Information is still coming out about what happened and who might have been behind the BDR mutiny.  No doubt we will find out more in the coming days and weeks, and hopefully the investigations will be untainted by politics. What is clear right now is the raw anger among army officers about what happened. Why did help not come in time? Why was more not done? But it is interesting that the army officers are also asking about the intersection of politics and the army, and raising complaints about politicians’ views/distrust of the army and the politicization of the army. Here are recordings of the Prime Minister’s meetings with army officers at Army HQ.  Particularly here File 2, from the third minute onwards.

How this anger will be addressed will be very important.

File 1:


File 2:


File 3:



BDR Mutiny

Today Bangladeshis are experiencing some combination of grief, indignation, shock, and disbelief. I personally never thought we would have the misfortune of finding “mass graves” in Bangladesh in our lifetimes. This was after all the legacy of the brutal Pakistan army in 1971. It is truly a sad day for Bangladesh. We have lost some of our brightest and most prominent military leaders and officers. It is also a day of relief, because we have edged back from the brink of disaster. Given that BDR outposts with a combined count of 40,000 troops blanket the entire country, a real civil war has been narrowly averted.

Regardless of the merits of the general amnesty, PM Sheikh Hasina is to be commended for her calm and prudent handling of one of the greatest moments of crisis in the history of Bangladesh. I was especially impressed by her speech to the nation (in Bangla):

and the prompt negotiations undertaken by various ministers and MPs. The calm is still fragile, even though life is back to normal across the country. Proper steps need to be taken to bring the guilty to swift justice, to uncover the conspiracy (mere pay raise could not have been the underlying motivation of such a brutal and well planned politicide), to reconstitute the BDR, and to rebuild the strength and unity of the armed forces. The country is still in grave danger.

Omor Ekushey

Baajiye Robi tomar beene
Anlo maala jogot jine
Tomar choron tirthe maago
Jogot kore jaoa asha
Amori Bangla bhasha
Moder Gorob Moder Aasha
Amori Bangla bhasha

Two things in the Prime Minister’s recent statements in Parliament (as reported in the Daily Star) are bothering me.

One is the publishing of White Papers by Parliament on corruption under the previous regime. Now I share the anti-corruption sentiment, and I agree that something needs to be done. But the problem with the proposal is that it seems too much like a tit-for-tat for what the BNP regime did the last time around – which was publish White Papers on corruption between 1996 and 2001.

This politicization of anti-corruption needs to stop.  Instead of the AL-dominated parliament passing judgment on the last regime, why not direct an independent body to do the work (say, the independent ACC, for example?), and have the report be reviewed in Parliament in broad daylight, under the watchful glares of the citizenry? And why not have the ACC review the methodology and findings of the last White Report, and ask how its recommendations fared? Such would be the change we need.

The other thing that’s been bothering me is the way that the RAB killings are being framed:

In reply to a question of AL-led grand alliance lawmaker Rashed Khan Menon, the prime minister said she has always been against extra judicial killings.

“The government will remain alert to stop extra judicial killings and those found to be involved in such crimes will be brought to justice,” she said adding, the culture of extra judicial killings raised its head during the BNP-led alliance government after it had launched Operation Clean Heart and formed Rapid Action Battalion (Rab).

The premier however added ‘it might take some time to change their habit of extra judicial killings’.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s uninhibited, unqualified condemnation of extra-judicial killings. But I don’t think that it helps to be talking about how it’s going to take time to “change their habit of extra-judicial killings.” No, it’s not just a habit. It is something that elements in our law-enforcement have been doing with impunity and without hurdles in the last few years. Change the processes that allow these things to happen. Increase formal oversight. Increase the probability of punishment. Do these things. Immediately. It’s not just a matter of saying that these crimes will not be committed any more, or that the simple change of who’s heading things is enough in the long run. Make it happen. Now.

Where’s the outrage? Where’s the urgency? Where’s the activity? The way it is being framed, next time an extra-judicial killing happens, it will be a blamed on the “habit of extra-judicial killing”. And lack of progress on this front will be blamed on the rootedness of the  “habit of extra-judicial killing.” Prime Minister –  the levers of power and change are in your hand today. Use them!

In the mean time, BNP is still checha-mechaing about front row seats. Ladies and gentlemen – the few of you who still remain in the House of the People: let me remind you that you are not here to watch a TV show.

Sheikh Hasina asserted today that the Anti Corruption Commission needs to be “reconstituted” because it had harassed politicians and political activists under the unholy influence of the caretaker government. Am I the only one worried about what she will do to the ACC? Perhaps we should have been expecting this all along, after all Hasina is not the type to let things go so easily (speaking of “reverting to form”). Also noteworthy is her claim that corruption in Bangladesh started after 1975. That’s quite silly really (and “silly” is the kindest word I can use here) if you just look through old newspapers (I mean before they were censored and nationalized) and talk to people in our parent’s generation, there was PLENTY of corruption under Mujib (just as there was under Zia). But let’s let that one go, wishing for our leaders to bury the past, is like wishing for balmy 70 degree weather in the miserable 20 degree icebox I’m in right now, it’s simply, wishing…

Hasina, however, is partly right. The ACC bungled cases left and right and definitely brought some cases without due cause/ scrutiny/ for other nefarious reasons. But the first question that comes up is that is she planning to engineer the removal of the ACC commissioners (given that the commissioners have not completed their 4 years terms, and their removal is to follow the same procedure as that of Supreme Court Justices according to the ACC statute 2004)? What will that mean for her promise to “legitimize” the actions of the caretaker regime? What will that mean for the “independence” of our judiciary (since removal requires the same procedure as that for removing justices)?

Hasina’s interference with the ACC will open a can of snakes. And depending on what she does, she could destroy the institution (a real blow to our democracy and the dubious legacy of the caretaker regime). We have no real opposition in parliament to speak of (they’re still jockeying for better views of the speaker! And the sight of BNP MPs solemnly sticking up for the ACC would be, granted, sidesplitting). The press and civil society needs to step up instead.

Another sweet nugget: MPs are not giving up on their duty free cars. Beemers and Hummers will roam the streets of Dhaka once more, fearless, music thumping, just as the ACC folk start to lose sleep over their jobs. Truly, the entire front page of the Daily Star today is a “reverting to form” bonanza.

Please be seated!

It seems straightforward that front row seating in parliament should be assigned according to proportion of seats won. If only our leaders would show less concern for their personal “prestige,” and more for the people who voted them into office! We are under virtual one party domination right now. It is critical for the opposition to at least act as a verbal check on the critical policy decisions being made every day. But predictably enough, BNP MPs are sulking because AL isn’t giving them “purno morjada.” Newsflash for BNP: Prestige comes from the people. Instead of pining for AL’s handouts, perhaps you should just get to work, and ask a few questions about the mishandling of the Upazila polls while you’re at it. Get used to the indignities of being a backbencher, you’ve earned them.

Baitul Mukarram khatib

There really should not be an institutionalized khatib at Baitul Mukarram. They need to get rid of the post. The inevitable unseemly fighting over this kind of position is only part of the worry. The very idea that the Bangladeshi state can be pushing a particular politico-religious line at the nation’s most famous mosque week in and week out is more important. Rather, prominent religious speakers from around the country and around the world should be invited to speak, lead, and after jum’ah, teach, but more importantly, dialogue. The benefit of this is a diversity of viewpoints that is reflective of the Muslim tradition. And thus one week, you may hope to have a Tariq Ramadan come speak, another a Shaikh Ali Gum’a, another a Shaikh Abdul-Aaziz Al-Shaikh, another an Abdurrahman Wahid, another a Nuh Keller, another a Yusuf Qaradawi, another a Tareq Al-Suwaidan, another an Ingrid Mattson, another a Taqi Usmani, another a Khaled Abou El Fadl, another a Fatima Mernissi, another a Hamza Yusuf, another an Amr Khaled…

The benefit of such a program is not just in exposing to our people the diversity of viewpoints that exists among people who know something about things and who – or at least many of whom – are perfectly comfortable operating in the times we live in and addressing its issues with the idiom and wisdom of their faith and tradition. The other benefit too is useful to consider. For too long, the issues that Bengali Muslims have to struggle with, the challenges we face, the lives we grapple with, have been at the edge of Muslim consciousness. Doubtless, many of them will lecture us. But some of them, I know, will try to understand who we are and what we feel, and they will first listen deeply before they speak. Perhaps they will learn something, and perhaps we shall too.