Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The alliance between army and academia in Bangladesh

SHABBIR AHMED

With the passage of time Bangladesh had experienced a period of political turbulence on the issue of the neutrality of election commission and the caretaker government during the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). With the stepping down of BNP-JI government, the emergency rule was imposed by the President albeit under pressure by the defense forces. Ever since then, the caretaker government is supported by the defense establishment.

The moral turpitude of BNP leadership including that of Khaleda Zia had directly caused the downfall of the democracy under the civilian government. If BNP government behaved little rationally, then they would not be in such a humiliating condition at the present from which it is unlikely for them to recover and come back with full strength as a frontline democratic party. In general, a soft and/or a diehard supporter of BNP used to think that the defense forces would always remain loyal to them. Based on this assumed strength, the BNP leaders/workers/supporters were always ready to ignore the demands and causes of the opposition political parties. Unfortunately, it was a surprise for them to see Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed took steps against their desired goals for holding election only to bring them back to power through intrigue.

It is true that initially the overwhelming majority of the people supported the neutral steps taken by the defense forces in bringing stability to the country. They were praised for their role behind the scene in supporting the civil government. Especially, Gen. Moeen, the chief of army staff was praised for his statements on upholding the true history and for recognizing the founding father of Bangladesh . But, the recent unbridled remarks by Gen. Moeen on the democratic system of Bangladesh has raised some concerns because people heard these types of statements in the past that did not do anything good for the people or the nation. Lest he forgot, the present chaos in the polity was caused by the political parties which were formed by the ex generals by interfering with and by distorting the civilian democratic rule. Many believe that the political system of Pakistan was polluted by the military generals that ultimately led to the breakdown and independence of Bangladesh .

It is not very clear to us when we hear the phrase Bangladesh needs "our brand of democracy" from the chief of the army. From India to Europe to America , we do not hear about different brand of democracies from the generals of these countries. But, in Bangladesh and Pakistan , we heard and we were given different brand of democracies by the generals and all these brands had failed miserably in the past. In fact, the democratic system was destroyed by the cantonment-born political parties. The intellectuals behind the cantonment-based parties are the ones, who in the name of reform, work from behind to bring the generals through extra-constitutional means. There is nothing wrong if the generals/officers retire and/or leave their job and join politics after 3-4 years of their retirement to bring about change in politics. Examples of army general joining politics are there; Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the hero of the WWII ran for the White House in 1950 and became victorious. In fact, any nation would have been benefited from their patriotism, administrative capabilities, and for their vision for the future of the country. However, nowhere in the civilized world do we see a sitting army general pontificating on the status of democracy in his country. It is simply not done. Period.

Bangladesh may have joined a comity of nation in the U.N. but in some respect it is a odd nation. Here a seated army general could openly talk about how he is going to bring about a change in the polity. Could any general in our neighboring India think about bringing changes in their political system? Are they less patriotic than their counterparts in Pakistan and Bangladesh ?

Is there any group of people who are pressurizing the general to make a policy statement of the interim government vis-à-vis the democracy? Wait! Come to think of it, there is more to the story than meets the eye. Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed was invited by the Bangladesh Political Science Association, Dhaka by none other than the president of this association Dr. Ataur Rahman, a professor at the political science department of Dhaka University . He is known for his inclination toward the cantonment-born party BNP. I had opportunities to watch some of his interviews and discussions in TV programs, recently. According to him, the capture of power through coup and counter-coup in 1975 was valid. It was "Soldier-People Revolution" to him as the BNP-JI and a few other parties had been claiming for years.

In 1975, I did not see any people’s participation while the conspiracies in the cantonment were going on. Yes, there were a few people chanted slogans only in some parts of Dhaka after one of the conspirators succeeded in consolidating his power in the cantonment. There was nothing like a deluge of people taking to the street spontaneously as we saw in 1969, 1971, 1990, and in 2006-2007 for bringing down the tyrannical governments. In one program, this professor was arguing with Mr. Nur-e-Alam Siddique for not being inclusive in accepting the fascist Jamaat-I-Islami. Recently, I read in a few leading newspapers that Dr. Ataur Rahman was involved in some sort of maneuvering for awarding 52 first class to the students in political science department, who were aligned to BNP-JI. There was some inquiry against this move by the charlatan professor of DU. Despite this controversy, he became actively involved in promoting the proposed action on bringing new form of democracy by the sitting general. I watched his interview on this issue in Channel I with the editor of "Amader Somoi" and I was appalled on hearing fawning remarks coming out of Dr. Rahman’s mouth. Indeed, there is no dearth of sycophants in academia in Bangladesh .

As I alluded to earlier, we do not have shortages in having people like Dr. Ataur Rahman who are out to promote different brand of democracies using rhetoric and debating skills. In harmony with the cantonment folks they work as the promoters and the agents of the powerful quarters. In ancient Greece , these types of people were known as sophists. In Bangladesh and Pakistan , the army generals (after capturing power) got direct/indirect supports from this particular group of intellectuals from civilian side, who were mostly sophists. This group of ambitious intellectuals possesses impressive powers of persuasion and spinning philosophy to accommodate the powerful quarters mainly through sophistry. In fact, these sophists do not have any strict principle and/or philosophy. They can twist and use their motivational powers to help advance the interest of the party for whom they work. The conscientious people of Bangladesh should be aware of the sophists. #