Aug 13, 2011
The contagion of fear
By Ishaq Khan Khakwani
Yuri Gagarin, at a reception in Indonesia for being the first man in space, took a dig at his Muslim hosts by saying that in his travels through space he did not see any God in the sky. A guest queried asked how he was looking for God in the sky. Gagarin responded that the capsule in which he was traveling had plexiglass windows through which he had a 360 degree view. The satisfied guest quipped: “If you had stepped out of your capsule, you would certainly have met Allah the Almighty, the Most Merciful.”
With all the arguments presented by the Awami League (AL) government leadership for negotiations on the CTG issue, the underlying one and only non-negotiable position is that it is not prepared to step down from office during elections. The rationale for this intransigence is exactly the same which prevented Yuri Gagarin from stepping out of his capsule to look for God.
The prime minister claims she is only implementing a Supreme Court decision and that parliament cannot violate it – a court that is on record of having made less than complimentary remarks about her own sanity. The vociferous Hindu parliamentarian, Mr Sen Gupta, invites the opposition to provide suggestions for an interim AL government during elections. Most AL functionaries are vocal in inviting the Opposition for talks on an interim AL government during the 90-day period of elections.
The invitation for negotiations must be appreciated. However, opponents of the government appear to treat this invitation as negotiations for the perpetuation of the AL regime. Fear is a highly contagious phenomenon. The AL government’s non-negotiable stance of not stepping down is a public confession – perceived by many as a declaration – that it is terrified of leaving office.
True, this government has invited the aversion of large segments of the population. This wrath has been incited by personalised vindictive persecutions and there may be concerns that the retributions for these may not be limited to civilised modes of censure. But it is dangerous for a government to publically acknowledge that it fears the spectre of being stripped of power.
The incumbent political administration in Bangladesh seems to have alienated a wide and diverse range of the population in the last two and a half years in office. In this impoverished country, a share scam skimmed off almost 12 billion dollars from the capital market – affecting around three million small investors – allegedly by the machinations of a “gang of eleven” led by a dervish who is publically and personally acknowledged as a commercial confidante of the AL supremo.
A monumental mishandling – critics suggest a deliberate ploy – of the BDR rebellion in 2009 has infuriated the officer cadre of the army and their families for failing to intervene in the massacre of army officers and the rape of their families over a period of three days. The indiscriminate killings of about 2000 BDR personnel and the kangaroo-court like convictions of over 8000 BDR non-coms and jawans has not endeared the AL government to these men and their families. The continuous harassment and intimidation of Muslim clerics and students of thousands of madressahs throughout the country by government intelligence agencies – on the plea of containing Islamic terrorists – has provoked serious resentment.
Indeed intelligence agencies have even taken to phoning imams of mosques in the middle of the night, ostensibly to know of their whereabouts – provocations that promoted a loathing that is potentially explosive.
The reservation of a 55 percent quota in government jobs for AL certified patriots, leaves only 45 percent to be recruited on merit – a policy that has created serious antagonism against the incumbent political administration in a community of nearly two million educated unemployed. Extra-judicial killings and abductions by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has become an international scandal – while the defence of RAB activities by the government has drawn the ire of all and sundry.
In a pathetic effort to delay the imminent threat of retaliation, the AL leadership has started beating the aging drum of its commitment to the ‘War on Terror’ – a hymn that is designed to resuscitate the enthusiasm of an international community disappointed by undisguised centralised and decentralised corruption. There has been an all pervasive erosion of confidence in the judiciary and rule of law due to extrajudicial killings and abductions, persecution of political opponents and human rights violations.
Fear has its own dynamics. When fear is publically displayed by a government’s marked reluctance to relinquish power to an independent caretaker government, it portrays the government’s petrification of possible enactment of animalistic vengeance for its excesses. The transparent apprehension of the government is likely to erode its authority over the civil and military administration that is less impressed with the fatalistic demeanour of any political leadership.
Fear and apprehension have been germinated at the highest level of government. Persecution invites retribution. Victimisation inspires vengeance. Violence begets violence. Extrajudicial killings invoke the possibilities of similar happenings. These are the elements that constitute the contagion of fear that is gaining momentum.
The deafening silence of the international community and the usually vocal civil society is adding to the ill forebodings of the immediate future. To avoid the impending catastrophe perhaps we should all make serious efforts to provide a safe exit for the incumbent from its fear of imminent doom and gloom.
It is in the interest of international stability and the security and promotion of 150 million Bangladeshis, that all those who wish for us to have the opportunity to formulate our destiny in peace and harmony, engage in efforts to channel retaliatory vengeance into a demonstration of civilised abhorrence of forces and actions through a free and fair election under an independent caretaker government sans preferences of external interests. Perhaps this is the singular option of possible deliverance from the contagion of fear that is fast expanding.