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Why The Military Intervened In Bangladesh Politics?

By M Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury

10 January, 2014

An innovative system of Caretaker Government was abolished following 2007 military intervention which created a political crisis prolonged until present prevailing stalemate in Bangladesh. 

Regarding 'why the military has intervened in Bangladesh politics' needs to be answered. Unfortunately few research works have adequately examined the causes of and conditions for military intervention. The scholarly studies of Emajuddin Ahamed, Zillur Rahman Khan, and Hassan Uzzaman are worth mentioning on this as far as existing literature are concerned. Experts on Bangladesh politics Talukdar Maniruzzaman, Rounaq Jahan, and Marcus Franda have dealt with the military intervention issue on different occasions as well. About two army coups occurred in 1975, Lawrence Lifschultz and Anthony Mascaranhas addressed in their books in detail.

According to literature, mainly two reasons were identified for military intervention. They are: military factors and political elements. To find out the causes and conditions for the military intervention it needs to identify certain elements involved within. The major elements are corporate interests of military, conspiracy against the regime, personal motives of coup makers, political issues in the corporatist interpretation, divisions in political parties, lack of political institutionalisation or the failure of civilian regimes.  
Some scholars argued that the developing nations have been suffering from political problems, which caused 'bad governance'. The problems include political chaos and anarchy; broaden corruption, absence of rule of law, transparency as well as accountability (Udogu, 2000). Since 1991 Bangladesh is evidence of all indicators (Hagerty, 2007).  

Ball (1981) analytically evaluates the developing countries militaries political role for two reasons. First, the military-backed governments are least responsive to the needs and voices of the poor majority. Besides, military-dominated governments use arms far more frequently than civilian-dominated governments in order to curb civilian demands and unrest. Second, with the increasing role of the military in politics, its control over scarce resources of the country increases as well. for this reason, a greater amount of these scarce resources has been channelled into the military sector or activities closely related to the military.  

Ball identifies four major beneficiaries’ societal groups that most likely benefit from the involvement of the military in the economic and political life of a country: domestic civilian groups, the military as an institution, and the individuals within the military and foreign groups. Corruption is an important element attached to military intervention in the countries political and the economic life. It has been seen that when the army seek to get involved in the political process of a country, allies are sought among bureaucrats, technocrats and politicians.  

'In military-dominated government the collaboration of the civil service is vital because a country cannot be administrated solely with military man power, not even one as entrenched as that in Brazil, Thailand and Indonesia. It is generally argued that the military and the civilian bureaucracy are best allies' (Edward Feit, 1973). 

Apart from the above research works Samuel Huntington, Morris Janowitz, Syed Sirajul Islam, Hamza Alavi, Ahmed, Rahman, Chowdhury, Badaruddin Umar, Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir, Alan Lindquist, Peter Bertocci, William Sloan, Khan, among others, analysed in their books and journals on military intervention, politics and governance of Bangladesh where failure of politicians, corruption and military leaders lust of power came as cause of military intervention. 

On the research issue, Bangladesh has been neglected as many researchers think there are similarities with Pakistan although there are dissimilarities too and dimension is also different as Bangladesh has no ethnic, religious or sectarian problem whereas Bangladeshi is mostly a homogeneous nation. There is a problem to pursue this kind of research by Bangladeshi researchers is fear of persecution by military. Still Directorate General of Forces Intelligent (DGFI) is playing key role in running the government under civilian cover. An editor is now in jail and another journalist left the country as could came out of prison and there are many those who were abducted. Human rights situation is bad there although in economic field Bangladesh is doing well when even recession is going on in developed countries. Another reason of reluctance in doing research is many people think external powers are involved in military intervention. Due to rampant corruption in Bangladesh politics a vast majority of the people dislike politics and sometimes do not feel bad as did earlier on military intervention. It is better to study on Bangladesh politics from outside the country. These days academics are becoming more interested about it. Those who are pursuing PhD on related topics about Bangladesh most of their research works are superficial and sometimes far from truth as they are not in a position to dig out the truth. I witnessed many untold facts while was in the helm of affairs of the country which are being researched in other way round. My track record of integrity as well as being courageous will be able to find problems and solutions into it, which will discover ways for the actors and development partners to build a better country and help researches to gain the right issues in right place. 

'Why the explanations of military intervention in politics of Bangladesh are not adequate':
As far as military intervention is concerned, the few scholarly studies have adequately examined its root causes. As there are lacking in understanding Bangladesh politics correctly, the superficial research works have been continuing in most of the cases. It was found that there are two factors involved in military intervention in politics. They are Corporatist and structuralist. One argument is military factors are the main elements here while the other scholars group argues that it is the political elements. The argument in favour of political factors seems to be weak. Only a few authors undertake the structuralist approach. They treat military intervention as a peripheral theme. In corporatist strand, all agree that there is no single factor in military intervention. The distinct characteristic of this study is practicality of the situation what gives blame on politicians. The authors of this group try to connect military with politicians giving the first party upper hand. Emajuddin Ahamed represents this group and recognises that in the political vacuum (systemic weaknesses) army takes over. His explanations are not adequate as only emphasised on one side of the coin. 
By reviewing it can say that Ahamed fails to make a direct connection between the 'systemic weakness' and military intervention. His study could not answer why such weakness arise and why military needs to seize state power. Hassan Uzzaman, Peter Bertocci, Ahamed, Khan, Jahan, Franda, Maniruzzaman and Lifschultz rely more or less on the hypothesis that coups were occurred on same issues e.g. failure of politicians, military interests and corruptions. They interpret the political situations of Bangladesh in the light of the late 1950s-1970s military intervention theories when there was a different situation as bipolar world was in existence. Among two super powers America and the then Soviet Union were in rivalry position on military intervention issue and one used to use veto power against another in the United Nations. On the other hand, because of changed political scenario with the unipolar world there are risks of losing participation in the UN Peace Keeping Forces at present military intervention faces obstacles. Now-a-days in the changed political situation army commands instigate rival political forces for their own interest and at the same time showed government, people and external factors that they are unwilling to take over, they do it once they are bound to do so when country is at stake as people want get rid of political chaos and anarchy and do welcome military intervention. However, at the same time highest degree of rivalry in political parties helps some highly ambitious people in the top of armed forces for military intervention for their own interest. These developments in politics are yet to address in various research works, which is definitely inadequate for the scholarly studies in this field.
The literature on military intervention first emphasises the unique characteristics of the military establishment, which is considered to be the prime cause of actions of military. Study in this field has been continuing with the developments of military rule in different countries. Although authors like Samuel Huntington thought that military explanations are not sufficient to explain the reasons of military coups. Besides, there is a strong tendency in the literature to overemphasise the organisational aspect of the military. 
Ahamed and Khan evaluate Bangladesh army's colonial legacy and 'apolitical' role while have been claiming that this army functions as the guardian of society. According to Ali Riaz, the most serious flaw in this type of interpretation is drawing the bottom-line that the military is an apolitical organisation while involving beyond their constitutional role. Moreover, this way of argument ignores the fact that the military is an organ of the state. Both Ahamed and Khan inherited these weaknesses from the general line of arguments put forth in the works of Pauker, Pye, Janowitz and Feit. According to them the military organisation can be treated as an independent variable. 
Both Ahamed and Khan agree with Finer, Nordlinger, Dowse and Gutterdige about corporate interests as one of the main factors in military intervention in politics as they considered some case studies of military intervention in different countries during pre and post last two world wars. But it is agreed by other studies that coups cannot be attributed to corporate interests alone. Ahamed rely on two other factors other than corporate interests of army, which are the formation of 'Jatiya Rakhhi Bahini' (National Security Force) and creation of division in army as 'freedom fighters' and 'repatriated'. Khan's opinion is same on this. However, following 1975 coups Bangladesh faced more military interventions, both successful and abortive. In this case, it cannot say that these are only factors or causes to legitimise military intervention.
The main hypothesis of Baladas Ghosal's latest article 'The Anatomy of Military Interventions in Asia: The Case of Bangladesh' is that a new pattern of military involvement in politics is emerging in countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, which will call ‘power without responsibility and accountability’. The article referred 2007 coup as saying, 'the military intervention has both long- and short-term implications for political developments in Third World countries and, thus, requires closer scrutiny and analysis'. The weakness of this research is it could not assess the causes and conditions availing in the country prior to military intervention happened in 2007.
Regarding failure of the military backed government of 2007-08, Maryam Mastoor argues that the lack of public participation and unlawful in its existence as well as unconstitutional status led to its drastic failure made it more vulnerable. But it did not mention about the military government's huge corruption and torture on politicians and people out of grudge. 
According to recent findings of a paper of Florida State University titled 'What Accounts for Military Interventions in Politics: A Cross- National Comparison', it supports socio-economic and political institutionalisation as having the most significant impact on the incidence of coups. It emphasises more on African and Latin American military interventions while could not address real problems of Asian especially Bangladesh context of indigenous style political crises which include dynamism of politics of discord, enmity and mistrust.
Referring 1975 coup, Franda and Maniruzzaman mention that personal motives of coup makers are important factors. Although 2007 military intervention was dependent on army chief's lust to be the President of the country, according to all major stakeholders including two major political parties and local and international newspapers. Lieuwen, Finer and Decalo argues that apart from other factors including political problems, corporate interests, corruption most common issue is individual self-interest which causes military intervention. Followed by 1975 coup there were more coups took place in Bangladesh. These examples are clear indication here that the personal motives theory is not adequate to discover the actual cause of military interventionism in Bangladesh.
As Lifschultz points out the issue of conspiracy against the regime with external involvement, it can be said that the organisational aspect of the military cannot be ignored. It has been seen that military has a monopoly over the means of coercion.
Ahamed, Jahan and Bertocci analyse that failure of politicians or civilian government is one of the principal causes of military intervention. Corruption and economic crisis are discussed here as well. They referred 1975 and 1982 coups in this regard. Military rulers raise this issue in after all interventions. The claim of corruption and inefficiency may be among the causes as all military rulers allege, but these are the only reason is questionable. Before coming to conclusion on this research one should point to the sources of the crisis: class composition of the ruling elites, nature/position of the state in the global economic system. Position of Bangladesh Army and situation of Bangladesh are quite different and unique as deviation from promise and agreements are there. Mutual trust is absent in politics among stakeholders are very visible. It needs to understand complexity of indigenous and different type of Bangladeshi characteristics which was formed and developed with colonial legacy, war of secession and democratic movements. 
Without understanding the context and reality of Bangladesh politics it cannot be drawn outline of research to restructure and reform of governance. Regarding Bangladesh Army, it was established through a war. The armed forces think they are part of it unlike other armies and their sense of belonging is different from other disciplined armies. 
Moudud Ahmed in his book 'Democracy and the Challenge of Development - A Study of Politics and Military Interventions in Bangladesh' mentions about the crisis' (UPL 1995) The power of governing the state moved from the hands of the politicians to the combined class of officers and technocrats - which changed the character and complexion of the administration as a whole'. However he did not cite any reference of corruption of 1982-90 military regimes where he played as an actor.
It seems, as studying, that there are both strengths and weaknesses in the existing literature of military intervention. In most of the cases, research works are undertaken depending on only general aspects of military intervention. Furthermore, sometimes the research is done superficially. This review shows that some relevant and important issues have not been really taken into consideration while pursuing the scholarly studies. Thus, it can be said that the explanations of military intervention in politics of Bangladesh are not adequate.

The theory of Historical Institutionalism

The theory of Historical Institutionalism (HI) was not previously examined in Bangladesh politics with its full potential. Historical Institutionalism (HI) provides a valid and powerful theory to evaluate the democratic development as well as legacies. The central concept of HI is that historic policy choices of institutions impact on future policy. The policy is based on long-range determining effect. Here history matters as ‘path dependency’. Behind the HI approach Steinmo, Thelen and Longstreth (1991) contributed main role. In path dependency past decisions set the context in which contemporary decisions are taken.

The important things for my research project which are to deal with largely with political and cultural institutional factors such as the constitution, distrust and role of the military. Historical institutionalism analysis is useful to analyse Bangladesh politics because of the factors that are clearly subject to path dependency. It is appropriate because these institutions and hindering factors have evolved over time based on complex interacting factors. This is exactly the type of analysis that historical institutionalism was designed for. Bangladesh inherited historical legacy that affects politics and thereby international relations. It has critical juncture as well. For these reasons HI is distinct and most productive approach as theory here.  

For example, people’s rights deprivations in Bangladesh, although begun under colonial era, have shown a high degree of 'path dependent' continuity beyond independence and into the present day. The lack of significant reform is partly due to the incumbent interest groups, namely the ruling party politicians, a section of civil-military bureaucrats close to government's hierarchy, and particular commercial and private interests, which have continued to benefit, despite the creation of mass supporter of democracy and good governance. 

Good governance

There are both positive and negative sides of 'good' governance and that is why I put good under inverted comma. Regarding institutional reform and strengthening of Anti-Corruption Commission are World Bank's agendas although there are criticism which includes imperialism and extension of capitalism. Besides, there should be combination of Bangladeshi indigenous model of democracy with donor agencies popular 'good governance' theory. Good governance has connection with the World Bank prescription and in some cases to disburse aid is conditional. Recently WB withdrew an approved fund worth $3 billion for the construction of the long awaited 'Padma Multi-purpose Bridge' due to alleged involvement of government corruption for what a minister had to resign. Although this was an intervention yet it is acceptable for the sake of sustainable democracy (Daily Star 2012, World Bank 2013). Although Bangladesh opted for Westminster type of democracy, the country has been witnessing 'all powerful Prime Ministerial form of government' which replaced earlier Presidential system of government (Daily Star 2011). To get rid of governance problem Bangladesh needs major structural reform in government sector (UNDP 2012) for its sustainable development and survival of its democracy (Chowdhury 2008).

There are disputes and debates on the theories as well as on the prospects of 'good governance'.

The strengths of the notion of ‘good governance’:

It is supportive and cooperative relationships between government, civil society and the private sector. It is combination of some elements such as participation, accountability, transparency of decision-making, the rule of law and predictability. Moreover, sometimes civil liberties, democratic practices, and access to information are included to the list. As far as the developing countries are concerned, donor assistance to strengthen governance has focused on empowerment and capacity-building. 

According to the World Bank, UNDP, OSCE, USAID, and other donor agencies, good governance consists of political and economic dimensions. The political dimension is divided into four parts: government legitimacy; government accountability; government competence; and human rights or rule of law. On the other hand, the economic dimension has four components: public sector management; organisational accountability; rule of law including contracts, property rights; and transparency includes freedom of information.

The weaknesses of the notion of ‘good governance’:

The frameworks are normative in character.

Dr. Mark Orkin suggests two main reasons for failure of 'good governance'. First, disputes about governance indicators are “endemically ideological.” Measurement and selection of indicators are based on public administration and political frameworks. In this case the same indicator may have divergent interpretations depending on which ideological underpinning is utilised. 

Second, some regimes forced into compliance by trade and aid considerations and they are simultaneously reluctant to produce and disseminate governance indicators that reflect adversely on the progress toward 'good governance'. This reluctance is compounded when indicators are used in cross-country comparisons and rankings. 
Good governance is by and large treated as an instrumental value. According to stakeholders, it is a means by which to achieve a desired ends. Regarding good governance sometimes it means “Governance for poverty reduction” or “Governance for economic development/ efficiency”. 

The Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, issued a major report in 2003 on “Map-Making and Analysis of the Main International Initiatives on Developing Indicators on Democracy and Good Governance.” The project, conducted by a team led by Todd Landman, was commissioned by the Statistical Office of the Commission of the European Communities (EUROSTAT). After completion of the project where different approaches and methodological options available for measuring democracy and good governance, the Final Report acknowledges from the outset, ''however, that good governance remains an “essentially contested concept,” since there is no consensus on its definition or content (Landman et al., p. 1). Different definitions lead to different measures of the concept. In the absence of a clear conceptual framework, controversy surrounds the tools of measurement''.  

The notion of 'good governance' will help in reforming governance of Bangladesh's institutions and organisations in some extent. To place right persons in right place is the issue of the day now in Bangladesh. Since the world it is a global village now it is acceptable to receive assistance and cooperation for reform of the governance flourish democracy. I shall be reasonable and critical as well while do research the issue of 'good governance'. Indeed my emphasis is to find out the root causes where Bangladesh fails again and again to follow the right path of democracy. By this, the research will help to establish right standard way of method where Bangladesh fits in.
What brought army to power?

In brief, this research has different hindrances of different categories:

Institutional hindrances are directly related to path-dependency and institutionalism approach. These include lack of Government neutrality, role of judiciary and law enforcement and de-centralisation.  

Mistrust, suspicion, discord and crisis of identity are historical legacy. Some of them begun from colonial legacy and war of secession and some others started with restoration of democracy in 1991. Followed by 2007 military intervention the political crisis has been created centring 'Caretaker Government' issue again. In Bangladesh politics, individual (agent-centred) hindrances are sometimes related to political decisions and path-dependency as well.

Corruption is an issue which instigates army to take over power. However, these military motivations go against them when their people involve themselves into it. Sometimes, military thinks that it is ‘saving’ democracy by intervening into politics. Military coup of 1982 and 2007-08 military backed rule reinforced this concept.

M Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury is a London-based Researcher as well as Independent Analyst in Politics and International Relations. He is a Former Minister and Adviser to the President of Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]



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