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Rumi Ahmed
30 Nov, 2010, USA

So, Zafar Sobhan thinks BNP is mafia.  This made me laugh.  You see, that’s the thing with Bangladeshi politics — you have to laugh at it, because the alternative is to howl in despair.

Let’s be fair to Zafar.  It’s not just him who thinks this way.  I’ve heard it from many AL leaning folks over the years: the last BNP government was like the mafia, Tarique ran Bangladesh like a crime lord, the corruption and violence all pointed to mob rule.  So let’s lay off Zafar.  He is just more articulate than the most.

Instead, let’s look at the message.  So, the BNP government was like the mafia.  What does that mean?

Well, how does the mafia work?  There is a system of patronage, whereby the Don confers favours on those under his protection, and they in turn does the Don’s bidding.  Then there is extortion.  You want to do business in a mob neighbourhood, you pay a protection fee.  And finally, anyone stepping out of line has to be disciplined — made to sleep with the fishes.

BNP was all of these we are told.  Hawa Bhaban cronies ran the country like a private fiefdom.  There were rampant extortion, from the top to bottom.  And there were killings like the 21 August.

The 21 August was a crucial turning point.  After that event, many people said ‘we used to follow Zia’s ideals, not this Khaleda-Falu politic’.   For many who had no love of AL shunned BNP because of its mafia-type transformation.

That was then.  What do we see now?

We see that minister’s brother’s company is given lucrative contracts for electricity generation without any tender process.  And then we see that act being indemnified through legislation.

We see prime ministerial advisors openly declaring that only the ruling party members will be appointed for government job.  We see the public servants humiliated because they wanted to follow the law, and not the party diktat.

We see dissenting voices shut down and thrown into jail by partisan judges.

What was that about patronage, favor, and extortion?

Not as bad as BNP, you say?  Not like AL is killing opposition politicians, like the BNP did on 21 August.

Never mind that no one has actually produced any evidence of BNP being involved with 21 August (as opposed to covering up afterwards).  For the partisan AL mind, it’s a given that BNP did it.  And AL is not as bad.

Except for the inconvenient fact that AL is, of course, as bad if not worse.  In Natore, an upazilla chairman was killed in broad daylight a few weeks ago.  The entire thing is available in youtube.  And Sheikh Hasina personally saved the killers by saying ‘this was BNP’s internal conflict’.

We don’t need Julifikar Ali Manik’s complicated conspiracy theories.  All this happened in public media.  Sheikh Hasina intervened to save killers.

As I said, after 21 August, many BNP supporters abandoned their party.  I don’t know a single AL-er who owns up to Hasina’s action after the Natore killing.  None.

You know why?

Because AL is a cult.  It’s a cult whose members believe that their party can do no wrong.  It’s a cult whose members believe their leader can do no wrong.  It’s a cult whose members simply refuse to face the reality, and would prefer to believe in conspiracy theories where everything is someone else’s fault.  It’s a cult whose members, otherwise perfectly fine people, lock away parts of their reason, compassion, and conscience.

The 21 August assassinations will hang over BNP until it unconditionally apologises for it, and the real killers are convicted and punished.  Until that happens, the charge of ‘BNP is mafia’ will bite.

BNP may be mafia.  But so is AL.  And AL is also a cult.  No matter what happens to BNP, until the AL-ers free themselves from their mental slavery, Bangladesh will remain doomed with a plague on both houses.

Hussain Imam
31 January, 2010, Dhaka

When BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia criticises Sheikh Hasina or her government on any matter, (or vice versa), it can be in most cases assumed that the latter must have done something good. The more severe the criticism, the higher is the chance of such assumption turning out to be true.

If we go by this theory, the way BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia has reacted to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to India is a clear indication that Sheikh Hasina’s trip has been a tremendous success.

Sheikh Hasina has during her visit signed three treaties, one memorandum of understanding (MoU), one protocol, and a joint communiqué. While the treaties related mostly to ensure security of the region through united action against terrorism, religious jingoism, political insurgency and women and drug trafficking, the other agreements including the joint declaration aimed at resolving all other bilateral and multi-lateral issues through mutual discussion based on good friendly relations between the two countries.

Sheikh Hasina thinks that her visit has been a complete success. She thinks that the visit has opened a new horizon of bilateral and regional cooperation between the two countries. Why should she not?

As reported by an Indian journalist, when Sheikh Hasina, during her summit meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, took out her list of demands, Manmohan Singh told her that she did not have to ask anything. Whatever was the need of Bangladesh, India would go to the furthest extent to meet those demands.

Begum Khaleda Zia

Regarding Tipaimukh Dam, the most sensitive issue for Bangladesh, Manmohan Singh has categorically told Hasina that India will not do anything that will harm Bangladesh. About sharing water of Teesta and other common rivers, both the countries have agreed to a ministerial level JRC meeting on urgent basis.

India is our big neighbour, bordering us on three sides — east, west and north. It is a vast country, seven times bigger than our country by population alone. It is the largest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, poised to be the third biggest economic superpower in a decade or so.

When the prime minister of such a country, and if the prime minister is Manmohan Singh, one of the finest men at the helm of affairs anywhere, gives such assurance, why should not Sheikh Hasina, as prime minister of Bangladesh, feel confident of her success in the mission?

Given the nature of the politics BNP has been pursuing ever since it came into existence, it is not surprising that the chairperson of the party will oppose every move Sheikh Hasina makes, and if it is anything related to India, she will use her anti-Indian trump card and go to any extent to spoil the broth.

Begum Zia has tried to do exactly that. She has, through a hurried press conference, termed the visit not only a total failure but also harmful to the nation. She has accused Sheikh Hasina of giving everything to India and getting nothing for Bangladesh in return. She did not stop there. She has, as she did when the AL government signed the historic peace treaty of Chittagong Hill Tracts in 1997, accused Sheikh Hasina of selling the country to India.

In 1997, it was up to Feni that Khaleda Zia accused Shekh Hasina of selling to India. This time it is the whole country. No wonder, Sheikh Hasina was quick enough to ask Begum Zia if she needed an Indian visa to visit her hometown in Feni.

Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India and the agreements or understandings arrived at during the visit have, as many a political analysts, academics and economists across the region agree, turned over a new leaf of relation between the two countries, and if the treaties and the agreements see the light of the day, both the countries, indeed the whole South Asian region will be immensely benefited. The whole region will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. Why not wait and see?

Bangladesh has allowed India, along with Nepal and Bhutan, to facilitate transit of their cargo to their hinterlands through Chittagong, Mongla and Ashuganj port and, in return, Bangladesh will also be able to transit its cargo to and from Nepal and Bhutan using Indian territory. This will not only bolster economic activities of our ports and earn huge revenue but also help develop trade and business activities between the countries. This is a practice not uncommon elsewhere. Singapore and Rotterdam are glaring examples in front of us.

It is unfortunate that Begum Zia or for that matter her think tanks and advisers do not realise that their anti-Indian card has gone all blunt. The present generation is not prepared to buy it any longer. They want to go ahead with the others. They know very well that in the face of imminent threat of climate change and terrorist activities across the region there is no alternative to active cooperation and friendly relation among all the neighbouring countries of the region.

* * * * *

Hussain Imam, a former merchant navy officer, is a regular contributor to The New Age, the Daily Star and Daily Sangbad.

Rumi Ahmed
USA

I hear… of your recent saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Only those generals who gain success can set up military dictatorships. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.”

– Abraham Lincoln, message to General Joseph Hooker, Army of the Potomac

May 30 is the 28th anniversary of President Ziaur Rahman’s death. It came approximately 10 years and 2 months after he gave a radio announcement, from Chittagong, declaring the Independence of Bangladesh on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then in the custody of the Pakistani Army.

During our Independence War, he was Sector Commander over much of today’s Chittagong Division, and commander of Bangladesh Army’s ‘Z” brigade. At the end of the war, with Pakistani forces crumbling before the assault of joint Indo-Bangladeshi forces and surrendering on 16 December 1971, he was awarded the Bir Uttom.

At the onset of independence, Zia became one of the senior-most officers of the Bangladesh Army. His performance during the nine-month war and his radio announcement at the onset of the war marked him as different from his fellow officers. He was made Brigade Commander of Comilla, close to where his force had done most of the fighting during the war.

The Government brought him to Dhaka in June 1972 and made him Deputy Chief of Staff, under Major General Shafiullah, who commanded the “S” Brigade during the Independence War. It is as Deputy CoS that he moved into the 6 Shahid Moinul Road residence, where he would live the rest of his life. It is from this post that he observed the imposition of one-party dictatorship in Bangladesh when Sheikh Mujib, by a constitutional amendment, made Bangladesh a one-party state, banned all other political parties, all but four newspapers, and named himself President.

After the brutal assassination of Sheikh Mujib and most of the members of his family by a group of army officers, Zia was elevated to Chief of Staff but placed under Major General Khalilur Rahman, who was made Chief of Defense Staff. The regime, after killing Mujib’s four most-trusted political lieutenants, heroes in their own right, planned to send Zia abroad, as it sent Shafiullah. However, before that could transpire, the murderers were toppled by a counter-coup led by Brig. Khaled Musharraf, Chief of General Staff, one the most valiant leaders in our Independence War. Zia was placed under house-arrest. He was then freed by a counter-counter-coup by Col. (rt) Abu Taher, fellow Sector Commander, and leader of the banned Jatiyo Samajtrantik Dal (National Socialist Party). The counter-coup also tragically resulted in Brig. Mosharraf’s death.

Shafiullah, Zia, Mosharraf, and Taher were all awarded the Bir Uttom, the highest gallantry decoration awarded to living participants. Under normal circumstances, they should, by all right, have been able to look forward to long careers in our defense forces, promotions to command rank, and eventual retirement with the whole-hearted blessings of a grateful nation. Instead, Shafiullah was abroad, Mosharraf was dead, and Taher advoced a left-leaning revolutionary state. With the adoption of one-party statehood by the Parliament, the Awami League, until then Bangladesh’s pre-eminent political party, had also been disbanded. Zia found himself with no credible political establishment to hand over power to, a faction-ridden armed forces that was more dangerous to Bangladeshis than to foreign enemies, and an economy on the brink of collapse.

His subsequent actions, becoming Chief Martial Law Administrator, founding BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party), introducing multi-party democracy, allowing the publication of newspapers, holding parliamentary elections (in which Awami League became the largest opposition party in parliament), trying to revitalize the country’s industrial sector, and adopting a muscular foreign policy, were the attempts of an imperfect man to try and make the best of an imperfect situation. He survived eighteen coup attempts, before being killed by the nineteenth one, in his beloved Chittagong, the scene of his life’s greatest hour, where he had come to resolve inter-party factions in his young BNP. Bangladehis from all walks of life poured into his funeral prayer service, making it the single largest such gathering in Bangladesh’s history.

I cannot know, but I imagine he must have been a little tired by the end of his life. If the last thought that flashed through his mind was his young widow and the two little boys he left behind; maybe, after death, he found the peace he had been denied in life. The generation which should have together led Bangladesh, together turn old and hale and watched their children grow up in a free country as free men and women, and in the twilight of their lives accepted our accolades as Bangladesh’s greatest generation, had together torn each other apart. His would be the last life to be lost in that decade-long bloodbath, but by the sacrifice of his own life, he would bring the killing to an end; all subsequent transfers of power in our country would be bloodless, if not voluntary.

Testimony is paid to Zia, throughout the year, by Awami League leaders who slander and villify him every chance they get. They try to tear down the man who allowed them to re-form, and graciously accepted their leader’s return from exile in India. His statues are broken down, and bridges leading to his memorial in Dhaka, beside the National Parliament, are mysteriously removed under the cover of night. All debates about the fate of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his great predecessor, inevitably contain someone viciously belittling him.

Yet, the idea of Zia remains. Our only head of state to have actively fought the Pakistanis in a field of battle, today he sleeps the well-deserved sleep of those who have fought the good fight. It remains to us to do our best in the imperfect world he left for us.

*****

Rumi Ahmed is a blogger from United States.

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