Tag Archives: bangladesh liberation war

2016: Mir Quasem Ali

On this date in 2016, Bangladesh hanged tycoon Mir Quasem Ali for crimes against humanity committed during that country’s 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan.

Known at the time of his death as the wealthiest patron of the party Jamaat-e-Islami, Mir Quasem Ali was in 1971 a first-year physics student at Chittagong College.

This cataclysmic year saw “East Pakistan” — as it was then known — separated from Pakistan amid an infamous bloodbath, and it was for this bloodbath that Ali hanged 45 years later. At the time, he was a member of the Islamist student organization Islami Chattra Shangha;* in the autumn of 1971, that organ was tapped for recruits to the pro-Pakistan paramilitary Al-Badr which helped carry out wholesale massacres. Some three million people are thought to have died during this war.

The court that noosed him found that Ali helped to orchestrate the abductions of pro-independence activists to a three-story hotel in Chittagong commandeered from a Hindu family. Victims there were tortured and some murdered, although others survived to tell of Al-Badr guards announcing the defendant’s arrival with the words “Mr Quasem is here. Mr Commander is here,” seemingly establishing quite a high degree of responsibility for events under that roof.

After a bad result in the war, he fled to Saudi Arabia and embarked on the business career that would see him into the global oligarchy as a billionaire media mogul and (once back in Bangladesh) the chief financier of the chief Islamist party. When a score-settling Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed initiated a tribunal to try human rights crimes from the 1971 war, Mir Quasem Ali immediately started spreading millions around Washington D.C. lobby shops in an unsuccessful bid to use international pressure to shut down the proceedings.

He maintained his innocence to the last, even refusing to seek a presidential clemency since that would have entailed an admission of guilt. These trials, several of which have ended at the gallows, have been intensely controversial within Bangladesh, and without.

* Its present-day successor organization is Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir … which was founded in 1977, by Mir Quasem Ali.

1976: Lt. Col. Abu Taher

At 4 a.m. this date in Dhaka Central Prison, Lt. Col. Abu Taher was hanged for treason.

A series of coups in the mirrored-sunglasses era of military governance shook the young state of Bangladesh:

  • The autocratic Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was toppled by a revolt of junior officers on August 15, 1975;
  • Senior brass in turn felled the ruling junta on November 3, 1975, jailing powerful officer Ziaur Rahman;
  • A quick counter-coup of junior officers — also remembered as the “sepoy mutiny”* — mounted by leftist war hero Abu Taher on November 7 put Ziaur Rahman’s hand back on the helm of state.

While November 7 is still marked in Bangladesh as National Revolution and Solidarity Day, its author got short shrift from its beneficiary.**

Abu Taher, a retired officer and a hero of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War that had detached the former East Pakistan from Islamabad, had visions of social revolution. But three coups in as many months is the sort of thing to rattle the new big man, and Zia consolidated his own power by eliminating threats to both left and right political flanks.

A mere 17 days after doing that National Revolution and Solidarity thing, the guy with the mass movement (pdf) of armed men was arrested for treason. He faced a military tribunal the following year.

Taher scorned the charges against him, but of course the fix was in.

* An allusion to colonial history.

** However, Taher’s own date of martyrdom is also still marked by his posthumous partisans.