Of grenades, firebombs, and political legitimacy
More than a week has passed since a Dhaka court pronounced verdict in August 21 cases. Several high profile BNP leaders have been convicted and sentenced for their involvement in the attack designed to “obliterate” their political opposition, Awami League (AL), primarily its chief Sheikh Hasina.
Now that the criminals involved have been convicted, the question that should be asked is this: As a party, how much responsibility does BNP shoulder for the attack? I would argue, substantially, to the point of calling into question their very legitimacy as a political party.
First, the principal actors in the attack belonged to, and continue to belong to, BNP, as its senior members and leaders.
Tarique Rahman, the planner of the attack, was, at that time, the senior joint general secretary, and unofficially the man calling the shots both in party and the BNP-led government. He was made senior vice chairman of the party in 2009 and now is the acting-chairman of BNP.
Abdus Salam Pintu, in whose residence planning meetings took place, and the older brother of another condemned Huji killer Tajuddin, was then BNP deputy education minister and was subsequently made a vice chairman of BNP following its party council in July 2016.
Lutfozzaman Babor, the man charged with providing security and shelter to the August 21 killers, was then state minister for home affairs and was made a member of the party’s central executive committee in 2016.
Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad, who arranged the meetings between the Huji killers and BNP high-ups in Hawa Bhaban, was a long time member of parliament of BNP and was made a vice chairman of the party in 2016.
As is apparent -- BNP has continued to own them, and thereby continued to own their crimes.
Second, as the party in government, BNP did everything in its power to facilitate the attackers, thwart effective investigations, and obstruct justice.
In is now on record that the then BNP-led government helped the attackers flee from the scene and also from the country and deliberately lost key evidence by washing off the crime scene with detergents and destroying the unexploded grenades.
To divert investigation, the BNP-led government tortured and falsely implicated innocent persons such as “Joj Mia” as accused in the case and constituted farcical judicial inquiries like the Justice Joinul Abedin one.
It is mind-boggling to think that 12 of the convicts are former high ranking officials belonging to a number of our country’s top intelligence and law enforcement agencies, showing the extent to which these agencies were abused by then BNP-led government into their dastardly plans.
For that, BNP cannot evade responsibility.
Third, for the more than 14 years since the attack, BNP’s policy has been to completely deny their leaders’ involvement or even knowledge; let alone show any kind of remorse, self-reflection or regret.
In fact, their version has always been that AL itself perpetrated the attack on its own people in a bid to garner national and international sympathy.
In parliament, then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia arrogantly stated: “Who would want to kill her (Sheikh Hasina)?” It was said that Sheikh Hasina herself carried the grenades in her vanity bag from BNP meetings.
Even the day before the verdict was to be pronounced, Mirza Fakhrul said that AL is the biggest beneficiary of the August 21 attack. Following Tarique’s lead, BNP’s leaders were on television talking about the “unannounced” change of venue from Muktangon to Bangabandhu Avenue.
It is on record that the venue change happened as a result of government non-approval and it was publicized on national dailies on that day. This was of course, a tactic employed to create doubt based on the theme that they had used for over 14 years, that being, AL itself was behind in the attack.
Pro-BNP intellectual Zafarullah recently falsely suggested that the grenades used in the attack were stolen from Chittagong Cantonment while it was under the command of the present Army Chief General Aziz.
This is despite the fact that it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that the grenades were supplied by Tajuddin, who in turn got them from Abdul Majed Butt, a leader of the Pakistan-based militant outfit Hijb-ul-Mujahidin.
There is no reason to think that Zafrullah was acting innocently here. His intention was clear. Create doubt in the minds of people about settled facts by offering “alternative facts.” As BNP has done for more than 14 years to save their faces and their criminal leaders.
Fourth, as the then Prime Minister and BNP chief, Khaleda Zia, must also bear her fair share of the blame for a national security incident of the magnitude of August 21. It must be remembered that at that time, she was also holding the portfolios of defense and home ministers.
Apart from her insensitive comments following the attack, we now know that she also personally obstructed investigations. From the statement of the then DGFI Chief Sadiq Hasan Rumi, it has been learned that he twice approached Khaleda Zia to investigate the August 21 attack, but was turned down both times.
Two of the sentenced convicts of the attack were her closest personal staff. Harris Chowdhury was her political secretary while Saiful Islam Duke was her personal secretary and also nephew.
Coupled with Tarique Rahman being at the thick of things, and so many government agencies under her direct control being abused, it is really difficult to argue that Khaleda Zia was not aware of anything regarding the attack.
There are also unconfirmed reports that, following the attack, from within her party, there were a handful of leaders who wanted Khaleda Zia to be strict with the criminal elements -- but apparently she suppressed those minority voices within.
Lastly, BNP’s responsibility for August 21 attack as a party comes from their general tendency to encourage extreme violence as a policy and also patronizing terrorist groups for their political ends.
From forming alliances with groups such as Jamaat to patronizing groups such as Huji and JMB and maintaining relations with regional and international terrorist organizations, between 2001-06, BNP gave new meaning to the term “dangerous liaisons.”
The fact that as a party BNP appears to prefer extreme violence as a political policy was demonstrated again when they started their firebombing campaign against civilians in the run up to the 10th parliamentary elections, killing 46 people and injuring hundreds.
In their firebombing campaign v2.0 in 2015, the casualties were even higher. It was not surprising therefore, that a Canadian federal court ruled twice, once in February 2017 and again in May 2018, that BNP is a “terrorist organization.”
In any other country, such a “colourful” record would have called into question the very legitimacy of the organization to engage in the political process. The benefits of democracy ought only to be afforded to those who believe in it, and not those who believe in the power of grenades and firebombs.
But since BNP continues to live in denial and shows not even the remotest signs of changing, and the “conscientious” civil society is happy to give BNP a free pass in the name of tolerance, at the very least, the victim of the August 21 attack, AL, should not be expected to go out of their way in order to accommodate each and every one of BNP’s whims and demands.
Shah Ali Farhad is a lawyer, researcher, and political activist. He is a Senior Analyst at the Centre for Research and Information (CRI).