Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Old trick in new package

Old trick in new package
Source: New Age Editorial
August 19, 2008

The military-controlled interim government’s decision to set up a special police intelligence unit to monitor and report on the activities of the political parties is, we believe, its latest attempt at political engineering although the incumbents have claimed that it is aimed at helping the law-enforcement agencies to maintain public order. The decision indicates that the current regime is still busy trying to find ways to harass political parties and activists, undermine the political process, and redraw the political landscape to suit itself. We also agree with several high-profile politicians from different parties who have suggested that this decision pushes us further towards a ‘police state’.

The national security and intelligence agencies of our country have long been used by elected as well as unelected governments to monitor and report on political activities of rival camps, with a view to unduly clinging to power. At a time when our country needed to have moved away from such practices for the sake of democratic growth, the setting up of a Political Intelligence Operation will now formalise the spying on the politicians by the government’s law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. This is not only absolutely unacceptable but is deeply troubling as well.

Since the current regime’s assumption of power in January of last year, it has seemingly tried to redraw the political landscape through overt and covert attempts at political engineering. For example, there have been repeated attempts by this regime at implementing the ‘minus-two’ plan of politically neutralising Awami League president Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia in addition to the apparent efforts to fracture the Awami League and the BNP and to promote alternative leadership within these parties. Even the Election Commission got in on the act late last year when it recognised a splinter faction of the BNP as the party’s mainstream faction and invited it for formal dialogue. Moreover, we have witnessed, with growing disillusionment, the government’s much-hyped anti-corruption campaign be reduced to a mere political tool. We have also heard loud murmurs by those close to the regime about plans for a National Security Council, which, in our opinion, would do nothing more than formalise a role for the country’s armed forces in the running of the state. All these actions, we feel, have complicated the political process and made our democratic quest more difficult.

Against this backdrop, we cannot but be wary of the government’s decision to set up a separate intelligence unit to spy on political leaders and activities, that too only a few months prior to the promised general elections to the ninth parliament. The decision, as already hinted by the politicians, will further complicate the situation. Our recommendations to this regime, therefore, are that it should abandon plans for a Political Intelligence Operation, lift the state of emergency, allow full political activity that is within the bounds of the law, and devote its energy to creating grounds for credible and participatory general elections to be held.

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