Tarique Rahman


Mahfuz Anam’s recent editorial, The Sons are Coming, makes for interesting reading. I advise readers to then go back and read a pair of his columns from 2007: How could BNP come to this stage?, written after the arrest of Tarique Rahman on March 9, 2007, and The mandate that Khaleda Zia Wasted, that ran on September 4, 2007, the day after Khaleda Zia was arrested.

Browsing through Daily Star in 2007 is like watching a super-sad movie: you know how all this is going to end, but you cannot help but be touched by the optimism in the middle. An article on the National Coordination Committee, written by the breathless Julfiqar Ali Manik (as a part of his competition with Zafar Sobhan to see who could make grander pronouncements about the all-encompassing success of the CTG), nicely illustrates the point. It would have “ultra-crime bust forces” and a “mighty committee.” It would “be at the helm of all major hunts for corruption and criminal suspects.” It “will not rest on filing of cases but follow those up till the disposal by keeping constant contacts and communications with relevant authorities.” In fact, short of wearing leotards and flying through the sky, it would virtually have no other limitations.

Newt Gingrich apparently shut down the US government because Bill Clinton did not invite him to the presidential cabin while taking a trip in Air Force One. Did Mahfuz Anam support a coup because he was “teased” (Mr. Anam’s words, not mine) by TR?

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Daily Star Report Blaming Hawa Bhaban

About ten months into the current Awami League government’s tenure, Daily Star produced this sensational investigative report. In blaring headlines, it pinned the blame for the August 21 assassination attempt on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tarique Rahman (referred to as Hawa Bhaban bigwig in report), and some other BNP leaders. The assassination attempt was billed as a joint venture between BNP and an Islamic fundamentalist organization.

The timing of this report was extremely significant. Two years ago, it was quite common to hear predictions about BNP breaking apart or an end to the Zia-brand of politics. Rovian dreams of Awami League’s permanent majority was quite du jour. BNP was scheduled to have its annual party council at the end of 2009. A feasible connection between Tarique Rahman and a murder charge would not only put BNP’s leadership transition into question, it would have given the government a huge bargaining chip against the largest opposition party.

Julfikar Ali Manik claimed that a “highly privileged document” from “a top accused of the grenade carnage” was the source of this information. This document finally went public on April 7 2011, when Mufti Hannan was brought in front of a magistrate to give a confessional statement that mirrored exactly what the 2009 Daily Star report had claimed. Important to note, Hannan had already confessed to his own involvement in this crime back in 2007. This additional information was only to pave the way for Tarique Rahman and other BNP leaders to be also indicted for the same crime.

Fast forward to September 27, less than a week ago. Having involved everyone the government wanted to involve, the case starts. Mufti Hanna submits a document stating that his supposed confessions were extracted by torture. How does Daily Star cover the story?

Daily Star Report on Retraction

It buries the retraction deep into the story. Which is funny, because the news that the government allegedly extracted a confession from a prisoner in its custody, only so that it can frame opposition politicians, ought to be big news. Amar Desh has reproduced the entire petition, including description of the torture. Eyebrows have been raised for less.

Daily Star Report on BNP

The next day, BNP, quiet understandably, held a press conference claiming vindication and pressing for the name of its leaders to be dropped from the charge-sheet. Again, in the headline, Daily Star made no reference to the alleged retraction. A casual reader glancing at the headline, as I did, would have probably thought it referred to some garden-variety claim made in some rally somewhere, and missed this entire back story.

In an incredible counterattack, to make sure the retraction of the confession was downplayed, Daily Star printed a competing news article claiming that Hannan’s legal petition had no standing. The next day, it got eminent jurist State Minister for Law Quamrul Islam to say the same thing.

Daily Star Report on Retraction of Confession

Let us look at the legal claims that a confession given under Section 164 cannot be retracted. Section 164 (3) of Bangladesh’s Criminal Procedure Code states:

(3) A Magistrate shall, before recording any such confession, explain
to the person making it that he is not bound to make confession and that if he does
so it may be used as evidence against him and no magistrate shall record any such
confession unless, upon questioning the person making it, he has reason to believe
that it was made voluntarily; and, when he records any confession, he shall make a
memorandum at the foot of such record to the following effect :-
“I have explained to (name) that he is not bound to make a confession and that, if he
does so any confession he may this confession was voluntarily made. I was taken in
my presence and hearing, an was read over to the person making it and admitted by
him to be correct, and it contains a full and true account of the statement made by
him.
(Signed) A. B.,
Magistrate.”

This makes abundantly clear that voluntariness is at the heart of any confession obtained through Section 164. The fact that confessions extracted through torture are illegal are no surprise; the courts of Bangladesh have been very exact in this regard. Our Supreme Court has explicitly held, in State Vs. Abul Hashem, 3 MLR (HCD) 30, that a magistrate cannot record a confession that is extracted through torture. And then, just to make sure, the magistrate has to affix his own signature at the end, verifying that the statement was not produced through torture.

What factors should a court look at to see whether there were any indication of torture or general police coercion? One very important factor is whether the confession is extracted after being in police custody, or whether there is any possibility that the witness may be taken back to remand right after his interaction with the magistrate. In State Vs. Farid Karim, 8 BLT(AD) 87, the fact that the accused was in police custody for unexplained two days before the police produced him for making confessional statement, was one of the important factors in the confessional statement being found involuntary.

Has Mufti Hanna been taken in custody, also called remand, often? According to a very desultory Google search, he has been remanded for 7 days on September 6, 2009, 5 days on September 12, 2009, 3 days on September 23, 2009, for 7 days on December 3, 2009, for 3 days on July 18, 2010, 2 days on August 22, 2010, and 5 days on December 27, 2010 . After making the statement, he was remanded for 1 day on April 26, 2011. That makes for 32 days of remand, and potential police torture, before and  1 day after making this confession statement. During the remand hearing held on August 22, 2010, Hannan tallied the number of days for which he had been in remand at 369 days over the past five years, and begged the magistrate not to grant any more remand. Remand, though, was granted.

Hanna was in police remand for half of September 2009. Presumably, it was this during this period that the document which became Julfikar Manik’s investigative piece was produced.

Even if this confession was made through torture, should we care if such confession statements cannot be retracted? Yes. There exists a plethora of judicial opinion, specifically State Vs. Lalu Miah and another, 39 DLR(AD) 11, which holds that any allegation of torture which forced the confessional statement, is to be treated the same as a petition for the withdrawal of the statement. Now that Hannan has claimed torture in police custody, the judge must decide whether his earlier confessional statement is credible. So the claim that there is no legal basis for withdrawing his confessional statement is without merit.

So why is this about the Daily Star’s coverage of this whole issue, rather than the much serious issue of torture of a prisoner in government custody, in a conspiracy to subvert the opposition political forces. There are two main reasons. The first is that we hear about these human rights violations through newspapers, and especially the Daily Star. If not for the Daily Star, Limon would be rotting in a jail cell or dead by now. So, when the newspaper itself decided to obfuscate the story and shift the focus to legal technicalities like getting permission from jail authorities instead of the much bigger and more serious allegation of torture in government custody, it renders hollow its supposed commitment to human rights and reinforces the suspicion that the news printed in Daily Star is slanted to serve a particular agenda.

Secondly, torture does not occur in a vacuum. No torture can flourish in a society unless it decides, as a whole, that certain individuals or classes of individuals are exempt from the protection of law. It very much seems like Daily Star has made such a finding for Mufti Hannan, which makes the paper, in general, and the relevant individuals, in particular, accomplices to torture. And the insidious thing is that the class of people who can be tortured tends to grow and metastasize at unbelievable speed. You may think that it only includes people with beards, and then suddenly, it also includes young university students out at night. 

This saga is by no means over. While there is an aspect to it that has a purely partisan aspect, this incident also serves as a reflection of the values that we hold as a society. And those values are fraying fast.

Government today submitted a supplemental chargesheet in August 21st 2004 Grenade attack on the then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina. The attack took 24 lives and injured many including Mrs Hasina herself.

Using the supplemental chargesheet, the mainstream media ( read Prothom Alo and DS) as well as other mainstream yes-media ( Read Amader Shomoy of Naimul Islam Khan etc.) were very glad to remind 21st august events to its readers. Multiple news including gruesome photos of the event on filled todays first pages ( whereas Prothom ALo first page news on the day after 15th amendment was about some irregularities in DMCH) of most print media.

In this supplemental chargesheet, almost the whole state machinery of last government is indicted. However reading the news stories today, one won’t understand the implication and seriousness of the matter.

If it is true, as government submitted in the supplemental chargesheet, that the whole state machinery led by the political leadership, in collusion with Army intelligence chief, the national security chief, the whole police top brass ( three consequetive police chiefs of the country, IG Police/ two other top brass police executives/ police investigating officers in the case), other senior intelligence officer — join hands with an international terrorist outfit like HUJI and try to throw grenade in a public meeting to kill the opposition leader —- then we are in a deep shit. BD has no right to be the 25th most failed state, it should have been at number 1 or two.

And if this is not true, i.e if this is only political persecution/ partisan revenge on the part of the current government— we are still in dire straits, in deeper shit. A citizen of this country has no right to tell that this country is better than 24 most failed dysfunctional states.

And more ominous is when nations’ leading media try to become part of this partisan revenge taking game, become tool of government in pushing forward the heinous design.

Showing us that all sorts of dynasties can coexist and flourish side-by-side in Bangladesh, Zafar Sobhan has very capably taken over the defense of Dr. Yunus (here and here) from his illustrious father. Mr. Sobhan’s main point is that this witch-hunt against Dr. Yunus hurts Sheikh Hasina’s international standing abroad, and detracts from what should be the Awami League’s real mission: the destruction of Tarique Rahman.

I absolutely defer to Mr. Sobhan on the ups and downs of our prime minister’s international standing. However, I am still left with some disquieting thoughts. Dr. Yunus is arguably the most accomplished Bangladeshi alive. He is certainly the most well-connected Bangladeshi alive. If all Mr. Sobhan is left with is appealing to international sentiments, one has to ask, is there no domestic constituency left in Bangladesh that can dissuade or counsel Hasina from this disastrous policy? The fifty-plus cabinet, the half a dozen advisers, too many MPs to count, the much-vaunted sushil brigade, and no one to tell or show Hasina that you can’t sink Dr. Yunus?

Instead, Mr. Sobhan is left appealing to the prime minister’s international standing. It’s not a completely futile threat. Joseph Stalin once asked, “How many divisions has the Pope?” Sheikh Hasina isn’t likely to be quite as flippant; she knows better than any of us the path that took her to Gono Bhaban in 2007 – 2008. However, it’d have been nice to be able to solve this one mess by ourselves.

Speaking of 2007 – 2008, we have fond memories of the glory days when the unbeatable troika of Messrs. Sobhan, Wahid, and Ahsan used to regale us with grand tales and lofty ambitions from the rarified perch of Daily Star’s op-ed page. However, as they say, all good things come to an end. Mr. Sobhan is no longer at Daily Star, and Mr. Wahid now graces Shah Alam’s Daily Sun. Syed Badrul Ahsan alone is left to educate and inspire us. But he has switched into over-drive recently; there are only so many rags that pro-AL tycoons will be able to publish in the next three years, and the plum editorial jobs aren’t going to land themselves. Thus, we got this gem:

Khaleda Zia’s vow of nullifying every act of the Awami League is a patent threat to all of us. If the threat comes to pass, the sunlight will go fleeing from our lives, the moon will lose its luster, poetry will die, politics will be no more, rivers will not run and good men and women will be fugitives in the wild woods.
Everything will pall. Everything will pale. Everything will fall.

If Mr. Sobhan is sending a message from the Awami League base to its leadership, Mr. Ahsan’s message is from the Awami League leadership to the people, and especially those who make up the readership of the Star: Yes, we are proving to be quite bad, and we have also started losing elections, but stick with us, otherwise, dum dum dum…

Yes, those currently in power have started thinking about the next elections. Which is good, because our opposition seems to find it difficult to focus on a time-window past the next two weeks. They should take a leaf from Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed Joy, the eminent computer scientist “with graduation from Texas University at Arlington, USA” who, like many before him, has discovered the convenient advantages of one-party rule, as long as it’s his party doing the ruling. Another message from AL, and perhaps the most significant one yet.

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?

So, Zafar Sobhan thinks BNP is mafia.  This made me laugh.  You see, that’s the thing with Bangladeshi politics — you have to laugh at it, because the alternative is to howl in despair.

Let’s be fair to Zafar.  It’s not just him who thinks this way.  I’ve heard it from many AL leaning folks over the years: the last BNP government was like the mafia, Tarique ran Bangladesh like a crime lord, the corruption and violence all pointed to mob rule.  So let’s lay off Zafar.  He is just more articulate than the most.

Instead, let’s look at the message.  So, the BNP government was like the mafia.  What does that mean?

Well, how does the mafia work?  There is a system of patronage, whereby the Don confers favours on those under his protection, and they in turn does the Don’s bidding.  Then there is extortion.  You want to do business in a mob neighbourhood, you pay a protection fee.  And finally, anyone stepping out of line has to be disciplined — made to sleep with the fishes.

BNP was all of these we are told.  Hawa Bhaban cronies ran the country like a private fiefdom.  There were rampant extortion, from the top to bottom.  And there were killings like the 21 August.

The 21 August was a crucial turning point.  After that event, many people said ‘we used to follow Zia’s ideals, not this Khaleda-Falu politic’.   For many who had no love of AL shunned BNP because of its mafia-type transformation.

That was then.  What do we see now?

We see that minister’s brother’s company is given lucrative contracts for electricity generation without any tender process.  And then we see that act being indemnified through legislation.

We see prime ministerial advisors openly declaring that only the ruling party members will be appointed for government job.  We see the public servants humiliated because they wanted to follow the law, and not the party diktat.

We see dissenting voices shut down and thrown into jail by partisan judges.

What was that about patronage, favor, and extortion?

Not as bad as BNP, you say?  Not like AL is killing opposition politicians, like the BNP did on 21 August.

Never mind that no one has actually produced any evidence of BNP being involved with 21 August (as opposed to covering up afterwards).  For the partisan AL mind, it’s a given that BNP did it.  And AL is not as bad.

Except for the inconvenient fact that AL is, of course, as bad if not worse.  In Natore, an upazilla chairman was killed in broad daylight a few weeks ago.  The entire thing is available in youtube.  And Sheikh Hasina personally saved the killers by saying ‘this was BNP’s internal conflict’.

We don’t need Julifikar Ali Manik’s complicated conspiracy theories.  All this happened in public media.  Sheikh Hasina intervened to save killers.

As I said, after 21 August, many BNP supporters abandoned their party.  I don’t know a single AL-er who owns up to Hasina’s action after the Natore killing.  None.

You know why?

Because AL is a cult.  It’s a cult whose members believe that their party can do no wrong.  It’s a cult whose members believe their leader can do no wrong.  It’s a cult whose members simply refuse to face the reality, and would prefer to believe in conspiracy theories where everything is someone else’s fault.  It’s a cult whose members, otherwise perfectly fine people, lock away parts of their reason, compassion, and conscience.

The 21 August assassinations will hang over BNP until it unconditionally apologises for it, and the real killers are convicted and punished.  Until that happens, the charge of ‘BNP is mafia’ will bite.

BNP may be mafia.  But so is AL.  And AL is also a cult.  No matter what happens to BNP, until the AL-ers free themselves from their mental slavery, Bangladesh will remain doomed with a plague on both houses.

ছি ছি হাসিনা, এই রকম করে না.  আমরা জানি খালেদা কত্ত খারাপ.  ইন্ডিয়াও জানে. ওর  ছেলেদের কে আচ্ছা সে পিট্টি দিসি না সবাই মিলে.  লাগলে আবার পিটাব. আর দুষ্টুমি কোর না, কেমন?

That’s how someone described the Economist article (over the fold) on recent political events in Bangladesh.  The article says: BNP, particularly Tarique, represents kleptocracy and Islamist extremism and his return has to be prevented at any cost, so AL can feel safe in its project to trash Zia, so long as nothing too egregious is done.  If this is any guide to the thinking in the Embassy Row, then BNP is in lot more trouble than appears.

Now, how does the Economist write its articles on Bangladesh?  There is no Economist correspondent in Dhaka.  There is one in New Delhi.  James Astill, the guy in Delhi, is well versed in the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  He is reputed to prefer Lahore over Delhi.  He is not really a pro-Indian kinda guy.

So how does he write a piece like this?  Well, he doesn’t really know all that much about Bangladesh.  He gets his views from a few dozen English speaking, Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara living folks.  He visits Dhaka once a while, sips cold beer at Sonargaon, and talks to men and women in their 30s and 40s working in the corporate and NGO sectors.  And he writes what they think.

It’s that class of Bangladeshis — confession, the current blogger is from that class, as is the owner of this blog — who overwhelmingly think this way.  This class of Bangladeshis, who read the Daily Star, and dine at Le Saigon, influence not just what James Astill, Nicolas Haque (Al Jazeera) or Amy Kazmin (Financial Times) thinks, but also what the Embassy Row thinks.

And there are hardly any BNP voice in this crowd.  There is no BNP equivalent of Zafar Sobhan to write regularly in the Guardian, no Asif Saleh with a social network across corporate, bureaucratic and civil society elites.

The most desparing thing is, I don’t see any appreciation from anyone connected with BNP leadership that this is a problem.

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