JANUARY 2017

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Dreams Of The Father

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By Fazal M. Kamal *

For the past five years the Awami League government in Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, has rampaged across that land defying the country’s laws, rules and the people.

Now evidently it is determined to defy the opinions and advice of the international community as well as of universally-respected rights organizations. A recent instance of the cavalier fashion in which the administration has operated is the rushed execution of an opposition politician without regard to due process and through a flawed procedure.

As is already known those who had advised restraint on the government’s predatory moves included UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Asian Human Rights Commission, among others.

During these five years administration honchos, ruling party kahunas and assorted hangers-on have recklessly looted state-run financial institutions, fought among themselves---with guns and knives---for government contracts, and intimidated political opponents and human rights activists.

In general the government has ruled the nation, for all practical purposes, as a one-party state without declaring it so in public as was done by the same party under the leadership of the father of the present prime minister soon after the independence of Bangladesh.

None of the above is new since all of these facts have been well-documented over the years by the national and international media: the rampant corruption, the disappearances of political dissidents and union activists, the arrest and torture of human rights activists, the closing down of news outlets, the continued incarceration of an editor without any trial, the brazen disruption of the judicial process, et al.

The roster of insidious administration actions, unfortunately for the people of Bangladesh, can go on almost forever. However, one of the worst such activity of the government has been dividing the nation into two opposing camps---one group of persons aligned with the ruling party against the majority of the people---with the serious and real potential for outright civil war.

In earlier decades dictators and tyrants found it convenient to utilize the excuse of fighting communism as they went about repressing their opponents and dissidents. Now, as is well known by all except the willfully myopic, political repression is done under the all-purpose cover of fighting terrorism, specifically Islamic terrorists.

In Bangladesh, not surprisingly, this is merely an expedient ruse for the incumbent rulers in their attempt to perpetuate themselves in power fearing, mainly, the danger of having to face trials for the transgressions they have committed.

The Sheikh Hasina government, of course, thought it was a brilliant pretext and has used it to frame its war on the political opposition, human rights monitors and dissidents as part of the global war on terror. This has also eased the functioning of its apologists both inside the country and outside.

The obvious and primary cause behind the present murderous turmoil that has engulfed Bangladesh is therefore a simple one, i.e. the self-serving insistence of the ruling party to hold the next parliamentary elections under a government headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The ground for this insistence, as trotted out by the administration as the reason for not having the voting supervised by a “non-party caretaker government” as was being done in previous elections, is a Supreme Court verdict.

But the truth is this: The government in unseemly haste amended the Constitution (the 15th Amendment) to do away with the caretaker election-time administration even before the full judgment was written and even though the verdict actually also said the following two general elections can be held under a caretaker government.

In all fairness it must be noted that both the administration---with the enthusiastic participation of the police and ruling party goons---as well as activists of the opposition have been responsible for the viciousness during the ongoing mayhem which has already claimed the lives of more than two dozen people.

(Interestingly, there have been photos circulating via the Internet that show persons setting vehicles alight under the supervision of the police! However, the authenticity of these cannot be verified.)

Aside from bringing Bangladesh to the brink of a horrendous disaster the intransigence of Sheikh Hasina’s administration, in the face of the demand to step aside so that a caretaker government can hold the elections, is also threatening the impressive gains the country has attained mainly on the socio-economic fronts; achievements that have surpassed those of many other developing nations including India and Pakistan.

In a very recent statement the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expressed its concern thus:

“The country seems to have turned into an open prison for ordinary citizens. The social, economic, academic, and spiritual life of Bangladeshis is under extreme threat. Any person walking out onto the street literally takes their life in their own hands; the possibility of a bomb going off or bullets flying is real. Arson attacks on public transports are a daily occurrence, killing and maiming innumerable commuters and bystanders. Across the country, the clash is ongoing between agents of the state – accompanied by goons of the ruling party – and opposition protestors…

“…The 15th Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh is critical. This amendment was borne to satisfy the wish of the incumbent Prime Minister. She used her official relief fund to bribe a Chief Justice and fulfill her desire of perpetuating power in this way. In a country where basic institutions related to the rule of law are a facade, such actions shouldn't surprise.

“… [O]ver the decades, the institutions of Bangladesh have been weakened so a nexus can be maintained for the rulers. In the process citizens are denied their rights. Gross abuse of human rights in Bangladesh is mostly related to the quest for, and maintenance of, power, which guarantees the ruling segment a 'license' to corruption and impunity.”

On May 13 I had written elsewhere: “Given [the extant] circumstances, in Bangladesh …, one thing that demands serious considerations is that international human rights organizations need to ponder more effective ways of stopping rogue governments from trampling at will the very basic rights of citizens. Merely appealing to them and encouraging others to send missives to the leaders of these countries is too weak a response…. In the process precious lives are lost with the protests barely registering with the errant administrators.”

That reality not only continues to persist but because of the imminent danger of civil conflict and loss of more human lives, to say nothing about the economy grinding to a complete halt, it has become imperative and urgent to initiate effective international actions to ensure the cessation of hostility on the part of the government and assure that it agrees to peaceful processes that will bring about the participation of all parties in elections that will genuinely reflect the will of the people.

If, on the other hand, after already alienating most of its citizens, the Bangladesh prime minister persists on her present route of utilizing brute force to have her way then ultimately, just like her father, the founder of Bangladesh, she’ll be left only with the shoulders of India and (possibly) Russia to lean on.

* The writer has been a media professional, in print and online newspapers as editor and commentator, and in public affairs, for over forty years.

[Source: Countercurrents.org]

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