Bangladesh : New war for independence

Col.. Abu Taher

There is a new war of independence in Bangladesh.  Hundreds of thousands of people led by students have been demonstrating for the past few weeks calling for the punishment of war criminals who committed atrocities during Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971. Movement is known as Shahbagh(Ganajagaran Mancha) has grown steadily over the months. This article looks at the movement and the historical roots for the current crisis.

India was partitioned in 1948 on a religious basis as a Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India. Although India was a majority Hindu country it is nominally secular. Pakistan consist of  an urdu speaking west Pakistan and Bengali speaking east Pakistan. As Urdu speaking west Pakistan started dominating Pakistan soon the differences became clear.  Bengalis started fighting for their language rights. In1971 Awami league from East Pakistan won the elections and demanded autonomy for East Pakistan. Pakistani Army dominated by Westerners with the support of Islamic fundamentalists started massive crackdown against Bengalis.  Bengalis then demanded an independent state "Bangladesh" . Pakistan army carried out massacres and other war crimes against Bengalis. Pakistan army was helped by Jammat al Islami (JI) an Islamic fundamentalist organization. JI carried out massacres of pro independence supporters and minority Hindus. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Externally Pakistan was supported by U.S

Awami league is a bourgeoisie nationalist party supported by India . Division of Pakistan was an Indian strategic goal. Awami league  leaders went into exile to India. They organized an armed struggle within Bangladesh led by "Mukhti Bahini". Mukhti Bahini was organized and controlled by Indian Army. Indian army was using Mukhti Bahini to soften up Pakistan army before full blown intervention.

However another element became part of the independence struggle. This element which consist of Bengali regiments within Pakistan Army joined the struggle . Many of them had radical views about the future of struggle and independent struggle. Foremost among them was Col.Abu.Taher. Col Abu Taher fought bravely in the struggle and lost his leg.

Indian forces intervened and Awami League government led by Mujibur Rahuman came to power in Bangladesh.  All the war crimes and criminals were forgiven and JI was allowed to function . Bangladesh armed forces was created combining Mukhti Bahini and former Bengali regiments. However there was constant tension between the two groups.

Awami League was unable to enact real social reforms to alleviate widespread poverty in the country and became unpopular. After agitation carried out by opposition forces including JI the government was overthrown in a military coup backed by U.S . Mujibur Rahuman and many members of his family were assassinated. New military government was then overthrown by a pro Indian sections of the Bangladesh military.This led to revolt by soldiers led by Col.Abu Taher.. Soldiers overthrew the Pro-indian military leadership and put the chief of staff Ziaur Rahuman in power. Soldiers wanted widespread reform of the society and the creation of people's army. However military leadership now solidified under Ziaur betrayed the soldiers rebellion. Abu Taher was arrested and hanged without a fair trial. Ziaur Rahuman became President and  established his own party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Since then BNP and Awami League have been in power through elections. However none of the war criminals were punished. There has been no social  reform and majority of  the population live in poverty. In addition Bangladesh has become either pro western or pro indian state depending on which party is in power. Poverty and social inequality has led to the growth of JI and other fundamentalist groups.

However the sector commanders during the 1971 war of independence formed their own organisation and demanded war crime trials and retrial for Abu Taher. In the last elections they supported Awami League with their demand. Awami League won a massive victory and came to power. It established war crimes tribunals. These tribunals were initially for window dressing purposes. It tried few JI leaders and gave them life sentences. This infuriated the youth led by students. They staged demonstrations in Shahbagh square in the capital Dhaka. Hundreds of thousands supported the youth and the movement became known as Shahbagh movement. JI leaders were retried and sentenced to death. JI in retaliation is carrying out violent protests. Col Abu Taher's death is now declared judicial killing by the court.

What is happening in Bangladesh is not just a battle between those who fought for independence and those who opposed it. It is far more than that. It is a conflict between secular forces led by youth and Islamic fundamentalists led by JI.  In this conflict Awami league is with secular forces  and BNP with  JI. Bangladesh is a Muslim country with more than 100 million population. JI is well entrenched especially in rural areas financed by reactionary Arab monarchies such as Saudi Arabia. This battle is of immense significance to the Muslim countries where the same battle is going on after the so called Arab spring.

In all these countries petty bourgeoisie including youth are divided between secular forces and Islamic forces. Secular forces consist of  pro western elements, liberals and left forces.
Islamic forces consist of Muslim Brotherhood , Islamic fundamentalists of many different cues including jihadists. Over decades  U.S and western countries supported Islamic forces to defeat nationalist and progressive forces. However with advent of Jihadists , U.S has to fight on two fronts. As such U.S support so called moderate Islamic groups such as Muslim brotherhood and JI against progressive forces and as an alternative to Jihadists. Ultimately this strategy will even push pro western secular petty bourgeoisie to take radical stand.
JI has killed many of the secular youth(and pro western)  in Bangladesh. U.S and other western countries instead of condemning JI has been criticizing the war crimes tribunals.
This approach is hypocritical as may war crimes tribunals have been set up by western countries to punish leaders who did not toe their line.

Battle between secular forces and islamic forces in Bangladesh will be a fore runner for Egypt, Tunisia and Indonesia.

07th of March 2013