Bangladesh has already brought several high ranking collaborators of Pakistani occupation forces to trial, but uncertainty still looms over the trial of 195 Pakistan Army officials, who reportedly masterminded the barbaric war crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War.
So far, a total 23 collaborators of the Pakistan Army have been sentenced by the International Crimes Tribunals (ICTs), but the government has yet to take any initiative to punish the 195 Pakistan Army officials.
Investigators from the Investigation Agency of International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh have already collected substantial information about war-time atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army officials.
On January 20, 2016, Investigation Agency of the ICT Bangladesh formed a five-member investigation cell to collect information on 195 Pakistan Army personnel who allegedly committed crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune on Thursday, the chief coordinator for the Investigation Agency of ICT, Mohammad Abdul Hannan Khan, said: “It was an informal investigation. During the probe, we collected information about these Pakistan Army officials who were involved in war-time atrocities during the Liberation War of 1971.
“We have collected information from upazila and district levels, but the trial against the Pakistan Army officials is not an issue of the ICT now. We need to follow international law to punish them, as they are not Bangladeshi nationals,” he added.
However, speaking on the issue, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Thursday said he had no information regarding the trial of 195 Pakistani soldiers.
On the same day, Law Minister Anisul Huq told the Dhaka Tribune over phone that the issue was under process.
“The present government is sincere about bringing the 195 officers of the Pakistan Army to trial,” the law minister said.
Though there have been no visible attempts to put the Pakistan Army officials on trial for committing war crimes, several quarters have demanded that trial procedure be started against them as soon as possible.
Shahriar Kabir, president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, said: “Pakistani forces committed war crimes against Bangladeshis in 1971, and I am urging the authorities concerned to ensure justice.”
Former US diplomat Thomas A Dine, who had worked in Delhi in 1971, said along with the 195 Pakistani soldiers, the then United States Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Alfred Kissinger and President Richard Nixon should also be brought to trial for their questionable stance during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.
Dine was here in Dhaka in November to attend a seminar titled “1971: Genocide, Torture and the Liberation War.”
Indian war veteran Brig (retd) RP Singh said: “Bangladesh has brought several collaborators to book, but we cannot sleep in peace until we bring the Pakistan Army officials who committed genocide during the 1971 Liberation War to trial.”
RP Singh was the first and only Indian Army official who fought against occupied Pakistani forces disguised as a Bangladeshi national.
Singh claimed that out of 93,500 prisoners of the war, 194 Pakistan Army officers, and three officials of Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force were identified as war criminals. He also urged India to help Bangladesh over this issue.
Why the trial did not take place after 1971
A tripartite pact was signed in New Delhi between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1974 after the reconciliation talks between India and Pakistan in 1972, following the latter’s defeat in the 1971 war.
The pact allowed the Pakistani war criminals, which included Lt Gen AAK Niazi, defeated commander-in-chief of Pakistan’s eastern command, and many senior commanders, to return to their country from Indian jails.
The repatriation was facilitated after Islamabad issued a statement in April, 1973 assuring Bangladesh of putting the soldiers on trial for their actions in the war.
However, Pakistan did not constitute any such tribunal, nor did it act in accordance with the recommendations of the Justice Hamoodur Rahman Commission.
The commission, constituted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had suggested that identified Pakistani soldiers be put on trial for their atrocities in the former East Pakistan.
As soon as the trial of the war crimes began, questions were raised from different quarters as to how and why the 195 Pakistani soldiers were released without any trial in 1974.
It has also been argued that those 195 Pakistanis were the main war criminals and their release questioned the merit of the trial process.
BZ Khasru, in his book “The Bangladesh Military Coup and the CIA Link,” made an attempt to elaborate the reasons as to why the trial of Pakistani officials did not take place for decades.
He sketched a political portrait of Pakistan-US alliance and diplomatic geo-strategy concerning Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971 and the aftermath of the conflict.
He claimed in his book that the US had used India to discourage Bangladesh to hold the trial of Pakistani war criminals in Bangladesh.
After the US intervention on the issue, India pressured Bangladesh to drop the trial of those war criminals.
In an interview on May 27, 1973, Bhutto warned: “There will be specific charges [against Bangalis held in Pakistan]. How many will be tried, I cannot say.”
To prove that it was not just an empty threat, around 203 Bangalis were immediately detained as “virtual hostages” by the Pakistan government for the 195prisoners of war in Indian jails.
Fearing for the fate of the thousands of Bangalis held in Pakistan, and to gain the much-needed support of the United Nations, Bangladesh accepted Pakistan’s proposal.