The Bangladesh armed forces — army, navy and the air force — are now our pride. They must not be dragged into any kind controversy as that threatens the country’s independence and sovereignty. The forces only carry out the orders given by their seniors
Raising issues related to the armed forces during election time is not welcome. It only helps to create confusion in the minds of the people. It is like punishing them without trial.
My father, Lt Col M Abdul Qadir was an army officer commissioned in 1949. He was martyred in our great Independence Movement. Thus to me, the armed forces are a sacred institution and also because many of those in uniform fought in our Independence War.
Interestingly, indirect concerns about the forces' neutral role in the Dec 30, 2018, elections to the 300 seats of the National Parliament have been raised by Dr. Kamal Hossain and others in the Jatiya Oikya Front.
The armed forces went through a difficult time since the 1975 assassination of Bangabandhu because the handful of pro-Pakistani disgruntled army officers with the alleged blessings of BNP founder General Ziaur Rahman pulled the forces into this shameful act at gunpoint. That is when the armed forces first acquired their negative image.
General Zia used them politically and his example was followed by Jatiya Party chief General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who was not a killer of pro-liberation or freedom fighter officers like Zia. Ousted in 1990 in a pro-democracy people’s uprising he has not been identified as an anti-liberation man.
The armed forces' role in the 1991 elections was important through which the BNP assumed power. The 1996 elections saw with an attempted coup by General Nasim that was put down by senior officers themselves and the Awami League came to power after 22 years.
Then in 2001, none raised any question or doubts about the armed forces deployed for the election and the BNP returned to power using Justice Latifur Rahman, not the men in uniform. Only one incident was reported from Narayanganj where BNP stopped Hindu voters from casting their votes and the military men stood by as they did not get any instruction from the superiors.
In 2006, the BNP killed the concept of administration by caretaker authority, appointing President Iajuddin Ahmed, a BNP member, as its chief. A military-backed regime took over as insiders said “the intervention may not be the right thing to do, but they were fed-up with Tarique Rahman’s high-handedness with the forces. His plan was leading the country to a possible bloodbath.”
The 2008 election, which the armed forces completely organised, supervised and ensured a level playing field with the help of Election Commission, brought the Awami League back to power with a landslide. The people were fed up with BNP’s acting chief Tarique and surrounding the Hawa Bhaban with its high corruption and wrongdoings which were reflected in the voting.
Thus, it is irrelevant to raise any point about the forces neutrality in the upcoming election.
The Awami League never used the armed forces in any anything that was wrong or tarnished its image. Instead, the Awami League chief and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina modernised the forces in the past 10 years and improved their terms of service.
The armed forces are now thoroughly professional fighting wings, ready to protect the independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh. They have won laurels by bringing or keeping peace under the United Nations in many troubled areas in the world.
They have been involved in nation-building activities, with my father’s Corps of Engineers involved in infrastructure building, including the Padma Bridge. We see them in humanitarian works during natural calamities. Naval officers were involved in winning our rightful share of the high seas in a court case against regional power India and which we call “Samudra Joy.”
Thus, Dr. Kamal Hossain’s statement on the armed forces or comments from the Oikya Front is not welcomed. They should remember how BNP acting chief Tarique had again tried to play the ugly game, like his father, trying to instigate the armed forces, which is high treason.
Tarique appealed to the country’s armed forces and civil servants not to obey, what he called “an illegal government’s unlawful orders”. He cited centres where EVMs would be used and manned by the army and said “This is a plot to pit the army against the people ... I appeal to the patriotic armed forces not to get involved with such an illegal process.”
By any standard, these comments tantamount to inciting an illegal uprising against an elected government.
Thus, Tarique and his company should know that the first duty of the “patriotic armed forces” is to stay clear of politics and work for the government of the day as per the orders they receive.
The people will definitely once again give kudos to our armed forces for its neutral role in the crucial elections just three days away as I write this.
I salute our armed forces and wish them good luck.
Journalist Nadeem Qadir is a UN Dag Hammarskjöld fellow.