Military


I was visiting Bangladesh when pilkhana massacre happened. As the events were unfolding on the morning of February 25 2009, I was returning to Dhaka from Chittagong. As I returned to Dhaka that afternoon the general narrative dominating our media and civil society discourse puzzled me. I wrote the following post during late afternoon of February 25 2009. I lost the post as the blog website hosting the post went offline-
Today, after the trial verdict of the massacre came out, a friend discovered the post for me from a web archive-
The narrative of public mind, our media and educated class as I described that afternoon is a fascinating reminder of the fickleness of our collective thinking process –
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“How do we characterize or categorize the people of Shahbag? Who are the people of Shahbag? … What is the class character of this group, what excites or drives this group? Who they were during different periods of our history- how they were represented during different historical milestone of Bangladesh.”

© Arif Hafiz

© Arif Hafiz

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Exactly one year ago today, a group of violent soldiers belonging to Bangladesh border security force called BDR revolted, started murdering their officers, occupied a part of capital Dhaka and held hundreds of militray officers, general soldiers and civilians hostage. During this time of occupation of nearly two days, the marauding soldiers committed one of the worst massacres in the history of Bangladesh. During these two days, they searched and killed 57 senior officers of Bangladesh Armed forces trapped inside the compound.

During this occupation, rather than a bold decisive response against the soldiers involved in the killing spree, the one-month old government of Awami League opted to negotiate with the mutineers, thus indirectly giving those soldiers enough time to hunt and kill all the military officers trapped inside occupied Pilkhana campus and commit an array of other crimes including loot, arson, rape etc.

Immediately after the incident, considering the sensitivity of the issue or out of political indecisiveness, while the main opposition party refrained from being overtly critical of governments stand, the media gave the government a free ride by not critically discussing government handling of the mutiny.

The media spin that was most widely used during the immediate aftermath was that by sacrificing 57 senior army officers, government prevented an even bigger civilian casualty in the heart of Dhaka. This logic is based on a hypothetical scenario that a group of paramilitary soldiers without heavy weapons will fight a fierce artillery gunfight and war with a combined force of the army, Navy and the air force and thus would endanger the safety of residents living in nearby areas.

Although government’s decision got a free ride at the time of the incidence, it is imperative that we discuss the decision in a critical point of view. This kind of discussion is very important in formulating a national strategy for any such problem in the future.

First basic flaw in the civilian casualty spin is the hypothetical nature of the consequences. It is very difficult to believe that a group of BDR soldiers will be able to fight such a fierce war with armed forces. This sort of situation is not unprecedented in Bangladesh. Since independence there are instances where similar occupation/ hostage situation in the heart of Dhaka or other parts of the country were dealt with decisive military counter offensives. Examples can be cited are 1977 occupation of Dhaka Airport at Tejgaon, 1994 occupation of Ansar HQ in Khilgaon, 1977 revolt in Bogra cantonment.

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The memory of two years of under disguise martial law is still fresh in our minds. Among many things, that was the time for the center right politics in Bangladesh to get a much deserved thrashing. The military regime did not only go overboard in thrashing the emerging icon of center right politics, Tarique Rahman — the Army Chief and disguised CMLA Moeen U Ahmed received Horses from his Indian counterpart fulfilling all its symbolic value and pardoned a convicted murderer because he was a freedom fighter! And when the martial law steamroller was at its peak, rather surprisingly, woke up a portion of Dhaka University. During that short lived rebellion and the months following, while neo-Awami Leaguer and master revisionist of History Dr Anwar Hossain became face of intellectual and academic resistance, pro-BNP teachers suddenly all became pro -milirary crusaders. After enjoying all the perks of BNP rule of ten years, these “BNP minded” teachers who claim to belong to “Shada Panel”, suddenly became silent academic scintists who don’t understand anything about politics. However as Moeen U’s adventurism failed, it looks like suddenly these ‘Shada panel” academics got their voice back. Here are some excerpts of their recent chattering taken from Ali-Mahmed’s blog

ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের জীববিজ্ঞান অনুষদের ডিন আবুল বাশার বলেন, “দেশের আকাশ-বাতাসসহ প্রতিটি কণা ‘আমি তারেক জিয়া বলছি’ ডাকটি শুনতে চায়।” (প্রথম আলো/ ০৪.০৯.১০)
কলা অনুষদের ডিন সদরুল আমিন বলেন, “আমরা চাই তারেক জিয়া আমাদের মাঝে ফিরে আসুন…।”
বিজ্ঞান অনুষদের ডিন তাজমেরী এস এ ইসলাম বলেন, “…তারেক রহমান দেশের বাইরে বসে আত্মসমালোচনা ও আত্মবিশ্লেষণ করছেন।”
ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক সমিতির সাধারণ সম্পাদক এ বি এম ওবায়দুল ইসলাম বলেন, “তারেক রহমান তারুণ্যের অহংকার। তাঁর দেহে দেশপ্রেম ও স্বাধীনচেতার রক্ত বইছে।…।”(প্রথম আলো/ ০৪.০৯.১০)

Anyway all their Tarique Rahman love fest did not help them win votes of Dhaka University teachers. In both Dhaka University and Chittagong University; the ” BNP-Jamaat ভাবধারার সাদা প্যনেল” got their thrashing of life by being soundly defeated.
One can rest assured that these dumb scoundrels will not take lesson from this. They will keep on their তারিক বন্দনা forgetting their real role in Bangladesh politics.

First of all, while they have their right to get involved in national level politics, they should have known that they should not bring the national politics in University Teachers union election.

Second, when university teachers get involved in national politics, they are expected to play the role of ideologues and pressure groups of caution within their political platform. Arranging Tarique love fest is exactly the thing that is not the job of University teachers. But being the ideologues and pressure group of caution within the party, their role should have been to speak out that Tarique is at the core of everything that went wrong with BNP since 2001. Thanks to Tarique Rahman, BNP got 20% less vote than Awami league during last election. These university teachers were supposed to tell that to Mrs. Khaleda Zia. Who will tell otherwise? They are the ones who would rather arrange seminar, round tables and talk about the outrageous nature of the verdicts of current Chief Justice Khairul Haque, or the gross misinformation and frank lies in the Fifth Amendment verdict. These teachers should have been the ones who should have explained Zia’s politics to the new generations. or discuss about the শুভঙ্করের ফাকি in the name of transit or they would have been nations conscience regarding Tipaimukh issue. And shame on these morons, only thing they thought they could do is this, “দেশের আকাশ-বাতাসসহ প্রতিটি কণা ‘আমি তারেক জিয়া বলছি’ ডাকটি শুনতে চায়।”

And thirdly, what do these BNP supporting teachers mean by “BNP-Jamaat ভাবধারার সাদা প্যনেল”? Do they know or understand what is Jamaat’s vabdhara? Jamaat’s main political goal is establishment of আল্লার আইন . How does that match with BNP’s ভাবধারা ? Do that Dean of Arts faculty, those Professors of History know that BNP founder Ziaur Rahman did not allow jamaat to do politics in Bangladesh? Or I am expecting too much from these foolhardy opportunists known as Shada panel member teachers?

If this is the intellectual quality of the academic leaders of our top academic centers, what is the future of the country?

Published in BDnews24.com opinion Section on November 28th.

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Rumi Ahmed

It’s not personal

November 28, 2010

khaleda-cry300pxThe manner in which the leader of the opposition and former prime minister Khaleda Zia was evicted from her cantonment residence was outright shocking to most observers of Bangladesh politics. Not only the physical eviction itself, but the way the opposition leader was literally pushed out of her home of 38 years by an overwhelming government force, speaks volumes of its ‘autocratic’ mentality. The whole chain of events surrounding the eviction process was totally unforeseen in the history of democratic Bangladesh.

Notable in the chain of events were the mind-blowing fast tracking of judiciary, manipulation of hazy legal jargons, and ultimately bypassing of the highest judiciary to push forward with the government’s agenda to remove the opposition leader from her home. The media manipulation of the event was also unprecedented for a democratic government. Advancing on what the previous military-controlled regime did, from the day before the incident, the media was fed with concocted stories of Khaleda Zia leaving her home willingly. And on the day of the event and the day after, the naked dishonesty and partisanship of the defence department’s press wing, ISPR, was simultaneously a painful reminder of the demise of the armed forces as neutral public servants and the last nail in the coffin of an institutional balance of power under present government.

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After the military coup of 1/11/ 2007, the political role that 1/11 military leadership, did irreparable harm to the image of the military in public minds. The latest incident of using ISPR ( MoD’s media wing) to malign the opposition leader acted as the last nail in the coffin of the credibility of the military institution as a nationally respected organization. What the ISPR did regarding the eviction of the opposition leader from her home is reprehensible beyond expression.
In a nutshell what ISPR did is
1. On the day before the eviction, started a campaign of lie that Mrs Zia is vacating her home on her own
2. On the day of eviction, while keeping journalists, family members, political leadership away from her house, kept on lying that Mrs Zia is leaving her house willingly.
3. After Mrs. Zia complained of forceful eviction in a press conference, ISPR kept on their self contradictory lies and gave a tour of the bedroom/ personal items of the opposition leader to the media. Their attempts to hide forceful rentry and breaking of doors did not escape journalists curious eyes. And the most disgraceful thing ISPR did was planting a porn magazine in opposition leader’s bedroom wardrobe,  some alcoholic beverages and inviting journalists to take photos of that. This was so disgusting that even most of Government friendly columnists / news papers bothered not to talk about it.

So when 26 retired army officers belonging to BNP protests the mindless partisan use of ISPR; over 150 retired army officers convenes a press conference and reads a statement supporting the acts of ISPR and repeating all the over-used negative political talking points against the opposition party. In the press conference, the politically divisive and hateful languages of ex Army chief Lt Gen Harun Ur Rashid clearly indicates the partisan agenda of Gen Harun and the sector commander’s forum he now leads. If General Harun sincerely wanted war crimes trials, he could have kept himself out of this dirty petty partisanship and extend his hands to embrace/ motivate BNP supporters to join the war crimes trial campaign of sector commander’s forum.

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