Dictators of Pakistan and Bangladesh

Posted in politics by jrahman on December 1, 2006

Goph diye jai chena
spot them by their whiskers
– Sukumar Roy

An election is approaching.  The incumbent, heir to a political dynasty, enjoyed wide popularity five years ago, but a lot has changed since then.  Corruption scandals touch the highest echelon of the government.  Rising prices and widening income inequality means that most people don’t share the nation’s increasing prosperity.  Security of life and property, once the ruling party’s strong card, has come under increasing threat from terrorists, and people are not sure if the incumbent can be trusted to keep them safe.  Faced with eroding populrity, the ruling party has put its cronies in key positions to manipulate the election.  It has tried to disenfranchise many who are likely to vote for the opposition.  To boost its base supporters, the ruling party is fanning religious and sectarian divisions.  I am not talking about the US mid-term.  No, my subject is the coming election in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshis are, however, much smarter than Americans.  In the US there is gerrymandering, in Bangladesh there is election engineering, to counter which, the opposition enforces blockades.  Bangladesh also has a patriotic army, and twice within the last month, a military takeover was feared (or anticipated, depending on your perspective).  But I don’t think a successful military takeover is likely in Bangladesh.

Successful?  These are the successful military rulers of the Pak-Bangla subcontinent.

Ayub Khan zia1.jpg general_zia-ul-haq.jpg ershad.jpg general_musharraf.jpg

I am going to define a successful military takeover as one where the regime survives for at least five years.  Sure it’s a pretty narrow definition of success.  But what did you expect, national heros?  And why five years?  Well, as the Fight Club protagonist says, long enough time horizon and everyone’s survival rate is zero (Keynes said more mundanely that in the long run everyone is dead), so we have to define a term, and five years is the term governments are elected for in these countries. Old soldiers don’t die, they fade away – so said Douglas MacArthur.  Ayub Khan faded away after a revolution ousted him.   Ershad refuses to fade away, and Musharraf still shines bright.   Both Zias died violently – at 46, the shorter one wasn’t even old. But they all lasted at least five years in power.  Regardless of the details behind their takeovers, they ruled in similar fashion: blame the politicians for the mess the country is in, promise the people genuine (or basic, people’s, Islamic or model) democracy, deliver on this promise by winning an election/referendum with over 90% of the vote, make a party with political turncoats and lightweights, you know the deal.

And regardless of the details, they had one other thing in common: whiskers.  Goph diye jai chena (spot them by their whiskers) – wrote Sukumar Roy (Satyajit Ray’s father) in the 1920s.  All our successful fauji saviors have been whiskered ones.  Clean‑shaven military adventurers have been failures.  I give you Iskander Mirza, Pakistan’s first military ruler.  Mirza lasted only a few weeks in office before Ayub kicked him out of the country.  He settled in London, running a curry house instead of Pakistan.

iskander.jpg yahya.jpg 

Now, not all whiskered saviors make successful military rulers.  Think of Yahya Khan for example.  Every two-bit general promises free elections, this guy actually kept his word.  What about the other players in 1971?  Mujib promised that he wouldn’t insist on confederation after the election, but after winning he said confederation was non-negotiable.  Bhutto promised that he’d have the balance of power, he got only half as many seats as Mujib and still wanted power.  Yahya’s generals told him that Bengalis could be pacified within weeks.  Yakub Khan, the first general Yahya sent to Dhaka came back within a week saying military solution wouldn’t work.  Tikka Khan, the second guy, killed tens of thousands but still failed to defeat Mukti Bahini.  Yahya helped the Americans and Chinese kiss and make up, and both let him down when India marched to Dhaka.  Of course Yahya was a gin-soaked bufoon, aptly named the Shaggy Dog by Rushdie in Shame


What about Moeen U Ahmed, Bangladesh’s would-be savior?

As you can see, he is clean-shaved.  How will he do as a saviour?  I hope we never have to find out.

Originally posted at A-A-A.  Since then, Moeen did ‘save the nation’ on 11 January 2007.  Events are still unfolding, but we have come to know that not only is Moeen clean-shaved, he is also the first military saviour in Pak-Bangla to be bald.   


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  1. Ramesh Manghirmalani said, on September 6, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Excellent write up of the animals.

    Why Pakistan and India will not get along, there are ideological difference of thoughts :

    1. The partition of India has its roots in Islamic ethos. It goes back to the Prophets journey from Mecca to Madina in 622 a.d in the face of persecution and harassment known as Hezira. This concept is acknowledged as a norm, to the effect that Muslims do not live in tyranny or oppression from peoples of other faiths. Where Islam is not dominant, Dar-ul-Harb must be created. The Muslim ethos does not seem to accept being part of a pluralistic, multi-dimensional where they are not dominant elements.

    Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (The greatest Muslim reformer and statesman of the 19th Century ) said in 1887 “ Suppose we all have voting rights as in America and let us suppose that every Muslim a voted for a Muslim and a Hindu for a Hindu, it is certain that the Hindus would have four times as many since their population is four times as numerous. And now how then can a Muslim protect his interest ?”

    This explains the reasons why Indian Muslims have so many children. They realize that the only way they can gain control over India’s democratic process is by increasing their numbers. It is for precisely this reason they have not opposed infiltration from Bangladesh.

    Said another doyen, Sir Muhammad Iqbal “ I would like to see Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Formation of a consolidated Muslim state appears to be the final destiny of the Muslims at least of North-West India.”

    The demand for Pakistan came from areas where there were sizable minorities wanting to escape from an anticipated Hindu domination. The concept of Hezira got translated into sub-continental politics.

    2. According to Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the Muslim leadership of India desired a separate country because of social stagnation, communal aggression and frustration of the Muslim masses. Thought the desire was met it was flaunted.

    3. Not getting the whole of Punjab and Bengal, Jinnah talked about having got a moth eaten Pakistan. Muslim ruled states of Junagarh, Hyderabad, Bhopal became parts of India. This generated bitterness. Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel’s success in integration of the Princely States added to the frustration.

    4. The British did not want a strong India but hoped for a strongly allied Pakistan. For years they had been pitting the Hindus and Muslims against one another. They hoped that the situation in I would deteriorate to the extent that they would be called back. They did not anticipate that the unification of India by Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel

    5. After Partition, while India got involved in the process of nation building Pakistan floundered with the death of Jinnah and the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan. The country was taken over by bureaucrats, military dictatorships and political parties. Since nearly one third of the Muslims stayed back in India, the social, cultural connections with the overall sub-continental phenomena could not be obliterated. This created a crisis of identity for Pakistan was outlined by Najam Sethi in his now famous Delhi speech.

    Pakistan had no option but to continuously harp on its Islamic identity. India’s secular experiment had to be prevented, made to fail, questioned otherwise it would have destroyed the reason for creation of Pakistan

    6. The 1971 defeat with the breaking away of East Pakistan only compounded the problem. The fear of Hindu domination came alive. This is what goaded Pakistan into attempting to break Punjab from the Indian union.

    7. In spite of all its problems, India was nudging along at a leisurely pace, the failure of P power structure only increased the hostility. The failure in organizing a political system that was responsive to the needs of the Pakistani people, the nexus between the army, the landed elite and the business class made the average Pakistani frustrated. The only way of diverting his attention was the real or imagined threat from India.

    8.Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar in his book, Pakistan or the Partition of India rejected the five reasons for the creation of Pakistan. This increased the Muslims League apprehension about the intentions of the Congress. With Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar rejection, a leader of the backwards, all constituent elements of the majority community rejected the demand for Pakistan.

    9. Pandit J. Nehru’s support to Dr Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan’s ( Frontier Gandhi ) desire to keep the North West Frontier Province out of Pakistan , the division of Punjab and Bengal, holding back of the Rs 55 crs by India, Mohd Ali Jinnah’s support to Hyderabad, Junagarh were some reasons too.

    10. Another contributing factor was the attitude of resentment of Mohd Ali Jinnah, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan , Z A Bhutto. Many believe that Pakistan was created to satisfy M.Ali Jinnah’s desire of becoming PM. Bhutto’s mother was a Hindu converted to Islam. Married into a Sindhi Vadhera family, she and her son were never allowed to forget their infidel origins and lesser social background. Bhutto had many rejections in India on the social and sports fields ( he stayed on in India till 1951-52 ). This generated bitterness in him and got reflected in his hatred for India.

    11. Another reason was the political, economic and military support by Western nations led by the U.S. Notwithstanding the recent Muslim Christian riots in Egypt, Philippines and Indonesia, there exists a religious and cultural empathy between Islam and Christianity, on the belief that both are true believers of the Book. They are Ahle-Kitab. It is well known that a substantial portion of the arms meant for the fight against the Soviets were diverted to terrorists fighting the Indian state. Operation Topac was started in Kashmir after Pakistan had achieved nuclear capability.

    12. China, realized that the best way of containing India was by supporting Pakistan . It has consistently provided support to Pakistan in defense and nuclear areas. It suited the Chinese perfectly to talk of friendly relations on one hand and supply arms, nuclear secrets to Pakistan on the other. The art of Double-Speak needs to be learn from the Chinese. When China had Olympics, they destroyed 11 Mosque and Killed 277 Chinese Muslims, How come Pakistan and Muslim world was quite.

    13. India is marching toward next century and Pakistan is thinking of Past. India should not agree with Past Pakistani past ideology but assist Pakistan in any manner they fit if the help is officially requested by Government

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