Bangladesh: Military called in as political crisis continues

Troops were deployed throughout Bangladesh on Sunday 11 December supposedly to “maintain law and order”, according to a Presidential order.

The army is now patrolling the main streets and squares and guarding the most important buildings and installations. This deployment has once again raised the fear of a military take over in the country. It seems that military is one step away from taking over complete control. If violent clashes road blockages and protest demonstration continue for the next few weeks, it most likely that generals will step in and impose martial law. The military is also preparing an operation against the most active political workers of opposition parties. It seems that situation is out of control of the President and he feels insecure without the protection of military.

The president called the military in when the opposition alliance announced plans to besiege the Presidential palace to push the interim government to fulfill its promises. Now the opposition alliance has called off the march and the plan to besiege the Presidential palace. However the president refused to return troops back to barracks. Former Major General Syed Muhammad Ibrahim declared this move by the president “premature and dangerous for the political future of the country”. He said “We can rule out the possibility of martial law at the moment but our history shows that if the situation remains the same then military rule is on the cards”. Another defence and political analyst says “This is not martial law at the moment, but we can not rule it out. At present the military’s immediate task is to suppress the protest demonstrations and to restore the crippling authority of the interim government headed by the president”.

Imperialism’s concerns

The US and other imperialist powers have shown their concerns about the situation. American and British diplomats are running around the capital Dhaka to calm down the situation. They have met both president and opposition leaders to solve the weeks’ long political crisis. They are trying to force the military generals and president not to impose martial law immediately. For them, this step will further aggravate the already volatile political situation.

British High Commissioner Anwer Choudhury said “I hope the military presence in Dhaka will be temporary and not lead to point of no return. We are deeply concerned with the political situation that can put in danger not only political stability, but also social and economic stability of the country”.

American ambassador Patricia A Butenis said, “The situation is not healthy. We are encouraging the major parties to narrow their differences to end the crises. Issues related to the elections are fundamentally political and therefore require a political solution. A military intervention will make things worse and complicated. We have made it very clear to all sides that we will not support any step towards chaos and instability. The interim government is pushing the situation in that direction”.

It is becoming clear that US imperialism want to see opposition leader Hasina Wajid back in power. For them, she would be a close ally in the war on terror and will take more brave and bold steps to counter the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism. US imperialism are clearly siding with Hasina Wajid and trying to force the interim government to fulfill all its promises before the January 23 general elections, as demanded by opposition parties.

US imperialism realises that the elections could result in the nightmare situation of the out-going 4 party alliance winning the elections. This would mean that the new government would include the main fundamentalist party Jamat-e Islami. The victory of this alliance would mean a further strengthening of Islamic extremism, which is not in the interests of US imperialism at the moment. US imperialism is also worried that a potential military takeover would increase the influence of the Islamic hardliners within the army.

Democratic rights in danger

The military deployment has endangered democratic and fundamental rights of the people. The government has already imposed a ban on demonstrations and public rallies in the main streets of Dhaka. The military has a history of repression and mass scale human rights violations. During the last major deployment in 2002, more than 70 people, mostly political activists, died in military custody, after being arrested for interrogation. State repression and excessive use of power is already on the rise. The previous government led by Khalida Zia established a special paramilitary force to suppress workers’ strikes and pickets. This force has become notorious for shooting peaceful protesting workers. More than 800 workers, mostly textile and garment workers, were seriously injured by state forces during strikes and pickets. These special forces have developed the habit of indiscriminate shooting and use of teargas and baton charges to injure the protesters to create fear so discouraging people to protest against the government. The previous coalition government introduced new laws to restrict workers’ rights to strike and protest. If the military decided to impose martial law, this will further increase the violations of basic democratic and human rights.

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December 2006