Sheikh Hasina is sitting in her chair at the Prime Minister’s Office. Suddenly, the head of SSF, or BGB, or the Engineering Corp for that matter, suddenly comes into her office and tells her that Tanvir Mohammad Twoki, a brilliant young student, has been murdered and that the suspicion is that the family of Shamim Osman is behind it. Hasina stays silent. Or perhaps, more realistically, she launches several blistering ad hominem attacks against the bearer of the news, Khaleda Zia, “shushil samaj,” and her pet peeves of the day. However, she doesn’t order any specific course of action.
Would that make her culpable for the murder of Tauqi?
If not, what on earth to make of the innuendo that Khaleda Zia is somehow implicated in the 10-Truck arms case? Exhibit I against her is supposed to be the fact that Major Gen (ret) Sadiq Hasan Rumi, then head of SSF, came and told her about the recovered arms and she said nothing. The head of the SSF is the Bangladeshi equivalent of the head of the Secret Service, or the head of India’s Special Protection Group. He is not the head of either a law-enforcement or intelligence agency. There is nothing that he would have to do in this instance, and everyone who is quoting this as if it establishes Khaleda Zia’s guilt is well aware of that.
The second supposedly damning evidence against Khaleda Zia is supposed to be the fact that Omar Faruq, the former Home Secretary, gave evidence that supposedly people who were involved in arranging this smuggling were then placed in the committee that was supposed to investigate it. Given how the bureaucracy in Bangladesh works, this is certainly a disappointment, but not a criminal offence. No more than investigating a share market scam while one alleged mastermind of the scam is an advisor to the prime minister, and another one is the chairman of a parliamentary oversight committee.
Regarding the death sentences handed out to others, paraphrasing Sohrab Hasan in Prothom Alo suffices: “Under the applicable statute, I understand that the maximum penalty is the death sentence. However, those who organized a crime and those who did not take preventive measures, despite knowing of it, cannot have the same degree of guilt, though they have been given the same sentences.” (যে আইনে এই মামলা হয়েছে, তার সর্বোচ্চ শাস্তি মৃত্যুদণ্ড, মানি। কিন্তু যাঁরা অপরাধ সংঘটিত করেছেন এবং যাঁরা জেনেও প্রতিকার করেননি, তাঁদের সবার অপরাধ সমান নয়; যদিও একই শাস্তি দেওয়া হয়েছে।) (Prothom Alo, February 8, 2014, The Question Khaleda Zia Must Answer).
Does that mean Khaleda Zia is not guilty at all? She certainly is, of allowing bad policy, if nothing else. Assuming that there were rogue elements within the military or military-intelligence establishment who arranged for and bungled two separate arms trans-shipments to India, let it be understood once and for all: such policies are not realistic for Bangladesh. It would necessitate broad-based and bipartisan support before any such policy was attempted, and to put it mildly, there is no such support.
I understand that this verdict is the result of several different factors: Hasina was desperate to send a concrete signal to the Indians that she appreciated that they had her back. The new Law Minister Anisul Huq, wanted to show that he could strong-arm the judiciary as effectively as the old Shafiq-Kamrul combination. And after Tarique Rahman’s acquittal, the government wouldn’t be taking any more chances. However, even accounting for all these factors, this verdict is a gross miscarriage of justice. I hope the High Court will be able to undo some of the damage very real damage done here.