On reading the special editorialwritten by Matiur Rahman, Prothom Alo editor, the day his masterMoeen U. Ahmed retired as Army Chief, a number of questions came up. Actually, what came up first was disgust at the incredible level of smugness that was on display as Matiur Rahman pretended that the change of government that took place on January 11, 2007 did not happen with his direct knowledge and collusion. But eventually, on a second and third reading, some questions did come up.

The intial point that struck me was the sheer disregard of journalistic ethos that Mr. Rahman puts on display here. If any of us bloggers had written this piece, our inboxes would be flooded by now with demands that we either back up what we wrote as facts or admit that they are baseless innuendo. I do not see why the standard should be any different for the editor of Bangladesh’s most widely-circulated Bangla newspaper. In his article, Matiur Rahman states:

  • After last year’s election, a powerful portion of the Army wanted Moeen’s tenure as Army Chief extended by another year.
  • Presumably the same part of the Army wanted Moeen to become either Defense Minister or the “Joint Chief of Staff.”
  • After the Pilkhana massacre, Army officers openly criticized Moeen, inside and outside the Army, for not being able to save the lives of his men.
  • The Government would still like to reward Moeen.
  • Diplomatic sources say that Moeen may be made the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.

Let us take these points one by one. After Moeen toppled the caretaker government in 2007 and promoted himself to General, he spent a great deal of time and energy putting his men in as many key army positions as he could, and sending army officers who refused to countenance his authority into forced retirement. Thus, it is probably not a surprise that Moeen still has a constituency left in the Army, even though, ideally, the entire Army should be his constituency.

That there were ever any suggestions of Moeen being made Defense Minister or Joint Chief of Staff is quiet sensational news. If Motiur Rahman knew about this previously but did not inform us, his readers, he has done us a great disservice. As far as I know, Bangladesh has never had a Defense Minister, with the Prime Minister not being able to trust anyone else (unwisely, in my opinion) with this portfolio. For a very brief period of time, Khandoqar Mushtaq’s government did set up a Combined Chief of Staff, but that was more to keep Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman, as Army Chief, from having any real power, than anything else. Moeen has already permanently distorted our defense establishment by promoting himself to General rank, giving nations around the world one more reason to titter at us behind our back. Appointing the same man to one of the posts described above would have been a momentous step; one we deserved to hear about ahead of time.

The Pilkhana massacre laid bare the full extent of the damage that Moeen had done to the very institution he was supposed to protect and safeguard: the Bangladesh Army. Barely two years after he had stormed into Bongobhaban, the Presidential Palace, and forced President Iajuddin Ahmed to retire as Chief Advisor, a democratic government barely two months old could scarcely trust him to again lead an operation in the heart of Dhaka. And so it was they fifty-plus of our officers were tortured and killed, while the government sat and dithered before, first allowing enough armour units to enter Dhaka, and then letting them approach Pilkhana. Moeen has undone the work of thousands of honest and dedicated officers who obeyed the constitutional dictate that our armed forces stay subservient to the civilian government, through his coup in 2007 and the torture he inflicted on a broad swathe of politicians from all across the political spectrum the next two years. Going forward, it will take years to mend the damage he has wrought.

Therefore, we do not see how Matiur Rahman can now claim that Army officers have criticized and blamed Moeen for the loss of lives in Pilkhana. Why was Matiur Rahman silent when the government instituted an Army-probe into this massacre under the same person who was blamed for letting it happen? How could such a probe have any credibility with members of our armed forces, let alone the general public?

Even after making these incredible allegations, Matiur Rahman then turns around and claims that even after the Pilkhana massacre, the government would like to still reward Moeen. The question begs to be asked, what is the government rewarding Moeen for? Providing the incompetent leadership that allowed so many of his men to be killed? Indirectly causing the mutiny – by green-lighting the BDR into Operation DalBhaat? Or, as Matiur Rahman hints near the end, because of the election held in 29 December, 2008? Do we really want to become a nation that remains in thrall to its Army Chief for allowing elections to go through?

And do we really want our United Nations representative to be a wannabe military strongman? Asif Ali Zardari and Pervez Musharraf made a far more explicit pact after the Pakistani election. But even Musharraf did not have the gumption of trying to claim diplomatic immunity and representing our country in the world stage.

Of course, if Moeen ever leaves Bangladesh, we can rest assured he will never return again. His underling Brig. Fazlul Bari had the right idea when he decided he liked America too much. One can confidently expect Moeen to follow suit; he has already made his liking for the balmy climate of Florida well-known. Perhaps, once they are united there, advance accommodations could be arranged for Gen. Masud as well.

Fighting the rearguard battle to justify his own support for the overthrow of the CTG in 2007, Matiur Rahman claims that the new regime had “massive support” from the people. Yet, in the very next sentence, he is forced to acknowledge that Awami League only supported this move initially, until the true nature of the regime that followed became clear and Sheikh Hasina was herself thrown into jail after she spoke out against military intervention, through DGFI, in politics. BNP, of course, never supported the regime. Then how does Matiur Rahman find broad support for a regime which is not supported by BNP and AL, which together represent about 260 of the 300 seats in both the current as well as the former parliament?

The job of a newspaper editor is different from that of a gossip columnist. It is really different from that of a sycophant. Unfortunately, Mr. Matiur Rahman seems unclear about both these distinctions. The activities of our last regime left behind enough tar to cover most of its proponents and supporters. With this piece, Matiur Rahman just slapped some more tar firmly on his face.

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