18 Nov 2008, 0447 hrs IST,
A new pattern of military involvement in politics is emerging in Pakistan and Bangladesh, which could be called "power without accountability",
A trend that bodes ill for their infant and fragile democracies. In Bangladesh, the military intervened ostensibly to correct the mess, to use army language, by propping up its cohorts in the form of a caretaker government.
Policy directions and actions of the new government are determined essentially by the armed forces. The Pakistani army has spread its tentacles in every department of the government and society and continues to exert its power in crucial matters of the state including sponsoring terror networks in the neighbourhood, no matter whether Pakistan remains a failed state and dangerous even for its own people.
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The Bangladeshi military is fast imitating the Pakistani model, albeit in a different form, to place itself as an arbiter in each and every aspect of social, political and economic life of the country. Like in Pakistan, the army in Bangladesh does not necessarily have to come directly to power. It can wield effective power even while remaining in the background and constantly destabilise politics and deprive democratic forces the necessary political space.
The military-backed caretaker government took over on January 11, 2007 from its troubled constitutional government after unprecedented violence and political consternation. Since then, Bangladeshis have lived under a state of emergency: their constitutional rights have been suspended, civil liberties limited, and hundreds of thousands - ranging from former prime ministers to ad hoc peddlers - have been arrested under the excuse of "fighting corruption".
Instead of fulfilling a promise to establish better, truer democracy, the unelected government helped the process of the politicisation of the army blurring the lines between military and civilian administration. Islamism is a rising threat in Bangladesh and the present government has not taken any meaningful measures to combat the scourge. Instead of containing Islamism and paving the way for the blossoming of democracy, the current arrangement has not only reduced the space for the more established and relatively more secular parties but also helped to consolidate and strengthen Islamist movements, particularly the Jama'at and its ancillary organisations, which had always maintained close links with the military establishments.
The Bangladeshi jihadi outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI ) is suspected to be involved in last month's blasts in Assam. The HuJI is thought to maintain close ties to the Indian Mujahideen (IM), an indigenous terror group that has claimed responsibility for most of the recent bomb blasts across India.
In Pakistan, the victory of the two major political parties in the last elections and the formation of a civilian government, the exit of Musharraf and the seeming neutrality of the army chief, General Pervez Kiyani, in recent political developments, might have given a temporary respite to the country's fledgling democracy. But, the challenge of exercising civilian supremacy over the military still remains a formidable task, and the prospect of the military taking centre stage again cannot be ruled out as the political parties struggle hard to continue their marriage of convenience.
Even while a civilian government is in power, the army has since long established its supremacy in the political process and in foreign policymaking by its right to suspend an elected prime minister and keeping complete control over certain policy decisions like Kashmir, Afghanistan and nuclear weapons. Its intelligence unit, the ISI, continues to use Islamic terrorism as a foreign and defence policy tool and resists any kind of civilian oversight of its harmful and clandestine activities that have often boomeranged on Pakistan and wrecked its social, political and economic fabric.
The Pakistani military enjoys all the benefits and privileges of power and takes no responsibility for the direction in which Pakistan is headed. At every stage in Pakistan, the military subverted the process of democracy and rule of law, even though the political parties and groups may have contributed their own share in paving the way for the military for having such a critical role through their sheer opportunism and short-sightedness, and in using the military to promote their own goals vis-à-vis other parties.
The armed forces are major players in real estate, agribusiness and several other industries. The empire includes banks, cable TV companies, insurance agencies, sugar refineries, private security firms, schools, airlines, cargo services and textile factories. For instance, the Fauji Foundation is a "welfare trust" run by the defence ministry and spans 15 business enterprises. It provides jobs for retired officers, pays few taxes, and channels profits into a fund that is intended to benefit retired military personnel. And this is just one of the giant military-run foundations set up decades ago.
In Bangladesh, while the local elections were held in August and the Awami League swept the polls, the outcome of the scheduled national elections in December this year is still quite uncertain. If at all the current experiment of social and political engineering by the Bangladeshi military succeeds, though doubtful, it can always take credit for cleaning the mess. The responsibility for the failure can always be passed on to the caretaker government whose civilian facade has been kept deliberately to confuse and hoodwink the domestic constituency and the international community. Such a 'rule without accountability' obviously has both long- and short-term implications for political developments in developing countries.
The writer is visiting senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
Source: Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Opinion/Editorial/TOP_ARTICLE__Ask_No_Questions/articleshow/3725499.cms