Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Former prime minister slams military intelligence for interference in state politics

SALEEM SAMAD

AFTER a long silence former prime minister and also leader of the opposition lambaste military intelligence for interfering into state politics and administration.

Since the military backed interim government took charge in 11 January, in the game of anti-graft drive has been harassing and intimidating politicians and leaders of the two mainstream political parties. Their first attempt was to arrest scores of politicians who were former members of parliament, former ministers, and influential officials with the Prime Minister’s Office and condemned them for corruption, extortion, tax evasion, money laundering, illegally amassing wealth, and leading extravagance lifestyle in the 140 million poverty-stricken country.

Both the women leaders – chief of Awami League Shiekh Hasina and chief of Bangladesh Nationalists Party Begum Khaleda Zia entered politics for their dynasty rule. Hasina’s father Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh was assassinated in a military putsch in August 1975, while Khaleda took charge of the helms of affairs of BNP after her husband General Ziaur Rahman, a liberation war hero was assassinated by another military putsch in May 1981, few years after he became the President.

Awami League President Sheikh Hasina on July 9 blasted a particular security agency and described that a civilized and democratic society cannot let an intelligence outfit to control everything while it is 'arresting and torturing politicians and intimidating them to tell what the security service like to listen'.

Twice leader of the opposition, she categorically blamed the dreaded Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and asked them to stop operating beyond its constitutional mandate and instead ensure national security.

Promptly an adviser of the military-backed interim government M.A. Matin expressed his surprise and said he is not aware what prompted Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina to grumble against intelligence agencies.

Matin, the former chief of the DGFI explained that "The government doesn't know the basis of her complaints." He told reporters, a day after Hasina accused intelligence services of "intimidating political leaders into divulging details" in custody.

"There was a difference between complaints and the reality. Anyone can complain, but the government is not aware of its grounds," the retired General argued.

Hasina who was once prime minister (1996-2001) threatened to demand of “the caretaker government to stop the agency from carrying out the atrocities and to make it carry out its real responsibilities. It is not their task to indulge in politics or to break up, nor create political parties. The people did not give them such mandate."

In response to trading accusation by Sheikh Hasina, an independent newspaper Daily Star in its editorial writes: Sheikh Hasina's critique on the role of intelligence agencies notwithstanding, we would like to take an overview of the tasks such agencies ought to be performing given their legal duties and responsibilities.

“Unfortunately, national interest came only second to partisan interest during last 15 years of elected government. It is not only during the military and quasi-military rule that the intelligence agencies were used to prop up the regime that enjoyed very little public support, the distressing aspect is that popularly elected governments could not resist the temptation either of employing these agencies to steal a march on the political opponents or harassing them to put them on the back foot.”

However, Star comments that imperative need of intelligence agencies required to be fully depoliticized and reform to address contemporary challenges.

The military intelligence always had an upper hand in state polity, since it was used to form political parties and manipulated to become the ruling parties. The security service (DGFI) was first formed by General Ziaur Rahman, when he grabbed power in 1975, months after Shiekh Mujib was assassinated by military officers.

DGFI was responsible for recruitment and political indoctrination of the political urchins turned politicians who formed the Bangladesh Nationalists Party in 1978, which is presently headed by Khaleda Zia.

After the assassination of President Ziaur Rahman, General H.H. Ershad once again gave responsibility to break up Awami League and BNP to form Jatiya Party, which now led by his wife Rawshan Ershad.

Since than, DGFI interfered into state polity, administration and national policy. The subsequent governments of Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina failed to bring the security agency under parliament scrutiny. The Bangladesh Armed Forces imposed ban on discussion of military budget in parliament too.

DGFI has been blamed for torture, intimidation and harassment of scores of journalists, columnists, members of civil society, NGO leaders and businessmen for last 20 years. Forget about protests, even raising the issue of functions of DGFI invited their scorn face.

"If an undemocratic and unconstitutional government clings to power for long, then the problems of the people are not going to be resolved, rather those will be intensified," the Awami League chief said.

What prompted Sheikh Hasina to react was after the military intelligence released CDs based on interrogation of her party’s General Secretary Abdul Jalil and other senior political leaders including her first cousin Shiekh Fazlul Karim Selim. The CDs were passed to the newsroom of Bangladesh press. The CDs is also found in couple of websites and blogs and also available in stores in London, New York and Toronto.

Hasina questioned if there is any importance of any statement made under detention. "People might say anything under torture, but those statements carry no value at all," she added.

"I have asked my party leaders and activists to say whatever the intelligence agency forces them to say, say things even against me if necessary to avoid torture," Hasina said.

"What kind of intelligence activities are those when the intelligence agent’s torture people, administer electric shocks on detained persons, and threaten them with arrests of their wives and children?" Hasina asked.

If anyone commits a crime, that person should be punished after being proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, she explained, but scaring the accused with prospects of arrests of their family members including their wives and children, which is no civility. "This is a blatant violation of human rights," she debated.

The AL president is so upset that she even demanded of the government to make public of the budget of DGFI and the purposes of expenditure.

She also questioned whether the budget includes splitting up mainstream political parties and for floating new political platform. "I want an answer," and said that playing with the fate of the people 'will not be tolerated'.

She observed that democracy will not be established if the military backed caretaker government works with a plan to bring someone specific or some specific forces to power. "If the government goes around doing its things with preconceived ideas, the people will not get their rights and there will be no accountability," she said.

The former prime minister said the country has a constitution. "So everyone must abide by the constitution. Defiance of the constitution did not bring good in the past, and it will not bring good in the future either," she said.

Needless to say, the functioning of any state agency, not to speak of the intelligence agencies, is governed by the Constitution and the law with the term of reference clearly spelt out. We cannot overlook the fact that their input is extremely important in determining national policies that go to uphold national interest by ensuring the nation's security, Star editorial commented. #

Saleem Samad is editor of DurDesh.net, a news portal for South Asian diaspora in North America. He is presently living in exile in Canada and could be reached at