Sunday, March 29, 2009

Un-elected democracy


BANGLADESHI NEWSPAPER, Weekly Blitz, published a front page report titled ´UN asked to return Bangladeshi Forces´, which might have drawn the attention of many readers around the world.

The news in brief is one Susan Ramgopalan wrote to United Nations (UN) Secretary General on March 15, 2009 titled ´Islamist inside UN Peace Keeping Force´, where she referring to the recent statement by Bangladeshi Commerce Minister, Lt. Col. (Retired) Faruk Khan, requested the UN Secretary General to send back all the participating members of Bangladesh Armed Forces and Police in the UNPKF for possible militancy connections.

In the letter, she said, "It has come to my attention that one of the front ranking leaders in Bangladesh’s ruling party, Awami League, member of the Cabinet and Member of Parliament, Lt. Col. Faruk Khan recently told reporters that Islamist militants like Jamiatul Mujahidin (JMB) has penetrated into country’s border security forces."

Susan also said" It is noteworthy that officers of border security forces are deputed from country’s armed forces. Under such authoritative statement from a senior member of the Bangladesh government, it is greatly assumed that there are unknown number of Islamist militants even within the other disciplined forces, including army and police.

For a number of reasons, I have confidence on the credibility of news published in Weekly Blitz. First of all, this newspaper mostly runs investigative reports on varieties of issues including terrorism. Blitz is the first newspaper in Bangladesh to disclose the silent strength gaining of Hizb Ut Tahrir (HT). During that time, at least, I did not write anything negative about HT in any other newspaper in the country. So, for sure, Blitz leads this investigative journalism. In this case, the above news item is truly worrisome for Bangladesh, its people and the Armed Forces. There is no room for anyone to be delighted at this news. Because, if Bangladeshi forces are sent back from UNPKF, international community will then turn absolutely sure about Bangladesh to have turned into another Taliban ruled avenue. Bangladeshi exports will be greatly hampered if not completely stopped. Tourism industry will be affected. Most importantly, Bangladeshis living abroad shall be treated by the international community as ´Potential Al Qaida member´. None of these are minimum good news for the people of this great nation in South Asia.

And, who should be held responsible for pushing the nation towards such dangerous fate? Bangladeshi minister for Commerce and chief coordinator of the three investigation committees, ex-army man Faruk Khan repeatedly told media in Bangladesh and abroad that militants have penetrated inside law enforcing and disciplined forces in the country.

Then he and some of his cabinet colleagues cracked another bomb saying, Bangladeshi militants have connection with Talibans. Possibly everyone understands the fact that in the international arena, Talibans are always considered to be the forefront forces of Al Qaida. So in other words, Faruk Khan and other Bangladeshi ministers wanted to convince the international community with the facts that, the country’s law enforcing and disciplined forces are containing militants and secondly, Al Qaida has already extended its network up to Bangladesh.

Anyone, with most elementary knowledge about today’s global scenario on the context of war against terror or combating religious militancy would surely agree with me that, such statements are ought to bring severe consequence for Bangladesh.

My personal curiosity is, whether Faruk Khan and others are desperately trying to welcome international intervention in Bangladesh for combating militancy and Al Qaida. They might be feeling encouraged with the 9 plus year tenure of President Pervez Musharraf, who enjoyed support from the Western world, because of his ´commitment´ in combating militant Islam.

Second reason could be, the ruling party in Bangladesh, wants to get into the top attention of the international community by pronouncing such risky statements.

But, possibly Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her advisors as well as members of her ´Chamatkar´ (surprise) cabinet fail to realize the fact that, because of their greed in holding power for decades (Awami League announced electoral manifesto titled Vision 2021, which indicates their desire of at least continuing in power till that time), through several senseless comments and statements, they are pushing the fate of Bangladesh towards destination unknown.

The worst affected parties of such statements will be Bangladeshi exporters, Bangladeshi workers abroad and of course, Bangladesh Armed Forces.

Due to economic recession worldwide, Bangladesh export is already suffering numerous threats and challenges. There are series of bad news from foreign nations on Bangladeshi workers. Now, if the armed forces, disciplined forces and law enforcing agencies are affected, how the ruling party can manage this?

Bangladesh Army has been actively involved in a number of United Nations Peace Support Operations (UNPSO) since its formation in the 1970s. Its first deployments came in 1988, when it participated in two operations - UNIIMOG in Iraq and UNTAG in Namibia. When announced by the then elected President of Bangladesh, Lieutenant General Hussain Mohammad Ershad, these deployments - particularly the contribution to UNIIMOG - met with considerable criticism in Bangladesh.

Later, as part of the UNIKOM force deployed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia following the Gulf War the Bangladesh Army sent a mechainised infantry battalion (approx. 2,193 personnel). Since then, the Bangladesh Army has been involved in up to thirty different UNPKOs in as many as twenty five countries. This has included activities in Namibia, Cambodia, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, former Yugoslavia, Liberia, Haiti, Tajikistan, Western Sahara, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Georgia, East Timor, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire and Ethiopia.

As of December 2008, Bangladesh was ranked second (behind Pakistan) in terms of its contribution to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, with 9,567 personnel (military and police) attached to various UN peacekeeping forces worldwide. Today, the Bangladesh Army is one of the top foreign currency earners for the country due to the funding it receives as a result of its contribution to the UN.

Bangladesh’s present rulers are not only continuing senseless statements and comments but they also are applying various forms of repressive measures on political opponents, which may be termed as autocratic behavior of an elected government.

The government has started making use of hated Special Powers Act of 1974, which was introduced by the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This Act was created mainly to harass, repress and suppress political opponents. But, later, this law has been continuing to be applied on thousands of people in Bangladesh. And, ruling Awami League, being the beneficiary of Bangabandhu, now picked up this hated law as a tool of showing the muscle to political opponents and, possibly the people at a large.

People of Bangladesh has no debate about contributions of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur in the creation of independent Bangladesh. But, his era was blackened due to massive misrule, corruption, terrorism and formation of one-party system named BAKSAL. Bangabandhu´s government suffocated freedom of expression and cancelled registration of all the newspapers in Bangladesh, except four owned or controlled by the state. Under the Special Powers Act of 1974, anyone can be held and detained for 90 or even unlimited period without any charge. Such law, causing gross violation of human and citizen rights was inacted by none but the founding father of Bangladesh. But, those who knew Mujib personally believe that, such measures might have been taken by the cabinet colleagues and advisors of Bangabandhu, as he had never been in favor of repression. Mujib loved the people of Bangladesh.

In this case, the group of people who mislead the great leader of Bangladesh are back with different names and identities now, misleading Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu.

Hopefully, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister will listen to this elderly journalist’s suggestions. She should realize her errors and quickly ratify. Otherwise, people of Bangladesh may start thinking, un-elected democracy is better than elected autocracy. #

First published in American Chronicle, March 22, 2009

Sunita Paul is a Indian writer, columnist, political analyst and regular contributor of American Chronicle, The Global Politician and The Asian Tribune