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Bangladesh-Pakistan Relations Sour Over Islamist Leader's War Crimes Execution

Bangladeshi people protest against Pakistani agenda with war crime trial. Protest near Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka. Image by Kazi Sudipto. Copyright Demotix (19/12/2013)

Bangladeshi people protest against Pakistan's condemnation of the execution of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah near the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka. Photo by Kazi Sudipto. Copyright Demotix (19/12/2013)

Bangladesh's execution last week of Abdul Quader Mollah, the assistant secretary general of right-wing Islamist party Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, for crimes against humanity committed during its 1971 war for independence from Pakistan has caused a serious rift in the two South Asian countries’ relationship. 

Pakistan's lower house, the National Assembly, adopted a resolution on 16 December 2013 expressing concern over the hanging of Quader Mollah five days earlier, with some members claiming that the real reason behind his execution was his “loyalty to Pakistan”.

A special war crimes tribunal had convicted Quader Mollah earlier this year of 344 counts of murder, rape and torture during Bangladesh's bloody liberation war from Pakistan in 1971 and sentenced him to life in prison, but hundreds of thousands of people converged in a central intersection of capital city Dhaka to demand capital punishment in what became known as the Shahbag protests. The government eventually appealed Quader Mollah's sentence, and he was condemned to death.  

Every political party including the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), except the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP), present in the house supported the resolution moved by the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.

Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami has commented that Quader Mollah was hanged because “he was loyal to Pakistan and supported the Pakistan army during the 1971 war”. Interestingly, Quader Mollah claimed during his defense that he did not take part in the killing of at least 381 unarmed people in Dhaka's Mirpur and Keraniganj areas in 1971, but rather he trained to participate in the liberation war and was awaiting his turn in Faridpur to join the battle against Pakistan (he joined Jamaat-e-Islami in 1979). The statement that “he was loyal to Pakistan” seems to contradict his defense.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party Chairman Imran Khan also claimed that Quader Molla was innocent and charges against him were “false”.

Bangladesh protested immediately, requesting that Pakistan refrain from such “interference” in its domestic affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Pakistan High Commissioner Mian Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi Qureshi on the evening of 17 December to inform him of the government's unhappiness with Pakistan's “completely untrue, biased and absolutely inappropriate” remarks.

The war of words spilled over onto the Internet, where the truth gave way at times to propaganda. After the execution of Qadir Mollah, his alleged last letter circulated on the Pakistani blogosphere and social media. The source of this letter could not be confirmed. The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami website doesn't have any Urdu letter or any content similar to this one available.

Fake letter of Abdul Qadir Mollah

The likely fake last letter of Abdul Qadir Mollah

“The Last Letter of Abdul Qadir”.

I am given new clothes. The water for bathing is in the bucket. The officer on duty orders me to take a bath quickly. Every sepoy peeps in. Some are sad and some are happy. Their continuous movement disturbs my recitation of the Quran. I have Tafheem e Quran of Sayeed Modidi in front of me, here is the translation:

“Don’t be sad, you will overcome them if you are a Momin”

Subhan Allah! There is satisfaction in these words…I have a request to you all that stay firm… I can see this path leads to heaven.

Your Muslim brother

Abdul Qadir Mollah

Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan organize a protest rally in Islamabad against the hanging of Abdul Quader Mollah Jamaat, leader In Bangladesh. They offered prayers in memory of the executed opposition leader, lambasted at the Bangladeshi Government. Image by Taseen Farooq. Copyright Demotix (13/12/2013)

Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan organize a protest rally in Islamabad against the hanging of Abdul Quader Mollah Jamaat, leader in Bangladesh. They offered prayers in memory of the executed opposition leader and lambasted the Bangladeshi government. Photo by Taseen Farooq. Copyright Demotix (13/12/2013)

Hundreds of members of Jamaat-e-Islami held protests in Pakistan against the execution in Lahore, the capital Islamabad and Peshawar. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hassan said the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh were under the influence of India. The protesters offered funeral prayers in absentia for Qader Mollah.

Senior journalists in Pakistan also participated in the “Gayabana Namaz e Janaza” (last prayers in absentia) in Islamabad. Twitter account Save Bangladesh tweeted a photo in which Hamid Mir and Mushtaq Minhas, seasoned journalists, appear in the first row:

Hamid Mir blasted the execution:

Online journalist Khalid Khan reported that the hashtag #WeAreQuaderMollah was trending on Pakistan's Twitter on 12 December as users expressed their solidarity with the convicted war criminal:

Several Urdu-language newspapers and right-wing English newspapers also condemned the execution of Quader Mollah.

This fake picture was also circulated by Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf. One of PTI supporters, Muhammad Ali Lashari, tweeted:

But there were those who offered more measured reactions, such as Faizan Lakhani:

Meanwhile, the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group threatened to attack the Bangladesh embassy in Islamabad.

Bangladeshis were no less vocal in protesting pushback from Pakistan. The country's prime minister strongly condemned Pakistan for its reaction to the execution.  Newspaper articles criticized the Pakistani resolution. Some bloggers called for severing diplomatic ties [bn] with Pakistan in protest.

People from all walks of life staged angry protests around the country on the 18 December. The next day, police wielding batons forced back a group of young people on their way to lay siege to the Pakistan High Commission in the capital’s Gulshan area. Six activists were arrested and dozens were injured.

Blogger Dangabaz [bn] analyzed the reason why Pakistan is irked by the execution on Sachalayatan Bangla blogging platform:

ওরা ১৯৭৪ সালের ২৪শে মার্চ (পশ্চিম পাকিস্তানের) সব বাঙ্গালী পরিবার বাংলাদেশে পাঠানোর কাজ সম্পন্ন করে এবং (বিনিময়ে) বাংলাদেশ সরকার ১৯৫ জন পাকিস্তানী যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের বিরুদ্ধে সব অভিযোগ এবং তথ্যপ্রমান ওদের সাথে দিয়ে দেয় যেন পাকিস্তানে এইসব যুদ্ধাপরাধীর বিচার করা সম্ভব হয়। তাদের সঙ্গে বোঝাপড়া হয় এভাবে যে এইসব পাকিস্তানী সৈন্যদের পাকিস্তান নিজে শাস্তি দেবে। [..]

কিন্তু গত ৪২ বছরেও পাকিস্তান তাদের কথা রাখেনি। ওদের কোন বিচারিক প্রক্রিয়া তো দুরে থাক বরং মুক্তি পাওয়া সৈন্যদের সংবর্ধনা দিয়েছে বলেও শোনা গেছে।

They had repatriated all Bengali families residing in West Pakistan to Bangladesh by 24 March 1974, and (in return) the Bangladesh government handed over the 195 war criminal soldiers to Pakistan along with all the charges and evidence for easy trial. The understanding was that Pakistan will take the responsibility of punishing these soldiers. [..]

But Pakistan did not keep its word. They did not face any trial. Rather celebrations were undertaken for their release.

Protesters  has marched towards the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh. Image by  Khurshed Alam Rinku. Copyright Demotix (18/12/2013)

Protesters march towards the Pakistan High Commission in Bangladesh. Image by Khurshed Alam Rinku. Copyright Demotix (18/12/2013)

Bangladeshis further reacted to the execution:

Rezwan contributed to this post.

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