Bhaskar Roy, who retired recently as a senior government official with decades of national and international experience, is an expert on international relations and Indian strategic interests. In this exclusive column for sify.com, he examines the explosive situation in Bangladesh..
One little scuffle at a university football match was all it took to ignite student riots across Bangladesh, which has been under Emergency Rule since January.
The match at Dhaka University grounds on August 19, 2007 turned violent after a couple of army officers got into an argument with the students for blocking their view of the game. This spiralled into a fight between the students and some teachers on one side and the police and the Army on the other. The spiralling violence forced the authorities to declare a curfew on August 22. Though the curfew was withdrawn on August 25, the detention of two teachers ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â– Dhaka University Social Science Dean Harun-ur-Rashid, and Dr Anwar Choudhury, Secretary of Dhaka University Teachers Union ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â– for three months has kept things simmering.
University teachers, known as Buddhijivis (intellectuals) in Bangladesh, are highly respected by the student fraternity. Back in 1971, when the Pakistani army in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) decided to surrender to the Indian army, one of their last acts was to kill as many Bangladeshi teachers and intellectuals as possible. It was a well-calculated act.
Students basically comprised the liberation movement, and encouragement by the intellectuals through speeches and writings fuelled their spirit. The Bangladesh liberation movement, which started in 1952 with the language movement, was also a student -intellectual combine that the politicians later rode on.
Students and teachers have been both the harbingers and vehicles of most major Bangladeshi political movements. The army-backed caretakerÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â–government will have to be very careful not to stir this hornet`s nest. Yet the law enforcing authorities handled the Dhaka University incident rather immaturely. If the army and the police had not retaliated with undue force, the matter could have been resolved then. So the question doing the rounds in Dhaka is: was the flare up accidental or was it a planned provocation, an attempt to create a chaotic situation?
The riots have come as a blot on the reputation of the army-backed caretaker government, which was seen as a saviour when national emergency was declared on January 12, 2007 and Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, an economist, took charge. Political activities, including indoor politics, were suspended. The new government pledged to clean up corruption, root out Islamic fundamentalists and terrorism, restore law and order, and hold a free and fair election.
But nothing has gone right since then. All that seems to have been done is to upgrade the ranks of the defence cadre to full general rank and extend the tenure of top officers by two to three years. There are now doubts if the next general election, now scheduled for December 2008, will take place.
The caretaker-governmentÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â’s Advisors, who perform the role of Cabinet Ministers, have very clear links with political parties like the BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and Awami League. Some political leaders and their business associates were arrested, though the evidence presented against some of these leaders is too weak to stand a regular court`s scrutiny.
Awami League President and former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was jailed on July 16, 2007 on corruption charges, and is still fighting to get bail. BNP Chairperson, Begum Khaleda Zia, under house arrest on similar charges, was formally arrested and jailed only on September 2.
Initially, the government tried to expel both Hasina and Khaleda Zia from the country, but that did not work. What did, however, emerge from these antics was that Begum Zia had overwhelming support from Pakistan with full underwriting from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Which perhaps explains why Begum Zia reportedly has better amenities in jail than Sheikh Hasina does. This also reveals the Pakistani influence, powered by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in Bangladesh.
Images: (Copyright AP. Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited.)
Image: Teachers and students of Dhaka University wear black ribbons as they march through the campus on August 22, 2007 to condemn police attack on students. The banner reads: Condemn military and police attack. Withdraw emergency rule in the country.