Coup in Cuckoo’s Nest

De­spite foil­ing a coup to over­throw the present gov­ern­ment, Bangladeshi armed forces and the state ap­pa­ra­tus re­main threat­ened by the ac­tive ter­ror­ist out­fit, Hizb-ul-tahrir.

Southasia - - Contents - By Saleem Sa­mad

Only fif­teen months af­ter Bangladesh banned the dreaded Is­lamic ter­ror­ist out­fit, Hizbul-tahrir, the coun­try saw yet an­other botched con­spir­acy to top­ple the elected gov­ern­ment of Sheikh Hasina in De­cem­ber 2011.

Anti-ter­ror and se­cu­rity agen­cies re­peat­edly claimed suc­cess in con­tain­ing the al­leged plot af­ter law-en­force­ment agen­cies de­tained key fig­ures of the out­fit.

Sub­se­quently, 500 mem­bers of the rad­i­cal, but se­cret, Hizb-ul-tahrir were ar­rested. The mil­i­tants, mostly youth, were de­tained for dis­tribut­ing leaflets and stick­ing posters on walls. Most de­tained mil­i­tants for the past two years were re­leased on bail and again joined the out­fit, said Lt. Col. Zia-ul-ah­san, Di­rec­tor of the In­tel­li­gence Wing of the elite anti-crime Rapid Ac­tion Bat­tal­ion (RAB).

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, Ah­san lamented that it was tough to sti­fle the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Is­lamist or­gan­i­sa­tion, as the fam­i­lies of the de­tained ac­tivists re­ceived fi­nan­cial dole as com­pen­sa­tion. Thus, they cared less about their ar­rests.

Ad­di­tion­ally, of­fi­cials of RAB and the De­tec­tive Branch of Po­lice did not hes­i­tate to ex­press their in­abil­ity to combat the se­cret out­fit’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

Hizb-ul-tahrir, founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, means Party of Lib­er­a­tion in Ara­bic and is an in­ter­na­tional Sunni pan-is­lamic po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion. The out­fit ad­vo­cates an Is­lamic Caliphate ruled by Shari’ah law. To­day, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is ac­tive in over 40 coun­tries with an es­ti­mated fol­low­ing of one mil­lion.

Last De­cem­ber, Bangladesh se­cu­rity agen­cies un­earthed a con­spir­acy to over­throw the anti-is­lamist gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter, Sheikh Hasina. In an or­gan­ised but rare press con­fer­ence on Jan­uary 19, the Bangladesh Army’s In­ter-ser­vices Public Re­la­tions (ISPR), said that they had not ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity of in­ter­na­tional links or for­eign in­volve­ment in the abortive coup. A state­ment read by Brig. Gen. Muhammad Ma­sud Raz­zaq claimed that four­teen to six­teen for­mer and ac­tive mid-level rad­i­cal Mus­lim of­fi­cers fu­elled the con­spir­acy to top­ple the gov­ern­ment and in­stall an Is­lamist regime.

Two re­tired of­fi­cers, Lt Col. Eh­san Yousuf and Ma­jor Zakir were ar­rested on charges of con­spir­acy to over­throw the gov­ern­ment and “ad­mit­ted their role in the plot.” Ma­jor Gen­eral Mo­ham­mad Kam­ruz­za­man, Area Com­man­der, Comilla 33rd In­fantry Di­vi­sion and Bri­gadier Tariqul Alam, Com­man­der, 71 Brigade of 9th Di­vi­sion are also un­der the scan­ner of se­cu­rity agen­cies. The two se­nior com­man­ders, in­clud­ing 11 of­fi­cers from other can­ton­ments, have been con­fined to the Dhaka can­ton­ment for now. A court mar­tial has been formed in six can­ton­ments and the al­leged con­spir­a­tors have pro­vided tes­ti­monies as well. How­ever, the al­leged mas­ter­mind of the coup, Ma­jor Syed Mo­ham­mad Zia-ul-huq (alias Ma­jor Zia), re­mains a fugi­tive. The of­fi­cer and oth­ers have links to Hizb-ul-tahrir, a mil­i­tary spokesman claimed.

A post by Zia on the Face­book group, Sol­diers Forum, had in­sti­gated sol­diers to work against the gov­ern­ment. He reg­u­larly up­dated the so­cial net­work­ing web­site to in­form fol­low­ers that of­fi­cers were ab­ducted and in­ter­ro­gated by dreaded anti-ter­ror­ism agents in­clud­ing the In­dian in­tel­li­gence agency, RAW. His mes­sages were found in blogs and cir­cu­lated emails. A pro-op­po­si­tion daily news­pa­per, Amar Desh, picked up the post­ings from the so­cial me­dia, which be­came public only re­cently.

A slew of ar­rests were made silently through De­cem­ber, prompt­ing op­po­si­tion leader Khaleda Zia to al­lege that army of­fi­cers were be­com­ing vic­tims of “sud­den dis­ap­pear­ances.” The ISPR re­acted promptly and warned Zia to re­frain from mak­ing any state­ments.

The con­spir­acy sur­faced in late De­cem­ber, af­ter Delhi sent an alarm­ing mes­sage of the planned coup to Bangladesh. For sev­eral weeks, in­tel­li­gence wires tapped scores of phone con­ver­sa­tions, mo­bile phone SMSS and email ex­changes.

The Bangladesh spy agency, Direc­torate Gen­eral of Forces In­tel­li­gence

(DGFI) and other se­cu­rity agen­cies kept the sus­pected coup plot­ters un­der sur­veil­lance and found that Ma­jor Zia main­tained con­tacts with other dis­grun­tled army of­fi­cers by mo­bile phone, emails and Face­book.

From Jan­uary 10 to 11, Ma­jor Zia con­tacted the would-be mu­ti­neers through mo­bile phones. The rene­gades de­manded to know de­tails of the ex­e­cu­tion of the coup d’état and the sus­pected mas­ter­mind re­peat­edly urged them to ex­e­cute the plan on the dead­line. It was too late, how­ever. The coup was botched when sev­eral of­fi­cers were re­stricted in army head­quar­ters.

Within a week of the un­earthed coup plot, Bangladesh Army Chief of Gen­eral Staff, Lt .Gen. Mo­ham­mad Moin-ul-is­lam told aca­demics at a sem­i­nar in Dhaka that some re­li­gious big­ots had planned to in­doc­tri­nate pi­ous of­fi­cers. They tar­geted the deeply re­li­gious of­fi­cers as a way of car­ry­ing out their con­spir­acy to over­throw the demo­crat­i­cally-elected gov­ern­ment. Gen­eral Is­lam re­it­er­ated the wis­dom of the pro-sec­u­lar gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy, “We all are pi­ous, and the mean­ing of our sec­u­lar­ism is that each and ev­ery­one will fol­low his or her own re­li­gion but no one will in­ter­fere in other re­li­gions.”

The state­ment of the Army Chief of Gen­eral Staff demon­strates that Bangladesh Army’s chain of com­mand is still un­de­terred de­spite the dent caused by Is­lamic zealots in the mil­i­tary. It can also be un­der­stood that the army has stood be­hind the pro-sec­u­lar gov­ern­ment of Sheikh Hasina.

Hasina, 65, a widow, has an ob­vi­ous fear of coups and as­sas­si­na­tions. She nar­rowly es­caped death at a rally in Dhaka on Au­gust 21, 2004 when 22 of her se­nior party col­leagues were killed and hun­dreds were maimed. Hasina, twice elected as prime min­is­ter, and her sis­ter Sheikh Re­hana, are the only two sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the fam­ily of found­ing fa­ther Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man, who was as­sas­si­nated in a mil­i­tary putsch in Au­gust 1975. Dur­ing the mil­i­tary raid of Mu­jib’s pri­vate res­i­dence, Hasina’s en­tire fam­ily was mur­dered.

Like Pak­istan, im­pov­er­ished Bangladesh also has a his­tory of coups, mu­tinies and mil­i­tary re­volts. In fact, Bangladesh sur­passed Pak­istan in a blood-soaked trans­fer of power dur­ing 1975-2006. The mil­i­tary in Bangladesh has killed two elected pres­i­dents and co­erced threats on three other pres­i­dents to com­ply with their wishes. Last year the Bangladesh High Court de­clared the 1975 mil­i­tary coup that killed the coun­try’s first Pres­i­dent Mu­jibur Rah­man as “il­le­gal” and “void.”

Im­me­di­ately, the pro-right­ist main op­po­si­tion party, Bangladesh Na­tion­al­ists Party, is­sued guarded and soft com­ments. The BNP’S act­ing sec­re­tary gen­eral, Mirza Fakhrul Is­lam Alamgir said his party was thank­ful to Almighty Al­lah as no blood­shed oc­curred and con­sti­tu­tional rule con­tin­ued. He also scoffed at al­le­ga­tions of the BNP hav­ing any re­la­tion­ship with the out­lawed Hizb-ul-tahrir.

Some so­ci­ety elite and pro­fes­sion­als within the gov­ern­ment, as well as men in uni­form, have joined the se­cret Is­lamic ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. From aca­demics of public and pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties to prog­eny of elite demo­cratic and so­cial­ist politi­cians; from me­dia out­lets to ex­ec­u­tives of donor agen­cies, the Hizb-ul-tahrir has re­cruited a di­verse class of peo­ple, claimed Pro­fes­sor Kal­imul­lah, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist with Dhaka Univer­sity.

Ac­cord­ing to sources from the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice, as soon as the para­mil­i­tary mutiny sur­faced, In­dia placed its spe­cial forces, 50 Para­chute In­de­pen­dent Brigade, on standby to en­gage in case a coup was at­tempted in Bangladesh. The same para­chute brigade was de­ployed dur­ing the bloody war of 1971, to cap­ture a vi­tal bridge on the Ja­muna River that would cut off the 93rd Brigade of the Pak­istani army.

The coup at­tempt in Bangladesh has in­vited se­ri­ous con­cerns from lib­eral and demo­cratic cir­cles as it in­di­cates the ingress that Is­lamic ex­trem­ism is mak­ing into the armed forces of Bangladesh. The oc­cur­rence is also be­ing at­trib­uted to so­cial un­rest in so­ci­ety as well as po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion that has cre­ated space for other forces to make their way into pol­i­tics. How­ever, the po­lit­i­cal scene in Bangladesh has been tu­mul­tuous ever since the coun­try came into be­ing and this ef­fort to top­ple the gov­ern­ment is an­other episode in the con­tin­u­ing saga.

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