Bangladesh is at the crossroads
Maloy Krishna Dhar
October 4, 2007
Source: Sify News
Political developments during last two years have brought into sharp focus the deep ideological chasm between the forces headed by the pro-liberation combine led by Sheikh Hasina and the post-Mujib political usurpers headed by Begum Zia.
Bangladesh was born out of the aspirations of the Bengali speaking people to achieve political, economic, and cultural freedom from the overwhelming alien ethnic forces represented by Punjabi dominated political, bureaucratic and military hegemony. The movements also aimed at restoration of the unique secular tradition of the Bengali speaking people-on either side of the political fence.
Violent changes imposed on the people of Bangladesh by the conspiratorial forces of Pakistan and the US -- represented by the ISI and the CIA-- and the fundamentalist Jamait-e-Islami had tried to virtually negate the achievements of the liberation war.
Mujib’s death and ultimate capture of power by Zia-ur-Rahman marked the stark dividing line between the forces of liberation, establishment of secular democratic forces represented by the Awami League and the pro-Pakistan, pro-Islamist non-secular forces represented by the BNP. The BNP was not only a political face of the military regime; it emerged as the umbrella for all non-secular Islamist forces.
This was proved beyond doubt when Zia-ur-Rahman allowed the Jamait chief to return to Bangladesh and reopen the fundamentalist shop. Zia’s open collaboration with the CIA and the ISI resulted in recruitment of over 15, 000 Bangladeshis and Rohingyas for undergoing training in ISI, Al Qaeda and Afghan mujahideen camps and fighting against the USSR. Nearly 2000 Bangla jihadis were deputed to Bosnia, Chechnya and other theatres of jihad directly or indirectly sponsored by the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.
After the conclusion of the Afghan jihad, some 8000 odd jihadis returned to Bangladesh and opened new jihadi outfits to Islamicise Bangladesh and remove the last vestiges of the secular identity of the Bangladeshi people. Since then, the Jamait and the jihadi forces have not looked back.
Bangladesh remains sharply divided along this broad contour of pro-liberation, democratic secular forces and the forces supporting and promoting the fundamentalists and jihadi ideologies. Their political battlefront remained ideologically fortified and the country was critically divided into two seemingly irreconcilable camps-secular and communal.
This sharp incompatibility and suspicion coupled with sudden inflation in jihadist terrorist activities made it impossible for the Awami League to walk into an election fray under the corrupt and vitiated dispensation put in place by the Begum Zia government.
The impasse resulted in the installation of a non-political caretaker government. Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed took the oath of office as Chief Adviser of the Caretaker Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on January 12.
Dr. Ahmed’s recent statements in the US encouraged hopes that his military backed regime was keen to hold elections in 2008 and hand over power to an elected government. General Moeen U Ahmed (recruited in 1975) has also made appropriate noises promising early election.
Bangladesh army’s “We are the Elite” attitude was borrowed by General Zia and the feeling runs through rank and file that the Armed Forces reserve the final say in all matters of national life. General Moeen has played, so far, a discrete and controlled role in guiding Bangladesh to a stable future. He has not behaved like Musharraf or Suharto.
However, unlike Pakistan, the Bangladesh Army has not emerged as the permanent political soul of the country. Pakistan cannot be run by any political government without support, guidance, interference and blessing of the ISI and the Army. In Bangladesh the elected governments were allowed by the Army to run the country, in a good, bad and worse manner till they messed up the whole act and trampled upon the mandate of the people by indulging in cosmic-sized corrupt practices. Public money was blatantly siphoned to private pockets.
The present phase of purging, including incarceration of Sheikh Hasina and Begum Zia is a part of an operation meant to cleanse that. That corruption cannot be rooted out by military interference alone has been proved in countries like Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey and even in Pakistan. Political, societal and moral ethos of a people cannot be rectified by military or any other coercive forces. The people themselves have to understand that the national wealth is meant for the all the people of the country and not for the political or military elite who manage to grab the government.
But before we point fingers, we must understand that India is also not free from this disease. India did not require military rule or controlled governments to tackle this continuous battle. The democratic process, constitutional remedies, higher judiciary and the spreading education and consciousness of the voters are bringing about gradual changes.
It might take another hundred years for India to overcome the feudal and imperial societal and moral ethos, but it is a step in the right direction. Perhaps Bangladesh can learn this major lesson from India.
The caretaker government in Dhaka recently declared that “indoor political activities” would be allowed and political parties can resume their exercises to refine and redefine their political approaches. In certain quarters in both Awami League and BNP there are open demands for change of leadership. Rebellious activities have divided the BNP into three distinct groups. Begum Zia is no more the undisputed leader of the BNP and the fundamentalist and Islamist forces supporting her are gravitating to Jamait-e-Islami and other Islamic parties like Jatiya Oikya Jote. The core democratic forces in the BNP are in favour of changing leadership.
The Awami League is also going through similar convulsions. “Hasina alone” slogan and magic is not able to work as undissolvable glue. Factional leaders are trying to grab leadership of the party. However, the basic problem of the Awami League and secular, democratic and pro-Mujib forces is that they do not have any viable all-Bangla leadership beyond Sheihk Hasina. She is still the Mujib-face of the liberation and “Amar Sonar Bangla” forces. The fourteen party front, therefore, has to willy-nilly, accept Hasina as the front-face of their struggle. The tertiary movements like Bikalpa Dhara can only thrive under the umbrella of the Awami League and strengthen the left of the centre movement to gradually introduce the socialist and communist political and economic agenda. By itself the Bikalpa Dhara is a minuscule force.
Nebular revival of political activities is as inevitable as growth of bacterial colonies even under harshest environment.
However, the general people of Bangladesh, the economic hub-masters and even a section of the intellectuals have welcomed the military backed non-political interim government. People are generally happy that scores of corrupt tycoons are being brought under the scanner of law and peace has been temporarily restored. The jihadists like HUJI have been banned. Some JMB leaders have been sentenced to death and activities of this Al Qaeda backed jihadi outfit have been restrained.
But the calm on the jihadi front is unnatural. Below the surface a new jihadi organisation Jadid Al Qaeda has announced its emergence. The HUJI remains very active. Its volunteers are affiliated to Islamic Chhatra Shibir and Jamait. The HUJI is a branch of Al Qaeda. It operates in India as Al Qaeda and Lashkar franchisee.
About 20 other militant organisations are quietly spreading their tentacles into the remote villages. Their writ cannot be challenged by the weakened political forces. The police forces including the notorious Rapid Action Battalion or RAB are mysteriously inactive on this front. During last two years about 1000 new madrassa have come up and clandestine arms induction through Rohingya territory and by sea routes has increased. Though Al Haramein, the Saudi NGO has been banned, about twenty other NGOs are pouring in funds to the ultra-jihadists. Normal Bangladeshis expect the military backed government to restrain their activities.
The military backed regime has cracked down on corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and business tycoons. Two major political parties are being screened to identify black wealth. Even Hasina and Begum Zia have been charged for corrupt practices. The regime has suppressed the students and the university teachers in recent months. However, observers opine that the interim regime and the army have not touched the Jamait-e-Islami at all. None of its leaders have been booked under corruption charges. How can the Jamait leaders be exonerated from corruption charges in a country where corruption is as holy as the lessons of the Hadith? This is sending out a wrong message to the people that the mainstream political forces are corrupt and religious parties like the Jamait are full of fakirs and dervishes. Such lavish indulgence is being interpreted as collusion between the army, bureaucracy and members of the interim government and the Jamait led forces. The secular forces are alarmed by this suspected “conspiracy of silence” between the army and the Jamait. The military leaders may like to come out clean on this issue.
The Jamait leaders are allowed to move freely and propagate their political views. the mainstream political forces allege that under alleged patronage of the army and the interim regime the Jamait is emerging as the dominant political umbrella. Other minor religious parties are gravitating towards the Jamait. Political observers feel that if the present trend is allowed to continue the Jamait may emerge as the strongest political umbrella. They fear that the top army leadership and the members of the interim government have not analysed this complicated aspect of Bangladesh’s political future. Would they like to create a Pakistan like political ambience by conceding the political arena completely to the religious parties?
These fears are haunting the people of Bangladesh. They also wonder about the silence and apathy of the US and European Union over this situation. China, they allege, is happy with the emergence of the Jamait and India, as usual, is a silent spectator. On October 2, the Awami League led fourteen party front demanded in a resolution that the Jamait should also be brought under scrutiny and subjected to restrictions imposed on other political parties. This appears to be a healthy development. Such demands and grassroots level activities indicate that containing the communal forces and assures the minority and the secular forces that the spirit of Mujibur Rahman is still alive and the core secular values of the Bengali peoples have not been destroyed by political vicissitudes.
In fact, the secular forces hope that a section of the Army, intelligence services and the bureaucracy would help them in preserving the flaming wicks of liberation and wholesome integrity of the peoples of Bangladesh. The Bangladesh army, especially General Moeen is a product of Mukti Juddha (Freedom War). Besides the political forces he and his successors are also responsible for preserving the values of sacrifices of millions of Bengalis and the martyrdom of Sheikh Mujib.
The author is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.