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The exposure of the coup plot by right-wing, extremist elements and some serving army officers saw a war of words and blame-game between the ruling Awami League and opposition BNP. The AL general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam accused the BNP of exploiting the nationalistic sentiments of military personnel to grab power and said that BNP’s ‘politics of murder, coup and conspiracy’ had made the army controversial. For its part, the BNP has responded to news of the coup in a somewhat guarded manner and demanded a complete inquiry into the entire plot. Pointing to what it calls ‘politically motivated and incomplete statements’ by the government on the entire coup plot, the BNP has raised doubts over the credibility of the investigation by the incumbent government. It has warned the government against using the armed forces for ‘partisan purposes’ and called coup attempts in the army a ‘warning sign’. While the BNP has said that it will oust the government through people power and not through a coup, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has claimed that the coup plot was aimed at protecting war criminals and obstruct the war crimes trials. She also said that it was no longer possible for anyone to usurp power through unconstitutional means.
Meanwhile, addressing a seminar, the Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Mainul Islam said that there was no room for extremist elements in the army and declared that all the people involved in the failed coup plot would be tracked down and brought to justice. The general revealed that some officers with a religious bent of mind were targeted by extremists, who attempted to indoctrinate them and use their services for their own nefarious ends. With the government making it clear that it will throw the book at anyone, including civilians, found involved in the coup plot, the security agencies have started cracking down on the plotters. A lot of focus is on the role played by the extremist Islamist organisation Hizbut Tehrir which had circulated pamphlets asking army officers to overthrow the AL government and establish ‘khilafat’ in the country. These pamphlets were based on messages sent by the prime accused in the coup plot – Maj Syed Ziaul Haq. As part of the crackdown, law enforcement agencies arrested a senior doctor who is attached to a top Dhaka hospital for his alleged role as one of the policymakers of the HuT.
The needle of suspicion is also pointing to the involvement of the Jamaat Islami in the coup plot. With the top party leadership facing the brunt of the war crimes trials, reports in the Bangladeshi media have insinuated the involvement of the sons of the former Emir of Jamaat Islami, Golam Azam. But in a statement, Golam Azam’s son Abdullahhil Aman Azmi, a former Bangladesh army officer who was sacked from the army last year, denied any involvement of his or any of his family members in the coup plot. He in fact condemned the coup plot and demanded strict action against the plotters!
A four member ‘search committee’ has been constituted to recommend names for the position of Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners to the President. The Committee will be headed by a Supreme Court judge and other members include a judge of the High Court, the Chairman of the Public Service Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General. The main opposition party is however not impressed and has said that the Search Committee is ‘meaningless’ since it will not end the political impasse over the issue of restoration of a caretaker government.
Bangladesh’s finance minister AMA Muhith has written to his Indian and Chinese counterparts requesting them to replenish the $ 2.4 billion Asian Development Fund for large infrastructural projects which will provide an alternative to the World Bank as a source of funds for Asian countries. The immediate provocation for the letter is the suspension of the funding for the Padma Bridge project by the World Bank because of allegations of corruption dogging the project. An inquiry into the corruption allegations by the Anti-Corruption Commission has given a clean chit to the award of contracts in the project. The Commission is however still investigating if there was any corruption in the appointment of advisors for the project.
The Russian government has agreed to provide bulk of the funding for the 1000 mw Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant which is expected to cost between Tk 1200 -1500 Crore.
Relations with India
A British newspaper has reported that India played an important part in the foiling of the coup plot in Bangladesh. It was a tip off from India that led to the pre-empting of the conspiracy. Reacting to news about the plot, the Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna expressed India’s concerns over the development but at the same time made it clear that India did not want to get involved in the internal affairs of Bangladesh.
The outing of a video showing BSF personnel torturing a Bangladeshi man led to the Bangladesh Foreign Office lodging an official protest with the government of India. In a statement, the Bangladesh Foreign Office said that it had ‘conveyed its utter dismay’ to India. The statement ‘protested such abusive and violent action by BSF personnel despite repeated assurance from the Indian leadership about exercise of utmost restraint by BSF personnel’ and called upon the Indian government to conduct a thorough inquiry into the incident and take action against the guilty personnel. Notwithstanding the official protest, at the political level, top leaders of both countries played down the incident. While the Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee asked the media to not blow the incident out of proportion, Bangladesh’s LGRD Minister and senior AL leader Syed Ashraful Islam said that his government was not much worried about such incidents along the border. But the opposition BNP latched on to the incident to indulge in some India-bashing as well as AL-bashing. The BNP’s acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam expressed his ‘surprise and hatred’ over Ashraful’s description of the incident as ‘normal’ and accused the government of not protesting against the torture of a Bangladeshi citizen by ‘arrogant Indian BSF personnel’.
In a significant gesture aimed at removing the obstacles in the path of implementation of projects being financed by the $ 1 billion credit line given by India to Bangladesh, the government of India has relaxed the condition that 85% of the material for the projects be sourced from India. Henceforth, this condition will be determined on the basis of the nature and requirements of the projects.