Monday, October 18, 2004

Bangladesh: National Security and our Core Values


Our forefathers fought against the British from bamboo fort. They also fought for their dues against the oppressive landlords. We spearheaded the movements for the separate Muslim homeland in British India. Yet we have been tolerant people maintaining communal harmony and a measure of democratic norms. We subsequently fought against the internal colonialism of Pakistanis and attained our freedom. Ours is a heroic people with the tradition of fighting any odd including cyclone, tidal surge and standing up to the challenges of new life. All these factors constituted our intrinsic internal values which we must be able to safeguard. Because they provide us a distinctiveness to quality for separate statehood.
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The core values of the nation
M Abdul Hafiz

An irresistible urge for certain way of life always propelled people seeking separate independent statehood. The turbulent process of decolonisation or national liberation movement usually through which it was achieved in most cases after the Second World War seldom allowed a formal expression of those urges. But deep under the concomitant upheavals there were distinct hopes and aspirations charting the nation's future course and outlining its aims and objectives which otherwise remained obfuscated by the turbulence of the process. Then there emerged a set of values synonymous with the state's objectives. In security parlance we call them the nation's core values. As a matter of fact these are the values on the rampart of which rests the state's edifice. Once this rampart is assailed by some visible or invisible force the national security is at stake.

Bangladesh is no exception to these rules. In Bangladesh also the national security, like in any country, revolves round two basic questions. First, what all we want to secure and second, how and where we perceive the threat to our security to be coming from -- in other words the perception of our threats. These questions are seldom addressed in some concrete team in our country either officially or academically. Worse still, the national security has often been misinterpreted in our country by treating it synonymous with national defence or regime security. While national defence relates essentially to military security only against external threat the regime security attempts at illegitimately employing the state's security apparatus to sustain a ruling clique in power. But national security is much broader a concept and its scope cannot be confined only to its military dimension; neither can it be trivialised for the task of protecting a regime. Consequently a great deal of ambivalence and misperception persist in our national security discourses.

With regard to the question of what we really want to secure it is said by the theorists that each state aims at protecting its internal values from external threats. While the values are indeed internal the threats are not necessarily always external. Whatever could have been source of the threat the recent grenade attack in a political meeting shook the national confidence because it directly assaulted the rampart of the democratic ethos of our statehood. Because what, after all, will be left of our statehood once it is shorn of democracy which is the cornerstone of our polity. Not only the architects of our independence put it as one of the state principles in our constitution our long struggle had in fact been to restore democracy strangulated in the hands of Pakistani rulers.

Even historically the Bengalis displayed particular talent and temperament for democracy. It is not without a reason that the British chose the regulated presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay -- the earliest British possessions in the subcontinent -- to introduce, nourish and uphold democracy and granted to their population the fundamental rights. Democracy struck root in Bengal as early as mid thirties when through the introduction of the India Act of 1935 the Indians were given limited self rule. Since then democracy thrived in Bengal till the outbreak of Second World War and produced leaders of the statures of Suhrawardy, Fazlul Huq and Tamizuddin Khan.

Second, we must be able to ensure an internal order conducive to an uninterrupted socio-economic and all round development, because for an under developed country like Bangladesh security essentially means development having a civilizational connotation for the continued well being of our people. While political independence is an abstract value and, of course, the most precious one we must be able to provide something tangible for our people -- long exploited by colonial rules. Although it is a long arduous process to reach that goal we must be able to keep that process going at any cost. Thus the maintenance of a congenial environment, a stable internal order, political stability and an economic discipline for a consistent national growth is a matter of national security.

Third, we have a distinct identity of our own, with a political culture and social values which are different from those in the rest of South Asian region. This is based on our history, heritage, traditional and peripheral, in the sub-continental landmass. The peculiar geographical factors and deltaic features of our land have great deal to do without total attitude and national psyche. We came under Muslim rules from thirteenth century onward and this left a deep imprint on our religio-cultural life.

Our forefathers fought against the British from bamboo fort. They also fought for their dues against the oppressive landlords. We spearheaded the movements for the separate Muslim homeland in British India. Yet we have been tolerant people maintaining communal harmony and a measure of democratic norms. We subsequently fought against the internal colonialism of Pakistanis and attained our freedom. Ours is a heroic people with the tradition of fighting any odd including cyclone, tidal surge and standing up to the challenges of new life. All these factors constituted our intrinsic internal values which we must be able to safeguard. Because they provide us a distinctiveness to quality for separate statehood.

Fourth, in a resource poor country like Bangladesh a viable egalitarian society cannot be built up only on the basis of social justice. Unless we are able to share both the resources and miseries among ourselves there is really no escape from perpetual inequality in our social structure. In fact our people through all movements and uprisings fought for equal opportunities and fair play, among other things. Social justice should therefore be treated as one of our core values without which it is impossible to build up a stable, viable society.

Brig ( retd) Hafiz is former DG of BIISS.

Daily Star 18/10/2004