Controversy walks hand in hand with liberation war ministry

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Researchers and civil society leaders say the ministry has been an almost complete failure ever since its inception on October 23, 2001, during the the BNP-Jamaat regime

From the scam in gold crests honouring foreign friends and a lack of widespread and in-depth research to a reluctance to collect documents on the Liberation War and preserving the 1971 killing fields, the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs has witnessed it all.

In addition, awarding fake freedom fighters with certificates of participation in the war is also another notable fiasco it has been hit with. The flawed list of Razakars is the latest nail in the coffin. 

Researchers and civil society leaders say the ministry has been an almost complete failure ever since its inception on October 23, 2001, during the the BNP-Jamaat regime. 

But people’s expectations of it spiked after the Awami League returned to power in 2008 following the 1/11 changeover, as the party is known for its pro-Liberation War spirit.

Faulty list of Razakars nothing abnormal 

Given the scandals hitting the ministry one after the other, the faulty list of Razakars, collaborators of the Pakistani occupation forces during the Liberation War in 1971, is nothing “abnormal”, according to researchers and civil society representatives.  

The list published on December 16 included at least 17 freedom fighters and 92 people from minority communities, stirring controversy to such an extent that the government had to withhold it yesterday.  

“The list is not only the worst possible embarrassment for the government, but also a blatant example of an unacceptable level of irresponsibility on the part of the authorities concerned,” said TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman. 

“It is atrocious of the ministry to announce that it would investigate matters if aggrieved freedom fighters apply (for a withdrawal of their or their family names from the list),” he said, terming the list an unacceptable humiliation heaped on the greatest sons and daughters of the soil. 

“…It is incumbent upon those responsible for the fiasco to pro-actively reach out to each of the aggrieved freedom fighters and apologize for the mistake,” he added. 

Suggesting that the list should be prepared flawlessly with the help of experts, Iftekharuzzaman also demanded that the officials responsible for the scandal be booked. 

Dr Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, termed the list as “outrageous”.  

“Massive incompetence of those involved and lack of accountability caused the disaster. Not even the minister can avoid responsibility,” he said. 

“The list is not the first failure of the ministry. It has a long history of blunders and graft. What kind of action has been taken over these issues?” Mizanur said. 

Punitive measures could have avoided debacles 

A culture of impunity among officials and employees concerned is definitely to blame since punitive measures could have resisted such failures and irregularities, he said, referring to a number of previous debacles and anomalies.  

In April 2014, a media report revealed that the gold and silver in the crests presented to foreign friends in recognition of their contribution to the Liberation War had been adulterated. The incident not only tarnished the image of the country but also caused the national exchequer a loss of Tk7.04 crore.

The same year, the government decided not to present the friends with the crests made of precious bright yellow metal. 

In September that year, media reports revealed that three secretaries and a joint secretary had been in possession of fake freedom-fighter credentials. They were later stripped of the certificates. Historian Muntasir Mamoon has pointed out that the activities of the ministry cannot just be routine work. 

“It should work with the spirit of the Liberation War. The ministry must engage with civil society from now on, or else such mistakes will be repeated,” he stated.  

Mamoon continued: “The ministry must focus on other areas, alongside preparing the list.”  

On the issue of fake freedom-fighter certificate holders, he said: “What happened to those? What action has been taken against those who issued such certificates?”

Maybe this is happening because many government high-ups have a casual attitude to the Liberation War, he concluded. 

Ministers in blame game 

Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, whose offices were responsible for preparing the list, have been trading blame over the issue. 

Mozammel said: “We just published what the Home Ministry gave us.”

In reply, Kamal blamed Mozammel’s office, saying: “They should have properly scrutinized the Razakar list before publishing it, but they did not do so.  

At a press conference at his office yesterday, when Kamal was asked by a journalist of a TV channel where the Liberation War Affairs Ministry had spent the fund of Tk60 crore to prepare the list, the minister said: “I don’t want to make any comment on this. This is because he’s a senior minister.” 

The minister said: “The Ministry of Liberation War Affairs sought a list of Razakars, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams from us. We told them that we had no such list. But there was a list of over 10,000 people who were made accused in cases filed under the Collaborators Act between 1972 and 1974. 

“However, some 996 individuals were excluded from the list as they were implicated in cases by mistake or out of enmity. We provided notes about those names while giving this list to the Liberation War Affairs Ministry. But they published the whole list.” 

He said: “If there is any mistake on our part, we will look into it. We will take action against those who have committed a crime intentionally in this regard.” 

In a major development later in the evening, the government withheld the Razakar list amid huge public outcry across the country around the names of freedom fighters figuring in it.

The controversial list has also been removed from the ministry website. 

“A fresh list will be published on March 26 next after scrutiny,” Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque has said.