Bangladesh: Sheikh Hasina’s Fear of Fall is The Issue
- R. Chowdhury
“Fear cuts deeper than swords.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code fame said, “Men go far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.” That describes Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh today. She acutely suffers from the “fear of fall” and cannot concentrate on anything good for the country and its people. Her only obsession is to stick to power. She is riding a raucous tiger of her own breed. If she falls, she will be doomed. Even the animal she is on may not spare her. That sense of insecurity pushes her to be reckless and make her go any length to continue her perilous journey, feigning a façade of “development” to shield her crimes.
As with all dictatorial systems, she built a core of loyal foot soldiers to carry out her commands of mischief, trickery, and foul play. The soldiers have little choice other than obeying their commander less they are threatened with their own extinction.
Sheikh Hasina was installed as Prime Minister in January 2009 in a largely conspiratorial arrangement. The plot involved the Indo-US-Israel trio that mistakenly feared—or deliberately made to believe–that there was a possibility of Islamic fundamentalist surge if India-backed secularist Hasina did not win the next election. Army chief General Moeen U Ahmed, an over the top appointee of the incumbent government of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) under Begum Khaleda Zia, was a willing candidate to betray his benefactor. The legitimate Caretaker Government (CTG) was ousted in a silent military action on January 11, 2007, just days before the election to be held on January 22. A henpecked CTG was installed, but General Moeen called the shots. The interim CTG quickly extended its life from three months to two years so that it could complete its assigned mission.
The conspiracy then moved to its next act: discrediting the government it ousted. It was not a difficult task in a country like Bangladesh, where administrative perfection was a rarity. BNP’s lapses and mistakes were magnified for broader public consumption. In addition, to make its own takeover Halal (justified), the military-backed interim government filed thousands of cases against political leaders, mostly belonging to the party it just ejected. As a balancing act, some leaders of Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and other major parties were also picked up in the dragnet. Jails became overcrowded with these fresh elite inmates. The two former prime Ministers—Khaleda and Hasina—were not spared.
The next move was a concerted effort to promote the AL. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the long-fallen patriarch of the party, reappeared in national discourse to the exclusion of other top national leaders. Sheikh Hasina was released and sent abroad for “treatment.” She was to wait for the dust to settle before she could return. Indeed, as per the script, she made a heroic homecoming within a few months and quickly announced that when in authority, she would grant amnesty to the military and the CTG for all their unconstitutional acts, including the illegal ones. Begum Zia could not be kept confined either, an overt display of “fairness.” The fairness had its chain reaction. All the others who had earlier been paraded to the jails on various “serious crimes” came out as puritans and restarted their politicking as usual. With blessings from the generals, a few fresh characters tried their luck but soon discovered that politics was not their cup of tea. Reportedly, the BNP Chair persona was also asked to leave the country, but she refused drawing further outrage from the military, which swooped on Begum Zia and her family members with renewed vengeance. With damage and humiliation of BNP complete, a subtle promotion of AL continued through sponsored media and agencies.
The ground was now ready for the third and the most important task of the caretaker administration. It held the elections on December 29, 2008. Sponsored observers certified the election to be fair. But the reality was different. There were reports of ballot box stuffing by the military in favor of Awami candidates at many polling booths, while more than 100% voter turnouts recorded at others! The generals’ powerplay worked. Sheikh Hasina and her AL-led Mohajote commanded absolute control in the parliament by winning 265 out of 300 seats. Her rival Begum Zia and her BNP was allowed only 30 winners.
The Hasina Ride!
Securing absolute parliamentary control, Sheikh Hasina quickly appointed Awami oriented judges in key positions to make the judiciary compliant. With its help, she arranged to withdraw thousands of cases against her party men instituted by past governments. The cases included 15 serious charges against Hasina herself, one being of murder. None of the cases against the opposition BNP was touched. In fact, many of their charges have been strengthened with fresh cases filed almost daily. Her nemesis Begum Khaleda Zia and her family members were the worst victims. Khaleda has 35 to her credit so far.
Hasina’s next move was to make the administration that included the military and the law enforcing agencies loyal through favor or fear. Anyone not toeing the line, either sacked or sent on insignificant assignments. In Bangladesh, where corruption scale tilts pretty high, few can resist the temptation of favor or resist fear. An occasional ethical minded disciplinarian or non-cooperative hardliner invariably landed in jail or not seen again. Observers compare the scenario to Hitlerian tyranny.
The Prime Minister thus attained the position to do or undo anything of her choosing, irrespective of logic, legality or public opinion. She became omni powerful, even more than her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman possessed in his time. She assumed the heightened position to rule by decree: I am the law; I am the judge; I am the prosecutor; I am the dispenser, but I am above the law. The tiger gallops!
Most analysts attribute her unchallenged position to India, which functions in the country through its external intelligence outfit Research and Analyst Wing (RAW). RAW is known to have an extensive network all over Bangladesh, including administration, military, and law enforcing establishments, with a view to helping the Hasina administration continue as per India’s desire.
In return for Hasina’s installation, India enjoys the unlimited freedom to extract the benefits it needs from its eastern neighbor. Sheikh Hasina was made to sign more than 40 agreements and protocols, almost all of whom to benefit her sponsor. India’s most significant benefit, according to experts, is the access to its northeastern states through Bangladesh at the expense of the country’s security. Previously, India’s access to this remote region, combinedly known as Seven Sisters, was the costly airway or a long, difficult and slow hilly passage through a narrow strip, called Chicken Neck, north of Bangladesh. More than half a million Indians work in various sectors in the country, to the expulsion of qualified local hands, siphoning off about $10 billion annually, which account for the 5thlargest external remittance for India. Bangladeshi stores are flooded with Indian goods, and most markets in Kolkata thrive on Bangladesh money. Bangladeshi customers are a significant source of income at various Indian medical establishments. India has a free hand to incite the local insurgents in destabilizing the country’s southeastern hilly regions, in addition to providing fuel to the demands of the already privileged Hindu minority. The list goes on. Bangladesh has no say to any of these.
Bangladesh is not allowed its due share of water from most of the 52 joint rivers during the lean seasons as India unilaterally withdraws water at upper riparian. Nor can the country protest the routine border killings of its nationals by Indian border forces. Bangladesh cannot raise a voice when India supports racist Myanmar against the brutality and displacement of Rohingya Muslims. One million of these refugees crowd the southeastern part of Bangladesh for the past few years. Myanmar has been refusing to take them back despite international pressures.
Noting Sheikh Hasina’s true color, the US and its allies slowly backed out of the scene, leaving India the sole authority to deal with Bangladesh. The US has its own anti-China strategic interests to keep the South Asian bully on its side.
Hasina’s Tiger Tramples
Lord Acton, the 19th-century British historian, said, “All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If he lived today, he would have pointed at Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and reminded us: “I said so.” To list Hasina’s transgressions over the past decade will be a Himalayan task. Just a peek at a few. Upon becoming the Prime Minister, her axe immediately fell on the Bangladesh Rifles at its Peelkhana Headquarters, said to be at India’s behest, to teach a lesson to the border guards, who had earlier tried to resist Indian border incursions. Fifty-seven bright army officers were brutally murdered on February 25 and 26, 2009. Their wives and older daughters living in the compound were dishonored before being killed. Bangladesh has not experienced such savagery since March 25/26, 1971, when Pakistan military commenced one of the worst massacres in history. The Hasina administration continued its legacy of killing and brutality; the notable ones being done on the Islamist party on February 13, 2013, and Hefazat on May 5/6, 2013. Mutilated bodies and blood of the innocent victims littered the streets for days. Peoples still shudder to recall the barbarity committed during AL’s Lathi Missil (stick procession) and Logi-Boitha Missil (logs oars and batons) against the BNP administration.
Hasina’s fear factor made her a despicable autocrat, as she could not afford to fall off her ride. No opposition to herself, to her family, to her rule, to her party, and even to her sponsor India, is tolerated. These were made punishable offenses. Few opposition political programs are allowed. Even during a few small-scale activities, the law enforcing agencies ruthlessly crushed them, assaulting the crowd, firing at them, beating them and teargassing them while rounding up hundreds of thousands with or without cases. Hundreds of them were either killed or never seen or heard again. Ruling Awami thugs conducted destructive activities, including the torching of buses, houses, and factories but were quick enough to put the blame on the opposition. Never in the history, one heard that the Leader of the Opposition was confined in her office for months by cordoning off with trucks filled with bricks and sand, plus water cannon and thousands of police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Food and utility services were stopped for days. While all these were going, Sheikh Hasina enjoyed the sadistic pleasure in the comforts of her palace, said to be protected by Indian commandos.
According to the Odhikar (odhikar.news), a Bengali daily, twenty-five hundred thousand (2500,000) BNP leaders faced 90,340 false cases during the past decade of Hasina rule. One thousand five hundred twelve (1512) of its activists were killed, and another 75,925 were dumped in already crammed jails. 10,500 BNP men were arrested just before the last elections at the end of December 2018.
Khaleda Zia, a three-time Prime Minister, is now rotting in a solitary cell for supposed misuse of power against a non-descript, non-existent charity case with a 17-year jail term. Here is a glaring example of Hasina’s decree: I am the law; I am the dispenser. Her leaked tele-conversation with Bangladesh High Commission officials during a recent private trip to London confirmed the notion.
Hasina’s Magnum Opus
Sheikh Hasina’s evil Magnum Opus came with the dismissal of the Carte Taker Government. Earlier in 1996, the CTG was enacted to conduct the national elections between the governments. All the elections conducted under the CTG were generally accepted to be fair. Notably, it was Sheikh Hasina who staged Hartal (stoppage) for 173 days demanding the CTG, causing a considerable loss in men and material in the process. Why had she to undo it now? Even a layman knew the answer.
Unlimited anti-national, anti-people and unlawful activities, rampant corruption in the party and administration, as well as its sellout policy to India, made the Hasina government extremely unpopular. It would face total annihilation in a fair election. The bigger question was, once she was toppled out of office, how would she face the public wrath for her past misdeeds and account for her illegal acts? It is this fear of facing the public wrath and accountability that made Sheikh Hasina extremely reckless and went against all rules and norms to stay in power.
Sheikh Hasina, therefore, foresaw she could not afford a fair election. It must be managed to ensure her victory for all times to come. The parliament and judiciary being under her command, the removal of the CTG was not difficult, irrespective of vehement rejection by opposition parties and from the public at large. The legal seal to this otherwise illegal act was stamped in 2011. People have seen the results in the two managed elections since: in January 2014 and December 2018. Sheikh Hasina’s Awami Jote won almost 100%. The whole world, saving India, rejected them. She thought she tamed the tiger and continued riding. Next, she moved to take care of those who she thought had harmed her.
In the name of punishing the “war criminals,” who opposed the Bangladesh independence in 1971, she hanged a dozen top opposition leaders, mostly belonging to the Jamat-i-Islam (JI) party, under the International Crime Tribunal (ICT). JI was then a BNP ally. Coming after nearly four decades, most evidence had to be manufactured. The trials under the ICT was highly controversial, both at home and abroad. Earlier, aligning with the JI, the AL narrowly won the 1996 elections and formed the government. During the next elections in 1991, the JI joined the BNP group and badly defeated the AL, which Sheikh Hasina could not forget. Most observers conclude that the ICT was to penalize the JI for its political turnover to her disadvantage, as well as to weaken the BNP, AL’s rival. She achieved her goal, albeit by deceit, for now.
It is the fear of fall that haunts Sheikh Hasina, and it made her a ruthless dictator, aiming to ride for perpetuity or life. But everything comes to an end, sooner or later. The balloon of public wrath is bound to burst in time. And, the Frankenstein has its day!
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