Ashraf’s Column

Monday, October 13, 2008

Consequences of military rule

I had the opportunity to see military rules at different times from different points of view. First I saw it from the receiving end in 1958 as a senior school student. In early 1960s as an undergrad student at DU I took part in violent agitations against FM Ayub’s martial law regime. Later, since 1967, as a commissioned officer in the army I was used as a tool in the hands of martial law administrators and performed martial law duties of various natures under all the martial law regimes till I retired from service in 2000. Not being a student of political science myself I studied some books written on martial law regimes of Africa and Latin America in 1950s and 1960s to gather theoretical knowledge about it. From my personal experience and study I tried to find out why does it happen, what the generals do during a martial law period, what the junior officers of the rank of majors and below and the soldiers think about it. May I take the indulgence of your esteemed daily to share some of my findings with your learned readers?

When the politicians, whose job is to run the affairs of the state, fail miserably to perform their duties there is total anarchy in the society. All the state machineries come almost to a grinding halt. National wealth is plundered by politicians and their lackeys. Politics is overwhelmingly criminalized. All sorts of criminals take this opportunity to indulge freely in social and economic crimes. Life of the ordinary citizens becomes unbearable. People are so frustrated that they become apprehensive of their individual future and the future of the state. It is at this point that they expect that some savior or messiah should come from somewhere to save the country and the state. It is only then the generals with the covert or overt support of some internal (businessmen and politicians in opposition parties) and external powers (aid giving countries and agencies) stage a bloody or bloodless coup de tat to take over state power. The consequence of a failed military coup de tat is too harsh for the masters of the coup to take any chance. In most cases they have to pay with their necks for failures in such cases. Generals take over state power from the politicians only when they are more than sure that they can get away with their necks by doing it, not a day before that. People feel happy and relieved. They come out on the streets dancing to welcome the tanks and the guns. They shower flower petals and garlands on the jubilant soldiers on the streets. Some criminals, corrupt politicians and businessmen are arrested and put on trial in military courts or specially set up tribunals. Immediately the anarchy is gone, law and order is restored. People feel relieved and go back to their normal life. After the initial heat of martial law cools down, say within a period of 3 to 6 months, the generals, to run the affairs of the state, become almost totally dependent on the same senior civil bureaucrats with whose connivance the politicians spoilt the show earlier. In the armed forces an officer is trained how to run the affairs of the armed forces, and not of the state of which armed forces is only an armed part. In the armed forces there is very little room for an officer to indulge in corrupt practices. Moreover the anti corruption rules and regulations are very stringent in the armed forces. Only very few among the senior officers dealing with the purchase of defense stores and construction works can indulge in corruption, that too with the active collaboration of the politicians. On being exposed to a corrupt environment outside the cantonments, some senior officers get the first taste of corruption after martial law is imposed. They succumb to their personal greed. Thus the rot sets in in the armed forces. Within two to three years time people realize that with martial law they had only a change of their masters, and not their lot. The same old politicians take the advantage of this frustration among the people and stage a come back from prisons, hibernation or self exile. The generals are thrown out of power; the politicians take over, albeit through an election. Many of the retired generals are honorably rehabilitated as politicians, ambassadors, businessmen, industrialists, or as consultants/advisors of private business organizations. Thus the whole cycle of civilian rule to military rule to civilian rule is completed. This is what recently happened in Pakistan and in Bangladesh in 1991.

It was very wise on the part of the present senior leaders of Bangladesh Armed Forces that they helped overthrow a highly partisan caretaker government (CG) headed by Dr. Iazuddin Ahmed on 11 January in 2007 and, instead of taking over power themselves, installed the present nonpartisan CG of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. People appreciated their role and accepted the change in good grace. Since 11 January, 2007 members of our armed forces have been rendering remarkable services in restoring and maintaining law order in the country. Besides, they are making valuable contribution in many nation building activities, like preparation of a voter list with photographs and national ID cards. We have clearly earmarked civil departments for doing these duties. But our politicians never allowed these departments to function properly. Though people are very appreciative of the jobs done by our armed forces, we are yet to hear any political leader publicly saying any kind words of appreciation for the members of our armed forces for doing such wonderful jobs in the interest of our people and democracy.

Now, it is high time we pull our armed forces out of such activities and allow them to concentrate on their primary mission, that is, preparation for war. People of our country must understand that it is not the job of the armed forces to do the job of the politicians and the civil bureaucrats. The sooner they understand this simple truth the better it is. They must help the present CG to hold the ensuing parliamentary election on 18 December peacefully without any hindrance, and elect only the honest and efficient politicians to lead them from January, 2009. Any person or political party who is found trying to disrupt the present effort of the CG and the Election Commission to hold the next election deserves to be dealt with an iron hand.

When deployed for long in aid to civil power, as we are having it now, the armed forces suffers very badly as far as its professional efficiency is concerned. On being employed for a long time in aid to civil power the troops and the young officers miss their annual training programs. They, like the people on the street, also feel utterly frustrated if they see that their hard work and devotion to nation building duties during this period bore no fruit. This is a dangerous phenomenon. All concerned must take a note of it.


  • I find the title of this letter to some daily to be misleading!

    Instead of the consequences of military rule, this letter tends to downplay the role of army in the overthrowing of the then constitutional care taker government (statements like “senior leaders of Bangladesh Armed Forces that they helped overthrow a highly partisan caretaker government”), along with presenting the generals as innocent victims of a corrupt environment outside the cantonment, much like the way Adam was mislead by the Devil!

    Just to point out the correct historical fact, it was General Moinuddin & his officers (General Masud & Brigadier Amin would be two known names there) went to Bangabhaban, slapped Dr. Iajuddin’s PS when he denied waking the president up from his nap, & made the President to endorse the coup.
    Moinuddin & co then sent messenger to ask Dr Yunus to take over as the caretaker chief, which the professor denied (thanks to his clear conscience), and then picked up Fuckruddin as their pet chief clown!

    Other retd generals (Moshhud, Matin etc) & civil servants (Shamsul Huda) who felt deprived under BNP administration joined the wagon.
    Among these, Shamsul Huda, the CEC, openly blamed BNP leaders in media for not giving him enough importance during their rule & indicated that the hard times are a consequence of that!

    Anyway, the real consequences of the military rules are as follows, which we have been observing since the coup of 11th January of 2007.

    (1) Freedom of speech vanish, except for military funded media (e.g., DGFI funded Amader Somoy).
    (2) Country turns in to policing state (it should be noted that the elite force, RAB, was surprisingly not politicized by the creator BNP, but by military generals).
    (3) Mass arrests & illegal tortures take place, regardless of the political background & court orders.
    (4) Military interferes with courts of law, making free & fair trial virtually unavailable (a right by default to any citizen of the state)
    (5) Grade 12 pass majors take over the civil administration (which was the reason for the last Attorney General’s resignation as he didn’t enjoy his reporting to some major who was overlooking the activities of the Deputy Secretary to whom he was reporting).
    (6) The above mentioned army officers start foul play with the newly available power with a mentality of eat as much as you can (one act I observed first hand in one of the task force offices inside the parliament building during my short visit to Dhaka).
    (7) The military tries to control & dominate universities (the source of first resistance during any martial law); charging and beating up teachers & students alike.
    (8) A new class of middleman arises from the dust; comprising of last bencher political leaders (most of whom have never even participated in elections, or even if they did, they were not able to get votes from their own families; Urdu speaking wakil Kemal Hussen, Ferdos Koreshi, & ex-couper general Ibrahim would be prefect examples from recent times).
    (9) Initially, the timeliness of the civil servants in the govt offices has shown to improve & persist for a short time, say about 4-8 weeks; the reason being the fear of military humiliation & torture, which eventually subsides once they understand the ways of organized military corruption.
    (10) Syndicated profit making from commodities rise to alarming level, mainly from two factors, first of which is inexperience of civil governance & secondly from the greed of the military.
    (11) The military gets into huge money making projects, e.g., voter ID card this time, constructions in previous military rule in the 80’s.
    (11) Essential services like water supply, electricity, communications, constructions etc suffer heavily as they are run by military officers (mostly retd); daily public life is in jeopardy.
    (12) Law & order drastically worsens, mainly by the inactivity of police & the over activity by intelligence agencies.
    (13) Being a non-elected government lacking public support, the military rulers have to compromise and/or surrender the nation’s interests in the hands of foreign powers, including big brotherly neighbors, as happening with India now. Right now, USA has it’s marine in CTG, working to build a base near the port, somewhere around the golf-course.
    (14) Armed forces eating up the yearly national budget, increasingly; new cantonments are being made, along with DOHSs, where all the army officers get free land in favor of their loyalty to the coupers!

    I consider it my pleasure to conclude reminding this brigadier general that the BD army is the most inefficient in the whole world when it comes to defending the country.
    Rather we should rely on the BDR to do that job!
    After all, one of the most popular jokes in this army is about the time for India to overtake BD, which BD generals estimate as 5 minutes, for that’s the time they need to get out of the uniform.
    May be we can have a competition in hotel Radisson on this record time; we can have different tires; one for the sepoys, one for the officers, & one for the retd ones as well. At the end, we can have a wrap up speech by general Moinuddin Ahmed where he can choose the record holder to be his new advisor!

    Before finishing this never-ending list, I would like to remind the brigadier general that iron is a metal and made by god for the use of all human, not only BD army officers.
    The most effective iron hand is with the people, and it will be our pleasure to see the iron hand of the people slapping fat-ass army officers.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 5:31 AM  

  • The very first Anonymous’s analysis of the real consequences of military rule can be applicable for any political government in Bangladesh if you replace generals by ministers, majors by party goons and thugs, etc. The first Anonymous wrote it with utter shock after experiencing Khaleda Zia, her two thief sons and most of her PS, APS who loot public money experienced “hard time” in Dudok’s investigation and all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 12:01 PM  

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