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OP-ED: A few questions for Al Jazeera’s investigative unit

  • Published at 07:46 pm February 4th, 2021
Representational image BIGSTOCK

The documentary film missed a few things

I was asked recently by many of my political friends on why I have been so silent on Al Jazeera’s recent documentary “All the Prime Minister’s Men,” which ends up labelling Bangladesh as a “mafia state.”

I personally chose to remain silent till now because any work that is born out of an apparent pathological dislike for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina does not deserve a serious response, in my estimation.

Yet, it seems like the docufilm has received quite a lot of traction and it now deserves a serious response.

So, let me start with few facts and questions that the film has missed:

Missed fact/questions 1

Mr Haris Ahmed is a serious criminal absconding justice. No debate with that inference. 

But, in the docufilm, it is made to appear that he is extremely close to the prime minister and the government.

In fact, in one of his rash statements to his colleagues, Haris Ahmed said that he can make ministers dance to his tune. This begs a few questions:

If Haris Ahmed is so powerful and influential and so close to political decision-makers in the highest office, then why has he been absconding for 25 years?

Why was it not possible for him to get a presidential pardon in 1996, 2009, or even when his brother assumed the post of the army chief in 2018?

Does that not suggest that his linkages to policy-makers are far weaker than the original inference of the docufilm? All these questions are also applicable for his older brother Anis Ahmed too.

Missed fact/questions 2

A simple picture from 1994 where Haris Ahmed was standing behind then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina is used to make an inference that he was pivotal to the prime minister’s security in the early 1990s and is a close confidante. But is that really a legitimate inference?

During the recent ongoing drive against fake Covid-19 results, we saw how a conman like Md Shahed -- managing director of Regent Group -- managed to have pictures with almost every influential person in Bangladesh. Does that really mean Shahed is their confidante?

Moreover, if Sheikh Hasina did rely so much on Haris Ahmed for her security in the early 1990s, then why did he start absconding from 1996?

What made him not use his alleged political clout to grant himself a presidential pardon when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was in government between 1996 and 2001? 

Missed fact/questions 3

Haris Ahmed also claimed in some of the videos that he has a very influential brother in Bangladesh who can get anything done. In my personal experience -- especially during my 13 years in London -- I have met so many NRBs who boasted of their political connection in Bangladesh and how they have to only pull a few strings to get anything done in Bangladesh.

Isn’t it the traditional trait of all con-men in Europe to boast these fake connections? I personally met a young guy in London at my university who claimed he is the grandson of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Knowing that he is outright bluffing, I had to hide my own identity so that I don’t embarrass him in front of his friends.

So, Haris Ahmed boasting what he can get done in Bangladesh and whom he knows very intimately is hardly evidence to prove he commands serious personal political or administrative authority in Bangladesh.

Missed facts/questions 4

Joseph Ahmed, the youngest brother of the general received a presidential pardon in 2018 -- a few months before he assumed his duty. Joseph, charged with the murder of Mustafa, was arrested in 1995 and was in prison till 2018. Out of the 23 years he was in prison, Awami League was in government for more than 14 years. This also begs one question:

If the Ahmed clan is indeed so powerful and close to AL, then why suffer in prison for 14 years? It is also worth stating that his presidential pardon only shorted his tenure in imprisonment by roughly 11 months as he was scheduled to be released in either late 2018 or early 2019. But yes, one can argue that he did receive some favours from the state.  

Missed fact/questions 5

Before Gen Aziz Ahmed, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has chosen some of the most brilliant army officers for the top post such as General Md Adbul Mubeen, General Iqbal Karim Bhuiyan, and General Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Haq to run the armed forces.   

So, is it not possible that General Aziz Ahmed might have simply been an outlier in the selection process? Can we seriously expect developing countries to not occasionally select a general who does not live up to expectations?  

Missed fact/questions 6

General Aziz Ahmed highlighted that he is thinking of his retirement seriously and that when he retires he simply wants to travel Europe with limited considerations. So, his post-retirement plan, if taken seriously, merits one more essential question.

Is that really the post retirement plan of a general who has allegedly created a “mafia state” in Bangladesh?

Is that what historical experiences suggest from countries like Pakistan, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe where generals have a much stronger grip on state power?

Of course, one piece of evidence that does require serious investigation which is:

Haris Ahmed and Anis Ahmed -- two absconding criminals wanted for murder are openly attending a high-society wedding of their nephew. And the investigative report is very correct that the pictures of those absconding brothers are jaw-dropping and it deserves a serious investigation concerning any associated misuse of power.

Let me conclude by saying that the questions noted above are not rhetorical, but genuine inquiries that Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit must answer.

If the documentary is seen in its entirety with all the loose ends, at best, it deserves the title “All the General’s Men.”

But then why not go for such a title for such an investigative piece? Why try to exaggerate the findings to derive far-fetched inferences that are simply not proven by the rhetoric?

Can we then speculate that the piece was first and foremost intended as a hit job on Awami League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina?

I rest my case.

Dr Ashikur Rahman is Member of the Executive Committee of Bangladesh Awami Jubo League. He can be reached at [email protected]

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