Sunday, October 17, 2010

Crimes in Bangladesh: Begum Khaleda’s charge sheet against Shiekh Hasina

An Analyst

THE SYMBOLISM in Begum Khaleda Zia’s public rally in Dhaka was difficult to miss. So is the charge sheet she has unveiled against her arch rival Begum Sheik Hasina. The day was March 29. It marked the 39th anniversary of liberation of Bangladesh. The rally was Khaleda’s first public appearance after the Awami League (AL) led Grand Alliance’s came to office in January 2009. The day also marked the launch of long in the works trial of war criminals.

Khaleda was no where on the political scene at the time of liberation. Her husband was a major in the Pakistan army. Ziaur Rahman, who went on to become the army chief and head of the country, was among several voices that had announced liberation of the country over the East Pakistan Radio (EPR). Khaleda takes pride to shine in the reflex glory of the ‘rich’ liberation legacy. So, when she took the podium at the Laldighi Maidan rally, the former prime minister was at her patriotic best. She shredded Hasina government into pieces.

She prefaced her remarks with the observation, ‘It is my husband, not Mujibur Rahman, who announced the country’s liberation (on the radio). It is not my claim. All papers at home and aboard said so’.
Khaleda’s critique of Hasina government is:
*AL - led government tells lies; it targets political opponents and slaps cases against them; efficient in signing agreements but poor in implementation
*The government stinks in corruption; country’s independence is not safe in AL hand.
*Some ambitious Army officers with former Army chief Gen Moeen U. Ahmed in the lead have grabbed state power.
*Former Chief Adviser to Caretaker Government, Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed and Gen Moeen set Awami League in state power
*Parliamentary elections in December 2008 were stage managed by Gen Moeen U Ahmed and Fakhruddin to keep BNP out of power.
*Prime Minister Hasina, during her India visit, handed over Chittagong, Mongla Port and corridor to India.

Since these allegations were made by a person who was a former prime minister herself, there is need to closely examine her charge sheet. Hurtling counter-charges at her and her family as some of the ruling alliance leaders appear to have done is neither fair nor proper for a healthy political discourse. But a caveat will be in order.

One the AL coalition, by the force of circumstances, has to deal with priority national issues with controlled aggression. Two Prime Minister Hasina and her colleagues came to power on the promise of trying war criminals, terrorists and corruption-syndicates who have been enjoying patronage in the country. Court cases against some of Khaleda Zia’s associates are a corollary to the mandate. But these ‘victims’ are in turn making wild allegations which have invited defamation suits against them.
In recent months the AL- led Government signed some milestone agreements and initiated MOUs with two regional powers - India and China. Ground has been created to resolve many long outstanding issues and improve relations with neighbours, particularly India. As a small country, Bangladesh, can not afford to keep its doors and windows closed for ever. Hasina is accountable to parliament for all her actions. Khaleda Zia does not attend parliament or attend any proceedings of parliamentary committees.

If she really feels so strongly against the Hasina government, the right forum for Khaleda to articulate her concerns is the floor of Parliament. It is also the right place where all concerns and charges should be backed by credible supporting evidence. Khaleda did neither.

The question is why the leader of the main opposition in the country didn’t come forward to substantiate her critique of the prime minister? It could either because she has no evidence to substantiate. Or she doesn’t have respect to Parliament as the House of the People, where the government of the day in a democracy is made to answer for all its acts of commission and omission to the satisfaction of the people.

Prime Minister Hasina has opened up the Chittagong and Mongla ports to India, Nepal, Bhutan and China. This was not done behind the back of Parliament. It was an act to secure the economic interests of the nation as never before. With more imports and exports through these two ports, Bangladesh economy stands to get tremendous boost.

Hasina government has removed bottlenecks to include Bangladesh in the Asian Highway Network. During the Khaleda rule Dhaka refused to sign the UN brokered 140,000 km network agreement. Its reasoning was that the highway when ready would provide badly needed transit facility to India between the north-east and eastern regions.
So, the BNP and its allies have reason to be angry with AL and its allies. Unlike them, Hasina and her colleagues did not see the Asian Highway through the tinted India Prism. In their considered view, the highway connecting 38 Asian countries and linking them with Europe through Turkey will open up tremendous opportunities for trade and commerce. It will also take Bangladesh closer to Europe which is the main destination for the garment exports.

This is the reason why the agreement the BNP-led regime refused to sign by Dec 31, 2005 had a ready taker in the successor government. Consequently, Bangladesh would also get the economic benefits of having ‘Trans Asian Railways’.

Now to the criticism that Gen Moeen and some other senior army officers helped the Awami League to come to power and are reaping the benefits. There is absolutely no doubt that Gen Moeen and his colleagues backed the caretaker government and helped in the conduct of general elections. Equally true is the fact that this very group of army officers was benefited largely from Khaleda rule.

Consider the facts. Almost to the fag-end of her second term as Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia named Gen Moeen U Ahmed as the army chief superseding many senior to him. She owes the nation an explanation why she had picked Gen Moeen by passing the seniority list. Today she may not like to remember but she ensured that her close relative Gen Mashududdin Chowdhury had a key position in the caretaker government.

But it is her hard luck that these ‘favoured generals’, who were handpicked for top jobs undid her carefully laid re-election plans by ensuring the neutrality of the army. Had Khaleda had her way, the country could have plunged into a civil war with the opposition not accepting the verdict. The international community hailed the December 2008 election as the most free and fair ballot. All right-thinking Bangladeshis also agree with this assessment.
As stated at the outset Khaleda Zia’s charge of corruption against Hasina must be investigated. If the allegations are unsubstantiated, the former prime minister in all fairness must apologise publicly. People have seen how the so-called ‘Islamic nationalism’ propounded by BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami was used as a garb for one of the worst form of corruption in the country. Khaleda’s two sons became extra-constitutional authorities, ran the government, created a virtual mayhem, and siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars.

Who announced on the radio the liberation of Bangladesh? This is not a brain teaser by stretch and there is enough evidence to show who made the announcement. Khaleda claims that her husband, Zia made the proclamation over the radio. Since Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was held in a Pakistani prison, my husband made the historic announcement, she says.

Without getting into a slanging match, it is essential to point out that Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman are not in the same league. In fact, after historic Mujib speech of 7th March 1971 there was nothing left to formally announce commencement of liberation war? The then East Pakistan Radio (EPR) broadcast Bangabandhu’s declaration of independence from midnight of 25th March, 1971. Several leaders big and small read the declaration through out March 26th on behalf of the Bangabandhu.

To his credit it must be said, Gen Zia never claimed credit for announcing the start of liberation war. Instead, he had publicly stated that he did it on behalf of the Bangabandhu.
Khaleda’s rule marked an upswing in the fortunes and reach of terrorists local and international. In her Laldighi Maidan address she did not touch upon the subject - how and why terrorists of all hues made Bangladesh a safe haven during her regime, how so many Pakistani and Indian terrorist organisations found helter in Bangladesh to run operations against India with impunity. She did not mention why her government could not take steps to smoke out the terrorists who had killed senior leaders like ASMS Kibria, Ahsanullah Master, Ivy Rahman and some noted journalists.

The audience expected Khaleda to focus on her government’s failure with the same zeal she was targeting the present government. Alas, she did not. Introspection is obviously not her fort. Otherwise, she would have spoken about her failure to track down terrorists who had made an assassination attempt on Hasina on August 21, 2004. Why did she send the sensational Chittagong arms seizure case to the cold storage?

People of the country want an answer to these questions. Also to another question -why her government could not explore and exploit natural resources or set up power plants to meet the country’s growing energy crisis. It is this failure of her government that is responsible for the power, water and gas crisis staring at the country today.
Khaleda’s charge sheet against the Hasina Government is, in fact, a veiled attempt to put spokes in the trial of her long- term allies – the war criminals of 1971. She has been a supporter and well wisher of the well known war criminals and Pakistani collaborators with whom she had earlier shared power. During her tenure as Prime Minister she did everything possible to thwart any move seeking trial of either the Mujib killers or the war criminals.

The former prime minister knows today people want to see the war criminals, anti-liberation elements and Pakistani collaborators brought to justice. She, therefore, cannot afford to openly defend the anti-liberation forces and thus run the risk of antagonizing the people. The nation is not short sighted; the visions of the people are not blurred. Khaleda Zia must stop stooping low. Neither spreading canards nor spewing venom is a time tested political tool. Either use or overuse will boomerang on the practioners.

First published by Policy Research Group-geopolitical intelligence, military strategic forecasting, terrorism, September 23, 2010