Friday, April 27, 2012

Covert external interventions in Bangladesh polity

The political scenario of Bangladesh is in deep turmoil. More than the principal actors at home, Bangladesh watchers from abroad are being profusely quoted in the vernacular media of the country about their detection of a geo-strategic hand of foreign agents entering the game. The purpose is hinted to be a “destabilisation agenda” being pursued by the neighbourly regional power, which may be finding the very existence and development potential of independent Bangladesh a threat by example, in effect encouraging the separatists in Indian northeast.
A pen-picture of such foreign geo-strategic interests fanning up troubles in peaceable Bangladesh has been painted (and reproduced in Bangla papers) on diverse grounds by various international reporters. The Sydney Morning Herald of Australia, for instance, saw in the border management policy of India with regard to its boundaries with innocuous Bangladesh inexplicably “aggressive”. Its correspondent Ben Doherty reported on April 21 (abridged): 
“The Border Security Force soldiers are unfailingly polite and hospitable, but conspicuously armed and resolute. We go no further. ‘Why do you need to go to the border? There is nothing there,’ we are told over endless cups of chai (tea) with progressively more senior officers, all of whom refuse us permission to travel beyond their cantonment, or photograph ‘the fence’ a few hundred metres away.
‘Berlin wall of Asia’
The border these men patrol is not India’s antagonistic front with Pakistan, nor its contested line with China. This is India’s quiet boundary with Bangladesh, a frontier that doesn’t attract the attention of its querulous colleagues, but one that, in recent times, is proving equally fractious. The fence they are so reticent to reveal is a rampart known in these parts as the ‘Berlin Wall of Asia’.
Over 25 years, India has been building, and reinforcing, a massive fence along its 4053-kilometre border with Bangladesh, each renovation pushing the barrier higher, an ever-escalating posture of aggression. It is due to be finished this year. But more than the simple fact of building a border fence, at issue has been India’s manner of policing it. ‘India and Bangladesh are friendly countries, they are not enemies,’ Kirity Roy, the secretary of the Indian human rights group Mausam, tells the Herald. ‘But the Indian government’s paramilitary organisation, the Border Security Force, they are … trigger happy, they are killing Indians and Bangladeshis without discrimination. And they are killing with impunity because they are never charged or given any punishment.’
A Human Rights Watch investigation found killings on both sides of the fence, as well as beatings, torture, kidnappings and rampant corruption. ‘The abusive methods used by the BSF are disproportionate to the problems that the Indian government faces on its eastern border. Numerous ordinary Indian and Bangladeshi citizens resident in the border area end up as victims of abuses, which range from verbal abuse and intimidation to torture, beatings and killings.’
In January the BSF director, Utthan K. Bansal, said soldiers should exercise restraint, but warned they would shoot if they felt threatened. As if to belie the director’s emphasis on restraint, just days later a brutal video was posted on YouTube showing uniformed BSF soldiers stripping naked a suspected Bangladeshi cattle smuggler, tying his arms to a pole and beating him with bamboo sticks for more than 10 minutes as he writhed on the ground and screamed for his mother.
India sees this imposing barrier as a panacea against the evils it believes lurk across the border, from the very real problem of people smuggling, to the less-likely threat of Islamist terrorists. But the fence’s fundamental purpose is far simpler: to keep out Bangladeshis. The xenophobe card plays strongly in Indian politics, and senior officials, like the Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, have lost no support lecturing that Bangladeshis ‘have no business to come to India’.
Yet, for all the cost of building the fence - upwards of a billion dollars so far - and the violence along it, both sides of the border know it is no border at all. Dozens of villages act as unofficial, illegal transit posts. At each, a “lineman”, handsomely remunerated, pays off the guards from both notoriously corrupt countries, and directs the illegal traffic, which can run into scores of people at a time, across the border.
In December last year, Suman says, he was walking just after dark near the Indian side of the border. ‘My family has a house there, and I go there often, it was not unusual. Suddenly, they flashed a torch on me and then they shot.’ Suman survived, dragged to hospital by family who heard the firing. He has lost all sight in his right eye.
Others do not survive, like 15-year-old Felani Khatun who was trying to cross into Bangladesh to be married. She was shot when her salwar kameez became caught in the wire. Her screams alerted the guards, who shot her as she struggled. Her body was left hanging on the fence for five hours before it was cut down.”
More pungent story
A more pungent story of interventionist operations by the Indian security establishment in Bangladesh was circulated by Jessica Fox, presumably from London, on April 22 in the on-line ‘Free Press Release’ news service. The press release (abridged) said: 
“Strictly scrutinized 100 armed cadres of the ruling Awami League in Bangladesh, who received 6-month long extensive commando training at Dehradun in India under the direct supervision of Indian espionage agency RAW are continuing various types of activities, including secret killing, abduction etcetera since June of 2010 with the mission of ‘clearing’ a large number of politicians, media personnel and members of the civil society in Bangladesh. The team codenamed ‘Crusader-100’ went to India during end September 2009 and stayed there till mid June 2010.
On return, the members of the ‘Crusader-100’ team from India were provided a hit list comprising names of opposition politicians, members of Bangladeshi media and some members of the civil society. According to information, the list contains names of more than 83 people, who are planned to be ‘cleared’ by the members of the ‘Crusader-100’ gang.”
A follow-up story was contributed by the same reporter in Sri Lanka Guardian, April 23 issue, as reproduced hereunder (abridged): 
“Enforced disappearance in Bangladesh went on for past three and half years since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed the government. The issue has now drawn attention of the global community, when recently a former MP and prominent leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, M Ilias Ali disappeared along with his chauffer. The Prime Minister was cool, making jokes about the disappearance. Sheikh Hasina and her government has somehow become comfortably confident of being assured by New Delhi on remaining in power at least up to 2019. It is a substantial period for the ruling party in establishing much stronger grip over country’s civil and military administration, as well as the judiciary, thus bringing Bangladesh under one-party rule, which was the brain-child of Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.
One party rule
Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, who is the founding-father of Bangladesh, introduced the one-party rule system named BKSAL, which he conceived from former Soviet Union. The era of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman came to a tragic end, when he was assassinated along with members of his family on 15th August 1975 in a military coup. 
After 20 years of the tragic assassination of the founding father, the people of Bangladesh voted Mujib’s eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina into power in 1996, but her government had to finally face a huge defeat just after five years, because of its massive corruption, nepotism, state-patronized crime and bad governance. Prior to this election, Sheikh Hasina sought apology to the people for all wrong-doings of her father. 
In 2008 again, Sheikh Hasina made fresh pledges to the people with renewed apology for the ‘mistakes’ during her tenure of 1996-2001, and promised ‘a better Bangladesh’ with the implementation of her Vision 2021 and establishment of ‘Digital Bangladesh’. It was already known in the political and media circles in India that, the pre-election propaganda strategy and the election manifesto of Awami League were drafted by a team of seasoned politicians and media personnel from India. Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Pranab Mukherjee contributed in the election manifesto of Bangladesh Awami League by their inputs.
Awami League got a huge victory in the election and since it formed government in January-2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her cabinet are seen totally committed in implementing all of its commitments and pledges, made to India, without considering their impacts on Bangladesh or its people. For the people of Bangladesh, this is possibly one of their worst-ever period of national catastrophe of letting Awami League still being in power for another one plus year. No doubt the ruling party and its elites are fully aware of people’s grievance and anger. Sensing this as well as foreseeing possible revolt of the people either before or during the election, the ruling party is carrying out its well-planned agenda of political secret killings as well as forced disappearances, with the goal of eliminating most of the potential political opponents as well as leaders of the opposition parties, especially BNP and Jamaat. The case of forced disappearance became prominent when BNP leader and ex Member of Parliament (from Sylhet) M Ilias Ali went missing along with his chauffer few days back. 
While Bangladeshi Sylheti community in London are very active and protesting the forced disappearance of M Ilias Ali, few pro-Awami League palls such as writer Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury and some of the business associates of Sheikh Rehana are trying to organize people to counter the protests of angered Sylhetis in London and the United Kingdom.”
The Guardian, London
The violence on the ground in Bangladesh ahead of the dawn-to-dusk general strike called by the main opposition in Bangladesh was portrayed by a despatch in The Guardian of U.K. (abridged as follows): 
“Police in Bangladesh used baton charges, live bullets and teargas on Sunday (22 April) in clashes with demonstrators protesting against the alleged abduction of a senior politician. The violence was the most acute for many months in the unstable state.
In Dhaka, the capital, dozens of small devices were reported to have exploded and 20 arrests were made. In the north-eastern city of Sylhet, 12 people were reported to have been injured and more than 50 detained in running battles. On Sunday night a tense calm had been established, although tens of thousands of security personnel remained deployed across the country in anticipation of further clashes on Monday.
The crisis was sparked by the disappearance last Tuesday of Ilias Ali, a key organiser with the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP). Ali was the latest in a series of political activists who have apparently been abducted, raising fears of a concerted campaign of intimidation aimed at opposition politicians. At least 22 people have gone missing so far this year. In 2011, the number was 51. Many local and international campaigners have blamed security forces, accusing the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and local police of eliminating opposition figures to benefit the administration of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister. Spokesmen from the Rab have denied the charge.
In its 2012 annual report Human Rights Watch said ministers have denied that such incidents occur, even when the government’s own investigations found evidence of wrongdoing.”
Wall Street Journal
The finale of this phase of hartals has been described in a report published by The Wall Street Journal of U.S.A. as follows: 
“At least five people have been killed and scores of protesters and security officials injured in Sylhet and Dhaka, the capital, over the past week as tens of thousands joined demonstrations. Dhaka ground to a halt as people stayed in their homes Tuesday. Shops remained closed and thousands of security personnel fanned out across the city of 12 million.
The clouded economic picture, coupled with the return of violence, shows that Bangladesh may be slipping back toward instability.
Bangladesh for decades has been unhinged by political vendettas, largely stemming from deep animosity between the supporters of Ms. Hasina’s Awami League and the Khaleda Zia-led BNP.
On a visit in February, Robert Blake, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, raised concerns, though, about media freedom and a draft law that would impose restrictions on nongovernmental organizations. More recently, the government has been hit by a number of corruption scandals. Earlier this month, railways minister Suranjit Sengupta resigned on allegations he took bribes from applicants seeking jobs. He denies wrongdoing. Ordinary people remain hit by high inflation and daily power outages that have dented the government’s popularity since its landslide victory in 2009.
Now, the BNP is threatening to call for strikes until the return of Mr. Ali.
‘The government has pushed us to the wall,’ said Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a BNP spokesman.”
BY : Sadeq Khan.