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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.

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Sikder Haseeb Khan

Imagine that you’re sitting on the throne of Bangladesh’s politics. You are ruling with emergency powers, but dissent is swelling. You are in the midst of an economic crisis. You are threatened by powerful shadowy figures in your own security and intelligence apparatus. Your previous international patrons now uncomfortable. You need an exit, preferably an honorable one.

So you want to hold elections. But a fully free and fair election will almost certainly result in an outcome that you have reason to distrust, for it may return to power many popular politicians that your administration has persecuted severely. So what do you do in this tense situation?

The answer: engineer the elections—but do so carefully, without raising too many alarm bells. Ensure that voting goes smoothly on election day, without hijacking of ballot boxes, prevention of voters from casting ballots, or any such crude tactics that would be obvious to an observer. In other words, engineer it, not rig it. Here’s how…

Bar dissenters

The first step that the regime has taken: prevent feisty politicians from running in the election. Convicting politicians in quick trials—whatever the charges—will come in handy: declare them ineligible for holding public office. Then government would then intensify an “anti-corruption drive” prior to the candidate registration date in order to bar the local political activists that it doesn’t like.

Field proponents

At the same time, the regime has to leave enough of Awami League and BNP outside the legal net so that the parties themselves can participate in the election. It will continue hand-picking “reformist” politicians or possible turncoats, and intimidate or otherwise persuade them to compete. It will support selective campaigns from both security and funding standpoints. As a recent report by the International Crisis Group noted, “the army is preparing a countrywide list of its own ‘clean’ candidates to contest the 2008 polls.”

Whether or not these candidates will represent a King’s Party or an existing political platform doesn’t matter. What matters is that mostly pro-regime candidates will be allowed to compete.

Shape the grassroots

Then the regime has to ensure that the party rank and file do not rebel. It has already arrested thousands of activists all over the country to prevent dissent, and intimidated thousands others to conform. The government is also trying to bar parties from having students’, teachers’, and workers’ organizations, which usually house most of the activists. In this altered playing field, the government wants to hold local elections first, under either a state of emergency or very limited openings, to ensure that its supporters are able to infiltrate the grassroots level prior to a national election.

Since parliamentary candidates have to rely on grassroots leaders to carry their campaigns, shaping the grassroots will help ensure that parliamentary candidates are forced toe a pro-regime line.

And local elections are not going to be monitored as much by international observers, so the field will be set to stage ‘upsets’. After all, this unrepresentative government claims that it’s only doing what the ‘people’ presumably want.

Control the cities

Another area that the regime has been trying to bolster is its support base among the urban civil society elite. Its attempt to get Dr. Yunus to lead this effort failed. Many of its other supporters among the urban elite are unappealing and unelectable in the perspective of the majority of voters. So, to the extent possible, it is redefining the boundaries of constituencies to give urban areas a greater share. This increases its chance to increase regime loyalists at least in the metropolitan areas. Holding non-party municipal elections is part of this plan.Increase authorityThe final ingredient is to increase the power of electoral authorities to arbitrarily declare results void. The Election Commission has been doing exactly the same. It is about to “empower it to cancel the candidature of any parliamentary contender for gross violation of electoral laws and declare vacant the seat of an elected lawmaker for giving false information in the account of the election expenses” (New Age, 29 April 2008). And who’s going to determine this violation? The Commission of course. Given this government’s woeful record, you can wave due process bye-bye in any such decision.Satisfaction guaranteedSo voila! Now hold national elections, and at the end of the day, you have engineered a nice exit strategy by making sure only your friends are elected. No violence, no ballot box hijacking, and a lot of claps from foreign observers.

* * * * *

Sikder Haseeb Khan is a Bangladeshi author. This story has also been published in The Progressive Bangladesh.

xanthis
September 30, 2008.

It can be taken as an assertion of the regime to clarify ACC is not just a tool of political suppression. The international recognition of the military backed regime’s current stance was influenced by the high court granted bails of politicians at a row. Many people inside or outside the government, political or apolitical, have been found to get aggrieved by having the politicians back to the show. So, the High Court’s denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal at Noor Ali’s extortion charge and ACC’s charging Begum Zia to the Barapukuria Coal Mine charge, can be taken as a showdown of, that the media attracting anti-graft drive has not gone that alcoholic, as of Addition Attorney General Mansoor Habib told, the denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal has been a regain of the public image of the Appellate Division.

But we must not kick the reality away.

We are now in the timeline, cleanly eighty days away of the national poll. People of Bangladesh, though most of them are not too much optimistic, are looking forward for nothing but a free fair general election. They don’t care whether a High Court or Supreme Court judge gives a judgement freely or having the pen held apart by somebody else. Presently the most important concern of everybody is a free and fair poll. And it ain’t necessary to mention that two events been held today, High Court’s denial of Sheikh Hasina’s bail appeal at Noor Ali’s extortion charge and ACC’s charging Begum Zia to the Barapukuria Coal Mine probe, can be anything but not to be taken as a move by the regime with deliberation of holding a free and fair poll.

BBC interviews Barrister Rafiqul Haque and Additional Attorney General Mansoor Habib

It will be an addition to this regime’s long ‘fun list’ if they defend these two incident as the outcome of freedom of judiciary. Sheikh Hasina’s release at parole, meeting with four advisors at Sudha Sadan, flying abroad to children, all in some 20 hours, has let people know how free the judiciary is. But that supersonic speed of the regime was not questioned due to people took it as a step ahead to an election. Where the judiciary is in no way free rather is under full control of the authority, Sheikh Hasina’s not getting bail today is definitely a move which wants her to get free not in a short time. She is scheduled to return home on October 17. My personal speculation is Sheikh Hasina will get the bail by then, if nothing unexpected is happened. And this lead us to see the sudden blustering of ACC is nothing but to show up their prolificacy, a response to the claim of ACC’s going off the effects.

But all of the lines above can have ascription to the reality if we let that the election is going to be held. It’s still a ‘national confusion’ that how long Bangladesh is going to take to see an immediate election on her soil. A lot of conspiracy theories are being stated, some explicating there’ll be an election in December 18, most of the theories bring references from the history that all the military backed regimes have been found least keen to have an election held. For some major differences between the present military backed regime and previous martial regimes, references from Bangladesh’s experiences are less prioritized. But if we look abroad, the most common chronicle of a military (directly or not) takeover of the government-

• Ousting the democratic system with excuse of massive street violence with an immediate promise of nearest possible polls,
• Summoning the loyalist media to convince people about corruption of politicians, then arresting them,
• Setting apolitical civil society members to give the regime a look of ‘not a complete military setup’.
• Massive deployment of military officials to the civil system.
• Expected decline of economy due to lack of keen investors to invest in a ‘yet to have democracy’ state.
• After a certain amount of time, surrendering to the politics.
• And tremendously sluggish and stumbling restoration of democracy (confusions or failures over election) with millions of questions to answer and sometimes with a flow of blood in parallel.

The embarrassing fact is, the list of events above has taken place in Bangladesh exactly as same, the list which ends with the possibility of extremely torpid restoration of democracy, sometimes with a line of blood flowing in parallel. That’s why the fear grows that whether it’s really going to be an election or something else. Sheikh Hasina’s release (in parole or whatever) was great shake-up to the political deadlock. After Khandoker Delwar got EC’s invitation, this was another jump to progress. Begum Zia’s release has been a nearly fulfilment of the process. Now, what it needs is Sheikh Hasina back to the show in order to have a free and fair election. Already Begum Zia has stated, “This government may have complicacy in legality, but we must take this government as a reality, and maybe we will have to accept this government.” The same statement was from Sheikh Hasina months and months ago. This must be a high time for the regime to list the state of emergency in order to carry on a free-fair election rather than  the High Court denying anymore bail appeals of Sheikh Hasina and anymore charge sheets with Begum Zia’s name.

Sunita Paul
September 29, 2008. New Delhi.

Couple of months back, I wrote an article, which was published in American Chronicle, Global Politician, Daily People’s View [in Bangladesh], Weekly Blitz [Bangladesh] and other newspapers and sites around the world. Subsequently, Mr. Kalyan Barooah, correspondent of The Assam Tribune published a report quoting some of the excerpts of my article. Later, another journalist in Assam, Nava Thakuria wrote a report for Newstrack titled ‘ULFA money in Bangladesh media’, where he categorically mentioned how people in the questioned newspaper and media group named Daily Star tried to ignore his questions and the editor was not available for comments, with the excuse of being in abroad.

But, lately I saw a response from Mahfuz Anam, editor of Daily Star [the media empire built with ULFA money], which should be definitely attended for the sake of upholding the truth against lies. I am going to give my clarifications on some of the points raised by Anam, which surely is his attempt to save the face of this media group from the attention of anti-terror organizations around the world, as ULFA is a notorious terror group in North-Eastern part of India.

Let me first quote the entire response of Mahfuz Anam for my reader’s reference. He wrote, “Your correspondent admits he based his write-up on a piece in the Internet portal called Global Politician written by one Sunita Paul titled “When the media turns into evil”. Should a journalist write a report purely based on an Internet piece without verifying anything himself. Your correspondent made no attempt to contact us for our comments nor did he do any research on his own to find out the veracity of the Internet piece.

Your reporter writes, “it (meaning ULFA) partly owns or used to own Transcom Media publisher of the prestigious Bengali daily Prothom Alo, English daily The Daily Star besides two periodicals.” The simple fact is that there is no media house called Transcom Media. The Daily Star is owned by Mediaworld, which is a registered private limited company and has six shareholders who have been the directors of the company from the outset. Prothom Alo is owned by another company called “Mediastar” with few of the same owners as Mediaworld.

Mr Kalyan Barooah selectively quotes Sunita Paul, without verifying the facts, that Latifur Rahman, one of the owners of The Star and Prothom Alo became bankrupt in the nineties when Anup Chetia gave him a “few million dollars to reorganise his collapsed business”. These are deliberate canard and outright lies. Mr Latifur Rahman was and is one of the most respected businessmen of the country and has been elected, starting from the nineties, numerous times as the president of the most prestigious business chamber of the country, namely the MCCI (Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry), a post to which he has been recently re-elected.

Transcom, as a company, was not started, as your reporter quotes Sunita Paul, in the nineties but has been in business since early seventies, after Bangladesh was born. Again, it was not Latifur Rahman who brought me to the Star, as claimed by your reporter quoting Paul’s piece. I am one of the founding directors of the company and was the founder Executive Editor of the paper at the start and became editor at the untimely death of SM Ali within less than three years of the birth of the paper.

About the writer of the Internet portal piece, Sunita Paul, suffice it to say that Paul never contacted me or any of my administrative staff while writing the story to ascertain facts about our company and its finances. To the best of my knowledge she did not talk to any senior staff or any of the other directors of the paper, or any of the other persons who could have given her some facts about The Daily Star and Prothom Alo.”

So, now it is my turn to give clarifications to the points raised by the editor of the ULFA funded newspaper.

Mahfuz Anam said, Latifur Rahman [founder of the media empire] was never bankrupt. But, I have extensively checked with various sources in Dhaka and it was clearly revealed that an industrial project named W. Rahman Jute Mills, which is located at Bangladesh’s Chandpur area was amongt the top listed load defaulting enterprises in Bangladesh and Latifur Rahman was a defaulter and was even attacked by the workers of his factory for non payment of salary, before he could manage ULFA money. Latifur Rahman’s wife is the first cousin sister of Anup Chetia [there is no word from Anam on this point].

Anam writes in his response “The simple fact is that there is no media house called Transcom Media. The Daily Star is owned by Mediaworld, which is a registered private limited company and has six shareholders who have been the directors of the company from the outset. Prothom Alo is owned by another company called “Mediastar” with few of the same owners as Mediaworld.”

But, after investigation, everyone will discover that, Transcom is the owner of all these newspapers including Daily Star when they will log on to http://www.transcombd.com and click for ‘MEDIA.’

In the Transcom website, it is clearly mentioned that “In recent years Transcom has emerged as an increasingly significant media house in Bangladesh.”

So, why Anam is shy in accepting the fact that Transcom owns all these newspapers? Just because, he too knows that the back ground story of money in Transcom was from ULFA?

Anam wrote “Transcom, as a company, was not started, as your reporter quotes Sunita Paul, in the nineties but has been in business since early seventies, after Bangladesh was born.”

Again a clean lie! If anyone will log on to the link http://www.transcombd.com and will read the ‘A brief look at history’, they will see that the company claims it to have been establsihed in 1885 as tea plantors. But, wherefrom Mahfuz got the fact of Trancom’s journey from 1970? The tea garden business is something else, like W Rahman Jute Mills as I already mentioned. Transcom became known in Bangladesh when it got the sole distributorship of Nestle products in 90s. Before that, the family was struggling with losing businesses of teas garden, jute mills etc. Latifur Rahman’s name is listed by the present rulers in Bangladesh as a suspected corrupt man, as his source of income and fund is extremely dubious.

Anam did not say a single word about Aina Broadcast Services [ABC], which is a FM band radio station, that Transcom Group bought with huge amount of money from another newspaper owner. Such dealings were mediated by Daily Star man who is now the press secretary to the Chief Avdisor of the millitary controlled government in Bangladesh. Daily Star group is continuing to influence the government in salvaging Latifur Rahman from being arrested and tried for series of financial irregularities. It was even reported in the press that, Transcom was importing unknown goods in various containers with false declaration of being milk product or electronic equipment. According to several sources, illegal supply of weapons were also conducted by Transcom under the garb of business commodity for years.

It may be mentioned here that, after getting fund from ULFA, Latifur Rahman opened several accounts with foreign banks. He managed franchisee of KFC and Pizza Hut with each US$ 1 million plus. According to investigations, no permission were ever sought from Bangladesh Central Bank for such huge transfer of money. It is learnt that the money were wire transferred to KFC and Pizza Hut from Latifur’s overseas bank accounts.

* * * * *

Sunita Paul is an Indian writer, columnist, political analyst and regular contributor of American Chronicle, The Global Politician and The Asian Tribune.

xanthis
September 27, 2008.

It’s not important that whether this is fortunate or unfortunate, but we are always to stuck some phrases and the political circumstances constantly precipitate our discussions to move towards those words. Prior to the January 11, 2007 coup d’état, the word banging our skulls was, ‘Dialogue’ (Bengali: সংলাপ). Every evening we were used to watch news in TV channels with video clips of Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Abdul Jalil. Smiles they were used to have was more friendly than necessary, that many suspected whether they are on the discussion of becoming in-laws in some consent. It’s clear that they were not talking about being in-laws as they have not been in-laws till today. But, this is never to be unfolded that what really these two guys had been talking about for five long days in the North Plaza of Bangladesh Jatiyo Shangshad.

Immediately after the coup d’état of January 2007, two words that have taught us and made us through all possible levels and layers of annoying monotony on earth, were ‘Corruption’ (Bengali: দূর্নীতি) and ‘Reformation’ (Bengali: সংস্কার) After going through a high quality X-ray test, the regime finally completed the list of leaders from all over the countries whose spines were subsequently missing, although they could stand straight. May be it was their standing straight without a backbone which impressed the regime; they were all admitted to the School of Reformation. Pickups from BNP got their graduation in October 29, 2007, whereas the whole studies of Awami League leaders were a complete covert effort. They were either given high quality lectures, or the lectures were so poor that they cannot act constantly in a flow, sometimes talk completely contradictory to the lectures they were given, again sometimes talk exactly how they are supposed to talk after reformation learning. However, after Begum Zia was released in bail, the BNP reformist pickups deserted their reformation alumni at a row, so the reformation word now is a bit suppressed, or you can say dropped.

Well, these are all old stories, but important. We were talking about words at hike. And beyond all suspicions, the word that is now trailing our ears aggravatingly is, ‘Dialogue between Two Leaders’ (Bengali: দুই নেত্রীর মধ্যকার সংলাপ). With the blessings of FBCCI leader and ‘progressive’ and ‘shushil’ businessman Anisul Haque and astray involvement of the 1/11 regime, Barrister Rafiqul Haque’s slack proposal for sake of words now have been the word to entitle the lead political news reports of media. The involvement of this regime in this case is the counted one. According to straight-forward talker Barrister Haque, we’ve learnt that Advisor Hossain Zillur phoned him at that very night of his statements at High Court office, to let him know that the regime is interested immensely to be a hand to the effort to combine two leaders at a table.

BNP-AL unity, two leaders embracing each other, resolving all political complicacies, these words have shiny attractive colours at the eyes of the media, as well as Anisul Haque and others of his type feel immensely glad to come to the media with these gaudies. We must not forget FBCCI President Abdul Awaal Mintu in 2001 presented a boat-printed sari to Sheikh Hasina and a paddy-printed sari to Khaleda in order to bring peace over this country. I don’t know where those saris presently are, but what I know is the outcome of those attempts was zero. If this memory recall sounds like I’m discouraging Anisul Haque to combine two leaders, well, the recall doesn’t sound that wrong.

The government have many questions to be asked about their interest behind having two leaders together in a dialogue. First question will arise about their own stance. They want two leaders talking to each other, but for what? In what point they’ll be insisted to come to agreement? Hossain Zillur Rahman consequently hails honesty and sincerity in the intension of the regime. But by showing strictness, the regime can’t have two leaders agreeing with them. They are adamant about having the elections amid state of emergency. They are adamant about having two elections back to back. Whereas our two political parties are almost similar in following issues:-

• The election in no way and no way can be held amid state of emergency. There is no utility of lifting it hours before the dawn of election date. It must be lifted, some weeks before the election.

• Upazilla election cannot be carried on seven days after the general election. In general election, candidates will have to reach people through grass-root leaders and activists. But grass-root leaders will be already campaigning for the Upazilla election where many of them will be candidates. In the circumstances, the whole campaign will be a complete mismanagement.

• There should be councils before having the parties approving any proposal from the government. The communication with all layers of party activists must take place. This is the prerequisite of democratization of political parties that the present 1/11 regime has been hailing like তোতাপাখি (parrot).

But here this is the other part of regime’s deliberation of arranging Khaleda-Hasina dialogue, where they’ve sternly turned down all these three points of unity of two parties. CEC Shamsul Huda in Dhaka, Hossain Zillur Rahman is Washington and D. Fakhruddin Ahmed in New York, have been saying, “There will be no problems with back to back elections!!! There will be no problems with back to back elections!!!” But we must not reproach the reality. It’s easy for a school to take back to back exams in its rooms. Teachers won’t have it as a big deal to invigilate back to back exams if they are provided with enough rounds of tea with biscuits and most importantly special allowances. But the students will be losing momentum and confidences to sit for both the exams. What would happen if the CEC Shamsul Huda were set to sit for matriculation exam and intermediate exam in one week? In that case he were not the one be the CEC today for sure.

Many have become quite relaxed after D. Fakhruddin’s addressing to the nation that the confusion over state of emergency is almost over. This is ridiculous. At the initial stage of 1/11 government when almost only person who knew to talk in Bangladesh was Barrister Mainul Hussain, who subsequently tried to debate in favor of carrying on election amid emergency rules. Barrister Hassan Arif several times stated that it’s possible to go for any election amid emergency rules. Gen. Matin, because of not being a guy of the courts, didn’t stated anything directly, but told the regime will consult its lawyers to explore resorts to hold the election amid emergency rules. Because of this is the emergency rules, nobody dared to ask any adviser that why the emergency ain’t lifted. This question will be a direct hit to the foundation of this regime which is extremely weak and fragile. Having a lawsuit being carried on in Supreme Court which challenges the regime of its legality and lawfulness of existence, this regime’s situation is enormously vulnerable and in the circumstance, they must come to agreement with political parties in issues of emergency rules and back to back election controversies. Before looking for the agenda of two leaders’ dialogue, they must take care of the one which is already an agenda at the agreement of BNP and Awami League.

icon for podpress The New Age Editor Nurul Kabir speaks to BBC Play Now | Download

Now, about the dialogue between two leaders. My personal observation is no such thing is going to take place in near future. I can see the attitude of Amir Hussain Amu. I can see the statements coming out of Suranjit Sengupta’s mouth. Shameless word selection of Abdur Razzaq in working committee meeting is also taken under consideration. This is almost clear that these three leaders, Amir Hussain Amu, Suranjit Sengupta and Abdur Razzaq, in no way are interested to have the two leaders dialogue to turn to reality. Sheikh Hasina still ain’t a free lady as Khaleda Zia is. But the momentum is stepping ahead in such way where we will have her free in some days. After getting free, she should recollect what happened to the party in last 18 months and what roles these three leaders played. This will be totally unexpected if these three leaders are taken back to positions those they held before 1/11. Bashing the family members of opponents is the way Amu, Suranjit and Razzaq have chosen to reconcile whatever they have learned from School of Reformation. But Sheikh Hasina must be good enough to recognize this. This will be a total discouragement for other loyal AL leaders if they see these three are forgone untouched. If Sheikh Hasina is going to take steps against backstabbing tendency of these three leaders, we can have hope of a dialogue. Otherwise, there is no way for the dialogue to be a reality. Though a dialogue (may be of month long) cannot solve all political disputes overnight, but the socialization of two top leaders I think should be considered.

Not in order to have political solutions overnight, just for sake of being less aggressive in future, the socialization of these two leaders are very important. And FBCCI President Anisul Haque is not the guy for this job. Barrister Rafiqul Haque is okay, he helped both of the ladies to bail out of the hell, and he is trusted by both of the ladies. Two parties too can take the initiative. I’ll prefer initiatives taken by Khandoker Delwar Hussain and Zillur Rahman. B

icon for podpress BC Interviews Syed Ashraf and Khandoker Delwar: Play Now | Download

But FBCCI, BGMEA, Anisul Haque and bla bla, really should mind business.

Anand Kumar
19 September, 2008.

Attempts to neutralized the battling Begums appear to be faltering

As Bangladesh slowly moves towards its much-delayed December parliamentary elections, the military-backed caretaker government is still trying to figure out what to do with the bitter political enemies, known as the “battling Begums,” whose decade-long feud nearly wrecked the country and debilitated its political system.

It appears likely that Shaikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League, and Khaleda Zia, who heads the Bangladesh National Party, will be in the thick of electoral politics despite attempts by the caretaker government to neutralize them in a desperately poor country where politics have overshadowed attempts at economic reform, state-owned enterprises are strikingly inefficient, power generation is inadequate to handle the economy and there have been continuing delays in exploiting natural gas resources.

Per-capita income is only US$1,300 and public debt is a staggering 37.4 percent of GDP. Garment exports and remittances from Bangaldeshis working in the Middle East and East Asia are mostly responsible for economic growth of 5-6 percent as the two women struggled for political power until the military heaved them out in January 2007 as the country descended towards chaos, partly in alarm that religious fundamendalists were making dangerous inroads on power.

The government’s credibility is at stake, given the continuing emergency. Although hundreds of political, judicial and government figures were jailed on corruption charges after the crackdown, the return of corruption has been another dampener and many fear that the country has gone back to square one.

The parliamentary elections now look almost a certainty as both former prime ministers have been freed. Shaikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League party, was released on July 11 by the government, and subsequently went to the United States for treatment of her ears, damaged during a bomb-blast in a political rally in Dhaka in 2004. The blast was suspected to be organized by her political rivals.

Khaleda Zia, on the other hand initially resisted an offer of freedom from the caretaker government, demanding the release of her elder son Tarique Rahman, widely seen as her political heir. Although the caretaker government wanted her to go abroad as well, Khaleda refused, fearing she would not be allowed to return before the elections. The caretaker government, like many others in Bangladesh, views the two bitter enemies as responsible for many of the country’s woes and would prefer what has been called a “Minus-two Formula.”

But the Minus Two Formula seems to have fallen flat, now being exchanged for what is being termed the “Manage Two Formula.” The government has been unable to foster any alternative political scenario despite including encouraging splits and dissensions in the existing two parties. They are now trying to create a better democratic environment by putting restrictions on the two women.

When Shaikh Hasina and the Awami League criticized the release of Tarique Rahman and Khaleda, the caretaker government got the sense that the old political rivalry had not disappeared. To stop Bangladesh from returning its era of perennial political hostility they have pressured the two women to enter face-to-face talks although it is believed that they have not spoken with each other for nearly a decade. The purpose of these talks is to discuss how to promote fair competition in politics and do away with the culture of mudslinging.

The caretaker government has apparently asked Barrister Rafique-ul Huq, who is defending both of them in court, to mediate. Khaleda appears to be ready, but Hasina and the Awami Legue first want an apology from Khaleda for her earlier behavior. They also see her hand in the attack on Hasina which deafened her in the 2004 rally in Dhaka.

Khaleda has also been asked to keep her son Tarique Rahman out of politics for few years. Often referred to as the most powerful man in Bangladesh despite having held no ministerial post in his mother’s government, Rahman is widely regarded as the epitome of corruption. Khaleda has agreed, sending Tarique to the UK for “treatment.” He is not likely to return before the coming elections. She also announced that Tarique’s continuing treatment will keep him out of politics for the next three to four years.

The caretaker government has also suggested that Khaleda withdraw the expulsion order of ex-BNP secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and joint secretary general Ashraf Hossain and accommodate the pro-reformist faction of the party.

It is clear, however, that the earlier feudal trend in Bangladesh is not that easily eradicated, as was manifested when, after a meeting of the BNP Standing Committee, the party’s highest policymaking forum, it was decided that Khaleda would lead the party for life. When that proposal was made public, however, it attracted widespread criticism and created controversy among the party rank and file. The development shocked the lower rungs of party leadership who were expecting the devolution of power and intra-party democracy instead of the earlier centralized party structure.

Khaleda refused the offer although it was because of the overarching presence of the military-backed caretaker government. Some of her party members even offered to make changes in the BNP constitution, in which the chairperson now nominates all 15 members of the National Standing Committee (NSC) with the chairperson as its chief. That would have effectively reduced Khaleda’s fiefdom.

Dissenters are also being sidelined in the Awami League. Abdul Jalil, the former party general secretary, was not allowed after his release from jail, mainly because he fiercely criticized Hasina in a mercy petition to the caretaker government in July last year. Instead, Syed Ashraful Islam was asked to continue as acting general secretary Hasina’s instructions.

Another problem is likely to emerge from the religion-based parties, particularly the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, which is also part of the BNP’s four-party coalition. New provisions promulgated by the caretaker government bar parties from being registered on religious ground. This will create problems for Khaleda’s partners like Jamaat and Islami Oikya Jote. The registration of political parties is however being resisted even by the two leading parties BNP and Awami League. They are citing shortage of time for not being able register.

The present political situation in Bangladesh has created a dilemma for the international community, which wants a political transition to democracy and are concerned by the continuing emergency. However, they also seem to have reached a compromise.

European Union (EU) officials say that the EU might not send a full election observation mission if the government does not restore people’s ‘basic freedoms’ at least six weeks before the national polls planned for December. However, if fundamental rights such as freedom of movement, assembly, association, and speech are reinstated, it would send observers even under the state of emergency.

A struggle for concessions seems to be on between the caretaker government and the leading political parties of Bangladesh before the parliamentary elections that are likely to be held in the third week of December. If the two main political parties have agreed for certain restrictions, the caretaker government has also conceded few things. The government has relaxed the ban on trade-union activities at industries, commercial enterprises, ports and factories on certain conditions.

They have also now agreed to hold Upzila (sub-district level) elections after the parliamentary election. This has been a major point of dispute between the Bangladesh Election Commission and the leading political parties. This seems to have removed the last hurdle. But whether Bangladesh get the democracy it needs, for which the caretaker government tried during their stay in power for last two years, remains uncertain.

Anand Kumar is an Indian journalist and specialist in Asian political analysis, contributes in Asia Sentinel, Asian Window etc.

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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