Sunday, April 29, 2007
Thursday, April 26, 2007
By Jamal Hasan
I have contemplated to write an essay on rising tide of Wahhabi Islam in my birthplace, Bangladesh. But a succession of events in Bangladesh in the last couple of months triggered by rising fundamentalism has captured my time. In this article, I will objectively analyze the spate of words delivered by a diversified bunch of people in and outside Bangladesh to hammer down my thesis that Uncle Sam nurtured Islamic fundamentalists quite unwittingly and now they are coming home to roost. For the sake of brevity, I will only discuss the case of Bangladesh leaving aside myriad of similar problems that had plagued other Islamic nations.
The Washington Post on July 17, 2004 had this front-page story with the title, "Interviews of Muslims to Broaden / FBI Hopes to Avert a Terrorist Attack." The news goes on like this…. "FBI agents have launched a series of interviews of Muslims and Arab Americans in the Washington area and across the country, hoping to glean information that could prevent a major terrorist attack during the election year." The story also disclosed the following, "this is not a general population. They are identified by intelligence or investigative information," said an FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with department policy. He added that the questioning did not signify that the people were under investigation themselves."
Folks, juxtapose the above news story with a revealing diplomatic dispatch that came to my knowledge a while ago from a source in USA. The source said, the former U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Harry K. Thomas in a meeting in Washington DC praised the Islamic fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami party. Quite a few expatriate Bangladeshis, I was told, had attended the meeting among others. I cannot exactly quote what Ambassador Thomas told the audience. It went something like this, "We should not be concerned about Jamat-i-Islami of Bangladesh. Jamaat came to power through democratic process." What an outrageous statement! I was literally falling from the chair when I realized how ignorant our Ambassador was about the organizational structure of Bangladeshi jihadists! I thought if we continue to have such ignorance and naïveté in our State Department, dozens of 9/11 would not be totally impossibility. We need to do some homework before we venture to speak on a subject, which is not our forte. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas must know for a starter that Islamic Chhatra Shibir (or Shibir as a short version) is a part and parcel of Jamat-i-Islami of Bangladesh. Undoubtedly, it is the youth or student wing of the party, which is definitely lot more militant and violent than its parent organization. The Shibir activists have been notorious for cutting ligaments of political opponents’ hands so that the victims die slowly. In a sense it was worse than beheading because the victim felt the pain while heading towards death. The youth wing of the Jamaati outfit has been indulging in such practices for more than a decade. These jihadists terrorized college and university campuses all over Bangladesh. They had started their bloody act after the military ruler the pseudo Islamist General Hussain Mohammad Ershad took control of Bangladesh illegitimately.
Now some critics may say, U.S. policy in different parts of the world is not coherent. They may argue, while USA did not object to secular Algerian military’s suppressing the Islamist political party Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), which became widely popular as far back as in the early nineties, the same USA is incredibly soft on Bangladeshi Islamists. If our memory is not too short, a little more than a month ago the same Ambassador opined in Dhaka that the Bangladesh government should be allowed to end its term. The critics have a good example of the other end of a double standard where USA has welcomed the unconstitutional removal of a democratically elected government in the recent past. Quite a few high officials of the U.S. State Department welcomed the ouster of democratically elected Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who could hardly finish his term. Now let us dissect the validity of assessment of the two situations.
The Haitian leader, Aristide, might have been a left-oriented politician or he could be a bit of anti-Western. However, it is crystal clear he was neither Islamist, nor did he have any ambition to destroy Western civilization. On the contrary, Bangladesh’s garden variety Islamists of all hue and color cannot be trusted, period. They are part of a mysterious global cobweb of Ummah that has the ultimate agenda to destroy the West, including the United States of America.
USA’s kowtowing the Bangladeshi Islamists is a continuation of a now defunct Cold War policy. One-time religious extremists of different nationalities were very much needed to combat global communism. USA and some other Western nations supported and nurtured Islamic fundamentalists quite blindly because it served their purpose. In 1971, the members of Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan occupied Bangladesh killed scores of innocent secular Bengali intellectuals cold-bloodedly. At the time that gross human rights violation was not a big factor for many Western countries. As long as the Jamaatis acted against Soviet hegemony, that was okay for them. That is why, immediately after liberation some killer ringleaders of al-Badr (military wing of Jamaat-i-Islami) fled to USA and UK and had been living in those countries quite peacefully. But the tragedy of September 11 had changed the situation drastically. Nowadays, they cannot do everything as freely as before. Quite a few mosques in USA and UK had been found to be tied to al-Qaeda jihadists. Although Bangladeshi Islamist leaders living in Western land are by far smartest in the crop, but little do they realize that it may not be too difficult to unearth the subtle linkage among all the jihadists of the world?
While in case of Bangladesh, the U.S. foreign policy direction did not change drastically from the Cold War period, in the Afghanistan theater that is quite a different scenario. Immediately before the start of the Afghan War, the U.S. Administration skillfully aligned itself with the anti-Taliban (and anti-al-Qaeda) Northern Alliance force. This force was again had been closely linked with Russia, some countries of the former Soviet Union and India. In short, the new scenario was just the opposite of what went on during Afghan Mujahedeens’ war against Soviet occupying force a decade ago. This new alignment worked well and apparently, the result was better than what happened in the recent Iraq war. The ultimate result is the diminishing power of the Talibans and al-Qaeda, the entities, which are ideologically very close to Bangladesh’s Jamaat-i-Islami.
Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh evolved from the womb of Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan. Do the readers care to know that the Pakistani Jamaat was responsible for massacring minority Ahmadiya more than forty years ago? Therefore, the Jamaatis traversed a bloody path to the present stage. But can they be trusted? Primarily the Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh is a purely Wahhabite outfit which has a global agenda to conquer and rule the world under a utopian Caliphate. Till their final goal is reached, the Bangladeshi Jamaatis, the most patient and conniving among the bunch, are ready to wait for hundred years if the need be. It is unique that this is the same party, which resisted the birth of a nation, could become part of the national government today. It is also ironic that two notorious war criminals are gracing the present Bangladesh cabinet today. But that hardly ruffles feathers amongst amnesiac Bangladeshis.
USA has acted reactively in the Afghan theater aligning itself with the former Soviet Asian Republics. Some of the leaders of the newly born Asian countries neighboring Afghanistan are former communists. Nevertheless, the United States had no problem forging a unique coalition with new partners in its global war on terror. Conversely, in case of Bangladesh, the United States showed a cold shoulder to almost all the secular nationalist and left-oriented political parties. It is such a big blunder on the part of USA, the price she may have to pay in the future could be quite heavy.
Before the October 2001 parliamentary election, according to some Bangladesh watchers, USA’s favor tilted towards Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Khaleda Zia’s late husband General Ziaur Rahman was U.S.’s favorite. Conversely, Awami League with all its baggage of socialism, nationalistic protectionism did not become an attractive choice for America. The 1996 parliamentary election in Bangladesh was closely watched in Europe. Some German South Asia analysts felt that many U.S. policymakers did not have much liking for Sheikh Hasina. The main reason for this view, according to the German analysts, Sheikh Hasina being a daughter of the "pro-Socialist" Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could move the country back to a socialistic model in a cinch. Of course, this apprehension later turned out to be totally baseless. Hasina was no less capitalist than many of the current leaders of the Third World countries.
Dealing with familiar faces is typically the most viable option in bilateral relations. USA had a history of distrusting secular nationalist forces of India and Bangladesh. That is why, even in post-9/11 climate the victory of Indian National Congress in the last Indian Parliamentary election was greeted with a lukewarm support in US capital. Even a moderate daily like Washington Post was far from being soft on the new victors. In the backdrop of global war on Islamic terrorism, siding with Hindu nationalists of India may not be an illogical step. But, there is hardly any justification for linking with a Wahhabite Islamist group like Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh.
Jamaatis are the people who are undoubtedly cold-blooded, calculative, cruel, sneaky, manipulative, pragmatist, brutal, determined, dedicated, patient, flexible and adaptive to change. While the U.S. failed to read the mind of the Jamaatis, they were glad to be back in business in full swing. The smartest decision for the Jamaat-i-Islami was to forge a coalition with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party before Bangladesh’s general election. During the time of 2001 election, the Islamic fundamentalist party leaders could not imagine that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia would be a manna from heaven. Who could have imagined that she would metamorphose to be "more Catholic than the Pope"!
Immediately after coming to power, BNP-Islamist coalition’s first step was to sack forty senior police officers; many of them did not even attain the retirement age. The new government alleged those officers were not efficient, they were corrupt, and were leaning towards Awami League. In reality, those officers were the individuals who were not Islamists, some of who were freedom fighters and despised the Jamaatis. The BNP-Islamist coalition’s ascension to power opened the floodgate of Islamizing the security services of Bangladesh. In today’s Bangladesh, the chameleon Wahhabites’ omnipresence can be felt everywhere. After the targeted purging in National Security Intelligence, Defence Forces Intelligence, Customs Department, Border security and many other auxiliary services, Jamaati influence in the whole country’s security apparatus have been increased manifold. In addition, Bangladesh army’s rank and file is well represented by fresh Madrassah graduates who were deprived to go through the channel of secular education. Jamaatization has also touched Bangladesh’s diplomatic corps as well. The appointment of Golam Arshad, a staunch Jamaati, as the Press Minister in Bangladesh Embassy in Washington DC is a glaring example of how much the anti-liberation force has penetrated into the power structure of Bangladesh government. Like the aliens of the TV series "The Invaders," the sympathizers of this Islamist outfit can be found in all facets of Bangladeshi civil society, who have close ties with expatriate Bangladeshi Jamaati operatives. Some security experts were baffled to realize that for many years the Jamaatis have successfully penetrated the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh. The moles were well placed there too!
When Sheikh Hasina was in power, there were a few attempts on her life. At the time, many analysts suspected Islamists’ hand behind the attacks. Ironically, Khaleda Zia did not have to face such nuisance. Not a single attack was targeted against her. Critics of her sarcastically comment, "A darling of the Islamists cannot be the bull’s eye of the fanatics."
Slowly and steadily, Bangladesh is inching forward to becoming an intolerant Islamist state. Gross human rights violation is a very common scene. The primary enemies of the state are the secular and liberal intellectuals. Secondly, the authority would not tolerate anybody who would bring the "unpleasant" subject of Bangladesh Genocide and war crime of 1971. With each passing day, increasingly liberal intellectuals and academicians are getting death threats by the mullahs. The fundamentalist government claims they do not have any clue about the origin of the threat. When Dhaka University Professor Dr. Humayun Azad’s throat was almost slit by Islamic extremists, the investigative farce led to the arrest of a few Awami League sympathizers. Dr. Humayun Azad again received a death threat along with Dr. Muntassir Mamoon and Dr. M.M. Akash and a few other university professors. Dr. Muntassir Mamoon, the academician has been a researcher of Bangladesh Liberation War also. In the eyes of Bangladeshi Islamists, this type of individual has no right to live in "Jamaat-i-Islamic Bangladesh." Some observers say, anytime anyone among the liberal intellectuals may be slaughtered at the hand of Bangladeshi Islamic terrorists. I hope this dire prediction by the pessimists in Bangladesh never come true but there is no telling what lies ahead for those who were declared murtaad or apostate in recent days.
Jamat-i-Islami leaders try their best to appear squeaky clean in front of the world audience. In order not to antagonize Uncle Sam, they are hardly vocal against U.S. foreign policy. Nonetheless, wolf cannot hide beneath sheepskin. The Bangladeshi Jamaatis' connection to global Jihadists is hardly a rumor anymore. Let us take into account the Al-Haramain fiasco. On September 23, 2002 seven aid workers of Arab origin were arrested in Dhaka on suspicion of trafficking in children. All of them worked for Al-Haramain Islamic Institute, a Saudi funded charity. The arrest brought an internal tension inside Bangladesh government. The Islamists, notably the Jamaati cabinet members were not pleased to see Arab aid workers being prosecuted by Bangladesh government. One fine morning the arrested foreigners were hurriedly taken to the airport and were deported out of the country. Some observers were convinced a Jamaati minister played a crucial role in deporting the arrestees. Today, the Al-Haramain charity is suspected of funding al-Qaeda. The U.S. Treasury Department moved to block the charity's assets of the U.S. branch. Another high profile Jamaati leader had been alleged to be involved in maritime arms smuggling helping the cause of South East Asian Islamic militants. For reason unknown, the same leader is not welcome into USA.
For the last several years, a number of law-enforcement officials from Bangladesh have been trained in America under a bilateral agreement between the two countries. Bangladeshi police and army personnel have the opportunity to be trained in USA under a program called Anti Terrorism Assistance Program (ATAP), sponsored by the United States Department of State. Law enforcement officers under Bangladeshi Islamic fundamentalist dominated government also got the chance to be trained by U.S. anti-terrorism experts. But the expertise obtained abroad cannot justifiably be implemented at home in some cases. Although Bangladesh’s Islamist dominated regime liberally utilizes all tools of modern security needs, it "failed" to identify the perpetrators behind the death threats against secular intellectuals. Moreover, harassment of the moderate Bangladeshis continues unabated. Their telephones are routinely tapped, overseas phone calls are carefully scrutinized, and their Internet activities are closely monitored. While this scenario exposes the symptom of a police state, Khaleda Zia and her Islamist coalition partners took considerably long period of time to identify the whereabouts of a notorious al-Qaeda type Bangladeshi warlord, the so-called Bangla Bhai. This Bangla Bhai had been continuing a rein of terror in a great part of the North Western Bangladesh. In fact, he was almost running a parallel puritanical Taliban like rule. The local law enforcement authority was found to be supportive of the Islamic terrorist’s terror tactics. What does that mean? The Talibanization of rural Bangladesh has just got started. Actions speak louder than words. That is what we are seeing in western districts of Bangladesh. The police there were in cahoots with Jagrata Muslim Janata cadres, the army of Bangladesh’s Mullah Omar- Bangla Bhai.
More than a year ago, a German Radio Bangla Service broadcaster got a first hand experience of encountering the deadly Bangla Bhai’s cadre. The Deutsche Welle reporter had been aggressively pursuing his investigative reporting on the Bangladeshi al-Qaeda from his Bonn office. While visiting Bangladesh a couple of years ago, he had the bone chilling experience of being face to face with a group of Islamist goons in the heart of the capital city. That happened in the broad daylight. He was threatened not to continue his anti-Bangla Bhai reporting from the German Radio. The Deutsche Welle higher ups did not take the threat lightly. They took up the matter with the highest authority at the German Foreign Ministry. It happened at a time when German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was planning a tour to Bangladesh.
While any civilized society always takes death threat issue against its citizens very seriously, Bangladesh had proven to be playing a manipulative game of judicial deceiving. We can recall another episode of investigative caricature happened when a few movie theaters in Mymensingh city were bombed a year and half ago. It was becoming more evident that the homegrown Bangladeshi Islamic zealots were becoming less tolerant of movie theaters where "immoral things" were being played. After the December 2002 movie theaters bomb blast in Mymensingh, Shahriar Kabir, and Dr. Muntassir Mamoon were arrested. Shahriar Kabir is an internationally known human rights activist and a notable researcher of Bangladesh Genocide. Who else can be the best scapegoat? Both Dr. Mamoon and Shahriar Kabir were brutally tortured at the hand of Bangladesh law enforcement personnel who were already brainwashed by the BNP-Jamaat clique who are at the catbird seat in Dhaka since October 2001.
In a Voice of America interview broadcast on July 19, 2004 Dr. Muntassir Mamoon, Professor of History of Dhaka University said, "I have been threatened to be killed for, what they say, anti-Islamic activities." Dr. Mamoon said, "I have not been saying anything anti-Islamic, although I have always opposed to fundamentalism." Dr. Muntassir Mamoon said, "Unless relevant actions are taken against these terrorist outfits who have been threatening journalists and intellectuals and have already killed some journalists, the situation can take a serious turn and Islamic fundamentalists will gain ground in Bangladesh." Professor Mamoon also said, "The good sign is this that people throughout the world have recognized that no good could be done to religion through fundamentalism and terrorism."
The majority of the Bangladeshis were relieved to hear the good news of the arrest of Bangla Bhai and Shaikh Abdur Rahman, two notorious godfathers of Islamic terrorism. But the story does not end there. The puppeteers of the Islamist killers can be traced in the ruling oligarchy and Jamat-I-Islami of Bangladesh. The notable politician and lawyer Dr. Kamal Hossain was in the U.S. capital recently. He spoke before a selected audience at a Washington think tank. Dr. Hossain vividly described the danger posed by Bangladesh Jamaat. He emphasized on convincing the U.S. policymakers not to depend on the Jamaatis in the Bangladesh’s political landscape. In his speech, Dr. Hossain exposed the opportunistic and tactical policy of the Islamist party.
Some time ago, in a Charlie Rose Show Dr. Rohan Gunaratna of the Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore said, "The future clash will not occur between civilizations, rather the clash will happen within a civilization and that will be the Islamic civilization." Dr. Gunaratna further said the clash within Islam would be between the moderates and the extremists. He urged the United States to strengthen the hands of the moderates. Not too long ago, the U.S. President George Bush while visiting Turkey spoke about the need for secularization of Muslim societies. Against this backdrop, the Bangladesh situation is completely a hopeless case. Strengthened by state patronization of the Islamists are heading towards a collision course against the marginalized secular and liberal creed of the society. The possibility of a bloodbath in the near future cannot be ruled out completely. Without knowing the dire consequence, the U.S. is now patronizing the BNP-Jamaat axis in Bangladesh as they have done so in the late seventies and early eighties in Afghanistan when they armed the Mujaheedins to their teeth. The proverbial chicken came home to roost in Afghanistan in the 1990s. There is no telling; the same may also happen in Bangladesh. Therefore, Caveat Emptor!
Jamal Hasan writes from Washington DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The conspiratorial regime of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) through their usual intrigue led the entire country into chaos and confrontation. One after another, the conspiracies to manipulate the election results and to control the caretaker government through an obedient and obsequious President Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed brought suspicion among the people of Bangladesh. That resulted in the overwhelming participation in the mass demonstration against the tyrannical influence of BNP and JI on the past caretaker government. The main objective was to bring about a drastic change in the government high-up in terms of neutrality, transparency, fairness, and honesty. The BNP and JI leaders/workers/ supporters were hell-bent on continuing the status quo so that none of the factors were implemented for ensuring free and fair election. Under this backdrop, emergency rule was imposed, which BNP-JI wanted on their own terms because to them anything but Awami League was fine. It was unfortunate for them that the emergency rule was not established under BNP-JI's terms.
The people of Bangladesh had high expectations from this government under Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed for bringing reforms and necessary changes within a shortest possible time to pave the way for a free and fair election. It was really a good feeling when I watched the first speech of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. It was promising, brief but adequate, and inspiring. Most of the time our head of the government delivered speeches so long that sometimes the speeches were annoying. I must say that Dr. Fakhruddin's speech was a new type in Bangladesh , which was brief but eloquent and complete. Naturally, the conscious people both inside and outside Bangladesh expected very high output from his administration such as in terms initiating rule of law, upholding human rights, and ensuring civil norms in the country as a whole. I reckon no government could establish these things fully. They could take initiative in such a way that the successive governments will have to let these processes continue to progress with time. Like me, many conscientious people thought that the present government under Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed would initiate and establish the foundation for these processes.
On the contrary to the expectation of the people, recently a few missteps taken by the government has become a matter of concern for the political future of Bangladesh. Many have already questioned whether Bangladesh is going to follow the path of Pakistan, where ultimately anarchy and religious extremism will grow in the absence of organized deep-rooted liberal democratic parties. The attempt of the government to send Mrs. Khaleda Zia in exile and at the same time preventing Mrs. Sheikh Hasina to enter Bangladesh has not been taken in good spirits by those, who always supported the liberty and human rights of individuals in the country where they were born. In particular, the case of Mrs. Sheikh Hasina is very tragic and sensitive. During the past five years under the rule of BNP-JI, she had to lose many of her party leaders and workers in the hands of the killers aligned to the former rulers. She herself survived critically from a grenade attack.
As one can assume, the first case under the influence of the government was out of the blue. A person by the name Tajul Islam Farook filed a case against Mrs. Sheikh Hasina few days ago for extortion of three crore taka. The case became questionable after being evaluated by a good number of people. Some analysts thought it was not possible for Mr. Farook to deliver that much money in one suitcase. It was not possible for him even to carry the money alone. Especially, it was not possible for someone to deliver the money in a big suitcase in Ganabhaban (Prime Minister¢s Office) to a sitting Prime Minister. As it appeared, the strategy was later changed by those who wanted to scare Mrs. Sheikh Hasina. A few days later, a murder case was brought against her. That also did not dissuade Mrs. Sheikh Hasina to return to Bangladesh. The resolve of Mrs. Sheikh Hasina to go back to Bangladesh is probably the reason why the policy makers issued letters to the airlines as a last ditch effort for not carrying her to Dhaka .
All these things centering the return of Mrs. Sheikh Hasina is occurring while we have a chief of the caretaker government, who inspired many of us (including me) because we thought that Bangladesh was going to be in the hands of a well-educated, well-experienced, and well-articulated person. It was our expectation that the rule of law and basic rights of all individuals would be honored. Unfortunately, our hopes are vanishing fast as we observe the dealings of the government with Mrs. Sheikh Hasina and Mrs. Khaleda Zia in a totally unlawful manner. Especially, Mrs. Sheikh Hasina has been denied her basic rights to go back and defend herself in the court of law. On one hand, the government is filing cases but on the other hand, the same government is not allowing her to go back. In fact, the government should let her go back so that the law enforcement agencies can take steps against her and at the same time she can take steps to defend the charges against her. This is not what we are observing now. Instead, we observe the unlawful and contradictory steps taken by the government under none but Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, whom the people trusted with high esteem.
As it appears, the policy has been adopted following the steps taken by the military rulers of Pakistan. In Bangladesh, our people are more conscious and more mature politically than the people of Pakistan. Bangladesh was born by fighting against a regime that suppressed the basic democratic rights of the people. The same people are fighting again and again for the same cause. If the basic democratic rights of the leaders are not honored, then it is obvious that the rights of the common people are going to be violated. We may not agree on the corrupt policies adopted by Mrs. Khaleda Zia but we cannot support her deportation under pressure to any other country. Similarly, we cannot support the obstruction against Mrs. Sheikh Hasina on her return to her country. It is so frustrating that a number of highly contradictory steps violating human rights were taken by the government, wittingly, under Dr. Fakhruddin from whom we expected a lot of thing to achieve. For good reasons, many do not expect very high from the political leaders. Are we getting better from an esteemed well-educated Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed? Then, why do the snobbish educated gentlemen always blame the politicians?
Monsur Ibrahim, USA
Since the emergence of army backed Caretaker Government (CG), our army chief on many occasions has denounced the politicians and held them responsible for all the bad things and hindrance since last 35 years. According to Lt. General Moeen U Ahmed, politicians have been the root of all evils. Let us analyze the facts and see if Gen. Moeen is telling the truth.
Under Whom Bangladesh spent most of its life since 1972?
During last 35 years since our independence, Bangladesh has been ruled and controlled from cantonment for long 26.5 years and yet we are hearing that politicians are responsible!
Emergence of Moeen Uddin Ahmed as the most powerful person
Mr. Moeen Uddin Ahmed, an employee of the republic has been giving us many lessons since his emergence as the most powerful man behind current CG government. His emergence was described in USA Today (1/11/2007) as, “With more than 60,000 troops on the streets enforcing a state of emergency suspended the fundamental rights of citizens. The move came hours after the president met with the chief of the army staff, Lt. Gen. Moeen U Ahmed, at the presidential palace.” Since then the CG has done some excellent work and won hearts and minds of common people but gradually nation started to see CG’c controversial face and is getting skeptical about the role of army.
First Political Government (1972-1975)
After the independence of Bangladesh in Dec 1971, Bangladesh was ruled by politicians for 3.5 years till some army people killed the then president in Aug 1975. Since the language movement in 1952, emergence of Bangladesh has a long history of political struggle for rights of Bengalis. The ultimate liberation war was also done under political leadership who won sweeping mass mandate in 1970 election. The life of the first political government of the nation was cut short by a spree of killing from army people whom Mr. Moeen represents. Unfortunately, we would like to remind Mr. Moeen U Ahmed that it was army who interrupted a political government in 1975.
Ziaur Rahman – another Army Officer ruled from Cantonment: (1975-1981)
After the killing of 1975, soon Ziaur Rahman took over Bangladesh’s rule as the Chief Martial Law Administrator. Zia, also being an employee of the republic took over power, formed Jagodol and then BNP. Though Zia was apparently financially honest, he bribed politicians and broke almost all political parties with the aim to ‘divide and rule’.
We would politely like to re-remind our army chief Lt. Gen. Moeen U Ahmed that Ziaur Rahman, a fellow army general like him illegally invaded the political arena and made the politicians corrupt by bribery and blackmailing. It was an army officer (Zia) like him who rehabilitated all anti-state and anti-Bangladesh politicians and made one of them Shah Aziz nation’s prime minister. Can we ask a simple question to Mr. Moeen? What happens to a new free nation when you bring back people in power who not only opposed the freedom of that nation but also fought against it? How do you expect progress from them who didn’t want a Bangladesh to born and tried every means to abort its birth? Mr. Moeen, it was Ziaur Rahman alias “the army” who imposed that unfortunate event on this nation.
Mr. Moeen U Ahmed, it was Ziaur Rahman alias “an army officer” who rewarded the killers of a president by providing diplomatic jobs and passing indemnity law. What morality would you claim for preventing justice and rewarding killers? Politicians didn’t do that but a man from “Army” did it. Just to remind you that last year during Zia’s wife’s rule, a higher court in Bangladesh declared Gen. Zia’s taking over power and entire regime ‘illegal’. Mr. Moeen, would you blame politicians for an army general’s illegal role?
Ershad - Another army officer ruled from cantonment (1981-1990):
After you (army) killed your army general Zia, came another army Gen. Ershad. Mr. Moeen, again in the history of our nation, army intervened and took over. The second martial law administrator initially talked about fighting against corruption but ultimately was totally drowned under corruption. Most of Zia’s ministers joined him and he too ruled Bangladesh from cantonment for another nine years till end of 1990. This army general not only got involved in financial corruption but also in moral and ethical corruption. Mr. Moeen, It is your (army’s) another general who was financially corrupt and got famous as womanizer. What moral lesson army gave to the nation via Gen. Ershad? He was not a product of politics but a product of well disciplined army. Mr. Moeen, again, would you blame politicians for this army General’s corrupt and characterless role?
Ershad for the first time spread the corruption among army at all levels. He appointed retired army officers as chiefs of all corporations and semi-autonomous bodies and allotted them civil plots. Mr. Moeen, we would also like to remind you of the incident when expensive watches were smuggled under Defence Purchage (DGDP) invoices during Gen. Ershad’s regime. The brave custom officer who challenged the boxes and opened them to discover that DGDP was smuggling watches, were shot dead at his residence on the same night. Mr. Moeen, this didn’t happen by civilians but by army. Would you blame politicians for such corruption?
Mrs. Khaleda Zia: General’s wife’s rule from Cantonment (1991-1996; 2001-2006)
After Zia and Ershad, Bangladesh was again ruled from cantonment in two and a short term for another 11 years by Mrs. Ziaur Rahman – wife of the army general who formed BNP. Backed by cantonment and army, Khaleda showed immense power and defied all democratic norms. In her latest term she gave us the worst possible rule in the history of the country. Instead of going into unlimited details, here are few examples of her arrogance because of army backed power.
Per constitution, President is number one in protocol followed by Speaker and then Prime Minister – irrespective of form of government (parliamentary or presidential). The day Khaleda took oath as Prime Minister (PM) for the first time in 1991, the then PID chief Mr. S…. went to her residence with the national flag to hoist it. Per constitution PM gets a particular size of flag which is smaller than what President and Speaker gets. Khaleda demanded the largest size assigned (by constitution) for the President. PID chief wanted to explain the constitutional provision but only got yelled at. He came back and returned with the largest size assigned for the President. This is how wife of this army general backed by cantonment damned our constitution on the very first day just after taking oath.
“Shapla” is our national flower and President used to use “Shapla” monogram in his car. Ministers get a monogram with Bangladesh’s map. The second desperate violation of constitution after taking oath as PM was done by Khaleda Zia as she started using the monogram assigned for President dam-caring constitutional provision.
We saw Khaleda’s immense strength and power from cantonment backed by army. She as opposition leader drove to Tongi Ijtema through airport runway but didn’t allow another opposition leader Hasina to drive even via cantonment. She lived in cantonment but blocked Hasina from visiting patient in combined military hospital and a relative in naval residential quarters. Where did she get all these power? Today when army withdrew its support and not standing behind Khaleda, she is almost a ‘zero’. That proves army was behind her power. Her husband Gen. Zia gave indemnity to 1975 killers in the army and she gave indemnity for approximately two hundred extra judicial killings done by army during “Operation Clean Heart” in 2002. Mr. Moeen, are politicians responsible here or the one in the cantonment and backed by army is responsible? Who gave her a blank check so far?
October 2006 violence in Paltan:
Mr. Moeen U Ahmed, you have categorically mentioned and criticized the incidents of October 2006 where supporters of BNP-Jamat and 14 party alliances fought each other killing 4 people. You mentioned that as “uncivilized” and we agree. One group came out with fire arms and other group with bamboo and wooden sticks and this kind of situation is unwanted. But Mr. Moeen, these people were civilians and not very civilized. Isn’t it fair to look at self before criticizing others for the same crime? This is what I am referring to:
Mr. Moeen, army is an educated, civilized, well trained, disciplined and organized force. Nation spends a huge amount of tax-payer’s money to train army who has a very secure life with housing, subsidized ration, logistics and all kinds of support. Shouldn’t we have high expectations from such a force? Mr. Moeen, would you please answer some of my following questions:
Army is supposed to be the most disciplined force. Why there were 19-21 coups in your (army’s) well disciplined force against Gen. Ziaur Rahman? Why army killed each other indiscriminately during each coup? Do you remember the killing of air force officials during Japanese plane hijack? Why your civilized army killed one another?
Does it look better or worse than Paltan incident?
It is the army Mr. Moeen who killed two presidents Mujib and Zia. It is the army Mr. Moeen who killed innocent men, pregnant women and kids on Aug 15, 1975. Mr. Moeen, how civilized was that? Only during Zia’s regime, an approximately 3000 soldiers were killed fighting each other. What did the nation see from our well organized and disciplined forces? Does that look worse than Paltan incident? We do not support violence but before criticizing a civil political unrest and giving politicians a bad image, shouldn’t you at least see what example your army has set to the nation?
New Brand of Democracy
Bangladesh's army chief Moeen U Ahmed said on Apr 01 that the military-backed interim government would build a new brand of democracy to overcome the country's chronic poor governance. Mr. Moeen, thanks for recognizing chronic poor governance but please do not forget that 26.5 years of it came from army and cantonment. The army backed CG initially has done some excellent job and earned hearts and minds of people. BUT nation gradually started to see the samples of new brand of democracy. Here are some examples:
Sample-1: Per Mr. Moeen, politicians didn’t contribute anything positive during last 35 years but his army backed CG has appointed a politician Mr. Moinul Hossain as law and information advisor. This politician has a long history of being friends with army and we have seen that in 1971, 1975-1981. Being a politician, he is now the mouthpiece of army backed CG. In recent past this unethical pro-army politician represented fraud justice Faizi’s case in the high court.
Sample-2: Though this is not an elected govt., per barrister Moinul Hossain, govt. will decide who will be the party chief for various political parties. Per him, govt. will decide who will stay in the country and who won’t be able to stay in the country. Mr. Moeen, if this is how your ‘new brand of democracy’ will work, we are sorry because by all standards it is called unheard extreme “autocracy”.
Sample-3: When Sk. Hasina wanted to come back to country to face her extortion case, Gen. Matin – another hybrid ‘moral’ army officer called Sk. Hasina and Awami League secretary General MA Jalil and requested that Sk. Hasina does not return hastily but as per her normal schedule. Even after govt. filed murder case against Sk. Hasina, Gen. Matin said there is no bar for her to return to Bangladesh and there is no pressure for Khaleda Zia to go abroad. The very next day government issued a press note barring Hasina’s return and requested all foreign airlines not to carry her. When journalists asked Gen. Matin about what he said the day before, Gen. Matin replied, “I told that yesterday and that doesn’t mean its true today”. Mr. Moeen, we do not need this brand of ‘new democracy’ as this portrays your backed government as a liar, dishonest and cunning government. This example set by your new brand of democracy is worst than any commitment made by any crook political government anywhere in the world.
Sample 4: Your have appointed a brilliant Inspector General of Police (IGP) who promised us of revolutionizing one of the most corrupted police forces on earth. We are not complaining about what action he took against Kohinoor Mian for inhuman crimes but we saw examples of our revolutionized police force under your “new brand of democracy”.
Sk. Hasina went abroad informing our foreign ministry. Awami League leader Mr. Nasim has been arrested and is in custody. Police submitted charge sheet of the Paltan murder case showing both these leaders as absconding. On one hand, govt. is putting barrier so that Sk. Hasina cannot return, on the other hand govt. issued a warrant against her for not showing up in the court. Same is with Mr. Nasim. He is in custody and it was the responsibility of the police department to produce him in court, instead he has been shown absent in court and a warrant has been issued against him.
Gen. Moeen, we don’t have language to praise these absurd activities that we have seen under your “new brand of democracy”. Should we say shame on IGP because he bowed to your desire? Your (army) backed government did not allow our police to act independently rather imposed the decision and compelled them to do it. What is the difference when other governments that you criticized used to influence and compel police to do what they wanted? What improvement are you showing to us? Is this also the sample of “Independent Judiciary” that your government claimed to have implemented? Why the magistrate even didn’t have the guts to ask that Mr. Nasim is in jail and why you are showing him absconding? He simply issued the warrant because you desired it. Mr. Moeen, if morning shows the day, your samples of ‘new brand of democracy’ has already shown us what the nation can expect from you and your backed government.
Finally who is responsible- Army or Politicians?
So, we can see that in the history of last 35 years, Bangladesh was controlled by army and cantonment for long 26.5 years. Politicians ruled only for 8.5 years. Mr. Moeen, whom should we blame for the hindrance of our nation? One doesn’t have to be a political scientist to see the facts. Mr. Moeen, with all due respect, it was unfortunately the army and the illegal intervention of army into political arena that hindered Bangladesh time and again. It was the army and cantonment that interrupted the activities of politicians.
This is what USA Today thinks about your government, “The state of emergency has raised concern in a country with a history of military rule. Two past presidents have been assassinated and there have been 19 other coup attempts in Bangladesh since it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.”
Please do not undermine and wrongfully blame the politicians for your (army’s) activities. This time it was clear that with a fair election power would go out of cantonment, and again you (army) interfered and took over from behind. Why blame politicians when facts clearly show that it is the army who is intervening in political arena time and again and causing us the hindrance? Not to forget, it was the political leaders who gave us independence.
Bottom-line, we do not want anyone to dictate who should be our leader. Let people of Bangladesh accept or reject someone. Last but not the least; we do not want any Hamid Karzai or Noor-e- Maliki in Bangladesh.
We are grateful to one of our friends who has kindly sent some glimpses of a seminar on “Bangladesh: Democracy in Crisis” organized by John Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on April 23rd. The Moderator and Speakers have extensively covered the current situation in Bangladesh that was really thought provoking about Bangladesh's current crisis. Ambassador Milam moderated the discussion.
Ambassador William Milam, a career diplomat, was the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh from 1990-1993. He is currently a Senior Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he is completing a book on Bangladesh.
Junaid Ahmad is a Sector Manager at the World Bank, working on policy issues related to decentralization, local government reform and state formation in South Asia. Dr. Ahmad completed his PhD from Stanford University and he is one of the co-authors of the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People. Mr. Ahmed urged to reform the five institutions, namely:
(a) Election Commission
(b) Anti Corruption Commission
(c) University Grant Commission
(d) Public Service Commission
(e) Local Government/Municipalities
(f) Court System (later on added as a response to a comment)
Stanley Kochanek is a Professor Emeritus at Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Political Science. He has a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and is widely published on the policy of South Asia, including a book on Patron Client Politics and Business in Bangladesh.
Gowher Rizvi is director of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University. He completed his DPhil at Trinity College, Oxford, and is the founder and editor of the journal Contemporary South Asia and the author of several books including Bangladesh: The Struggle for Democracy.
While Speakers blamed corruption is the main root of this crisis, they equally stressed that holding election as soon as possible is the most critical aspect of this crisis. The Caretaker Government does not have legality to continue its job beyond the election. It may not enjoy the popular support if it delays election when it is mandated to hold the election within 90 days. All the reforms undertaken by the Caretaker government will not last unless they’re maintained by an elected political government. It was echoed during the discussion that military backed government model following Pakistan won’t work for Bangladesh. It didn’t work in the past as one Presenter referred about the Zia and Ershad regimes. People are more conscious today to uphold and carry on the political process to advance democracy in Bangladesh.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Anatomy of A Martial Law In Bangladesh
By Jamal Hasan
Hasina Wazed won a rather precarious majority in the last election. Nevertheless, quite a few eyebrows were raised when she sought out Gen. Ershad's support to boost her majority in the parliament. And Ershad, who had languished in jail under the Khaleda Zia administration, was only too eager to oblige. Politics can indeed make strange bedfellows. The alliance between Hasina and Ershad made it that much easier to form a government that enjoyed a comfortable majority in the parliament.
Two facts stood out in the aftermath of the opportunistic alliance. Firstly, Hasina Wazed had befriended the General who was number one in Khaleda Zia's list of enemies -- an outcome of the principle that deems the enemy's enemy to be one's natural friend. Secondly, Hasina Wazed made it clear by her action that she deems gratitude to be a dispensable virtue in the realm of politics. After all, Awami League could never have forced the ouster of the Ershad regime without the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's active support.
Since then, events have turned a full circle. Today, General Ershad is cozying up to Khaleda Zia who, in her turn, is reciprocating with positive overtures. Anything seems to be possible in Bangladeshi politics these days. The General is now in the enviable position of determining which of the two ladies enjoys the upper hand in Bangladeshi politics. In that sense, he truly is a "queen maker."
General Hussain Mohammed Ershad had the foresight to cultivate friends in positions of power and influence. Thus, in USA, he befriended politicians all across the ideological spectrum. The General continues to be in the good books of politicians like Senator Dave Durenberger at one end of the ideological spectrum to Congressman Stephen Solarz (once Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee) who is definitely at the opposite end of the spectrum. With friends in high places, it is no surprise that the Khaleda Zia administration had found it so difficult to convict the General of any crime.
General Ershad had come to power in a bloodless coup in the last week of March of 1982. The democratically elected government of Abdus Sattar had been deposed quite unceremoniously. The deposed President (Abdus Sattar) was treated quite shabbily by the General who had the dubious distinction to be a poet and a gentleman.' The ousted President, who was not in the best of health at the time of his ouster, was forced to live in seclusion until he died.
General Ershad has ruled the longest in the history of Bangladesh (March 1982-December 1990). He was ultimately driven out of power by a mass upheaval. The General's regime undoubtedly stands out as the most corrupt in Bangladeshi history. I shall provide some glimpses into life under General Ershad from my experiences as a lowly news producer for BTV.
The short-lived government under Justice Sattar remains to this day the best instance of good and responsible governance in Bangladesh. At the time, I had been working with Bangladesh Television as a news producer. I recall sandbags installed around the compound of the Bangladesh Television Station after Bangabandhu's assassination. The sandbags remained in place during the entire period of "Martial Democracy" under General Zia. When Sattar was elected to head a democratic government, the soldiers were withdrawn but the sandbags remained in place to testify silently the culture of the time. I always wondered if the bags would ever be of use someday. The question in my mind was answered loudly and clearly when General Ershad stepped out of the confine of Kurmitola on 24 March 1982 to proclaim himself the chief executive of Bangladesh a la Ziaur Rahman. I surmised it was déjà vu all over again!
General Ershad could have come to power much earlier right after the murder of General Zia. But he was shrewd enough to bide his time. He had correctly assessed that an immediate usurpation of power after the ghastly murder of a popular General would have turned him into a villain in no time. General Ershad was indeed wise to be patient.
General Ershad developed an antipathy toward employees of BTV in general and of those who worked in the news department, in particular. BTV had failed to cover the General to his satisfaction. The fiasco during the Sattar era at the Shahid Minar on 21 February had been the last straw. BTV's cameras had failed to zoom in on the General even once. Needless to say, the General was livid with rage. But fortunately no heads had rolled at BTV for the lapse.
The last week of March of 1982 was a period of high tension. The cantonment was exerting tremendous pressure on the government. By 23rd March, employees of all vital agencies of the government had come to sense ominous signals. The TV building was full of strangers -- plain-clothes men with unusually short hair. The most dangerous moment in the unfolding drama was undoubtedly when civilian administrators in the defence ministry became aware of the impending coup. By late evening all staffer of BTV had also become aware of what was about to happen. A senior bureaucrat at the defence ministry could no longer stand the suspense and phoned General Ershad to ascertain whether there was any truth to the rumors. You may rest assured the General was not the least bit amused by the query. The bureaucrat must have thanked his stars when he realized that his life would be spared. But I am most certain that he learned the lesson of his lifetime.
The TV news team were "alerted" to be on stand by. Ershad brought in his team at midnight and got his speech recorded. The morning saw him posing as the "savior of the nation."
The initial days of Ershad regime lived by rule of the "boots." The official bus of the night crew of the TV news team had to stop at every roadblock you may think of. The newsmen would be harassed again and again often under petty pretexts. One senior newsman commented, "Even the Pak soldiers under General Yahya Khan were more
civil to the television crew in occupied Dacca of 1971." General Ershad had succeeded in turning the television building into a mini cantonment.
The staff members at the television station had to show their identity cards at army checkpoints before they were allowed into the TV building. One morning as I was entering the TV building, I saw a jawan sitting at a table near the gate. My identity card was in my left pocket. Without much thought, I put my left hand into my pocket to get the card out. At once, I realized that I had committed a blunder. I tried my best to make up for the blunder by presenting my card to the jawan at the table. But he was not to be mollified so easily. The jawan told me rudely, "Don't you know that by using your left hand you have insulted the Martial Law authority and that you may be sentenced to fourteen years of jail?" I was seething with rage on the inside. Fortunately, I had the good sense of not to display it outwardly. I looked the jawan in his eyes and said, "I did not intend to insult the authority but if you take it that way, I apologize." That gesture worked and the jawan told me with an ostentatious touch of magnanimity, "Okay, this time I will let you go, but don't ever do it again."
Ershad deputed a young army major to manage the TV station. He never minced his words to convey to us that he was the boss. In his very first meeting with senior members of the staff, he made it clear by saying, "You may call me either Major so and so or sir, but never ever call me mister so and so." That meeting set the tone for the future as the civilian officers realized that they were in for a long haul.
Before every news telecast, the producers had to go to men in uniform for clearance. The soldiers in charge were mostly young army officers. It was a Captain or even a Lieutenant who had the ultimate authority to decide what would and what would not go on air. This was indeed quite humiliating for all veteran television journalists. I, too, did my turns to get approval for my news stories from these newly ordained "News Chiefs" imported from the cantonment. It was never a pleasant experience but I somehow managed to keep out of mischief.
In any Third World country under military rule, the civilians are always treated as a "Second Class Citizens." Even the lowliest soldier would take pride in recalling the misdeeds of the civilian rulers of the past and pour scorn at every opportunity on "those bloody civilians." As a news producer for BTV, I had more than my fair share of encounters with the enforcers of military rules. Naturally, I never suffered the illusion that civilian employees can ever expect fairness or even civil behavior from their military bosses as a matter of right.
As a TV newsman, I had the opportunity to "rub shoulders" with the high and mighty. For example, it was quite a heady experience for me to fly with the Naval Chief or the Air Force Chief in the same helicopter. The flight might sometimes lead us to the outskirts of Dhaka or sometimes as far away as Comilla or Barisal. Through first hand experience, I realized that the Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrators (DCMLA's) wielded tremendous power. It was truly a revelation every time I covered their meetings with local level administrators. The bosses in the military regime were literally oozing with revolutionary zeal!
It goes without saying TV staff members were not particularly fond of the army officers who had usurped the boss's chair in the TV studio. There was little that the TV newsmen could do to vent their unhappiness and frustration. One time a television production assistant was detained and manhandled by some soldiers because he had refused them to entry into the studio when a recording was in progress. That was like the last straw. It took "mediation" from higher-ranking military officers to calm the situation.
On another occasion, a civilian security officer of the television was prosecuted under Martial Law. We heard that he was sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment for the "offense" of arguing with a non --commissioned officer. That, apparently, was tantamount to dishonoring the Martial Law authority. I also learnt that I wasn't the only employee to have incurred the wrath of jawans for the crime of showing "identity card on left hand." In fact, a news producer was detained for a few hours for that crime and humiliated in
The raison d'être for the Ershad coup, like that of most military coups, was eradication of corruption. Some former ministers from the BNP era were indeed arrested. Saifur Rahman and Tanvir Ahmed Siddiqui were among them. I had a chance to visit a military court. The courts were presided by a group of five military officers who acted as Judges. It was not quite what you would expect in a court of law in America. There was no need for consensus about the judgment and so the majority opinion prevailed. In one of the high profile cases, the dissenting voice came from a young air force officer who opted for capital punishment for the accused, a minister from BNP era.
The officer in charge of the television complex had his own unique style of diffusing tension. One time a neighborhood family came to the major with a complaint against some of his jawans. The man and his wife complained that some of the soldiers were constantly taunting and harassing their daughters. The major said point blank that he could not take any action against the jawans. However, he suggested a solution. He advised the couple to bar their daughters from visiting any place where they would be in full view of the soldiers.
One incidence in the TV building sent shivers down the spine of all staff members of BTV. A group of officers descended on the TV production booth. They arrested the producer of a popular children's program. He was handcuffed and led out in full view of his colleagues. Apparently, someone had lodged a complaint with the martial law authority that the producer was guilty of misappropriating production funds. The producer was dragged to the Suhrawardy Udyan processing center in handcuffs where he was detained for an indefinite period.
General Ershad had one important difference with General Zia in the matter of exercising power. General Ershad did not insist on enjoying a monopoly over power. He was willing to share power with other important members of the junta. In addition, his coup was not planned in the secrecy that is the hallmark of most military coups. In an interview with the New York Times in 1982, the general said very frankly that he had alerted most of the major embassies in Dhaka well ahead of the coup about his intentions and plans.
I got my chance to "rub shoulders" with the General in the course of my duties as a news producer. It was probably a week after the coup. I was assigned to cover General Ershad's golfing moments within the cantonment area. I arrived on time with my camera crew. I was warned about the fiasco at Shahid Minar on 21 February when cameras had failed to zoom in on the General. This time I made sure that my cameras don't fail to do the needful.
The general did not look worried at all. The golf course was full of foreign diplomats. Probably it was deemed an ideal spot to glean information from and compare notes with the wheelers and dealers of the world. My cameraman was dutifully following the general. I was writing my story while sitting on a sofa in a chateau by the golf course. There was an abundance of beverages. Foreign guests had come to the chateau to have a sip. The General would join them every now and then. And every time he arrived at the chateau I would rise to pay obeisance. However, one time, he stood right next to where I was sitting on the sofa to chat with a foreign acquaintance. In that setting, I felt very awkward about standing up again. I kept looking down and praying, "Dharani Tumi Didha Hao!" Fortunately, the General did not pay much attention to the "uncivil" civil servant and no one took me to task for showing disrespect toward the Supremo Generalissimo - La Petite Dictator of Bangladesh.
As I watched the most powerful man in Bangladesh at close range on that day, I said to myself, "This guy's fate will not be like Zia's." Later on I repeated my thoughts to my colleagues. History proved me correct. The General ultimately became the untouchable.
Today, I work at a U.S. federal facility dealing with law enforcement. Every day I come to the main gate with a badge hanging down my neck. And once in a while I recall an incident that took place some 18 years ago when I got into trouble with the "law" for getting the identity card out of my pocket with my left hand. And I smile to myself even as I thank my stars that my native land is now free from the peril of being ruled by army dictatorship. Nevertheless, the recent political debacle in Pakistan makes me queasy. I hope Bangladesh's military will not get ideas from Pakistani military's recent misadventure into politics. Let us give democracy a chance to flourish in Bangladesh. After all, military rule always engenders oligarchy, which Bangladesh could least afford at this crossroad of a new millennium.
Originally published in News From Bangladesh October 26, 1999 in the Commentary section.
Hamid-ul Huq Heera
Bangladesh’s present law adviser, Barrister Mainul Hussain, has marvelous advantages. Lately, his tongue is wagging incessantly when he speaks before news reporters to lambaste fallen politicians. Only days ago he used to support politicians from one particular party. But now he took the onus on him to admonish them.
First, some background information. If you follow Bangladesh’s current politics you may already know that Bangladesh’s titular chief is none other than Dr. Fakhruddin, who worked for World Bank in the 1980s and 1990s stationed at Washington DC. The force behind the government, i.e., the military, has appointed Barrister Mainul Hussain as the law adviser who is also serving as the spokesperson for the military-backed interim government. He is the most cunning person and he is unwittingly doing all the messy stuff to destabilize the political condition of Bangladesh. At times, the opportunist Mainul Hussain gives threats and issues warnings to the politicians. Therefore, it is pertinent to know who this man is. Let us probe his past.
Mainul Hussain in his twenties received nomination in 1970 parliamentary election from Bangladesh Awami League only because he was a son of Tofazzal Hussain aka Manik Mia. He did not know the ABCs of politics due to his tender age. But, he used his father’s identity and got elected in 1970. The shrewd young barrister did not jeopardize his comfort and stayed back while many people like another shrewd barrister Moudud Ahmed joined Bangladesh Liberation war. The popular vernacular newspaper, Ittefaq, was perceived as the mouthpiece of Awami League. The angry Pakistani military, therefore, destroyed Ittefaq building. But, see how Mainul Hussain - - an avid supporter of Pakistani military - - sold his soul and extended his hands of friendship toward the Pakistani generals. By hobnobbing with the Paki generals, Mainul Hussain was able to extract a large sum of money for repairing machineries and printing Ittefaq in 1971 but this time his paper became right away the mouthpiece of Pakistani military while publishing demoralizing news about our glorious freedom fight. In a sense he became a Fifth Columnist.
This wayward son of Manik Mia became a fan of the military establishment. The Paki general taught him how to salute a general. The teaching he got during 1971 made him a lifelong sycophant of army. This servile attitude of Mainul Hussain for military never faded away and up until now one could see his slavish devotion for the men in uniform.
The changeover in August 1975 brought military back into the seat of power. The mastermind for bringing military by killing Sheikh Mujib was Khandoker Mushtaque. Dear readers, see what Mainul Hussain did. He joined hands with killer Mushtaque, provided support and strengths to the killer military gang by writing editorials in his paper, the Ittefaq. Some days later, Mainul Hussain saw people throwing stones and shoes to Mushtaque when he went to Baitul Mukarram mosque. And cunning Mainul Hussain did not see much prospect and he left Mushtaque's party, Democratic League. After Mushtaque, military man Ziaur Rahman showed his strengths as a strong ruler - who formed a hybrid party BNP. Army strength is what Mainul Hussain likes the most. He served in Zia's BNP religiously until recently. He was ready to offer free legal services to any troubled case on BNP’s mischievous acts. You see him in the court to defend fraudulent clients. Dear readers, do you know who was the attorney for fraud justice Faizee appointed by Khaleda Zia? He is none other than Mainul Hussain. Such is his true color.
Mainul Hussain's love for democracy knows no bounds! He refused to join the national government in 1974 for the cause of democracy. But now, in the emergency rule, there is no democracy but the vocal and smiling [conspiratorial too!] Mainul Hussain is an unabashed advisor - who is saying everyday that Bangladeshis do not have any fundamental rights in the emergency rule. A hypocrite of the century, one might say!
Mainul Hussain's hypocrisy has no limit! He gave recently a sermon to destroy family dynasty in politics. The mischievous barrister became the editor of Ittefaq not by his merit but by inheritance. As a crown prince in Manik Mia dynasty he suddenly became the president of the editorial board. Did he attend any journalism school to learn the art of writing editorials? No. But he pontificates at every opportunity he gets by saying that dynastical politics is bad. Thus he has a double standard – one for him and the other for politicians he abhor.
Mainul Hussain foams at the mouth while mentioning the evil effect of musclemanship in politics. Now he declared his one-man jihad to clean Bangladesh politics by wiping out musclemanship from our politics. Fair enough. But do you know that years ago, the same Mainul Hussain hired hooligans to capture the Ittefaq building from his brother.
Mainul Hussain is not only a zealous man but suffers from inferiority complex. The vernacular newspapers Janakntha and Jugantor had earned popularity and thereby their circulation grew by leaps and bounds. However, this caused enough grief in Mainul Hussain. He was upset knowing that his paper, Ittefaq, lost its luster and became a third rated paper in Bangladesh . Consequently, sheer out of jealousy, he suddenly turned against Janakantha editor Atiqullah Khan Masud and Jugantor owner Nurul Islam Babul when opportunity landed in his door. Look what happened to these two gentlemen. Mainul Hussain goaded the military to arrest them after getting into power. He has been uttering such words against the editors stating that they have no knowledge of journalism.
May I ask, where in the world did Mainul Hussain get lessons on journalism? His only qualification is that he is the son of a newspaper editor. This is his sole qualification on journalism. Mainul Hussain is so myopic that he very conveniently forgot that he inherited Ittefaq from his father. Shameless as he is, he will never admit once that family fortune has helped him catapult to the position he is holding now.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Bangladesh is increasingly dominating the world media outlets as the military backed care taker government has taken dramatic steps to take off the leaders of the two largest political parties. This is a tactical operation that Caretaker Government has undertaken to worsen political anomaly in Bangladesh that will raise suspicion among the citizens about the inner motives of this three month old Caretaker Government and its military backer.
The Independent says, “Bangladesh's former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was yesterday blocked from boarding a flight home from London after the military-backed government barred her from returning”. International Herald Tribune says, Hasina had vowed to return to fight murder and corruption charges after the country's military-backed interim government moved last week to force her and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia — who together have dominated Bangladeshi politics for the past 15 years — into exile. "This is my country, and I don't understand why they should stop me," Hasina told AP Television News, after being told by British Airways at London's Heathrow Airport on Sunday that she could not travel.
When Hasina was attempting to board the British Airlines, back in Bangladesh a court dramatically issued a warrant against her to arrest. It has become the most amazing senseless joke of the military backed interim Government to issue a warrant when they are barring her to even enter into Bangladesh air space. Yet, Hasina has shown her utmost courage and dedication as the Washington Post reports, "I want to face the case," Hasina said. "This is totally fake, false. I didn't commit any murder, so it is absolutely (a) false case and that's why I'm going to face it." But the Government’s move is growing more suspicion among citizens of Bangladesh. The Guardian reports the political move of Awami League as it quotes, ``How can a free citizen be barred from coming home? We will challenge this in court,'' said Zillur Rahman, a senior Awami League leader. ``She is willing to come back to face the charges against her, but the government is barring her.''
BBC reports, “it becomes clear that the country has reached a crossroads. Go one way, and the road leads to cleaner politics with free elections and restoration of representative democracy. There is a broad acceptance of the military-backed government. But go the other way, and the country risks sliding back into the kind of military-led dictatorship which so blighted Bangladesh's politics and economy in the 1980s”. But the question is becoming clearer day by day, will democracy return in Bangladesh? Who is winning by playing all these childish crooked game?
The election reform could bring the political reform, rather the military backed government chose to plunge itself in political in fight. The question remains unanswered when we ask who will benefit from this political crisis. Obviously, it does not favor the current caretaker government for the long run. Listen to the BBC’s MP who has already questioned the motive of the current interim government and has committed herself to advance this issue in the British Government.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Dr. Abdul Momen
Pakistan is the 2nd largest Muslim country and it is mostly ruled by military junta. Its major political leaders were either hanged or forcibly exiled. The founder of new Pakistan, Z. A. Bhutto was hanged by Gen. Ziaul Haque, the military dictator that introduced anti-women Hudud Law in Pakistan. The democratically elected Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was denied entry to her homeland while she went on a private trip abroad and Newaj Sharif was forced into exile under pretext of corruption. In spite of their expulsion, corruption is still pervasive. Newaj Sharif is currently living in Saudi Arabia and Benazir in UAE.
Bangladesh is the 3rd largest Muslim country and until recently, it had a ‘partly free’ democracy. It assassinated its great leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of the country. It is currently being ruled by a military-backed technocrat government. Following Pakistan, it denied entry to its ex-Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who went abroad on a private trip like Benazir. The government lodged corruption cases against the sons of immediate past Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and now putting pressure and cutting deals for her exile to Saudi Arabia.
To have public support, the military governments generally promote religious groups and fanatics that lead to rise of fundamentalism. No wonder, under successive military governments where ‘rule of law and human rights’ were weak and religious politics became dominant, Pakistan became an epicenter of global terrorism. Bangladesh is also fast moving to that direction and becoming another hub. Recently, the Bangladesh government hanged six terrorists. However, it refused to disclose the names of their mastermind and their associates that bombed the public rally of the opposition party leader Sheikh Hasina killing 23 of her supporters, and simultaneously staged 493 bombs across the nation. Both in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the terrorists are ever increasing in spite of governments’ tough talks and face saving actions. In fact, after the Middle East region, as per U. S. data, both the terrorist attacks and fatalities have increased maximum in South Asia especially in Bangladesh and Pakistan since 9/11.
No one knows who are really involved in terrorism. In absence of transparency, rumors are ripe that security forces and military intelligence are involved in terrorist training and supplies.
In any society where there is no ‘rule of law’ and ‘respect for human rights’ are subdued, such society can easily turn into a state of anarchism and lawlessness. For example, Afghanistan under the Taliban, and Somalia under the warlords. In Bangladesh both ‘human rights’, ‘rule of law’ and ‘corruption’ are being compromised. The consequences of such situation might be disastrous especially for Bangladesh, an impoverished country where half of its 147 million live on $2 a day income.
In fact, in today’s Bangladesh, the security forces are the ‘juror, the judge and the executioner’. They have executed over 800 people without any due process of law. After Iraq, Bangladesh tops in terrorism especially in extrajudicial killing. Extrajudicial killing is a form of state terrorism.
Instead, the situation is worsening. When Manzor Elahi, President of the Bangladesh Businessmen Association demanded the government not to harass or arrest businessmen under false pretexts or lockup their business ventures without due process of law, Dr. Mirza Azizul Islam, the nation’s Finance Advisor stated that such could not be assured. It is reported that due to fear of harassments and illegal appropriations of properties and businesses and seizure of bank accounts, the nation’s business is at stake. No investments either foreign or domestic are forth coming under such uncertainty and danger. Technically, a country that fails to guarantee ‘property rights’ and personal security cannot expect to have increasing investment or business activity. Therefore, it is no wonder that business activity in Bangladesh has slowed down sharply under such uncertainty. No wonder, the scarcity of essentials is widespread now leading to unabated price hike causing misery to its fixed income earners.
Roman">Three months ago when the new government took over to evade a national crisis of an impending fraudulent election on January 22 with the promise to handover powers to an elected government through a ‘free, fair, and credible election’, the nation sighed relief and welcomed it. As the new government started implementing the demands of the nation’s major opposition party, the Awami League (AL) and the wishes of the civil societies, it got tremendous support. Like the Ahsanullah Chowdhury government of 1982 under Lt. Gen. H. M. Ershad who launched a jehad against corruption and arrested 230 people including a Deputy Prime Minister and five top Ministers, the Ahmed government under Lt. Gen. Moyeen Ahmed also launched jehad against corruption and arrested top fifty leaders. The AL and its alliance parties demanded Election Commission Reform, the independence of the judiciary, Corruption commission reform, and punishment of corrupt officials and the like. The new government initiated such processes and received overwhelming support including that of the AL.
Unfortunately such overwhelming support is fast eroding because of its diversion from its promised goal. With a view to root out ‘family leadership’ [Sheikh Hasina, President of the AL is the daughter of the founder of the nation President Sheikh Mujib and Khaleda Zia, President of the BNP is the widower of President Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman, the military dictator. Her son Tariq Rahman became a BNP leader] the new government is now dedicated to destroy and weaken the major political parties of Bangladesh, the AL and the BNP. Recently, they banned Sheikh Hasina, the former Prime Minister and the leader of the largest and oldest political party of Bangladesh, the AL, to return home. She was on a private trip to USA to meet her son and daughter that live in the U. S. To keep her away, the government initially lodged two fabricated cases against her and as she wanted to face them legally in Bangladesh and planned to return, the government hurriedly banned her return to homeland and issued circulars instructing media not to cover her statements, interviews and the like. They imposed press censorship. When the government’s Law Advisor Mainul Hossain was asked how they could deny the basic fundamental rights of Sheikh Hasina to return home, he replied ‘no fundamental rights are allowed’ now. Therefore, the current military-backed government can do or undo anything they like. In fact, the verdicts of the nation’s highest courts ordering the government to release many detainees have not been honored by the government yet and nearly 145,000 are under detention. Such created a chill and many investment houses are fast leaving the county.
The Ahmed government is also trying hard to force the immediate past Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to go on exile to Saudi Arabia. It arrested her two sons under various corruption and extortion charges apparently with a view to cut a deal. People initially believed in the government’s crusade against corruption as they did in 1958, 1969 and 1982 coups and supported them. But now due to ‘behind the scene deal making’, they are fast losing their confidence. Khaleda Zia is expected to leave the country any moment with her extended family just like Newaj Sharif of Pakistan.
In Pakistan, when General Parvez Musharraf usurped powers, he refused Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the People’s Party and former Prime Minster to return home. He lodged a corruption case against Prime Minister Newaj Sharif and later cut a deal. Newaj Sharif was exiled to Saudi Arabia. It appears, Bangladesh is just following the Musharraf strategy.
However, problem is; in case of Pakistan Gen. Musharraf was in-charge. He was military chief and he assumed Presidency by overthrowing Prime Minister Newaj Sharif. Under U. S. pressure, he agreed to hold an election in 2008. In case of Bangladesh, Dr. Fakruddin Ahmed, a technocrat is now in-charge. Like Pakistan, under the U. S. pressure, he also assured election before the end of 2008. By that time, TATA-investment deal with India, the Chittagong Port construction and troop sending contracts in Afghanistan and Sudan are likely to be over.
India is apparently upset with both Khaleda and Hasina. Hasina got her ‘water sharing deal’ with India but refused to supply gas to India. Khaleda came to power to supply gas to India, but once in power she did not keep her words. However, she opened her economy to the traders of India that created huge trade deficit. Now will the Bangladesh military do it under Ahmed government?
Once that is done, will the Bangladesh military Chief Gen. Moyeen U. Ahmed come out from the shadow? Or will he wait that long? If history is any lesson, in 1975, then Chief Justice A.S M. Sayeem survived nearly 18 months as the President and the Chief Martial Law Administrator backed by Gen. Zia. Can Dr. Ahmed survive next six months? Can he maintain his credibility that long? If his government loses credibility, the next election may not be credible either. Therefore, should he allow election by January 2008?
In the last 15 years (1991-2006), there has been accelerated economic growth under political leadership that surpassed all the records of that of military rule of Bangladesh from 1975 through 1990. More importantly, people’s awareness and political maturity sharpened dramatically under political rule. Question is; is Bangladesh heading towards another Martial Law regime that would reverse its growth to another 30 years backward and become a hub of terrorism like Pakistan?
বাংলাদেশ আপডেট: ভিওএ ০৪-২১
বাংলাদেশ আপডেট: বিবিসি ০৪-২১
বাংলাদেশ আপডেট: জার্মান রেডিও ০৪-২১
Friday, April 20, 2007
মিডিয়াতে নানান কথা আসছে। অনেক কথা আমরা শুনছি। অনেক কথা শোনার ব্যাপারে নিরুতসাহ করা হচ্ছে? প্রশ্ন হচ্ছে বাংলাদেশ কি পাকিস্তান? যারা বাংলাদেশকে চেনে না, মানচিত্র পড়তে পারে না, তাদের কথা এক্কেবারে আলাদা। যারা মোটামুটি জানেন বাংলাদেশকে তারা খুব ভালভাবে জানেন বাংলাদেশ পাকিস্তান না। বাংলাদেশ আফগানিস্তান না। কাজেই সেধরনের স্টাইল বা ধারা অনুসরণ করে বাংলাদেশকে চিত্রিত করা কখনও সম্ভব হবে না।
বাংলাদেশ সাময়িকভাবে তত্বাবধায়ক সরকারের নিয়ন্ত্রনে আছে। যারা ২০০৮ সালের মধ্যে নির্বাচন ও দুর্নীতিবিরোধী অ্যাকশন নিয়ে ব্যস্ত। তাদের চূড়ান্ত লক্ষ্য হচ্ছে বাংলাদেশকে সত্যিকারের গণতন্ত্রের পথে নিয়ে আসা। বাংলাদেশে যে সামরিক প্রশাসক জিয়া বা এরশাদ স্টাইলের সরকার কখনও হালে পানি পায়নি, তা সবাই জানে। আর বর্তমান সরকারের সেই ধারা অনুসরণ করার যে বিন্দুমাত্র ইচ্ছে নেই তা স্পস্ট হয়ে উঠেছে সাম্প্রতিক কার্যক্রমের মাধ্যমে। বাংলাদেশের বর্তমান সংকট সাময়িক। এই সংকটকে দীর্ঘায়িত বা জটিল করে কেই ঘোলা পানিতে মাছ শিকার করবে সেই ধারণা যে অমূলক তা প্রমানের সময় চলে এসেছে। জনগণ আগের যে কোন সময় থেকে অনেক বেশী সচেতন তা কি কানে কানে বলার কোন দরকার আছে?
খবর ডট কমে দেশ সম্পর্কে খবরে চোখ পড়ল। ভয়েস অব আমেরিকা দিল্লী থেকে দেশ নিয়ে নতুন খবর প্রকাশ করেছে। ইন্টারন্যাশনাল হেরাল্ড ট্রিবিউন প্রকাশ করেছে প্রতিবেদন। সব খবরই দেশ নিয়ে। সমস্যা নিয়ে। সংকট নিয়ে। কিন্তু এখন কি আর বিভক্তির সুযোগ আছে? সামরিক বাহিনী চিরকালই দেশকে রক্ষা করেছে। আমরা সবাই কৃতজ্ঞ। তাই নির্বুদ্ধিমানরা বাইরেরর দুনিয়ায় যাই লিখুক না কেন, আমাদের সবাইকে এখন ঐক্যবদ্ধ হতে হবে দেশকে বাঁচাতে। এনটিভি থেকে শুরু করে সকল টিভি চ্যানেলে এখন সামরিক বাহিনীর প্রশস্তিমূলক সংগীত নিয়মিত পরিবেশন করে দেশপ্র্রেম বাড়াতে হবে। দেশপ্রেমে অন্ধরা কোনদিনও বেঈমানী করে না তা একাততর থেকে সকল সময়ে আমরা দেখে এসেছি।
ভিওএ'র সকালের খবরে শেখ হাসিনার দু'টো সাক্ষাতকার প্রচারিত হয়।
বিবিসির প্রভাতী অনুষ্ঠানে ড: কামাল সাক্ষাতকার প্রদান করেন।
বিবিসির প্রভাতী অনুষ্ঠানে আজকের সংবাদ পত্রের কাভারেজ নিয়ে আলোচনা করা হয়।
Thursday, April 19, 2007
বাংলাদেশের রাজনীতি যে আবারও অনিশ্চয়তার দিকে পা বাড়িয়েছে তা আলাদা করে বলার কোন প্রয়োজন নেই। বর্তমানে দুই নেত্রীকে দেশ থেকে বাইরে রাখার আয়োজন মোটেও কোন শুভলক্ষণ নয়। এদেশের জনগণ সামরিক বাহিনীর ক্ষমতা গ্রহন ও নিয়ন্ত্রণকে কোনভাবেই গ্রহণ করবে না। এ অবস্থায় আওয়ামী লীগ নেত্রী শেখ হাসিনার উপর আরোপিত নিষেধাজ্ঞা গণমাধ্যমে ব্যাপক মনোযোগ আকর্ষণে সক্ষম হয়েছে। এ পর্যায়ে আড্ডা পাতা বিদেশী মিডিয়ার কাভারেজগুলো পাঠকদের জন্য তুলে দিল।
বিবিসিতে এক সাক্ষাতকারে শেখ হাসিনা বলেন:
ভিওএকে হাসিনার সাক্ষাতকার:
জার্মান রেডিওকে হাসিনার সাক্ষাতকার:
জার্মান রেডিও'র বিশ্লেষণ: