The sentence of death passed on Salauddin Quader Chowdhury is as good a time as any to delve into the stories of the whereabouts of the collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army after the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971.
In the early phase of Bangladesh’s freedom, Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, father of Salauddin, former speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly in the era of Field Marshal Ayub Khan and a leading collaborator of the Yahya Khan junta in 1971, was taken into custody when he reportedly tried to flee to Burma. He was lodged in Dhaka Central Jail, where he eventually died of natural causes. Salauddin Quader’s fortunes turned out to be better, thanks to the rise of anti-historical forces in the aftermath of Bangabandhu’s assassination in 1975.
The repeal of the Collaborators Act in December 1975 enabled Salauddin, and also old collaborators like Khan A Sabur, once Ayub’s communications minister, to resurface in politics, ironically in a country they had violently opposed between March and December 1971.
Sabur was elected to the Jatiyo Sangsad at the elections of February 1979. He reorganised the Muslim League as the Bangladesh Muslim League and served as its president till his death, when he was replaced by Justice BA Siddiky, once chief justice of the East Pakistan High Court. Salauddin was to serve as a minister in the Ershad regime and then in the BNP government led by Begum Khaleda Zia. At one point, he was her adviser on parliamentary affairs.
Within hours of the liberation of Bangladesh, Maulvi Farid Ahmed, chief of the Nizam-e-Islam party, was lynched by citizens. His remains were never found. Another collaborator, Syed Sajjad Husein, who served as vice chancellor of Dhaka University under Tikka Khan and AAK Niazi, was the recipient of a mass beating and left for dead. He survived and made his way to Saudi Arabia, where he taught for a number of years before returning to Bangladesh in the times of General Ershad. He died not long after.
Hamidul Haq Chowdhury, owner of the Pakistan Observer newspaper and former foreign minister of Pakistan, was stranded in Rawalpindi at the time of Bangladesh’s liberation. He returned to Bangladesh in the 1980s, reclaimed his newspaper, by then known as the Bangladesh Observer, in a legal battle and died some years later.
His sons-in-law, Reaz Rahman and Manzur Ahmed Chowdhury, both in Pakistan’s diplomatic service, opposed Bangladesh’s liberation but went on to serve as Bangladesh’s diplomats in the post-1975 period of the country’s history. Reaz Rahman is, today, foreign affairs adviser to BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia.
Ghulam Azam, stranded in Pakistan, where he had gone in November 1971 for consultations with General Yahya Khan, was sent to a number of Middle Eastern capitals by President ZA Bhutto in the post-December 1971 period, to spread propaganda against a newly-independent Bangladesh.
Azam disseminated the lie before his hosts that Islam was under threat in Bangladesh and Hindus were in control of the country. He returned to Bangladesh in 1978 on a Pakistani passport and stayed on despite the expiry of his visa. The regime of General Ziaur Rahman looked the other way as Azam slowly made inroads into Bangladesh politics. He died in disgrace not long ago, having been convicted of war crimes in 1971.
Nurul Amin, chief minister of East Pakistan between the late 40s and early 50s, was one of two individuals bucking the Awami League wave at the 1970 general elections. After March 25, 1971, he became a willing collaborator of the genocidal Yahya-Tikka junta. On December 3, 1971, he was appointed Pakistan’s prime minister by President Yahya, with Bhutto as deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
The surrender of Pakistan’s army in Dhaka, a fortnight later, changed conditions in Rawalpindi. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over as president from the disgraced Yahya Khan and appointed Nurul Amin as the country’s vice president, in which capacity Amin spread the falsehood that the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini were engaged in genocide in “East Pakistan.” He died in 1974 and was buried beside Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi.
Mahmud Ali, a leading right-wing politician from Sylhet, and Raja Tridiv Roy, chief of the Chakma tribe, cheerfully lent their support to the Pakistan army in 1971. Following the emergence of Bangladesh, both men, then stranded in Pakistan, were appointed as ministers in the government of ZA Bhutto. Roy later served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Argentina before taking on the role of Pakistan’s special envoy. Both men were to die in Pakistan.
Shah Azizur Rahman, who led Pakistan’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly session in September 1971, became a prisoner in Bangladesh after liberation in December of the year. His support was solicited by General Ziaur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first military dictator, when the latter sought to make a formal entry into politics in the late 1970s. Zia subsequently appointed Shah Aziz as Bangladesh’s prime minister. Other collaborators, among whom were Abdur Rahman Biswas, Moulana Abdul Mannan, and Justice Nurul Islam, were rehabilitated by the military regimes of General Zia and General Ershad.
Biswas would become Bangladesh’s president; Moulana Mannan, accused of playing a leading role in the abduction and murder of Bengali intellectuals on the eve of liberation, would become minister for religious affairs in the Ershad regime as well as owner of two newspapers, Inqilab and The Telegraph, and would die before he could be prosecuted for war crimes; Justice Nurul Islam, who was chairman of the East Pakistan Red Cross Society in 1971, would serve as Bangladesh’s vice president under General Ershad.
Here ends this brief account of the lives and careers of some of the leading Bengali collaborators of the Yahya Khan junta in a free Bangladesh. There are other stories of other men and women, of a similar nature, that need to be told in the larger interest of history.