Dhaka, Feb.12 : After canceling his visit to India following the promulgation of Emergency in Bangladesh on January 11, 2007, Army Chief General Moeen U. Ahmed is all set to arrive in India on February 24 on an official visit.
Visits of armed forces chiefs are generally not given the importance attached to cabinet minister-level visits. But visits by a Bangladesh or a Pakistan army chief to India and vice-versa are considered important. .
The Bangladesh army chief's visit to India would be seen in terms of relations between two countries which has been lukewarm to acrimonious for most of the period after the assassination the country's founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975.
The visit must also be seen in the perspective of the current political situation in Bangladesh. The country continues to be run by a Caretaker Government backed by the army. It is, in fact, referred to as the "army-backed Caretaker Government", and neither the Government nor the army has made any serious efforts to deny it.
The existing Caretaker Government headed by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed as the Chief Advisor (CA) or de facto Prime Minister, has saved the country from imminent political and social turmoil.
Here, Gen. Moeen and his senior army colleagues were the key players in snuffing out a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) engineered coup. Obviously, some senior army officers were removed from their service, but not proceeded against any further. An astute move, it helped maintain stability in the Bangladesh army.
Gen. Moeen has come out more than once with his vision of a stable Bangladesh. He spoke of a democracy with Bangladeshi characteristics.
Analysts have viewed this as a recipe for a National Government. He also helped return the country's focus to commemorate the 1971 war of Liberation, something that the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) coalition government was trying to almost obliterate from the modern history of the country.
The army-backed Caretaker Government also brought some balance in Dhaka's relations with New Delhi and Islamabad. During their 2001-2005 rule the BNP- JEI Government adopted a policy that brought bilateral relations between the countries to one of its worst phases, if not the worst.
The importance of this one action, under a very difficult and challenging situation, must be well appreciated. The kind of Bangladesh-Pakistan unstated federal relationship that the BNP-JEI government was working towards could have seriously unhinged Indo-Pak relations that was being tried.
The BNP-JEI government gave Pakistan's spy agency a free run in the country in their anti-India terrorist operations. The terrorist network set up by the ISI in Bangladesh is still targeting India.
Gen. Moeen should be given a lot credit for seriously going after the home bred Islamic extremist organizations like the Jamaat-ul-Muslim Bangladesh (JMB). The JMB grew under the tutelage of the BNP politicians.
Despite the honorable intentions of the army-backed Caretaker Government, Bangladesh is still not out of the political woods.
For one, the government is under pressure from both inside the country and from the international community to hold free and fair elections soonest possible.
More importantly, their efforts to bring the corrupt politicians and businessman to book, and to break the politician-bureaucrat-businessman nexus, received a serious setback with the dismissal of the corruption case against former Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. The court ruled that a law enacted cannot be applied retrospectively. The Emergency Power Rule (EPR) under which the corruption cases were being tried becomes null and void in crimes committed earlier. The main culprits, therefore, could also get away.
The Caretaker Government, along with the army, is trying to exit from the present situation. They would like to hand over the affairs of state to a political system. But how to do this smoothly is the question.
Efforts to break up the two main political parties, the BNP and the Awami League, to form a new party have apparently failed. There is a fear if the emergency is lifted and the political parties are allowed to come out before the corrupt politicians are locked away in jail, that the problems besetting the country before will resume.
According to political circles in Dhaka, the formation of an interim national government remains very much in consideration.
The names reportedly short-listed to head the proposed National Government are Colonel (Retired) Oli Ahmed of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP); Dr. Badruddoza Choudhry of the Bikalpadhara Bagladesh (BDP) and Amir Hossain Amu of the Awami League (AL).
All three are veteran politicians with long experience. Oli Ahmed was a founder member of BNP, but broke away from the party in 2005. Dr. Choudhry, a former BNP nominated President of Bangladesh and a renowned physician, resigned in 2004 and formed his own party. Amir Hussain Amu is a veteran Awami Leaguer who is not inclined to leave his party but wants to topple Sheikh Hasina and take over the Awami League. .
All three have been in close touch with the army since the dissolution of the BNP-JEI Government.
Voices are rising in Dhaka against the formation of a National Government.
While Gen. Moeen would certainly discuss the political issues while in India, he and his Indian interlocutors are expected concentrate more on bilateral relations and revitalize the almost dormant military relations between the two countries. This should be the central point of the visit.