Photo: Dhanmondi 32, August 15, 1975.
[Mashuqur Rahman, USA.]
On a Friday evening more than three decades ago a man named Khondker Mushtaque Ahmed, with blood on his hands, addressed the nation of Bangladesh over television and radio. He declared that he was now President of Bangladesh. He said the Bangladesh military had taken over power under his leadership in the “greater national interest” in response to “the historical necessity.” It was August 15, 1975.
Earlier in the day the founding leader of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was brutally murdered along with nearly his entire family by junior officers of the Bangladesh military. Bangladesh had committed fratricide and has been struggling since to come to terms with the crime.
The Bangladesh Observer, the leading English language newspaper in Bangladesh at the time, editorialized the day after the carnage:
Corruption and nepotism inevitably led to continuously increasing prices and the economic misery of the masses that left no alternative for them but to languish and perish. In this suffocating situation the Armed Forces could not be true to their conscience and the nation except by coming forward to bring about a change in the corrupt and oppressive government.
From all accounts the people are convinced of the government’s crusading determination to obliterate the last traces of corruption, nepotism, and all other social vices and therefore they are ready to co-operate with the government in facing the great challenge thrown by history. With the infinite mercy of Allah the Government and the nation will overcome all obstacles and resolutely march towards the cherished goal.
Thus the doctrine of “historical necessity” entered the Bangladeshi lexicon and military intervention found its rationale.
Soon the figurehead civilian leader of the country, Khondker Mushtaque Ahmed, began to promulgate regulations and ordinances for the “greater good” of the country. On August 20, 1975 Ahmed promulgated martial law regulations providing for “penalty of death or transportation for life, rigorous imprisonment, fine and confiscation of property for offenses such as corruption, criminal misconduct, illegal possession of arms and ammunition and illegally acquired properties.” The regulations he promulgated also provided for “setting up of Special Martial Law Courts, Summary Martial Law Courts and Appellate Tribunals for the trial and hearing of offenses specified by the regulations.”
A few days later “life sketches” of three military officers appeared on the front page of the Bangladesh Observer. Two of the men, recently promoted Chief of Staff of the Bangladesh Army Major General Ziaur Rahman and the Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Hossain Mohammad Ershad, would rule Bangladesh for the next sixteen years.
On August 30, 1975 Khondker Mushtaque Ahmed promulgated the “Political Parties (Prohibition) Ordinance, 1975” prohibiting the formation of political parties. The ordinance provided that “no person shall form, organize, set up or convene, or be a member or otherwise take part in the activities of, or in any way be associated with, any political party.”
Having banned political activity and taken strong measures to fight “corruption” the figurehead civilian leader of Bangladesh addressed the nation over television on October 3, 1975. He declared that the military government would “withdraw restrictions on political parties with effect from August 15, 1976” and would “hold general elections to elect a new parliament under universal adult suffrage on February 28, 1977.” Those promises did not bear fruit. Sixteen years of military rule followed until the people of Bangladesh finally overthrew the military dictator Hossain Mohammad Ershad to restore democracy.
Sixteen years after the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh the military again intervened for the “good of the nation.” On January 11, 2007 the Bangladesh military took power in a bloodless coup. At the helm of this military government is yet another figurehead civilian leader, Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed.
The new Mr. Ahmed decried the corruption in Bangladesh and vowed to end it:
The chief adviser, also a former governor of Bangladesh Bank, deplored that pervasive corruption and plundering of national wealth by a handful of dishonest people pushed the national economy, society and politics backward, into a disastrous state. This has jeopardised country’s image in world forums.
“Such a situation cannot be allowed to continue,” he said in his speech, informing the people that tough activities will be started soon in a methodical way to curb the vice of corruption.
Saying that the people want a stern action against the corrupt, he said the Anti-Corruption Commission and related government organisations would be restructured and activated to make them action-oriented, free from all sorts of influence.
The military government promulgated the “Emergency Powers Rules 2007” banning political activities and all fundamental rights in Bangladesh effective January 12, 2007. The Daily Star reported:
The government has banned political and trade union activities and restricted provocative news, including talk show, in print and electronic media under the Emergency Powers Rules 2007.
The government has restricted processions, demonstrations, hartals, strikes and lockouts across the country to ensure security of the state and people, and maintain discipline in public life.
It has also banned student-teacher politics and politics by government employees and professional bodies.
In case of violation of the restrictions, the offenders will have to suffer a maximum of five years or a minimum of two years rigorous imprisonment along with fines.
The military government also promulgated the “Anti-Terrorism Ordinance 2007” and set up special tribunals to try the “corrupt” and other criminals. The military government has also declared that elections will be held no later than December 2008.
More than three decades after the military first took power in Bangladesh the military intervention playbook remains the same. It consists of an “anti-corruption” drive coupled with a ban on political activities and a promise of distant elections for a return to democratic rule. This time the military aims to save the country from itself, just like the last time. This time another military strongman has emerged and his name is General Moeen U Ahmed. General Moeen believes that Bangladesh needs its “own brand of democracy.”
Thirty two years after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was brutally gunned down in his home Bangladesh once again is being ruled by the gun. The rhetoric and promises from those with all the bullets are the same. It remains to be seen if this new generation of Bangladeshis will submit to another long period of military rule.
Mashuqur Rahman [http://www.docstrangelove.com] is one of the highest read Bangladeshi-American bloggers. Critically acclaimed for his incisive analysis on Bangladesh, US foreign policy and dedicated advocacy of human rights.