"General Moeen U. Ahmed discusses the countries direction for the first time in an exclusive interview with Global Bangladesh:
1. GB: First I would like to ask you a question about the Wall Street Journal article on 4th of June 2007. Your Reaction please.
General: The way portrayed the headline, one would think Army would takeover the power of Bangladesh; though, there are lots of truths in that article as it relates to other issues. For example, the two dominating parties sold parliament seats to deep-pocketed businessmen, used criminal gangs to silence critics, and funded election campaigns through extortion. I would like to make it amply clear that Army had or has no intention to takeover power. We could have done that on January 11 if we had intended to. We want to see sustainable democracy in Bangladesh where people from all walks of life get involved in a pure democratic society. It may be mentioned that some of the information used in the article were not updated.
2. GB: You have intervened to abort a flawed Jan 22 election, the U.S. and United Nations both offered tacit support. Knowing U.S foreign policy do you think U.S, UN will remain supportive to the last?
General: The people of Bangladesh had given opportunity to the politicians for three decades. The politicians, on the contrary, deprived the people and brought the nation to a point of no return. We had no option but to save the nation to avoid anymore bloodshed; perhaps a civil war. We are working tirelessly to bring about law and order and eradicate corruption. We definitely need global cooperation in transforming Bangladesh into a transparent nation. So long we work for the right cause as we are doing now in an appropriate manner, I expect for sure, international support along with U.S and UN will continue to be with us.
3. GB: Defense Ranking? You are a General today. We understand this ranking was supposed to be formulated years ago? Please tell us what it stalled so many years and what are the advantage and why within three months of your emergency power?
General: When Bangladesh Army’s Organogram was made in 1972, total strength was about 57,000 with the Chief of Army Staff of the rank of Lieutenant General. Now the strength of the Army is approximately 1,45,000, which is two and a half times larger than before. Don’t you think it was a step long overdue? Previous political governments had only talked about the issue but never materialized it. As regards the advantage, Bangladesh Army is one of the largest contributors of UN Peacekeepers but we don’t have a single Force Commander as most of them are of the rank of Lieutenant General. Now, at least, we have an opportunity to compete.
4. GB: Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said: CTG (Care Taker Govt) very quickly squandering the goodwill. However, “At this point, it’s quite clear: The army is running the country. And they’re making it pretty clear they don’t intend to leave anytime soon.” As a General of this CTG, I am sure you are playing a key role in the war against corruption. Please advise what is the role you wish to play in future?
General: All the evidences of Bangladesh politics, point to compelling conclusion that the political parties divided the nation to a dangerous threshold that had no recourse but to confront a civil war. We thought if we were to save the nation, we need to recognize and build our relationship with one another. I wish I could play the role of helping to share each others burdens and strengths that has been apparent from primitive times -- when human clung together as mates, then families, then a community, which ultimately created a society and a country. Today some people talk about CTG activities, I watch ‘Tritio Matra’, and everyone seems to talk about moral justice. My wife and I used to think why Allah is not intervening? Doesn’t He see the injustice to human being by another human being? It is no one else’s responsibility but our own. All I wished - Almighty Allah would give us the strength to help a legitimate government to do good for the people. Military and other law enforcing agencies cannot do it alone. We, all together, need to build a stronger and prosperous Bangladesh. It’s my promise.
5. GB: Any ambition for becoming President or Prime Minister after you retire from Army?
General: I have already made it clear to the nation that I have no political aspiration. I am looking forward to my retired life to do something for the talented orphans of our country; pick them up and give them state of art education so that they don’t have to look back any more. I also intend to write a book which I have already named, ‘Way to Peace (Shantir Pathe)’.
6. GB: If you hadn’t taken the bold step what do you think country would have been today?
General: If I am not wrong the country was heading for a human disaster. Even being a military man, I could not conceive the nature of inhuman killings that the country had witnessed. All I can say that there would have been more bloodshed, more damage would occur to Bangladesh for next decades or so. If the January 22 elections had gone ahead, there would have been a civil-war-like situation where Bangladesh would have faced a situation similar to that of Somalia.
7. GB: CTG advising the nation to hold the election within 18 (eighteen) months. Do you think CTG will be able to complete election task in eighteen months or by Sept 2008? Personally, how you think 85% corrupt character can be corrected in just eighteen months?
General: We are looking forward to next election in 2008 once voter list is finalized and the candidates understand the terms and conditions of public trust. As professional soldiers, when called upon, we are duty bound to help the CTG to develop the country’s election system and oversee its systematic process. I am sure CTG will be able to hold election by December 2008 with our assistance. Presently, we are trying to restore law and order, eliminate corruption and shape up the environment for free and fair electoral process. As regard elimination of corruption, the process has already started, but it would definitely take time to bring about justice for everybody. I am sure, any transparent government, will pursue the aspirations of the people in right spirit in due course of time.
8. GB: Political ambitions are not dead among politician and lately we see many growing interest are popping up. Sheikh Hasina and or Khaleda may also considering reforming of their party and re-enter in politics. Do you think people will support them after so many allegations against them?
General: One can enter politics in many ways and can control politics either being in fore-front or from behind the scenes. The most important thing in politics is the popular support. If people are with you, you can do things directly or indirectly. As to who will be in front or behind, I cannot say. Let the time, people and democracy decide.
9.GB: President Ziaur Rahman was an idol for Bangladesh agricultural revolution from which the nation still reaping the benefit. Would you consider a similar revolutionary drive for vegetation and establishing adequate storage facilities so that all year round farmers and nation benefits.
General: Indeed! I believe that we have no choice but to make that green revolution again. This is also true that if we can provide efficient and effective storage system, our products can bring market stability or price control. I personally feel that, it is absolutely important for us to establish immediate agro task force for green revolution drive along with adequate storage facilities for year round market management. (Bangladesh has increased its food production over the past 28 years, from 11.8 million metric ton in 1974 to more than 39 million metric ton in 2003, with an average annual increase of 8.2% approximately)
10. GB: You just said market stability and your green revolution. I am sure you understand that the result definitely not helps immediate problem but today’s concern question how you are going to control price, which may go against your popularity?
General: I myself wonder with the market condition. It is not quite out of control and CTG trying its best to control the prices in market place. However, at the end, it is all supply and demand. Inadequate supply, international price hike and freight market situation are the main reasons for such unstable market condition. To cope with the uncertainties and in order to make timely decisions, the Government needs to have an effective global market intelligence which should be able to deal with the projected supply and demand situation.
11. GB: Are you confident that charges against political leaders will eventually be brought against Political leaders?
General: Yes, I firmly believe so. Our job is to maintain the law and order and bring corrupt people to justice. It is the judiciary, who will prove them guilty, if they are. The corrupt people must be brought under trial and should not be denied a fair treatment.
12. GB: Why then it’s taking so long to bring corruption charges against Sheikh Hasina and or Khaleda Zia and others.
General: I think that the outfit of our NBR (or Assets Evaluation Outfit) is very small. You might have known the condition of DUDUK (Anti Corruption Commission) when CTG took over. Also, you are aware of the fact that, there are serious shortages of experts in DUDUK, Police, NBR etc. Chairman of DUDUK is working determinedly to address those issues. DUDUK laws were faulty and had to be amended. Thereby, the process has become somehow slow. Again because of the confidentiality of information being handled by these organizations, some of these outfits need to have a group of reliable staffs to work on the sensitive issues. While planning and staffing such organizations, we also need to keep in mind about the active and passive planted members of the previous Government. Thus the selection process also gets lengthy. Effective but small and impartial teams will be able to deliver the results expected out of them.
13. GB: Sir ! Let me ask you about growing terrorism question in our region. Have you ever thought, the United States created this problem from which today Bangladesh experiencing difficulties couping with terrorism threat ? Because the United States abandoned Afghan mujahideen freedom fighters to their own devices after Soviet withdrawal ? I am sure that you need help to root out the terrorism out of our region. Do you think the United States will help you with fund,resources and tactical support ?
General: During Taliban rule, Mujahideens from all over the world concentrated in Afghanistan to assist and fight for them. After the Afghan war most of the foreign Mujahideen went back to their countries including Bangladeshis to Bangladesh. The so-called Afghan-Bangladeshi mujahideen returned to their village where some of them found themselves unwanted and some of them subsequently got engaged in terrorism. I am sure that the United States is aware of the situation and we are looking forward to work together in order to uproot terrorism from Bangladesh.
14. GB: The media and various information source accounting the corruption of former political leaders, prime ministers and public official stole some $ 1.5 billion dollar/annually . Summing up media calculation indicates that about $ 15 billion had vanished in the last 15 years. Do you think it’s possible that much money vanished out of a poor country?
General: I cannot vouch for the accuracy of $1.5 billion or 15 billion, but I know that millions of dollars have disappeared abroad into offshore tax shelters and investments through front companies and/or third-party names.
15. GB: What makes you believe that Bangladesh will have an election and will flourish with functioning democracy in place in the 18 months ?
General: It is a very loaded question. Frankly we are working tirelessly to bring a pure and sustainable democracy in Bangladesh, the rest is Allah’s will. The environment in Bangladesh is not fully conducive to real parliamentary democracy, as it is understood in the West. But at the same time, the demands of the world community and aspirations of our own people, make it imperative that we put our sincerest efforts towards this. I do not know anyone in Bangladesh who thinks that we shouldn't have democracy. So irrespective of one's views and with the passage of time; if we can establish the conditions for the very essence of democracy- which means beginning with the grass roots where there is none today; I think we have done more works towards achieving that goal. What we have to eradicate is the parody of democracy that we have suffered, which was camouflage for the systematic plunder of the country by the corrupted and political elites. We should hold local elections as early as possible. This will plant the seeds and start the process of establishing the democratic foundations for a new Bangladesh.
16. GB: Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury, a retired lieutenant-general who was appointed in February to head the country’s powerful new Anti-Corruption Commission, calculates that majority of Bangladeshi politicians and officials are corrupt. He is out to clean up the corruption. CTG making massive anti corruption drive putting every stage of people in jail. Lets assume, Six month down the line corruption down by 50% but no DFI, no domestic investment, no money circulation and consumer price on the rise, no jobs, what would you tell people then ?
General: We do not expect that to happen. If we nurture a fruit tree some day the tree will bear fruits. I am not an economist, rather a career army officer. To my understanding, rate of corruption and investment (DFI or, domestic) are inversely proportionate. History also contemplates the issue. We look forward to the World Media for projecting the right picture of the country to the world so that foreign companies are encouraged to come forward with DFI. Domestic investment, as a result of such acceleration, would increase automatically".