Legacy of Bangladeshi politics:
Wed, 2007-06-27 02:35
BY Rabindranath Trivedi - Reporting for Asian Tribune from Dhaka
Part 2: Birth of Islamist Terrorist in Bangladesh
TIME magazine: Alex Perry had in 2002 written an article entitled “Deadly Cargo” in which he termed Bangladesh as a safe haven for Islamic terrorists, including al-Qaeda. Bangladesh government banned the issue of TIME and termed Perry’s article as a’ fictitious thriller’ and a ‘figment of imagination’.
TIME magazine in its issue on August 10, 2004 under titled “A Democracy is Shaken” reiterated that in a divided nation an attack against Bangladesh’s Opposition party leader marks a new low.... Bangla Bhai, who has told the Bangladeshi press that he is committed to establishing a Taliban-style Islamic government in the northwest of the country, remains at large.
TIME Monday, Feb. 28, 2005 reported: For three years, a wave of bombings, assassinations and religious violence has swept Bangladesh. Members of the militant Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (J.M.J.B.) in the north have claimed responsibility for the bombings of cinemas and cultural shows, and for the killing of scores of Hindus and Buddhists as well as Muslims they considered too lax. A campaign of assassinations by bombs saw failed attempts last year on British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury and opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, and a successful bid on Jan. 27 to kill senior opposition figure Shah Abu Mohammed Shamsul Kibria.
Meanwhile, Western intelligence agencies are increasingly concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism. “We were blind on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia,” says a South Asia-based Western intelligence official. “We don’t want to miss the signs this time around.” Yet until very recently, Bangladeshi officials flatly denied that the country was a hotbed of militancy and violence.
“We have no official knowledge of the existence of J.M.J.B.,” State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar told reporters on Jan. 26,2005. “Certain so-called newspapers have been running reports on it, [but] we have no record that any such group has formed.” It was the background of socio-political environment, Bangladesh is under Begum Zia’s rule since 2001.
“We did not know they were there,” she( Begum Khaleda Zia) says of the militants. “After the Aug. 17 bomb blasts, we knew.” And they acted...” Begum Zia’s interview with Mr.Perry made us fool concealing the backdrop episodes of last four years. She could not understand that there were terrorist but she could realise after August 17,2005. What a great hibernation at the level of the head of government of Bangladesh? World media as well local media repeatedly opined and stated their fury over those issues over the years.
While TIME’s Alex Perry spoke to Sheikh Hasina at her Dhaka home Sheikh Hasina replied: the government protects these terror groups. This is their baby. Maybe because of pressure—domestic and international—they had to take some action. But they want to blame the opposition—us, the Awami League. I believe the government uses these terror groups. All the bomb blasts that have taken place in this country have targeted minority groups, the secular, democratic, progressive civil society and us. [The terrorists] target us, then [the government] blames us. Now the Prime Minister has arrested them. And the J.M.B. [terror group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh] have admitted their responsibility. [But] it’s all just a drama.”(TIME, April 10,2006)
Tarique Rahman and several ex-BNP ministers directly patronised the outrageous operations of the JMB (Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh) in Rajshahi with the full knowledge of former prime minister Khaleda Zia, revealed an extensive The Daily Star investigation that was corroborated by top government officials in the region.
Then at the helm of home ministry, Lutfozzaman Babar also joined the bandwagon of JMB leader Bangla Bhai, pouring cold water on feeble attempts by a part of the civil and police administration to resist the terrorist activities. Inspector General of Police (IGP) Nur Mohammad, who had the memories of being a helpless deputy inspector general of Rajshahi then, only could endorse the The Daily Star finds gleaned from strenuous research and interviews with a number of officials, numerous socio-political workers and people, who witnessed the rise of dreadful Bangla bhai under cover of outlaw cleansing campaign that left at least 24 persons killed and 300 others repressed or injured between April 2004-January 2005.
"From whatever I could know, former prime minister Khaleda Zia had the consent to the JMB activities. Her son Tarique Rahman had been supporting the vigilante activities of the militants and and state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar never helped me to fight the JMB," said police chief Mohammad flatly. “Some ministers, MPs and ruling party (BNP) leaders were sponsoring the militants.”
In May 2004, The Daily Star ran a series of investigative reports on Bangla Bhai's rise that pointed fingers at some ministers and leaders of the BNP-Jamaat ruling alliance. Three years later, this investigation also found links of the highest level of the BNP-led coalition government with such atrocious crimes.
The BNP's use of government machinery for the JMB also shattered the chain of command in the Rajshahi police forces, creating tension between the local police and administration. Again, many ordinary citizens joined the Bangla bhai's group to save their own lives, sensing the administration inactive and the police supporting the militants.
The then Rajshahi police superintendent Masud Miah took up the unofficial JMB assignment gallantly, playing a pivotal role in the terror of the radical Islamist group. The SP thrived on his Hawa Bhaban clouts so much so that many other police members found it safe to become friendly with the JMB militants despite the fact the DIG was not liking the happenings.
"Despite a lot of efforts, I could not resist the militant activities," he told The Daily Star remorsefully.
Days after the execution of six JMB linchpins on March 29,2007 the caretaker government hinted that it is now the turn of the patrons and masterminds of the militants to face trial. Law Adviser Mainul Hosein said that the patrons will face the same punishment if they are found guilty. IGP Nur Mohammad told press after country's first execution for militancy, "We have already tentatively identified the patrons of the organization [JMB]."
"We have got names of persons who were involved with the JMB and made area-wise lists, interrogating arrested miltants," he said. Some victims of Bangla Bhai filed several cases since March this year, accusing Aminul, Dulu, Nadim and many others JMB goons. Police pressed charges in two cases so far accusing the three of patronising militants. On April 8, a sedition complaint was filed against Mayor Minu for patronising militants and the police authorities are still waiting for the home ministry's approval to get it accepted as a case. No case is yet filed against Alamgir Kabir although witnesses told his involvement in the JMB operations.
Meanwhile the trial of former minister and lawmakers for aiding and abetting the militants is likely to begin soon.
What helped such a transformation?
There can be several factors accounting for the dramatic shift that converted a civil element into an evil one, but the ones that stand out are the total desecration of the judicial system and the defilement of the law. Creating and empowering a fanatical terrorist group to repress political opposition, protecting murderers from the law, obstructing justice, and falsely accusing innocent citizens of crimes which they not only did not commit but were victims of, are obscenely ugly. Various forms of corruption, from money laundering to bribe taking, and so on, must be dealt with in terms of their own merits, but should not be equated with extraordinary crimes.
It is an irony that after a traumatic transition to democracy, it was the same lot of pseudo-politicians expediently created by the military itself -- the civil, military, bureaucratic, and political hustlers of various shades who participated in Ershadian looting -- who reappeared in politics in democratic grab.Politics continued to remain the preserve of the same people who, after a period of hibernation, returned under the wings of a triumphant BNP.
Once again the same people -- the tax evaders, the bank defaulters, the smugglers, the criminals and robber barons -- were foisted upon an electorate unable to make an informed political choice. The election under the prevailing system failed to throw up the very best, the noblest or the fittest, but helped the scum of the society who were rich, unscrupulous and most powerful to bag the votes through tricks, manipulation and muscle power.
What was the credibility of entire election machinery, when the election could be rigged and the votes could be purchased with black money or through coercion. Besides, a bitter and blind inter-party confrontation, the intra-party infighting, and absence of intra-organizational democracy continued to impede the growth of democratic culture in our country.
It can't be, in any way, conducive to democratic growth if political opponents are hounded, harassed and persecuted, as was experienced during the authoritarian regime of BNP-Jamaat alliance -- while the acts of the betrayal of public trust, abuse of power and rampant corruption went unpunished, observed Brig. M A Hafiz, (retired ) former DG of BIISS.
The distortion of the history of Bangladesh and with it the Bangladesh foreign policy objectives started following the fifth and eighth amendments to the constitution of Bangladesh in post August 1975. After 1990, the two dominant parties -BNP and Awami League- had altered power, BNP winning in 1991, Awami League in 1996, and a BNP-Jaamat led 4-party alliance again in 2001The former 4-party regime and its beneficiaries disguised in the administration are marking time to create environment befitting for them. The Army backed Interim government should look into those cases meticulously and lapses in the field administration be dealt seriously.
Over 10,000 Hindus in one of the largest Hindu enclaves in the city at Chakuli, in Mirpur-12,Dhaka are living in gnawing fear of losing their ancestral homesteads and an age-old temple as the Cantonment Board authorities put a claim on the land reports the daily Star on June 6.
Nearly two lakh Hindus have lost 22 lakh acres of their land and houses during the last six years, a Dhaka University Professor says. The market value of this land is Taka 2, 52,000 crore (about $156 million), which is more than half of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).'This is a man-made problem contrary to the spirit of humanity. We have to get rid of this uncivilised state of affairs to establish a civilised society. Otherwise, we have to face a bigger historic catastrophe,' Professor Abdul Barkat, who teaches economics, insists in his research paper, 'Deprivation of affected million families: Living with Vested Property in Bangladesh'.
Politically powerful people grabbed most of the Hindu lands during the reign of Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP-led four-party alliance between 2001 and 2006. Forty-five per cent of the land grabbers were affiliated with the BNP, 31 per cent with the Awami League, eight per cent with Jamaat-e-Islami and six per cent with the Jatiya Party and other political organisations, the New Age, Dhaka daily quotes Prof Barkat as saying in his report, which will be published shortly.Some 12 lakh or 44 per cent of the 27 lakh Hindu households in the country were affected by the Enemy Property Act 1965 and its post-independence version, the Vested Property Act 1974.
The Begum Sheikh Hasina led Awami League government annulled this Act in 2001. It wanted to return the 'vested' property to their original Hindu owners. The move was criticised as a 'political tokenism' aimed to appease minority voters prior to the general elections.
But in reality, as Professor Barkat study shows the Hasina largesse did not benefit the Hindu minority, who owned land at the time of partition. Infact, it ended up displacing most of them from their ancestral land,reports RamaRao in Asian Tribune.
Reforms of Political Parties
Law Adviser Barrister Mainul Hosein recently said the government is not imposing reforms on the political parties; it is rather helping them in their endeavours to bring reforms. It appears that Law adviser has taken u-turn from his early stand of “Minus Two’ theory of reforms.
In Bangladesh's political culture, fantasy plays a big part and everyone is free to invent or imagine all sorts of conspiracies writes Prof Rehman Sobhan. “But we have to recognize that we are in this crisis because our mainstream political parties have, over successive regimes, failed to meet the expectations of their voters and have, instead, left us mired in a swamp of corruption, violence, and malgovernance, from which the nation needs to escape. It is clear from history, our own and from that of other countries, that military rule is no answer to a nation's problems. All political reforms have to be democratically mandated or they cannot be sustained. In the absence of any political alternative, we have to ask ourselves whether our major parties are in a position to regenerate themselves, he opined.
‘For example, can the BNP aspire to reform the party within the present dynastic leadership structure, or indeed are the very structures of the party corroded and its leaders too committed to their own aggrandizement to reconfigure the party. What we are learning every day about the functioning of the BNP, particularly during its recent tenure in office, suggests that a significant part of its leadership and echelons below them conceive of politics exclusively as an instrument for personal gain.
‘In the case of the Awami League, current realities demonstrate that as long as Sheikh Hasina chooses to remain in politics she is likely to remain the undisputed leader of the party. So the question to be answered is whether Sheikh Hasina herself recognizes that there is a need for reform in her party and whether she is willing to initiate such a process in collaboration with her colleagues. However, reform is not just about process, it is also about what a party has to offer in order to earn public confidence. Thus, the Awami League has to also rediscover its sense of mission as a party. The party has a long history, which has associated it with all the major democratic struggles in Bangladesh, of which the liberation struggle was its most defining moment. The struggles demanded a close bond between the party and the people.
‘If the Awami League fails to visibly engage itself in such a process of regeneration, can a new third force emerge in response to the hunger for political change? I personally see no real prospect in the next two years for such a force, capable of actually organizing itself and winning an election in 2008, emerging in the political arena. I could be wrong. After all, nature abhors a vacuum and so there will always be some attempt to respond to the popular demand for reform. Without a third force or credible move for reform in the mainstream political parties which can respond to this universally felt need for change, Bangladesh could move into a period of deep uncertainty, he opined.
‘All the effort to structure a free and fair election, eradicate corruption, and overhaul the administration, could all unravel during the post-electoral period without a credible commitment from all contesting parties to sustain these reforms. This could set up another round of confrontational politics, which will take us back to where we started from at the beginning of this year. They say history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce. My fear is that the next phase of tragedy may be too protracted and painful for us to enjoy the farce” observed .
Prof.Rehman Sobhan , a renowned economist and respected personality in Banglades. Our suggestion is AL should stand by her reform programme announced in the public meetings as 14-party leader. Apart from those 31-point reform programme,AL may more decisions in her party council meetings.
Habibul Hauque Khondakar,a sociologist opined : How did the situation come to this? There are at least three narratives on the history of corrosion of Bangladesh polity. One school would assert that since the taking over of political power by General Ershad 25 years ago, corruption has marked the body politic of Bangladesh.Others would assert that the so-called "democracies" are responsible for sponsoring corruption in Bangladesh. There are others who would point fingers at the alliance government headed by BNP for creating a new history of corruption in Bangladesh. The eye of the hurricane of corruption was Hawa Bhavan. Ironically, Prime Minister Begum Zia's favorite metaphor was "flood of development" that was sweeping across Bangladesh.
But why would elected politicians suddenly become evil? What explains their transformation from civil to evil? Were they just bad people? Could it be the result of the bad influence of Hindi cinemas, where the likes of Umresh Puri pretend to be smiling politicians but secretly patronize criminal gangs? Those who bought expensive houses in Dubai, and bought top of the line cars, and became victims of unbridled consumerism beamed to them by satellite television? The problem of such off-the-cuff analysis is that it does not define corruption, nor does it separate corruption from outright criminality. Even within corruption there are gradients of corruption, as in criminal behaviour there are degrees of crime. One can wake up one morning and say, "I am going to rid the world of corruption. I would compliment the idea, but judge it as naiveté." We wish the world was peaceful and Bangladesh was corruption free. Wishes have their rightful place. We must have dreams; but to confuse reality with dream, or pragmatic thought with wishful thinking, will be counterproductive. “(DS,24/6/07)
We demand impartial enquiry in every case of violation of human rights We have been receiving news of violation of human rights in the form of grabbing lands, religion and cases of rape. We don't find any difference of behavior, particularly on minority issues, in administration and the nature of humiliation whether democratic regime or autocratic regime or Caretaker Government run by Emergency backed by Army rules in Bangladesh. Bangladesh was ruled by army generals in one guise or another for 15 years until the end of 1990 That is why, the humiliated Hindus left Bangladesh to become a 'stateless-citizens' in India and their number became 1.5 crore since the period between1975 and 2006.We appeal to the Bangladesh Election Commission as well as the both the government of India and Bangladesh to initiate steps for registering non-resident Bangladeshi citizens who left the country under certain duress between 1972-2006 in India as voters and who live in Bangladesh enclaves surrounded by Indian territories.
The main repair works the present government must do is reinstate the cycle of crime and punishment, and return to administration of justice in a fair and impartial manner so that men and women in charge of governing can do their job without fear or favour. Important and unprecedented steps have been taken, for which the nation will remain grateful.
This Army backed Interim government in Bangladesh, in the form of Caretaker Government, is a solace to the weaker and marginalized section of people in Bangladesh.Our fragile democratic structures were again under severe threat and we had witnessed electoral success when muscle power has been used. So Hindus, weaker and marginalized section of people, need to speak up even if they are further starting something old and obvious.
Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired Additional Secretary and former Press secretary to the President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.
- Asian Tribune -