Sunday, September 9, 2007

Dhaka burns over political football

Bhaskar Roy
Source: SIFY News
September 9, 2007

One little scuffle at a university football match was all it took to ignite student riots across Bangladesh, which has been under Emergency Rule since January.

The match at Dhaka University grounds on August 19, 2007 turned violent after a couple of army officers got into an argument with the students for blocking their view of the game. This spiralled into a fight between the students and some teachers on one side and the police and the Army on the other. The spiralling violence forced the authorities to declare a curfew on August 22. Though the curfew was withdrawn on August 25, the detention of two teachers – Dhaka University Social Science Dean Harun-ur-Rashid, and Dr Anwar Choudhury, Secretary of Dhaka University Teachers Union – for three months has kept things simmering.

University teachers, known as Buddhijivis (intellectuals) in Bangladesh, are highly respected by the student fraternity. Back in 1971, when the Pakistani army in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) decided to surrender to the Indian army, one of their last acts was to kill as many Bangladeshi teachers and intellectuals as possible. It was a well-calculated act.

Students basically comprised the liberation movement, and encouragement by the intellectuals through speeches and writings fuelled their spirit. The Bangladesh liberation movement, which started in 1952 with the language movement, was also a student -intellectual combine that the politicians later rode on.
Students and teachers have been both the harbingers and vehicles of most major Bangladeshi political movements. The army-backed caretaker–government will have to be very careful not to stir this hornet's nest. Yet the law enforcing authorities handled the Dhaka University incident rather immaturely. If the army and the police had not retaliated with undue force, the matter could have been resolved then. So the question doing the rounds in Dhaka is: was the flare up accidental or was it a planned provocation, an attempt to create a chaotic situation?

Ever since Bangladesh became independent, Saudi foreign policy towards Bangladesh has been drafted in Pakistan's foreign ministry. The first major step was the formation of the Islamic Bank in Bangladesh in 1976, funded by Riyadh. This bank gave the Jamaat its first financial lifeline in independent Bangladesh. The rest is history.

The Western forces, especially the United States and the UK, are playing very calculated roles. It is their influence that ensured that the Jamaat-e-Islami leaders have not been named in any case of corruption or support to terrorism. In their fight against terrorism, the US believes it has to shore up Islamic political parties and groups it considers "moderate", like the Jamaat.

The Washington Beltway analysts have not been able to figure out what happened to their "moderate Taliban" in Afghanistan. Yet the US intelligence establishment and the State Department seem to be in a politico-biological experiment to create a creature called a moderate Jamaat-e-Islami. Obviously they haven't read the story of Frankenstein.

At the moment, the administration in Bangladesh, if there really is one, is in a serious quandary. They tried to break the two major political parties, the Awami League and the BNP, but did not succeed. The army, in consultation with the civilian government, tried to float a new all-encompassing political party. That, too, failed. The People's Democratic Party formed by the Directorate General of Field Intelligence, or DGFI, the replication of Pakistan's ISI, turned out to be a joke.

President Iazzudin Ahmed, whose five-year term expired on September 6, 2007, has been asked to continue as Head of State till an alternative emerges. Another formula is also being floated — A National Government with Dr Kamal Hossain as the President. An ex-Awami League leader and a renowned lawyer, Dr Hossain is a former associate of Sheikh.Hasina who fell out with her over her autocratic ways.

But for a National Government to have some credibility, the administration has to include senior and well-known politicians from the BNP and the Awami League as well. A president or acting President would have to be placed in Banga Bhavan. Under emergency rule, even Iazzudin's tenure can be extended if the BNP chessmen on the board can exercise enough pressure. This is again a fifty-fifty chance.

The student protests become a useful tool here, if handled deftly and with finesse. It can be projected as a sign of future instability unless it is firmly controlled. Which in turn means more powers for the army and the police, and reasons for extending the Emergency and curtailing constitutional and political rights.

However, the longer the country remains without a democratic government and free politics, the higher will be the cost.

No comments: