Saturday, February 4, 2012

BSF’s brutalities spark outcry in Indian media, NHRC: AL Govt is mute

The primary responsibility of the State is to ensure security for its citizens. But the Bangladesh ruling party political leaders have ignored this basic duty of the Government. Maybe they have forgotten which country they belong to.

The statement has got some relevance particularly when Awami League General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam or Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs A H Mahmood Ali say in unison that the State has nothing to do with the torture and killing of unarmed Bangladeshi citizens by India’s Border Security Force (BSF) along the international border.

Son of a noted political leader, Syed Ashraful Islam said last week, “The state is not worried about incidents at the border. These are everyday incidents; these have happened in the past, are happening now and will happen in future.”

Similar was the statement of A H Mahmood Ali, a freedom fighter diplomat turned politician.

The Hindu’s editorial
It is unfortunate for Bangladesh that her ruling leaders are not ashamed of their role even when an influential Indian newspaper, The Hindu, in its editorial asked Indian government to make an “unreserved apology to Bangladesh for BSF brutality on Bangladeshi citizens” as vividly shown on the television.

The NDTV and other Indian TV channels had aired the video showing the Bangladeshi national Habibur Rahman being assaulted by BSF men a week after the incident took place near India-Bangladesh border in Paschimbanga‘s Murshidabad district.

According to another report published in Bangladesh dailies, a cattle trader, allegedly picked up by BSF on January 4, was found dead in the Padma River on Tuesday.

Locals found the body of Saddam Hossain alias Babu, 22, son of Mortuza Hossain of Tarapur-Panditpara village in Shibganj upazila of Chapainawabganj and informed his family members. Hossain’s hands and legs were tied when local people found his body.

Hossain went to India with eight other cattle traders to buy cattle through Shingnagar frontier under Shibganj upazila but did not return, said Abdus Salam, officer-in-charge of Shibganj Police Station, quoting locals and relatives of the deceased.

Police sent the body to Chapainawabganj Sadar Hospital for an autopsy. Police or Sadar hospital may keep silent with the body since killings on the border or within the country happens every now and then and the “state should not be worried about this”, as Syed Ashraf remarked.

Mukherjee’s comment
However, outraged by the brutal act of BSF, leading Indian newspaper The Hindu pointed out that the remark by Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the incident must not be hyped, echoed by a Bangladeshi Minister, seems only to have provoked more anger and fuelled opposition allegations against the Sheikh Hasina government for being “pro-India”.

The Hindu warned, “… New Delhi needs to guard against becoming an unwitting cause for political instability in its eastern neighbour. Anti-India sentiment has been high in Bangladesh since the killing of three of its nationals by the BSF in two separate incidents on the border last month,” the daily noted.

Pointing out that “a March 2011 agreement between the two countries not to use firearms in dealing with illegal activities on the border has brought down the number of such incidents,” it said “but the video is evidence that the guards feel free to use other forms of violence. It underlines the fact that such bilateral agreements on the management of their complex boundary are worth nothing unless accompanied by a change in the mindset of those responsible for it on the ground.”

YouTube video, NHRC’s suo moto
“The distressing 11.56 minute footage, circulated through YouTube, is quite evidently a trophy video, the guards happy to pose as they strip their victim, tie his hands and feet, and beat him mercilessly while discussing among themselves other severe options of dealing with him. The man was a suspected rustler — the border is notorious for cattle smuggling — and it has been alleged by rights activists in Bangladesh that the guards were punishing him for not paying them a bribe.”

India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Wednesday served notice on that country’s Home Ministry, seeking a report on the BSF jawans who had been taped assaulting a Bangladeshi youth near the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Taking suo moto cognizance of a news report, the NHRC asked the home affairs secretary to turn in a report in four weeks on the merciless thrashing of the Bangladeshi man by BSF personnel.

“The commission has observed that the contents of press reports, if true, raise a serious issue of a violation of the human rights of the victim,” the NHRC said in a statement issued last week.

Civil society is mute
When Indian media and the human rights organisations raised hue and cry to condemn BSF torture on Bangladeshi citizens, calling it a “gross violation of human rights”, leaders of the ruling Awami League (AL) show total disregard to their motherland.

What happened to our intellectuals, the civil society or the innumerable socio-political groups? Have they lost their voice to protest?

The dead body of poor Falani, a 15-year old girl, Kurigram, that hung  from the barbed wire fencing along Kurigram border last year, or the stripping and inhumane beating of a Bangladeshi youth at Murshidabad border—shamefully—failed to arouse their conscience.

When the political leadership does not recongnise it as the prime responsibility to protect the security of the citizens, the people can only pity them.

NATIONAL SECURITY IN TATTERS : Foreign surveillance: Dread of the unknown deepens

The army’s announcement last week of the news of a failed coup attempt has been followed immediately by claims from the Indian intelligence that they had tipped off the Bangladesh authorities about the impending danger of a coup, and, the army moved swiftly to foil the alleged coup attempt. “Indian intelligence has watched the plotters for about eight months and unearthed the plot,” the Daily Mail of the UK and the Anandabazar Patrika of Kolkata, India, quoted Indian intelligence officials as saying.
The Indian claim carried a message that the electronic communications of the members of the Bangladesh armed forces have long been bugged by India. India has a unique way of dealing with Bangladesh, and, it has once again hinted to intervene militarily, if needed, to save the regime in Dhaka. When non-interference in the internal affairs of another country is the norm, why this aberration with respect to Bangladesh?
 The army’s press conference does elaborate this answer to some extent. The press conference constructs the spectre of an Islamic fervour having engulfed the armed forces, something India has been saying for a long time. The content of the briefing, however, turned self defeating for the military’s own interests as it blotted the long-held secular credential of the military by proving how widespread and representational were the ‘extremist views’ among serving and retired officers at home and abroad, as well as civilians within and outside the country.  

According to media reports “the military coup sought to thwart the friendship created between India and Bangladesh” and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has “decided to provide all forms of assistance in case of efforts to remove Sheikh Hasina from power through any undemocratic process.”
The political message of the press briefing has seemingly hurt the government more than helping. Any undemocratic move to unseat the government being unlikely to benefit either of the political parties, blaming the BNP, the Jamat-e-Islami and the Hizbut Tahrir for the alleged plot proved only how representational the plot was, being pervasive within all parties excepting the ruling AL and its ally, Jatio Party (JP).
There are whispers that the JP leader, H.M. Ershad, knew before anyone else what was in the offing. He even rushed to India after learning about an impending crisis in the army and started threatening to go independent of the AL upon returning to the country.
From a legal standpoint, an attempted coup cannot be defined by mere initiation of clandestine or conspiratorial email or phone conversations alone; unless a physical move was found to have kicked off, or intercepted to have been ordered, to unseat the government. Besides, according to the army’s press briefing, except the absconding Major Ziaul Huq (Zia), no one else seems to have distributed or responded to similar subversive email correspondences.
Yet, one Major General, one Brigadier General, two Lieutenant Colonels and 12 officers of the ranks of Majors and Captains are known to have been arrested or attached over the preceding weeks. A source within the military says, “23 officers, including Major General Kamruzzaman (GOC 33 Division) and Brigadier General Tariqul Alam (Commander 71 Brigade) are under custody.” In passing, a few words about Major General Kamruzzaman seems apt; given that the two-star General is the senior most officer in the pack. 
General Kamaruzzaman stood first in the combined merit list in both the SSC and HSC examinations, and, was awarded with the Sword of Honour as well as the Academic Gold Medal for his extraordinary achievements in Bangladesh Military Academy (BMA).  Reliable sources within the military say his only fault was that he did not inform the higher command when some mid-ranking officers bemoaned before him about the arbitrary arrest/kidnapping of some other officers. 
A commander reports only what is ‘reportable’, without jeopardising the core interests and wellbeing of his under-command. There also seems to be a discernible pattern in the types of officers being hounded and investigated. Gen. Kamruzzaman once served as the commander of the strategic 46 brigade during the last Caretaker Government (CG), and, Brig. Tariq was the Military Secretary to the CG’s Chief Adviser, Fakhruddin Ahmed. Given that all the leading stalwarts of the army-backed CG have been purged off the military and have either fled the country or went underground in fear, the latest move could be the last ditch attempt to cleanse the armed forces of elements holding powerful positions under the CG. 
This scenario also shows how the very CG that had engineered to coming to power of the AL is now blaming the AL regime for betraying the nation. The Holiday has further learnt from a senior officer of the army that the government has branded the remnants of the former CG staffers within the military as being active in cobbling together a national government to stave off the explosive situations facing the nation. The concerned officer requested anonymity. 
This scenario too holds some water as another of the CG stalwarts, Major General Sheikh Munir, was attached to the foreign ministry weeks ago. Gen. Munir served as the DG of the Special Security Force (SSF) during the CG period.
But how does the absconding Major Zia fits into this paradigm?  Perhaps Zia’s bearded appearance and rumoured to be pro-Islamic zealot may have made him an ideal bogey to pass off as an Islamic radical, something the authorities needed to prove the infiltration of radical Islamists within the armed forces, and, about which the Prime Minister’s son, Sajeeb Wajed Joy, co-authored an article in the Harvard International Review (Stemming the rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh) after the AL’s coming to power. 
The other author of that theorem being one Carl J. Ciovacco, a little known US researcher who is reported to have tracked the rise of Islamic fanaticism in South Asia for his undergraduate thesis, the real story behind this deadly game against Bangladesh’s national security has just begun to emerge.
BY : M. Shahidul Islam.