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2011-12-30__RabPoliticians seek power to use it for the benefit of the people whom they represent. Two of those primary benefits are the life and liberty of the people. Obviously, in the current political climate in Bangladesh, both are challenged. The tactics of terror practiced by petrol bomb throwers, who burn people alive and severely restrict freedom of movement, surely challenge the notion of life and liberty.

That the government in power has failed to safeguard the basic welfare of the people is confirmed in the words of the Education minister, Mr. Nahid. The Education Minister is not looking at the government, of which PM Sheikh Hasina has responsibility for internal security and command over the internal security apparatus, to ensure that SSC exams are held on time in a safe and secure environment. He is instead appealing to the opposition to call off agitation so exams can be held on schedule. Instead of members of the state security apparatus assuring the Education Minister that they will safeguard the welfare of the examinees, it is the students belonging to the BCL who have offered to guard exam halls to keep them secure. This attempt to look outside the state security apparatus is itself an admission that the state, with the PM in charge of all security apparatus, is not able to fulfill its very basic function of ensuring life and liberty for its people. In fact, the State Minister for Interior agrees as much. After meeting with owners of buses and trucks, it was decided that buses and trucks will be off the road after 9 pm since the state cannot provide necessary security.

That the state is incapable of providing basic security was made very apparent in the violence of the same nature that occurred before the January 2014 elections. Those in power should not have been surprised that violence of the same nature has been repeated today. Those who are intent on violence showed quite capably that they do not need large numbers to sow doubts in the minds of the people. They are willing to burn, take life, and destroy property in the pursuit of political power. It takes a small number of petrol bomb-throwing terror-mongers or a few removing small sections of railroad tracks to wreak havoc physically, and in the minds of the people. Given that the people of the country were subjected to the same violence prior to the January 2014 elections, it is surprising that the state security apparatus has failed so miserably to anticipate and prevent this new terror campaign. The state response, “by all means necessary,” is tantamount to a terror campaign of its own, with daily news of burnings now accompanied by news of extra judicial killings with death by crossfire.

The Health Minister Mohammad Nasim talks about the use of “maximum force.” The PM’s Advisor HT Imam calls it a war: “We will provide more weapons to law enforcing agencies in a bid to win the war. Side by side volunteers of pro-liberation forces will assist law enforcing agencies to defeat enemy forces.”

So, BCL men guarding SSC exam halls and volunteers of pro-liberation forces assisting the uniformed men and women entrusted to provide security! Passionate, but not persuasive words. These are words that admit that those in power do not have control and lack the necessary means to safeguard life and property. In the words of Finance Minister Muhith, “the situation outside Dhaka is dangerous.” It is an acknowledgement that all is not well.

One has to ask those in power: why do you want to hold on to power when you cannot even exercise it to secure the lives of the people whose welfare is entrusted to you?

Yes, you can hold on to power. You can do so by taking the advice of Minister Nasim and Advisor HT Imam, by unleashing the power of the state security apparatus and state judiciary to support your cause. But there is a difference between exercising hard power which forcefully unleashes the state apparatus, and exercising soft power, which persuades. You don’t have to persuade the petrol bomb throwers. But you have to persuade the people whom you serve to thoroughly reject the politics of the bomb thrower and to stand beside you.

But what you do is contrary to what is needed for persuasion. You use the metaphor of war. You routinely call people anti-liberation. New charges are filed, old cases are revived, and you shuttle those opposed to you in and out of jail. Your actions breed cynicism about your motives. If you fail to persuade, then you have to exercise hard power – the type of power that eventually destroys state institutions that form the backbone of a liberal democracy.

If you have to unleash hard power, then in the minds of many, your goal becomes very much like the goal of the bomb thrower: power for power’s sake. If people perceive that to be your goal, as many surely do, then you have lost. But far more importantly, the entire nation has lost to the petrol bomb thrower.

Muhammad Q. Islam, is an Associate Professor of Economics at the John Cook School of Business of Saint Louis University, USA.

6 Responses to “By all means necessary”

  1. C.R. Martin

    I am not sure what the author is insinuating. It is not the current Government’s fault that Zia of the so-called ‘Bangladesh Nationalist Party’ and her anti – Liberation War allies of Jamaat-e-Islami are engaged in wanton acts of terrorism against ordinary citizens. The Government can only do what is in its power and it is doing the best that it can. Why does the author not ask of Zia what she and her minions gain by engaging in this spree of terrorism and firebombs against ordinary people, the very people that Zia supposedly wishes to represent as prime minister someday?
    Has the comfort of St. Louis in the United States of America led the author to develop historical amnesia? Has the author forgotten the post – 2001 elections environment in Bangladesh? The unrestricted admission of foreign terrorists into Bangladesh during that time? The synchronized bomb explosions in every district of the country simultaneously? The shameful inability of the Jamaat-‘BNP’ regime to investigate the criminal and abhorrent grenade attack against the then Opposition Leader [the current Honourable Prime Minister] in August 2004? Has the author forgotten that just less then two years ago in May 2013 Zia of the so-called ‘B.N.P’ advocated the so-called “march on Dhaka” by the ‘Hefazat-e-Razakar’ party and the misguided wretches it had recruited to its cause? This ‘march’ was supposedly to overthrow the democratic Republic of Bangladesh and replace it with some nightmarish Taliban-Al Qaeda style entity! Well, the ordinary people gave Zia her response by refusing to provide ‘sustenance’ as demanded by Zia to the Hefazat-e-Razakar wretches. So what is the purpose of all this current mayhem by Zia, her handlers and her minions? Quite simply to save her allies; the war criminals currently being tried by the War Crimes Tribunal in the country. The very first thing Zia must do is to abandon the party of war criminals, Jamaat-e-Islami, to be considered remotely palatable. However, one fears that the so-called ‘B.N.P’ has been taken over by the Jamaat-e-Islami and Zia is powerless save to say what is put to her by her handlers. In these conditions, professor, we in Bangladesh have to hold fast against terrorism and firebombing, and stand with the secular government of the country. The nightmare alternative that Zia and her anti-Liberation War, anti-democratic, reactionary and misogynistic allies and handlers prevent is simply too awful to contemplate.

    • C.R. Martin

      ‘The nightmare alternative that Zia and her anti-LIberation War, anti-democratic, reactionary and misogynistic allies and handlers present is simply too awful to contemplate.’

      • Mohammad Zaman

        Mr. Martin’s book of history appears to begin in 2001.
        Here are a few facts for Mr. Martin to ponder:

        1) JI is a legally existent political party. SHW has not able to ban JI yet. So any political party can have JI as ally. If your history goes further back you may find SHW and Go Azam as bedfellows … Strange …

        2) Yes, BKZ is as rotten as SHW when it comes to political association with JI and this negates the pro-lib/ anti-lib paradigm that BAL is so eager to perpetuate for ever.

        3) BKZ is a rotten one and she belongs to be in jail … Why SHW is so hesitant?

        4) Arson is a crime and it should be tackled by the government. It is the solemn duty of the government. It has nothing to do with politics. If BKZ is doing it – book her … SHW should have the guts to do that … She is the PM after all .

      • C.R. Martin

        Even better, dear sir! Let us go back a few years before 2001; I will go back to early August 1975, four foul murderous junior officers meet with the a senior officer of the Bangladesh army, talking about committing murder and treason; about harming the Father of the Nation himself. Instead of arresting those officers on the spot; the general bids his time. In itself this general’s silence is treason. He fails to inform the Father of the Nation and other superior officers and thereby is in dereliction of his duty (and by the way, this is documented; it is what the principal murderers and traitors themselves said in interviews to foreign journalists; that they had approached Zia but he had kept his own counsel; so there is nothing to quibble about here). I am of course talking about Ziaur Rahman, and the murderous assassins of Bangabandhu and his family. Now before Zia himself was done in (and needless to say the blame for Zia’s demise was placed on innocent, genuine freedom fighter army officers but that is another matter) Zia invited back the traitors of al-badr and al-shams, in other other words Golam Azam and his war criminal gang and rehabilitated them. So indeed! Let us start there then. Who gave these traitors and murderous war criminals succor after the dark night of 15 August 1975? Secondly, what ‘paradigm’ do you speak of? The Liberation War is a living breathing memory, not some fancy concept in the comfortable classrooms of universities in the western world! The people who committed war crimes in 1971 are alive and should and must and indeed are beginning to face the consequences of their heinous crimes. These traitors and their heirs continue to try and undermine the idea of a secular democratic and free Bengali Bangladesh republic. So we will continue to struggle as ordinary citizens against attempts to subvert the nation and state we hold dear. I am assuming you live in the United States like the professor who wrote the article, instead of denigrating secularism why don’t you help in catching the Pakistani war criminals, a number of whom live in the West including America? Of course, if you were against the Liberation War in the first place that is a different story altogether and I have nothing to say then.

  2. Mohammad Zaman

    “One has to ask those in power: why do you want to hold on to power when you cannot even exercise it to secure the lives of the people whose welfare is entrusted to you?”

    A very poignant question indeed. One simple answer can be the “COST OF LOSING POWER” … If BAL is out of power today, their fate shall not fare better than their nemesis …

    Our God forsaken BD is now in a fix …

    Great article Qamrul Bhai

  3. Tahir

    Our honorable finance minister Muhit once told that the government can’t take action against those who are behind the stock market manipulation and crash because they are very powerful. That showed the capability and the willingness of the AL government to serve the common people and protect them.

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