They did everything to block trial
The villainy of ZA Bhutto and his rogue country put Bangladesh at a serious disadvantage when it started preparing for the trial of the 195 War Criminals. As a new country without much international diplomatic clout and its attempts for UN membership vetoed by Pakistan's ally China, Bangladesh had to consider the fate of the Bangladeshis held hostage by Pakistan.
Not only did Pakistan commit genocide during the war of 1971, it acted like a rogue nation and held 203 Bangladeshis hostage as bargaining chips to stop trial of its 195 military officers for war crimes who were held as prisoners of war (POWs).
Besides it launched intensive diplomatic efforts including convincing China to veto Bangladesh's bid for UN membership and appealing to the International Court of Justice to stop trial of the 195 war criminals.
These POWs included one lieutenant general, five major generals, 20 brigadiers, four colonels, 40 lieutenant colonels, 81 majors, 41 captains and two lieutenants.
They included Lt-General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi and Maj-Generals Nazar Hossain Shah, Mohammad Hossain Ansari, Mohammad Zamshed, Quazi Abdul Mazid Khan and Rao Farman Ali.
Pakistan also would not commit itself to the repatriation of about four lakh Bangalis held there in concentration camps in return for the release of its army officers. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported that many Bangladeshis were arrested in Pakistan just for their "alleged intent to leave Pakistan," and thousands were jailed without any charge, The New York Times reported. It also reported that the civilian Bangladeshis in Pakistan were facing serious discrimination and harassment and were being treated as "niggers."
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who became president of Pakistan through a military coup in late December 1971, played all kinds of dirty tricks and brought in his full weight behind his international influence to block the trial of these military officers held as POWs. His diplomatic villainy blocked recognition of Bangladesh by the UN and other international forums.
After the Pakistan army surrendered to the joint forces of India and Mukti Fouz, some 93,000 Pakistan military men were taken POWs by the Indians who promised them safety and security according to the Geneva Convention. They were moved to India.
In fact, safety of the surrendering troops was a major concern for both Pakistan and India as Bangladesh was still not recognized by most countries and not a signatory to the Geneva Convention. As such fear grew that the surrendered Pakistani soldiers might face the wrath of the freedom fighters.
TRIAL PROCESS OF 195 PAKISTANI SOLDIERS BEGINS
Soon after victory, acting president of Bangladesh Syed Nazrul Islam on December 23, 1971 first declared that Bangladesh would ask India to hand over the Pakistani officers guilty of genocides for trials as war criminals.
This caused grave concern in Pakistan.
A day later, home minister HM Quamaruzzaman announced that Bangladesh had already arrested 30 top Pakistani civilian officials and would soon put them on trial for genocide.
Meanwhile, demand for justice was growing louder in Dhaka and on December 26, widows of seven Bangladeshi officers killed by the Pakistanis asked India to help Bangladesh try the Pakistani soldiers for their crimes. In response, Indian envoy Durga Prasad Dhar said: "India is examining its responsibilities [towards the POWs] under international law."
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned from captivity on January 10, 1972 and announced that the killer Pakistani military men would be tried for war crimes.
Accordingly, the formal plan for trial came on March 29, 1972 when Bangladesh announced it would try some 1,100 Pakistani military prisoners including Niazi and Rao Forman Ali Khan.
A two-tier trial process was planned. National and international jurists to try major war criminals including the Pakistan army and local courts to try other war criminals, as The New York Times reported.
Just ahead of the first Dhaka visit of then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India announced it would hand over all military prisoners against whom Bangladesh presented "prima facie cases" of atrocities.
On June 14, 1972, India as a first step towards its commitment agreed to deliver 150 POWs, including Niazi to Bangladesh for the trial.
Events progressed further as on April 17, 1973, Bangladesh and India issued a joint statement where it said "two governments are ready to seek a solution to all humanitarian problems through simultaneous repatriation of Pakistani prisoners of war and civilian internees, except those required by …Bangladesh for trial on criminal charges."
Bangladesh started getting ready for the trials. For the local collaborators, the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order was announced.
But our constitution was amended to include Article 47 (3) in order for the trial of members "of any armed or defence or auxiliary forces" for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Accordingly, the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973 was announced on 20 July 1973 to try the 195 Pakistani war criminals.
PAKISTAN REACTS SHARPLY
Pakistan instead of trying its war criminals reacted sharply to Bangladesh's intent to hold trial and did everything including resorting to criminality to stop it.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a statement on May 29, 1973 said if Bangladesh went ahead with the war crimes trials, Bangalis held in Pakistan would also be subjected to tribunals.
"We have no other alternative…We cannot stomach or consent to trials of prisoners of war in Bangladesh. It would cause revulsion here and we have to react accordingly," he said.
He threatened that "it is now purely up to Mujibur Rahman. If he proceeds on his mad venture (of war trial), it will be the single biggest cause of instability on the subcontinent."
Bhutto sent a letter to US President Richard Nixon who all along the war had supported Pakistan. "If the 'Bangla Desh' authorities went forward with these trials they would indeed have very serious repercussions in Pakistan," he wrote. "There are over 400,000 Bengalis in West Pakistan. We have so far succeeded in ensuring that they are not maltreated in any way. But if the projected trials took place, they would generate such bitterness and resentment among our people that irreparable damage might be done to the prospects of establishing normal relations with India and 'Bangla Desh'."
Bhutto then started visiting different countries to get their support to block the trial. In January 1972, he visited Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Syria to win their support in his favour. According to Kessing's Contemporary Archives, these countries favoured Pakistan's point of view and called for negotiations between Pakistan and Bangladesh to end repatriation of POWs without delay.
PAKISTAN GOES TO THE HAGUE
On May 11, 1973, Pakistan went to the International Court of Justice in The Hague with the request that India did not hand over the 195 POWs to Bangladesh.
In its appeal, Pakistan said: "It has an exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over the 195 Pakistani nationals or any other number, now in Indian custody, and accused of committing acts of genocide in Pakistani territory, by virtue of the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 9 December, 1948, and that no other government or authority is competent to exercise such jurisdiction."
But when Pakistan and India started negotiating the fate of the 195, Pakistan told The Hague court to remove the case as it was in talks with India.
BHUTTO SEEKS CHINA'S VETO
Bhutto knew it was critical for Bangladesh to get UN membership. His sinister mind started working on how to use this as a trump card to release the 195 POWs.
In a press conference on August 10, 1972, Bhutto said Bangladesh believed "it had a kind of veto over the release of our prisoners."
"There is a veto in our hands also," he said.
Accordingly, Pakistan formally requested China to use its veto power to deprive Bangladesh UN membership. When Bangladesh applied to the United Nations, China cast its veto on August 25, 1972 for the first time in the Security Council. To the glee of Bhutto, Bangladesh was refused UN membership.
Bhutto also said Pakistan would recognise Bangladesh only if its prisoners were released.
In an interview with The New York Times on May 27, 1973, he said if Bangladesh carried out the trial of the 195 Pakistanis, Pakistan would also hold similar tribunals against the Bangladeshis trapped in Pakistan.
"Public opinion will demand trials [of Bangladeshis] here … We know that Bangalis passed on information during the war. There will be specific charges. How many will be tried, I cannot say," Bhutto told NYT.
And then, Pakistan government seized 203 Bengalis as "virtual hostages" for the 195 soldiers.
After much haggling, India and Pakistan signed the Delhi Accord on August 28, 1973for simultaneous repatriation of stranded Bangalis and Pakistanis. But the 203 Bangladesh hostages were kept out the repatriation process as Bangladesh desired to keep the 195 Pakistanis out of the process.
Enraged, Pakistan in the last week of April 1973 issued a statement saying: "Pakistani government rejects the right of the authorities in Dacca to try any among the prisoners of war on criminal charges, because the alleged criminal acts were committed in a part of Pakistan by citizens of Pakistan."
After about a year of such intense drama, Bangladesh finally agreed to exchange all prisoners including the 195 POWs because it wanted to get back its trapped 4 lakh Bangalis and it also needed UN membership.
Its 203 citizens who were held hostage by Pakistan finally returned on March 24, 1974 in return for the 195 POWs.