How India helped Bangladesh in foiling coup bid

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by ejazr, Feb 20, 2012.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Bangladesh: Coup bid against Sheikh Hasina foiled : Special Report News - India Today

    In late December last year, a secret letter went from New Delhi to Dhaka. It was delivered directly to Sheikh Hasina, 65, the prime minister of Bangladesh. It warned her that Islamist radicals embedded within the Bangladesh Army were planning a coup. Hasina had reason to fear coups. On the night of August 15, 1975, her father, Bangladesh's first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, her mother and three brothers were massacred by officers of the Bangladesh Army. Hasina and her sister would have been dead as well, but were abroad on a tour of Europe.

    Along with the letter, India had worked out a contingency plan to evacuate the prime minister, her cabinet and key figures of her Awami League party in the event of a coup. There was a military plan as well. Indian helicopter gunships would be launched from two airbases in West Bengal and Tripura into Dhaka to provide air cover for the operation. Landing zones and evacuation sites were identified in and around the capital for the air corridor.

    All through December, Bangladesh's spy agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), which reports directly to Hasina, quietly went to work. It was headed by Major General Sheikh Mamun Khaled, whom Hasina had personally chosen. They tapped phone communications, smss and emails of suspects in the conspiracy. Social networking sites were monitored. A series of arrests was made from December-end to January.

    Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), who is anti-India by conviction and hates Hasina with a rare passion, alleged at a public rally in Chittagong that army officers were becoming victims of "sudden disappearance". The army's media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR), warned Khaleda to refrain from making any statements. The army was worried that public discourse might soon include details of the impending coup.

    The coup attempt began innocuously. Posts on a Facebook group, 'Soldiers Forum', instigated soldiers to work against the government. Major Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haq, a graduate of the military academy who was training at the Military Institute of Science and Technology, Dhaka, was identified as the mastermind. He used a mobile phone with a UK number to share details of the conspiracy with 11 other army officers. On his Facebook account, he bragged that "mid-level officers of Bangladesh Army are bringing changes soon". On January 8, the banned fanatical organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) distributed provocative leaflets based on his post.

    Major Zia regularly updated his Facebook account with "information" on arrests of army officers by "anti-terrorism agents", including those of India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). His messages spread to blogs and were even picked up by a pro-BNP newspaper, Amar Desh. The DGFI and other security agencies kept the suspected plotters under surveillance. They discovered that the likely date of the coup was January 10 or 11. One by one, the plotters were picked up and are now detained in military headquarters, Dhaka.

    On January 19, the army unveiled the plot. In its first ever press conference, held at the Army Officers' Club in Dhaka, ISPR spokesperson Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq took questions, didn't reveal specifics, but talked about the threat to Hasina's "pro-secular and democratically elected government". Brigadier Razzaq claimed between 14 and 16 former and active mid-level radical Muslim officers were behind the conspiracy to topple the government and install an Islamist regime. Two retired officers, Lt Col Ehsan Yousuf and Major Zakir, were arrested on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government and they "admitted their role in the plot". Major General Mohammad Kamruzzaman, commander of the Comilla-based 33rd Infantry Division, was removed from his command and detained in Dhaka. Another brigadier, Tariqul Alam, commander of 71st Brigade of 9th Division, and Major General Shabbir Ahmad, commander of the Rangpur-based 66 Division, are under surveillance. Eleven other officers from Dhaka and other cantonments across the country have been confined in the capital.

    Bangladesh Army chief General Mohammad Mainul Islam says the major general and some religious bigots had planned to indoctrinate pious officers. "They had targeted the deeply religious officers, who they felt would be amenable because they were pious, to execute their conspiracy to overthrow the democratically elected government," he says.

    On January 21, Hasina said, "I would like to thank the Bangladesh Army. Had they not unearthed the conspiracy in time, a great disaster could have taken place. The army saved the patriotic forces and the country as well by throttling the conspiracy to topple the democratic government." She accused arch-rival Khaleda of plotting to overthrow her government. The BNP dismissed this as well as allegations that self-exiled BNP leader Tarique Rahman, Khaleda's son, was involved in the aborted coup attempt.

    The Bangladesh Army says Major Zia, the alleged coup mastermind, evaded arrest. His whereabouts are unknown. Yet, it was the resurfacing of an underground Islamist organisation that caused concern. The Bangladesh Army linked the conspirators to the Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Tahrir, an international Sunni pan-Islamist political organisation, advocates an Islamic Caliphate governed by Shariah law. Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, it has spread to more than 40 countries, and is also active in Pakistan.

    The Hasina government had banned the Tahrir in October 2009. Agencies such as the Rapid Action Battalion, National Security Intelligence and Detective Branch repeatedly claimed they had succeeded in containing them. They based these claims on the detention of key figures such as Towfiq Elahi, a teacher of a prominent private university, and Dr Golam Haider Rasul, 45, who practises at Dhaka's United Hospital, besides hundreds of others. Tahrir leader Maulana Mamunur Rashid, principal of a Dhaka madrassa, remains a fugitive.

    Nearly 500 Tahrir members were detained mostly for organising rallies and distributing leaflets. Police officers now admit their inability to curb the well-funded organisation merely through arrests. "It's tough because families of the detained activists get money from their global network," says Lt Col Ziaul Ahsan, director of the Intelligence Wing of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion. Most of the detained militants released on bail rejoin the outfit. The outfit has resurfaced more aggressively after its ban.

    Besides the men in uniform, the Hizb ut-Tahrir has spread its invisible tentacles among the social elite, government professionals, academics and politicians. "They have a new approach to radicalism, the cuckoo's eggs in the crow's nest (trying to covertly embed themselves in society)," says Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, a political scientist in Dhaka University.

    Since their 1975 putsch that killed Mujib, the Father of the Nation, the military in Bangladesh has overthrown the civilian government four times. The army has killed two elected presidents and coerced three other presidents into declaring military-backed emergency. The last coup was in January 2007 and since then, attempts have been made to keep the military in the barracks.

    The Supreme Court has been a key force. A landmark judgment by a full bench headed by former chief justice Mohammad Tafazzul Islam on July 28, 2010, declared three military regimes between August 15, 1975, and February 1979 as illegal. The new constitution, adopted by Parliament in November 2011, has restored equality of religions. But as UK-based terror analyst Chris Blackburn says, "The recent coup plot shows that extremism in South Asia has many forms. There has always been a trend within the ranks of the military to push the importance of religion in binding a country together. There are certainly officers who see themselves as guardians of both state and religion. But I still think it is too early right now to speculate on Hizb ut-Tahrir's role in the attempted coup. They are an extremist group."

    Hasina has been under threat since she swept to power in early 2009. More than 1,000 paramilitary border guards of Bangladesh Rifles, now renamed Border Guards Bangladesh, revolted against the military's hegemony over their institution. It was symptomatic of the unrest in the armed forces. India helped even then. Sources in the prime minister's office said that as soon as the mutiny broke out, India kept its special forces 50 Parachute Independent Brigade on standby to fly into Dhaka in case of an emergency. New Delhi's support for Hasina is clear. In her third stint as prime minister, Bangladesh has ceased to become a safe haven for militant groups operating in India.

    The military has moved in swiftly to initiate a court of inquiry against the rogue officers. The military brass, meanwhile, reassured the president of its secular credentials and their support. "There is no room for religious zealots in the Bangladesh Army," army chief General Islam told a seminar in Dhaka a week after the botched coup. The civilian government can only hope that it is true
     
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  3. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    A very good overview by the Frontline Magazine on the coup bid as well.

    A coup foiled

    THE Bangladesh Army's disclosure on January 19 about defeating a coup attempt against the Sheikh Hasina government is unprecedented, as it is for the first time that the people of Bangladesh heard about what really happened inside their armed forces. The big picture will emerge only after a court of inquiry constituted on December 28, 2011, to unearth the plot reaches its conclusions. Its findings will be of utmost importance to the Army, as a disciplined institution, and to the country's democracy and constitutional polity.

    Going by the Army spokesperson's statement on January 19, a fanatical outfit called Hizb ut-Tahrir chose the military to implement its political agenda. The organisation, which had been banned on October 22, 2010, circulated “provocative leaflets based on fugitive Major Syed Ziaul Haq's Internet message throughout the country”. Major Zia had apparently contacted a few serving and retired officers to instigate them to engage in activities subversive of the state and democracy.

    So far the authorities have reportedly identified 11 senior and middle-level officers to be involved in the plot. However, there has been no independent confirmation of such reports.

    The banned outfit also circulated a provocative leaflet in both Bengali and English in December 2011 asking to remove Sheikh Hasina from power and “establish Khilafat”. Other groups with extremist religious philosophy that have made inroads into the Army and other institutions, as reported by the media, are also now under the scanner.

    Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamist party, was founded in Jerusalem in 1953. It first emerged in Bangladesh in 2000. The organisation came into the limelight a few years ago when it was realised that its cadre consisted of well-to-do and educated youth who were indoctrinated in Islamist ideas. Despite a ban imposed on it for anti-state activities in 2010, it held processions and rallies, even in the presence of the police, in and outside Dhaka and advertised its publications. A number of its activists have been arrested.

    Top officers of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion and the police said they had launched a crackdown on the outfit but it was tough to suppress its activities as the arrested cadre got the support of the organisation. Families of the detained activists, mostly from affluent and educated sections of society, also got them substantial financial and legal support to face the law. Knowing full well that they would be bailed out soon, they bothered little about arrest, the officers said.

    After the ban was imposed, roughly 500 Hizb ut-Tahrir operatives, including some of its top leaders and patrons, were arrested. But most of them are now out on bail. According to legal and counter-terrorism officials, it will be difficult to find a solution unless a tribunal under a special law is set up to fight the newly emerged militancy.

    In the recent past, Bangladesh has been taking a hard line against growing Islamist militancy. Some of the kingpins of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were hanged. But more often, the extremists changed their names and mode of operation in view of a crackdown or a ban.

    Hizb ut-Tahrir gets strong financial support like that received by the JMB, the Harkat ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI), the Hizb-ut-Tawhid, and the Allah'r Dal. Law enforcers have identified a number of teachers in universities, English-medium schools and madrassas, doctors, engineers and businessmen as the new leaders of the Hizb ut-Tahrir.

    The Army and politics

    In Bangladesh, where overambitious generals have played the religious card to rise to political prominence, the recent developments have triggered a debate. The ruling Grand Alliance led by the Bangladesh Awami League has found reasons to point figures at the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose political birth and growth is seen as “army-centric” and “religion-centric”. Founded by General Ziaur Rahman, the military dictator who was killed in 1981 by a group of army men in Chittagong, the BNP has been accused of rehabilitating Islamists in politics. It is also said that the general's widow, Khaleda Zia, twice Premier, has been no exception in serving the cause of fundamentalist elements.

    Therefore, not just the Awami League but almost all secular, pro-liberation political forces have directly or indirectly accused the BNP of having a hand in the aborted conspiracy. One name that crops up in the raging debate is that of Khaleda Zia's son Tareque Rahman, who is facing corruption and other charges. He has been in exile for several years.

    The BNP's reactions to the Army's announcement on January 19 have not been consistent. While rejecting the accusations, its leaders say they do not believe in a change of power through unconstitutional means. The party claims that the government brought the issue up to divert public attention from pressing issues at hand. Khaleda Zia also made a public allegation of “disappearance” from the Army.

    Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam, however, has maintained that the BNP has followed a pattern of indulging in conspiratorial politics ridden with killings and coups. These have tarnished the image of the armed forces, he has alleged.

    Bangladesh is no stranger to military meddling in politics, having endured several coups and numerous mutinies in its 40 years of independence.

    There have been long spells of military rule too. But this is the first time that, as reports suggest, the chain of command prevailed and intelligence agencies worked meticulously.

    The assassination of the founding father of the country, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and most of his family members in August 1975 had affected the nation's journey along the road of secular democracy. The coups and counter-coups following the bloody changeover saw the destruction of democratic institutions and the rehabilitation of fundamentalist elements in the polity.

    However, the latest news of the failed coup against Sheikh Hasina's three-year-old government should be judged from a different perspective. Just a month after the secular, pro-liberation Grand Alliance came to power in January 2009, a mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) resulted in the death of 57 military officers in Dhaka. The government, however, overcame the challenge that it posed.

    While the popular perception was that the forces defeated in the election or their mentors were behind the destabilisation attempt, the BDR mutiny led to rumour-mongering that India might have played a role in it. It was apparently spread particularly by those who would have been happy to see the new government dysfunctional at its very infancy. There were also reports of “discontentment” in the cantonments, with some officers breaking the military institution's code of discipline. The lawbreakers were reportedly identified and punished.

    The enmity between the government and its traditional rivals, including the Islamist-friendly BNP and the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist groups, has only grown in the past three years. The completion of the trial of the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had already frustrated the inheritors of the communal spirit of 1947, who wanted to rejuvenate the infamous two-nation theory.

    Three fundamental policy decisions of the government have frustrated them particularly: the determined bid to revive the nation's secular, pro-liberation spirit; the steps taken by it to improve relations with India by concluding a set of progressive accords, including taking a firm stand against insurgents from north-eastern India; and the bold decision to bring the war criminals of 1971 to trial.

    The war-crimes trial, now in progress under a domestic law framed in 1974, has raised further concern in the Khaleda Zia-led rightist-fundamentalist alliance, which has engaged itself vigorously, at home and abroad, to see the trial defeated. Many people believe that it would be justified to say that the government was passing through a crucial phase as its critics were too desperate to jeopardise the new beginning.

    The good news is that the Bangladesh Army is restoring its image as a well-disciplined and professional force. It has already earned praise for its contribution to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations. There are many who consider it imperative to challenge religious extremism, which has made inroads into various segments of society.

    Following the failed coup, Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Mainul Islam said that there should be no room for religious fanaticism in the Army. He disclosed that some religious bigots had tried to indoctrinate pious officers in a planned manner. “They were so clever that they targeted the deeply religious officers as a way of carrying out their coup plot,” he said, cautioning that these kinds of schemes must not be allowed to succeed.

    The Army's statement on January 19 says: “In the past, different evil forces banked on Bangladesh Army which grew out of victory in the Liberation War to create disorder and gain political advantage. Sometimes they succeeded and on some occasions they failed. Even so, as an organisation Bangladesh Army has been carrying the burden of the disrepute such forces have earned in the past. The professionally efficient and well-disciplined members of Bangladesh Army would like to say, We do not want to bear this liability on the shoulders of our organisation.”

    President Zillur Rahman thanked the Army for foiling the plot but at the same time warned everyone to remain vigilant against any such attempt in future. But his warning may just not be enough. There is a growing feeling among the people that the need of the hour is to identify the perpetrators of the attempted coup, who are punishable according to the Constitution and in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark judgment on the Fifth Amendment. They feel that it was indeed a heinous conspiracy nipped in the bud, but there can be no room for complacency.
     

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