Saturday, January 30, 2010

A tale of two countries

Picture (by unknown photographer) of the founder of Bangladesh Shiekh Mujibur Rahman lying in a pool of blood in the stairwell was assassinated in a military putsch by a dozen military officers

ON AUGUST 15, 1975, the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, was killed by a group of army officers. A total of 28 people were killed that day, including Mujib’s entire family and the domestic staff. He was survived by two daughters who were on a visit abroad at that time; one of them is the current premier of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajid. After almost 35 years, Bangladesh hanged five men who were convicted for the crime. Six other convicted officers are living in exile abroad.

Mujib’s murder wreaked havoc in Bangladesh. The country was not even four years old when it had to face a military coup after the tragic incident. The perpetrators of this heinous crime were people from the Bangladeshi army who were wedded to the idea of a united Pakistan. They blamed Mujib for taking India’s help in fighting West Pakistan and virtually becoming an Indian colony in the aftermath of the fall of Dhaka in 1971. Whether Pakistan was responsible for Mujib’s assassination cannot be ascertained beyond reasonable doubt, but the military operation and the consequent atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army against the Bengalis cannot be denied. India supported the insurgency in East Pakistan, though it could be argued that given the radicalisation of Indian’s West Bengal and the Naxalite movement, the Indians did not want another radical movement on its hands in East Pakistan. When West Pakistan denied Mujib the right to form a government even after his Awami League got a majority of seats, the emergence of Bangladesh seemed all but inevitable.

There are many interesting parallels between Pakistan and Bangladesh. Two major political players of the 1970s — Zulfikar Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib — were killed by the military, be it in the form of the direct assassination of Mujib or the alleged judicial murder of Bhutto. Both countries have seen a lot of political unrest, resulting in a series of military coups. As far as democratically elected governments are concerned, a two-party system exists in both countries, resulting in a game of musical chairs between the PPP and the PML-N in Pakistan and Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League and Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in Bangladesh whenever democracy is restored. Dynastic politics, though seen to be relatively unstable, has also played an important role in the two countries. The Zia and Mujib families of Bangladesh and the Bhutto and Sharifs in Pakistan have all been extremely popular in spite of this brand of politics. Since democracy has finally been restored in Bangladesh and Pakistan after a long struggle, it is hoped that the two countries would also move away from this type of nepotistic politics sometime in the future.

Now that a violent chapter in Bangladesh’s history has been closed, Pakistan too is waiting for justice in Zulfikar Bhutto’s case. Senior Minister Raja Riaz of the PPP has demanded the reopening of Bhutto’s murder case and quoted the example of the recent execution of Mujib’s murderers. He demanded that the chief justice of Pakistan should also reopen the Bhutto case and hold the guilty accountable.

It cannot be gainsaid that democracy is vital to the people of both nations, thus we need to move forward to a credible democratic system. A strong democracy will close the doors for another military dictatorship. We no longer want to be governed by self-imposed rulers who boast of providing better opportunities for the nation, yet they only benefit themselves at the cost of public welfare. This trend must be reversed so as to make Pakistan and Bangladesh stronger, both politically and economically. #

The editorial was published in The Daily Times, Pakistan, January 30, 2010