Hangings in Pakistan and Bangladesh are inevitably followed by more violence

It seems to be hanging season on India’s western and eastern borders. If Pakistan is hanging militants and terrorists responsible for the upsurge in violence in recent years, Bangladesh is going after the war criminals behind the mass atrocities in the lead-up to the liberation of the country in 1971.

The reasons are clearly different, but in both Pakistan and Bangladesh each execution is often followed by attacks on civilians. If, in Pakistan, terrorists often zero in on random targets, in Bangladesh, secular bloggers are now under the militant radar.

In Bangladesh, the latest to be hanged was former Agriculture Minister Motiur Rahman Nizami, chief of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami. He was hanged on May 11 after being convicted by a war crimes tribunal for his role in the mass killing of civilians in 1971.

With Nizami’s execution, four top Jamaat leaders have been sent to the gallows by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’a government, while the fifth, Salahuddin Quader Chaudhry, belonged to the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia.

Given that these five were pillars of the political establishment till yesterday despite their widely known role in the 1971 killings, the hangings have shaken up Bangladesh’s politics like never before.

On May 12, Pakistani Army Chief Raheel Sharif confirmed the death sentence on Saad Aziz, Tahir Hussain Minhas, Asad ur Rehman, Hafiz Nasir and Muhammad Azhar Ishrat for the May 2015 bus attack on minority Shias and the April 2015 assassination of human rights’ activist Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi.

Of the five convicted by a Pakistani military court, there has been considerable focus on Aziz, who has a BBA degree from the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi and is known to have personally shot Sabeen Mahmud dead. He did his O-levels from Beaconhouse in Karachi, one of Pakistan’s best-known schools.

A graphic account in the Dawn newspaper reveals that Aziz was “inspired” by the sectarian conflict in Yemen and got to know a Jamaat-e-Islami activist linked to al-Qaeda while doing an internship in Unilever.

It’s of some interest that Aziz came into contact with the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, which has been umbilically linked to the Jamaat in Bangladesh, of which Nizami was the Amir or chief.

Again, today Dawn reported that five officers of the Pakistan Navy linked to Islamic State (IS) have been sentenced to death by a naval tribunal for their role in the September 2014 Karachi naval dockyard attack in which one sailor and two terrorists were killed.

The Jamaat and its youth wings, both in Pakistan and Bangladesh, are known to try and impose a harsh Islamist order in the public sphere with special focus on how women should dress and behave.

The hangings of Jamaat leaders by Bangladesh has led to howls of protest from Islamabad — diplomats have been summoned and then counter-summoned by both sides — revealing that the Pakistan-Bangladesh relationship remains tenuous.

A press release issued by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry on Nizami’s hanging said, “Pakistan is deeply saddened over the hanging… His only sin was upholding the constitution and laws of Pakistan.”

In a direct response to Nizami’s role in furthering the cause of Pakistan as Bangladeshis fought their war of liberation, Dhaka said in a statement, by “repeatedly taking the side of those Bangladesh nationals who are convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide, Pakistan has once again acknowledged its direct involvement and complicity with the mass atrocity crimes committed during Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971.”

“It is a matter of great regret that Pakistan continues to comment in the misguided defence of this convicted criminal. These uncalled reactions amount to direct interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, which is totally unacceptable…” the statement added.

One can’t think of an uglier exchange — Pakistan argues that Nizami was upholding its “constitution” while Bangladesh reiterates that Pakistan was complicit in the 1971 war crimes. In point of fact, Pakistan was under martial law at this point of time and no constitution was in force.

It is evident that the fault-lines in Pakistan-Bangladesh relations have deepened after the hangings of Jamaat leaders by Dhaka. Given that this is for the first time the 1971 criminals are being brought to justice, some years after the mass killings, this acrimony was perhaps inevitable.

Though Islamabad has had good relations when the BNP and the Jamaat have been in power, it has been unable to address the fundamental issue — that its troops aided by collaborators — were responsible for the deaths of lakhs of Bangladeshis.

Even as they differ and bicker very publicly, both countries have resorted to the drastic and irreversible punishment of the death penalty in an effort to give justice and bring closure to victims.

In Pakistan, 332 persons have been executed in 2014-15, with the death sentences being handed down by military courts and being confirmed by the Army Chief, who has made the battle against some terrorists a very personal battle.

In Bangladesh, as many as 197 persons were sentenced to death in 2015, Amnesty International reported. The parallel processes of hanging in Bangladesh and Pakistan have different, contending motivations.

The real question, of course, is this: will it help in healing the wounds or just open fresh ones?

Source:- The Hindu, 24/5/2016