The sordid history of collaborationist Bengalis: 1971 and after

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 15 April 2015, 01:44 PM
Updated : 15 April 2015, 01:44 PM

It is time to return to history again, now that the wheels of justice have begun to roll. The trial and execution of Abdul Kader Mollah and Mohammad Kamaruzzaman rekindle in us, in those of us who have been witness to the War of Liberation, the many intrigues which were set in motion to undermine the struggle for freedom: memories of those Bengalis who went out on a limb to shame themselves through their defence of Pakistan, and then had little shame going through a process of rehabilitation in Bangladesh in the age of darkness, onset by the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the leaders of the Mujibnagar government between August and November 1975.

The shame was not merely that of the men who saw nothing wrong in emerging from their lairs post-1975. It was also – and always will be – that of the two men and one woman who, in a determined fashion, went ahead with the sinister task of restoring the old collaborators of the Yahya Khan junta to respectability. We do not and will not forgive the collaborators for the ferocity with which they went to war against their own people. Neither will we bring ourselves to forgive those who chose to forgive the quislings of 1971.


In September 1971, the Pakistan military junta placed Shah Azizur Rahman at the head of Pakistan's delegation to the General Assembly session of the United Nations that year, and with him on the team were two other Bengalis: Mahmud Ali and Syeda Razia Faiz.

Post-1975, Shah Aziz was appointed Bangladesh's prime minister in the regime of General Ziaur Rahman and Syeda Razia Faiz became a minister in the military-ruled government of General H.M. Ershad. Mahmud Ali chose to remain in Pakistan, where he served as a minister and dreamed of 'East Pakistan' one day rejoining Pakistan. He died in Pakistan unmourned.

Throughout the nine-month War of Liberation, Justice Nurul Islam, chairman of the East Pakistan Red Cross Society, remained loyal to the Yahya Khan regime and went abroad to argue the case for Pakistan against the Bengali struggle. Under General Ershad, he served as Bangladesh's vice president before fading away. The Ershad regime, much like the Zia dictatorship, cheerfully welcomed some notorious collaborators into the government.

Moulana Mannan, accused of playing an active role in the abduction of Bengali intellectuals on the eve of liberation in December 1971, became an influential minister for religious affairs under Ershad and also turned into the owner of two newspapers, the Inquilab and the Telegraph.

Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, a vicious opponent of the War of Liberation along with his father Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, achieved 'respectability' by being given a berth in the Ershad government as a minister, and later becoming an advisor to Khaleda Zia.

Motiur Rahman Nizami, on the run from Bengalis after December 1971 over his murderous collaboration with Niazi's army, adorned the cabinet, along with his fellow collaborator Ali Ahsan Mujaheed, of Khaleda Zia.

The regime of General Ziaur Rahman cast history to the winds when it brought the notorious collaborator Abdul Alim into the cabinet. The Zia dictatorship will also remain infamous for the subtle and surreptitious way in which it permitted Ghulam Azam, an active collaborator of Tikka Khan and A.A.K. Niazi, to re-enter Bangladesh on a Pakistani passport, and stay on even after his Bangladesh visa expired.

Azam's sin was not merely in supporting Pakistan's genocide in 1971. Following the emergence of Bangladesh, he travelled the Middle East as a representative of Pakistan's Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, disseminating the lie that Bangladesh had fallen under Hindu domination; that Islam was in danger in the country; that Muslims were being killed in Bangladesh.

Khan Abdus Sabur Khan, the influential minister for communications in the regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in the 1960s, went around occupied Bangladesh in 1971 spewing venom against the War of Liberation. A couple of days before the liberation of Dhaka, he told a seminar organised by the Pakistani junta, that if Bangladesh emerged as a separate country, it would be as an illegitimate child of India. Ironically, in early 1979 through an election stage-managed by the Zia regime, he became a member of Bangladesh's Jatiyo Sangsad. Forgotten was his notoriety in 1971.

Hamidul Haq Chowdhury, once Pakistan's foreign minister and the owner of the Pakistan Observer newspaper, remained vocal throughout 1971 in his condemnation of the War of Liberation. Stranded in Pakistan during the final stages of the war, he returned to Bangladesh in the times of General Ershad and was able to get back ownership of his newspaper, which had been rechristened as the Bangladesh Observer and taken under government control in December 1971.

Two of Chowdhury's sons-in-law served in Pakistan's diplomatic service faithfully even after 1971 and came back to Bangladesh only when the Bhutto government terminated their services. One of them, Reaz Rahman, infamously told the Pakistani media in 1971 (he was with the Pakistan high commission in Delhi at the time and had gone to Islamabad to spend his annual leave) that the 'miscreants' – a term the junta and its backers routinely applied to describe the Mukti Bahini – were having no impact in 'East Pakistan'. Reaz Rahman would later serve as foreign secretary in Bangladesh, and even later become an advisor to BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia.

Syed Sajjad Hussain, a well-known scholar who taught English literature at Dhaka University in the 1950s and 1960s and was appointed its vice chancellor by Tikka Khan, turned into a willing apologist for the Yahya regime in 1971 and went abroad to propagate the falsehood that life was normal in 'East Pakistan'.

He knew only too well how the Pakistan army had murdered a number of leading academics at Dhaka University as well as scores of students, but told the international community a bare-faced lie: the army had killed no one at the university. He was caught by the Mukti Bahini on the day of liberation, beaten and bruised and left for dead. But he survived and escaped to Saudi Arabia. He returned to Bangladesh in the Ershad era and till his death remained unrepentant about his notoriety in 1971.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a little reminder for all of us of the sordid history of some collaborationist Bengalis in 1971. There were others. We will know of them by and by.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a columnist.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher