Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bangladesh Political Reporting Excerpts - 7th April 2007

William B Milam: It is interesting that political leaders, both civilian and military, see through some historical myths easily and adjust their actions to take account of the facts, yet are blind to others. The Bangladeshi Generals learned well from history that previous military interventions were forced to civilianise. So, on January 11, the Bangladesh Army moved from direct military intervention to civilianised military intervention in one day. It was, for the briefest few minutes, in direct control of the country. It claims to be just "assisting" the civilian government to reform the country's politics so they can be returned completely to civilian control. Bangladeshis get restive quickly under military governments......So far the public has welcomed the intervention and the idea of reform, especially rooting out the corruption, but there is always the danger in Bangladesh of overstaying that welcome.

2.
Prognosticating the Political Future of Bangladesh

Shahzaman : Soon under the wings of Khaleda Zia, both the princes will fly to Saudi Arabia. I don't know why the number 9 seems to be an auspicious date. Multiple corruption cases will be leveled against both Tarique Rahman and Khaleda Zia and they will be convicted and carry prison sentences. All these will happen while they sojourn in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Sheikh Hasina is creating noise of returning to Bangladesh on 22 April 2007. She must be bluffing because she is definitely going to be convicted and imprisoned on the famous frigate case and she may have to come back on a one-way ticket..... If Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is declared the father of the nation; Ziaur Rahman as the announcer of independence; Moulana Bhasani as the dreamer of the nation for Bangalis, and both the election symbols of boat and sheaf of paddy are made national symbols; both the political parties will lose their teeth. Therefore, in my crystal ball I see toothless political parties under the leadership of Mannan Bhuiyan and Amir Hossain Amu (or is it Tofail Ahmed?)...I also see the formation of another political party spearheaded by the defense forces and participated by the 'less corrupt to honest' people of the country. ...I also see a referendum for the forthcoming national government to provide legitimacy.

3.
Tall Order, Fat Hope, Slim Chance: Restoring Order in Bangladesh

Taj Hashmi : I find Charles Dickens very handy in explaining the state of the State of Emergency in Bangladesh. One is not sure if the country is going through “the best of times” or “the worst of times”. While the height of optimism would be the glorification of the period as a prelude to taking the people to “heaven”, the cynical view would be to ascribe the situation as a precursor to taking them nowhere but “hell”.......Afflicted with inertia, the government seems to have lost momentum and any sense of direction. Undoubtedly it has done certain laudable jobs, especially with regard to the reorganization of the Election and Anti-Corruption commissions, detention of several godfathers and corrupt people, and above all, improvement of the law and order situation. Although these measures seem to have raised the hope and confidence levels of the people, they are not sure (so are most analysts and observers) if this government is (a) a transitory, momentary arrangement or (b) it has a long-term program albeit with sketchy and fuzzy agenda....Despite not having any constitutional backing this Caretaker-cum-Emergency interregnum is better than what Bangladesh had during the last twenty five years, from Ershad’s autocracy to Khaleda’s dynastic oligarchy....It is quite unsettling as the government goes one step forward and one step back to square one – on the one hand, by behaving as if the country is under military rule (which is unconstitutional) and on the other, by adhering to the principles of civil code and the judiciary....If the handful of corrupt politicians and businessmen who are behind bars succeed in proving their innocence, it would be a big slap in the face of the entire nation; and most definitely, would discredit the government.

4.
Rebranding Democracy in Bangladesh

Daniel Nelson, One world, UK : So Bangladesh's army chief, Moeen U Ahmed, says he wants the military-backed interim government to build a new brand of democracy. .....His comments will strike a chord with the exasperation felt by many people over the seemingly endless vituperation between the two main parties and the inability of either to recognise or act as "the loyal opposition".....His comments will strike a chord with the exasperation felt by many people over the seemingly endless vituperation between the two main parties and the inability of either to recognise or act as "the loyal opposition"......Atataurk's blueprint has relevance because it, too, is designed to balance Islam, secularism and the military. Whether the Bangladesh military has the national standing to bring about a similar shift is doubtful....In Bangladesh, the head of the interim government, former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed has said no new election will be held until politics and government are rid of widespread corruption. Taken literally, that is tantamount to saying goodbye to elections for the foreseeable future.

5.
Bangladesh: Delayed Elections and Army Opportunities

Stratfor : Fakhruddin Ahmed, the chief adviser of the interim government, has spent the last three months driving an aggressive anti-corruption campaign to save the country from a political meltdown, and certainly has a full plate.....The delay, coupled with the weakening of the South Asian country's leading political parties, provides the Bangladeshi army with breathing room to expand its influence in the political arena......The BNP and AL have laid low since Ahmed came to power mainly because the two parties can use the extra time to shore up support. Neither party has a clear advantage over the other in the polls, and both are desperately searching for political allies to gain the upper hand.....All too often, officials with interim governments in South Asia have a habit of falling into the pit of corruption. And when the tide starts to turn against the provisional governments while the country's main political parties are still in disarray, the responsibility falls to the military to step in and restore order......The Bangladeshi army goaded the former president to impose emergency rule and ban political activity Jan. 11. Bangladeshi army chief Lt. Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed has been playing a much more visible role in Bangladesh over the past few weeks, acting more like a politician than a general by delivering speeches throughout the country on "Rethinking Political Development." The general also has issued harsh condemnations of the AL and BNP, saying "In the 36 years since independence, politicians have not given us anything good. They have even failed to give due recognition to the national leaders." The AL and BNP are taking note of the army's increasing prominence in the caretaker government, as they realize that building closer ties to the military will become all the more necessary for them to escape political irrelevance.....The situation in Bangladesh is in some ways similar to Pakistan, where that nation's military has successfully used political instability and security concerns to dominate the state. The difference, however, is that in Pakistan the military continues to rule the country directly through a uniformed president and civil-military hybrid state. In Bangladesh, however, the military is working through a caretaker administration composed of bureaucrats, technocrats and other government functionaries. Bangladesh, despite its past experience with direct military rule has moved toward a civilian -- albeit somewhat turbulent -- order, so it is unlikely the military will return to direct rule.

6.
A "new beginning" in India-Bangladesh ties?

Political Analyst - Amulya Ganguli : Now, suddenly, all that has changed, with Dhaka recognising the threat the Islamists pose to the country's social, political and economic stability. It is not impossible that the new rulers have drawn the appropriate lessons from Pakistan's travails, where not only are the groups modelled on the Taliban becoming stronger, but the fundamentalists have been able to spread their tentacles even to Islamabad where they are threatening music shops. If Bangladesh's own homegrown terrorists had earlier gained prominence, the reason was the alliance between the government of Khaleda Zia and the Jamaat-e-Islami. To be fair, it wasn't Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) alone that found it politically convenient to have the fundamentalists on its side. Noticing the clout the BNP had acquired because of its opportunistic tie-ups with bigots and extremists, the previously secular Awami League, too, entered into an alliance with the fundamentalist Khelafat-e-Majhlis, much to the distress of the Indian government, which tended to regard the Awami League's Sheikh Hasina as someone who was more concerned about secular values than Khaleda Zia.....It remains to be seen, though, whether the promise of a "new beginning" in mutual ties made by Bangladesh's chief adviser, Fakhruddin Ahmed, during his recent visit to New Delhi on the occasion of the SAARC summit is fulfilled

7.
Bangladesh: Situation Still Fluid

Kamal Choudury in
Peoples Democracy : Advisors to the caretaker government are against holding of elections in the near future. They have expressed their intentions in the media saying that they were determined in ensuring speedy trial of those politicians arrested under emergency provisions so that they might be disqualified from taking part in the elections ......It is to be noted that the Army-backed interim government on the one hand has declared a crusade against corruption and crime and on the other has been implementing the directives of the World Bank and WTO......The critics of Dr Yunus have said that he has so far not cleared his position on the war criminals of the 1971 liberation war and the Islamic militants. Moreover Dr Yunus' macro-credit system cannot be a means of poverty alleviation because it is deeply linked to capitalism. It must be noted the macro-credit system has created institutional opportunities for global capital finance. Some intellectuals and analysts hold the opinion that leaders of the present interim government and their European and American backers are helping Dr Yunus to lead the third force in Bangladesh.

8.
DU female students hail Army chief's statement

New Nation Report: Terming the traditional democracy as imposed and ready-made one, they observed that the check and balance between the power of President and Prime Minister was a must for the effective and sustainable democracy in Bangladesh. Supporting for the strongest Security Council comprising the three chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force along with chiefs of other security forces and the top security specialists of the country, Farhana Rahman Popy, a fourth year student of the International Relations Department of the university said, as a 'silent partner' of the people the Armed Forces should continue their present job to free politics from the hands of dynasty or a party.

9.
Bangladesh: On the 'front-line'

Hash V Pant in
ISN: Amid emergency rule, democratic failure and rising radical Islam in Bangladesh, it is imperative that the international community takes the volatile situation more seriously........While military rule might look like the right solution for Bangladesh, in the long-term it cannot resolve the problems of weak political institutions and rising Islamic radicalism and will only hinder evolution into a stable secular democracy......Radical Islam has moved in to fill the institutional vacuum created by the partisan rivalry and malgovernance of the mainstream political parties in Bangladesh. As the military is tempted to play a more active role in politics in the name of "cleaning up the political system," it will only give fillip to Islamic extremists. With the absence of political participation, mosques will become even more influential in shaping domestic political discourse. While the recent swift action against some Islamist leaders may endear the quasi-authoritarian government of Bangladesh to the international community, in the long-term this will create more problems.

10.
Bangladesh at Crossroads

Sabir Mustafa,
BBC : The reason for this apparent sense of satisfaction is not difficult to see.The treatment meted out to politicians is not being seen as repression. People across the board see them as retribution for the corruption and abuse of power of the past fifteen years. By the time the state of emergency was declared in January, the public had also become fed up with the constant bickering and street-fighting between the two main political parties. At second glance, it becomes clear that the country has reached a crossroads... Go one way, and the road leads to cleaner politics with free elections and restoration of representative democracy. There is a broad acceptance of the military-backed government .But go the other way, and the country risks sliding back into the kind of military-led dictatorship which so blighted Bangladesh's politics and economy in the 1980s. Officials say the tough campaign against 'corrupt' politicians and 'crime godfathers' is needed to clean-up politics once and for all. To achieve this, they need to dish out exemplary punishment to some ''big fish''. ....."The army should not point fingers at politicians," said Farida Akhter who heads a radical NGO in Dhaka. "Why aren't we talking about corruption in the army?" Ms Akhter is concerned that the state of emergency has curtailed some basic civil rights and there is no end in sight. "I am a little scared. If I have a grievance then I can't go out to protest or demonstrate in the street," she said during a discussion organised by the BBC. The constitution allows the state of emergency to run for four months, before being renewed by parliament. But with no parliament in place and elections unlikely at least until the end of 2008, the state of emergency appears set to drag on. The Election Commission says elections cannot be held until all electoral reforms, including drawing up of a new voters' list with photo ID, have been carried out.

11.
Increasing Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh: Mainly a political, not a religious phenomenon

In early 2005, the JMJB went underground because of strong government repression, which meant that it lost its political cover. When it saw no way to return to peaceful activity, it decided to carry on the struggle, linking up with the JMB on a platform of Islamic revolution. During the BNP administration, when terrorist attacks were instigated by the JMB, Jamaat-E-Islami Bangladesh, one ally of the ruling four-party alliance led by the BNP, blamed the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, for the incidents, and BNP leaders accused India of benefiting politically, and blamed repression by leaders of the AL, which is known as pro-India. A predecessor of the JMB and JMJB, the HuJI-B had been organized with the assistance of General and former President Ershad, who took control in 1982 and helped Islamists enter politics. For being the B-team as well as a custodian of Islam, he profited from collaborating with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and assisted Islamists in volunteering for the Afghan jihad. In this way he gained popularity and backing from Islamic parties to help him retain state power

12.
War with extremism

Tony Birtley : Bangla Bhai was revered by thousands and feared by millions. His ideals and methods changed people's lives forever. On Friday the chief of the outlawed Jumatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) was hanged along with five others convicted of killing two judges in 2005. Bangla Bhai may be gone, but his legacy will last a lifetime. Experts say his case highlights how Bangladesh has become a safe haven for al-Qaeda-linked organisations...It is estimated that there are about 50,000 Islamic fighters in the country in groups like Bangla Bhai's. They are said to be well-trained and organised....A former commander of a training camp inside the country, who did not want to be identified, told us that he has intimate knowledge of the international links Bangladeshi groups have with outside organisations, including al-Qaeda. He told us that 3,000 Afghan veterans are in Bangladesh, that rebel leaders met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998 and, with his support, they set up a branch of al-Qaeda in Bangladesh. Experts say the groups have infiltrated every sector of the Bangladesh economy.


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