Photo/PID: Another Hamid Karzai in the making? Military installed Chief Advisor of Bangladesh, Fakhruddin Ahmed, meets the US installed President of Afghanistan, both visiting the US to attend the UN General Assembly.
[Mashuqur Rahman, USA.]
Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the civilian face of Bangladesh’s military government, has arrived in America. For the first time in sixteen years Bangladesh will be represented at the UN General Assembly by an unelected technocrat. While Dr. Ahmed lacks a constituency back in Bangladesh he should feel quite at home in New York.
In January Bangladesh experienced its first UN-instigated (if not backed) coup when the most senior UN official in Bangladesh, Renata Lok Dessalien, warned that there would be “implications” for the Bangladesh army’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions if it took part in the scheduled elections. Later in the day Bangladeshi generals dutifully obliged by walking into the Bangladeshi President’s office and demanding that power be handed over to technocrats chosen by the military. Apparently participating in a rigged election is far worse than participating in a coup, according to the United Nations. Thus was installed Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed as the Chief Advisor of Bangladesh’s “caretaker government”.
In New York Dr. Ahmed is now amongst his constituents. The Bangladesh military government has taken a number of steps recently to prepare the ground for this trip. On September 9, Dr. Ahmed declared on national television that the military government was easing the ban on indoor politics. Less than a week later Dr. Ahmed granted an interview to the BBC to discuss the military government’s “commitment” to a “roadmap” toward democracy. It was yet another interview granted by the Chief Advisor to a foreign news outlet without granting a single interview to the Bangladeshi press. The headline out of the BBC interview was that Dr. Ahmed declared that Bangladesh was not under military rule. Dr. Ahmed also made the incredible claim that his government believed in freedom of press and had not imposed any restrictions on the media:
About the closure of talk shows on private TV channels at the instruction of a government agency, he said the government believes in freedom of mass media and they had not imposed any restrictions on them.
Fakhruddin said the government accepted and was benefited by criticisms made at the talk shows. However, he admitted that an advisory was given to the TV channels after the Dhaka University incident last month, which he said is a temporary measure.
“We’ve given full freedom for last seven-eight months. There is no dearth of goodwill or sincerity in ensuring freedom of the media,” he said, adding that the criticisms are very important but those must be objective and constructive.
Dr. Ahmed neglected to mention, amongst other things, the concerted intimidation of the media by army personnel, the very well-documented beatings of journalists, the recent arrest of a cartoonist, and the talk-show “guidelines” handed down by the military government to television channels. The press in Bangladesh has been mostly bludgeoned into submission while the Chief Advisor maintains his government “believes” in freedom of the press.
The interview to the foreign media was just in time for the visit to Bangladesh by John Gastright, the US deputy assistant secretary for South Asian affairs. In Bangladesh Gastright offered support for the military government in Bangladesh and said that the US looks forward to “full democracy” in Bangladesh. To underscore the point that Bangladesh was not being ruled by the military, Mr. Gastright, in an act of diplomatic jujitsu, met with General Moeen U Ahmed, Bangladesh’s army chief:
About his meeting with the army chief, Gastright said he had an excellent meeting with Gen Moeen U Ahmed, where he congratulated the chief of army staff on the important role the joint forces are playing in support of the caretaker government.
“I welcomed General Moeen’s repeated assurances that he and the army do not have any political ambition,” Gastright said.
John Gastright got what he came for in Dhaka: an assurance from the military that the military camps all around the country, the military officials heading civilian departments, the military detaining and torturing people, the military intimidating and shutting down media outlets, the military beating students and journalists, the military arresting university professors, and the military chief making political speeches — all of it — did not mean that the military was running the country. It was indeed a “Silent Coup,” as the Economist put it back in January.
Mr. Gastright’s support for Bangladesh’s military government was not surprising, nor was it new. In August, representing the Bush Administration Mr. Gastright appeared in front of the US House Foreign Relations Committee and offered support for Bangladesh’s military government, as well as the military government of Pakistan. In his prepared testimony, he stated:
From the beginning, the new Caretaker Government stressed that it sought to restore, not replace, Bangladesh