The decision by the Bangladesh government to uphold and carry out the death sentence handed down to Islamist leader Abdul Quader Molla for crimes committed during the country’s war of independence threatens to revive old wounds and in the process destabilise security on the streets of Dhaka.
Molla was convicted by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of inciting acts of atrocities during the 1971 independence struggle and was executed this evening. In 1971, East Pakistan defied the Pakistani government and declared independence, sparking the war that would lead to the creation of Bangladesh. Molla was accused of aiding and abetting the forces of the Pakistan government in their attempts to prevent the breakaway of the country’s eastern province.
A senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami, a strict Islamist political group, Molla and his compatriots opposed Bangladeshi independence. On the formation of the Bangladeshi state in 1971, the party was outlawed, only rejoining the political fray in the 1980s.
Pakistani troops, along with Jamaat-e-Islami and various other anti-independence militias, are accused of carrying out a genocide against the Bengali people of East Pakistan. The scale of the atrocities encouraged India to enter the war of independence in opposition to its erstwhile enemy. It took the ruling Awami League until 2009 to establish the Bangladeshi ICT, such was the concern at the potential revelations any high-profile trials might reveal.
However naturally brutal conflict is, the act of executing and raping innocent civilians is criminally unacceptable and someone must pay the price. It would have been easy for the Bangladesh government to allow a further stay of execution for Molla, knowing the reprisals that his Islamist followers are likely to unleash.
Fortunately, the majority of the population are on the side of the government, proven by the candlelit protests in favour of tonight’s execution. Indeed, history must be confronted if a nation in its infancy, which Bangladesh remains, is to create a unified national identity.
Nelson Mandela’s death has brought the theme of reconciliation to the fore in recent days. Such a noble sentiment is explicable in certain cases but it must be married alongside the need for justice.
It is hoped that the supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami recognise the need to punish their wartime leaders. If they can swallow this bitter pill then they will attain greater legitimacy as a political force.
Such an outcome, unfortunately, is not expected. The organisation’s website has already called for mobilisation against the ‘autocratic’ government to oppose the ‘heinous crime’ committed. Battlelines look set to be drawn on the home front once more.