Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is Dhaka a city under siege?

Government's harsh measures disturb life.


The unprecedented security measures the government has taken ahead of the planned BNP's 'Dhaka Cholo' (Let's March to Dhaka) programme for March 12 has left citizens mystified and worried. On the one hand, there is the big question of whether such stringent measures are at all needed when a party simply wishes to exercise its democratic right in a furtherance of its politics. On the other, the way in which conditions are being handled makes it clear that the nation's capital has been placed in a state of siege by the government. All the signs point to a state of panic on the part of the administration in the sense that it thinks the political opposition could really be up to some mischief.

The government's explanation is that such measures are necessary in order to avert chaos on the streets. Of course, no citizen desires to see chaos taking over. But what the authorities clearly seem to be ignoring is the fact that on March 12 it will not be just the BNP which will remain busy with its political programmes. There are tens of thousands of citizens who, as usual, will have their deadlines to meet and responsibilities to fulfill on the day. Now, with the police taking over the streets and then even raiding hotels and messes in the city to ensure that no anti-government elements are around, it is the residents of Dhaka who are being put into great difficulties. The job of a government is to make life easier for people. In the present case, precisely the opposite is being done. It is simply not acceptable.

As for the government's measures to keep the BNP in check, we believe they are misplaced and demonstrate all the features of a police state. If the opposition does engage in any subversive act, the government can very well take action on March 12. But to go about hunting down BNP activists all over the city and even at bus and railway stations and river terminals prior to that date flies in the face of rational thinking. The BNP, the ruling party might do well to remember, is not a proscribed organization but a well-established and major political party. Therefore, for the government to go after it in this rather medieval fashion is really to undermine its own credibility. 

We urge the government and the opposition to step back a little and do nothing that will inflame further an already worrisome situation.

Hizb Ut-tahrir : Banned party run from behind bars

Detained top leaders of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir have been controlling their outfit's activities from prison, intelligence personnel claim. 

The Tahrir men in jail regularly discuss the organisation's possible courses of action and communicate their plans and decisions to their followers outside over mobile phones, say intelligence officials in Rab and police.

Contacted, Inspector General of Prisons Brig Gen Ashraful Islam Khan said this should not be the case as jammers were in place to block mobile calls to and from prison. He, however, admitted that some jammers had been out of order.

The Islamist outfit was outlawed for its subversive activities two years ago. It came back in the spotlight when the army recently pointed to its links to a foiled plot to topple the government.

The organisation on January 8 circulated provocative leaflets, based on fugitive Major Syed Ziaul Haq's internet message, across the country, the army said at a press conference on January 19.

Earlier in December, Hizb ut-Tahrir circulated English and Bangla leaflets calling on army officers to dislodge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from power and "establish Khilafat".

Lt Col Ziaul Ahsan, chief of Rab intelligence wing, told The Daily Star, “Our own sources as well as some detainees revealed during interrogation that the Tahrir men are carrying out their activities from jail.

“They stick with each other and discuss their next course of action. The leaders communicate with their activists outside over mobile phones.” 

The Rab intelligence chief suggested that the detained Tahrir men should be kept separated in different jails to prevent them from communicating with each other.

There have been allegations that a section of jail guards provides prisoners with mobile phones in exchange for money, though prisoners are not allowed to communicate with the outside world.

Almost all prisoners, except for those on death row, can move inside the jail area and meet during the day, said prison sources. 

Intelligence officials in police and Rab have claimed that some activists of the banned outfit get arrested voluntarily so they can meet their leaders and discuss their next course of action. 

These activists later come out of prison on bail and pass their leaders' instructions to other activists.

Monirul Islam, deputy commissioner of the Detective Branch of Police (South), said the law enforcers had identified some Tahrir leaders and activists who had got arrested voluntarily as part of a plan, and later got out of prison on bail.

Since the outfit had been banned on October 22, 2009, Rab and police arrested 500 of its leaders and activists, including chief coordinator Mahiuddin Ahmed, and advisers Syed Golam Mawla, Mahmudul Bari, Towfiq and Kazi Morshedul Huq.

Intelligence personnel have said the banned outfit has adopted a new strategy to expand its network and influence. 

Tahrir leaders are now trying to include professionals and top government officials in the outfit. They are also targeting children from wealthy families, the officials said.

Monirul said the banned outfit has been trying to get access to middle and upper-class families, and befriend them to build an influential network. 

Rab intelligence chief Ziaul says Hizb ut-Tahrir has taken up a strategy to take advantage of influential and powerful people, including businessmen.


Govt playing role of criminals

                                   Alleges BNP, vows to 'resist any sort of obstructions'


Amid widespread arrests and political tension, the main opposition BNP and its allies have almost completed their preparations for holding a grand rally in the city tomorrow.

Party leaders hoped lakhs of people from across the country will join the rally to hear BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia in front of the party's central office at Nayapaltan.

Besides declaring expansion of the BNP-led four-party alliance, Khaleda is also expected to announce a fresh agitation programme to mount pressure on the government for restoration of the caretaker government system in the constitution, party insiders said.

The BNP high-ups have instructed its activists to take instant position on the streets and retaliate to stay on, if obstructed by the ruling party men on their way to the rally. 

Accusing the government of arresting over 3,000 party activists till yesterday, BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the state is playing the role of criminals to foil the rally and the government has enforced a reign of terror in the country. 

“The government has started an undeclared war against the people. It could have disallowed us holding the rally if there were any specific laws against it,” he told a press briefing at the party's central office.

He alleged that police have been directed to stop people heading for the grand rally from the district and upazila towns.

“Restriction has also been imposed on the movement of inter-district buses, launches and steamers as well as on issuance of train tickets and booking rooms in city hotels so that the BNP men cannot join the rally,” he mentioned adding, the administration has cancelled the reservations of buses and launches made by his party men.

“Even police didn't give permission to start the work for setting up a stage and use loudspeakers. But we will start the work from today [Saturday],” maintained the BNP leader.

Fakhrul further asserted that despite all these obstructions, the rally will be a turning point in the country's politics.

Party insiders said BNP has adopted strong security measures taking the “aggressive remarks” of some ruling party leaders into serious consideration.

Party's own security members, volunteers and special teams comprised of 1,300 persons are ready to ensure safety of the supporters and activists of BNP.

A total of 36 medical teams comprised of pro-BNP doctors and nurses will provide medical treatment to the activists, if necessary.

Enthusiasm among the party men over the rally is also evident. The Nayapaltan area has worn a festive look with illumination of party office buildings, hanging of colourful banners, festoons and portraits of party leaders. 

Loudspeakers will be installed from Motijheel to Shahbag and Motijheel to Malibagh level crossing via Nayapaltan and Shantinagar. 

Khaleda's address will be shown on 12 big screens to be installed at different spots. Her speech will also be broadcast live on the website

Khaleda Zia from a Chittagong rally on January 9 had declared “Dhaka Cholo” (March towards Dhaka) programme as part of her party's anti-government movement to realise the demand for restoring the caretaker government system.

Pakistan bans Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat Islamist group

Pakistan's government has issued orders banning the country's largest Islamic extremist group. 

Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat was first banned in 2002 by then Pakistani leader Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Activists from the pro-al-Qaeda group formerly known as the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), or Soldiers of the Companions of the Prophet, have been convicted of killing hundreds of Shia Muslims.

The head of the group described the ban as preposterous.

Other minorities, security targets and embassies have also been targeted by members of the group. 

The group has also recently been in the forefront of an alliance of extremist groups calling for an end to the country's relationship with the US, the Defence of Pakistan Council (Difa).


The notification ordering the ban was issued to relevant security departments two weeks ago but no public announcement has yet been made. 

The interior ministry's order says the organisation has been banned for what it calls its "concerns in terrorism", according to a copy of the order obtained by the BBC. 

Despite repeated attempts to contact Rahman Malik, the country's interior minister, he was unavailable for comment. 

But the head of the Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat group, Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, told the BBC that the group intended to challenge the order in court.

"It's taken us so long so rein in our activists - it will become very difficult to control their emotions if the ban is enforced," he said.

Militant attacks

After the last ban, many of the organisation's activists went underground and allied themselves with other militant groups to carry out attacks across Pakistan.
The SSP has always maintained that these activists joined a splinter faction of the group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

But security officials in Pakistan and beyond maintain that the groups are one and the same.

They allege that beneath the guise of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the SSP has been behind most of the major militants attacks in Pakistan, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. 

The group is also said to be responsible for the continuing killing of members of the country's minority communities, particularly Shia, across Pakistan.

Recently, however, the group has attempted a kind of rehabilitation - renaming itself Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat and trying to act like a mainstream political party.

As part of the Defence of Pakistan Council, it has held rallies in all of the country's major cities - including Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi - and calling on the government to cut off all ties with the US and the West.
The largest rally was recently held in Karachi. Afterwards, the US State Department called on the Pakistan government to implement bans on such groups, in particular Jamaat-ud-Dawa. 

It said the group was a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was held responsible for the November 2008 attacks on India's business capital, Mumbai.

Although the Jamaat-ud-Dawa remains absent from the order, it appears some of the US pressure has paid off.

"American and pro-American elements are afraid of the Difa and have orchestrated this ban," Maulana Ludhianvi says.

"In essence, whoever enforces the ban is enforcing their will on Pakistan," he added, pledging that he would never allow that to happen.