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bd armyThe 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).

15 Responses to “Recent events in the army and future of democracy”

  1. Dr.Kayum

    Actually we do not have democracy in Bangladesh. All we have and had so far is either an army dictator or a political dictator. I do not see much difference between them. Both the leaders Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda are dictators like army dictator. Whatever they want that is final, nobody has the right or guts to differ. We do not want this kind of democracy. Everybody says democracy will stand sooner or later but I think first of all we need new leadership, who has real belief in democracy in his/her mind and behaviour.

    I do not think Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda believe in democracy. They use the term democracy to rule the people like military dictator. The people of Bangladesh are so stupid without any thinking support these two leaders and are ready to die for them. These two leaders use the people as their weapon to go to the power.

  2. Princess

    It is highly commendable that this article criticizes both the army and the existing political parties, in proving that at the end of the day, Bangladesh has successfully failed in establishing democracy. As Bangladeshis, who usually have a sandwiched life between the political and personal agendas of the ruling and the opposition party, we have either not been able to digest “democracy” or never been given its nutritious form in the first place, during all democratically elected regimes. Thus, whether democracy has given the nation the desirable economic and social growth, still remains debatable.

    The future of Bangladesh is perhaps not in military dictatorship nor in pure democracy, as both forms seemed to have greater negative repercussions for the nation for now and future. What we need is perhaps a hybrid form, however with greater inclination towards authoritarianism, a regime that still remains to prove itself.

  3. Sagor

    It is actually our pleasure to see you thinking about not only the army, but also the democracy. Regards

  4. Ferdows Al Hasan

    History witnesses that it is a martial law administration that comes out of extrmeness of political parties henceforth firstly political partirs are required to be conscious

  5. Ezajur Rahman

    The Caretaker Government did fail but its failures should not be compared to those of the failures of the governments of AL and BNP. The main objective of the Caretaker Government was reform of AL and BNP but the parties did not cooperate. After 3 years of this elected government are we closer to any meaningful reform? If the Caretaker Government had stayed for five years without having to kowtow to the mafias in AL ad BNP it would have done a far better job than any of our governmnets. Many, many people believe this. We just don’t like to admit it because it indicates the level of failure in our democracy.

    • Manzurul Ahsan Khan

      Thanks for the comment.You said that the main objective of the CTG,was reform of AL and BNP.Reforms failed. The concept was wrong. Reforms within parties cant be ordered from outside or from the top. A process of reform actually started but could not go ahead because of interventions.It could develop within the parties . Only party mastans and money lords should have been barred from overt and covert manipulations as per law.Many people really expected much from CTG but at the end of the day there was no positive change. CTG acquired the same vices of the political governments. During Pakistan and Bangladesh military interventions were largely welcome by people.Broad masses had high expectations but they were never fulfilled. It is true that both democracy and military rule has failed. But when democracy fails military rule is perhaps not a viable solution. Thats the experience of the history of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

      • Ezajur Rahman

        Thank you for your reply. The CTG was not a lasting solution and even not an appropriate solution. But the failure of centre politics will always lead to disastrous interventions. Which is all the more reason for centre politicians to get it right. The reforms which started prior to the CTG were doomed to fail because they were always subject to the whims of the two Begums – and their immediate families. Nothing will ever change in our country as long as these two families hold the key.

  6. Chowdhury, Rezzakul

    “They preferred rule of party rather than rule of law, and also failed to follow the rules of the game.” I am surprised because this is written by the president of Communist Party of Bangladesh. If the party is the vanguard of the ‘Proletarian’ then the rule of the party should be more progressive and close to the mass expectation than the ‘rules’ of the state.

    However, when cold war is over, no one wants any military government in any state. In this global and monopolistic world, military government is not necessary at all. A civil government is more consistent and helpful than them; for movement of capital targeting cheap labour. How come the military in a twinkle of an eye became a democratic force in Bangladesh? How we forget the very recent history?

    • Manzurul Ahsan Khan

      Party goes to power.Party rules according to laws.But the laws and rules and even the constitution in it’s spirit and letters are violated.Even when a proletarian party runs the govt.it does so according to law.In the USSR right from the beginning decrees and laws were promulgated and party had to abide by those.Lenin demanded severe punishment for those who violated,including communists.Vanguard of the proletariat initiates laws in favour of the proletariat and ensures its implementation.
      Cold war has been replaced by hot and real war.Even if there is no cold war Military intervention in politics is harmful,both for the army and politics.The military rarely claims that they are democratic,they say country and democracy were in crisis and they had to take over to save the country, and while in power they will take measures for ultimate and ‘quick’ return to democracy.

  7. masum

    i think many mysterious findings attaching with this foiled coup will be revealed soon…………..that was not previously anticipated!!

  8. russel

    The BDR mutiny wouldn’t have had turned so horrific if it were handled initially and foiled just like the coup has been.

  9. Golam Arshad

    Monzur Bhai: Interesting observation on the role of army, democracy and politics in Bangladesh. If you would recall, from 10th January 1971 until 15th August 1975. Just pause and recollect; what led to the gruesome tragedy of 15th August 1975? Run for me the details, fair and square! Special Powers Act, PO 9, 4th Amendment and final BAKSAL (One Party Rule)Was it a lack of Vision? The newly born Bangladesh deserved better and a better governance than it had! Manzur Bhai with all due respect let us thrive on truth, not on emotion.The democracy loving people of Bangladesh want us to move on.. the new generation wants a future secured for a better life and a prosperous BANGLADESH!

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