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 Bangladesh upgrades Top Brass
Has its first 4-Star Serving General
 
 
By Mahendra VedPublished : June 2007
 
   
Bangladesh has upgraded its military top brass in a significant strategic development in South Asia, and has its first serving four-star general in Army Chief, Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed.
 

In across-the-board promotions, the air chief, Air Vice Marshal S M Ziaur Rahman, has been promoted as Air Marshal while the navy chief, Rear Admiral Sarwar Zahan Nizam, is now a Vice Admiral.

Besides, three major generals have been promoted to lieutenant general rank, and three brigadiers to major general.

The Bangladesh Army's current strength is estimated to be more than 200,000 personnel. Its Air Force has more than 7,000 personnel and the Navy, 14,950 personnel as per unofficial statistics.

Principal Staff Officer (PSO) Major General Mohammad Jahangir Alam Chowdhury has been elevated to Lieutenant General with a new posting. He has been made Quarter Master General (QMG).

Commandant of the National Defence College (NDC) Major General Abu Tayeb Mohammad Zahirul Alam has also been promoted as Lieutenant General.

So is the Chief of the 9th Division, Major General Masud Uddin Chowdhury, who is also a Lieutenant General now, with new positing as PSO of the Armed Forces Division.

Deputy Director General of DGFI Brigadier General Golam Mohammad has been made Director General of the Forces Intelligence on promotion as Major General.

Brigadier General Mohammad Ashabuddin has been promoted to Major General and appointed GOC of the 9th Division.

Composite Brigade Commander Brigadier General AKM Mujaheed Uddin has been promoted to major general and appointed GOC of the 19th Infantry Division.

For watchers of South Asian scene, the development was expected, considering the key role the armed forces are currently playing in Bangladesh. Hence, it is necessary to study its timing.

Gen Ahmed became a full general only two days after he ruled out a military takeover of the country's government.

He maintained that the armed forces were "subservient to civilian authority," in an apparent attempt to refute the widespread perception at home and abroad that the interim government of Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed is "military-guided."

He also said that he had no political ambitions and no plans to play a role beyond the army.

His observations, and that the government was working to hold general elections as early as possible have been welcomed by the mainstream political parties.

Both the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party hailed Gen Ahmed's observations and expressed hope that it will help to strengthen democracy in the country by holding free and fair elections.

"The Army deserves thanks from the nation for his statement. We also thank him for his conviction and trust in democracy. We hope that the armed forces will play an invaluable role in strengthening of democracy in the country," Awami League's General Secretary Abdul Jalil said.

Jalil said the army chief's remarks relating to assisting the present caretaker government from behind the scenes was the reflection of "everybody's desire."

Bangladesh's armed forces, especially the army, separated from those of Pakistan in 1971 have a record of intervening in governing ushering in phases of military or military-guided rule between 1975 and 1990.

While the past interventions remain a matter of debate, it is fair to note that since 1991, Bangladesh has had parliamentary democracy, howsoever imperfect.

The intervention, which it really is if seen closely, has been of a different nature. It is a fact that during weeks of political turmoil in November-December last year, there were at least two official attempts made to induct the armed forces in governance, albeit in assistance to the civil authority, in the run-up to and conducting of the general elections.

Notably, on both these occasions, the army resisted a pro-active role.

It assumed a larger role only in January, when it became clear that with 14 parties boycotting the elections, the country was heading for an election that would have been a non-election and would have only added to the problems, without solving any.

The Army was in the loop for the momentous decision to call off the elections and to prevent turmoil, bloodshed and damage to the country's economy, impose a national emergency. The country also had a new Chief Advisor and Council of Advisors to run the government.

There is an American saying that fits what happened here on January 11: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

The Bangladesh Army did just that: It saw a gigantic hole opening up in Bangladeshi politics with both major political parties, already over their heads in the hole, just digging away.

It has become clear only gradually that Bangladesh Army took away the political parties' shovel, and sent them home to relearn basic democratic standards. In other words, it took over the state on one/eleven, as it is called now in Bangladesh, to prevent a bloody civil strife between the parties and the total breakdown of law and order.

There seemed to be no other alternative then, and looking back, the case for the takeover seems undiminished to the great majority of citizens of this crowded but energetic and dynamic nation.

In the intervening four months-plus, for the most part, the Army seems to have stuck to its principle of eschewing politics by staying in the background and "assisting" the civilian "caretaker" in running the government.

It has also delegated to the civilians the monumental task of reconstructing, on the collapsed and failed ruins of the former political system, the foundation and the framework of a viable and enduring democratic structure.

The Army is involved in government operations mainly in assisting the civilians with a serious programme to root out corruption and punish the massive list of those politicians and others who have profited from corrupt practices.

Part of the reason for the Army's involvement in the anti-corruption campaign is that the civilian anticorruption unit is still understaffed, under-trained and under-equipped, and the Army can add some of its intelligence and enforcement capacity to help it.

Another is that the police is also notoriously corrupt and needs the Army's oversight. A major reason is that it is the blatantly egregious corruption which upsets the mid-and junior-level Army officers and enlisted personnel and thus makes them support the Army's role in politics.

However, this does not take away the fact that the army too has its corrupt elements and those that are politicized, some of them leaning towards Islamist extremism. This has been backed by many studies and think tanks.

The moot point is that the army is the only cohesive institution organized on modern lines and all parties are agreed to its present role.

There are many unknowns and sceptics abound. History tells us that the odds of success are slim. Military interventions, even well-intentioned like this one, almost always go bad - corrupted first by power, and then, by greed.

Thus, there is little doubt that the present interim government is "military-backed" but if the implication of the term is to be read in a positive way, then the inevitable connotation also is: so far.

 
 © India Strategic 
   
   
 
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