Dhaka poll was cancelled due to threat: army chief

February 3rd, 2009 - 2:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Feb 3 (IANS) Dhaka’s military leadership sought cancellation of parliamentary elections in January 2007 because some “powerful countries” threatened to get the UN to withdraw Bangladeshis from peacekeeping missions, the army chief has said. In a book just out, Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed does not indicate who the “powerful countries” are who threatened to request the UN to disqualify Bangladesh Army personnel from well-paid peacekeeping jobs.

Ahmed speaks of “a veiled threat” when envoys of some powerful countries told him that they would request the UN to withdraw Bangladeshi peacekeepers if the army cooperates in holding the elections, scheduled for Jan 22, 2007, without participation of all parties.

After several weeks of political turmoil, a 14-party alliance led by Sheikh Hasina, had by then boycotted the election alleging rigging to favour the rival alliance of Begum Khaleda Zia.

“The thought of its consequences sent a chill through me, as the UN could not ignore their request,” General Moeen said in his book titled “Shantir Swapney: Samayer Smriticharan” (Dream for peace: Reminiscence of time) published last week.

The 384-page book contains accounts of the days during the political turmoil before Jan 11, 2007, the army’s role and his own experiences in those critical days, The Daily Star said Tuesday.

Ahmed insists that his officers did not want a martial law to be imposed and wanted the governance by civilians to continue in one form or the other.

The military backed a caretaker government that ruled Bangladesh for two years till last year-end’s election.

About the consequences of the threat, he writes: “The soldiers who earn a fixed income can only look forward to the UN mission. If this opportunity is taken away, it will be difficult to control them. At the same time, the image of the Bangladesh army in the peacekeeping mission would be tarnished if the peacekeepers are withdrawn.”

“I deeply felt the nation was eagerly looking at me… Ambassadors of different countries asked about my plans… But I firmly told them politicians have created the problem. Let them find out the solution,” he continues.

Bangladesh witnessed martial law or military-guided rule between 1975 and 1990.

On Jan 10, 2007, a circular was issued empowering the army to arrest any lawbreakers without warrants. To Ahmed, it sounded like “putting the army against the people”.

UN Peacekeeping Mission Undersecretary General John Mary wanted to talk with him that day. “I then realised that the threat to the future of our peacekeepers is going to be a reality.”

“The UN will seriously consider withdrawing the Bangladesh peacekeepers from the UN missions, if Bangladesh Army plays any role in such an election,” said the UN official.

“After receiving the warning, it was not difficult for me to realise that the involvement of the army in such an election would make the role of Bangladesh Army controversial,” Ahmed writes.

He spoke to his air force and navy counterparts the next day and the three met President Iajuddin Ahmed. He says he was ready to be sacked for his move. But the president agreed to continue with a civilian rule, but promulgation of a national emergency.

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