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             Volume 11 |Issue 04| January 27, 2012 |


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Current Affairs

The Dangerous Blame Game

Shakhawat Liton

The Appellate Division (AD) of the Supreme Court in a landmark ruling that upheld the High Court Division's verdict of 2005, regarding the case of the constitution's Fifth Amendment, strongly denounced martial law and suspension of the constitution.

Delivered in February 2010, the AD also recommended punishing the perpetrators.

"The perpetrators of such illegalities should also be suitably punished and condemned so that in the future no adventurist, no usurper, would dare to defy the people, their constitution, their government, established by them and with their consent," concluded the AD in its full verdict, released in July 2010.

Furthermore, the verdict also stated, “We are putting on record our total disapproval of the martial law and the suspension of the constitution or any part thereof in any form." It said military rule was wrongly justified in the past, and that it has no room in the future of the country. "Let us bid farewell to all kinds of extra-constitutional adventures forever," the AD observed.

In light of the apex court's observation, the parliamentary special committee on constitutional amendment, in 2011, drafted a stringent provision and recommended that the House make it a part of the constitution to bring an end to extra-constitutional takeovers.

The cabinet led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the provision along with proposals for some other changes in the constitution. The Parliament passed the 15th amendment act on June 30, 2011.It [Article 7A] says:

"(1) If a person, by show of force or use of force or by any other unconstitutional means (a) abrogates, repeals, or suspends or attempts or conspires to abrogate, repeal or suspend this Constitution or any of its article; or (b) subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert the confidence, belief or reliance of the citizens to this Constitution or any of its article, the act shall be considered as sedition and such a person shall be guilty of sedition. (2) If any person (a) abets or instigates any act mentioned in the clause (1); or (b) approves, condones, supports or ratifies such an act, such an act shall also be considered as the same offence. (3) Any person alleged to have committed the offence mentioned in this article shall be sentenced with the highest punishment prescribed for other offences by the existing laws."

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her cabinet colleagues, both inside and outside the parliament defended the conditions claiming that the provision blocked the way for usurpers to disregard the constitution in the future.

Many legal experts however were skeptical about the effectiveness of the provision due to distorted democratic practices. The amendment also sparked fears of political turbulence.

Those who were skeptical about the effectiveness of the amendment cited the failure of a similar provision that was introduced in Pakistan's constitution long ago. The provision in Pakistan could not prevent military takeover and military usurpers, General Ziaul Haque and General Parvez Musharraf did not face charges of "high treason."

Within six months of the introduction of the provision in Bangladesh, an attempt was made to overthrow the present government through unconstitutional means. The attempted coup was foiled by the army. The Bangladeshi Army states that a group of religious fanatics, comprising of mid-ranking officers and their retired colleagues, were involved in the failed putsch.

“At the instigation of some non-resident Bangladeshis, they sought to disrupt democracy by creating anarchy in the army, cashing in on the fanaticism of others”, said Brig General Muhammad Mashud Razzaq, Director of Personnel Services Directorate, as he disclosed the information at an unprecedented press briefing at the Army Officers Club in the Dhaka cantonment on January 19.

Reading out a statement, he said: “This evil plot has been resisted thanks to sincere efforts by the well-disciplined members of the force.” The burning question however is if the army was able to completely eliminate the “evil plot”.

The announcement by the army stated that at a time when Bangladesh Army has been trying to organise itself as a force, rich in quality, through various reform activities, under a political government established through democratic means, various evil forces have been making ill-attempts to destroy democracy.

“As in the near and distant past they have used the sentiments of fanaticism, propaganda and rumours. Some individuals who have been hyperactive in observing religious rituals, and, dissociated from family bonds, jobs and business, have joined these conspirators,” the statement reads.

Furthermore, it states: “The professionally efficient and well disciplined members of Bangladesh Army would like to say that we do not want to bear this liability on the shoulders of our organisation.”

The army's sentiment expressed in the above statement is very bold and significant as according to the AD's verdict on the case of the constitution's fifth amendment, “the military rule is against the honour of each and every soldier of the armed forces who are bound to bear their true faith and allegiance to Bangladesh and uphold the constitution which embodies the will of the people, honestly and faithfully serve Bangladesh in their respective services and also see that the constitution is upheld, it is not kept in suspension, abrogated, it is not subverted, it is not mutilated, and to say the least it is not held in abeyance and it is not amended by any authority not competent to do so under the constitution."

The army's role in foiling the bid to topple the democratically elected government has been lauded by all, except the forces behind the evil plot. The army's strong statement against “unconstitutional activities” was appreciated by the people.

But the reaction of the civil leaders—both in the government and opposition parties—after the army's disclosure of the “foiled coup” is not praise-worthy. The archrival camps— ruling Awami League and main opposition BNP— seem to have emerged with their political agenda to gain benefits by using the event. They have been making public statements, launching a blame-game against each other.

Exchanging views at the Gono Bhaban in the Noakhali district on January 21, Hasina asserted that the recent anti-government plot, unearthed by the army was meant to protect the anti-liberation forces and obstruct the ongoing war crimes trial.

Hasina, who also holds the defence portfolio, has made the remark at a time when the army's court of inquiry is working to unearth the details of the “foiled plot”. Her remarks were aimed at her political rival, BNP-Jamat led four party alliance that has been opposing the ongoing trial of war criminals.

The very next day, on January 22, BNP countered the PM's remarks. At a press conference BNP's acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged that the ruling AL wanted to use the existing situation to further its own interests.

“The army's statement on Thursday [January 19] is a reflection of the government's thoughts. The details of the failed coup were not provided. It did not even mention the names of the members of the court of inquiry,” claimed Alamgir.

On January 23, senior leaders of the ruling AL and BNP again blamed each other for their alleged 'involvement' in the foiled coup attempt of January 19 to overthrow the government. They also accused one another for their ties in all the coupes that had taken place in the armed forces since 1975.

The division between the government and opposition on this crucial issue will in no way benefit the country, its people or the democracy. The political division will only encourage the so called “evil forces' and may also open up windows for perpetrators to avert trial for their heinous plan “to topple the government”.

The ongoing war of words between the two camps may put the army in an uneasy situation, bringing the force into political controversy. For the sake of proper investigation, they should stop making whimsical public remarks.

The government should also take steps in a coordinated way to uproot religious fanaticism in the army, if there is any. Religion should be practiced in their personal lives, but no one in the army should be allowed to practice extremism.

Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Md Mainul Islam however on Monday at a seminar said there there should be no room for religious fanaticism in the army.

Referring to the latest developments in the army, Lt Gen Mainul said some religious bigots had tried to indoctrinate pious officers in a planned manner. They were so clever that they had targeted the religion-fearing officers to execute their coup plot, said Gen Mainul.

The government should also consider a very significant recommendation made by the parliamentary standing committee on the defence ministry in April 2010, over a year before the stringent provision was inserted in the constitution.

The parliamentary body had recommended consolidating the armed forces' loyalty to the country's constitution to prevent military takeovers in the future. It suggested the inclusion of an effective training curriculum in the first defence policy to be enacted in Bangladesh in order to strengthen every soldier's loyalty to the constitution and civil and political authority.

The committee had observed that a lack of faithfulness to the constitution had prompted army generals to take over state power twice since independence.

A member of the committee told The Daily Star at that time: "The training curriculum should be designed in such a way that supremacy of the constitution is inculcated in every soldier's psyche and that they are encouraged to defend and uphold the constitution at any cost.”

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012