972 in December 1975. It was then quite natural for the country, dominated as it was by illegitimate military regimes, to be pushed away from its secular moorings and into a clear rightwing path through a mutilation of the constitution itself. The height of irony, certainly, was the rise of a goodly number of collaborators to ministerial niches in a state whose birth they had violently opposed in 1971.
BNP's position on the war crimes trial will not endear it to the people of Bangladesh. Worse, it is among those of its followers who have taken pride in the Liberation War and who have not forgotten the sacrifices of three million Bangalees that it has now opened itself to ridicule. In a broad manner of speaking, by so blatantly and brazenly coming to the defence of the war crimes accused, the party appears to have now formally acknowledged what its detractors have long suspected it of. And here it is:
In expressing its concerns about the fairness of the trial process without at the same time taking public sentiment about 1971 into cognizance, it has consciously or unconsciously shown an outrageous degree of disregard for the feelings of the people of Bangladesh;
By overlooking or staying quiet over the doings of the collaborators of 1971 and indeed by welcoming them into its fold, either party-wise or alliance-wise, it has brought into question its entire attitude to the Bangalees' armed struggle for freedom in 1971;
Beyond and above everything, BNP's position on the war crimes trial reflects a clear shift away from the centrist role it has played in politics so far and into a definitive rightwing mould. Which begs the question: has it now mutated into a political conservatism that can only make its alliance partners grin from ear to ear in satisfaction?
BNP, say the cynics, has boldly unmasked itself. One is not quite sure if congratulations are in order.