Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bangladesh Political Situation Update – 26th April 2007

1. Rumours and Realities:

In today’s Bangladesh every rumour ought to be taken seriously for the ‘powers that be’ do not seem to have a tight lid on secrecy that probably is the first rule of business in states craft.

From the arrest of Tareq Rahman to that of Arafat Rahman Coca, to the banishment of Sheikh Hasina and the yet attempted forced exile of Khaleda Zia, all savory and unsavory news now gaining ‘official recognition’ and winning media attention, have been available for well over a month now in the public domain courtesy the grape vine , basically meaning the rumour mill !

Therefore drama/s unfolding today doesn’t surprise me a bit, as nothing has been this ‘predictable’ in Bangladesh’s politics in a very long time. The only thing that cannot be predicted is the future sequence as also the oft repeated question ‘who is calling the shots’?

News coming in just now says the Government has lifted the ban on Sheikh Hasina’s return and has indicated that there is no restriction on the movement of Khaleda Zia. All well taken
but one cannot help overlook the lie hidden in the statement:

Contrary to media reports - there had never been any pressure on Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia to leave the country, and there
were no restrictions on her freedom of movement.
It has now become apparent that the ill planned move to banish Sheikh Hasina had the blessing of the military, yet nobody was willing to believe it until the process really got going with a circular from the Home Ministry, that sent shock waves across the conscience of the nation. But in the case of Khaleda Zia, and probably because of her proximity with the military, there were no public statements until the Senior Law Adviser in the interim cabinet Mainul Hosein said

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Zia and Awami League (AL) led by
Sheikh Hasina should change their "old leadership to pave way for their
successors to help the reform process in the interest of democracy and country”
You must change the leadership if you want to stop politics of violence and
," he said yesterday.
As if echoing the sentiments of the adviser the US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said :

"The situation in Bangladesh is one that we're watching quite closely. We have urged the caretaker government to move as expeditiously as possible to elections so the Bangladeshis can exercise their right to vote and choose who is going to lead them in the future and hopefully be able to put these past incidents behind them," .
Reading between the lines, it would seem the US is merely prepared to see elections go ahead and couldn’t be bothered as to who would ‘lead’ in future, and in the process put ‘past incidents behind’.

Ironically there has not been a clear statement from the US on the plight of either Begum or the ‘minus 2’ plan of the military backed Government which still seems to be holding water.

In the UK meanwhile a Blogger laid out a fine pasting on Lord Avebury, the high profile politician who shared sympathies for Sheikh Hasina while she was stranded in London. In a letter he writes:

Dear Lord Avebury

How is it possible that you go to an Ahmadiyya reception one day and then a few days later meet with a politician - Sheikh Hasina - who only a few months ago (23 December 2006) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bangladesh Khilafat Majlish, a vocal anti-Ahmadiyya organisation? This outfit is known for espousing shariah, fatwas and other things but pertinent to this discussion is the fact that they are very

Meanwhile BDNews24 reported adviser Geetara Chowdury (who rumour mills say will soon be sacked from her post) take on human rights:

Geeteara does not consider the government's purported move to exile Khaleda Zia and ban Hasina from setting foot on Bangladeshi soil as instances of human rights violations. "I don't think human rights have been violated in case of the governmental moves. The law ministry will explain the situation and the law of the land will decide whatever steps should be taken against the two former prime ministers."
‘Fruitful’ as may have been the outcome of today’s meeting of Advisers the future and fate of the warring Begums is yet suspect; and it seems very unlikely that the Government’s decision (U-Turn) means it has had a change of heart. Far from it facing expediency by adding a bizarre twist is the name of the game. More than Khaleda or Hasina buying time, it could well be that the Government has gone on a tactical retreat and will spring right back into action at an opportune time.

Reinforcing the point New Age yesterday has this report:

As Khaleda, who is learnt to have been reluctant to leave the country, apparently refused to seek visa in person, the quarter concerned threatened the family to face 'consequences,' the sources said. 'They [representatives of the powerful quarters] came and asked the family to manage visa in person,' a family source said Tuesday evening. 'They threatened "consequences" as a family representative conveyed her [Khaleda] unwillingness to seek visa in person.' Khaleda's family was under fresh pressure to leave the country after about 60 hours from Saturday midnight, a family source said. 'We fear they would detain her [Khaleda] youngest son [Arafat] again and disconnect utility connections to mount pressure on her,' he said.
In all probability the likely destination for Khaleda Zia’s ultimate exile is Malaysia and to prove a point the Government may no longer harp upon the ‘Umrah’ plans to Saudi Arabia but more likely refer to the state of her health as a pretext to have her thrown out.

"Begum Zia is improving but still has some problem with low blood pressure and
arthritis pain in her knees," a close associate quoted her personal physician,
Dr. Mahtab Uddin, as saying. She should have a complete rest for few more days,
Mahtab Uddin, a retired brigadier-general of Bangladesh Army Medical Corps, told
Khaleda associates.
Khaleda Zia may eventually end up in Saudi Arabia for she has been receiving favorable treatment on her knee complication for decade in the Kingdom. Her actual date of departure could well be after the High Court habeas corpus hearing next week, and once the journalist laying in wait at the Airport clear out!

All in all the Government has earned itself a very bad name, its future actions will be viewed with great suspicion.

2. The Military and the Monetary: The Mood of the Moment

Work for Peace - Gil Scott-Heron

The Military and the Monetary, get together whenever they think its necessary,
The Military and the Monetary, use the media as intermediaries,
they are determined to keep the citizens secondary,
they make so many decisions that are arbitrary.

If we are to do a post mortem on the rapidly changing scenario last week the point that would not miss anyone is; while the military which had been controversy free for over a decade has had its reputation sullied if not soiled, their days ahead looks fraught with risk and they will obviously be subject to a lot of scrutiny and suspicion.

A sampling of post’s on the Net about the action of the Bangladesh Army starts with
Unpleasant Things, Pleasantly Speaking and speaks volumes about the mood of the moment:
The patriotic and popular soldiers have overstepped their borders in some way more than necessary, and thunder the master of the all wrongdoers in the country, and as a result, our democracy is in jeopardy, unsafe... such a policy stimulates a new horizon of agitation. Right now the political forces and the military glare icily at each other, but neither are seeking the elimination of the other. Now they offer rival ideological models;
who would be in the state power, the prime battleground of the real tussle, with a democratic autocracy, or autocratic democracy.
The Statesman, Kolkata in its piece
It’s army rule behind a civilian facade in Bangladesh writes:

It is clear that the army, though not apparent on the face of it, would like to extend its rule. It will not be easy to send it to the barracks.~~~The new council gives the army a formal mechanism for effectively controlling the administration that it has installed in January 2007. The army top brass feels that it is not possible to govern the country from behind the curtain any longer. For a country like Bangladesh prolonged army rule will do more harm than good. The initial relief will gradually wear off. To remain in power and to marginalise the main political parties the army may have to join hands with the fundamentalist groups as it has done in Pakistan . Jihadis adore a vacuum.
Disillusionment with the main political parties will strengthen their hands.Bangladesh is far from being a hardline Islamic state but its so-called secular leaders have done their best to give secularism a bad name.
A Blogger writes in
Bangladesh' Democratic Failure - Take It In Stride

The military is showing disturbing signs of ambition by forcing the government
to prevent Sheikh Hasina from returning from abroad and blackmailing Khaleda Zia
to leave the country. The two ladies can be and must be tried in Bangladesh and
put in jail in the country should charges against them prove to be true. But
they have a right to be in the country at any time and never be forced to be
outside against their will.

To quote
yet another Blogger:

The honeymoon is over. To suspend the political process and attempt to lock out
or away political leaders without currently offering any alternative is dangerous. Elections are hoped for by the end of 2008 but there is no set timeline and Lieutenant General Moeen Ahmed, who led the coup and is being seen as de facto leader of the country, has stated that he doesn't want Bangladesh to revert to an elective democracy that might lead to the same problems as before. Increasingly it is feared that any election will be designed to achieve a pre-set goals. No one denies that the country was being led "democratically" towards destitution, but now it appears to be heading towards an abyss of military rule.
A future course of direction is advanced:

Since it will not be easy for the present Government to meet the high expectations it has aroused among the people, discontent is bound to grow and, over a time, lead to political protest. This is all the more likely to happen because, Lt Gen Moin U Ahmed's talk revived memories of Field Marshal Ayub Khan's concept of a "basic democracy" and President Soekarno of Indonesia's concept of a "guided democracy". While the former was dubbed - and rightly so - as a "basic fraud", the latter bore the stamp of Soekarno's own "guidance" rather than of democracy. Both established authoritarian orders which failed.


The weeks ahead are uncertain though predictable. Tomorrow brings in the first ray of hope, for the people of Bangladesh successfully resisted attempts by a military backed Government to deny civic and citizens rights to two powerful politicians. It is ironic that the two Begums in their lust and hunger for power had denied many of its citizens the same right. Senseless hartals (shut down general strikes) were meant to keep the citizens hostage to their maddening whims, the violence on the street where death and mayhem was the order of the day, are unpleasant memories that the people of Bangladesh do not wish to remember nor do the want to see a repetition.

Can the 2 Begums for once in the life time take a stand to pass a law banning hartals and ask for the capital punishment for those found damaging public property?

If the answer is yes ~~ the Begum’s should have no problem for a quick comeback, the Army should safely return to barracks!

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Blogger Rezwan said...

Hi Maqsood Bhai,

Excellent roundup. Good to see you back in action.

I have already amplified your last post to Global Voices which got good coverage in Google News.

3:10 PM  

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