The Fix Is In: Thuggery In Bangladesh

Overnight the new military rulers of Bangladesh took decisive steps to consolidate their hold on power. On the heels of charging the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, with murder, the military declared today that she will not be allowed into the country.

In a official press note barring Hasina from returning to Bangladesh from the United States, the megalomaniacs who have taken over what was the world’s fifth largest democracy announced:

Some reliable sources have informed the government that Awami League President Sheikh Hasina, now on a personal visit to the United States, might return to the country on April 23, 2007. It should be mentioned here that in the recent past, the law and order had been disrupted while national security and the economic climate had been jeopardized in a period of anarchy brought on by non-stop and irresponsible agitation and disorderly acts of Awami League and other political parties under her leadership. Inevitably, it all led to declaration of the state of emergency.

Besides, she has made provocative and malicious statements against the present caretaker government and law enforcement agencies at different meetings and in national and international media while staying overseas.

Under the circumstances, if Sheikh Hasina returns, she might seek to make provocative remarks like she did before, and create further hatred and confusion among the people. This might deteriorate the country’s law and order, disturb the prevailing stability and threaten public safety and economy. Also to be noted, Sheikh Hasina herself is concerned about her security and has pleaded with the government through her party for special security arrangements. For the above-mentioned reasons, the government has decided to take some cautionary steps regarding her return. However, those measures are temporary.

Immigration at air and land ports, different airlines and the other authorities concerned have been informed to that end. The foreign, civil aviation and tourism ministries, civil aviation authority and the inspector general of police too have been requested to take necessary steps.

The military also ordered the press in Bangladesh not to report on any comments made by the former Prime Minister:

The government through its Press Information Department and other agencies has instructed all newspapers not to carry any comment of Sheikh Hasina. An SMS received from an army major said: "You are requested not to telecast/print any views/comments of Sheikh Hasina from today till further order." It may be mentioned that Hasina’s comment on the government’s ban on her return was aired by BBC Bangla Service which has been heard by the radio’s audiences in Bangladesh.

Earlier in the week the military arrested the son of the immediate past Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia, on charges of graft. The very next day they released him after extracting a promise from Mrs. Zia that she would leave the country with her sons for exile in Saudi Arabia.

This latest thuggery comes after the arrest of over 150,000 people in an "anti-corruption" drive since last January. All those arrested are being held without bail and without due process under emergency powers the military government has granted itself.

Sheikh Hasina has vowed to return to Bangladesh in spite of the orders barring her entry. It remains to be seen if she will be successful.

The military strongman who has taken control of Bangladesh, Lt. General Moeen U Ahmed, is systematically purging the two most popular political parties in Bangladesh. Together these two parties enjoy overwhelming support in Bangladesh and have both held power after close elections during the past 16 years of democratic rule in Bangladesh.

The Economist weighed in earlier this week on the purge taking place in Bangladesh:

In the latest dramatic twist to the political crisis in Bangladesh, authorities have charged Sheikh Hasina Wajed, a former prime minister, with murder and have also severely restricted the movements of her arch-rival, Khaleda Zia. The moves come amid an intensifying campaign by the military-backed interim government to sideline the country’s two main political parties and their leaders. Although such efforts, combined as they are with a massive crackdown on corruption, seem likely to prove popular initially, the self-styled "caretaker" administration also appears to be entrenching itself to a degree that suggests it has designs on more permanent power. The probability of a return to outright military rule—rather than the stealth version arguably in effect already—is therefore increasing. Simultaneously, the chances of democracy being restored any time soon are declining.

As with all cases in which military or military-backed governments suspend democracy for the supposed good of a country, the latest purge of the political class raises all-too-evident concerns about what happens next. There is little doubt that corruption is prevalent in Bangladesh, and that rivalry between the AL and the BNP has not served the public interest. However, the implicit argument behind the current state of emergency—namely that corruption needs to be reduced before elections can be held—is flawed in that the intractability of the problem provides the interim government with a ready-made excuse to defer the restoration of democracy indefinitely. Also, there is no guarantee that the caretaker leaders and their allies will be any less corrupt than those they have replaced.

The prospect of a period of extended emergency rule raises all manner of concerns, however. If reports that the authorities have arrested more than 150,000 corruption suspects are accurate, then it is fair to worry whether human rights violations are not likely to occur on a large scale. Any delay in holding elections would also be unpopular with the public, which no doubt had its fill of authoritarian rule in the 1970s and 1980s. The government recently said it would try to hold elections by the end of 2008, but this timetable looks ambitious: the reforms needed to allow elections to go ahead are likely to take at least 12 months to complete, after which monsoonal weather may prevent polling taking place until the following year.

A further concern is that the current crackdown is likely, at some stage, to lead to a backlash against the interim government as some of those who have been detained—many of whom are politically influential—are released. This may take the shape simply of efforts to reverse the policies of the current administration, but there is also a strong chance that it could result in an increase in violence. Despite the interim administration’s claims that its objectives are honourable, the draconian measures it has taken in the name of improving stability could, like those of most such regimes, have just the opposite effect.

By trying to exile the leaders of the two biggest political parties in Bangladesh, General Moeen, who just today gave himself a promotion [link is in Bengali] for his fine work, has very clearly shown his hand. The stated goal of the military takeover was to cleanse the country of corruption. Now they have abandoned all such pretenses of a corruption drive in favor of open bullying of the political parties and the crushing of Bangladeshi democracy. There can now be no doubt that this is a takedown by force of one of the few shining examples of secular democracy in a Muslim majority country. The Bangladesh military, along with their Islamist allies, have orchestrated a coup d’etat with the tacit support of the United States government.

Before the military takeover, in a speech at Dhaka University on December 17 2006, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, Patricia Butenis, publicly cautioned against a military takeover:

Any extra-constitutional arrangement imposed on the people of Bangladesh, such as military intervention, would not address the basic weaknesses afflicting the current political process, would likely lead to great turmoil and disappointment, and should be stoutly resisted by all defenders of democracy.

Well, I have taken up her call to "all defenders of democracy" to "stoutly resist" this military takeover. As I respond to her call, I look back to see silence from Mr. Bush and contradiction from Ambassador Butenis. Yesterday, the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star reported the following:

US Ambassador Patricia Butenis has appreciated Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed’s address to the nation, particularly for mentioning a timeframe for holding the general election, and said the US government is satisfied with the caretaker government’s performance.

She said the US government is observing the caretaker government’s activities positively.

Appreciating a number of pragmatic initiatives and actions, the US envoy said the caretaker government has attained a lot of achievements in a short time and is enjoying tremendous popular support.

Citing a survey carried out by the US Coast Guard, Butenis said the Chittagong seaport is now working properly as clockwise which is laudable.

Now, there is little doubt that the military government has put the press in Bangladesh on a short leash. So, it is possible that the Ambassador may have been misrepresented in the article. However, in the absence of any corrections from the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka or the State Department, its reasonable to assume that the Ambassador’s views have been fairly reported. The deafening silence from Washington as an Islamic country of 150 million people has its democracy gutted by the military, combined with words of encouragement from the Ambassador, can only help to embolden the Generals in Bangladesh.

So this is Mr. Bush’s freedom agenda. When a lone "journalist" named Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury was arrested in Bangladesh, then under civilian rule, on charges of sedition and then released on bail, free to publish to his heart’s content, the neocons persuaded the United States government to pressure the Bangladeshi government to drop all charges against the man and cancel his upcoming trial. Bangladesh was threatened with aid cut-off if it did not buckle to American pressure. The United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that Bangladesh drop all charges against this man. The State Department highlighted this man’s cause. All because he was being given full due process by the democratically elected government of Bangladesh.

However, when the current military dictators arrest 150,000 people and lock them up without trial, force one former Prime Minister into exile, threaten to bar another from entering the country, engage in wholesale torture and killings, suspend all fundamental rights and due process, trample on the secular democracy that was Bangladesh, the United States State Department does not comment at all, the White House ignores the collapse of democracy, the U.S. Ambassador encourages the thuggery, and the United States Congress couldn’t be bothered by the whole episode.

No wonder the laughter is deafening when the United States preaches democracy to the Muslim and Third Worlds.


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8 Responses to The Fix Is In: Thuggery In Bangladesh

  1. ZaFa says:

    The gag on the media is already in effect. Most of the news postings on Hasina have been removed from the electronic media (I don’t if it’s a temporary server error, but most of the links in your post don’t work, wondering if the links were to Bangladeshi online newspapers).
    I wonder what would those people say now, who thought this unelected govt had been the best thing that happened to BD after liberation.
    It’s so amazing that “History Keeps Repeating Itself” in Bangladeshi politics.:(

  2. Mash says:

    Zafa, the links that are now going to “suspended page” are from the Daily Star. I suspect they are being forced to delete some news items. Its hard to exercise editorial discretion when the army man is holding a sub-machine gun at you, I suppose. :-w

    I am amazed by the number of expat Bangladeshis who live in Western democracies who are now cheering on a military dictatorship. Some are loudly advocating throwing people in jail without trial, damn the evidence. They are saying who needs democracy anyway. I find the hyprocrisy unreal. Whats more these are the same people who yell loudly when the US locks people up in Gitmo without trial. Apparently human rights apply to everyone except if you are a Bangladeshi living in Bangladesh, then its open season with the torture and killings.

    For those who want to get a taste of Bangladeshi opinion for and against this military coup, visit Drishtipat and read some of the comments.

  3. Group Captain Mandrake says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about the ongoing deterioration of freedom in Bangladesh….and even more sad to know that Mash is the ONLY source I’ve heard a peep from about this (no offense big guy–I’d just like to see real news like this covered in the NYT or WP instead of being relegated to BBC Bangla, BTW where would the world be without da Beeb?)…Why is Lindsay Lohan’s rehab more of a story than the deterioration of civil rights in a major democracy? And…what happened to BushKo’s policy of “spreading democracy?”

  4. dude says:

    “ongoing deterioration of freedom”

    so here’s the thing, i would say, for most people, life is no different than before. prices keep on going up, as before, well off people still treat them like crap, and with summer and deadly heat coming, price of electricity has also gone up along with the price of petrol.

    i would also say, this being just my personal observation, that there is “less” military presence than during the former ctg sans military. though those might have been bdr.

    anecdotally, from the mouths of merchants, rickshawallahs, and the working class people in general (i know anecdotally due to me asking them), their lives have become a little less certain, they not having connections or uncles in high places.

    what has greater daily ramification then going ons topside is crackdown on illegal transportation of goods over what trucks are allowed to carry, shopping centres only being allowed to stay open until 7pm, and the horrendous increase in the price of basic commodities, i.e. oil rice etc.

    these things are true no matter if in gulshan, dhanmondi, or old town. but for many in those places paying 25-30% more for said basic commodities isn’t even a drop in the ocean.

    things ALWAYS look worse outside than inside the country, having lived through 4 coups in 3 countries from asia to africa (2 in one place).

  5. Mash says:

    Mandrake, the NYT thankfully wrote an editorial about it last week. Since then CNN, reuters, and others have covered it, but only as an inside page story. Lindsay Lohan’s latest escapade apparently has more news value.

    The Economist has been covering this from the start – but virtually no one reads that in the US.

    Most of the coverage in the US, if you can call it that, has been cursory at best. They will usually quote the official government spokesmen and then add a few lines themselves. Its quite sad.

  6. Mash says:

    dude, the rich always seem to be ok with these “inconveniences”. However, when the price of essentials goes up, it usually means a skipped meal in a village household, or more rice and less meat or veggies.

    Thanks for checking in from the “homefront”. We could use some candid feedback.

    It feels from here like 1975. The same kind of statements are coming from the military. I don’t see any benefit to the country from being subjected to another lengthy period of military rule. I only see further politicization of the beurocracy. After all, the military perfected it to an art form by placing a military man in every ministry. They showed the way to corruption and everyone seemed follow that well beaten path.

    In the meantime, the elite are highfiving because they have new partners to make their millions with.

  7. dude says:

    “or more rice and less meat or veggies”

    um, people in rural areas are not in the habit of eating meat on anywhere remotely a regular basis, but i know you know that. and you are perhaps right about missing meals,a nd also about the well off not being particularly affected. i know most foreigners and uppermiddle class folks here certainly aren’t.

    the dudette was here during 75, and i was coincidently here during early 80’s, and this feels NOTHING like either of those.

    don’t be an alarmist man, things aren’t peachy, they aren’t as bad as they were 5-6 months ago where we saw daily clashes, and the heavy hand of law enforcement, RAB, and bdr.

  8. Mash says:

    dude, thats why I put the OR in the middle. I think its quite clear from the many economic reports on Bangladesh that a price hike in essentials takes a significant toll on most of the Bangladeshi population, who today live in near-subsistence levels.

    You say:

    the dudette was here during 75, and i was coincidently here during early 80’s, and this feels NOTHING like either of those.

    don’t be an alarmist man, things aren’t peachy, they aren’t as bad as they were 5-6 months ago where we saw daily clashes, and the heavy hand of law enforcement, RAB, and bdr.

    Dude, I think as a factual matter the pronouncements coming from this government mirror almost exactly those that came out in 1975 and 1982. It was the same tactic – in November 1975 it was NOT Zia who was ostensibly running the country. Bangladesh had a civilian leader – Zia was in the background, had a depute CMLA role. Everyone knew he was running the show after the events of Nov. 3 1975. Zia soon dispensed with the civilian leader and took the power directly once he had purged the opposition – as you will recall many were jailed and many were eventually hanged. What did “civil society” do? They cheered.

    Ershad ran a similar script, though his was less like now, because he was coming off of many years rule from Zia.

    We are now in the period after the coup and before the military removing the civilian face and dispensing with the charade. That wont happen until, as before, the political parties are gutted. Again, as before, “civil society” is cheering.

    You can call me an alarmist, but putting 150,000 in jail, shutting down all fundamental rights, etc. is not exactly peachy. I have NO LOVE for the BNP government that preceded this fiasco, but I DO have a love for a democratic system that had many admirers.

    There are legitimate ways to attack corruption in Bangladesh. But that corruption lies at the nexus of government and “civil society”. Replacing the democratically elected government with the army simply means that the army gets to steal. Plus the people lose their rights.

    You may think that’s not so bad, and given your prior comment that the people don’t “deserve” to decide, I can see why you and I don’t agree.

    But when the army does politics, the net result is a top to bottom corruption of the beaurocracy AND the army for a very very long time. That makes corruption worse, not better.

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