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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.

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Rumi Ahmed
18 July, 2010. USA

Updated: Amar Desh online version again available.

Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh:

39. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
(1) Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed.
(2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of
the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation
to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence-
(a) the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the
press, are guaranteed.

Bangladesh Supreme Court just struck down the Awami League government’s ban on popular newspaper Amar Desh. Amar Desh online version is now available.

**************************

Based on precedence of two previous cases concerning Daily Ittefaq and Daily Banglar Bani, this verdict was very straightforward and expected. Accordingly High court verdict came with very clear judgment and an appeal by the government was a very shameful and surprising act. Esp when the government itself declared that Government had nothing to do with the ban, it was done by the district administrator of Dhaka.  And more shameful and less surprising was the act of the chamber judge of Supreme Court, Justice S K Sinha. Without letting any hearing to be allowed, he simply stayed the judgment of High court.

It is shameful because the chamber judge just violated his oath to uphold Bangladesh Constitution by allowing a Newspaper to remain closed illegally. It is not surprising considering the precedences in which  the court of the Chamber Judge is being used more frequently by the government to stall high court verdicts unfavorable to the Government.

More interestingly a case in pending in the Supreme Court in this regard. A contempt of court case was filed against Amar Desh editor Mr. Mahmudur Rahman  because Amar Desh quoted a senior lawyer of the supreme court, suggesting the same allegation against the chamber bench. In the report Daily Amar Desh quoted senior most lawyer of Supreme court and ex justice Mr TH Khan as saying, ” Chamber Judge means a stay of high court order”.

And yet more interesting was the fact that Mr Mahmudur Rahman is now ‘shown arrested’ in a case of anti corruption Commission for not submitting wealth report. In a recent spate of Supreme Court verdicts,  all acts of anti corruption commission were deemed illegal. Persons convicted by ACC are all set free and many of them are in important positions of current government. Even our current prime Minister challenged the wealth submission order of ACC, never submitted her wealth report and fought a lengthy court battle.

Sometimes, acts of the government, its law enforcement apparatus and the attorney General’s office seems bizarre. Yet again, more bizarre is the silence of the collective conscience of the country, our columnists-our editors-our TV anchors, regarding this total mindless acts of our government.

__________

Rumi Ahmed is a Bangladeshi blogger contributing from United States.

Rumi Ahmed
20 November, 2009, USA

Take from the altar of the ancients, not the ashes, but the fire.

– Gustav Mahler

The verdict of the Appellate Division regarding the murder of President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and members of his family is an important milestone in our political and judicial history. The men accused of the murder went through our entire judicial system, from the District Court to the Appellate Division. Some of the individuals initially accused were acquitted. Those who were convicted had the chance to present all suitable defences, and were accorded all the rights which our state gives defendants in criminal prosecutions.

For all those individuals who were affected by the gruesome murders, one hopes that this comes as some salve to the personal wound that will undoubtedly haunt them the rest of their lives. The psychological trauma that comes from the assassination of loved ones, and the dislocation that comes from seeing our elders and guardians lying bloodied and lifeless, is unparalleled. We hope the pain that they carry around every day is a little lighter today.

As a result of the verdict today, at least five individuals will soon die. I hope their families will make peace with that, and be able to continue with normal and productive lives.

However, where justice ends, reflection begins.

Let’s think of sets, and Venn diagrams.

Think about the set of people who had responsibility for the 15th August massacre. Narrow that set to all individuals alive today. Are there only twelve people in that set?

Let’s narrow it still further. Let’s think about all the people against whom there exists tangible evidence regarding dereliction of duty or involvement in conspiracy. Are there only twelve people in that set?

Let’s narrow the set still further. Only include the people who were at Dhanmondi Road 32 that fateful night and morning, with weapons in their hand and murder in their heart. Have we gotten all of them?

Here’s the funny thing, just as there were people there that night and early morning who were not supposed to be there, there are a lot of people that morning who should have been there, but were not.

One think about police guards and the army units guarding the President. But where was the Rakkhi Bahini, the President’s hand-created paramilitary unit? Where were the leaders of Awami League? At least some of them had fought in the war four years past, they could have potentially held off the attackers until help arrived.

“Shafiullah, your units are attacking me.”

“Sir, I am seeing what to do. Can you leave your residence?”

A response worthy of all the commanders of the Army of Bengal who stood idle at Plassey.

“Tofael, send the Rakkhi Bahini.”

“We are under attack by Army tanks, sir.”

Only, it later turned out, the tank was disarmed, it did not have any shells in it.

In a sense, it is of lesser importance to pinpoint those who pumped all those bullets in Sheilh Mujib, Begum Mujib, and their family members. Army units started surrounding their home and taking positions to shell Dhanmondi from the evening of 14th August, at least twelve hours before the massacre. How could the entire machinery of the state remain inert for twelve hours? Consultation and conspiracy regarding this started at least months ago. Apparently Indian intelligence warned Sheikh Mujib of the attack. So did at least one civilian intelligence agency. Then Deputy Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman visited the President and warned him regarding grumblings of unrest in the Army.

Who then, were the individuals who negated all these warnings? The individuals who said, “Mujib Bhai, nothing will happen?”

Of course, whom would President Sheikh Mujib trust, a superseded officer such as Ziaur Rahman, who was never a part of the AL inner circle? Or Khandkar Mushtaque Ahmed, the “Ukil baba” in the marriages of both Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Kamal?

Zia? Or Dalim, a close personal friend of the Sheikh family who could take personal grievances directly to the President?

Bangladesh started rejecting the perpetrators of the massacre soon after, as evidenced by the flight of the guilty to various countries within two months of the massacre. Make no mistake about it, history would have been different today if they had all stayed in Bangladesh. It is no accident that the most prominent of those convicted to death is Lt. Col. Syed Faruq Rehman, a former Presidential candidate in 1988 and former chief of Freedom Party. It is not a coincidence that he never fled Bangladesh, but instead chose to stay and attempt to shape Bangladesh’s political climate in his favor.

Part of the reason Sheikh Shaheb never paid heed to any warnings about uprising because he blinded himself to the most egregious fault in our collective nature. We love to over-exult when the times are good. However, when the chips are down, and it is time for action: we are hesitant, doubtful, and faltering. Today, Dhaka is full of people claiming that they have borne a burden in their heart for 34 years. In addition to being a grievous insult to those who have actually borne a burden for 34 years, it is also a lie. It is easy for people to stand in Bangladesh in 2009, with a ten-month AL government with a nine-tenth majority in the Parliament and Sheikh Mujib’s daughter as Prime Minister and his close associate as President, and claim that this is the single greatest moment in their lives. It was, likewise, extremely easy to tell the President of Bangladesh, and the dictator of our state (not in the sense we understand it, but in the actual sense of the word), that there was no way that a couple of army punks would dare to against Sheikh Mujib. And boy, if they did, they would soon see “koto dhane koto chaal.”

Except, when it really matters, action trumps words. And there was only one side in 15th August 1975 that took action. Something our current Prime Minister, and all future prime ministers, would do well to remember and internalize.

It is our nation’s sincerest hope that such a circumstance as 15th August 1975 never occurs again. That force never substitutes political discourse again. Let us go forward to better times.

* * * * *

Rumi Ahmed is a Bangladeshi blogger from United States.

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.

Rumi Ahmed
USA.

Since I last wrote a blog post, the political landscape has changed dramatically in Bangladesh. My last real blog post was around the time when former PM and Awami league leader Sheikh Hasina got parole as a result of an executive order from government in response to an application made by Mr. Wazed, Mrs. Hasina’s husband. At that time, thanks to the after-hours operation of Bangladesh court system, the night time release of Mrs. Hasina, the rushing of four advisors to meet her at Sudha Sadan, the 20 minute telephone conference with chief advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed and quick departure of Mrs. Hasina from Bangladesh., there was a wide speculation of a deal between Awami League and the military government. Only one person, who could refute the allegations or make the political observers believe otherwise, would have been Mrs. Hasina herself. We all expected her to ‘be herself’, ‘be critical’ of the atrocities of the military regime. She was only expected to continue expressing her dislike of the military government; she did before she was arrested. Unfortunately she did not do any of the above. She remained unusually muted and refrained from repeating her criticisms of the government. Moreover, to all political observers dismay and awe, she was heard repeating general Moeen’s buzz word’s (e.g. mid income country by 2020… etc) verbatim.

Recently, Awami League as well as Prothom Alo group has started promoting an idea that there has been a détente between BNP and the military government. As per these speculations, this deal has facilitated the release of Tarique Rahman and impending bail of Mrs. Khaleda Zia. Now the issue is, when there is a deal between two sides, both sides’ makes steps to reach each other. But in this so called BNP-Army government detente; I am having difficulty identifying the concessions Mrs. Zia has made. For over a year, since the days when one could get hardly three people to represent mainstream BNP and both her sons were being taken into military remand rampantly and being tortured, Mrs. Zia was steadfast in her demands. Her basic stand was that she would not get free herself until both Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman are released and are allowed to go abroad for treatment. And until she gets free, her party would not participate in the processes initiated by this government. Khaleda Zia or her party never categorically announced boycotting the election, rather they have always maintained that BNP was a party of elections and it would participate in election if it was allowed to do so.

On one side, Khaleda would not budge an inch from her basic demands and on the other side, Moeen’s delegation would NEVER let Tarique loose and would only free Khaleda if she agrees to go to Saudi Arabia ( In line with Sheikh Hasina solution). In the middle, doctors are sending one after another SOS message that Tarique’s health situation is deteriorating and he needs immediate treatment abroad. More over Khaleda would not apply to the government for her release. Neither would she register to be a voter while incarcerated. Months after months have passed in this deadlock. And at the same time, elections dates came dangerously close.
To be fair, what we are seeing these days is nothing but total materialization of Khaleda’s demands. So far I do not see any of the demands of Moeen government being materialized. None. Nada.
For a deal to take place, both sides have to make some compromise. I really do not see any compromise from the side of Mrs. Zia yet.

So unless we see Mrs. Zia rushing to leave for Saudi Arabia soon after her release and giving a speech about Bangladesh being a middle income country by 2020, I would say NO deal has taken place. I would rather say, Moeen’s mighty military-civil society-Prothom Alo-Daily Star quartet suffered a humiliating and crushing defeat at the hands of a lonely, jailed and poorly educated woman.

I promise to return tomorrow with my take on the other factors leading to the sudden change in the heart and nature of this military government.

*****

Rumi Ahmed is a blogger from United States.

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