The military high-ups and chiefs of other armed forces met then president Iajuddin Ahmed and compelled him to declare state of emergency, resign as chief adviser and suspend scheduled the January 22 election – thanks to the WikiLeaks!’
The high-voltage moments in Bangabhaban and Dhaka Cantonment on January 11, 2007 – only 10 days ahead of a scheduled national election – were extensive and murky for the countrymen including journalists.
Then president Iajuddin Ahmed’s resigning as chief adviser, declaring state of emergency and postponing the January 22 election; resignation of advisers and the “unconstitutional changeover” in power with former bureaucrat Fakhruddin Ahmed swearing in as chief adviser the next day – all these happened in a rush driven by the military.
Whistleblowing website WikiLeaks disclosed the developments described by the US embassy in Dhaka in a cable sent to Washington on January 12, 2007.
On August 30, 2011, the website published a huge number of cables, some of which were sent from Dhaka.
Two of those were written by Patricia A Butenis, the then US ambassador in Bangladesh, to Washington elaborating the 1/11 events.
Earlier on that day, the US envoy had a meeting with then chief of Bangladesh Army’s intelligence wing (DGFI) Brig Gen ATM Amin who briefed her about the occurrences, the reasons behind military intervention, shuffles in crucial positions and the army’s future plans.
Amin defends military role
The army intelligence boss stated that the day before, the three services chiefs along with army principal staff officer Maj Gen Md Jahangir Alam Choudhury and chief of army staff Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed had met then president Iajuddin Ahmed at their request around 5pm.
They urged the president to declare state of emergency, resign as chief adviser and appoint a new chief adviser, cancel the scheduled January 22 elections and reschedule new elections after creating the conditions for free, fair, and credible elections in which all parties participate.
The army official told Butenis that they had not given the president time to consider his decision because they “knew if he asked [the BNP], he would be told not to agree.”
He claimed that the president had accepted the military’s arguments “on the need for a state of emergency, but did say, nor did the ambassador ask, whether the decision resulted from undue pressure,” Butenis wrote.
Reasons behind intervention
Brig Gen Amin claimed that the moves were motivated by three factors – the UN statements that military participation in a one-sided election could jeopardise its participation in the peacekeeping operations, concern over renewed threats from Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to thwart the election and “continuing Awami League protests and planned actions against elections.”
He said these factors led the military to conclude that civil order was at risk, triggering their decision to approach the president.
He confirmed that nine advisers had submitted their resignations following the president’s declaration of a state of emergency.
Only law and justice adviser Justice Fazlul Haque, as the senior most ranking adviser, agreed to remain as acting chief adviser pending selection of a new chief adviser.
He reported that Prof Muhammad Yunus had declined when asked to accept the position of the chief adviser. Instead, former Bangladesh Bank governor Fakhruddin would be chosen.
Soon after getting the president’s nod, the then director general of National Security Intelligence (NSI), Maj Gen Md Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury, was relieved from duty. Butenis wrote that he was “seen by many as closely associated with BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia’s son Tarique Rahman.”
President’s press secretary M Mokhlesur Rahman Chowdhury was also sacked. He was “widely believed to be the conduit for BNP influence over Iajuddin,” the envoy wrote.
When Butenis asked about the role of the military, Brig Gen Amin said it would be “strictly in support of the government.”
The envoy said: “He stressed that authority would rest with the civilian leaders. He committed continued military support to civilian law enforcement authorities to maintain law and order.”
He expected that the “curfew to be lifted within a matter of days” when the conditions return to normal shortly.
What was army’s plan?
The DGFI chief listed as the main objective to create conditions, roughly in one year timeframe, for holding free, fair and credible elections participated by all parties.
“He outlined several steps the interim government would take: reconstituting the Election Commission, developing a credible voter list, and establishing a roadmap to free and fair elections.”
He also named “two more ambitious goals: addressing corruption and revamping the economy, although he did not elaborate on the economic agenda.”
In this regard, the envoy cautioned the military to avoid getting too involved in reforms best left to an elected civilian government, including addressing corruption and economic reform, problems not amenable to quick fixes (citing the problems of the military in Thailand).
She doubted that a civilian government backed by the military could have a lasting impact. “Permanent reforms are best undertaken by elected officials,” she wrote.
Introducing Fakhruddin, the US envoy stated that the embassy perception of his management of the central bank during his tenure as governor had been “positive” and he was “well respected as the governor.”
He joined Bangladesh Bank in 2001 after he had served the World Bank since 1978.
While taking the charge of the military-backed caretaker government in 2007, Fakhruddin was at the helm of government-run microfinance institution Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) that aims at poverty alleviation.
“He is a non-controversial figure,” Butenis wrote.
In the cables, the ambassador observed that the situation in Dhaka on January 12 had been “calm” when there was a regular curfew for six hours from 11pm.
She, however, expressed concern over unsubstantiated reports of arrests and detentions when the number varies from “hundreds” to “thousands,” including two former MPs (from Awami League and BNP) with “notorious reputations as crime bosses.”
The ambassador said based on the information available, “these appear justifiable on law enforcement grounds and not politically motivated. Neither party’s supporters appear to have been singled out.”
Butenis said the US and the international community had been “deeply concerned over plans to hold a one-sided election” and had pressed the caretaker government and the parties to cooperate to find a political solution to a clearly political issue.
“We neither proposed nor endorsed particular solutions; that is up to the parties to decide.”
The ambassador reiterated Washington’s message on the need for free, fair and fully participatory elections.
She wrote: “We would be watching whether political rights are respected, including freedom of speech, assembly and the press, and how quickly Bangladesh moves towards elections. We will also monitor arrests to be sure they are neutral and not politically-motivated.”
15,000 arrests in 10 days
Another cable sent by Butenis on January 23 said police, army, and other security personnel had arrested around 15,000 people including established criminals as well as local and student leaders of both the Awami League and especially the BNP.
However, no leader or supporter of the Jamaat-e-Islami was arrested in the crackdown.
Nineteen deaths in custody were reported during that time when the BNP leaders told the US ambassador that the arrests had reflected a government bias against it.
“Tarique Rahman acknowledged to us that some of his party’s detainees are naughty but insisted others are innocent of wrong-doing. But the arrests are broadly welcomed by Bangladeshis desperate for respite from insecurity and political confrontation,” the cable says.
AL won’t try two Uddins
Former LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam had assured then US ambassador James F Moriarty that Sheikh Hasina would not support calls to prosecute the former army chief and former Caretaker Government officials.
In a cable sent to Washington on June 22, 2009, Moriarty wrote that he had talks with Ashraf on June 18.
Ashraf said the prime minisster rejected calls to prosecute the former Chief of Army Staff General (retired) Moeen Uddin Ahmed and members of the unelected Caretaker Government that ruled Bangladesh under a state of emergency from 2007-2008.
(Note: Both Hasina and her main political rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairwoman Khaleda Zia, were imprisoned on graft charges by the military-backed Caretaker Government. Several other prominent politicians from Hasina’s Awami League and the BNP also were imprisoned. End Note.)
Ashraf said all but a handful of Awami League politicians supported Hasina’s position to not seek revenge. He also disparaged the chairman of a Parliamentary committee who is seeking to compel former members of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to testify about their activities during the Caretaker Government.
(Note: The committee chairman, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, was convicted in a case brought by the ACC. End note.)