Saturday, February 25, 2012

Government-Opposition face-off

As the opposition mounts its movement against the government, the government comes down hard on the opposition...where will this end?

The Road March is no doubt a unique political culture to muster public support and also express no confidence in the party in power. It is an eye-opener for politicians, social scientists and the civil society which opposes destructive political programmes. It has shown beyond any doubt that without calling hartal (general strike) or any other destructive agitation programme, the party in power could be isolated from the common people who are purportedly the real masters in a democratic or pluralistic society.
In Bangladesh, we are used to the opposition calling hartal, sit-in programmes, etc, against the party in power. But the peaceful Road March programme adopted by the main opposition BNP has won the people's support and has accelerated the isolation of the party in power from the common people. At the beginning of 2010, BNP’s popularity ranged between 21 to 23 percent. After the four Road March programmes  in Sylhet-Rajshahi-Khulna-Chittagong, BNP’s popularity soared up to 37 per cent and ruling Awami Leagues’ popularity fell by two per cent. It had been 37 per cent in 2010.
Political pundits believe that BNP could muster more support if they could erase the negative public perception about the party’s Senior Vice Chairman Tareque Rahman, who is also the elder son of the Leader of Opposition Khaleda Zia. A section of intelligentsia still hold a negative perception about Tareque Rahman and consider the Leader of the Opposition’s call to hand over power to the younger generation nothing but a desire to make her elder son as the kingpin of the country. The perception of the West about Tareque Rahman is not also very positive. The western world, especially US and the European Union, still hold strong reservations about BNP’s Senior Vice Chairman. They strongly believe that Tareque Rahman was responsible for misrule during the four-party alliance rule (2002-2006). Tareque Rahman’s relation with the underworld leader Dawood Ibrahim has been a matter of concern for the Delhi administration. If they want to gain from the present movement, BNP should take these matters into cognizance.
The spontaneous participation of the common people in the different Road March programmes and the last mass rally held on January 30 has been a wake-up call for the ruling party. However, the ruling party is apparently not very interested in redressing their misdeeds, which have been the major cause for their isolation from the people. Instead, they are adopting repressive and other unethical measures to face the opposition threat and also to ensure a second term entry to public office. If everything moves in the right track, the next general election would be held in early 2014.
The recent police firing at Chandpur, Laximpur and Rajshahi, which claimed lives of five political activists -- four BNP men and one Jamaat man -- demonstrated the ruling party’s rough and tough attitude to the opposition. This was the first time after the fall of military ruler HM Ershad in 1990, that political activists lost their lives in police firing. Like the all autocratic regimes, the government has blamed the opposition for the police firing. The opposition people were killed simultaneously the opposition people were inducted in the case.

The government is also planning to persecute the opposition leader and workers by using judicial process. The government leaders and workers were pardoned from the different corruption and criminal cases whereas the opposition leaders and workers are persecuted under the same offence. All the figure head of BNP including Khaleda Zia and Tareque Rahman are the target of the government. All the corruption cases filed during last army backed government against the leader of the opposition have been activated. The charge sheet has been filedagainst Begum Zia for the Orphanage Trust corruption case, which would be hard on February 15 next. It is widely believe that the leader of the opposition would be convicted in this case within next couple of months and she would not be able to contest the next general election till she gets clearance from the judiciary process. The similar fate also waits for Tareque Rahman.
Besides Khaleda Zia and Tareque Rahman, all figure heads of the BNP leadership would also face similar music if they refused to accept the government formula, which is rejecting Khaleda Zia’s leadership and participating in the next general election under the party government.
Such a proposal would also be forwarded to younger section of Jamaat leadership. They would be asked why should bear the burden of the party's senior ranking leadership's past activities. If the younger section is ready to accept the government proposal, at least half a dozen or more people from Jamaat would be seen in the next parliament. Ruling party sources confirm that all these developments would take place within the next six months.
The BNP high command especially the BNP Chairperson and Leader of the Opposition is aware about the government blue print and has prepared an alternative blue print in which the cut-off date is March. All possible stones would be turned to create a deadlock and force the government to accept the caretaker government and mid-term general election. BNP leadership firmly believes this would be the first time that an elected government would not be able to complete its full term.
The government is also waiting for the formation of the new Election Commission (EC) and passing a law for strengthening EC to defuse the demand of caretaker government. If the party in power could tackle the situation, the mid term general election could be held either in December or first part of 2013.
Both sides are flexing their muscles for the final round. If BNP wins, that will call an end to the political life of the current Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister wins, that would call an end to political life of Begum Zia and her family. If nobody wins, then what?
Political pundits predict two options: One is the direct rule of invisible forces for a couple of month. Another is the long-term rule of invisible forces under a civilian color, like that of Fakruddin-Moinuddin and a general election after a massive reform agenda, which would end dynastic politics. The second option is more likely, political pundits say. 

BY :  Badiul Alam.

As March 12 draws near

The date for BNP's mass programme draws closer and things heat up on the political front.

As March 12 draws closer, tension mounts on the political scene. The threatening and instigative comments being made by the Prime Minister, ministers and leaders of ruling Awami League concerning BNP's programme scheduled for that day, are adding fuel to the fire. The apprehensions of the people mount. Politicians and the general public alike all ask, what is going to happen on that day? Could it turn out to be another 'October 28', when Awami League activists broke out into a mayhem of violence some years back?
State Minister for Law, Advocate Kamrul Islam, said in a recent speech that the month of march belonged to them, the pro-Liberation forces. According to him, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia is leading the war criminals. He called upon the people to resist them.
Other leaders of the ruling Awami League have termed any movement of BNP to be an attempt to disrupt the country's stability. They say that the March 12 programme is a similar move to create unrest. They say they will take it upon themselves to teach BNP a lesson. The question is, isn't it the task of the law enforcement agencies to ensure discipline?
Actually, for the looks of it, the government is more apprehensive about March 12 than the people. After all, there have been murmurs that BNP's march 12 showdown may be a replication of Egypt's Tahrir Square movement. This has provoked the ruling party leaders to become aggressive in their speech, causing further worry to the common people.
On January 09 this year, BNP announced its "Cholo, cholo, Dhaka cholo' (March to Dhaka) programme for March 12, demanding a reinstatement of the caretaker government system. Along with the four-party alliance, 16 other like-minded parties will join the programme. BNP is determined to make the programme a success at any cost. Even Jamaat-e-Islami, presently sidelined in the political scene, plans to come out in a big way on March 12.
March 12 is still a long way off, but the leaders of both parties have become very vocal about this. Awami League has decided to tackle BNP politically. They will resist BNP on the streets. The common people are anxious what this will lead to eventually.
Speaking at a public rally in Chandpur on Monday, Begum Khaleda Zia said, "We do not want to topple the government. Let's see how far they can limp on. We want to leave the government crippled and lame."
She called upon the people, "All of you march together to Dhaka on that day."
Khaleda Zia's statements indicate they are determined to make a display of their strength on that day, to let the government understand that they mean business.
However, BNP has no intention of resorting to violence. Khaleda Zia made this clear in her speech at Chandpur. She said, "We will not take up loghi-boitha [referring to the Awami League activists' attack with poles and brickbats]; ours will be a peaceful programme."
BNP policymakers have made it clear that Khaleda Zia wants the government to remain in power for its full term. The party's top leaders want that too. The government has two years of its term left. If the anti-government movement aims to topple the government from power so soon, it will turn violent and will not continue for long. The people will not welcome that. The party activists and supporters may lose patience too. That is why BNP has decided to stick to a peaceful movement for this year. Next year they will take the movement to its peak. That is why the Dhaka March programme of March 12 plans on a mammoth public gathering, but no violence.
The government's top level leadership is well aware of this. They are also aware that in recent times the rallies of BNP have been seeing unprecedented turnouts of people and the March 12 is going to be more massive than ever before.
Quarters within Awami League feel that even if the programme is a peaceful one, the great success will have a negative impact on the ruling party. BNP will be able to make a public display of its popularity. That is why, they feel, they cannot allow this programme to be a success and it must be politically thwarted. The ruling party will adopt all sorts of tactics to this end. They have not come up with any counter programme so far, but the central leaders have instructed the leaders and workers of the party to take to the streets too on that day. There is a possibility that any of Awami League's affiliated fronts will also announce a programme in the same day. Awami League leaders and activists will take up position on all entry points of Dhaka city on March 12. Dhaka City Awami League may even stage a long human chain from one end of the city to the other, demanding the trial of the war criminals. The party leaders and workers in every ward have been told to remain alert.
Awami League sources say that just as Awami League announced a counter programme on January 29, a day that BNP had a scheduled programme, on March 12 they may similarly come up with a programme to ensure that BNP's programme is not a success.
BNP sources say that they will not fall into that trap. However, they will not cancel the programme.
Speaking to PROBE, BNP Acting Secretary General says, "The government is deliberately creating confusion. They are going out of their way to create confrontation." He says, "We announced our programme a month and a half ago. By announcing programmes on the same day, Awami League is proving that they don't believe in democracy. The government should adhere to democracy or else if the country is pitched into stability, the government will have to bear the blame."
According to BNP sources, they have already applied to the National Sports Council for permission to use Paltan Maidan. They haven't received a reply to their application as yet. The sources say that if they are not granted permission, they will use the entire area in front of their Naya Paltan to hold the grand rally. And in order to ensure that the programme is a success, the leaders and workers from all over the country will come to Dhaka days in advance. The party has formed 45 coordination committee to ensure the programme's success.
In the meantime, Jamaat has formed an eleven-member committee to prepare for the March 12 programme. They have formed sub-committees to for hosting those who come to Dhaka, medical treatment, etc. The committees are working round the clock. Jamaat is also determined to pull in its leaders and workers from all over the country to show its clout.
Ever since the present government came to power, Jamaat has been sidelined. With six of its top leaders on trial for crimes against humanity, the party has been facing a challenge for survival. It now wants to make a comeback and so is willing to join any programme of BNP, unconditionally. The has a strong presence in the mass processions of January 29 and 30 too. Several sources of Jamaat confirm that they will once again show their strength at the March 12 programme.

What the government wants
Whether the March 12 gathering is to be a peaceful one or a disruptive one, depends completely on the government's attitude, it seems. BNP leaders point to January 29, saying that there mass march programme for that day had been pre-scheduled and then Awami League suddenly announced their programme for the same day. The police then declared Section 144, prohibiting all public gatherings on the day. BNP simply shifted their programme to January 30. The rallies in the district towns were held as per schedule where Section 144 hadn't been declared. It was noted that clashes erupted only when the police obstructed the march programme. Four BNP workers were killed in police fire. Even then, BNP's January 30 mass rally in Dhaka was completely peaceful. Analysts say this proves the government wrong when to contends that BNP is out to create unrest. It is the government party that fails to act in a democratic manner. If the government adopts a similar attitude on March 12 and the police act aggressively, the situation may turn violent. This will simply serve to create further vengeance in politics. It is for the government to decide which path it will chose to follow.
The ruling party, according to observers, may take up several strategies to disrupt the opposition's programme. They may make mass arrests of BNP leaders and workers in the districts. They may clamp down on communications between Dhaka and the other districts. They may stage transport strikes in some areas. The police may create a security ring around Dhaka City. The government may declare Section 144, banning all public gathering on the day. The government machinery may also make sure most of the city's hotels are fully booked so that BNP activists from outside Dhaka have no place to stay.
Sources say, BNP is also preparing for the government's tactics. The field level leaders will come to Dhaka from the beginning of the month. If the activists from the remote districts are prevented from coming to Dhaka, arrangements will be made to bring in large numbers from the districts nearby. If they are not allowed into the city, they will take up position at all the entry points to the city. Even if they are obstructed in their peaceful sit-in, they will not budge. The field level workers want to create a Tahrir Square situation in Dhaka. However, they will not be instigated into violence. After all, they are also taking into cognizance the presence of outside eyes on developments in Bangladesh politics. International intervention has also played a role in Bangladesh politics and so BNP will want to maintain its positive and peaceful image.
Both BNP and Awami League are also looking towards the media. BNP will want full media coverage of a successful programme on March 12. The government will want any possible clashes and unruly incidents to be highlighted.
Analysts say BNP's extensive preparatory work for March 12 will be a boost to the party's organisational strength. This will strengthen the movement and will yield positive results in the coming election. 


33 hours that shook Dhaka

It was barely past 9 am on Feb 25, 2009 when gunshots rang out of the then BDR's Peelkhana headquarters. While many people thought the firings were part of some programme in 'BDR Week' celebrations ongoing on at the time, the mutiny was on. Well and truly.

The rebellion by a section of the then Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) members at their Peelkhana headquarters will complete its third anniversary on Saturday.

Sparked off at the Peelkhana headquarters on Feb 25, 2009, the mutiny claimed 73 lives, including 57 army officers then deputed to BDR. While the fire soon spread to other BDR camps across the country, no killing was reported outside the capital.

Post-mutiny, BDR was renamed Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).

On Saturday, BGB organised a 'milad-mahfil' (special prayer) and placed wreaths on the graves of those killed on the third anniversary of the bloody mutiny.

Though there had been suggestions about conspiracies behind the rebellion, police investigators concluded that the pent-up anger in a section of BDR men against their superiors from the army fuelled the revolt.

Fifty-eight cases were filed against the mutineers, including for crimes such as murder and looting. BNP leader Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu and several others were accused in the case filed over the killings.

The trial of the killings is being held under the Bangladesh Criminal Procedure Code, and not military law. Around 1,000 people have been declared accused in the cases.

The trials of the other accused, however, are being held under the old BDR laws. According to BDR laws, the most severe punishment for mutiny is seven years in jail, which has been amended to incorporate death sentences in certain cases under new BGB laws.

In 51 of 57 mutiny cases tried so far, 3,036 BDR personnel have been punished and 77 acquitted. The trials were held at various BGB sectors across the country and the headquarters at Peelkhana.

As the trial of the massacre began, BDR was officially renamed BGB by hoisting a new flag on Jan 23 last year.

                                  THE MUTINY AND THE FLURRY OF MEETINGS

On that fateful Feb 25, 2009 morning, as the media thronged the main gate of Peelkhana and TV channels began showing footage of the mutiny, on the senior armed forces personnel soon sat with prime minister Sheikh Hasina to discuss ways to tackle the issue.

While army officers inside Peelkhana could not be contacted soon after the mutiny began, heavily armed defence personnel took position around the BDR headquarters to prevent escalation and spread of the mayhem.

The mutineers soon began negotiating with a government delegation led by the Awami League lawmaker Jahangir Kabir Nanak and Fazle Nur Tapas.

Later, agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury and several other high-ranking government officials met the mutineers at a restaurant near the Peelkhana main entrance.

The mutineers held discussions with the prime minister on Feb 26 morning. They laid down their arms the same day and Shahara Khatun went inside the Peelkhana. She brought out several army officers and their families with her.

On the evening of Feb 26, when the BDR headquarters finally became empty, the police and the army moved in and took control, ending the 33-hour bloody mutiny.

Meanwhile, around noon on the first day of the mutiny, the body of a BDR official was found in a manhole near Kamrangir Char Beribadh. It was the first sign of killings inside Peelkhana.

A mass grave was later found inside the Peelkhana, with bodies of the then BDR chief Shakil Ahmed, his wife and many other army officers. 

BY :  Liton Haider.

Motive Of Gruesome BDR Carnage Still A Mystery

The nation recalls with a heavy heart the black day of carnage at Peelkhana Headquarters of BDR on 25 February 2009 as it pays homage on Saturday to the army officials brutally killed by a number of disgruntled members of BDR - later renamed Border Guard Bangladesh.

Motive behind the gruesome massacre is yet to be unearthed.

At least 74 people including 57 army officials, deputed to the paramilitary force, were brutally slain in the 36-hour bloody mutiny by troops at Durbar Hall as the celebration of BDR Week was in progress at Peelkhana.

The then BDR Director General, Major General Shakil Ahmed and his wife were among those ruthlessly executed in the carnage.

The mutiny ended the following day with the surrender by the rebels.

The slain officers and their near ones were buried at Banani Graveyard.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh National Awami Party in a statement called upon the people to observe 25 February as the national day of mourning while Bangladesh Jatiya Sramik Andolan at a discussion in the city demanded of the government to identify the plotters behind the tragedy.

                                     PLOT BEHIND BLOODBATH STILL A MYSTERY

Even threes years into this unprecedented bloodbath, conspiracy behind this gruesome plot remains a mystery. The plotters have not been identified as yet although 3,036 soldiers have already been sentenced to varying terms on charge of taking up arms while trial of 847 others, including 23 civilians, on criminal charges, including murder, is going on.

In total, 57 army officers, a retired army official, wives of two army officers, 9 BDR soldiers, 5 civilians, an army soldier and a police constable -- were brutally killed on 25-26 February three years back when the soldiers took up arms against their officers from the army.

The Government Investigation Committee, headed by former Scretary Anis-uz-Zaman Khan, submitted its report to the Home Ministry on 21 May 2009. The army "Court of Inquiry" submitted its report to the army chief on 10 May 2009.

The reports have not yet been made public.

Odhikar, the rights watchdog, in its annual report, noted that "the manner of the BDR trials to date has seen various miscarriages of justice.

"The code of conduct of trials in the BDR special courts poses serious problems with soldiers with no legal training having to represent them in an apparently biased court," it read.

The Odhikar report further observed: "What little legal assistance is allowed has been hampered due to lack of privacy."

Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge Md Jahrul Haque, meanwhile, is trying 824 soldiers and 23 civilians, including former BNP lawmaker Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu and local Awami League leader Torab Ali, also the-then president of BDR Welfare Association for Retired Members, on charges of criminal offences, including murder, committed at the now Border Guard Headquarters in Dhaka during the rebellion.

The court has so far recorded depositions of 45 prosecution witnesses out of the total 1,345 since 24 August 2011, when the trial began.

According to media reports, some 69 border guards have meanwhile died in custody across the country after the mutiny.

The authorities claimed that most of the soldiers had died of various diseases while others had committed suicide. The families, however, claimed that the soldiers had been tortured to death.

Odhikar report noted that 51 BDR men were killed from March to December in 2009.

Besides, some 534 soldiers were released following completion of their jail terms.

According to available information the trial is expected to be completed by August 2012.