A major power struggle occurred in the military quarters recently. A silent coup d’état is in progress in Bangladesh.
Earlier the nation witnessed scores of failed and successful, both bloody and bloodless coup d’état or mutinies since 1975. Military brought General Ziaur Rahman and General H.M. Ershad in power and their remnants are still enjoying major slice in politics.
In the current power struggle, occurs intermittently since Lieutenant General Moeen Uddin Ahmed who was catapulted into helms of affairs of the state power which was actually engineered by four ‘Khalifas’ (conspirators) on January 11, 2007 – popularly known as 1/11.
Has General Moeen been able to consolidate power? Will he be able to govern the nation at the time when political freedom is void? Who gained an upper hand in the latest power struggle? These questions are from the curious mind of enthusiastic citizens, who are cut off from real news from Bangladesh press at a moment when media is controlled by emergency rules.
In the recent power struggle Principal Staff Officer (PSO) General Masud Uddin Chowdhury has become a casualty. He had to clear his desk for a second time in less than a week. Chief coordinator of the corruption-busting task forces, the general has now been transferred to the foreign ministry for possible appointment as an ambassador. In fact asked to leave the country.
The second casualty is Military Secretary to the President (MSP) Mohammad Aminul Karim who has been transferred to the top military institution National Defence College in the outskirts of capital Dhaka. As a consolation he has been promoted to Lieutenant General.
General Masud and General Karim are among the ‘Khalifas’ who engineered the 1/11 since 2000. However the fate of the other two ‘Khalifas’ are yet to be known. If the other two are axed it could be concluded that General Moeen is heading for a clear win for consolidating his power base and possibly implement his desire for restoration of democracy.
The four Khalifas used the good offices of retired Major Sayeed Iskander, the blue-eyed brother of former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia (who also responsible as Defence Minister & Supreme Armed Forces Commander) who manipulated themselves in coveted military positions soon after 2001 October election.
As Khaleda Zia returned to power in 2001, General Masud, then a brigadier general, was made head of the Counter-Intelligence Bureau at the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI).
They pulled General Moeen U Ahmed of the 1st BMA (Bangladesh Military Academy) by super-seceding Major General Jamil D. Ahsan, Bir Pratik – the last serving Mukti Bahini officer to become the coveted military chief. General Jamil conceded and accepted diplomatic assignment to Libya in 2002.
Major Iskander played a key role in recommending his course mate General Moeen to make him the military chief. He also recommended to Prime Minister Office (PMO) to promote Masud, the last of the dreaded Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini to take command of the 9th Infantry Division. The reason for his recommendation was because Iskander’s trusted comrade General Masud is the brother-in-law. General Masud incidentally is an engineer and has no experience in commanding infantry or armoured corps.
The Dhaka Division plays a crucial role in taking charge of key installations in the capital, including PMO, Banga Bhaban (president’s palace), international airport, power, telephone exchange, radio and TV centres.
According to the plan General Masud send his trusted officers under the command of General Jahangir Alam Chowdhury (presently Quarter Master General) to Banga Bhaban to ask President Iajuddin Ahmed to declare state of emergency, for which he was not formerly briefed. The MSP also played a significant role to stage-manage the president.
The position of MSP is of course very significant. Specially when the country switches to Care-taker Government after each tenure of parliamentary form of government. The President becomes the Supreme Commander and guardian of the constitution. All armed forces matters rest upon the president. General Karim was planted months ahead before the tenure Khaleda Zia ends.
Meanwhile the key positions in the army headquarters and formation commanders are gradually filled in by East Bengal Regiment (EBR) where General Moeen was the commander.
Chief of General Staff (CGS), Dhaka Division GOC, Chittagong GOC, military security agency and others crucial branches of the armed forces in recent months have seen new faces from the EBR. It is expected that more positions in the army headquarters will have faces from EBR.
On the other hand, General Moeen has deliberately purged his course mates of first BMA from different positions. Former NDC chief General Zahir, recipient of ‘sword of honour’ has been made ambassador. So was General Rokon ud Dowla who was fired from the position of general officer commanding (GOC) of 9th Infantry Division and was replaced by General Masud. While former DGFI chief General Sadeque Hasan Rumi was transferred from DGFI, dreaded security agency to head the Directorate of Ansar and Village Defence Party and his course mates interpret as an insult for him.
It is interesting to observe that at the height of cleansing the state of corruption and other vices, General Moeen and chief of anti-corruption task force General Masud spared his buddy Major Iskander for the help he rendered in the conspiracy against the sovereignty and constitution. He was allowed to travel abroad several times with his family, when his sister former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was under house-arrest. In early in June he returned to Bangladesh and held parleys with General Moeen. It is time to question the integrity of the objective of anti-graft drive in Bangladesh by the military installed interim government.
Major Iskander played a critical role in an attempt to convince his sister to agree to go into exile in Saudi Arabia. The plot foiled when Khaleda turned around giving a condition that she will leave, if her sons Tareque Rahman and Arafat Rahman are allowed to leave the country.
Major Sayeed Iskander is indeed a unique example of rag to riches, so is his brother Shamim Iskander, a flight engineer of Bangladesh Biman airlines. His younger brother bought two worn out F-28 for Biman. After series of air accidents the aircrafts were later grounded and withdrawn from the fleet. Well none of them were accused of corruption or other crimes.
General Moeen in making some giant steps demonstrated that he is the boss, which also caused speculations of him being ambitious. He has published “Selected Collection of General Moeen Ahmed” to ventilate his political and social mind. He with the support of DGFI has floated “Jago Bangladesh” to cheer his effort to end criminalisation of politics and institutionalisation of corruption. Well vines say that Jago Bangladesh is recruiting political elements in small towns, which may soon dawn as a political party. Political activists in upazila (small administrative towns) and districts have seen induction from once outlawed Freedom Party and of course from mainstream Awami League, Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP) and Jatiya Party.
Nevertheless, the West does not want to see Bangladesh military become another Frankenstein as in Pakistan. In recent change of hearts and minds of the military generals in Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand have given hopes that democracy will be restored in Bangladesh, if not very soon.