Wahiduzzaman Apollo – victim of the new war to emancipate Bangladesh

If you are living in Bangladesh and if you are not in Facebook, you probably have not heard about Wahiduzzaman Apollo. He is an unashamedly nationalist activist, aligned with BNP. What is different about him is, he is the part of new generation of activist, who protects their party dogma through an exercise of intellect. He is one of those new generation who does not seek financial dividend in return of their activism.  Wahidujjaman Apollo is not a single person.

A new Bangladesh is emerging in the online space where constantly ideas are expressed, debated and challenged. For one Wahiduzzaman Apollo in support of nationalist movement and BNP there is another Doctor Aiju or Omi Pial in favor of Awami league and the Bengali nationalist movement , who’s name you may not have heard either. There are other, Baki Billah and Parvej Alam who challenges the narrative of both Awami League and BNP, it is unlikely that you have heard their name as well.

The mentioned few are all part of a new generation of online warriors who are trying to portray a new Bangladesh, that is trying to break out of the shackles of old, protected intellectual establishment, which is now settled in their comfort zone and unable to add value to the dynamic narrative of the new Bangladesh that is emerging.

This is a genuine fight of the generation. A new war to be free, definitely not comparable with the liberation war that was fought in 1971 when 3 million lives were lost to give birth to a new nation called Bangladesh but a fresh one to create a new emancipated, open and enlightened Bangladesh that earlier generation has failed to establish.

The new generation of online warriors  operate in the space of Facebook, blogs and other online medias. They have their own followers in tens and thousands, who subscribe to their views. They are constantly debating with each other with their status updates and  each of their words is tested in a space by their followers and opposition as the media allows each person to freely express their minds. So, none can get away with an outright lie as each  word is validated by a huge group of people, who enjoys an absolute freedom of speech in this new medium.
In a country, where all the traditional media has been captured by political elites and their business allies – people are fed with news and debate which eventually protects the standing of the establishment only. So, facebook, blogs and the online space where the small debates take place are the only free space left for people to express their mind. The freedom to write anything is the central tenant that fuels these debates and allows new ideas to flourish.
This freedom is now allowing a new narrative of a Bangladesh which is showing the way forward or building up a space which will show the way forward for the country.

The importance of these small debates cannot be undermined. Shahbag movement, which has fundamentally changed the country for better or worse is a result of this debates on online space. Wahiduzzaman Apollo is one of the catalyst of this new wave.
Government and the current political establishment are aware of this impact. The latest ICT law which has provisions of 7 years jail term without any bail was one of the tool that has been thought out by the political establishment to control this space and curtail the freedom that is enjoyed by these new generation activists.

AKM Wahiduzzaman Apollo, is the first victim of this law. A case were filed against him few weeks back and yesterday AKM Wahiduzzaman Apollo has been put behind bars for his opinion. Wahiduzzaman Apollo is an imperfect man, he is also guilty of selective judgment. But, he is done nothing wrong other than to speak his mind. He has neither preached religious hatred or nor did anything other than saying what is being said by most people-the corruption and the ill doings of the government and the evil nature of the leadership.
It is clear, the establishment which is now headed by Awami League wants to give a signal to the online community to curtail their thoughts and limit their speech and bully them to stop criticizing government. The case filed against Wahiduzzaman Appollo is designed to mime him and other vocal activists to silent them. There is no doubt in anyones mind that, when this establishment will change its leader and BNP will come to power, similar miming of voice will be carried out, as it was done before.
This makes AKM Wahiduzzaman one of the the first victims of the  new war to liberate Bangladesh. A war that is being fought to free Bangladesh from the old establishment which has captured all the power, asset, space and voice and established a narrative which does not state the real voices of people.
This is a fight between evil and the good, the establishment and not haves, the new and old, the real and fake. This is the second liberation war that Bangladesh awaits to free its people from the evil establishment that now controls everything.

We unequivocally condemn the arrest of Wahiduzzaman Apollo.

The old establishment is not aware that, their days are numbered. They are not aware that an arrest of one Wahiduzzaman will give rise to 160 million Wahiduzzaman and government cannot put them all behind bars. There is not enough seats in the jails of Bangladesh to arrest them all.
We demand, that Wahidzzaman Apollo should be freed immediately with an apology else these will snowball into something that the establishment will be totally unable to control.

What are (Were) we thinking? Are ( Were) we out of our minds?

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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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Feb 25, 2009
Posted by- rumi
Tag – Army

Are we out of our minds?

Lets first see what happened today in BDR HQ in Pilkhana area of Dhaka.

The soldiers of an armed paramilitary border security force staged a public mutiny. As a part of the mutiny, it is near confirmed that they have killed senior leadership and their family members of this force. TV footages have shows footage of uniformed bodies lying on the ground within the HQ campus. They did not stop there. These rampant gun-trotting soldiers attacked civilians around the HQ. Poor people like rickshaw-wallahs, peddlers, pedestrians were killed. TV reporting has shown bodies lying near Dhanmondi lake and bleeding to death. There was no one to save that life. Another footage showed a father was running aimlessly helplessly holding his school dressed daughter on his chest. Undressed bodies are being recovered from sewage draining out of the BDR HQ area.

The government has shown utmost restraint so far. None other than the PM has declared a general amnesty. Political delegation has visited the revolting soldiers. Even PM and other senior leaders of the government met 16 members of the revolting forces.

In TV channels, all day we have heard how corrupt was the reportedly slain officers of BDR. Jawans staging the mutiny got unprecedented media access and a total one-sided propaganda dominated the media as well as the blogs all day. We’ve head all day how bad was BDR DG. We never bothered to dig his side of the story. And we’ve never bothered to ask even if all the corruption charges were true, is there any justification of the mindless killing that took place today?

Electronic media was one step ahead. They have transmitted all the real time info of all army movement to the BDR folks.

We have heard how deprived the BDR folks were. We were told again and again how army gets five times more benefits that of BDR. We were not told how BDR jawans get 100 fold more benefit that police forces. And how police forces gets thousands time more benefit compared to a vegetable vendor or a rickshaw puller.

The morning of August 16 1975 is still very vivid in my mind. The talk of the town that day was similar to all the talks we heard today. Stories of unbelievable massive scale corruption, arrogance of all those killed were all over the town.

We got to remember and remind ourselves that taking up arms and start indiscriminate killing just out of speculation is never a right thing to do.

Our government must take a decisive stand against this mutiny. This mutiny must be trampled first. If an investigating team identifies any injustice, necessary steps must be taken in the future. But negotiations must not be only option in dealing with such a situation. Once the revolting soldiers disobeyed and rejected the amnesty offer of the supreme commander, the immediate next step would be containment.

If government submits to BDR demands today, the police will revolt and kill tomorrow. Then army will also revolt with their demands. Not to mention other professionals like rickshaw pullers, street vendors etc.

I am hearing all the latest developments in negotiations. News tickers are showing that after a meeting with home minister and reps of the mutineers, the rebel soldiers have agreed to lay off their arms. If this turns to be true, this will be great news. I am however very skeptic about this. I fear this will end in total collapse of rebel chain of command.

While government need to be decisive in not tolerating such mutiny, utmost caution must be taken to minimize loss of lives. Sometimes simple waiting and patience game can do the job.

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And BTW, Bangladesh armed forces have done a super job so far. A reminder to all of us, this is the kind of job military is for. They have mobilized and got ready to storm the BDR HQ in a very quick time. Despite all the anger and provocation from inside, they have kept their fingers away from the triggers most of the time. And even they have been quite tolerant to the menacing natured electronic media people of Bangladesh and curious onlookers. 46th independent infantry brigade has done the job it is intended to do.

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The following are the comments made by bloggers and readers —

BDR, Mutiny
35 Comments

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @1:33 am
I agree. There can be no pardon for cold blooded murder. The story about the DG of BDR shooting and killing a Jawan is nonsense, and even if all the allegations of corruption are true, it doesnt justify a mutiny of this scale. The rule of law must be upheld at all cost.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @1:34 am
kintu rumi bhai, amnesty na dile plan-B ta ki hoto?

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @1:38 am
fariha, the amnesty should cover those jawans who got caught up in the events, and took up arms later. But those who first broke the command structure and slaughtered their officers must be tried and punished.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @1:41 am
hmm..but in the face of the growing unrest in the city, what else could the PM have done but grant them all general amnesty? A full investigation to find out who broke the command chain first would’ve been impossible in the afternoon, no?

Arif • Feb 26, 2009 @1:46 am
Faria,

Plan B jodi kono akta follow hoito, tailay plan A niyee akta lekha akhon lekha hoito.

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @1:47 am
…and what signal would that send, fariha? If you don’t like your superiors, kill them. Create enough “unrest” and lo and behold! You will be granted amnesty!

Shabab • Feb 26, 2009 @1:50 am
Fariha,

In this extraordinary situation, I think its fair for the government to withdraw its amnesty. I agree with you that there was little to no options for the government in the evolving crisis. It did the right thing to go ahead and negotiate, offering amnesty as the bate. However, there is a serious concern of the precedent this amnesty sets – for the sake of the nation’s integrity, the government will have to deal with this strong handedly, even if that mean going back on their promise.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @1:51 am
but that is exactly what happened.

what do you think the PM should’ve done to tackle the situation?

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @1:57 am
I think I am repeating myself, but the general amnesty should not cover the ring leaders of the mutiny. Let us uphold the rule of law, otherwise this will happen again and again.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @2:01 am
And you think just granting general amnesty to only the seemingly innocent jawans (who in all likelihood could’ve fired at the civilians and media) as opposed to all of BDR with the mutiny planner would’ve helped resolve the crisis?

The BDR reps who went to Jamuna would’ve happily gone to gallows knowing that their voice was at least heard and their lower ranking jawans would get amnesty?

Either you’re naive or i’m just disillusioned!

Badmarsh • Feb 26, 2009 @2:03 am
Preventing future mutinies should be done through institutional reform. The sub-game perfect outcome (in game theory jargon) of crushing this one violently to prevent future mutinies does not apply here. Institutional reforms in the police & BDR have been long overdue.

mamoon haroon • Feb 26, 2009 @2:09 am
How can Sheikh Hasina “pardon” killers within the BDR while she pursues the killers of her own father and family. Shoudn’t justice be awarded to all, without prejudice!

Bluish red • Feb 26, 2009 @2:29 am
Uff horrible…if i work with a group…and if someone from other part comes and shoots at any of my friend/collegue…i’ll definately shoot them back.,thats a reflex…
Bdr’s dint start it..1stly some of bdr shoulders were killed by DG and highier officials…that is what triggered them up…and i think u guys know it well…after watching whole days news..

Bluish red • Feb 26, 2009 @2:32 am
Someone has compared bdr jawan with veg vendors or rickshaw pullers…well bdr and army’s r said to get the same benefits …ensured by their ranks,,….comparing them with veg vendors or civillians is very low level joke i guess

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @2:34 am
Fariha, I am not naive, I just believe in the rule of law. And I am against appeasement. I think youre taking a myopic view. Other countries have had mutinies. The lesson to be learnt is appeasement brings more pain, not less. Usually this is done by initially diffusing the situation, and then investigating and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Globetrotter • Feb 26, 2009 @2:36 am
Let’s use common sense here, shall we? The DG and about 40 of his fellow officers are surrounded by 10000 BDR jawans. But the DG shoots and kills a BDR jawan anyway. Makes sense, doesnt it?

Bluish red • Feb 26, 2009 @3:20 am
Huh…the dg shooted at one shoulder inside the darbar hall…ya use common sense,,how can 10000bdr be inside the darbar hall in a meeting,surounding the dg?? Does it make sense…we all heard it through news channels,only a limited no of jawans had the chance to be in the meeting which were held early in the morningwhere the 1st incident took place…
So i think u guys shuold use commomsense,as well as hear the full news before u make any silly comment here.,

Muhit Rahman • Feb 26, 2009 @5:14 am
It is nice to see and read so much interest in developments in Bangladesh. Most of the comments have some merit and some of the comments have considerable merit. However, if one were to make just one conclusion from all the reports – that would be that it is clear that a definitive account of events is yet to be established. Given that, I’d encourage everyone to be a bit more patient and a bit less judgmental. As facts are determined – and surely [I hope] there will be some serious investigations – the right course of action will become more apparent.

Meanwhile, I will commend the restraint shown by the Bangladeshi government and all other powers, whoever they might be, in their response. I only wish that curfew had been slapped on immediately in the affected neighborhoods (with exceptions to allow people to go home or pick up children, etc., and for reporters and emergency personnel) in order to limit the onlookers who, in famous Bengali tradition, seem to have come out in thousands!

There will be a time for finger pointing and for justice. The first and foremost job at the moment should be to bring the situation under control. I am happy to see that that seems to be the way we are going. Meanwhile, once again, I would suggest that we (the commentators) hold our fire as well.

Regards.

mamun haroon • Feb 26, 2009 @9:05 am
I am curious whether the Prime Minister of our country has the constitutional power to pardon murderers, which she promised to the mutineer.

Doesn’t the ability to arbitarily pardon murderers tentamount to or even exceed dictotorial power??

Does her pardon mean that the families of those who have died during the mutiny will not be able to file charges againts suspects involved in the murders which took place inside the BDR compound?

Asif Syed • Feb 26, 2009 @9:56 am
Why do we hate BD Army so much ?

Arif • Feb 26, 2009 @10:00 am
What is the just thing to do?
– Announce amnesty and solve the crisis for now.
– No amnesty, use force, kill more (including civilians).
– Promise amnesty, make them surrender, break the promise, and lose all trust from the border security force.

I am not sure what is the just thing to do.

Robot • Feb 26, 2009 @10:14 am
Arif, what abot amnesty for the movement but not for killing?

I think Blogger Rumi made a good point on the August 75 issue. Was the young chidren of sheikh family made any crime?

The army budget/army adminstration need to be more transparent.

Arif • Feb 26, 2009 @10:23 am
How you know who killed whom? Did you see Munni Saha’s report? Did you find any command? But lets wait few more hours to figure out actual loses.

Arif • Feb 26, 2009 @10:24 am
ps. 75 has nothing to do with this incident. This analogy is very annoying.

Rakib • Feb 26, 2009 @10:27 am
I am sad to write this. Unconfirmed report indicates much more ghenious disaster. Brutal killing took place. Women, children are taken hostage and here we are doing what! Bashing army! We talk about due process and here we are castigating one side without knowing what is taking place! I hear 100s dfead and here we are pardoning the killers!

From TV, a pregnant lady locked in quarter gurad, woman with children hgiding in bathroom, corpses hidden, thrown in sewerage line, only to float in kamrangir char! I just heard one officer dead, who I know to be honest personally and here we are raping the deads, castigating them without due process without even knowing what they did!

Did the officers commit such crime to deserve such indignity! Such brutal killing! Raped in dead!

Blogger, its time to think. This mutiny will have far reaching consequences if not addressed properly. Tomorrow, Ansar will revolt. Day after Police. Next Army.

Its time, we condemn the killers.

Thank you RUMI……………For being the sane voice in the middle of nowhere.

THANK YOU.

SC • Feb 26, 2009 @10:57 am
Just finished talking to my family in Dhaka. Two of my relatives (both army officers) and their young son are among the hostages. No whereabouts of them till now. Heard Matia Chowdhury is going in again to continue the discussion. Talking to a crying teenager whose mom, dad and brother are still missing in the melee is not easy. Army did not setup any information cell for the families.

I made my opinion known in http://unheardvoice.net/blog/2009/02/25/bdr-mutiny when the events were unfolding. I heard some other voices here and in the TV expressing similar thoughts addressing “amnesty”, “intelligence failure”, “corruption rumor”.

I will start with the quotation from a passionate blogger, “They’ve already killed their officers, so they know that they will have to face the music from the army.” Note that, not “music of the law” not “music of the land”, I guess it was not poor choice of words; it just reflects our national psyche and might be one of the root cause of the somber happenings. “Army as institute, as individual is superior to the rest of us and they can do anything they want” – has destroyed the essential characteristics of a patriotic army. This fact along with the failure to maintain chain of command from the officers, the lack of loyalty among the jawans, killing of a general in front of his officers (I hear the number was around 100 in the Darbar Hall) is disgracing to any professional army. The managers should go back to the drawing board and look deeply in their training program rather than lecturing on democracy.

Another one, “However, there is a serious concern of the precedent this amnesty sets – for the sake of the nation’s integrity, the government will have to deal with this strong handedly, even if that mean going back on their promise”. I was among the first who questioned the amnesty and asked for clear answer from the PM, but, I think it is a heinous suggestion. PM is not a police officer who can make false promises in order to draw a confession.

Another blogger used smiley faces and other jolly expressions in the same link. It is purely distasteful when we are facing a grave situation.

Not everything is dark and gloom. A civil government handled the situation with dignity and without huge loss of life. We have seen courageous young leadership Gini, Taposh, Nanak, Azam. Even at the height of the tension, parliament continued the regular business. The civil government was able to rein in the military. Someone, please, confirm that army was deployed at the direction of PM, not by some general to save their comrades – that will make my day.

Though the slain officers, jawans did not receive the dignity they deserve, we as a country should not treat the rebels the same way. Let them face the army court or civil court as appropriate and NO retaliation against the families.

Ahbab Aziz • Feb 26, 2009 @11:50 am
Many, if not most, of the people of Bangladesh have been surprised by the turn of events surrounding the BDR mutiny. However, is there any reason to be so surprised? I don’t think so, as this sort of event is not totally unexpected when lack of accountability is rampant in the armed forces, as in other sectors of the country. To stop this kind of marauding things from recurring, accountability must be established in the defense services, which cannot be done keeping them beyond the purview of civilian / elected authority. The elected govt. must take the lead in ensuring accountability in the armed forces if healthy chain of command is to sustain.

Fariha • Feb 26, 2009 @11:57 am
Ahbab Aziz, you’re right..

With due respect to the dead, I don’t think anyone was surprised by the stories of rampant army abuse and corruption.

As far as the chain of command of BDR being broken, that is a shame. But we have to remember here that this is, as some have correctly pointed out, a failure of their commanding officers who turned out to be members of the army. Bullying is not the best leadership style.

Abul • Feb 26, 2009 @12:11 pm
The Mutiny and the Untold Stories

The recent mutiny of the BDR is the result of extreme polarisation that have developed within BDR forces along the dividing line of Army vs Non-Army. And this polarisation has come into fruition involving this DAL-BHAT KORMOSHUCHI. This DAL-BHAT has been enough to spark the whole tragic event. In analyzing the even, one must reflect on it. Blame game will not lead anyone to anywhere else.

Indeed, it has been very naive on the part of our army personnel to get involved in profit making activities. For that, they have now paid a heavy price. Their image has been tarnished to a large extent. It is not good for the country. It will only contribute to the loss of people’s trust on them in the long run.

However, one must acknowledge that this state does not appear to have any mind or vision. The short-sighted policy makers never realise that the security forces can never be monetised which can only breed greed. This is not the proper economic force to generate money by doing ’social business’. Indeed such kind of activity always weakens their morale. As a result, in many cases, the border line between an army officer and a businessman gets blurred, creating further ‘anti-army’ sentiment among mass people even.

It is also true that it seems sky is the only limit for the army officers. They get plots at DOHS, almost free of cost and many other facilities which no one can get even by doing a very decent job in Bangladesh. Taking the advantage of their structural closeness with the government, the Army officers always make fortunes not only for themselves, but also for their families. Indeed, they have already established medical college, engineering college, university and what not with the money of the tax payers. Still their children and relatives get preference for admission. Their children/relatives pay less amount of money than general students for studying in those institutions. Just imagine how this structural position of advantage is being institutionalized by the Army officers for their next generations also in a country which already has huge gap between poor and rich.

Bangladesh army is also doing business in many other sectors. Even for purchasing armaments, some retired army officers do commission business. Their ‘military-business empire’ have also extended more rapidly particularly in the last two years. Even the Cantonment area now includes Bijoy Shoroni with a new connecting road for Mirpur and Old Airport cantonments. Still some people are more concerned about the subsidy of the state for the public universities. None raises eyebrows with regard to the business ventures of Bangladesh Army with tax payers’ hard earned money or to the issues of transparency and accountability in financial matters. It reminds me of the book written by a Pakistani Author Ayesha Siddika titled PAKISTAN MILITARY INC. Under the circumstances, Army officers should also realise what actually has gone wrong on their part taking the condition of present Pakistan into account.

In fact, it is the ultimate outcome of the whole society becoming a MONEY SLAVE. Defence officer seeks to have a comfortable life like a businessman and businessmen want to have state-power along with their money power. It is also true for other professionals. None is satisfied in this age of ECONOMIC GLOBALISATION. Thus it is more like that this kind of events will take place in the coming days also.

On the other hand, the whole event has also put the utility and credibility of the DGFI into question. If they are very good in arresting students and teachers and punishing them for collecting statements, why they were not being able to sense this incident! Indeed all the intelligence agencies failed in the past to prevent some zealots from hurling grenades on the political leaders and exploding bombs countrywide.

However, it is really shocking for all citizens of Bangladesh to witness such tragic event. Not a single citizen likes to see such event in the country. As citizens of Bangladesh we must condemn the incident.

Asif Syed • Feb 26, 2009 @8:06 pm
Is it really that hard to condemn the killing of a human being ? Do we always have to find some reason behind the killing ? Do we need numbers to make this situation more dramatic ? Isn’t every single life precious whether that person is an Army, BDR or civilian ? There is no doubt that the demands of the BDR revolters legitimate, but was this the way to go ahead ? Do you think this wound will just heal in few days ? Can anyone here please answer ?

Abul • Feb 26, 2009 @9:44 pm
“An eye for eye an makes the whole world blind”.

Rudro • Feb 26, 2009 @11:48 pm
It is so disheartening to watch this killing and chaos. Our society could not get over with the culture of ‘taking law in own hand’ and ‘extreme mrasures’. If this kind of mutiny still happens, we do not have the assurance that another coup would not happen and disrupt the present positive politacal development in the country.

But I see some encouragement in fact that army showed tremendous restraint so far letting PM, Home Minister and MPs tackle the situation. I think the political leadership has also shown maturity.

Finally one suggestion: Can we start a discussion and campaign for REMOVAL AND RELOCATION OF MILITARY AND PARAMILITARY ESTABLISHMENT FROM THE HEART OF THE CAPITAL DHAKA. It will diminish the influence of the entrenched power structure for the better future of Bangladesh.

Saleh Tanveer • Feb 27, 2009 @3:47 am
This mutiny brings to the fore deep problems within BD society and culture at the present time:

No grievance, no matter how legitimate, gets attention of authorities unless aggrieved people resort to violence and destruction. On the other hand, no matter how unfair demands may be, aggrieved parties feel that violence will get them what they want.
We have degenerated into a culture where burning of random cars following an accident, random killings and destruction of property to advance a political cause, mutiny in the armed forces are all considered legitimate tools by the aggrieved. There is no societal outrage unless it touches our near and dear ones.

Beyond punishing some of the involved Jawans of BDR, which many in the privileged class will call for, our politicians are incapable of arresting this destructive trend since they themselves have contributed to this culture in the name of “brihottoro shartho”.

indianguy • Feb 27, 2009 @1:31 pm
I feel bad for he senseless loss of life. A few important things come to mind. Sheikh Hasina just won a landslide victory, after 2 years of military rule. This is one incident that would at the very least strain her relations with the army.
The army I am sure realises that the mutineers have shaken the very core of the army command structure, and would have pushed to use force. Sheikh Hasina keen to avoid bloodshed would do anything to avoid use of force.
But the general amnesty, granted to those who were supposed to protect Bangladesh but instead turned their guns on their fellow citizens is a terrible idea.
All their gripes do not take away from the fact that they have killed Bangladeshi’s. I am not sure why I don’t sense aany public outrage.

Reza • Mar 1, 2009 @1:24 am
Mr. Saleh Tanveer,

Your comments came across as insensitive and cruel.

Are you sure that only representatives of the “privileged class” will seek punishment for the BDR criminals? Is there no room for punishment proportionate to the criminal act in your book.

I am confident that the vast majority of Bangladesh will seek justice for the prematurely killed soldiers of our army. And as for societal injustices, mass rebellions have never been the solution. By killing innocent officers, the BDR soldiers have made it exponentially difficult for future generations of their rank to seek any benefits.

Tinker, tailor, soldier, coup-maker

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The country of Bengal is a land where, owing to the climate’s favouring the base, the dust of dissension is always rising – so said the Mughal court chronicler Abul Fazl in the 16th century. Four hundred years later, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has been a country where the dust of dissension has repeatedly risen among the men armed to guard the republic.

The country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed with most of his family in a brutal coup in 1975. Within a decade of the country’s 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan, much of the political and military leadership of the war were either killed or politically delegitimized by successive coups. And the coups of the 1970s reverberate even today, as Humayun Ahmed found out shortly before his death — his last novel, set in 1975, has been effectively banned because his depiction of history doesn’t suit the version favoured by Bangladesh’s current political dispensation. The politicised quest for what Naeem Mohaiemen calls shothik itihash stifles the freedom of speech and thought, and sets back academia and creativity.

Of course, what actually happened in the 1970s, and beyond, should be subject to serious debate. History isn’t, after all, mere recount of dates and facts. History should be about understanding what happened and why they happened. Needless to say, one’s understanding depends on one’s own political biases.

Over the folder, I summarise major mutinies/coups/rebellions of the past four decades, and the narrative reflects my own biases and ideological prisms – just as one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, so is one’s mutiny someone else’s revolution. For the interested reader, a reading list is provided at the end.

Continue Reading

A look back on the war that was never fought

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Some sort of trial was going on for the Pilkhana massacre of 2009 that killed about 74 people including 57 smart officers belonging to Bangladesh Army. 847 people were charged with murder in a Dhaka civil court. Trial started on August 24 2011.  847 people were tried over a period of nearly 300 days. The verdict was announced yesterday. 152 people were given death sentence while 161 were given life in prison. 362 defendants got various jail terms while 271 were acquitted.

If one wants to put the stats of the trial process – it will be like this –

1 judge
847 defendants
300 plus days of trial
<.5 days for each dependent
152 lives to be taken by state
161 lives to kept behind bars till death
262 will be behind bar on various terms
271 will get Scott free

Wow!

This judge must be a super super superman!

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The above stats are sufficient to show the political nature of the trial. Awami League government needed a political gimmick to keep people and the army happy. A major strategic blunder was committed 4 years ago that took 74 lives including 57 of our brightest and the best military officers. If PM Hasina could act swiftly and smartly on the ill fated morning of February 25 2009 – this gimmick of blood feast would not be needed.

The following piece written originally a couple of days after the Pilkhana massacre described how our government failed on February 25 2009.

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In February 25-26, 2009 a group of violent soldiers of the Bangladesh border security force, BDR, revolted. They occupied the part of capital Dhaka where their garrison is located and held hundreds of military officers, general soldiers and civilians hostage. During this occupation of nearly two days, the marauding soldiers committed one of the worst massacres in the history of Bangladesh. During this rebellion, 57 senior officers of Bangladesh Armed forces were murdered.

In response, instead of a bold decisive action 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 the senior officers trapped inside the occupied Peelkhana 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 the government’s stand, the media gave the government a free ride by not critically discussing the government’s handling of the mutiny.

The media spin that was most widely used during the immediate aftermath was this — by sacrificing 57 senior army officers, the 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 endanger the safety of residents living nearby.

Although the government’s decision got a free ride with the media and civil society at the time of the incident, it is imperative that we discuss the decision from a critical point of view. This kind of discussion is very important for 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 against an all-out ground, aerial and naval assault by the conventional 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-offensive without any civilian casualty. Examples that can be cited include the 1977 occupation of Dhaka Airport at Tejgaon, 1994 occupation of Ansar HQ in Khilgaon, 1977 revolt in Bogra cantonment.

Second logic was that it was a hostage situation and the government had no option but to give in to the demands of the killers. Examples of Pakistan Lal Mosque, aircraft hijacking, and lately, Mumbai Taj Hotel incident, etc. were cited. But one has to understand that Peelkhana is not an aircraft or a mosque or a hotel. It is a part of Bangladesh, double the size of Vatican City. This area of Dhaka has two graduate level colleges, three schools, several mosques, a botanical garden with rose/orchid sections, paddy fields, markets, shops and even a zoo within its walled boundary. In addition, there are residential quarters, lush green fields and a sports complex. It was not a hostage-like situation; it was occupation of a part of Bangladesh. A war was declared. A soldier, called to duty by the government, was shot and killed on the morning of Feb 25 in front of BDR gate without provocation and another soldier was wounded who later died. Civilians were also shot at indiscriminately and killed by the rebel BDR soldiers.

Although heavily armed military units were deployed within 30 minutes of the first shot at Peelkhana, the forces were kept idle and later withdrawn. While the supreme commander and the army chief is expected to be in a secure war room in defence HQ, our army chief was seen sitting all day at the unsecured civilian residence of the PM that was also within firing distance from Peelkhana.

The rest of the story is more pathetic. Frantic SOS calls from the brightest officers stopped one after one. Mysteriously, after two days of permissive killing, a large number of mutineers fled the campus under the cover of darkness. No effort was made to prevent them from fleeing. Two days later when mass graves, charred bodies were being discovered, most of the killers were out of reach with an unknown amount of weapons and ammunition.

A frequently made point is that bloodshed had been avoided by the government’s ‘cool headed’ act. It is painfully difficult to understand what this school of thought tries to say. In any conventional war of modern time, loss of any general or other senior level military officer is seen as major debacle. In all recent war literature, loss of senior officers, especially generals, is depicted as one of the worst-case scenarios. We did not lose one general but more than 50 of our smartest, brightest and senior-most military officers. The whole of our army’s senior command got destabilised. How can one find solace that Sheikh Hasina’s able leadership had avoided blood loss? What about those 57 military officers’ blood?

In the coming years, there will be more discussion on the handling of Peelkhana massacre. This would look like a big failure of the prime minister and will keep haunting her.

During the wee hours of August 1975, When the killers were encroaching the Dhanmondi compound of PM Hasina’s father, Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his frantic phone calls did not bring any help from the army high command or his paramilitary Rakhkhi Bahini. This has always been an issue of pain for Hasina. A 15th August style massacre was replicated under her watch. Children of Major General Shakil or Colonel Mujib lost both of their parents and hundreds of others lost their parents, husbands, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters. Even teen-aged domestic aids were killed.

This failure was not Hasina’s alone. It was a failure of total civilian and military leadership. There was an inherent problem among her advisers. In Pilkhana type situation, it was the job of the military chief to set up a command centre, devise a strategy, design specific plans and present the prime minister with the defence/military perspective in dealing with such scenario. In this regard, the person who failed most miserably is the then army chief. Post 1/11 role of this army chief created an uneasy relationship between him and the civilian leadership. The prime minister probably could not trust this army chief. Hence she kept him sitting in her living room all day under a house arrest of sort.

The government was very new too. It was the job of the chief of army staff to advise and convince the prime minister to take prompt action and present her with the strategy and the plans. But this chief’s post 1/11 activities handicapped his ability to perform his job with authority. This army chief had no moral or legal right to remain as army chief after his failed ‘coup’ of 1/11.

In an ideal world, there must not be any lack of trust between the head of the government and the army chief. If that develops, any patriotic army chief, who cares more for his forces and the country than his own job, should resign. But Moeen U Ahmed was so eager to keep his job that he totally failed to defend the country as well as protect his officers. He failed his army as well as the nation.

We must learn from our experience of 25-26 February, 2009. As a nation, we must know what we will do if Myanmar sends 500 mercenaries to take over Cox’s Bazaar, or the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh takes over Bholarhat Upazila and impose strict Islamic law or the Maldives sends troops to capture Mongla port. Would we send the local MP with a white flag to negotiate with mutineers/invaders?

We always talk about the spirit of 1971. On the night of 25th March of 1971, EPR jawans/officers were attacked in the same garrison in Peelkhana. Those soldiers did not raise a white flag citing the case of neighbourhood civilians. As a war was declared, EPR jawans fought back. This was the spirit of 1971. A war was imposed on us on Feb 25-26, 2009. We raised a white flag without fighting. This was not in line with the spirit of 1971.

If we have to send local MPs with white flags to deal with occupation and mutiny and make the army retreat with their dead comrades, why do we build and maintain the armed forces?

A battle was imposed on us on Feb 25 2009. We failed to respond appropriately, thus losing 57 of our brightest military officers.

It is a shame. And it was a command failure of the civilian and military leadership.

Concession, pragmatism and moving forward

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A Statesman and Two Pragmatic leaders –

In a speech to the nation on November 30 1978, President Ziaur Rahman declared parliamentary election to be held on January 27 of the next year and also declared that martial law will be withdrawn immediately after the election. Although newly formed BNP and some other small parties started preparing for the polls – most major opposition political parties including both fractions of AL, Muslim league (still a big player then), JSD, NAP etc. decided to boycott the election unless their demands were met. The combined opposition’s demand included immediate withdrawal of martial law, resignation of Zia from army chief position, removing ban on open politics, repeal the fundamental rights suspension which was in effect since 1974, restoration of parliamentary democracy and 1972 constitution by repealing 4th amendment etc. On the face of boycott by major opposition political parties, Zia made a far reaching set of concessions. He restored fundamental rights, made proposals of sovereign parliament with ability to impeach the president. He also removed presidential veto power on bills passed by parliament, put a limit on technocrat ministers and conceded on opposition demand on the selection criteria of leader of the house.

After these concessions although Muslim league decided to join elections- other opposition parties including factions of AL, JSD etc. continued with the decision to boycott the polls.

To resolve the political impasse, President Zia called for a dialogue with political parties – all parties went to Bangavaban, prolonged deliberations took place but nothing fruitful came out of that dialogue.

As Awami League factions kept insisting on election boycott and as it seemed country is stuck in a hopeless deadlock, President Zia, against the advice of his political advisors, unilaterally made another set of sweeping concessions. He withdrew martial law restrictions regarding open politics, started the process of release of all political prisoners, and as demanded by opposition, pushed the election date back by a few weeks to give the opposition parties enough time to prepare for the elections.

President Zia’s gambles paid off, an all-party election was made possible, Bangladesh moved one big step closer to restoration of democracy – the rest is history.
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The Come Back of Awami League

This little snippet from the past shows how much and how little our politics has evolved in last 3 decades. Whatever Zia ‘a distractors  will say, Bangladesh is this Bangladesh today because Zia could hold his nerve during those tumultuous years of mid-late 70s and at the same time he made some very smart political moves including the series of concessions as described above. At the same time, the pragmatic reality based politics of AL leaders Mr. Abdul Malek Ukil and Mr. Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury did shape the history of Bangladesh. Within 4 years after supposedly annihilation of August 75, AL again came out as a major political party with intact wide grassroots support base. Although AL factions won only 41 seats in the election, it secured nearly 30% of the votes. In most seats where BNP won, AL came out close second.

It was a time the mere survival of the fledgling country of Bangladesh was uncertain. Yet concessions made by one political leader and pragmatic politics by the others made us defy the overwhelming odds against our survival.

Today as we are in another crossroads of the history, we need similar concessions and pragmatic reality based politics from our Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition.

Late president Zia was a military strongman running a turbulent country with martial law. Yet he made concession after concession to facilitate the democratic journey. Now it’s time for PM Hasina to show her political maturity and statesmanship and seal her image as the needed statesman for the time.

The Shelf life of The Administration –
Holding an opposition less election is not in the best or long term interest of the country as well as of the party of Prime Minister Hasina. Yes she can ignore opposition demands, and if she really wants to hold the elections unilaterally using brute state force, the opposition will not be able to stop her.  But by doing so – she will harm her country as well as her own party.
As a result of the election without all party participation, our fledgling democracy would go back by one decade. We will turn into another poor 3rd world autocracy. All sorts of militancy will start rising its ugly head in different corners of this impoverished country. Public disapproval of her government will reach unfathomable low. Extreme infighting will overrun her party. Leadership deprived of government positions and perks will get desperate to depose those enjoying all the perks and privileges. If the fictions and clashes during the five year term of current Hasina Government are indicators what Awami League has in its future as an incumbent party, it can be easily predicted that intra party feuds, sabotage will reach an epidemic proportion. Any political observer can safely predict that way before completing her second five year mark; PM Hasina’s government will be inches away from implosion.

Concessions – the need of the time –

On the other hand, if PM Hasina can be seen making the concession on her own, not under pressure, she will look like showing statesman quality Ziaur Rahman exhibited during late 70s. It is PM Hasina who has to take the steps to convince the opposition to join the elections. She has to do something tangible or convince the opposition come to elections. She will have to sort it out with the opposition and negotiate with them to bring them to election. Most likely she will lose the election. This loss will be the best exit strategy for her. This loss will pave the way for quick and another big comeback of her party.

It is almost certain that if BNP returns to power, it’s newly gained popularity will vanish rapidly. A return of Tarique Rahman will significantly curtail BNP’s support among middle of road BNP supporters.  Along with Tarique Rahman’s return to day to day affairs of governance, Anti-incumbency factors as well as upper hand of ultra-right wing political backers of BNP will quickly dissipate all the inroads BNP made in urban educated classes and ‘middle of the road’ Zia admirers through Mrs. Khaleda Zia’s visionary leadership style between 2008 and 2013.

Now PM Hasina will have to decide which option will be in the best long term interest of her country and her party. She can hang on for her second consecutive term, let her party implode and face an ignominious ouster to face another long term public rejection like it experienced post 1975. Or she can take a short term leave from power only to return to power with more popular, a better rooted and organized party. If Awami League cannot free itself of the curse of incumbency, there is no reason to believe that BNP will be free from the same curse next election cycle.
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Exit out of this Mayhem, options for the opposition parties

Leader of opposition led her party to an unprecedented come back from oblivion. She accomplished this major feat not by violent street confrontation but by avoiding exactly the same. It is understandable that after her bitter experience at the lack of level playing field during 2008 elections, this time it will be hard to convince her to join election in a suboptimal state of affairs pertaining to the elections. However the leader of the opposition also need to understand that with the type of organization she leads, it will be very difficult to stop the government from holding the election. And once an election is held, her party will be under more intense pressure from the state law enforcement agencies. Leader of opposition knows very well that under any condition, if BNP joins the election, it will be nearly impossible to deprive BNP a landslide victory. If the leader of the opposition weighs the options she has at her hand which are – launching brutal street agitation to force Government into accepting the demands or somehow find a way to join the election, even accepting a short term defeat about the election time government, BNP has much more to gain, much less to risk. Under current conditions – with more connectivity, aggressive media activity on the ground – mass scale rigging of election to change the total results will be nearly impossible and even if that happens – that government will not be able to hide the massive irregularities. A movement against a widely perceived rigged election will have better traction than a failed movement against a non-participatory election.  It seems no matter what the Government offers, for BNP, joining the elections is the best exit strategy out of the mayhem.

And exit out of this mayhem – that is what the whole country is eagerly rooting for.

Decentralization and Balanced Urbanization

Disclaimer:

This blog is translated from the Bengali write up of Professor ASM Mahbub un Nabi (former Faculty, Department of URP, BUET

A balanced distribution of three types of powers is acutely prerequisite for  balanced development, urbanization and distribution of resources of a country. The three types of powers are- political power, administrative power and economic power. Ensuring balanced distributions of these three makes ease the distributions of other powers and resources. Again, the rudimentary of these main three types of power is ‘political power’. Therefore, without the decentralization of the political power, it is impossible to decentralize other types of powers and resources.

The political power of Bangladesh is concentrated geographically in Dhaka and vested individually in the Prime Minister. In these circumstances, it is difficult to realize the success and usefulness of the decentralization of administration and economy.Continue Reading

The real record —real GDP per capita

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In a previous post, I showed how the AL claim/promise of ‘doubling per capita income’ is problematic. That post foreshadowed a series comparing macroeconomic and development performances under successive governments — a more detailed and updated version of this exercise. This is the first part of that series, focussing on real GDP per capita — an oft-used proxy for economic and social welfare of a country.

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The answer -my friend – is blowin’ in the wind

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1. Why Mrs. Khaleda Zia did not withdraw the hartal after the meeting invitation from Sheikh Hasina?

2. Why PM Hasina would invite Khaleda Zia for a face to face meeting after refusing to even think of it for the last five years?

3. Why Mrs. Zia is taking an aggressive stand and showing a position of advantage?

4. Why PM Hasina and her administration seem a bit in a compromising position?

5. Why PM Hasina fired Mahbubul Alam Hanif from the job of ruling party spokesperson?

6. Why ambassador Mozena is visiting India?

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Hasina Khaleda Telephone Duet- Who is the winner?

Who won the kaijja jhhogra debate dialogue ?

A BNP supporter will say Madam won. Hasina lost.

An AL supporter will say Apa lost. How a soft spoken Apa can win jhhogra with that loud voiced Khaleda.

A Shahbagi ulukhagra will say Khaleda lost – Hasina won and definitely Jamaat Razakars won (in default).

A technical analyst may think it is the telephone bug that tapped Khaleda’s phone and resulted in Khaleda’s voice sound louder may be the ultimate winner.

What do I think? Khaleda is the loser Because  rudeness is not Khaleda Zia’s trademark – that used to be Hasina’s trademark. Mrs. Zia made Hasina sound milder softer. But in my POV, ultimate losers are HT Imam and Shahbagis who started jumping on a lie of HT Imam.

Who you think is the winner?

Why would Begum Khaleda Zia postpone the strike?

People with swaying political affiliation are criticizing BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia for not postponing the declared 60 hours long strikes. But I can not understand their logic:

(1) Mr Inu had been marketing that Sheikh Hasin would make a phone call to Begum Zia since last wednesday. Begum Zia declared the program on Friday evening and Sheikh Hasina have made the call even after 24 hours. Is it a sign of good will?

(2) How one can expect that Begum Zia would happily agree to meet and dine just after getting a phone call, even wrapped with imperfect approach, from Sheikh Hasina? The main agenda between these two is ‘neutral election time government’. Have Hasina brought a single word in an anticipation of that issue?

(3) Since Friday, its already 15 people of 18 party coalition killed by Awami activists and law enforcing agencies till Saturday. So how a leader of that coalition can go for a dinner by stepping over the bloods of the 15 poor people?

(4) Its nothing to give the ‘hartal’ statistics again; which party is in top to call strikes? Apart from them countless soberness are shown by BNP led coalition in the last more than 4.5 years. Then how more to expect?

(5) Finally, even two days back Sheikh Hasina used abusing word for Begum Zia’s family and so like most often. So can just a phone call wipe out all the indecent behavior of Sheikh Hasina?

The Buck Stops at Sheikh Hasina

by Shafiq

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US President Harry Truman (1945-53) put up a wooden sign saying “The Buck Stops Here” on his desk table at the White House office.  The saying came from the slang “pass the buck” which means passing the responsibility on to someone else. So “the buck stops here” means this is the place of ultimate responsibility, it cannot be passed to anywhere else. Our Prime ministers are emperors sanctioned by the constitution. Everything that happens in their administration is their responsibility, a fact that their myopic supporters fail to recognize.Continue Reading

Credibility and the campaigns

From Facebook status writers to TV talking heads via op ed columnists, everyone is talking about the BNP chief’s speech.  Unsurprisingly, the BNP supporters are positive about it, while AL-ers find the speech not-so-positive, focussing on the number of former caretaker government advisors still alive in good health and with interest to serve in a potential new caretaker government.

All that minutiae discussion completely misses the forest for the trees.  The best take on Mrs Zia’s speech that I have come across is David Bergman’s.  His title sums it up —Smart with an eye on the international community.

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