The Bangladesh Army briefing on January 19, 2012 disclosing the foiled coup attempt has clarified some of the confusion among the people. Media and the internet were rife with rumours and misinformation. The people are relieved to know that the attempt to disrupt the democratic process had been foiled and that the army is determined to firmly resist such attempts.
The briefing also mentioned that various forces had been making attempts to ride piggyback on the army — a patriotic state force — to destroy democracy. In the past, different forces banked on the army, a victorious product of the Liberation War to create disorder and gain political advantage. Sometimes they succeeded and on some occasions they failed. Our army has been carrying the burden of disrepute such negative forces had earned in the past in their attempt to take over political power.
During the 24 years of Pakistan rule, the people of Bangladesh fought relentlessly against autocracy and military dictatorship. The birth of Bangladesh was also largely due to the failure of the military dictatorship to accept the democratic verdict of the people. No doubt at times there were political crises and failures of the political leadership in Pakistan but intervention of the Army could not ultimately resolve the crisis rather made it deeper and more complex. Sixty-four years of Pakistan proves how military intervention has caused serious harm to a country, its politics and the army itself.
Bangladesh Army was born out of an armed liberation struggle – a people’s war that was fought side by side with the people. Hence it’s surprising that the Pakistani culture of autocracy and Martial Law is still haunting Bangladesh for the last 40 years. We have witnessed the killing of two of our presidents and many political leaders. Numerous coups and counter-coups have led to hundreds of brutal killings.
But it can’t be denied that the major political parties lacked democratic culture, violated democratic principles and the letter and spirit of the Constitution. They preferred rule of party rather than rule of law, and also failed to follow the rules of the game. This allowed the army to step-in with a whole range of justifications; failing government, political deadlock, chaos, corrupt politicians, economic problems and grave danger before the country, etc. It was claimed that an army takeover was necessary to save the country from disaster.
But in the final analysis our experience has been bitter. Leaving aside the question of gross violations of fundamental human and democratic rights, none of the major problems faced by the country were solved. The experience of the recent army-backed caretaker government was no different. When democracy is in crisis, military intervention is not the cure. It was rightly said by H.L Mencken that “the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy”.
Intolerance between the major parties is so intense that when a change in power becomes imminent, they would prefer a military government in power rather than the opposing party. Manipulations in the army by political parties with such ends in view vitiate the body politic and cause immense damage to the army as an institution.
With more wars, conflicts, confrontation and tension around the world the military complex is becoming larger and more powerful. The US President Eisenhower in his farewell address to the nation said on January17, 1961 ‘…..conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience…we must guard against acquisition of unwanted influence…by the military industrial complex. The potential of the disastrous rise of misplaced powers exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties and democratic process.’
Recently in a BBC documentary series Fauji Banijya (Military Business), Kamal Ahmed observed, “Over the past four decades the military in Bangladesh has become more than a fighting machine. It is a well-organised, sophisticated and rather successful business operation. But its success as a ‘corporate giant’ has also raised worries.”
The grave situation now prevailing in Pakistan is a glaring example of how dangerous the role of the army could be. A recently published report states: “The Pakistani military is no more a mere security agency, but an industrial and business corporation, in real terms. The economic and business positions of the army generals, has overtaken in many folds, the volume of the civilian business enterprises. On the basis of these economic interests, being a class in stalk, the political privileges, advantages and access to power or supremacy over the political dispensation is for now realised to be oxygen for them. Therefore, military, as a class no way can afford any civilian government to deliver things, independent of the gunmen’s prior approval.”
As was rightly mentioned at the press briefing “every army member is ever ready to make sacrifices to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the motherland.” So it should be. Its entire attention should be devoted “to reach a higher level of quality through…ensuring well-disciplined training….” The Army is meant for the defence of the country. No one from inside or outside the army, internal or external forces should be allowed to use the army for their own purpose. Political parties should not interfere with the army nor should the army interfere in politics. Our army should be kept above any controversy.
In 40 years this is for the first time the army has given a comprehensive statement about a coup and “conspiracy to overthrow a democratic system of government” and such other activities of vested interest groups involving the army which tarnishes its image. The statement said that “it (army) finds itself going through another challenging chapter in the aftermath of a legacy left behind by history. We seek the help of democratic and patriotic people through you in facing this temporary challenge.”
It is the solemn duty of political parties and the people to stand by the side of the army at this challenging time. Political parties who fought heroically to restore democratic process in the 1990s should, despite all the differences, should close their ranks to face the challenges before the army, country and democracy as well.
Manzurul Ahsan Khan is the president of Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB).