Mukti

Jammin until the break of dawn

Posted in army, books, democracy, economics, history, political economy, politics, uprisings by jrahman on December 2, 2017

What do you do during the evenings, after the day’s tasks are done, of work trips?  You might be tired of being up in the air, or just simply tired.  But depending on the jet lag, you might not find much sleep.  I certainly don’t, even when there is no jet lag — I hate hotel beds.  If you find yourself in a hotel that used to be one of Idi Amin’s torture chambers palaces, and your colleagues are fellow political junkies, you will likely talk about politics over a nightcap.  So did we that rain-soaked Kampala evening.  We talked about, among other things, Zimbabwe.

Why didn’t they get rid of him the old fashioned way, you know, APCs on the streets, tanks in front of the presidential palace, radio or TV broadcast by some unknown major…..

An old Africa hand explained why Robert Mugabe wasn’t toppled in a coup.  No, it wasn’t because of his liberation cred.  Kwame Nkrumah or Milton Obote were no less of independence heroes to their respective countries.  Both were ingloriously booted out, not just of their presidential palaces, but also the countries they led to existence.  At least they lived, unlike say Patrice Lumumba.  Clearly being a national liberator figure didn’t make one coup-proof, particularly if one had turned his (can’t think of a mother of the nation top of my head!) country into a basket case, and had faced concerted political pressure from home and abroad.  According to my colleague with years of experience in the continent, the key to Mugabe’s survival was in relative ‘latecomer’ status.

Mugabe came to power much later than was the case for other African founding fathers.  And the disastrous denouement of his rule happened during a period when the great powers saw little strategic importance in regime change in an obscure corner of the world.  The second factor meant there was no foreign sponsor to any coup.  The former meant that any would be coupmaker, and their domestic supporters, knew from the experiences elsewhere in the continent about what could happen when a game of coups went wrong.

Mugabe gave them hyperinflation.  Getting rid of him could lead to inter-ethnic war.  Easier to do currency reform than deal with refugees fleeing genocide….. 

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Game of coups

Posted in army, Bangladesh, history, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 5, 2015

In the blood-soaked history of Bangladesh, this week marks the 40th anniversary of a particularly dark and grim episode.  On 7 November 1975, dozens of army officers of were killed by mutinous jawans.  The mutiny was orchestrated by Lt Col Abu Taher, who was retired from services a few years earlier and at that time was a key leader of the radical Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal.  The mutineers killed Brigadier Khaled Mosharraf, who had instigated a coup few days earlier against the regime of Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmed, in power since the bloody putsch of 15 August that killed President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family.  Amid the confusion caused by Mosharraf’s manoeuvres against the ‘killer majors’, four senior Awami League leaders — including Tajuddin Ahmed, the country’s first prime minister who led the war effort in 1971 when Mujib was interned in Pakistan — were assassinated in the central jail, allegedly with the consent of President Moshtaq.  The chaos and carnage of 7 November, coming on the heels of the August massacre and the jail killing, threatened to put the very existence of Bangladesh at risk.

Fortunately, Taher’s mutiny proves short-lived as the army rallied behind Major General Ziaur Rahman.

This post isn’t about revisiting our coup-prone history  or explaining it.  Rather, using the ideas of Naunihal Singh, an American political scientist, I want to discuss why some of those coups were more successful than others, and what they might tell us about the present day Bangladesh.

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Scenario analysis

Posted in army, democracy, politics by jrahman on March 18, 2015

Forecasting is a bit like urinating against the wind, you feel the heat, while everyone else laughs at your expense.  Okay, that’s not my original.  I heard it from a former boss, who, being an Antipodean, used to express it in rather more colourful terms.  But anyone involved in any kind of forecasting will tell you that it’s a mug’s game.  Scenario analysis, however, is not forecasting.  Rather than saying X will happen, scenario analysis is about what if X happens.

I have no idea what will happen in Bangladesh.  Anyone who tells you that they know what will happen in Bangladesh is either pushing an agenda, or is delusional, or both.  However, it is possible to make an informed commentary on plausible scenarios.  And it’s even easier to comment on scenarios laid out by someone else.  Fortunately for me, Arild Engelsen Ruud has already described five possible scenarios for Bangladesh.  Over the fold is my take on these.

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Flying with broken wings

Posted in army, books, democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on January 16, 2014

A magical realist masterpiece, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has weird and improbable events and people juxtaposed against the history of the 20th century South Asia up to the late 1970s. One such improbable fact was that at the time of writing, and thus the story’s culmination, military rulers of the erstwhile two wings of Pakistan had the same first name.

This is not the only parallel between the political history of Bangladesh and post-1971 Pakistan.

Both successor states of United Pakistan started with larger-than-life charismatic leaders, whose rules ended in tragic denouement inconceivable in 1972.  Both giants found governance to be much harder than populist rhetoric, both resorted to un-democracy, and both ended up meeting cruel ends at the hand of their trusted guards.  Both countries succumbed to dictatorships in the 1980s, although the extent and mechanism varied.  In both countries democratic opposition developed.  In both countries, some form of democratic politics came into practice by the 1990s.

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Making a stand, taking a side

Posted in AL, army, BNP, democracy, Islamists, politics, uprisings by jrahman on March 4, 2013

I argued in the last post that Bangladesh is back to politics-as-usual.  Whereas I was surprised by the Shahbag Awakening*, needing a reassessment of a lot of my priors, nothing like that is needed to analyse politics-as-usual.  I can use my mental model of politics — including the key players and their objectives, incentives and strategies — to analyse the situation.  That doesn’t, of course, mean the analysis will be necessarily correct.  But even when I get things wrong, I can update my views with the latest infromation as long as the basic framework of my analysis is intact.

An analysis of unfolding events since Friday makes for some rather uncomfortable conclusions for me.  And yet, there are times when one ought to make a stand, even if it means taking a side.  I believe now is such a time.  Over the fold is why this blog rejects tomorrow’s hartal.

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Rethinking Pilkhana

Posted in army, politics by jrahman on February 25, 2013

Fellow blogger Dhaka Shohor was the first person to inform me about it — bhai, what’s happening in Pilkhana (or something to that effect).  It was slightly before the midday on 25 February 2009.  Within the next hour I had received phone calls, texts and facebook messages.  By 2pm Dhaka time, I was in front of a computer.  Unheard Voice was live almost incessantly for the next couple of days, with bloggers from three continents continuously updating information as they came in from Dhaka.  In nearly a decade of blogging, I have never experienced something more stressfull or taxing on the emotions. 

Whether it is two children fighting, or there is a communal riot, or armed men are holding a plane full of passengers hostage, or two countries are amassing tanks on the border, the first thing to do in a crisis situation is to diffuse the tension —  that’s what I said in the last post about today’s Bangladesh.  This was even more true four years ago.  Whoever was at fault on 25 February, whatever was the grievances or failures, whether there was a conspiracy or not, the first and foremost task facing the government was to diffuse the situation.

As I understood the facts about who could reasonably have known what in the real time, I believed the government did a good job in diffusing the situation.  Let me explain that in some detail.

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সাতকাহন

Seven trashes collected by the senses.

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Breaking the curse

Posted in army, democracy, politics by jrahman on September 23, 2012

We’re talking about a South Asian country where the government is under pressure from several corruption scandals and not-so-good economic news.  The ruling party led the country’s independence, and supposedly stands for secularism and pluralist democracy.  In reality, the party is a dynastic fiefdom of the country’s founding leader, and once the current matriarch passes, the future looks uncertain for the dynasty.  The opposition is no better.  It supposedly reflects a more authentic nationalism than the one espoused by the ruling party, but in reality it has often fueled communal bigotry and violence.  It used to attract professionals and businessmen a generation ago, but not any more.  The country has a strong tradition of community and grass root activism and media tradition.  Dissatisfied with both the main parties, these civil society groups are clamouring for a third force.  Meanwhile, violent extremism that was once thought effectively suppressed may be biding time in remote rural areas.

I could be talking about either Bangladesh or India.  Everything in the above paragraph describes both countries.  But there is one crucial difference.  When people talk about the third force in India, they mean a coalition of parties that will reject both Congress and the BJP.  Any potential third force in India will be based on electoral politics.  In Bangladesh, the most plausible third force, on the other hand, is a military coup.

As I argued here, our history has made us vulnerable to military interventions in politics, right from the beginning of the country.  As we get close the next general election, there will be a lot of talk of yet another coup of some form.  Is there no end to this cycle?

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সাতকাহন

Posted in AL, army, Bangladesh, development, economics, history, institutions, music, politics, rock, science, society, sports by jrahman on September 21, 2012

Seven trashes collected by the senses.

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সাতকাহন

Seven trashes collected by the senses.

(more…)

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