General (Retd.) Masud Uddin Chowdhury is a member of parliament (MP) for the Feni-3
Constituency. He was made chief coordinator of the 'National
Coordination Committee on Serious Crimes and Corruption' by the 1/11 caretaker
government which held power since January 11, 2007. He witnessed
many events of that time including anti-corruption activities and national elections.
Recently he talked with the Daily Bonik Barta on the 1/11 caretaker
government's political reforms, administrative actions, elections held under
that government and ongoing political developments. Interviewed by Anika Mahjabin and Arfin Soriyat.
Why there is so much complexity with participatory elections in Bangladesh?
In a democratic system, elections occupy a very important place. Representatives were chosen with that process. Just as there is not much question about the 2008 elections, there is also a positive tone in people on some of the previous elections. In 1991, when Shahabuddin Ahmed was the caretaker president, there was no question about the election held under him. The same was true of the election held in 1996 under the caretaker government. Similarly, there is not much question about the 2001 election.
But we cannot say the same about the 2014 and 2018 elections. Whether the election was fair is for the people to judge. Only they know whether they have been able to cast their vote and whether they have been able to cast their vote for their favourite candidates. I think I am not in a position to give a verdict on this issue alone.
You played an important role during the caretaker government of 2007-08. There are many criticisms of that caretaker government. What do you think is the reason behind these criticisms?
2007-08 government was a military government, which is conceptually wrong. There was no military law at that time. There was a civilian caretaker government. They were supported by the army. That caretaker government asked for our services. We have provided them with it under the constitution. Before this, the nation was in a dire state. The economy was floundering. In such a stage a new caretaker government was formed to avoid a possible civil war and economic disaster. The armed forces rendered their moral support. They can do so right now as well if the civilian government wants. At some point in time, the army was deployed to control traffic. Just asking, if the current government also wants something like that, then it can be provided.
Secondly, a very small section of people was against that govt. There were some people who opposed it, whose interests were hurt. Common people's interests were not hurt. Rather, they were getting better, so they were very supportive. Can't show any indicator at that time, which was bearish. All indicators of the country's development were upward. Our remittances also rose during that time. Whether it is an army-backed ruler or a democratically elected ruler, if it benefits the people and at the same time all the indicators are positive, then where is our problem?
Several initiatives were taken by that caretaker government to prevent corruption and ensure good governance in the country. Can you put some light on it?
In 2007-08 there was a state of emergency for a few days during the caretaker government. At that time, the economy and everything was flourishing. This government worked with some institutions. For example, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was newly constituted and the common people appreciated their job. Similarly, the Public Service Commission and the Election Commission were reconstituted. Every commission has done something good for the people, which is witnessed by the nation and the people of the country. A truly fair election in 2008 was made possible because of the caretaker government's reorganization of the Election Commission. Let me say one thing, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India T. N. Seshan is a shining example in the subcontinent. The caretaker government also wanted to set up a similar Election Commission, which could speak with a straight spine. As a result, there is no controversy over the 2008 elections. The losers can't say they were cheated. On the other hand, even those who won cannot be blamed for having rigged their winnings. This meant that the election was fair and impartial, which was acceptable at home and abroad.
When the caretaker government was in place in 2007-08, the anti-corruption efforts were largely successful. You know and I can claim; Even in the most corrupt institutions, corruption almost vanished. The reason behind this is that strict administration worked. You may say, you did it with the army, that's why it was possible. But I think many things can be done if the government wants. If the govt wants not corruption to continue, it can phase out from the scene. It is as simple as that.
Why we cannot continue with those anti-corruption measures?
It takes time to adopt a new habit or change one. Two years was naturally too short a time. If this system had lasted for five to ten years, a generation would arise who would not tolerate corruption. They will prefer the right way. Once this lesson got into their heads, it would be difficult to remove.
Another question might arise; why could not we follow the path that opened in those two years? In this case, I would say lack of goodwill. Since a system has been developed why can't we move forward from there? Maybe 100% could not have been done. But observing how corruption has become so rampant, it should have continued. I think corruption could have been brought down to at least a tolerable level.
Could the BDR Mutiny in 2009 have been prevented if the 2007-08 regime was prolonged?
I was not in the country during the BDR Mutiny. The reasons for the mutiny at the time were attributed to BDR members' dissatisfaction with low pay and benefits, non-payment of ration money and the 'Dal-Bhat' scheme during the 2007-08 caretaker government. But as a cause they are very insignificant. I can't believe in any way that something so big could happen for something so petty.
The BDR mutiny has been investigated and prosecuted over a long period of time. It cannot be said whether this mutiny would have happened if the caretaker government's tenure had been prolonged. Maybe this tragic event could have been prevented or not. But this is a very black day in our history. This should never have happened. The reasons given then are not that big for killing 57 officers or torturing their families. These incidents have become scandalous chapters for us.
Can you share some of the political reforms that were undertaken during the caretaker government in 2007-08?
So to speak, we couldn't bring many political reforms then. Politics was halted for a while due to emergency, then it was resumed. There were some proposals which were not implemented then. One such proposal was that there would be no dependent student organizations, no branches of political parties abroad. There will be student fronts that will present their demands. The political parties conduct political activities in the name of social organizations abroad. But the political parties did not accept our reform proposals. So it was not possible to implement them.
To what extent do you think US visa restrictions might impact current politics and how it will play out in the coming days?
Sanctions are always bad. However, there is no precedent that the United States has completely fixed a country with sanctions. It is also right that the person who will be sanctioned will suffer. The restrictions on our visas have already started giving some people a headache. Those who do business with the United States will suffer trade losses if they fall under the sanctions. For example, garment owners (I don't know if any garment owners are under sanctions) who have businesses in the US or North America, if they come under sanctions; then they will be severely damaged. That means they can't go to the US, can't go to Canada and can't sign contracts. If their exports decrease or stop then thousands of workers under them will become unemployed. All in all, there will be a big shock to our economy. If any other sanctions come later, it will take a more severe form.
Share your observations on upcoming elections and the current political situation.
There should be a fair, impartial, participatory election. Westerners are also saying so. The interesting thing is that both the ruling party and the opposition party are on the same line. But why the issues here? It seems to me that we are going to the 'point of no return'. The opposition says the Prime Minister should resign. The govt says how we will resign under the constitution? Who will take power after resignation? There is no answer to this question. If the opposition has the answer, maybe we can proceed one step forward. It is not right to throw away the constitution.
The suggestion should come from BNP now. If the Prime Minister has to resign, how she should resign? How the government will function and the government will run within the premises of the Constitution? You cannot put forward a demand without sharing the solution. This is not the way of the world. Constructive suggestions are required here. If the government does not accept it, then the government can be blamed because you were given a constructive offer. Hypothetically speaking, if the Prime Minister resigns today, who will take over? Even for an hour, the country cannot run without the government. It takes someone to run the country. If they say that a non-partisan caretaker government can be formed in this or that way, then they should come forward with suggestions to amend the Constitution. If you want a discussion, you will need an agenda.
Whether they will sit for discussion at the end of the day, Awami League and BNP can say. What everyone wants—participatory elections; If BNP doesn't come, it won't happen. Whether I admit it or not, BNP is a big party. BNP is one of the two major parties in Bangladesh. If they do not come to the election, can that election be called participatory?
How will the election play a role in solving the current economic crisis?
A fair, impartial and participatory election should play a good role in the current crisis of the economy. If this is the case, the demands of the Western world will be fulfilled. In this case, we think that the kind of obstacles created by the Westerners will be reduced. If it comes down, it will be better than the dire state of the economy we are in now.
If the election is not participatory, how will it affect the country's economy?
If the elections are not participatory and the Western world levels up the pressure, then what will come? If they go in that direction, we will not be surprised. If they take one or two more steps like the visa policy, it will have a severe impact on our economy. We are very dependent on them for investment. Moreover, a nation generally has certain minimum requirements for survival. If I can't open LC for dollars and can't give necessary goods to people, then the hullabaloo will start. If bitterness builds out of it, it will be difficult to deal with the outcome.
How will India's position be in the upcoming elections in Bangladesh?
India's next national election is also around the corner. BJP is now more focused on that election. Like the last two times, they are not saying anything about Bangladesh elections this time. But from what India has said so far, it has emerged that they also now want a participatory election in Bangladesh.
Will India follow the United States in the Indo-Pacific strategic course with Bangladesh?
From what I have seen so far, India makes its own political decisions. This is not the case; they will listen to whatever the USA says. China is following the same course as well. Although China is not involved politically, they will do what is required for their economy. India and the United States will take whatever decisions are necessary for their economic interests.
On the other hand, our foreign policy is "Friendship towards all, malice towards none." At the same time, we have to look at our own interests. Above all, we have to adopt a policy that looks after our own interests and at the same time maintains friendship.
What is your take on the current situation of the reserve and dollar crisis? How far will the impact of the reserve and dollar crisis go after the next election?
The dollar market is in a very bad shape now. Besides, our reserves are also depleting. The condition of the reserve is dangerous. It is dangerous due to the fact that it was 24 billion dollars a few days ago, it is now below 20 billion. You can understand the level of the crisis. The official rate of the dollar is increasing every day. Officially now 110 Tk. 120-121-122 taka if bought privately from the curb market. Many traders are unable to open LCs due to the dollar shortage. Many of them cannot import necessary goods. Naturally, this has an effect on the market. We now live in a 'Global Village'. Everything depends on the dollar. The dollar crisis is not good for the country.
Besides, some loan payments will start from next December. If this money goes away from the reserve, then the condition of the economy will worsen. If this continues, it will not be good for the country. The country and the people of the country are going to the worst. Bangladesh Bank and economists need to find a quick solution.
In 2018 you sought Awami League nominations. Is there any possibility of seeking a nomination from Awami League in the next election?
In the last election, I bought nomination papers from Awami League. My main principle was I wanted a platform from which to work for people. When I took the nomination, I was told that the nomination of the seat would be given to the Jatiya Party from the Grand Alliance. I was told to run from the Jatiya Party. l party. That is how I have been elected from the that Party. Now I am the presidium member of the Jatiya Party. Hence, I will stay here and do the same in the next election.
The army has played a role in the politics of Bangladesh at various times. Regarding current scenario what is coming to your mind?
We cannot say anything in advance. With the way the constitution is amended to provide for punishment, I don't think many people would dare to do anything adventurous. In other words, I don't think the army will do anything by going outside the constitution. However, within the constitution, the government can use the army. The army can be used for such tasks as mentioned in the constitution.
What aspects of politics do you feel that need to be corrected?
Firstly, I don't think there is anything called accountability in our politics. If we politicians say something today, tomorrow we turn around 180 degrees. If there was a system of accountability in politics, many problems would have been resolved. It would have been better if everyone had spoken truthfully and sanely.
Secondly, corruption has become so rampant it has become intolerable. There is no such level, no office; where there is no corruption. If politicians don't stop talking in disarray and corruption uprooted, this dire state will prevail in the days ahead as well.