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OP-ED: The general in his labyrinth

  • Published at 03:30 pm February 14th, 2021
Army Chief General Aziz Ahmed
File photo of Chief of Army Staff of the Bangladesh Army General Aziz Ahmed ISPR

A bit of sympathy for General Aziz

Like many other Bangladeshis, I initially watched the Al Jazeera investigation focusing on Gen Aziz and his family with shock and horror. His efforts on behalf of his brothers suggested that the corruption that is endemic in Bangladesh is at its strongest at the highest echelons of society.

Following that initial reaction, however, once my initial outrage had passed, I had time to think about this matter more objectively; objectivity that gave way to compassion. In our rush to judge Gen Aziz, we may be overlooking how this case, potentially criminal as it may be, is not as easily slotted into existing categories of corrupt conduct.

Had the considerable efforts Gen Aziz put into securing a false passport and setting up of business fronts abroad simply been to enrich himself, I would have little sympathy for him, but the potential offenses in this case were motivated by Gen Aziz’s desire to protect his brothers.

None of us is perfect, and we all have a case or two in our families of individuals becoming derailed or seeking a path in life that they should not have, whether by choice or misfortune.

When this happens it is difficult to harden our hearts and forget our siblings or sons or daughters and abandon them to the vicissitudes of fate, saying, “They are suffering karma-fal,” and must learn their lesson.

At the age of 73, I have brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren. Should one of them go astray in life as did Gen Aziz’s brothers, I suspect that I too would likely seek every mean at my disposal to save them. It is a familial instinct that comes naturally to me as I suspect it does for many others as well.

The report from Al Jazeera does not make it clear if Gen Aziz’s parents are still alive, and if they are, perhaps they are so enfeebled by age that Gen Aziz (although not the eldest of the brothers) has assumed the role of protector in the family, and feels the need to shield his brothers even though they are a menace to society.

As to why they turned out the way they did, we do not have any clear answers. It may lie in the fact that they had a hard and destitute upbringing, or in some innate weakness of character that is incorrigible.

What I do know is that in life we are often the victim of circumstance, and these circumstances force our actions, whether good or otherwise.

While I don’t know if Gen Aziz is pained by his brothers’ downfall, it is clear that he is motivated by love for siblings who come from the same mother. 

What stress and anguish Gen Aziz must have felt as he racked his brains for what he could do to save his brothers. There are few of us who have not experienced these feelings ourselves. 

The brotherly urge that prompted Gen Aziz to do whatever was possible on his part only looks natural and sensible from his point of view.

The difference is that Gen Aziz, given his place and power in society, could take meaningful actions to save his brothers, and it is here I think where much of our outrage and anger originates, in the inherent inequity of the situation, and that is entirely understandable.

Capital punishment cannot and will not prevent crime in society. Life imprisonment to recognize and realize the implication of a bad deed seems a better option. 

I only hope and pray that there will be a peaceful solution to this unfortunate situation.

Sultana Nahar is a practising advocate in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and the founder and proprietor of Hermitage Guesthouse in Srimangal.

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