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Monday, March 4, 2013

Pranab visits Dhaka when Bangladesh is in turmoil


There have been times when Presidents of countries have gone on International tours which dubbed as mere holidaying… sure Indian President Pranab is not enjoying this trip… he is in Bangladesh at a time when scores of people are reported to have died in clashes in Bangladesh during a strike over a death sentence given to an Islamist party leader. The streets of the capital remain largely calm as the strike takes effect, although roads are empty and businesses closed in many parts of the country, with people are staying indoors for fear of more violence, reports state.  The US has expressed concern about the violence and has appealed for the protests to be peaceful.

There are reports that the Bangladeshi government deployed troops to the town of Bogra, where eight people were killed in clashes between police and Islamist party supporters. Bangladesh has been rocked by protests and counter-protests since January, when a tribunal set up by the government to investigate abuses during the war of independence against Pakistan handed down its first conviction, sentencing a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in absentia to death. About 60 people have been killed in protests since the tribunal's third conviction on Thursday, when another member of the Islamist party, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 73, was sentenced to death for abuses including murder and rape during the war.

Bangladesh is at present burning with a 'passion' to avenge the 'war crimes' perpetrated by Islamic militia following the 1971 liberation war. Continued disturbance in the country has affected lives of hundreds of people of the country.  Beginning with the start of Operation Searchlight on 25 March 1971 and due to the Bangladesh Liberation War, there were numerous human rights abuses in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) perpetrated by the Pakistan Army, with support from local political and religious militias. As early as December 22, 1971, the Indian Army was conducting investigations of senior Pakistani Army officers connected to the massacre of intellectuals in Dhaka, with the aim of collecting sufficient evidence to have them tried as war criminals.

Now, trouble broke out last Thursday after 73-year-old Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was sentenced to death by International Crimes Tribunal. The International Crimes Tribunal is a domestic war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh set up to investigate and bring to trial suspects over the atrocities which were committed by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators, the Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Opposition Bangladesh National Party leaders, led by Khaleda Zia, say the ruling Awami League party is using the trial for political gain by using the ICT to weaken, or using it to eliminate the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

It is stated that people did expect  some sort of a backlash after the verdict against Delwar Hossain Sayedee, but the intensity of the violence and the increasing casualty figures have surprised and shocked many people. Some believe that as Jamaat is fighting for its survival it is bound to intensify its protests. The rallies have now moved to various districts and in some places the police were outnumbered. A few policemen were beaten to death. It is difficult for the the authorities to despatch officers and border guards to every corner of the country. Reports suggest that ongoing war crimes trial has divided the nation; there are also reports that majority of the people want the trial to go on. Police have fought pitched battles with supporters of the Islamist party in many parts of the country. 

In such a scenario, Bangladesh today rolled out the red carpet for President Pranab Mukherjee who arrived there on a three-day state visit to boost bilateral ties between the Nations.  In an apparent fall-out of the domestic political standoff over war crimes trial and consequent violence, opposition leader and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia cancelled her meeting with  Mr Pranab Mukherjee.   At the airport when Mr Pranab landed from an Air India One flight,  he was received by Bangladesh President Mohammad Zillur Rahman at the VVIP lounge of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.  He was accorded a ceremonial reception at the airport including a 21-gun salute, after which he inspected the guard of honour by the three services of Bangladesh defence forces. The visit by Mukherjee and his wife Suvra Mukherjee is invested with a lot of symbolism.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
4th Mar 2013

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