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.



Tinker, tailor, soldier, coup-maker

Posted in 1971, army, Bangladesh, history, politics by jrahman on May 24, 2012

The country of Bengal is a land where, owing to the climate’s favouring the base, the dust of dissension is always rising – so said the Mughal court chronicler Abul Fazl in the 16th century. Four hundred years later, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has been a country where the dust of dissension has repeatedly risen among the men armed to guard the republic. The allegedly thwarted coup in January is but the latest in a long list of coups / mutinies / revolutions / military interventions going all the way back to the country’s very foundation in 1971.

The country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed with most of his family in a brutal coup in 1975. Within a decade of the country’s 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan, much of the political and military leadership of the war were either killed or politically delegitimized by successive coups. And the coups of the 1970s reverberate even today, as Humayun Ahmed (a popular novelist) found out recently — Mr Ahmed’s latest novel, set in 1975, has been effectively banned because his depiction of history doesn’t suit the version favoured by Bangladesh’s current political dispensation. The politicised quest for what Naeem Mohaiemen calls shothik itihash (correct history) stifles the freedom of speech and thought, and sets back academia and creativity.

Of course, what actually happened in the 1970s, and beyond, should be subject to serious debate. History isn’t, after all, mere recount of dates and facts. History should be about understanding what happened and why they happened. Needless to say, one’s understanding depends on one’s own political biases.

Over the folder, I summarise major mutinies/coups/rebellions of the past four decades, and the narrative reflects my own biases and ideological prisms – just as one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, so is one’s mutiny someone else’s revolution. For the interested reader, a reading list is provided at the end.


On the verdict

Posted in politics, Rights by jrahman on November 20, 2009

I missed the liveblogging of the final verdict on the 15 August trial.  Perhaps just as well, because this has given me the time to gather my thoughts.  It goes without saying that I unambiguously and unreservedly welcome the verdict.  This post is going to touch on some points that I feel have not been covered well in the discussions in the blogosphere, print media, or in television.  Not being in Dhaka, I am in no position to reflect the public mood.  But I claim that be a good thing because it allows me raise contrarian points and uncomfortable questions. 

My main points are these.

1. Many have said ‘this is not about vengeance, it’s about justice’.  What is the theory of justice here?  How does that relate to death penalty? 

2. I offer my personal views, where vengeance is a part of justice.  But more importantly, we need our leading thinkers to spell out their concepts of justice for the People’s Republic.

3. ‘The nation gets a sense of closure after 34 years’ — goes a very common refrain.  I think this notion is profoundly wrong.   

4. Real closure may come when the generations whose hands are bloodied are gone, but only if we actiely make the right choices.  We made a right choice with this trial, and that’s the real significance here, not some confused notion of justice or closure.

These contrarian views may hurt people’s feelings, for which I apologise.  But these are important issues that we must reflect on, and this sombre morning is as good a time as any.


Tagged with: