By Rajeev Sharma
Bangladesh polity these days is agog with the first war crimes trial that was earlier scheduled to start on November 14 but has now been delayed until November 20. The Sheikh Hasina government is going full steam ahead in making sure that those who indulged in seditious activities during the nation’s freedom struggle in 1971 do not go unpunished. A lot of army personnel who colluded with Pakistan Army and killed Bangladeshis, leaders and commoners alike, are now finding heat being turned on to them.
Most of the ‘killer Majors’ who were instrumental in assassinating the founding father of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975 were also involved in the brutal killing of four national leaders inside Dhaka Central jail on November 3, 1975. Four Liberation War heroes – Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, AHM Quamruzzaman and Captain Mansur Ali – were shot dead in captivity in Dhaka Central Jail on this day. These four leaders had played a pivotal role in the formation of Mujibnagar Government-in-exile under leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and steered the nation to victory over Pakistan while Sheikh Mujibur Rahman continued to languish in Pakistani prison.
With the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the clique that seized control of the country took the four national leaders into custody and got them killed as these leaders were to form the core of the government under leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Since then ‘Jail Killing Day’ is observed on November 3 every year to commemorate the assassinations of four national leaders and reiterate demand for fresh trial of the killers.
One among the killers involved in the assassination of both Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the four national leaders is Major (Retd.) Khairuzzaman. Soon after the jail killing in November 1975 following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the then Deputy Inspector General of Police Abdul Awal, in the first information report (FIR) filed on November 4, 1975 with Lalbagh police station in Dhaka, accused Major (Retd) Khairuzzaman along with four other army officers for these murders. Their prosecution would have been a cake walk as the killers proudly proclaimed their crime at that time. But the police investigation and trial did not go any further and what followed was a bizarre sequence of events one would associate with mafia rule rather than civilized rule.
Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed who took over power after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed the Indemnity Ordinance which granted immunity to the killers from prosecution. It was Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmad who was primarily responsible for legitimizing murders and protecting the killers. The infamous Indemnity Ordinance blocked investigation into the cold-blooded murders of the founding father of the nation and his family as well as the four national leaders. Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmad also changed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman coined slogan ‘Joy Bangla’ to ‘Bangladesh Zindabad’ on the pattern of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘Bangladesh Betar’ to ‘Radio Bangladesh’ in a move reminiscent of Pakistani days.
The Martial Law government of General Ziaur Rahman that came to power after overthrow of Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmad, took the ordinance into the statute book and gave protection to the murderers under the cloak of law. General HM Ershad, the military dictator who succeeded General Ziaur Rahman, followed the footsteps of his predecessors; and far from taking any punitive action against the killers, he rewarded them by giving them diplomatic assignments abroad.
When the democratically elected BNP government headed by General Ziaur Rahman’s widow Khaleda Zia came to power in 1991, there was expectation of the law taking its course against the killers. But she fared no better and stuck to the past. In fact, Khaleda Zia led administration was an extension of the Martial Law government that ruled the country from 1975 to 1991.
At last, the police probe of the killings commenced on August 18, 1996 (long twenty one years after the gruesome crimes were committed), when the first Awami League (AL) Government headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s daughter Sheikh Hasina was installed. The AL Government annulled the Indemnity Law that had granted protection to the killers from prosecution. But as the AL subsequently lost in the elections held in 2001 and went out of power and BNP-JEI alliance government took over, five pro-BNP elements including Major (Retd.) Khairuzzaman who were in jail facing trial for their involvement in the gruesome killings got out on bail. Finally all the five were acquitted by a court and the case was sent in a cold storage. Major (Retd) Khairuzzaman was even rewarded. He was appointed to a Foreign Ministry job with the rank of Additional Secretary. Thereafter he was made Bangladesh High Commissioner to Malaysia.
Immediately after the AL led Government headed by Sheikh Hasina was installed for the second time after the last parliamentary elections held in December 2008, the case was revived and Foreign Ministry issued an order directing Major (Retd) Khairuzzaman, High Commissioner to Malaysia, to return to Dhaka and join the Foreign Ministry by March 7, 2009. But he did not comply with the order and in stead sought medical leave till July 3, 2009, the day of his Leave Preparatory to Retirement (LPR). The Ministry however turned down his application for medical leave. Thereafter the Government cancelled his diplomatic passport and appointed AKM Atiqur Rahman as Bangladesh High Commissioner to Malaysia in his place. Although Major (Retd) Khairuzzaman handed over charge to his successor, he did not return and has remained an absconder.
Media reports have now revealed that Major (Retd) Khairuzzaman has decided to settle down in Kuala Lumpur. He has applied for a home in Kuala Lumpur under the country’s “Malaysia My Second Home” scheme, fulfilling all criteria to stay a long time over there. It is learnt that Khairuzzaman is also planning to set up business in Kuala Lumpur along with some other Bangladeshi fugitives and all of them are maintaining close contact with some senior BNP leaders in Dhaka. The new Bangladesh High Commissioner to Malaysia Atiqur Rahman is also convinced that Khairuzzaman is residing in Kuala Lumpur.