Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Why Khaleda was arrested

Why Khaleda was arrested - a classic red herring in my book
Tuesday September 04 2007
A.H. Jaffor Ullah, USA

Slowly but surely,Bangladesh has become the proverbial ‘Banana Republic’ under the aegis of Bangladesh military. A week after the installation of the second and consecutive caretaker government by defying the dictums of the constitution, I wrote an article on January 17, which was published on January 19 in Dhaka’s premier newspaper, Daily Star. In that article I wrote quite succinctly that the newly formed government was indeed a military-backed one. To my knowledge, I was the first among myriad writers to give label to Fakhruddin Administration calling it a military-backed oligarchy. Most newspapers both inside and out newspaper followed my characterization and they all ubiquitously call it a military-backed or military-driven government.

If anyone doubts my assertion, I ask that reader to watch how General Moeen Ahmed conducts business in various public functions. The military leader wasted no time to promote him to the position of a four-star General and both the president and the chief advisor went along with the misguided proposal to promote not only the army General but also the other two chiefs of the Naval and Air Force. You talk about undue advantage taken by the armed services! When ordinary citizens are working extra hard to eke out a living, the top military brasses found it very convenient to indulge in self-promotion.

The Bangladesh army learnt their lesson very well from Pakistani army, which too often comes up with a shining example to be emulated by Bangladesh military. The Pakistani army generously gave residential plots to retired officers and very quickly Bangladesh army followed that route. Now Dhaka flaunts DOHS (ex-army’s residential township), just like Lahore, Malir Cantonment Area DOHS in Pakistan). They even copied the name in toto from their previous masters.

Another glaring example of following the Pakistani military’s move is worth mentioning here. After taking power in October 1999 General Mushharaf sent both the deposed PM, Mian Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League (PML), and his rival, Benazir Bhutto, who was the chief opposition politician belonging to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to Middle East in forced exile. Bangladesh’s military-backed government also tried that route to send both Hasina and Khaleda to exile but because of outside pressure the Fakhruddin Administration backed down. This failure of the interim government to send the two politicians abroad in forced exile was not taken lightly. Sheikh Hasina was framed in quite a few trumped up charges of bribery. The amount of money alleged to be taken by Hasina was puny as compared the money amassed by Khaleda Zia’s two sons. But this does not disturb the equanimity of Mainul Husein or Moeen Ahmed, the two protagonists who are at the forefront of this government whose term-limit of 90 days have long been gone. To justify the existence of this government Mainul Husein mentions every time he gets the microphone that this interim government is a constitutional government. This must be a prick in their conscience or else, why does he or Gen. Moeen talks about the constitutionality of this government umpteenth times?

Let me now touch on more relevant matters. Sheikh Hasina had been languishing in a sub jail in Dhaka since June 16, 2007. Nearly sixty days after her arrest by the military-backed government, there was an uprise among students and ordinary people allover Dhaka and other districts. The Dhaka University students were not protesting on behalf of Hasina or her party, Awami League. It was a very mundane issue – some students were roughed up by military stationed inside the campus. The students wanted the army camp stationed in the campus demolish and soldiers taken out. However, outsiders took to the streets in sympathy of the students and soon the mass demonstration was transformed into an anti-interim government movement. The whole thing developed rather extemporaneously. This continued for three days and the short-lived movement spread to other cities. The military-backed government panicked, took defensive measure, and declared day-long curfew to quell the newly minted movement, which they did by mobilizing army and by instituting day-to-dawn curfew.

After crushing the mass movement the military-driven government ordered the police to find the protesters. Cases were filed against an estimated 100,000 people. How many people were arrested? That we don’t know. Parenthetically, it is noteworthy that the prison system in Bangladesh is bursting at the seam where 250,000 people or more are languishing without any charges against them. Since interim government came to power and thanks to army for that, the administration arrested tens and thousands of ordinary people who they thought will be troublemakers. On top of this, the government is planning on arresting another 80,000-90,000 people on new charges. It remains to be seen if it is merely an empty talk or they mean business.

The spokesperson for the government, Mainul Husein, had mentioned it to the press in recent days that the government is experiencing a rough time at this time. This was exacerbated by the arrest of 5 senior professors, 2 from Dhaka University and 3 from Rajshahi University. No sooner the news of the arrest of university professors were made public, sympathy started to pour in favor of the arrested teacher. The government came out with a black eye. Many overseas Bangladeshis showed their collective disdain by buzzing the Internet with protest notes and floating e-petition forwarding them to U.N. Secretary General, powerful lawmakers in America, Great Britain, and EU. This news is not confined to the West but made it to Dhaka; thanks to the blazing speed of the Internet. The government is naturally perturbed by all this negative campaign. Therefore, they had to resort to a ‘Red Herring’ to bring an end to all the e-petitions.

In my humble judgment, Khaleda Zia and her son, Arafat Rahman Coco’s arrest on September 3, 2007 is a classic ‘Red Herring.’ The government that became the villain due to student uprising and subsequent arrests of the five professors saw how many negative editorial write-ups graced the pages of newspapers allover Bangladesh. They simply had to do the damage control. And in their desperation they came up with a ‘conspiracy against the nation’ theory. Bangladesh’s big neighbor was not named as a co-conspirator but it was mentioned in a vernacular newspaper close to the military-backed government that a freelance reported and civil rights advocate for minority had just returned from India where he met Pranab Mukherjee and RAW higher-ups. The activist in question had received crores of money to stage anti-government protest sessions. The government could easily arrest this person but they fear backlash because he has established a network for fellow civil rights activists in the West. If he is arrested by the government, a deluge of anti-military-backed government PR campaign will start in earnest. Fakhruddin-Mainul-Moeen may do their saber-rattling inside Bangladesh but they have no lobby outside Bangladesh to thwart the PR campaign to malign this temporary government. Mainul Husein and his fellow oligarchs know it too well. That is precisely why they are not arresting the Bangladeshi civil rights activists. This precisely brings to the next question – what next?

The military-backed government of Fakhruddin is a stunt master par excellence. It knows when to strike. This time they have decided to pull one of their stunt and they did it in a short notice. They executed rather flawlessly the much anticipated arrest of Khaleda Zia. In my book it is a classic ‘Red Herring.’ Both media and public interest will be on the news; consequently, the campaign against government’s misguided decision to arrest the five senior most professors will be on the wane. Therefore, I suspect that the arrest of the mother and son was speeded up to digress and divert the media’s focus from DU related trouble that haunts the triumvirate powerhouse in Dhaka. The masses will be happy to see that the government means business. Not to mention this will hasten the destruction of BNP as a political force, which the military had supported since 1991. Khaleda Zia was trusted by the both the Generals and rank-in-file, equally. But since the party and leadership were mired in corruption, the cantonment crowd had withdrawn their support, which led to the fall of Khaleda Zia and her two sons from grace.

In summary, I was soul searching for the reasons to arrest Khaleda Zia by the military-backed government and I discussed the motivating factors for her arrest by the power seating in the catbird seat in Dhaka. The government may say that they are merely doing a balancing act and to this I say humbug. The real threat that may shake the foundation of this temporary government is the campus politics. The government made a fool out of itself by arresting five professors. To divert the attention from this growing trouble and a stop to developing inimical voice among intelligentsia, the government arrested Khaleda Zia and her son pronto. It remains to be seen how the arrest of the botox queen of Bangladesh plays out in hastening the demise of BNP. Will the news of the prodigious arrest generate enough interest in media to make the intelligentsia forget the plights of five university professors in the hands of military-led joint forces? We shall have to keep our eyes fixed on the oligarchs who have become far too powerful in Bangladesh since January 12, 2007. Then, wasn’t Khaleda Zia very powerful in the last fifteen years?

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA
E Mail : jhankar@bellsouth.net

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