Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Bangla junta

The Bangla junta
Source: The Asian Age Editorial
September 9, 2007

Former Bangladesh Prime Minister and BNP chief Khaleda Zia’s arrest did not come as a surprise. When Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina was arrested on July 16, it had become clear that Ms Zia would meet the same fate. The Army-backed interim government in Dhaka had earlier forcibly tried to send them into exile. When Ms Hasina and Ms Zia resisted the move and the international community voiced its disapproval, the ill-conceived plan was dropped. But the Fakhruddin Ahmed-led interim government had apparently not given up. It was determined to remove the two most powerful political leaders who have a mass following and who enjoy almost iconic stature, from the scene. It is no secret that it is the military which is calling the shots in Bangladesh since the promulgation of Emergency in January. Army chief Moeen U Ahmed has publicly voiced his contempt for political leadership. He believes that Ms Zia and Ms Hasina have been responsible for the misgovernance, corruption and violence plaguing Bangladesh. It is nobody’s case that the two begums are paragons of virtue. Their rules were marked by corruption, political violence and even rise of religious extremism. Their mutual distrust and hostility retarded the progress and prosperity of the country. But the highhanded and arbitrary manner in which the caretaker government has targeted the two main political players, has made it clear that more than cleaning the system, it is interested in cutting them down to size. Their arrests may be part of the "minus two formula" which means BNP without Ms Zia and Awami League without Ms Hasina.

It is in pursuit of this formula that the Army even engineered disaffection in both parties. In the name of internal reforms, the Army also sowed the seeds of splits in the Awami League and the BNP. The arrest and imprisonment of Ms Zia and Ms Hasina smack of witch-hunting. The move will further weaken democracy in Bangladesh which had received a jolt by the imposition of Emergency. A fortnight ago, the students’ protests against the presence of an Army camp at the Dhaka University campus had snowballed into a full-fledged violent movement for democracy. After having tasted the fruits of parliamentary democracy for the past 16 years, the people of Bangladesh will not easily accept another spell of Army rule.

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