Double standard and abnormality appear to be considered as normal in Bangladesh

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Barrister Nazir Ahmed

The Chiefs of the three Armed Forces (Army Chief General Iqbal Karim Bhuiyan, Navy Chief Vice Admiral Muhammad Farid Habib and Air Force Chief Air Marshal SM Ziaur Rahman) on last Monday said that the Armed Forces would not intervene in governance and pledged to defend the constitutionality in any situation.  They told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Defence that they were oath-bound to stand by the Constitution and the elected government at any cost and in any situation.  Why they have come before the Parliamentary Standing Committee for uttering these things for no apparent reason?  Or rather, why did the government feel compelled to bring them before the Parliamentary Standing Committee for making these rhetorics? 

These types of rhetorics are not new.  People may recall that the same thing was said by the then Army Chief Lieutenant General (later became General) Moin U Ahmed while he was coming out from a preparatory meeting with the then Election Commission prior to the scheduled 22 January 2007 parliamentary election (that election could not be held due to the infamous unconstitutional 1/11 [Armed Forces’ intervention] led by General Moin U Ahmed).  Everyone is aware of what he had done later.  Did he follow the Constitution?  Did he stand by the Constitution?  In fact, he had run the country for nearly two years illegally and unconstitutionally from behind the scene
Not only General Moin U Ahmed, the same words were also uttered by the then Army Chief Lieutenant General Ershad in the early 1980s after the tragic death of former President Ziaur Rahman till he (Ershad) took over from the elected President Justice Abdus Sattar on a bloodless coup.  Armed Forces are well organised and disciplined forces. They cannot do things (coup, counter coup, intervention, threats, non-cooperation etc.) by giving specific date and time. The nature, environment, overwhelming expectation and often over ambition of senior officers compel them to step in.  The current government must not be self-satisfied on what the three Chiefs had said.  Promise and pledge appear to be mere rhetoric and show piece.  They do not mean what they say. 

The 42 years history of Bangladesh has shown this at least three times.  The military intervention may come as a result of the government’s apparent cumulative failures, extreme arrogance, gross negligence and uncompromising stand in hostile political field.  Law alone and mere pledge from senior military personnel cannot stop military intervention at all.  The methods which can stop any military intervention are: ensuring good governance, maintaining political stability, ensuring accountability in all public duties and responsibilities, maintaining transparency in all public transactions, establishing rule of law, maintaining law and order, and practising and observing democracy and democratic norms in true sense.  The sooner the current government realises this vital and universal political truth, the better for them and the better for the country.   
In Parliament, some MPs termed Justice AHM Samsudding Chowdhury Manik as a sadist, mad and mentally imbalanced.  They questioned his ability and quality to become a High Court Judge.  They demanded the Speaker to pass a unanimous resolution in the House condemning him and urging the President for constituting Supreme Judicial Council to remove Justice Manik.  They criticised Justice Manik in very offensive, aggressive and defamatory languages.  None of these have been expunged by the Speaker. 

I neither agree nor disagree with what the MPs said in Parliament.  Let me make this clear.  I have just put the facts.  The whole nation and the people from abroad have been aware through print and electronic media.  On fully agreeing with the MPs, the then Speaker Abdul Hamid gave a lengthy ruling in the Parliament that Justice Manik had, among others, violated the Constitution and he (the Speaker) left the matter to the Chief Justice for taking appropriate action.  Now the same Speaker after being the Acting President, following the death of late President Zillur Rahman, made/appointed Justice Manik as the Judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.  Obviously Mr Abdul Hamid, while approving the appointment, considered Justice Manik as one of the best candidates over the 80 High Court Judges for elevating him to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.  Now my question is: who is right?  Speaker Abdul Hamid? Or Acting President Abdul Hamid?  Clear contradiction is apparent in Mr Abdul Hamid’s stands.  He, as the Acting President, could not maintain his earlier position taken as a Speaker, the Guardian of Parliament.  He could not show his backbone. 

His action indicates one of the two things: either (i) his earlier decision/ruling, as the Speaker, was wrong or (ii) he is over ambitious to become the President and thus he compromised his standing by not upsetting the Prime Minister.  Where is his moral high ground?  Bangladesh is in serious political turmoil.  Nobody knows what is going to happen next.  In such circumstances, Bangladesh needs a President who could unite the nation.  The country needs a father figure (a Guardian) who could reach above selfishness and narrow party affiliation/loyalty.  It is widely speculated that Mr Abdul Hamid is probably going to be the next President.  Given the contradictory roles Mr Abdul Hamid had played in short span of time and the poor moral standing, if any, he had shown, can the nation be assured that if Mr Hamid becomes the President he can stick to his principles and show his backbone in future to solve any political deadlock and bring the opposition parties in confidence?        
More than 200 people were killed in Bangladesh in a month by police through direct indiscriminate shooting.  At the same time around 10 police officers have also been killed.  This is unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh.  The irony is that although many cases filed against hundreds of thousands [often one single case has made more than 5000 unknown/unidentified accused!) of unknown and identified persons for police officers’ killing, no one has been held responsible for mass killing of over 200 people.  Not a single Inquiry Commission or Investigation Committee has yet been formed to find out exactly what had happened and to punish the culprits who had used disproportionate and unmeasured forces on the civilians in the peacetime environment.  The human life has been very cheap in Bangladesh.  Police appear to have been given open licence to shoot and kill ordinary people as they wish.  Can this be expected in a modern democratic county?        
Exception cannot be a rule.  When an exception is taken as a general rule and when abnormality appears to be considered as normal in a county, the county is definitely not running normally.  When abnormality persists in a country, everything - be it Constitution or human life or nature or environment - within that country is shaken or threatened.  In such a country, might is considered as right and breaking laws are considered as norms and sign of bravery.  These can, consequently, lead a country to a chaos and civil war.  Bangladesh appears to be heading towards that direction.  
Barrister Nazir Ahmed is an UK based legal expert, analyst, writer and author.
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