Saturday, June 01, 2013

My Readings

My Readings

My Readings

My Readings

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Will political parties and military share ‘sovereignty’ with people?

Will political parties and military share 'sovereignty' with people?

Much depends on the development of the other institutions that protect human rights even in times of high security alert such as the judiciary and the bureaucracy apart from independent activists. In a state where all the institutions are matured, the citizens feel safe but when the security agencies are the only ones which are large and all encompassing, there is concern and anxiety,

writes Afsan Chowdhury

British parliamentarians are demanding that a full investigation into UK secret services should be carried out as the authorities have failed to cooperate with a parliamentary probe committee. Otherwise public confidence in the agencies will decline. There is no confusion that intelligence agencies fall under the scrutiny sphere of the parliament.
   In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has called for coordination of intelligence agencies activities citing several failures that have resulted in death and damage. The most recent failure, and a huge one at that, was the BDR rebellion which resulted in a great number of lives lost. The reverberations continue even now and there is international concern that to make up for its obvious inability, the same agencies are now using torture to get to the facts in case of the rebellion.
   Such agencies in Bangladesh have also earned a bad name for the uniformed branch in general through their highhandedness and interference in many matters including politics for a long time. Such acts are now being read as an obstacle to due process and rule of law. These allegations are serious because, in Bangladesh, political establishment have a long history of acquiescence, acceptance and even encouragement of the ways the agencies have dealt with matters of managing the state.
   While once such issues were not publicly discussed, this time around things are different and for obvious reasons. The Awami League stands on much firmer grounds as far as the military is concerned. It's not the same army that killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman but the army which ensured an election in which the people voted the Awami League to power.
   This transition in relationship has taken more than three decades but the status of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jatiya Party as army parties are significantly reduced now as is the clout, unquestioned and unaccountable, of the military as well. That has recast options for both in the political world. The political alliance between the army and political parties has created opportunities to improve the chances of meeting security challenges in general and stability in the political world.
   How they will relate to the protection of human rights is another issue altogether.
   Sovereignty, security and violation of rights
   SECURITY issues in the past have translated into violent violations of people's rights and there is a general acceptance that the two go hand in hand. It's integrated into our political culture. Key to this is the interpretation of the term 'sovereignty' as all coercive actions can be justified in the name of protection of the state and its sovereignty. This is common in most countries but state security apparatuses are always balanced in mature or even evolving states by other agencies of protection, especially those trusted with the rule of law and the delivery of justice. It's this misbalanced growth of state institutions in Bangladesh that has caused problems that continuously affect the functioning of the state in its comprehensive form.
   Historically, Bangladesh has endorsed human rights violations from its birth. This doesn't apply only to state agencies but large sections of its people as well. After independence, the colossal violations of human rights didn't appear as a crisis to any as it was seen both as justified revenge taking, no matter how unlawful or unjust it was, directed against the innocents in many cases. While it does happen in war-torn societies, in many cases it's hardly acceptable. By refusing to condemn it, society has become a party to it. It points to the huge reservoir of feelings in this society that runs counter to human rights principle in general.
   The period during the Sheikh Mujib era installed the idea that any action to protect 'sovereignty of the state' through whatever means wished could be done. This was further cemented by the following Zia regime. However the switch in 1975 was fundamental in one aspect; it challenged the idea of political party leadership as the guardian of sovereignty and claimed that this should effectively lie with only one branch of the state – that is the military. There was a transfer of power in that sense of the term, both politically and intellectually.
   However, military rule as an act of providing security to sovereignty has a limited shelf life. Civilian rule also becomes a necessity of continuing to hold on to power so the next step is military-inspired/led civilian political rule which both the BNP and the Jatiya Party are best examples of. It does mean sharing power but the dominating institution is the
   Whether that makes the Awami League more representative of civilian rule is obvious but whether that is more democratic in principle is however questionable. The acts committed between 1972 and 1975 are not about just facing an extremely difficult phase of history but the foundational actions of a party. It includes, among other actions, establishment of one-party rule and the raising of a party politics dependable paramilitary – Rakkhi Bahini – largely unaccountable to any institution.
   But more importantly, it didn't strengthen the other state organisations including the judiciary and the process of the rule of law allowing the military which was left without political leadership to strengthen disproportionately. These steps were significant in standardising what actions civilian-based parties take to interpret and protect national sovereignty in comprehensive security terms without any sense of accountability to the people. They are close approximations of any exclusive rights of a construct to act as it wishes to protect what it interprets as the best interest of the state. Subsequently, the military has done the same several times.
   In those terms, the traditional debate between civil and military rule is irrelevant as both may exclude ordinary civilians from enjoyment and participation of 'sovereignty' and, therefore, its value is more about being argumentative rather than any other issues.
   The military as the sole guarantor of the state and consequences
   MILITARY security agencies have in many countries emerged as the primary interpreters of sovereignty and protectors of the state. The most familiar example is that of Pakistan where the army sees itself as the only guarantor of the state and as a result, public participation in politics are limited by the boundaries set by the army and its allies including international ones. Various US politicians have said recently that, for its own sake, the US must support the army in Pakistan, and not necessarily democratic movements, because the army alone guarantees the existence of Pakistan which in turn means fighting the anti-US Islamic extremists of the region. The self-perpetuating logic part of this process is that the Islamic extremists were produced with the help of the Pakistan army and assent of the US. Though the extremists and the army have become enemies now, they began as friends. In both formations the army was guaranteed support and power as well as exclusive rights over the guardianship of the state.
   In Bangladesh, the situation is different because the people have had a long history of street movements where they actively sought political power and though, in most cases, they met with short term victory, they never gained much in the long term. Such victories have strengthened the position of the political parties whose vision of society are structurally the same as that of the military as far as public participation and state guardianship goes. By not making a difference between the crowd and the crowd rulers, people have stumbled into same situations, unable to recover or discover any political advantage for itself.
   A major development over time has, however, been the journey of both civil and military institutions in understanding their own roles as the guardians of the state. Both parties have understood that this is a shared responsibility and privilege. With the last takeover of 1/11 and subsequent elections under the last regime in 2008, the civil-military alliance has reached a better understanding of the advantages of both electing to be the protectors, the guardians, the sovereignty keepers as partners.
   It's within this framework that Sheikh Hasina has insisted on cooperation and coordination of the security agencies. It's from within this framework that the criticism of the armed forces in meddling with politics can be made by the political parties and actions against some of them can be contemplated. Partly, it explains why even in a rush of blood, the army didn't take over the state after the BDR killings.
   The security and state challenges of the future
   THE situation will, however, change if the internal security problems caused by Islamic militants force a greater participation of security agencies in all such matters. The environmental issues caused by India will also have an impact on the situation as new radicals of the anti-Indian variety, and not necessarily Islamic, may arise. It will mean a threat to regional security and, therefore, large-scale security actions all around. In a society which has tolerated high level of rights violation over the last four decades and developed state machinery that doesn't believe in human rights as a state principle, establishment and escalation of a security regime is probable.
   In that case, it will mean a choice between the Pakistan model and the Israel model. Both countries are brutal violators of their enemy's human rights but while in Israel it has not interfered much with the internal democracy of its majority population, Pakistan has used it to deny democracy to its own people.
   Much depends on the development of the other institutions that protect human rights even in times of high security alert such as the judiciary and the bureaucracy apart from independent activists. In a state where all the institutions are matured, the citizens feel safe but when the security agencies are the only ones which are large and all encompassing, there is concern and anxiety.
   Given the civil-military alliance and given Bangladeshis' tolerance of human rights violations, there will be high endorsement of actions for security at all costs if the situation deteriorates. Though history shows that each time it has happened in Bangladesh or elsewhere, people suffer, the lesson may not be remembered.

Sajal Gupta
Geneva, Switzerland.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Love Iranian Style

Love, Iranian Style/A new novel pits passion and repression.
by James Wood June 29, 2009

Shahriar Mandanipour’s lovers are forever trying to elude the morals patrol; narrative play is conditioned by political reality.

Sometimes, the soft literary citizens of liberal democracy long for prohibition. Coming up with anything to write about can be difficult when you are allowed to write about anything. A day in which the most arduous choice has been between “grande” and “tall” does not conduce to literary strenuousness. And what do we know about life? Our grand tour was only through the gently borderless continent of Google. Nothing constrains us. Perhaps we look enviously at those who have the misfortune to live in countries where literature is taken seriously enough to be censored, and writers venerated with imprisonment. What if writing were made a bit more exigent for us? What if we had less of everything? It might make our literary culture more “serious,” certainly more creatively ingenious. Instead of drowning in choice, we would have to be inventive around our thirst............................