“Chess is a war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.”
~Bobby Fischer, World Chess Champion.
Sheikh Hasina Wajed is known not to accept any objections or opposition, so much so that any form an opposition has disappeared out of sight from the Bangladeshi political stage. She and her party, the Awami League (AL), have always faced allegations of concerted persecution of their opponents. If there was any shred of doubt in anyone’s mind that this could perhaps be a misconstrued, skewed image of Sheikh Hasina and the AL, the farce which took place in the name of “parliamentary elections” on December 30, 2018, should clear up any such doubts. The AL has officially evolved into a vengeful political and social entity, which by hook or by crook must reign by itself and for itself in a country with a population of over 168 million people.
Perhaps many would argue that the AL has always been that way, that Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had started the autocratic trends back in the early 1970s, not long after the liberation of Bangladesh. The seeds of a one-party, authoritarian regime were planted in the political canvas of the new country in the name of stability and progress. During the very infancy of Bangladesh, at a time when people had just experienced war, genocide and mass famine, Sheikh Mujib imposed his one party, absolute control over the press and his fellow citizens. In an editorial dated January 26, 1975, the New York Times stated: “Sheikh Mujib gets total authority over Bangladesh.”
This explains to a great extent where the extreme autocratic, controlling nature of Sheikh Hasina’s disposition and policies originate from. However, history tells us that Sheikh Mujib’s authoritarianism pales in comparison to that of his daughter, who has turned a country which is constitutionally called The People’s Republic of Bangladesh into her personal chessboard, aided by her pawns, her rooks, her knights and her bishops, called the Awami League and its cronies, whereas she obviously holds the position of both the queen and the king.
The revenge spree of Sheikh Hasina’s chess game has resulted in the executions, imprisonments, lawsuits, assassinations of character and expulsions from the country of anyone who dares to oppose her.
Khaleda Zia, the Chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been Sheikh Hasina’s arch enemy for decades and has been suffering in a dilapidated jail cell on unproven charges of corruption since February of 2018. The conditions of Mrs.Zia’s imprisonment defy the Geneva Conventions by far but having completely handicapped the BNP leadership, and party as a whole, Hasina knows that there is no one to challenge her on any grounds for fear of their own lives and those of their families.
In 2009, Sheikh Hasina decided to establish the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), which in fact is a domestic war crimes tribunal to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in 1971 by the Pakistan army and its local collaborators, notably the paramilitary forces of Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams during the Liberation War of Bangladesh. In the Urdu press, Sheikh Hasina is described as “Quatil Hasina,” in other words “Assassinator Hasina,” indicating that she has been on a killing spree targeting the opposition and those who seem to have a soft corner for Pakistan.
The devastation caused by the Liberation War is by no means forgotten for Bangladeshis, but Sheikh Hasina has transformed it into her personal vendetta against Pakistan. For centuries, Machiavellian political leaders have utilized hatred to create a common link to unify people in order to distract them from the corruption, illegalities, false flag operations, etc. of the leadership. Pakistan has been serving that exact purpose for Hasina, her party and cronies. Anyone who opposes the Awami League is first deemed to be a “Razakar” (which has become synonymous in common Bengali with “traitor” in favor of Pakistan) before being taken into custody, tortured and executed. It is the instillation of the “Razakar” ideology amongst the masses which has allowed Sheikh Hasina to portray herself as the only leader to be able to guarantee a free and independent Bangladesh. After all, she is the daughter of “The Father Of The Nation,” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and freedom and liberty from oppressive control are only possible vis a vis the Sheikh lineage.
Bangladesh suffered a great deal before, during, and after the Liberation War and no one denies this fact. However, to establish the ICT and try members of the BNP and the Jamaat-E-Islami on anything short of “beyond a reasonable doubt” more than 40 years after the independence of Bangladesh was perplexing. Furthermore, the testimonies of the witnesses would have been dismissed in any legitimate court of law.
However, what the execution of these opposition members did was serve to clear up Sheikh Hasina’s chessboard of one set of enemies in order to move on to the next set. The imprisonment of Khaleda Zia and thousands of members of the BNP served to clear up another set of enemies from the chessboard.
As though eliminating the opposition and its supporters were not enough, Sheikh Hasina ensured that the judicial branch remains politicized and under her wing. This meant arresting and torturing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Surendra Kumar Sinha, based on unfounded corruption charges. Chief Justice Sinha was forced to leave his country and his prestigious position and currently lives in exile in the United States. His crime? He headed a team of a seven-member Supreme Court bench to unanimously reject the 16th. amendment of the constitution of Bangladesh, one passed by the Sheikh Hasina government. This amendment gave the Jatiya Sangsad (The National Assembly) powers to remove judges in the event of allegations of misconduct. We all know that “misconduct” in this regard is synonymous with opposing Sheikh Hasina. By forcing Chief Justice to leave his life in Bangladesh, Hasina had successfully removed yet another opposing piece from her chess board.
The portrayal of Sheikh Hasina as a forward-thinking, visionary leader is, in reality, false. She is by all accounts someone who is insistent on fighting battles and demons of the past, having understood that it is politically lucrative to do so. The more Pakistan is vilified, the more rhetoric of national pride and nationalism, The Father Of the Nation, the sacrifices she and her family have made for the freedom of Bangladeshis is compelling to the masses. She has understood that in order to continuously evoke nationalistic sentiment and glorify her father, she needs to bring up the past on an everyday basis.
Sheikh Hasina’s chessboard strategy of removing opponents has worked in her favor until now. It helps to clear the path through executions and imprisonments, hold farcical “elections” and declare oneself the autocratic leader of a one-party system. But, as history has proven time and time again, this demonstration of extreme control on freedoms is the stuff that coups and revolutions are made of. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” This is inevitable in Bangladesh.