A senior leader of Bangladesh‘s largest religious political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, has resigned citing the party’s failure to apologise for its role in supporting Pakistani military 50 years ago.
Abdur Razzaq, who held the position of assistant general secretary in the Jamaat, told Al Jazeera he had been trying to get his party to apologise for 20 years but that he resigned on Friday after realising it would not change its mind.
“When I saw that I could not take it any further and that there was no hope that the party would apologise and I had come to the end of the road, I decided to resign,” said Razzaq.
He said the resignation was also due to the party’s failure to rethink its view of the Islamic state and restructure itself to become “a democratic principled party adhering to Islamic values operating within the secular constitution of Bangladesh”.
Razzaq’s resignation “has far-reaching implications for the Jamaat-e-Islami”, according to Ali Riaz, a professor of politics and government at Illinois State University.
“I won’t be surprised if grassroots activists of the Jamaat now explore the possibility of the dissolution of the party seriously,” said Riaz.
“The Jamaat’s leadership’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its role in 1971 during the war of liberation has stymied its ability to appeal to the people of Bangladesh. It is an understatement to say that the apology was long overdue,” Riaz added.
In December 1971, Bangladesh gained independence following a civil war that pitted the Pakistani military against the Bengali population living in what was then known as East Pakistan. The current Bangladesh government claims that three million Bengalis were killed in the war, though other estimates claim the figure to be in the low to mid hundreds of thousands.
In the 1972 constitution of the first government of Bangladesh, the Jamaat-e-Islami and all other religious parties were banned due to their role in the war. However, in 1979, following the assassination of the country’s first President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the constitution was amended allowing the Jamaat to re-establish itself.
Razzaq, also a lawyer, said that the Jamaat should have apologised for failing to “support the independence of Bangladesh” and in not criticising “the atrocities committed by the Pakistan military” during the war.
In his resignation letter to the leader of the Jamaat, Maqbul Ahmed, released to the media, he argued that Jamaat’s failure to address the 1971 issue has “resulted in a stigma being attached to those who were not involved in the decision” and that “this continuing failure of Jamaat [to apologise] has given further ground for it to be seen as an anti-independence party”.
Although the Pakistani military is accused of most of the killings, militias set up by Jamaat-e-Islami are alleged to have been involved in many atrocities.
The establishment of an International Crimes Tribunal by the current Awami League government in 2010 has so far resulted in the execution of five senior leaders of the Jamaat after they were convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide
Razzaq, who acted as chief defence counsel for those Jamaat leaders accused in the cases at the tribunal, denied that any apology by the party would have been an admission of its role in offences committed during the war – only of collaboration.
Razzaq also told Al Jazeera that he now believed that the party should be dissolved.
“Although Jamaat is a legal political party, since 2011 the government has not given it any space,” the senior lawyer said.
“The government has closed down all its 65 district offices and 4,000 other offices around the country. It cannot organise any public or indoor meetings and it is not allowed to hold press conferences and it cannot take part in elections,” Razzaq explained.
“In this situation, it is better for the party to dissolve itself,” he said.
Razzaq, who since the end of 2013 has lived in “self-exile” in London, said he has “no intention of floating a new political party” in Bangladesh right now.