Professor Ghulam Azam’s Interview
on ATN News on 12 December 201
Question: An official charge has been submitted against you to the tribunal and we have heard that the tribunal will rule on 26th December whether to take it into cognizance. We would like to hear your reaction to this news.
Prof. Ghulam Azam: Of course you will ask me questions, but I am yet to find answer to one question – that is, no one called us ‘war criminals’ until 30 years after 1971. There had been war criminals. Sheikh Mujib himself solved this issue. He identified 195 Pakistani officers as war criminals with no mention of any civilians. He had also passed a law to punish them. They are now trying to put us on trial under this law. He made a list, passed a law to try them, but then forgave and freed them all after meeting Bhutto in Shimla. He branded those he thought to be their associates as ‘collaborators’ and passed a separate law to punish them. Around 100,000 people were arrested under this law. He tried a few of them, but when he realized that there were very few witness and little evidence could be found against the accused, then he forgave them all by declaring a general amnesty. So, he resolved it, he resolved the issue of war crimes. Now after 30 years, it is now 40 years. Why have they raised this issue once again after 40 years?
We were in movement against Ershad’s autocratic rule. BNP – Awami League – Jamaat were in the movement together where they sat with us in Liaison Committee meetings. Then we were not war criminals. BNP came to power in ’91 because of the ‘Caretaker Government’ system. If there were elections under Ershad while he was in power, then he would come back to power. That is why we demanded to include the caretaker system in our constitution, but the BNP government did not agree. BNP could form the government only because we supported them. They didn’t have the absolute majority. Yet, the BNP government did not agree to do this. During that time BNP forcefully took an Awami League seat in the Mohammadpur area of the Magura district. They didn’t let the Awami League candidate win. Awami League became furious and boycotted the parliament, and began agitating and demanding the caretaker system. This issue was ours; it was we who suggested this system, so we couldn’t sit quietly. We also joined Awami League in the agitation. As the issue was ours, so it was not natural for us to remain quiet. Even then we were not called war criminals.
I searched and found the answer to this question in one place. I don’t know whether you people asked them this question. You should ask why they never called these people ‘war criminals’ before 2001. Even the sector commanders never put forward this allegation. I searched and found the answer to this question that the election that was held in 2001, the third under the caretaker system, BNP and Jamaat contested in the election together. The parties were BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jatiyo Party and Islami Oikyo Jot. In that election, Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikyo Jot together did not contest in even 50 seats; in fact it was less than 50. Out of 300 seats, these two Islamic parties did not contest in 250 seats. It was BNP versus Awami League in those places. BNP got all the Islamic votes in those seats, like those who were our supporters. The total number of votes between BNP and Awami League was almost the same, 40% – 40%. BNP got a little bit more than 40%, but that was not even 1%. However, in terms of the number of seats, Awami League got only 58 whereas BNP got 197. How come there was such a difference in the number of seats in spite of both parties having the same amount of votes? It is because BNP got all the Islamic parties’ votes that made the difference.
There is even more examples – Awami League fails whenever BNP and Jamaat contest elections together. For example, we had the Chittagong Mayor election. Jamaat-e-Islami had its own candidate, but they withdrew it at the request of Begum Zia, and BNP candidate won by the margin of more than 110,000 votes. You people are journalists and you know that when BNP and Jamaat are together, then they become the majority. This is why the journalists’ organization has split. Look at Supreme Court Bar Association election; Jamaat and BNP contested together in the last two elections and Awami League had to fail. The same thing happened in other bar association elections and in elections among teachers’ organisations. Awami League realized that it is not possible for them to win in elections when BNP and Jamaat are together, so they thought that it is necessary to get rid of Jamaat from politics so that they can’t fight elections together with BNP. This is the main reason why they want to make Jamaat-e-Islami lose their leadership, and ensure that they can’t play any role in politics. That is why the term ‘war criminal’ has been used as an insult since 2001. Now they have started to put us on trial on that law which was enacted to try the real war criminals of Pakistan.
Question: We know that there was a ‘People’s Court’ in 1992 and a ‘Public Enquiry Commission’ in 1994.
Prof. Ghulam Azam: A section of people did do it, but they never used the term ‘war criminal’.
Question: It was a symbolic trial, and then on 26th March 1992 in Surhwardy Uddyan …..
Prof. Ghulam Azam: The ‘Nirmul Committee’ at that time called Jamaat-e-Islami as ‘killers’; they sometimes called them ‘Razakar’ and sometimes ‘anti-independent forces’.
Question: Sir, the trial now is called ‘Crimes against Humanity’, i.e., to try against those crimes that are against humanity.
Prof. Ghulam Azam: Yes, they are. They are calling crimes against humanity as war crimes. They are using two terminologies and they are doing the trial on the same law that had been passed for war crimes.
Question: Sir, yesterday they brought 52 charges against you and said that there are more than a hundred incidents involving you. What is your comment on these?
Prof. Ghulam Azam: My comment is that not even one of these are accusations – they are all defamations, slander. They have made these allegations, so I will say in court – they’ll have to take me to the court – where I’ll ask them to prove any one of them. I challenge them – they can’t prove even a single one of these allegations inshallah. They may unnecessarily defame me in the name of accusations, but what will happen to these if they can’t prove them? I am sure that they can’t prove any of them.
Question: They say that four days after ‘Operation Searchlight’ on 25th March, you and some other people under your leadership met with Tikka Khan on 4th April.
Prof Ghulam Azam: It was under Mr Nurul Amin’s leadership, not mine, along with Nizam-e- Islam party, Muslim League etc. We met him and said, “the behaviour on 25th March, the way public had been killed… if you continue like this then you won’t get public support, why did you do that?” He said, “The way the revolts were taking place, there was no alternative left to us but this.” At that time the whole Nayabazar was burnt – the wooden shops that were there. I don’t know if those shops are still there or not. They had burnt all of them. They also fired shells, one of which hit my house. Anyway, we told him, “If the army comes on the street they always do extreme things. If the army of the country takes extreme measures against its people, then where will the public go? They will obviously go to the politicians. As elected MPs of Awami League have left the country and gone to India, now they come to us. What shall we do with them? We want that opportunity, please give us that chance, that if anyone comes to us with complaints, we can refer them to you so that the problems can be solved.” Brigadier Rao Forman Ali was present there who was based in the Governor’s House. As Tikka Khan was the Governor and Chief Martial Law Administrator, he was based in the cantonment. We went there to meet him. He (Tikka Khan) immediately ordered Forman Ali, “Give them all important telephone numbers so that they can contact us and complain”. This is why the ‘Peace Committee’ was formed and this was the work of the peace committee. And I saved many people, some of them from jeeps. One of them is still alive – Saifuddin (at this time someone informed him that he was really dead) – has he died? I was having lunch when his wife was crying at the veranda. What happened? She said that her husband had been captured by the army. I took his particulars from her. Rao Forman Ali had told me that Brig Kashem is based in the Circuit House where we can file our complaints. I called him (Brig Kashem). After that, probably two days later, “Surjo Miah” (this was his nick name) came to my house. I asked him, “How did you come?” He said, “They brought me in an army car near the Circuit House and kicked me out of the car saying, ‘someone called Ghulam Azam recommended in your favour, so go’ then he kicked me out of the car. I lost my consciousness, but when I regained my sense, I took a rickshaw and came straight to your house”. This is how I tried to help people as much as I could. I had heard complaints that those who were from Muslim League, Nizaam-e-Islam or Democratic Party made some money through these complaints. They helped people, but made some money as well, but we could not do such things. This is how we had not much scope to do anything. Where was the scope of helping the army? The army works through arms, how could we help them? Then when we did say things against them, they were never allowed to be published.
Two days after 25th March, probably similar type of killing took place in Keraniganj – no, it was a few days later. I heard the day after we had met Tikka Khan that even some of our people were killed in Keraniganj. I called Tikka Khan and said, “You had promised that this won’t happen again, but see what happened in Keraniganj”. He said, “We had complaints that those who revolted against us took shelter in Keraniganj, so we did it”. I said, “You did it again, but innocent people died. Those who you consider as rebels have fled to India, so only innocent people have been killed”. This is how I tried to help as much as I could.
14th August was Pakistan’s independence day. On 14th August there was a public meeting with Mr Nurul Amin in the chair. A couple of people spoke before me. Then I complained in my speech, “The types of things this army is doing are making people anti-Pakistan. They claim that they are working for united Pakistan, but their activities are leading to the break up of Pakistan. I can’t see how Pakistan can remain united.” Those who gave speeches after me all spoke in the same tone. However, these were never reported in the news because newspapers were censored at that time.
Question: Then you had your own newspaper – Sangram.
Prof Ghulam Azam: All newspapers were censored. Newspapers didn’t have the power to publish independent news. They could only publish those that were left after censorship. I said all these in meetings at Baitul Mokarram, but none of them were published.
Question: Do you want to say that whatever was published in your name during that time was wrong and the press were compelled to publish fabricated news?
Prof Ghulam Azam: I can’t say whether they were forced to publish fabricated news, but I can say that our speeches were not allowed to be published. Anything that went against them was not allowed to be published.
Question: Was that applicable to all newspapers including Sangram?
Prof Ghulam Azam: All newspapers
Question: They have raised the issue of war crimes, because after the last election they realized that they will never come to power as long as Islamic parties, particularly Jamaat work together with BNP. How do you find this approach as a whole – the current process of trial?
Prof Ghulam Azam: The process is nothing but a conspiracy for Awami League to remain in power. It is their conspiracy to ensure that their opposition does not win in future elections. This is the reason why they have abolished the caretaker system, and it is the same reason they are doing this.
Question: If you could say what role you played during the nine months of liberation war.
Prof Ghulam Azam: As I have said, I tried to help people as much as I could. I could not take rest, because people kept on coming to my house. I developed some heart problem, so doctor said that as I was over 40, I should take at least an hour’s rest after lunch. If that was not possible, then at least I should lie down for some time. But I couldn’t even find time to lie down.
Question: Sir, in yesterday’s accusations against you, they said that the Peace Committee formed Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams.
Prof Ghulam Azam: No, the Peace Committee did not form them. They were formed by the government. As we now have auxiliary forces like Ansar, they formed these forces as auxiliary forces to support the police. Those who are called UNO now were known as Circle Officer then. They recruited people into these forces through public announcements by drumming on the streets with the help of the Circle Officers and Chairmen of the union boards. All types of people joined them, because they would get some money – unemployed, particularly all unemployed youths joined. Where would they get so many police personnel? Every bridge had to be guarded as the freedom fighters used to blow up bridges. If they blew up bridges, then the army would later burn the village. That is why they used the Razakars to guard the bridges. They were used to guard radio and television stations, because where would they find so much police force? As Ansar is now an auxiliary force of the police, they established a similar force then.
Question: Next Wednesday will be the 40th anniversary of the killing of intellectuals. The accusations that have been made against you blame you for the killings that took place during the liberation war around the country, because you were the Ameer (President) of Jamaat-e-Islami.
Prof Ghulam Azam: As if we were in the government! I was leading the government! What did the Pakistan army do then? Did the Pakistan army work under my command?
Question: They say that they (Pakistan army) worked with your cooperation and guidance.
Prof Ghulam Azam: Let them prove this. It is their responsibility to prove it.
Question: Did you ever feel that your activities during the liberation war were wrong?
Prof Ghulam Azam: No, I did not do anything that I feel I shouldn’t have done.
Question: Sir, it is not that. The fact is many people say many things about your role in ’71. Many people talk about a lot of things that we, the present generation don’t know. What would you say about yourself from your own perspective?
Prof Ghulam Azam: I have already told you that we had no power to do anything. People used to come to us complaining about the army, and we helped them as much as our ability allowed us to do so.
Question: Sir, they also say that you had direct role in the killings during the liberation war including the killing of intellectuals.
Prof Ghulam Azam: Strange! Why are they saying these after so long? They could have said these when they came to power (after 1971). Why do they feel so after so many years? What is the answer to this question? Why do they feel this after so many years?
Question: The investigation officer submitted this report – accusations – after a long investigation.
Prof Ghulam Azam: The investigating agency has been formed by their own people, and they are making their own people give false witnesses. They are making some people responsible for deeds entirely out of speculation. They cannot prove any one of them in the court.
Question: Another question, yesterday’s accusations say that you were involved in several activities in Dhaka during the liberation war; you made press conferences. You spoke in press conferences in places like Karachi and Rawalpindi where you termed freedom fighters as ‘separatists’, ‘Indian agents’, ‘intruders’ etc. All these are mentioned in the submission of the prosecutors on Monday.
Prof Ghulam Azam: Let them prove it! I challenge them to prove it.
Question: They also say that you went to the training camps of Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams forces during that time where you … in a September incident in Mohammadpur, which you saw, then …
Prof Ghulam Azam: I only went to one place to tell them that if you kill innocent people, then you won’t get Allah’s help. When I spoke with anyone in the Pakistan army, I asked them not to torture general public, innocent people, similarly I said these to them (Razakars). I went there once, only one day. Not any more.
Question: Another thing is said that you went to London after the liberation war where you established Pakistan restoration committee, and later in different places, different …
Prof Ghulam Azam: I challenge that everything is a lie – slander!
Question: You allegedly asked different countries in the Middle East not to recognize Bangladesh.
Prof Ghulam Azam: There was one Barrister Abbas from Pabna. He, along with some other Barristers established an East Pakistan government there and invited me to become its minister, I didn’t even reply them.
Question: When was that?
Prof Ghulam Azam: It was around ’74 – 74 or ’75.
Question: Government of Bangabandhu…..
Prof Ghulam Azam: in around ’74 or ’75, among Bangladeshis who were in London, in England, a group of Barristers, advocate …. I remember the name of one person who was its chief, from Pabna, Barrister Abbas. They sent me a letter, I didn’t even reply. What madness? When they were one, it couldn’t be sustained. Now they want to establish an East Pakistan government – I am not in this nonsense!
Question: In that case why weren’t you in the country after victory?
Prof Ghulam Azam: The nation got independent on 16th December. On 20th November, the next day after Ramadan, Ramadan finished, the day after Eid, I went to Lahore to join the Central Working Committee meeting of Jamaat-e-Islami. Jamaat’s headquarter was in Lahore. It was Lahore then, it is Lahore now. After that, I went to see Yahya Khan to say, “You are the President of the country – why don’t you know what’s happening in East Pakistan? You have left everything to Tikka Khan?” Because of this, I had to stay a few days more. In this way, I started on 3rd December on a PIA plane from Karachi – this was PIA’s last flight. From Dhaka it was PIA’s last plane. It was the last plane because on 3rd December Indian Air Force started bombing Dhaka airport, so the airport was closed. So my plane could not land and took refuge in Jeddah. Firstly, because of the relationship with India at that time, planes did not fly over India; Pakistan’s planes used to come through Sri Lanka. We saw from the plane that we crossed Sri Lanka’s coconut garden. It was three hours’ flight from Karachi to there. From there it took three hours to come here. It was six hours’ flight in total. We then saw that the plane landed in Colombo. They didn’t say why they landed there. Then we saw another PIA plane – the one that was going from Dhaka. Both planes stopped there. The plane started to fly again after three hours when the Captain announced that we are not able to go to Karachi or Dhaka – either airport, because the war has started. Both planes were instructed to take refuge to Tehran or Jeddah. When I got down from the plane, I was so emotional that I could perform Umrah, could see the Kaaba! I had dreamt of coming here so many times, but could never do so. The captain was from Bhopal, more than six feet tall. He told me, “I know you, I am involved in Tableeg Jamaat. I have been to Kakrail Mosque.” Anyway, we could go to Tehran, we were ordered to go to Tehran or Jeddah – any one of them. The other plane went to Tehran. I said that if we have the chance of going to Jeddah and perform Umrah, then why should we go to Tehran? This is how my plane went to Jeddah. After that, on 10th December, India and Pakistan agreed on a ceasefire. It was for one day so that foreigners could leave the country. On that day, the 10th, my plane came to Karachi from Jeddah. This is how I came to Pakistan. So, I was saying that my plane could not land on 3rd December, so I went to Jeddah. Then Bangladesh became independent and my communication with the country got lost.
In 1973 the Mujib government cancelled the citizenship of 86 people in three stages. There were 49 people in the first stage including Hamidul Haq Chowdhury, Nurul Amin, Mahmud Ali; my name was also on that list. We had no right to go back to the country as our citizenship was cancelled. Then in January 1976 the Home Ministry declared that those whose citizenship had been cancelled should write directly to the Home Secretary if they want their citizenship to be restored. I wrote, but there was no reply. After that my mother applied…….. they said we can’t give visa for long. I said, give whatever you can, so they gave me one month’s visa. I came with that visa. After coming back, I returned my Pakistani passport saying that I have come back to my own country, to my land of birth. I live in the house, which is in my name; I give municipality tax here, so you can’t throw me out of this country. They tried to throw me out of here. They requested the Pakistan High Commission to take me. They said if he doesn’t want, then why should we?
Question: Sir, during the liberation war, those who now say that pro-liberation and anti-liberation force – what was the real difference between these two forces? Who played what role?
Prof Ghulam Azam: They had conflict with razakars, because they used to guard and they (freedom fighters) used to attack. We had no scope to play any role there. As I said, if there was a complaint, we had nothing else to do but to lobby about those complaints.
Question: You said that… the accusations that have been submitted against you on Monday, are you repentant for your role in the liberation war on that basis? Is there anything to seek forgiveness to the nation?
Prof Ghulam Azam: See, why couldn’t we take part in the liberation war? If…. After the birth of Pakistan the way India treated us, there was no way we could consider India as our friend. When the representatives of Bangladesh, the Awami League leaders went to India and urged Indira Gandhi to help us to become independent, we became seriously concerned. India won’t come to make us independent; they will come for their own interest. They came for their own benefit. What is that benefit? The first benefit is to make their archenemy Pakistan weaker. If they could make East Pakistan separated from Pakistan, then Pakistan would be weaker. Secondly, Pakistan was outside India, but we were inside their ‘belly’. India is around us, even the Bay of Bengal in the South is under their control; the Andaman-Nicobar islands are theirs. If we became independent, then we would not be able to maintain our independence; we would be forced to accept India’s aggression. India had three benefits – firstly to make Pakistan weaker, to take the advantage of controlling us, and to make the majority area in Pakistan as their own market for trade. They did not come for our independence. The way they treated us after independence, does it prove that they want our independence? They are killing our people in the border like birds; the people are protesting, but the government doesn’t protest.
Question: Are you repentant for your role in the liberation war as mentioned in the accusations?
Prof Ghulam Azam: I have already said that these are not accusations, but defamations. They cannot prove any accusation against me that I did anything against humanity, or have done any crime for which I need to seek forgiveness to the people. They won’t find anything. They can only harass. In fact they have already decided what the judgment will be. This is nothing but a farce trial, acting in the name of trial. Didn’t the Jute Minister say a few days ago that there is no need for any trial, just hang them? Didn’t he say that?
Question: The last question sir, Maghrib Azan is imminent. We heard that, everyone expects that or you have probably understood that you may be arrested. Are you mentally ready for arrest?
Prof Ghulam Azam: I have been arrested many times in my life. And a devoted Muslim does not fear death. If I am killed without any fault of my own, then I will get the status of a ‘martyr’. As a worker of the Islamic movement, I seek martyrdom, so what should I fear? It is not permissible to fear anyone other than Allah. We are not allowed to fear anyone but Allah.