Monday, April 23, 2001

The Disquiet in The Desh: Whoddunit !

1. A RAW and Explosive Start to the Bengalee New Year 1408

An infants first word is cause for celebration in any household anywhere in the world. Not however for Mr.Sharju Jomir whose son Poka's first word 'chacha' or uncle caused the unfortunate death of his loving younger brother Shamdu Jomir in less than twenty-four hours. This could have well been a coincidence, however two weeks down the line, when Pokas's second word 'mama' or maternal uncle resulted in the death of Sharju's beloved brother in law Bhola Kanai, and ominous spectre was looming on the horizon. Was little Poka a 'koofa' or bad omen? Sharju Jomir braced himself for his death - for the next word would inevitably be 'baba' or father! Another two weeks of apprehension and anticipation saw little Poka utter the magical word 'baba'. Sharju Jomir waited, and the next twenty-four hours were like twenty-four years, his fear did not allow him to leave his house nor was he willing to sleep. Next morning came the sad news that the gentleman in the adjacent apartment, Mr.Porokiya Biswas had died peacefully in his sleep!!

Whodunnit - is the buzzword in Dhaka since the explosive start to the Bengalee New Year - the 14th of April 2001. As if a dormant volcano had suddenly imploded and not exploded the blast at the Ramna Park started vicious finger pointing and by the looks of things the Bengalee New Year Party is the biggest BLAST this new millennium. Forgotten conveniently is the physiological reality that when you point a finger at any direction - three others are pointed right back at you. Implosion?

A friend of mine who was at the park and a first hand witness was only a few meters away from the disaster. Two things he mentioned were what I found very interesting. Firstly Chayyanaut who had organized the concert has to be commended for keeping their 'cool' following the explosion. An announcement was immediately made requesting calm and that the concert will resume in the next ten minutes. This ensured that there was no stampede in the crowd estimated to be well over three hundred thousand and would have resulted in deaths by the hundreds of men, women and children who had assembled for the years biggest Bengalee middle class extravaganza.

Secondly when my friend moved to the Arts College Campus where the Bangladesh version of the Mardi Grass was assembling to begin their parade, complete with floats, props and face paints - a mere fifteen minutes later, an announcement rang out that the explosion was the work of 'reactionary fundamentalist forces' - and with a passionate call for 'converting grief to strength and unity' with loud dins of drum, music and dancing the carnival procession commenced with wild abandon. Bengalees have become a hardened race - or so we would wish to believe.

As anticipated, the local press and pro-Government 'cultural intellectuals' started the hysteric propaganda of 'fundamentalist, anti-liberation force and the Taliban, ISI links' to the blast the next day and which continues unabated till this day. Wild speculation of this being a suicide bombers works was also being circulated. As for Awami League diktats there can be only two kinds of Bangladesh citizens. The 'pro-liberation' element meaning pro-Indian elements and the 'anti-liberation elements' meaning anti-Indian elements. As I have empathetically argued over and over again - there can not be any pro-Bangladesh elements in our citizenry! In India's patronizing and communal scheme of things - and chicanery of some elements in Bangladesh, Bangladesh is just another 'province' of India?

As had been witnessed in the past bombings in public assemblies, the Jessore Udichi Concert in 1999 - and the Communist Party of Bangladesh meeting earlier in the year, the Government while apparently in the know of all conspiracies of 'fundamentalist' forces have never been able to pre-empt such disasters and no culprit has ever been booked. In the Ramna Park explosion for instance, Swadhin (or free in Bengalee) the first person who was arrested and tortured mercilessly in police remand for five straight days, turned out to be an activist of the Awami League student front. His only crime it seems was to have made use of the inexpensive boarding facilities available at a local madrasah or Islamic religious school!

Whether these explosions have been the work of the Indian intelligence agency RAW, who have a big stake in Bangladesh's politics is something that may not be speculated in the whodunnit exercise in the media or in public, for fear of being culled into the 'anti-liberation' camp by the ruling Establishment. For instance, India's role in Bangladesh's domestic politics in recent times have seen the direct involvement of its High Commissioner to Dhaka in seeking the release of the political prostitute and long time autocrat, Hossain Mohammed Ershad from jail, all in an effort to destabilize the four party opposition. India has definitely played up to Sheikh Hasina's desperation following her failure to contain the violent law and order situation, together with illegal import of small fire arms, RDX, gelatin and plastic explosives from India in recent days. The Awami League is at its lowest abyss and has been the case in the past - will stoop to any level to hang on to power.

What came as a surprise to many and was reported in the magazine Jai Jai Din was the speed in which the Government and its drum beating axis of cultural and political activist took to the streets of Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh, decrying the 'fundamentalist forces' and the Opposition. In less then two hours huge banners had been painted over ready for public display on a public holiday when even newspapers were closed, and by evening Sheikh Hasina had launched her verbal diarrhea of tirades on the 'fundamentalist'.

Coming closely on heel was a story emanating from the Sunday Times quoting RAW and unnamed 'Western sources' that the Ramna Park explosion's was part of a 'wider conspiracy' to assassinate Sheikh Hasina and that a secret meeting of 'killers of Sheikh Mujib' and Jammat-I-Islami activist was held in some obscure Dutch town to carry out the 'evil design'. The RAW desperation that no fingers be pointed towards them to the disquiet in Dhaka was more than apparent. They had even gone to the extent of arrogantly cautioning Sheikh Hasina in public as to her safety and security.

Clearly the Indian RAW had four large agenda behind the explosion. Firstly to brand Bangladesh a theocratic 'fundamentalist' state ala Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sudan, a move by which they could expect solid 'Western' endorsement. Secondly to allow Sheikh Hasina to repress her political Opposition, specially the Islamist parties and which has started in earnestness, thirdly to caste aspersions on the role Bangladesh Armed forces who have traditionally provided and are responsible for the Prime Minster and the Presidents security. Forthly and not the least ensure that the Awami League returns to power for a second term in the next election.

What the RAW has not bargained for is the 'pro-Bangladesh' factor of its common people, fed up with the machinations of their politicians, that could well turn the political balance in the Bangladesh with far reaching implications for security in the Subcontinent.

2. Border Skirmish or Coup-detat : And Then?

And then Bangladesh rightfully took back what was theirs for the last thirty years - one hundred and twenty five acres of a border outpost called Pyrdiwah close to Jafflong-Tamabil border in Sylhet district a day after New Years Eve in Dhaka without even firing a shot! And then more than three hundred Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) personnel with some help from the Indian Army launched a counter attack on 18th April 2001, not to regain Pyrdiwah - but for unexplained reasons in Roumari in Kurigram some two hundred kilometres West. Ten gallant Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) soldiers fought back this insurmountable Indian aggression - with loss to more than fifteen BSF and Indian Army soldiers - with one death on the BDR side. And then CNN and BBC television had Bangladesh as its lead news for three straight days. And then the photographs of Indian BSF personnel hung like animals on bamboo staves were on display in all our local newspapers. And then there were photographs of Indian dead and Indian POWs. The myth that India had circulated over the years that they could capture the territory of Bangladesh in less than two hours was all but over! No doubt Bangladesh had the largest number of personnel's in the United Nation's PeaceKeeping Operations - for once the 'patriotic Bangladeshi' knew what their forces were capable of achieving. For once in thirty years we have had our baptism with fire against our 'very friendly neighbor' - the mighty Indian Republic.

The whodunnit started again in wild abandon. The first question that was raised was whether the action had the approval of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces? For all practical purpose it seemed that the villain in the entire episode was Major General Fazlour Rahman, the Director General of BDR, reported by the Indian press as been 'hot headed' and 'ironically a freedom fighter in 1971'. He simply did not fit in the profile of an 'anti-Indian' element? Was this a wanton action of a General who had 'political ambition's' or was this a serious breach in the chain of command of the Bangladesh forces under the control of its Prime Minister? Importanly was this coup detat from a B team in the Bangladesh Forces: BDR is after all a para military force?

The speculations will continue for weeks and Bangladesh citizen bracing themselves for another seventy two hours of hartal (general strike) called by the Opposition to oust the Awami League Government will not have easy answer.

Major General; Fazlour Rahman in a detailed report in the tabloid Manabzamin on the 21st of April, confirmed that his actions had the 'backing and support' of the Prime Minister and that he had taken the files on the border conflict to her several times in the week prior to Pyrdiwah. He went on to explain the 'patriotism' of the Prime Minister stating that he was aware as to her passion for 'not compromising' and inch of Bangladesh soil. Reports of hundreds of Bangladesh civilians falling victim to Indian firing in the borders figured significantly.

Nonetheless all said and done, its seems very clear that there is rising anti India sentiments among the Bangladesh people, and for all practical purpose the killing of fifteen or more BSF personnel and the large scale attack in Boumari could not have been thwarted without assistance from civilians. The mutilation and other desecration of Indian bodies might not have been the work of the BDR alone. They could have well been from civilians armed only with machetes and bamboo's. I for one agree with Sonia Gandhi when she apportioned blame to Indian Intelligence failures. While India has relied on RAW and its cronies in Dhaka to further their interest, it has moved miles away from the 'real sentiments' of the people of Bangladesh. It is the ruling communal class of India that the Bangladeshis hate - not its people. Before long a situation may arise that may take India completely by surprise, and the least India can do is to reign in its press that has only been a front of its intelligence agency RAW that has traditionally dabbled in the communal agenda of the BJP, before it compels Bangladesh to commit political harakiri - that will only destabilize the fragile peace of our region.

According to BBC of date, The Prime Minister of Bangladesh has in the meantime expressed her regret in a telephonic conversation with Mr.Vajpayee and blamed the 'criminal adventurism' of elements in the BDR in the unfortunate incident.

Heads will roll - we still do not know whose. Maybe the Indian's can help!

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