Ghulam Azam says he was a collaborator, not war criminal

‘I was on list of collaborators’

Julfikar Ali Manik and Rizanuzzaman Laskar

Ghulam Azam yesterday said he was on the list of collaborators of the Pakistani occupation forces. But he denied that he was a war criminal.

The 89-year-old said these after the International Crimes Tribuna-1 chairman Justice Md Nizamul Huq asked him if he pleaded guilty or not guilty of the five war crimes charges read out to him.

“I don’t consider myself guilty,” replied Ghulam Azam, who stood up from his seat in the dock.

He then sought the tribunal’s permission to say something and went on to give a speech of around 10 minutes.

In 1973, the then Bangladesh government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made a list of war criminals, he told the court.

“My name is not on that list.”

The listed war criminals were pardoned at a meeting between the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

“I was among those who were branded collaborators,” said the former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, adding that he had then been pardoned.

The collaborator’s act was formulated at the time and many were arrested, he said.

“There is no meaning of trying the collaborators, pardoning the real [perpetrators]. I was not on the list of war criminals. I am not a war criminal.”

Ghulam Azam’s counsels in their submissions during the hearing of charge framing argued in the same manner, saying 195 Pakistani army personnel, who were the principal accused of committing war crimes, were pardoned and released from jail.

Therefore, there is no point of trying their abettors, the counsels argued.

During the charge framing yesterday, the tribunal said the ICT act is very clear to have been promulgated for the trial of persons who committed international crimes and the release of 195 prisoners of war, the collaborators order and the clemency extended to persons cannot bar the trial of the accused under the ICT Act 1973.

It is evidence alone that determines the principal offenders and their associates, and the release of the principal offenders cannot prevent the trial of the collaborators, the tribunal said.

In January 1972, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s government passed a law to try the collaborators and war criminals.

“Those who were punished for or accused of rape, murder, attempt to murder or arson will not come under general amnesty under section 1,” reads section 2 of the act.

According to historical records, out of 37,000 sent to jail on charges of collaboration, about 26,000 were freed following announcement of the general amnesty.

Around 11,000 were behind bars when the government of Justice Sayem and General Ziaur Rahman repealed the Collaborators Act on December 31, 1975. An appeal spree and release of war criminals en masse followed the scrapping of the law.

During the entire period, Ghulam Azam remained outside the country.

Yesterday, he told the tribunal that the term “war criminal” first surfaced after the 2001 national polls, following which the BNP-Jamaat led four-party coalition formed government.

“The Awami League and the BNP bagged almost equal percentage of votes in that election,” said Ghulam Azam.

Nevertheless, the AL won 58 seats in parliament and the BNP 197 seats, he said, adding, “Why such a big difference in the result? Because the Jamaat and the BNP were united.”

This proves that the AL had lost the polls because of the alliance between the two parties, the court heard him say.

“Whenever there is an alliance, it is feared that the AL may lose the election.”

Citing the election results at the Supreme Court Bar Association and teachers’ associations at public universities, he said in many cases the AL could not win an election when the BNP and the Jamaat were united.

“The Awami League thinks the alliance should be broken and Jamaat should be eliminated from politics,” he said, “therefore, after 30 years, the Awami League [in 2001] decided to hold the [war crimes] trials to eliminate the Jamaat”.

The law for trying war criminals is now being used to try the collaborators, he said. “There is no logic behind trying me as a war criminal.”

“I say India helped us not for our liberation, but for its own interests,” he said.

As Ghulam Azam went on, the tribunal tried to assure him that he would be given the opportunity to speak further at a later stage of the trial.

“You are a highly educated person. You do understand that there are rules and laws,” said Justice Huq, requesting Ghulam Azam to take his seat. “We are sorry,” Justice Huq said.

Anti-Bangladesh before & after ’71

Ghulam Azam’s crusade to thwart the emergence of Bangladesh had continued even after the nine-month-long blood-spattered Liberation War in 1971, as he tried to revive East Pakistan and spread propaganda against Bangladesh for several years.

Just when Pakistan was on the verge of losing the war, Ghulam Azam went to Pakistan on November 22, 1971. He formed East Pakistan Retrieval Committee in Pakistan and campaigned until 1973 to build public opinion against Bangladesh and its recognition in the Islamic world.

While reading out the charges yesterday, Justice Md Nizamul Huq, chairman of the International Crimes Tribunal-1, gave a brief profile of accused Ghulam Azam.

He said Ghulam Azam went to London in 1973 and set up an office of East Pakistan Retrieval Committee there. He published a weekly, Shonar Bangla, in London, which was used as a propaganda tool against Bangladesh.

Bangladesh government cancelled his citizenship on April 18, 1973.

Ghulam Azam later visited Saudi Arabia in March, 1975. He met King Faisal and told him that Hindus have captured East Pakistan, the holy Quran has been burnt, mosques have been destroyed and converted into temples, and Muslims were killed.

He collected funds from the Middle East for rebuilding mosques and madrasas.

After the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Ghulam Azam returned to Bangladesh on August 11, 1978 with a Pakistani passport. He got back his citizenship and rejoined his post as the ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami. He served in the post until Motiur Rahman Nizami was elected ameer.

Ghulam Azam was born on November 7, 1922. He studied in a madrasa first and then obtained master’s degree from Dhaka University in 1950. He was a teacher of Rangpur Carmichael College between 1950 and 1955.

He joined Jamaat-e-Islami in 1954 and served as its secretary from 1957 to 1960. He became the ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami in 1969. During the Liberation War, Jamaat and Islami Chhatra Sangha under his leadership opposed the Liberation War.

He played a pivotal role in forming Shanti (peace) Committee, Razakar, Al Badr, Al Shams (collaborator forces). He was an elected member of the national assembly from Tangail in the sham elections of 1971, Justice Nizamul Huq said.

The Daily Star went through historic documents and is able to shed more light on Ghulam Azam’s records.

According to records on the Liberation War, Ghulam Azam began playing an active role in helping the Pakistani occupation forces even as the nation joined the armed struggle to free Bangladesh soon after the launch of a massacre by the Pakistani military on the night of March 25, 1971.

He was ameer of the East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami before the Liberation War. As the ameer, he campaigned across Bangladesh and even in Pakistan (then West Pakistan) in an attempt to foil the liberation movement.

“Pakistan is the house of Islam for the world’s Muslims. Therefore, Jamaat activists don’t justify staying alive if Pakistan disintegrates,” said Ghulam Azam in a speech to mobilise his party men and followers against Bangladesh and help the occupation forces. (Source: Jamaat’s mouthpiece the daily Sangram, 1971).

Ghulam Azam is one of the front men who actively helped the Pakistani forces’ attempts to foil the birth of Bangladesh. He was hyperactive against the Liberation War and became a symbol of war crimes in Bangladesh.

He met Pakistani General Tikka Khan, who was known as the “Butcher of Baluchistan”, 10 days after the war started and earned the same title “butcher” as an architect of the genocide launched on the night of March 25, 1971 in Dhaka.

During the nine-month-long bloody war, Ghulam Azam and his party Jamaat-e-Islami, its student wing Islami Chhatra Sangha (later renamed Islami Chhatra Shibir) played a key role along with their other political partners to foil Bangladesh’s independence struggle.

According to newspapers, including the daily Sangram, and books and documents on 1971, Jamaat and its student wing played a key role in forming the Peace Committees and some other collaborator forces like Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams.

Throughout the nine-month war, Jamaat, its student wing and the collaborator forces actively helped the Pakistani military in mass killing, rape and atrocities.

The Pakistani forces and their Bangladeshi collaborators committed genocide and war crimes that left three million people dead and around a quarter million women violated, besides the planned elimination of some of the best of Bengali brains on December 14, 1971.

War records show that Jamaat formed Razakar and Al-Badr forces to counter the freedom fighters. Razakar force was established by former secretary general of Jamaat Moulana Abul Kalam Mohammad Yousuf, and Al Badr included the Islami Chhatra Sangha activists.

Anticipating defeat, the occupation forces and their collaborators–mostly leaders of Jamaat and its student front–picked up leading Bengali intellectuals and professionals on December 14 and killed them en masse with a view to intellectually crippling the emerging independent nation.

Though Ghulam Azam was the brain behind Jamaat’s anti-liberation efforts, incumbent Jamaat Ameer Motiur Rahman Nizami, president of Islami Chhatra Sangha in 1971, played a vital role in collaborating with the Pakistani junta in committing genocide.

Nizami, who is also behind bars on charges of war crimes, had said, “Every one of us should assume the role of a Muslim soldier of an Islamic state and through cooperation with the oppressed and by winning their confidence we must kill those who are hatching a conspiracy against Pakistan and Islam.” (Daily Sangram quoted Nizami on September 15, 1971)

Ghulam Azam and his party men and anti-liberation elements used to call the freedom fighters “miscreants”, “Indian agents”, “malaun” (an offensive word used against the Hindus), and “infiltrators”.

On April 8, 1971, Ghulam Azam issued a joint statement with other Jamaat leaders. A book containing an account of the killers and collaborators titled “Genocide ’71” quotes from that statement: “India is interfering in the internal affairs of East Pakistan. Wherever patriotic Pakistanis see Indian agents or anti-Pakistan elements and infiltrators, they will destroy them.”

Genocide ’71 also reads: “On June 18, on arriving at Lahore airport, Ghulam Azam spoke to journalists, stating that, in order to further improve the conditions in East Pakistan, he was going to provide some additional advice to the president [General Yahya Khan].

“However, he refused to elaborate any further on what sort of advice he was going to give. Regarding the situation in East Pakistan, he said: ‘The miscreants are still engaged in destructive activities. Their main aim is to create terror and turbulence. These miscreants are being directed by Naxalites and left-wing forces.'”

On June 19, before Tikka Khan left for Dhaka, Ghulam Azam met then Pakistan president Yahya Khan. After his meeting with Yahya, he addressed a press conference in Lahore. He told journalists, “The miscreants are still active in East Pakistan. People must be provided with arms to destroy them.”

Addressing Jamaat workers prior to the press conference, Ghulam Azam said, “In order to prevent the disintegration of Pakistan, the armed forces had to be deployed.”

He further noted, “The recent tumult in East Pakistan is 10 times greater than the 1857 Revolution in Bengal.”

Speaking at a press conference in Peshawar on August 26, he said, “The armed forces have saved us from the treachery of our enemies and from the evil designs of India. The people of East Pakistan are lending full support to the armed forces in destroying miscreants and infiltrators.”

On November 23, Yahya Khan declared a state of national emergency.

Ghulam Azam welcomed this announcement. He told the press in Lahore, “The best way to defend ourselves is striking at our enemies.” He said in order to restore peace in East Pakistan, each patriotic citizen, each member of the Peace Committees, Razakar, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams must be armed with modern automatic weapons.

At a meeting in Rawalpindi on November 29, he said, “There is no example in the history of a nation at war surviving without retaliation. Aggression is the best form of defence.”

On December 3, he in Karachi said, “An East Pakistani should be in charge of the foreign office because it is only an East Pakistani who can cope with the Bangladesh tamasha [the Bangladesh farce].”

Immediately after victory on December 16, 1971, Ghulam Azam and many others like him fled to Pakistan and returned only after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family members in 1975.

After victory the first issues of newspapers of the new nation carried the government’s decision to ban five communal parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami, on December 18 with immediate effect.

The banned parties were given the green light to resume politics during the regime of late president Ziaur Rahman.

Genocide ’71 said soon after Ghulam Azam with a few of his followers went to Saudi Arabia, an advertisement, in the name of a fake organisation, appeared in several Middle Eastern papers. The ad proclaimed, “mosques are being burnt in East Pakistan, Hindus are killing Muslims and destroying their properties.” On the plea that Islam had to be saved, the ad appealed for contributions.

It also said Ghulam Azam, in order to collect funds and to continue his campaign against Bangladesh, visited several countries of the region, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Beirut. After completing his tour of these areas, he left for London in April, 1973.

Even though he came to Dhaka on a three-month visa during the rule of president Ziaur Rahman in 1978, he never left Bangladesh. He became Jamaat’s undeclared ameer taking over from alleged war criminal late Abbas Ali Khan who was the acting ameer.

In the early 90’s, Ghulam Azam was officially declared ameer of Jamaat, while Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam launched a unique mass movement demanding trial of war criminals.

She held an unprecedented People’s Court as a symbolic trial of Ghulam Azam where thousands of people gathered and the court pronounced a verdict to the effect that offences committed by him during the Liberation War deserve capital punishment.

Ghulam Azam’s citizenship issue came into focus when he came to Bangladesh as a Pakistani national.

In 1991, the BNP formed government with support from Jamaat and in 1992 Ghulam Azam filed a case with the High Court to get Bangladeshi citizenship. The government of the day arrested him and put him in jail.

However, after Ghulam Azam acquired Bangladeshi citizenship through a court order in 1994, the government released him from prison.

In 1998, BNP and Jamaat formed the four-party alliance and Ghulam Azam appeared at a grand public meeting with BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia.

Ghulam Azam left the party’s top post in 2000 and was succeeded by Nizami.

Ghulam Azam stayed out of focus since then but he is back into the spotlight after yesterday’s court order.