I was driving back from Florida last week. While passing through the gorgeous plantation-style homes and palm trees in my route, it suddenly came to me what Khaleda Zia should have actually said on the 29th. Instead of attacking the people of an entire district, which is unfair, since they do not bear collective responsibility for the action of certain individuals. She should have lamented, “Gopalganj is too small to be its own country, and too large to be a mental asylum.”*

But Gonobhaban, I think, is just the right size to be a mental asylum. And the current occupant of Gonobhaban is now spreading her own brand of insanity to the rest of Bangladesh.

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Seated front Row from Left 1. Prime Minister of the Country 2. Foreign Minister of the country 3. Putul, Prime Minister’s daughter – a Canadian resident, 4.  Sleeping Man, 5. Unidentified

Back row seated from Left 1. Foreign Secretary Mizarul Kayes 2. Unidentified, 3. Unidentified, 4. Unidentified

Q: Where is Bangladesh Ambassador to UN Abul Momen?

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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Photo, courtesy of the Daily Star.

National leader of Bangladesh, late Presiedent Ziaur rahman lived in this house from 1972 till his death in 1981. This was a house he was allotted as the deputy chief of staff of Bangladesh Army.

After his death, the then elected government’s cabinet decided to give the property to the widow of the slain president in a 99 year lease. That widow is now our leader of opposition.

Coming back to power for the second time, PM Sheikh Hasina seemed hellbent in evicting the opposition leader from that house and then demolishing this residence of late President Ziaur rahman.

A legal battle is underway in the court in this regard. A hearing is scheduled to take place in the Supreme court on Nov 29th.

However government looks like too impatient to wait till final resolution of the legal process.

So far from the sketchy news coming out of Dhaka cantonment where Mrs Zia leaves, the followng incidences have been confirmed.

1. Military PR wing issued a press release that opposition leader is leaving the house on her own. However the opposition leader, through her press secretery has denied any such claim by the military.

2. All the staff of the opposition leader residence have been rounded up and taken to police station.

3. Police and military trucks have taken position in front of opposition leader’s house.

4. Telephone line has been disconnected from the residence of opoosition leader.

5. Cantonment officials went to opposition leader’s house to take over the property.

6. Police and paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion forces has entered opoosition leader’s house and they were seen at the roof.

7. Opposition leader is being debied to meet her lawyers and political collegaue.

8. Opposition chief whip and other colleague of the opposition leader were barred from entering cantonment.

9. Law enforcement agency members were reported to be using hand mikes instructing the opposition leader to evacuate the home and promising stern action otherwise.

10. Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s General Secretary, in a press briefing, informed that the opposition leader is under house arrest at this time.

11. Sporadic clashed with opposition activists and law men are being reported from different parts of the country.

12. An attempted rally from opposition main office was dispersed by the police.

13. Lawyers of Mrs Zia, the opposition leader, went to meet the Chief justice in his residence begging for a legal remedy.

[ UPDATE 12 NOON BDT]

14. Apparently there is a media blackout about the events regarding the residence of the opposition leader.
15. The main opposition party called a down to dusk general strike for tomorrow.

[ UPDATE]

In the evening, after daylong siege, Law enforcement men breaks open Opposition leader Khaleda Zia’s home, breaks open into her bedroom, indiscriminately beats her staff and family members, dragging her out of her bedroom and escorts her out of her home for 40 years.

Later in the evening in a press conference, Mrs Zia talked to the nation of her ordeal.

Déjà Vu?

23rd or 24th March 1986. Sheikh Hasina, thanks to a deal with military dictator general Ershad, declared that Awami League would participate in the election. Exactly 24 hours earlier she declared in a meeting in Chittagong Lal Dighi maidan that those who would participate in election would be the national traitor ( Jatiyo Baiman). Some creative student (Belonging to JSD Chhatra league) of my medical College drew a cartoon and put it as a poster in the college lobby on 25th March evening. That cartoon drew a donkey like creature drinking water and the caption said, “Gadha jol ghola kore khay, Sheikh Hasina vote Chay (Donkey drinks after muddying the water, Sheikh Hasina participates in election in a similar fashion). The cartoon was offensive enough to start a clash between the activists of AL supporting students and JSD supporting students. On 25th March night, the clash-counter clash caused several dozen dorm rooms to be burnt into ashes. My room was one of those. All my brand new belongings were totally gutted. I was only in the sixth week of my first year as a medical student. That night I discovered that the dorm room I got through a friend of mine in fact ‘belonged’ to one of the battling student groups.

22 years 3 months later we are probably again back to a ‘drinking muddy water’ situation. This time it is not Sheikh Hasina alone drinking the muddy water. Her counter parts, in this case army chief Moeen and his cohorts, are also seen doing the same thing. (more…)