Mahmud ur Rahman Choudhury
Last week, I promised to write about issues which concern us all and which therefore, need to catch the attention of the politicians before we go for voting but I am afraid I cannot continue with that this week as something has come up which I though I must immediately share with my readers and the public. Nothing upsets me more than seeing a lack of integrity, commitment, dedication and patriotism in senior army officers – that’s one of the reasons why I quit the army to take up writing in and editing a newspaper.
This week, as the title suggests, I am going to write about reasons as to why the Chief of Army Staff (CAS) should voluntarily resign right now. These reasons are not given in any order of priority; each reason, by itself, is ignominious enough to persuade even the most immoral to seek refuge in obscurity.
Reason # 1: Taking recourse to chicanery while imposing Emergency.
On 25 November, the CAS while addressing a gathering of businesspersons said: “We did not come to support the government with any ulterior motives. Even we did not want to get involved but following the political turmoil, the President promulgated the emergency and we had to deploy”.
Preparations for imposing the emergency were in the offing from September 2006. Besides the CAS and the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 9 Infantry Division (9 Inf Div) Masud Uddin Chowdhury, the US Ambassador, the UK High Commissioner and the Resident UNDP Representative in Bangladesh were all involved in these preparatory work. Infact the UNDP Representative was frantically exchanges messages, through e-mail and Fax, with the UN headquarters in New York regarding the evolving political situation in Bangladesh from October 2006 onwards right upto 11 January 2007. One of these messages purportedly claimed that all UN Peacekeeping mission for Bangladesh Army would be cancelled if elections were held as scheduled on 22 January 2007.
Meanwhile the imminent fall of the Caretaker Government, headed by the President himself, provided the opportunity for the imposition of the Emergency. On the early morning of 11 January 2007, armed with the UNDP message, Generals Moeen U Ahmed and Masud Uddin Chowdhury escorted by troops of 9 infantry Division invaded the Bangabhaban and forced a doddering, aged President to sign a Declaration of Emergency. A civilian façade was created by the formation of a council of 10 advisors with a Chief Advisor to head it; all advisors being retired bureaucrats, government servants or military officers. The excuses for this blatant grab at power: “All the evidence of Bangladeshi politics, point to the compelling conclusion that the political parties divided the Nation to a dangerous threshold that had no recourse but to confront a civil war” contented General Moeen U Ahmed in an interview with Global Bangladesh on 01 August 2007. So, when the CAS says that “the President promulgated the emergency and we had to deploy” he was not only stretching the truth to the breaking point but was also hiding the fact that the Emergency was imposed through a sleight of hand, a trickery.
Reason # 2: Corrupting and politicizing the Army.
The Army was suddenly deployed to every nook and cranny of Bangladesh ostensibly “in aid of civil power” and without any clear and unambiguous Terms of Engagement (TOE). Under the circumstances, the Army was employed for all sorts of purposes from traffic control to anti-corruption drive without any clear direction, purpose, mission or aim and most of the time without any clear chain-of-command and communication. This exposed officers and men of entire line battalions and brigades, not to mention officers of intelligence services, staff officers of headquarters and many officers and men deputed to other organization, to all sorts of influences, corrupting them morally and materially and politicizing them to an extent not seen since 1975-76.
The CAS knowing fully well the affects this would have on the Army, nonetheless kept it deployed for almost 2 years. Resultantly the Army’s training, morale, administration and discipline were severely affected and it has lost much of its edge as a combat force. I have seen otherwise honest and competent senior officers cringe in abject sycophancy in front of the CAS (who now abrogates to himself absolute powers of postings, promotions and retirement) just to keep their jobs and the material comfort and perquisites which came with that job. This is the condition of an Army which had initiated and fought the Liberation War to a successful conclusion; an Army which had successfully fought a 20-year counter-insurgency war in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and an Army which had sacrificed many lives and limbs for the Nation. The Army’s decline to corruption, politics and inaptitude has happened because its CAS had decided to use it to pursue his personal ambitions as opposed to national interests.
Reason # 3: Serving self rather than the Army or the Nation.
A few months after the Emergency, the CAS promoted himself to a full-fledged General and extended his services by a year. He also bought-off others, whose support he then needed, by promotions. Vacancies to 4 Lieutenant Generals were created to which the CAS promoted two of his course-mates – Zahirul Islam and Jahangir Alam Chowdhury – and the ubiquitous Masud Uddin Chowdhury. These promotions opened up vacancies for Major Generals, to which rank others were promoted. A few weeks after his elevation, the CAS invited editors of newspapers to a lunch where questions were raised about his promotion and service extension; the CAS, poker-faced, replied that the government needed his services and so had promoted and extended his service.
This was a blatant lie because the government had nothing to do with it; one Director from DGFI and a Brigadier seconded to the Defense Ministry (who also was a course-mate of the CAS) walked in on the President and had the papers signed, sealed and delivered in a trice. These promotions and extension of service did nothing to improve the Army’s combat capability and did not help the Army or the Nation in anyway; if anything, it put a further drag on the nation’s exchequer. Meanwhile the rank and file were all left out in the cold with skyrocketing prices and inflation – it took more than 6 months to get approval for an interim allowance to help them tide over the hard times. This was not helping the Nation and the institution of the Army; it was self-serving of the lowest kind.
Reason # 4: Disavowing responsibility while holding authority.
On 25 November the Chief of Army Staff had clearly distanced himself from the Emergency by stating that, “I am giving you my word that I shall request the caretaker government to withdraw the state of emergency …and the government must withdraw the state of emergency. Specially, I will request the head of the government to withdraw the emergency before holding of the election.” From this statement one might get the impression that the CAS has little if anything to do with the Emergency Government and that he was just another concerned citizen with access to the Chief Advisor. Such an impression is way off the mark because not only is the CAS the chief architect but also the driving force behind the Emergency. Nothing gets done without his nod; he attends every important Council of Advisor’s meeting, laying down policies and dictating what and how things ought to proceed..
Moreover the CAS has broken every commitment he had publicly made to the Nation about reforms in politics, about good governance and about eradicating corruption. The judiciary has been shamelessly manipulated to let off droves of politicians and other persons who are well-known for not only their corruption but also for all sorts of criminal activities including extortion and murder. Politics has not been reformed either except for cosmetic changes which will not survive a day after the Emergency and there is no governance at all, good or bad. The CAS, alongwith the Government, has been presiding over all this for the last 2 years. So the CAS’s statement, “I will request the head of the government to withdraw the emergency before holding of the election”, is not only a blatant travesty of the truth but a brazen disavowing of responsibility about something on which he holds near absolute authority and sway Concluding Remarks.
Thus we see that one person with delusions of grandeur led us up a maze from which we are still in the process of finding a way out. If that person was wise with knowledge and absolute integrity and patriotically committed to the advancement of this Nation, there would have been no problems but that person in the shape of General Moeen.U.Ahmed, the Chief of Army Staff, lacks all of these qualities.
He has failed to understand that promoting oneself to higher ranks does in no way increase either physical stature or intellectual and moral stature. He has also failed to understand that rank and position does not make one a leader of men or of a Nation – rank and position accrue to leaders and not the other way round. General Moeen.U.Ahmed will do himself, this Army and this Nation a great service by voluntarily retiring right now, notwithstanding what his circle of sycophants tell him. Believe it or not neither the Army nor the Nation will miss his presence one little bit, for even a moment but they will remember for long the evils he has wrought.
(The author is the Editor, The Bangladesh Today, an English language daily published from Dhaka)