Gaddafi and the assassins | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 21, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 21, 2011

Ground Realities

Gaddafi and the assassins

It was quite in order for Sheikh Hasina to remind us of a rather forgotten bit of our history some weeks ago. As she would have us know, when she first took office as Bangladesh's prime minister in June 1996, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi wrote to her to seek pardon for the assassins of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Remember that at that point their trials had not got underway, though it was fairly obvious that the law would soon be applied in bringing them into the net. Quite a few of them happened to be in the country, one of them being Farook Rahman. Those who knew this arch conspirator in those days will testify to the arrogance he went on demonstrating even after the Awami League had come back to power. He was convinced that Sheikh Hasina would not have the courage to touch him.
In the end, Sheikh Hasina did go after him and after his fellow assassins with resolve, to her credit and to the nation's relief. When in years to come she is remembered by this nation, one of the acts for which she will be admired is the cool, properly legal manner in which she went about punishing those who had violated the constitution and molested all moral principles through conspiring against the legally established government of Bangladesh and murdering Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his family and his political associates. Not all of the assassins have walked to the gallows, but you can be sure that the fugitives who keep moving from country to country in search of safe havens will one day be either nabbed or die miserable deaths. Infamy is cannibalistic, gorges itself on its own.
Gaddafi asked Sheikh Hasina to show magnanimity to the killers and even quoted from the Quran to buttress his appeal. For her part, Sheikh Hasina responded to his appeal with another quote, this one in defence of a need for justice to be done by one whose parents' lives have been brutally done away with. Gaddafi sent no second message. Now think back on Farook Rahman's hubristic belief that he would remain untouched. He, like so many others, must have drawn the false conclusion that with governments like Libya's standing behind him and his co-conspirators, Bangladesh's new leader would lapse into silence over the murders of August 1975.
One would do well to recall that following the killings of August and November 1975, Bangabandhu's assassins had found not only refuge but opportunities as well for a fresh new beginning in Gaddafi's Libya. Even as you wonder where the fugitive Colonel Rashid is at this point, now that Gaddafi himself is on the run, you cannot forget the lucrative business he operated in Tripoli for years on end. Rashid and Farook kept in contact, with the assassins frequently making trips between Libya and Pakistan. The latter country celebrated loudly the death of Bangladesh's founding father in 1975.
Which, of course, takes you back to the manner in which Farook Rahman joined the War of Liberation at its final phase, in November 1971. Unlike other Bengali military officers who made their daring escape to India through the frontier, Farook reportedly travelled first to Tripoli before making his way to the Mujibnagar government. That tells you something. Throughout 1971, Gaddafi remained vociferous in his support for Pakistan and saw absolutely no reason to condemn the genocide being perpetrated in Bangladesh by Pakistan's soldiers. A grateful Zulfikar Ali Bhutto honoured the Libyan leader by naming a stadium in Lahore after him. Two megalomaniacs were thus in spirit united.
It now becomes important to ask what manner of arrangements the regime of General Ziaur Rahman made with Colonel Gaddafi about keeping Bangabandhu's assassins hale and hearty in Libya. Go back a few years, to the times immediately after Bangladesh's liberation. Libya was one of those Middle Eastern nations whose fury had been aroused by Pakistan's break-up. Collaborationist Bengali elements, stranded in Pakistan after December 1971, cheerfully massaged that indignation, through travelling all over the Middle East disseminating the lie that Islam was under threat in secular Bangladesh, that the new country must not be accorded diplomatic recognition. Golam Azam, Hamidul Haq Chowdhury, Mahmud Ali, Syed Sajjad Husain and Raja Tridiv Roy were but a few of these Bengalis. Gaddafi, like other autocrats in the Middle East, rejoiced in the fall of Bangladesh's founder. It was to his country that the assassins went. Zia, the indemnity ordinance firmly behind him, did not appear to mind.
You do not need much wisdom to comprehend the circumstances leading to the formation of the Freedom Party by the assassins in the era of General Hussein Muhammad Ershad. Gaddafi helped, no holds barred. To our undying shame, General Ershad, who had prayed at the grave of Bangabandhu soon after seizing power in 1982, was quite content to see the killers of the Father of the Nation set up a political party and take part in elections. The regime turned a blind eye to Libyan money flowing into the coffers of the Freedom Party. And Libya, after all, was also an economic destination for many Bengalis -- workers, teachers, doctors, engineerswhich was why Bangladesh's military rulers decided that silence was in order.
History is now in pursuit of Muammar Gaddafi over his sins. We have brought five of Bangabandhu's killers to justice and wait for the others to be hauled in. Perhaps we could now ask the new rulers of Libya to hand over Rashid to us, if he has survived the uprising against Gaddafi, if he is yet there?

The writer is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star.

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