Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Bangladesh: One 'cross-fire' too many

The regular police force which had by now turned into one of the most corrupt and inefficient forces that people of this country had ever seen so far, having totally failed in its solemn duties at all levels, is bound to be even a great liability in future not only for the present government but all subsequent governments also. Except for a few officers and other ranks, the entire police force deserves to be banned immediately. Obviously, the government, finding no other alternative to contain the massive terrorism all around, formed the RAT, the RAB, and then the ‘Cobra’ and the ‘Cheetah’ et al.
Infringement of human rights : When ‘cross-fires’ cross all limits
A.K.Faezul Huq

Violation of human rights, frankly speaking, is nothing new for us. Since the Pakistani days [that stretched from August 1947 to December 1971 when the country was physically and finally liberated] we were quite used to such infringements, but infraction with impunity or on such a massive scale was actually unheard of---infraction that not only brings bad name for the country as a whole but also demoralizes the innocent public on a large magnitude.

As a matter of fact, for any thorough discussion of the topic under reference, we shall have to go down the ‘memory lane’, peep into the pages of recent history, make a comparative study dispassionately and only then can we draw some positive conclusions. And to start with, we shall have to look back to those gloomy days after our independence when the dreaded ‘Rakkhi Bahini’---the official, auxiliary armed force was created to subdue the widespread dissent against the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib---a wave of dissent which was spearheaded by his own ‘boys’ under the leadership of late Major [retd] M.A Jalil, who had fought fiercely and bravely in our south-western sector in 1971.

Major Jalil, then young and kicking, was joined in the crusade against the then Awami League government by A.S.M. Abdur Rab, [another fiery student leader], Mr. Shahjahan Seraj, [Rab’s comrade-in-arms and now a vocal member of Begum Zia’s alliance government]; Mr. Hasanul Huq Inu, the President of the proactive JSD; Sharif Nurul Ambia, A.F.M Mahbubul Huq [now lost in the political wilderness] and a host of other student and youth leaders, who openly led the newly formed rebel militant organization. In fact the birth of ‘Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal’ or ‘JSD’ as it is popularly known since then, explicitly signaled that the road ahead for the ruling coterie, i.e the Awami League, was not at all smooth. The great leader, Sheikh Mujib, tried all his political pranks but when the situation really went out of control, his ‘pumpkin-headed’ advisers [wrongly] advised him to create the Rakkhi Bahini’, which neutral political analysts strongly believe till today, was a major cause of his sudden and tragic downfall in mid 1975. The prevailing situation turned so grim and bizarre at times that sensible people including the die-hard Mujib supporters almost gave up all hope. The army which was called in and deputed to check smuggling and other major crimes at that point, was at times constrained to play a relegated role as the jawans and pampered officers of the ‘Rakkhi Bahini’ held sway over all military operations. As the story goes, at times the army was humiliated also. And human rights [HR] violation by the auxiliary forces kept on mounting gleefully, since they were accountable to none for their excesses or misdeeds. Obviously with the print media’s own limitations at that point, when government patronization in form of doling out ‘ads’ was ‘choosy’ and controlled, along with a traditionally gagged electronic media, the ‘HR’ violations went on almost unabated without any remarkable external publicity, since there was none to publicize the misdeeds of in-human operations. But nonetheless, all those misdeeds of the elite ‘Bahini’ remained immersed in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of victims and their families who just waited for their turn to come.

Unfortunately that is pure, undistorted history and history I am afraid is sometimes so blatantly cruel that all attempts to re-write it according to one’s own desire does not necessarily succeed in full. In fact what has been stated above is a simple ‘recap’ of the events that unfolded gradually. However as the obvious corollary of all the accumulated and restrained anger at the mass level, something ominous had to happen someday. And soon the inevitable happened, as the greatest tragedy of our times struck at the dawn of 15th August 1975 when, almost a sleeping nation lost its undisputed leader simply for a political blunder which he could have easily avoided---an enormous price indeed for a simple mistake that he committed by vesting unlimited powers in the hands of a parallel force which was neither answerable to anyone nor sensible in its dealings, while simultaneously annoying the regular armed forces beyond comprehension. The new force was undoubtedly created by the politicians to serve their narrow selfish interests, forgetting totally the overall interest of the country as a whole.

As expected, the subsequent Martial Law government, fixing it as its prime agenda, disbanded the Rakkhi Bahini first without any loss of time, with none to shed tears or lament its disbandment at any level. In the meantime the country had entered the late President Ziaur Rahman’s era after the master conspirator and ‘killer’ Khondokar Mushtaque Ahmed and sometime later his dormant successor Justice Sayem were deftly eased out in a span of only one year or so. Soon Zia embarked upon an ambitious political programme, and by virtue of a masterly stroke of pen reverted back to the multi-party democratic system which was undoubtedly a conspicuous contribution to the political history of our country.

Nonetheless Zia, lest we forget, was not a politician by any given standard either. He came with his full military uniform and with an untarnished record of service in the armed forces, his legendary role in our war of Independence of which he was justifiably proud, had his own visionary ideas that he desperately wanted to put into action and certainly expected that the people would reciprocate and co-operate with him in his long, arduous journey towards re-building a new, prosperous and vibrant Bangladesh. But Zia, was no robot by any chance. As a human being he had his own quota of emotions, moments of sentiment, his likes and dislikes and normal traits that a human being is made of. But one thing that he never liked was: any voice of dissent in any form. Presiding over the BNP parliamentary party meetings himself regularly, with the actual Leader of the House Shah Saheb just playing the second fiddle or the role of a 2.i.C, Zia never accepted any dissent.

On many an occasion, he would just brow-beat us [MPs] when someone would disagree with his ideas/ theories or wanted to honourably differ with his set concept or may be just wanted to put forward his own idea. That was also true with his armed forces life style until he had fully taken off his uniform. It is widely believed that due to sheer dissent only and after the abortive coup in which Lt.Col (retd) Taher and Haider were killed, the late President permanently removed more than 3000 soldiers and other ranks from this world who were identified merely as Taher’s followers! That gross human rights violation, if ever it was committed, was somehow never brought to focus at any stage nor any human rights group or activists ever mentioned it forcefully or assertively, but the perception still persists that late Zia had killed many people by a single stroke of his pen. Human rights record of that dark period is therefore equally a tarnished one by all means, when rule of law was trampled in broad daylight.

Next came in Ershad the autocrat, who illegally took over from an elected government [of which I was an active member] in March 1982; followed most of Zia’s political recipes but with the aid of a better bunch of cool-headed advisers, refrained from gross violation of human rights all through his period, although his police regularly ‘lathi-charged’ or baton charged the opposition activists which consisted of luminaries and notables such as the two leading ladies of our country also. However, except for late Nur Hussain and a few other political activists like Basunia, there was no major killing spree as such during his eight year period which stretched from March 1982 till he was shown the exist door in early December 1990.

The street violence during Ershad’s period which continued since mid ’80s was also contained by different innovative methods and through political dialogues, without resorting to a seemingly hard line, frequently. People till today casually say that since his hands were not soaked in the blood of the masses, therefore he was also spared a violent end by the angels of death when he was almost forced to relinquish power on December 06, 1990; unlike his predecessors who were brutally killed through conspiracies of varied dimensions.

Next, the new democratic government of Begum Zia which assumed power in early 1991 was a reasonably tolerable outfit and though there were many cases of political dissent and frequent political uprisings, none was killed secretly or human rights trampled as nakedly as we have witnessed recently. Although Begum Zia had to leave her office in 1996 quite ignominiously after a protracted people’s movement that deprived her of many peaceful night’s sleep during her five year stint, yet she could keep her nerves in tact and come out with only some minor HR violations.

After her departure, the new Awami League [AL] government initially behaved quite democratically, with minor deviations here and there, but its armed cadres soon, under the patronage of some unruly top leaders and some militant MPs, totally tarnished the party’s image by indulging in human rights violation on personal levels, which in turn prompted the electorate to make up its mind firmly and adversely also---a mind-set that was explicitly reflected in the general elections that followed in 2001. The AL boat sank for its own fault no doubt.Finally, when the alliance government took over in early October of 2001, people’s expectations [of all sorts] also touched the high skies. But a casual approach from the very beginning with a ‘non-functioning’ Jumbo Cabinet behind Begum Zia soon brought into focus the abysmal law and order situation and established a brigade of terrorists all over the country. Never in the history of this country, Law and Order situation had touched such a low level, yet the establishment was found sleeping on many occasions.

The regular police force which had by now turned into one of the most corrupt and inefficient forces that people of this country had ever seen so far, having totally failed in its solemn duties at all levels, is bound to be even a great liability in future not only for the present government but all subsequent governments also. Except for a few officers and other ranks, the entire police force deserves to be banned immediately. Obviously, the government, finding no other alternative to contain the massive terrorism all around, formed the RAT, the RAB, and then the ‘Cobra’ and the ‘Cheetah’ et al.

Earlier during the army crack down there were more than 50 custodial deaths and each such death was billed as a case of heart failure! People were told that criminals who were arrested and sent to the interrogation camps died the moment that they were asked some difficult questions pertaining to their activities. What a logic indeed! Now every criminal who is picked up by the ‘RAB’[and they have picked up quite a few notorious fugitives] try to flee from the truck or other vehicles on which they are taken to certain spots for identification of their arsenal of fire arms and then they die in cross fire. Veteran law maker Suranjit Sen Gupta has aptly asked a very pertinent question: Who fires from the other side to make it a full sequence of cross fire? The criminal is simply pushed from the truck and asked to run.

The rest is done in seconds and the man is dead. Obviously, various human rights groups and activists are sore with such happenings all around but curiously enough the general public is quite happy with ‘RAB’s’ action when they hear that a Picchi Hannan or some other dreaded criminal has been shot dead. As a matter of fact, their loss of faith in the rule of law seems to have made them so pessimists that they justifiably complain of our present legal system that is in vogue, which unfortunately has oceans of built-in lacunas all around. The government in any case will have to answer all difficult questions in future and defend itself when criminal cases of mass killings in the name of cross-fire will be filed against them. After all, there ought to be a limit to killings by the cross-fire also. Or the savagery should persist?

New Nation 25/10/2004-