Sahara Khatun

Three cabinet-level figures: Sahara Khatun, H. T. Imam, and Tarique Ahmed Siddique, have informed us that questioning the existence of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) is akin to supporting extremists and terrorists. As it happens, the magic of the Internet and Google can allow us to go back in time, and remember when all these individuals, as well as both Awami League and BNP, had very different views on this matter.

Daily Star: October 19, 2004.

AL calls Rab killing force, demands its disbandment
Staff Correspondent

The main opposition Awami League (AL) yesterday demanded disbandment of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), terming it a ‘killing force’.

Pointing to frequent killings under Rab custody in the name of ‘crossfire’, the AL leaders also demanded punishment of the Rab members and those who raised the force for violating human rights.

The AL leaders at a news conference at the party’s Dhanmondi office expressed their apprehension that the government may indemnify the Rab against the killings.

They inferred the opinion from the indemnification of the armed forces for killing over 50 people during the Operation Clean Heart.

“The Rab cannot be a law enforcing agency. This is a killing force and violator of human rights,” said AL presidium member Suranjit Sengupta.

The AL held the conference to protest reported torture of two teenage brothers under the Rab custody for their confessional statements on the August 21 carnage. The Rab reportedly detained the boys in an unknown place for four days.

AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil said the government itself has become a weapon of torture and violator of constitutional rights of the people.

Asked whether the AL will take legal action challenging the Rab activities and against its members, Jalil said, “We’ll take the right decision in time.”

Suranjit said, “The Rab has killed dozens of people in the name of crossfire. This is simply murder as these people were killed without any trial. That is why we demand the government disband the Rab.

“How can it be ‘crossfire’ since there is no evidence of the Rab’s being shot at,” he said, asking, “Is crossfire a one-way shooting?” I’m quite sure the government will go to parliament to indemnify the killings under Rab custody,” he added.

He firmly said the Rab and those who have created it will have to face trial for custodial deaths and torture.

Jalil said the Rab tried to force the boys confess that they had hurled grenades at the rally at the directive of some AL leaders. One was released after four days and his younger brother sent to jail after spending 11 days in the RAB custody, he added.

Demanding compensation to them, he said, “They were subjected to heinous methods of physical torture including electric shocks.”

Daily Star: January 26, 2005.

Khaleda blasts opposition for anti-Rab stance
UNB, Comilla

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia yesterday reprimanded her political opponents for opposing Rab (Rapid Action Battalion) operations, saying that a party does not want the anticrime force as their “terrorists” cannot now unleash terrorism.

“Today, Hazari Bahini, Golondaz Bahini and Osman Bahini cannot stay in the field,” she told a public meeting at AR High School ground at Nagalkot in Comilla.

The prime minister said the Rab has been formed through enacting law to curb crimes in the country–one of the main election commitments of her party, BNP.

The prime minister said when people are leading a peaceful and happy life and want this situation to prevail, an opposition party stands against this situation. “Our opposition does not want peace— they want terrorism and so they are harbouring terrorists.”

Khaleda, the chairperson of the ruling BNP, observed that the Awami League, during its last five-year rule, had presented the country with terrorism, corruption and unfair means at public examinations.

On the contrary, she said, the three-year-old BNP-led coalition government has given roads, bridges, new schools, universities and employment and curbed crimes and formed independent anti-corruption commission to eradicate corruption from the country.

“BNP wants peace, welfare, progress and development while the opposition wants unrest and terrorism to take the country backwardand that’s the fundamental difference between the two,” said the prime minister.

Update I: Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury granted bail and then again arrested as he was leaving the jail premises.

Awami League’s reaction to BNP’s June 27th hartal was an important event in our recent political history. Coming in the government’s eighteenth month of power, this hartal was not aimed at forcing the Awami League Government to resign or to call new elections; it was simply to protest the increase in public suffering caused by lack of gas, electricity, water, and some other issues. So far, BNP has been the most benign of oppositions. Had Awami League not resorted to violence and let this hartal go without incident, we would have seen an extended period of calm and stability in our politics. Unfortunately, Awami League chose to use the Police, Rapid Action Battalion and its own student wing, Bangladesh Chatra League, to suppress the peaceful pro-hartal protests. The results were as horrifying as they were decisive.

All around Dhaka, law enforcement officials and Awami League party-men swooped upon BNP supporters and assaulted them. This attack on Shahiduddin Chowdhury Annie, MP is extremely illustrative of what happened all over Dhaka that day. At the beginning, Annie is clearly leading a procession BNP supporters, all of whom are trying to protect Annie. Successive attacks peel away everyone around him, until Annie himself is left naked in front of Chatra League brutality. Such episodes were repeated all throughout the day; the only difference was that since Annie is a Member of Parliament, this news made it to the national media.

The attack on Mirza Abbas’s house, when his wife, teenage daughter, and octogenarian mother were all attacked by the police and RAB, and assaulted violently, was another low point for democracy in Bangladesh. All of us know that Bangladesh is the mirror-image of Clauswitz’s famous dictum: in our country, it is politics that is continuation of war by other means. Even accounting for that, and remembering that this is the same party in power who gave us BKSAL and Rakkhi Bahini the first time around and Joynal Hazari and Shamim Osman the second time around, this behavior will come back to haunt Awami League in the years to come.


Update: Uninterrupted power supply and air conditioning available to Ministers and MPs only.

Update II: Government has not yet clarified if last year’s ban on wearing suits and full-sleeve shirts is still in effect.

In its latest move to control the stifling electricity shortage in Dhaka, the Awami League government has imposed restrictions on the usage of air conditioners. Except for hospitals, hotels, and restaurants, all other structures have to keep their ACs shut between 6 and 11. Even when the ACs can be operated, they can not be set below 25 degress. The reporters present asked the bureaucrat making this announcement what the government would do if someone did not follow this regulation. The bureaucrat replied he hoped everyone would cooperate with the government.

You cannot make this stuff up. To paraphrase Pablo Neruda, the stupidity of the government washed over the country, with little fuss, like governmental stupidity.

In any functioning country, a government publicly announces a measure only after it has implemented the scheme to execute it. To take an obvious example, when US authorities crack down on illegal immigrants from Mexico, they do not announce that all illegal immigrants from Mexico have been prevented from coming to this country, and then announce they are going to build a fence on the border and appoint more border agents. The arrangement is always the other way round: the assets are always put into place before a government ffigure publicly announces a new initiative.

However, that is now how Home Minister Sahara Khatun operates. If she did, she would not currently be BNP’s biggest ally. She announced, with great fanfare, that people on the government’s list of suspects for the upcoming “crime against humanity” trial would not be allowed to leave the country. Then it emerged that one of the people in the list, Mur Kashem Ali, Chairman of Diganta Media, had just flown out the country. Not only had he left the country, he had given a letter to the Civil Immigration authorities, who oversee the airports, stating the fact of his departure, and asked for the use of VIP facilities, which had promptly been granted. How was he allowed to leave the country? Well, it seems that Sahara Khatun was so busy talking to the media that she forgot to send a notice to Civil Immigration with the name of those barred from flying abroad. What was her reaction after this whole matter became public? That she did not know of any such incident. As I said, you cannot make this stuff up.

Meanwhile, the government only decided to stop their zany scheme to mess with the clocks again at the last second. However, it took Zafar Iqbal going on a warpath and publicly writing columns in Prothom Alo and Samakal before the government came to their senses. Salaries for the Cabinet have almost been doubled, and lawmakers can again import duty-free cars. The government does not allow Drik to have an exhibit on the heinous crossfire murders, even when the Director General of RAB is admitting that they need to work hard not to become tainted by their misdeeds.

There is an ever-widening gap between the government’s actions and the public’s desires. Moreover, there appears to be no effective way to convince the government about this gap. The government would do well to reflect on why they have been losing elections to professional bodies recently, and what it portends for a government that publicly seeks to remain in power for multiple terms.