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Islam and Politics ( 3 Jan 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Bangladesh’s Fledgling Democracy


By Rakibul Hasan

January 02, 2014

THE military role acting to ‘safeguard the national interests’ is shown the most common justification for such intervention. Numerous commentators on the role of the military in politics have observed the tendency of armed forces to justify their intervention in terms of the national interests, and thereby to identify themselves with the desiderata of nationhood. To legitimize their intervention, military regimes commonly stated that their role is only a preparatory or transitory (but entirely necessary) stage along the road to a full democratic political system, and promise an early return to the civilian rule (e.g. Bangladesh In 2007). In some cases, military rule has been justified as necessary for the regeneration of the polity to allow for a stable and effective rule. Military regimes have even portrayed their role as that of ‘democratic tutor’ (Huntington 1968; Nordlinger 1977: 204-5).

When the politicians, whose job is to run the state-affair, fail miserably to perform their duties there is total anarchy in the society and the people expect that some saviour or messiah should come from somewhere to save the people and the state. It is only then the Generals with the covert and overt support of some internal (businessmen and politicians in opposition parties) and external powers (aid giving countries and agencies) stage a bloody or bloodless coups de tat to take over the state power. People, in general, feel happy and relieved. The come out on the streets saying hello and clapping to welcome the tanks and guns. Some criminals and corrupt politicians and businessmen are arrested and put on trial in military courts or specially set up tribunals. Immediately the anarchy is gone and law and order are restored. People go back to their normal life. In Bangladesh due to the military shadow over the democracy, many of the retired generals are honourably rehabilitated as politicians, ambassadors, businessmen and in so other institutions and professions. In 2007, during the military-backed care taker government, the foreign investment decrease significantly and the international pressure increase.

Control by civilians present two challenges. For mature democracies like the west, where civilian control has historically been strong and military establishments have focused on external defence only. And the fledgling democracy like Bangladesh, with scant experiences in combining popular government and civilian control, face tougher challenges. They must ensure that the military will not attempt a coup d’état, or otherwise defy civilian authority. In many former autocracies, the military has concentrated on internal order or been deeply involved in politics, sometimes preying on the society rather than protecting it.

For democracy, civilian control, control of the military by civilian officials elected by the people — is fundamental in Bangladesh. Civilian control allows a nation to base its values, institutions, and practices on the popular will rather than on the choices of military leaders, whose outlook by definition focuses on the need for internal order and external security. Individual freedom and the civil liberty are the highest values in the democratic societies. On the other hand, the basic purpose of the military government is to wage armed conflicts and military institutions are designed for violence and coercion. Authority in the military emphasizes hierarchy so that individuals and units act according to the intentions of commanders. So they can succeed under the very worst of physical circumstances and mental stresses and values like courage, honesty, sacrifice, integrity, loyalty and service are regarded as their guiding principles in their functional behaviors.

In Bangladesh, civil-military relations are often injured by corruption, military interference in politics, failure to specify limits to the role of the military in state affairs, lack of transparency and accountability in military affairs. Tragically, the principle reasons lie in the nature of or our politics, which is characterized by deadly confrontations, revenge, and power politics among major political parties. And ultimately these factors give rise to a dysfunctional democratic order with an abysmal record of institution building. Bangladesh should prioritize human security over the traditional security. Parliament must make the military accountable because the integration of civil-military relation is vital for socio-economic development. Military needs reorganization through these steps. (1) Control of policy and strategic decision making: there are some factors like structure, organization, equipment, training and employment of military forces are required to make the force professional and participation of the forces ought to be ensured through Chiefs of the three forces(Army, Navy and Air forces). (2) Control of military procurement: It requires structuring the process of procurement of military armament and equipment that ensures that the forces are equipped for the tasks and functions they are set to perform. The process will tackle the recruitment based on political orientation.

(3) Budgetary control: This control ensures that demands for finance and budget should be based on logical and practical grounds. And the fund will be spent through accountability and transparency. Thus the extra budget might be redirected for human development. (4) Control of higher commands: It includes the army divisions, independent brigades, naval and air bases. The process for this must be structured to ensure participation by the chiefs of three forces.

Being a soft state and four-side bordered by Indian territories, Bangladesh should follow the small and modern military forces. It also requires relation with regional powers (like China, Pakistan and the southeast Asia etc) to balance against Indian hegemony and must concentrate on non-traditional security.

Rakibul Hasan is a Research Assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS)