Bangladesh: The plus two formula
"One year on, as Bangladesh teeters on the precipice of economic and political breakdown, there are rumours of a martial law in the offing. These suggestions seem to gain strength even as the government and the army chief, Moeen U Ahmed, publicly deny them. Meanwhile, the only visible electoral and bureaucratic reforms thus far have been regime changes at key government and quasi-government institutions. Actual political reform has been stalled by internecine battles for leadership within the country’s two major political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). This gridlock, suggest many political analysts, has been largely engineered by the government.Scattered memories of 1971
This sluggishness in the political arena looks set to continue in 2008. While the Election Commission has embarked on an ambitious identification-card project, at this point it appears likely to miss every key deadline that could actually lead to the promised elections by the end of the year. The fact that the Commission is still answerable to the office of the chief executive (previously the prime minister’s office), which controls its funding, means that the most significant reform for which many have been clamouring until now remains incomplete.
The interim government’s repeated attempts to exile the ‘two begums’ – Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia, who respectively head the Awami League and the BNP – have failed in the face of popular resistance and the refusal on the part of the two ladies to be intimidated. Likewise, the once-celebrated anti-corruption crusade has quickly lost credibility, as rumoured backdoor deals see a trickle of corrupt businessmen emerging from the prison gates. To its chagrin, the government, too, has realised that its overzealousness in arbitrarily arresting key business leaders during the early months of 2007 succeeded in little more than destroying business confidence. To make up for all of this instability (which it helped to create), the Dhaka regime has been compelled to form a ‘truth commission’, where corrupt businessmen can confess past sins and atone with a fine to avoid jail sentences."
"In Bangladesh, as elsewhere, the writing of history can often be a political project, with a choice made between competing narratives jostling for space. In the post-1971 period, there were several attempts made under the Awami League government to document the war. These resulted in an impressive collection of primary documents published by the Ministry of Information, a 16-volume series that includes not only official documents, but also oral histories, FIRs and police reports, as well as a collection of press clippings from around the world.Click on the titles to read the complete articles.
With the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975 and the coming to power of General Ziaur Rahman, the writing of history in Bangladesh took a decidedly political turn. Since then, each successive government has sought to impose its own stamp on the country’s history. In so doing, every minute detail of the 1971 war has been hotly debated, including who purportedly issued the first cry of independence, the true part played by India, and the highly contentious role of the Razakars, the militia recruited by the Pakistan Army consisting of non-Bengali Muslims and some pro-Pakistani Bengalis. Textbooks prepared under the military regimes and the governments of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) tried to drop all references to India, and refer to Pakistan not by name but as hanadar bahini, the ‘enemy army’. This skewed presentation in the textbooks has led legions of Bangladeshi schoolchildren to believe that the mukti bahini, the Liberation Army, actually fought against India in 1971.
Similar tinkering with nationalist narratives has gone on in the former West Pakistan, as well. Students in modern-day ‘Pakistani Studies’ classes use textbooks that argue: “Since independence, the leadership of East Pakistan has been in the hands of [separatists who,] in collaboration with Hindu teachers, polluted the political air and spread poisonous propaganda among the young students of East Pakistan.” Bangladesh is subsequently seen as the result of that ‘poisonous propaganda’, in which separatist elements and pro-Hindu teachers are conflated."