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Existential Crisis of Bangladesh(Part 5):Consider Thy Enemy’s Latest Ploy


Written By: MuminChowdhury
15/06/2013 1:20
Burning Issue

Earlier post: (Part-4):Know Thy Enemy’s Spot and Skin

The Extraordinary Event of 10-12 March 2012

In the last instalment I promised to help you read Arthashastra on the mirror. When I gave you my word, I thought I would do this step by step in a logically coherent manner. But in the meanwhile something quite extraordinary had happened in Bangladesh during 10-12 March 2012 that deserves our immediate attention.

Where in the world have you heard of a civilian government in peace time desperately trying to keep its own capital cut off from In part 4 of this essay I promised to help you read the rest of the country and vice versa and impose an undeclared ‘stay at home with eyes and ear shut’ policy on the capital itself for three consecutive days simply to stifle the protest of its democratic opposition? To make sense of it, in this instalment I would bring forth one specific aspect of Arthashastra for you to consider. In the next instalment I would cover the rest in their sequential order.

Apparently, even a pro-government Daily Star’s editor has found the whole thing beyond belief. In his view the government has become ‘unsure of itself’ (Daily Star editorial13 March 2012). On the face of it, his critique is praiseworthy. In this connection we may also recollect another similar act of a well-known pro-government daily. Daily Jugantor recently published the result of its own survey showing dismal electoral prospect awaiting the government. To this add Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s latest accusation against Indian RAW, American CIA and Pakistani ISI for denying her electoral victories in the past at a party meeting. Her antipathy to Pakistan and its ISI is understandable. But if RAW and CIA were so hostile to her and had the capability to deny her electoral success, one might legitimately ask who put her on to power in December 2008? If it was the people, where were they on those other occasions?

Moreover, how come New Delhi has of late been sabre-rattling on her behalf and Dhaka is now abuzz with the news of her grace towards US Navy, allowing it to effectively establish a base and ‘boots on the ground’ for its Special Forces at the Bangladesh Naval base at Patenga, Chittagong? Should one then presume that she has won them over to her side now? If that is the case, the inevitable question would be: what was the magic wand behind it? Would she let out all the secret deals that she has made with both the powers in the past three years?

To further complicate the matter, the same Dhaka vernacular daily and other pro-government media have now flashed a news item originating from New Delhi purportedly confirming ISI’s past mischief against Sheikh Hasina. However, after checking the cited court affidavit of a former ISI chief and speaking to him, the inquisitive Dhaka media has not been able to find a hint, let alone an admission, of such a mischief against our embattled Prime Minister! Perhaps she would also tell us how she charmed New Delhi to provide her with this false proof at such a risk of being found out? Is it a return compliment for her cooperation in turning our Army into a Rakkhi Bahini all but in name? No, I am not exaggerating. Has not New Delhi already disclosed the appointment of an ex-Rakkhi Bahini man, who had a hand in the killing of President Zia, as our next Army chief and that too, six months ahead of the current chief is due to retire?

But none of these requires staging what was staged on 10-12 March 2012. The question is: Why and for whom? But before that we need to have our ‘where’ question clear.

Use Tocqueville’s Insight You may have noticed unlike Daily Star’s editor, I have used the ‘where’ word in raising my question. This I have done because instead of ‘when’ if you begin by asking ‘where’ you might see why his explanation of the government’s conduct can even be a red-herring.

If you are familiar with the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, whom many scholars consider to be the founder of modern political science, you may recognise what I am referring to by ‘where’ here: not just Bangladesh but to its neighbour as well. It is the Frenchman who alerted political analysts not to have too much faith on the ideal of state sovereignty and accept, for better or worse, the reality that a state is shaped not just by its citizens but also by its neighbours. In the case of Bangladesh we have effectively one ‘neighbour’ in whose pot belly we are situated.

Besides, like the Arabs under the Usmania Khilafat a major section of our patriots may have wanted their ‘own show’. But the Arab’s British friend was after their oil and our friend of 1971 vintage is after our land, which precludes even a sham ‘show’ of ours. Do not delude yourself, as far as Brahmanic statecraft is concerned yours’ is an ipso facto enemy state waiting to be conquered. Anyone taking New Delhi out of our statecraft’s analytical framework may either be naive or duplicitous. To put it mildly, both are unhelpful in facing our ongoing existential crisis.

Taking Cue From The Arthasastra

In this connection we must recollect what Kautilya counselled to his world conqueror king: ‘Power is (possession of) strength’ and ‘strength changes the mind’ (p. 319, 366 which edition?). That is, inducing fear by the show of strength the would-be conqueror can change the thoughts and actions of his enemies and make them amenable to accept serially first hegemony and then servitude. Inducing Evermore Fear My observation of Bangladesh’s politics has made me convinced that what we have observed since 1971 is New Delhi’s partial success in reshaping our thoughts and actions by making us increasingly fearful of its strength.

Take first those who opposed the breaking up of their country in 1971 precisely for the reason which Bangladesh is now faced with. They were mauled so severely that those who survived the initial progrom either left public life or became utterly docile. Smart ones among them went to swear that had New Delhi invited them, they would have gone over to its side rather than fighting to keep Pakistan intact! New Delhi enjoyed their buffoonery and made use of them as long as it was necessary without ever forgetting to make an example of them so that its would-be challengers in Bangladesh are frightened off. The result is there for all to see in the symbolic International War Crime Tribunal.

As I have mentioned before the Yatis of our times have already started singing New Delhi’s hymns! Perhaps here I should also add, the Buddha Vikkus or monks of Bengal’s past did not have private estates or businesses to save and in resisting the Brahmanic hegemony most of them even became vikkuks or beggars, while others took their precious books of instructions and went to live in neighbouring countries. This is why the remains of the original Bengali language and literature were found in Nepal, not in our Nilfphamari, Netrokona or Narayangonj.

However, unlike those of the past, most of our present-day equivalents of Vikkus in the Islamic sector are busy either ‘selling spacious villas in haven’ or flats in our overcrowded towns and cities while yet others are bank rolling such real estate projects. Some of them also bask in glory as Bhasa Sainiks or Language Warriors and others applaud these Kartikayas (Brahmanic warriors); mostly unbeknown to them both in fact glorify the mother-goddess Durga’s speech tradition!

I hear of late a few of them have even ‘discovered’ that the Arabic script of the Holy Qur’an was a pagan creation and by virtue of that their implied fatwa or legal opinion is that their adoration of present Bengali script representing various Brahmanic deities is halal or permissible! If you see more and more of them wearing longer beard, taller tupi (cap) and colourfully embroidered punjabi (collarless loose shirt) and selling Islam of either Rand Corporation or even Takfiri brand be kind to them; after all they cannot afford to be either Naturalists or Beachcombers, they need something to cover their crooked, unsteady spine.

As I have mentioned before, after Bangladesh Sheikh Mujib wanted to get out of New Delhi’s bear hug as quickly as he could. But before this could come true, the famine 1974 made him a political destitute. At the behest of the main culprit in the making of the dreadful famine, his food minister Phani Bhushan Majumdar, Mujib was made to further undermine himself by making him a tin-pot dictator (Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 May 1975). Incidentally Phani Bhusan was one of the three caste Hindu leaders who immediately after the surrender of Pakistan Army at Dhaka had counselled Mrs Gandhi to annex the erstwhile Pakistani province, and the now newly created country, which she did not agree to, (Matiur Rahman Choudhury in Khoborer Kagoj 11 January 1990) since she thought it premature and feared that it might backfire.

Some months before Mujib was overthrown RAW chief R.N. Kao came down to warn him about a plot to knock him out of power. (Asok Raina, Inside RAW 1981) Since he was not told who the plotters were, Mujib understood the game and instead of seeking New Delhi’s cover remained unruffled. An exasperated Mrs Gandhi decided to get Bangladesh merged before it was too late.

According to Amina Begum, former acting general secretary of the Awami League and a confidant of Mujib’s successor Khandoker Mushtaque Ahmed, the Indian Prime Minister in connivance with Bangladesh Prime Minister Mansur Ali and Mujib’s RAW-connected immensely powerful nephew Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni hatched a plan to compel Mujib to go under Indian military escort to New Delhi for installation as the Vice President of India, after the forcible merger of the two counties. However, the helicopters bearing four Indian generals sent for the purpose met with accident near Feni in the early hours of 15 August and the plot failed. Ironically on the very same day liberationist young army officers, completely unaware of the plot, removed Sheikh Mujib for his pro-Indian proclivities.

The new man at the helm of Bangladesh saw it prudent not to rub salt on New Delhi’s wounds and quietly returned the charred bodies (Bichinta 7:11, 30 August 1987 and Bikram 1:28, 8 June 1988). Former RAW officer Ashok Raina provided an oblique confirmation of it in his above mentioned book. A Dhaka journalist also told me when Major Bazlul Huda led his team to Sheikh Moni’s house on the night of Mujib’s overthrowing, his panicked utterance was: ‘mamu shesh porjanta tumi eta korla’ (Uncle, so you too could do this!)

Understandably Mrs Gandhi was hugely frustrated and deeply angered. But then and there she could do very little, except for wait in patience and acting towards creating yet another opportunity. In less than three months there came the coup led by Brig. Khaled Mushrraf, who was according to Asok Raina an Indian agent since 1962 and who was poised to call in the Indian Army as per Article 9 of the 25 Year Friendship Treaty (The Financial Times, 10 November 1975). Again this also proved abortive in the face of the Sepoys Uprising. Following it Mrs Gandhi ordered RAW to assassinate the new Bangladesh leader Gen. Ziaur Rahman. The latter had a political lease of life because of her temporary exit from power in 1977 and soon after her return to power in 1980 he got killed at the behest of the RAW (Nirmal Mitra and Ritu Sarin in weekly Sunday 18-24 September 1988; Asok A. Biswas in The New Nation 31 August-2 September 1994).

Ironically upon Mrs Gandhi’s return to power and to placate her Zia began to woo the Awami League and some leftist groups openly on the one hand and squeeze out the old Muslim Leaguers on the other (Holiday 4 January 1981; Ittehad 9 January 1981). This resulted in Sheikh Hasina’s return to Dhaka on 17 May 1981, amidst a notable rise in secret killings all over the country (Bangladesh Observer 11 May 1981) no doubt at the instigation of RAW.

Being conciliatory to New Delhi did not save Zia, for in less than two weeks of Sheikh Hasina’s return to Dhaka he was most brutally assassinated. If any lesson is required about the futility of an appeasement policy towards New Delhi’s would-be re-conquerors of Bharat Mata one need not look beyond Zia. Even if Zia was alive he would have admitted it simply by looking at the total failure of his original connectivity device, the SAARC.

In spite of all this, our self-seeking hoity-toity and power hungry politicians may still prefer to walk on the much trodden track of appeasing New Delhi. In that case the latter can put its preference for one or other band of appeasers on auction and get the best ‘price’ out of the bargain. This may make Sheikh Hasina and her cohorts go berserk at times to the amusement of New Delhi, for it would confirm that its stratagem is working.

Background to 10-12 March: A Trial Run

The problem for New Delhi is in somewhere else; two areas to be precise: one at our people’s level and another at the geo-political level. As far as public opinion is concerned it has gone back to the 1975 proportion of popular, grass root tsunami of anti-Indian sentiments.

Although Bangladesh Army’s pampered officer class have largely been neutered either by giving them dog-biscuits or putting them in fear, it is impossible to turn the rank and file soldiers into traitors to their nation and hence another 7 November 1975 scenario is not yet beyond the realm of possibility. Moreover, unlike 1975, a new generation of technically gifted patriots are fast coming to the fore. They are not mindless like the past Vernacular elite and have aptitude and skills to fight New Delhi even in its own turf.

On the geo-political front everything is not necessarily going in New Delhi’s way. Its hope of foreclosing the Bay of Bengal is in tatters. With it, the prospect of using Myanmar against Bangladesh has also suffered. Its relations with the US has become tense and the prospect of latter’s military presence in Chittagong cannot but be worrying.

THE CHINA FACTOR

Moreover the China factor as a geographical and geo-political reality remains as before. What is now added to the pot is the new Chinese ambassador to Dhaka Li Jun talking to journalists at a ‘Meet the Press’ programme organised by Jatiya Press Club on 18 March 2012. As a background it is important to note that Li Jun is not part of the routine Chinese Diplomatic Crops but a cadre from the Communist Party of China (CPC) apparatus, more specifically having risen through its International Affairs Secretariat. So what he says carries much greater political weight than that of a routine diplomat.

Lin Jun said China gives much importance to Bangladesh as a strategic and development partner and hope hope Dhaka-Beijing multifaceted relations will be strengthened further for the benefit of the two peoples. About his country’s cooperation in building deep sea port in the Bay of Bengal, Li Jun said China will provide all assistance in this regard as Bangladesh will be an important hub in the sea line if such a port is established (The New Nation 20 March 2012).

A Dhaka vernacular daily also reported him saying that China would not look favourably on any foreign military bases being established in the region as in China’s opinion it would destabilise the South Asian region. Let us deconstruct what the ‘politically minded’ Chinese Ambassador is essentially saying:

1. He is offering Bangladesh an open hand for building strategic relations with China besides offering developmental assistance;

2. But of course, as our American friends love to say, there is no free lunch! There has to be quid pro quo. One cannot build up a strategic relationship with a friend who then goes on to offer military bases to its strategic competitor and possible adversary. So the Chinese Ambassador is proclaiming loud and clear, quite untypical of the usual customary Chinese reticence that China will look upon most unfavourably, nay more as an unfriendly act to put it mildly, if any Bangladesh government is granting military base facilities to USA or for that matter to any foreign country in Bangladesh.

3. Why did the Chinese Ambassador had to forgo the diplomatic niceties and announce China’s strategic intent vis a vis Bangladesh at a National Press Club briefing? It is almost akin to megaphone diplomacy! Because this ambassador, and his immediate past colleague Ambassador Xhang Xianyi, was unable to get Bangladesh to officially provide China the assurance that it will do no such thing. Not only that, now the cat has been deliberately let out of the bag by no less than US Pacific Command admiral Robert Willard, who told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing on 1 March 2012 that US special forces are in Bangladesh. Willard further said that South Asia, anchored by India, comprises of major sea lines of communication for the transport of energy and other commerce to Asia and the Americas from the Middle East and Europe. He stressed: ‘South Asia as a whole is of major strategic importance to the US and the security partnerships are increasingly vital to the US Pacific Command’s mission.’ (bdnews24.com 2 March 2012).

4. This contextualises why the Chinese are finally waking up to the new Great Game being played out in the Bay of Bengal region, and the possibility that USA, with or without India’s help, is trying to encircle China in its southern flank, and in its strategic sea routes – especially the Malacca route so crucial for China’s economy. That is why Ambassador Li Jun said China will provide all the assistance in the regard of establishing a deep sea port as Bangladesh will be an important hub in sea line if such a port is established. That will enable China to build an alternative strategic transport route to southern China via Bangladesh and Myanmar.

5. Of course Henry Kissinger’s, the architect of President Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, word of advice for India did not at all help assuage China’s anxieties. At a India Today Conclave on 16 March 2012 he advised that it would not be in India’s national interests to allow a dominant power or a transnational power that would intrude into its sphere of influence: from Singapore to East Africa. He also said that China would treat India with respect and that India, China and the US would have to work together to balance China’s internal forces that had potential to destabilise it (Daily Star Online Report 18 March 2012). No wonder that China is feeling the heat! With a historic friend like Kissinger who needs an enemy! Even a kindergarten student can understand that what Kissinger is egging on India to do is develop its own version of Monroe Doctrine!!

6. Now we can understand why the Chinese Ambassador Li Jun’s press briefing assumes such a historic game changer for both Bangladesh’s domestic politics and foreign policies. Bangladesh’s political class can no longer pretend ignorance. Their bluff has been called! It is not only the current Awami League government who has to square the circle so as to speak. But if the opposition BNP is to be taken seriously at all by regional and international players they need to come up fast with what would be a future BNP led government’s foreign policy objectives. And pretty fast at that too. Gone are the analog days when one could procrastinate and dither because, in a rapidly changing geo-strategic digital world, time is not on the side of Bangladeshi policy makers, be in the government or in the opposition. The Awami League government is already is already in a quagmire of its own making. The million taka question is whether BNP is following suit too! Neither the Awami League government nor the opposition BNP can any longer ‘hide their intentions and bide their time’.

TRIANGULATION OF FOREIGN POLICY

Today’s Bangladesh’s political class and policy makers are faced with grown up choices to be made. Notwithstanding the compradore class nature of its ruling elite certain critical and urgent decisions have to be made. There are three major external players vying to draw Bangladesh into its orbit – India, USA, and China. How does Bangladesh interact amongst these three in order to secure its own core national interests and protect its national independence and state sovereignty? To effectively do that first they will have to address what are Bangladesh’s foremost key national strategic objectives?

A national consensus needs to be built up around them despite fractured nature of the country’s polity and the polarisation amongst its compradore ruling elites. Needless to say in order to survive as a nation state and then prosper for the overall benefit of its ever growing populace the political class needs a radical step change in its mental framework. It cannot project its local dynamics and myopic understandings into national strategic policy frameworks to achieve global objectives.

To do that at least some members of the political class and policy establishment need to transcend their own party biases and individual proclivities and, perhaps for the first time in the country’s forty years of existence, address what are the national priorities of putting Bangaldesh’s interests first instead of their personal or party interests.

At this critical conjuncture of seismic global geo-political and economic changes Bangladesh requires a few statesmen or women, and not politicians of agitating mindset, who can rise up to the occasion.

CONCLUSION

The sum total of all these foreign policy scenarios yet to be played out is likely to be exasperating to New Delhi as similar to that of 1975. I would not be surprised if its strategists have already started making contingency plan for sending a few of its Army generals with helicopters to escort Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi for giving her a new oath of office or alternatively put its surrogate Bangladeshi

Brahmanic warriors, either in civilian or military guise, or a fusion of the two into the helm. Either way the 10-12 March could very well have been its trial run. The New Delhi’s schemers probably wanted to test run whether the capital Dhaka city could be isolated from the rest of the country and vice versa for 72 hours whilst a new reality is being concocted and then presented as a fait accompli to the whole nation is a state of stupor and paralysis.

This is what Naomi Klein has called Shock Doctrine in her book of the same name. Perhaps, like the USA and its NATO allies in Iraq and Afghanistan before, New Delhi’s ruling elite in hubris of India Rising have not calculated the devastating effect of blowback into its own calculations. Muslim Bangladeshis do not have in their political or spiritual DNA to be subservient to any alien powers. As neither did the Iraqis or Afghans!

My fellow countrymen and women you all have now been alerted and let the hegemonists of New Delhi also be warned!


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Bangladesh History Existential Crisis National Interest Political Crisis Indian Hegemony 


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About MuminChowdhury

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  • Name: Dr. M. Abdul Mu'min Chowdhury
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    Dr. Chowdhury is a UK-based retired Bangladeshi academic who has Educated at the universities of Dhaka and Exeter University (England) and London. As a teacher of Sociology, he taught in his early career at the universities of Agriculture (East Pakistan) and Dhaka during the period of 1967 to 1973. 

    Dr Chowdhury held academic appointments at several universities including London University. His works include "The Myth of Three Million" and "The Rise and Fall of Buddhism in South Asia". His Bangladesh O Tarpar (in Bengali) is about to be published, followed by its English version, Bangladesh and after.

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