Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bangladesh: Military, Mullahs and Oligarchs

Bangladesh was made a paradox with the able hands of military, mullahs, and oligarchs

A.H. Jaffor Ullah

The chief of the military-backed government of Bangladesh , Fakhruddin Ahmed, spoke before a gathering at the campus of Columbia University on September 28, 2007. The chief advisor came to New York City a few days earlier to attend the general assembly of the U.N. in which he gave a 15-miniute address before the dignitaries and the permanent representatives of the comity of nations that make this organization one of a kind world body.

Fakhruddin's address to Columbia University's "World Leader's Forum" caught the attention of many people because this is the first time that the chief advisor came to the West after being thrust into power by cantonment intrigue in Bangladesh. Also, the chief advisor never did take any question from journalists in Bangladesh despite the fact that he attended various state functions in many of which he delivered only speech.

The silent force that is the purveyor of Fakhruddin Administration does not allow the chief advisor to address the press in an open forum. That is precisely why quite a few eager beaver attended the lecture with the hope that they could ask him some pertinent questions about the way Bangladesh is being run since January 12, 2007. Many civil rights activists also attended the lecture to get the impression as to why about a quarter million people or so are rotting in the jail without any charge, tens and thousands of poor people were made homeless by the government's forces alone in Dhaka, half a dozen senior professors from three universities – Dhaka, Rajshahi, and Chittagong were arrested and placed in jail as of this writing, and why the government had arrested a twenty-year old cartoonists at the behest of Islamists in Bangladesh. The other pressing questions that need explanation are – the exit map for this temporary government whose 90-days tenure as per the constitution had all but expired and how long the emergency rule will continue in this "paradoxical" nation that is mired in hyper inflation, and quasi military rule. Not to mention the military-backed government had supported a faction of political leaders to engage in open politics when it has squashed the political activities of the leading parties and whose leaders are in jail pending litigation. Also important to many attendees of the lecture is the issue of the up coming general election and the reform process that should make a level playing field for all political parties.

I could not attend the lecture because I live about 1,300-1,400 miles away from New York City; however, Mr. Jahed Ahmed, who is one of the moderators of Mukto-mona forum, had attended the meeting and I read his eye account report of the speech. Mr. Ahmed did a superlative job in reporting the performance of Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed while he took notes. I request the readers to peruse his report to know what Mr. Fakhruddin had emphasized in his carefully prepared speech.

What I would like to do in this write-up is to bring up the issue of one segment of his speech in which he said, "Bangladesh is, in many ways, a paradox that has baffled many a pundit." This needs elaboration a bit. I have no idea in which context the chief advisor categorized Bangladesh as a paradoxical land. Is it the polity, its political leadership, or is it the people?

As I have alluded to earlier that Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed was thrust into the forefront of governance by a powerful coterie of power. His purveyor – the military in my view is accountable for making Bangladesh a paradoxical land. In August 15, 1975 the military executed a plan that it hatched in Kurmitola cantonment. Since then the military came to power not once but three times. All along the way, it courted the mullahs (read Islamists) to consolidate its power. Lest we forget, this tiny nation was formed in 1971 through a mass participation under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tajuddin Ahmed, Nazrul Islam, and many more like them. An estimated 3 million people were butchered and a quarter million women raped by the brute and occupation army of Pakistani government. The masses wanted a secular polity and they got one only to see that only three and half-year later the military reverted the course of the journey to transform this one-time vibrant society into a quasi religious state.

In mid-September 2007 a vernacular newspaper published an innocuous cartoon in which the twenty-year old cartoonist by the name Arifur Rahman poked a fun at the naming of Muslim boys. The Islamists twisted the meaning of the punch line and asked the government to arrest the cartoonist and the editor, publisher and the whole shebang of Bangla newspaper Prothom Alo. The Fakhruddin Administration could have appointed a body of scholars to look into the content of the carton before arresting the cartoonist. But to appease the religious fanatics the government did nothing of that sort and it simply arrested the young man who created the cartoon. The activist government then went further and arranged a " Taoba" (forgiveness or pardon) ceremony with the mullahs asking the law minister to be the middle man to carry out the fiasco in public. The picture of the hapless editor seated among corpulent mullahs graced the page of most newspaper. The secular segment of the society simply cringed in feat thinking what lies ahead for this "paradoxical" land. In my opinion the military-led government is making this country a nation of paradox.

The army appointed 10 or so technocrats, ex-military men, and businessman to run the country of 150 million people after January 11, 2007 over through of a caretaker government, which was ordained in late October 2006. The country is essentially being run by a group of oligarchs who have no connection to masses. Bangladesh is still a village-based polity. These men are all city-bred and have a serious disconnection to the people of the land. The Fakhruddin Administration' s main agenda was to break the tradition of two-family driven politics but to do execute its policy it appointed three oligarchs from the same family. Is not it paradoxical? The military-led government said it will arrest all the corrupt politicians but in reality it turned a blind eye to quite a few politicians who are corrupt. The only reason these corrupt politicians are roaming freely in the nation is that they are extending their helping hands to tighten the noose around the neck of two supreme political leaders. The government is also dictating these corrupt but free politicians to wreak havoc in their respective parties. Initially the government thought they could help catapult Dr. Yunus into the political arena. The Peace Nobel laureate thought he could facilely form a political party using the Internet and media but that was proven so wrong. The idea of forming the party just withered in the vine and the oligarchs could do nothing but twiddle their thumbs. Indeed, Bangladesh is seemingly a nation of contradiction.

If I understand correctly by reading Jahed Ahmed's write-up on day's event at Columbia University , Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed talked about the success of poverty alleviation program, food production situation in Bangladesh and the need for good governance; however, he avoided those touchy issues as the arrest of university professors and the young cartoonist. These questions were asked but the chief advisor dodged the questions while he gave his glib answers. I was saddened to hear that Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed did not even say word on the arrest of Arifur Rahman, the jailed cartoonist. By remaining reticent on this hot issue, the chief advisor had proved one more time that Bangladesh is riddled with contradiction in terms of the governance. The same Mr. Fakhruddin had given a fiery speech on February 21, 2007 in which he urged everyone to join in to make Bangladesh a knowledge-based society but that ephemeral plea just vanished in the thin air. The hard reality is that the nation is now under the influence of obscurantists who are dictating the government to efface the vestiges of secularism. Isn't that a glaring example of the paradoxical nature of Bangladesh ? If I may say so, Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, it is through your action our motherland is becoming not only a hapless but an utter paradoxical land. Instead of lecturing on it, please do something about it so that in future this epithet could be kept "rest in peace."
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A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans , USA

1 comment:

mydearbangladesh said...

The concept of 'Bangladesh paradox' is befittingly borrowed from the World Bank's country assistance stratgey for Bangladesh (2006). WB describes it as 'Bangladesh conundrum' implying how the country could achieve a sustained growth, inspite of pervasive governance problems.