<i>Time to redeem the old pledge</i>
The wounds remain as fresh as they were four decades ago. The memories of those done to death by the murder squads of the collaborators of the Pakistan occupation forces are, forty years on, as agonising as the moment when we first discovered that they had been abducted, that indeed they had been subjected to a macabre end by elements unwilling to have their masters from the west lose the war and that, having lost the war, were not willing to have the new nation of Bangladesh arise purposefully out of the ashes of what had turned out to be a tragic phase of history.
These dead were some of the best of our citizens. They were, in that coruscating sense, among the brightest of individuals in this land of ceaseless dreams. That they were killed with a purpose, that of maiming a nation at the threshold of freedom, was a truth not lost on observers of the history that was in the process of being made through the nine months of an intense and intensifying war of liberation between March and December 1971. They were picked up by the Al-Badr and All Shams, both goon squads of the Jamaat-e-Islami working in tandem with the Pakistan occupation forces. And then they were picked off, in slow but sure degrees.
If for Bangladesh the murder of these individuals was unmitigated tragedy, for Pakistan it was -- and is -- is a shame that cannot be washed away. And for those Bangalees who collaborated with the occupation forces, it was a scandal they would never be able to live down or turn away from. For these quislings, history would prove to be a hard taskmaster.
And yet history has been slow in ensuring justice for the victims of genocide we remember in a sad December every year. For a nation which resolutely marched into a struggle for liberty and eventually forced a capitulation of the enemy, the expectation of a system of justice based on globally accepted standards where it came to a taking of the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to account was swiftly belied. Bangladesh's particular tragedy, unique in its features and rare in the annals of history, consisted in its inability not only to bring the men behind the murder of its leading intellectuals to account but also in being compelled to observe the anti-history forces, or call them reactionaries coming in the guise of military rule, rehabilitate them in a country they did not, perhaps do not even now, believe in. The shame was and will always be ours that those who went out on a limb back in 1971 to prevent our emergence into freedom, who actively assisted the occupation forces in their genocide of three million Bangalees and in the rape of two hundred thousand Bangalee women were to find a coveted niche for themselves as powerful politicians in a land left increasingly mutilated by intrigue and untruth.
But, again, history has a way of getting back at those who seek to humiliate it at frequent intervals in time. It is that moment we perhaps are living through when those who escaped facing the wheels of justice must now confront the truth that the price for injustice and calculated murder must finally be paid. As we observe once again, with due solemnity, with that old, never-ending cracking of the heart, the memory of the gloom which descended on us when we discovered, even as we sang of the joy which comes of liberation, the sad remains of our martyred intellectuals, we wait in the hope that the course of justice will finally go its full circle, that the International Crimes Tribunal, through plugging all the loopholes and answering every question to the satisfaction of people at home and abroad, will in the end inform us that justice has been done.
For forty years the widows and children of the martyrs of December 1971 have gone from door to door, from government to government, asking that the souls of their loved ones be permitted to rest through their murderers being made to account for their ancient criminality.
This morning, two score years after those brave Bangalees were abducted, to be killed in medieval fashion by modern-day barbarians, it is time to redeem the old pledge: that the sacrifices of these compatriots of ours shall not have gone in vain, that as a nation humbled by their sacrifice we are today prepared to begin a new journey into the future. That journey is necessarily one undertaken through an expiation of guilt on our part, collectively as a people.