On the 37th occasion of murder of the four National leaders, M. Sanjeeb Hossain has an op-ed in bdnews24. Who is M. Sanjeeb Hossain? Mr. Hossain’s bio is here. It should be further mentioned that he is the son of Prof. Anwar Hossain of Dhaka University, and thus, nephew of the late hero and Sector Commander Col. Abu Taher.

First, what is the point of this op-ed? From the concluding paragraph:

The more this unity is strengthened, the greater the chances that Bangladesh will move ahead in a positive direction. The Awami League must learn from it’s mistakes from the era of 1972-’75 just as the ‘left’ should comprehend how its immediate shift to an oppositional position after Liberation was a premature step. We need to know our true foes – the defeated anti-liberation forces of 1971, which are still lurking around waiting for an opportunity to strike back. Also, we need to identify our true friends. We can not afford to distance ourselves from each other like we did in 1972 and in the years that followed. The unity of democratic and progressive forces infused with muktijuddher chetona was successful in 1971 and there is no doubt it shall be successful again if it takes lessons from the errors of the past.

So, in his own words, he is concerned about strengthening the alliance between JSD (the party championed by his uncle that he will head one day). That part is perfectly understandable; it is by dint of this alliance that JSD now has Members of Parliament and even, miracle of miracles, cabinet ministers. The second part is more subtle, and thus, interesting. “We need to identify our true friends”- so, to warn Caesar of enemies lurking both externally and internally, so to speak.

I very much enjoyed reading this op-ed. Because of his personal background and family history, Mr. Hossain is more pro-Awami League than actual Awami League leaders. Yet, because of the admittedly complex agenda he inherits, he cannot write the usual anti-Zia diatribe portraying Bangladesh between 1972 and 1975 as the land of milk and honey that all went horribly wrong on August 1975. He does the best with the hand he is dealt.

Consider this. A standard trope of Awami propaganda is that it was only post-Mujib administrations, and especially President Ziaur Rahman, who filled top administrative posts with officers with overt or covert Pakistani leaning. Yet, as Mr. Hossain himself alleges:

  • Captain Hakim, who fought with Pakistan against Bangladesh during all nine months of the Liberation War, was, by March 1972, chief of Dhaka Transit Camp and of Army’s Military Police.
  • Col. Salahuddin, who was the principal razakar recruiting officer for the Pakistani Army, served as Military Secretary to Bangladesh’s first and second Presidents, Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and Mahmudullah respectively. Colonel Salauddin would also be part of President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s staff in 1975 (op. cit.) and President Ziaur Rahman’s first Military Secretary.
  • Col. Masud, who had directly collaborated with the Pakistani Army, almost became Bangladesh Army’s first Adjutant General until Col. Taher successfully lobbied to have himself inserted into that position.
  • The appointments of Lt. Col. KM Rahman as head of the Army’s supply unit, Air Commodore Aminul Islam as Chief of the DGFI and Lt. Al Farid and Lt. Modabber into the police forces were suspect since all these individuals had collaborated directly with the Pakistan Army during 1971.
  • A.M.S. Safdar, who, as the leading intelligence officer of the Ayub regime in East Pakistan, would literally ‘carry the prosecutor’s briefcase into the court every day’ during the Agartala Trial, would be appointed to the President’s Vigilance Team, a police security unit dealing with corruption, intelligence and domestic order.
  • Abdur Rahim – former Director of Pakistan’s Razakar forces, would be appointed Secretary to the President.

And this is not to mention the continuous rise of Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed in independent Bangladesh as well as the commensurate decline of Tajuddin Ahmed, and you cannot help but scratch your head.

Mr. Hossain’s piece is also a fascinating study in how propaganda and lies, once sprouted, continue to circulate and take on a life of their own, sometimes quite separately from their original uses. Prothom Alo ran several rather innocuous American diplomatic cables to insinuate that Zia was somehow complicit in the August 1975 massacre. Mr. Hossain goes one step further and tries to show, as he must, that Khaled Mosharraf was also somehow complicit in this conspiracy. The same Khaled Mosharraf, who is often nowadays painted by Awami League as the good officer/coup-maker, and whose brother was made a MP and state minister by Hasina in 1996.

As impressive as Mr. Hossain is, once cannot wonder whether his youth blinds him to several tactical mistakes he committed in this article. The most glaring would be to claim that JSD was on its way to union with BKSAL.

This may sound surprising to many historians but after the formation of BAKSAL in 1975 Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni had secretly met with Sirajul Alam Khan at the residence of Ms. Jahanara, the Assistant Editor of Banglar Bani. Fakir Abdur Razzak, a close aide to Sheikh Moni recalls: “The main objective of these meetings was to bring JSD into the broad national unity that Bangabandhu had called upon. Later on I heard that Moni bhai had succeeded to convince Sirajul Alam Khan in principle, but Khan and his political colleagues had refrained at that point in time from being named members of any BAKSAL committee.”

The creation of BKSAL probably stands as the single greatest tragedy in Bangladesh’s history; a blight which we have not been able to escape to this day. That Mr. Hossain speaks longingly of the possibility of the merger between BKSAL and his JSD speaks poorly about both his understanding of Bangladeshi history as well as his commitment to democratic principles.

It is possibly ironic that in the months before his fall, Sheikh Mujib was often more comfortable listening to the advice of Leftist politicians rather than his own colleagues, a position that may be familiar to his daughter. One hopes that in the future, some other bright young person will not have to write another op-ed and lament how Hasina failed to identify her true friends. That would be a fitting wish to make on the anniversary of this tragic day.