Are we in a ‘dirty war’?

Posted in politics by jrahman on July 18, 2008

The term ‘dirty war’ refers to the way the Argentine military junta kidnapped, tortured, killed or simply forced the disappearance of its civilian political opponents during the late 1970s.  Similar tactics were used by other contemporary Latin American juntas.  The crucial difference between a run of the mill counter-insurgency and the Argentine-style dirty war is that the latter involves state sponsored violence against unarmed, civilian political opposition.

Are we in a ‘dirty war’ in Bangladesh?

Mashiul Alam Sentu, president of the BNP student wing Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal Barisal city unit and also former vice-president of BM College Students Union, was killed in a ‘crossfire’ with RAB during the early hours of 16 July.  Here are how Prothom Alo, Naya Diganta, Shamokal, and the New Age report the event.  I’ll leave it to the reader to judge the plausibility of the ‘crossfire’ as described by these reports.  Let me highlight a few other points about Sentu.

From the reports, it seems that Sentu was not from the affluent section of the society.  His father is paralysed, his mother ‘works for the government’ – he was not a fortunate son by any means.   From the reports, we hear that Sentu had multiple murder and attempted murder charges against him, and was a ‘listed criminal’.  But then, other reports suggest that these charges were brought during the late 1990s, and was dropped after 2001 election.  It seems that he was a committed JCD/BNP activist who would yield no quarters to his Awami counterparts.  But at the same time, the fact that his funeral was attended by all major mayor candidates including the AL-backed Showkat Hossain Hiron suggests that Sentu had cross-party appeal in the area. 

I can hear these words – RAB crossfire was invented by BNP, and now it’s their turn to feel the heat. 

Let’s think about it for a minute.  When the BNP government introduced the crossfire-style law enforcement through RAB and the Operation Clean Heart, its supporters put forward ‘end justifies the means’ kind of arguments – our court and law enforcement resources are stretched, those killed extrajudicially were criminals with prior convictions, and there were overwhelming popular support for the killings.  Let’s make a principled, unconditional, unequivocal statement here: we condemn extrajudicial killing as a mean of law enforcement always and everywhere with no ifs and buts.  Whether we are talking about Sweden Aslam or Salahuddin Kader Chowdhury, extrajudicial killing is no way to deal with them.

There is often another argument for extrajudicial killings.  It goes like this: we are at a war with some extremists (religious fanatics, Maoists, anarchists, separatists), and killing them without a trial is part of the act of war.  We can argue about the finer points of whether Bangla Bhai and Tapan Malitha were insurgents or not.  We can argue that if Bangla Bhai could have been caught, tried, and hanged then why the same couldn’t be done to Malitha.  But for argument’s sake, let’s concede the insurgency point. 

Was Sentu an insurgent?  Did he form an underground army that openly defied the People’s Republic of Bangladesh? 

No.  Sentu was a political activist.  He represented how politics is done in the mofussil Bangladesh.  I can imagine how Sentu would seem to most self-styled bhadraloks who cheered the military coup of January 2007.  ‘He was a thug, a hooligan, the kind of muscle men who corrupt our politics, it’s for people like him that good people don’t come to politics’ – I can just hear these words. 

I’m not going to debate these talking points.  I’m not going to glorify Sentu as a martyr.  Let’s agree that Sentu’s way of doing politics needs to change.  But this is hardly the way to change politics. 

Much more importantly, this extrajudicial murder was done for a political reason – it was done to send the message to the grassroot activists: fall into line, don’t raise your voice, do what we (the regime and central leaders who cut a deal) tell you, or else you too will be crossfired.

That, dear reader, sounds like a dirty war to me.

(Crossposted at UV).

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9 Responses

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  1. Fariha said, on July 18, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    onek sad Jyoti bhai 😦

    But if this continues, and eventually only the reformists are the ones in the running, come december, should we vote? Why would we vote? To replace this puppet government with another?

  2. jrahman said, on July 19, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Fariha, you should still vote. Let them rob you of your rights at gunpoint, don’t give it away by boycotting.

    I may well be out-of-synch with the popular mood (at least in the blogosphere). But I believe not voting is an abdication of responsibility. Even if there are only ‘reformists’ in the running, you will still have a choice. You will still have AL and BNP. You should choose between them based on your beliefs. You should choose on their performance – the party that kept rice prices stable, or the party that tackled Dhaka’s traffic situation. Even the reformists have their past to choose from.

  3. […] (More at Mukti)   […]

  4. lopa said, on July 19, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    What’s the point in voting for another puppet govt? The election will be a farce, just to show the outside world that we are going back to democracy. They won’t engineer the election process, but threat the parties with the fate of Sentu. They have guns, what else do they need to be in power?

  5. Fariha said, on July 20, 2008 at 12:25 am

    Jyoti bhai,

    Agreed. But remember how you faced the dilemma of your ideology not being in concurrence with your realpolitik? That’s the same problem with me now! I know, ideologicially, by not voting, I’m letting them stay the easy way. But then, I would hate to vote for any of those puppets that would come to rule us next, with the same set of values as the current puppets!

    Where do we go from there?

  6. gypsy said, on July 21, 2008 at 2:56 am

    we forget that every one is inocent until proven guilty in a court of law beyond any reasonable ground.
    Has any one noticed what the RAB officer said after the killing? He said that sentu was alleged to have cases against him and that is sufficient for him to be killed.

    But one important question that comes to my mind is where where does rab produes this guns and bullets after the killing? may be its time an UN or international organization looks at the type and origin of the guns. I would not be surprised if these guns were manufactured in Gazipur ordanace factory or came countries where our army worked as a UN peace keeper

  7. jrahman said, on July 21, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Lopa Apa, the election will be farce only if we let it be a farce. As long as people go out and vote, it’s hard to see how they can get away with clinging to power with only guns.

    Fariha, I doubt the next set of rulers will be puppets like the current lot. Either the puppetmaster will be in power himself, or he will be in the dustbin of history. And the best way of ensuring that he is gone is through the ballot box.

    Gypsy, good question. Whenever civilian rule returns, we will have to revisit RAB.

  8. Rumi said, on July 22, 2008 at 9:32 am

    The fact is that whatever comes out of an election, or whether opposition goes to election or not, the puppetmaster is destined to be doomed.
    1. If Puppetmaster assumes full control, be in BD, be in overseas, the two main leaders will eventually unite. They simply do not have to be in BD to lead a resistence once they are united. IF they both return, probably both of them will be put in a jail. Can they keep them inside? How long the SOE will continue?

    2. If puppetmaster lets the election go ahead with all parties taking part, his outfit will never be strong enough to win. His main strength and hope is Ershad. I predict, Ershad will continue to lose seats, and this year may not score more than 10 seats.
    Eventually it will an AL govt and the puppetmaster has no reason to get ecstatic about an AL victory.

    3. More importantly, the puppetmaster is scheduled to retire next summer. I doubt he will be able to renew that any further. Whoever coms to power as PM, nobody will love to have a snake smoking over their shoulder.

    The game is over for the dirty snake my dear friends.

  9. jrahman said, on July 22, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Rumi bhai, Ershad is probably hoping that the mainstream BNP boycotts the election so that he can lead the jatiyatabadi coalition. Of course, Dr Chowdhury and Col Oli are also hoping to lead that coaltion. I guess Maj Hafiz or Mannan Bhuiyan are no longer in contention for that role.

    However, in case of both AL and BNP joining the election, what do you think of Ershad-Oli-Chowdhury’s chances if they join AL in an alliance (that is, a Grand Alliance vs BNP-JI as in Jan 2007, and bye-bye puppetmaster)?

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