Bangladesh Army in the U.N. peacekeeping and intervention in politics 2007-2008; A Personal Perspective

M Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury

June 12, 2017

Abstract

This study contributes to current debates concerning the role of the United Nations and peacekeeping in the military intervention that occurred in Bangladesh in 2007. The research aims to provide insights into that military intervention. It explores how military intervention took place in 2007 in circumstances in which it was almost impossible since the world powers were against such intervention. It will argue that a letter issued by the UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka, Renata Lok Dessallien, paved the way for the military coup. Evidence that the Army Chief, General Moeen U Ahmed, was looking for just such a letter will be cited because it contained the threat of stopping Bangladesh’s participation in the UN Peacekeeping Force. This threat united the army factions for the Army Chief’s coup plan. The research describes how Renata’s letter overshadowed the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s original letter, which was issued for democracy, and how it trapped the world body into supporting a military coup. Finally, this article will conclude that the evidence suggests that the UN letter issued by Renata Lok Dessallien was a fake and that the UN and the western world, including the US, had to retreat from their support for military intervention, after two years of army rule in Bangladesh.

‘The author in Bangabhaban, the Bangladesh Presidential Palace cum Office with the Bangladeshi Nobel Laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus, famous French footballer Zinedine Zidane and army officers loyal to their chief instead of the President and Chief Adviser, whom they had to be Military Secretary to the President (MSP) Maj. Gen. Aminul Karim, without whose mastermind the 2007 military takeover in Bangladesh was impossible, as well as Army Chief’s loyal Military Secretary to the Chief Adviser’.

Bangladesh has been playing a significant role in international peacekeeping in different countries since 1988. It has helped the country to maintain a democratic order since 1990. The UN’s stance is that if the Bangladeshi army takes over power the country might lose its participation in UN peacekeeping. Although the loss of UN peacekeeping remains a threat to military intervention in Bangladesh, conversely it helped the military to intervene in the country during 2007. Peacekeeping also facilitated the end of the military regime and the restoration of democracy after two years. Thus peacekeeping plays a major role in Bangladeshi politics.

Peacekeeping is also a lucrative mission for military personnel. The armed forces do not want to lose this lucrative job.

A letter of the UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka, Renata Lok Dessallien, paved the way for the military to intervene in Bangladeshi politics. True, on the one hand, the UN’s declared policy is to promote democracy and human rights in its member countries, but on the other, through the threat of losing the UN Peacekeeping mission, it made military takeover impossible as a whole.

This article discusses the volatile political situation concerning the state of emergency declared in Bangladesh during 2007, which brought the army to power through using the United Nations as a tool. It will review the literature, describe the background and explain how the scheduled parliamentary election was canceled. It will show how the UN letter and the UN peacekeeping were used as the tools for the army to take over power. Finally, it will conclude that the military intervention occurred through the UN’s involvement whereas the world body and globalization have been against such military intervention.

Theoretical Section

Two groups of scholars have argued differently on this question. The corporatist trend is more prominent as this group’s scholars addressed the problem of military intervention specifically while the structuralist group seems very weak; who considers military’s role is a very peripheral theme. The structuralists pursue their research analyzing a contemporary political situation. Military factors have counted as the main elements in the argument of the corporatist group; while structuralist, scholars consider political and social elements as the principal factors. The argument for political factors appears weak. Most of the authors did not use the structuralist approach in their research. They argue that the theme of military intervention is a secondary one. According to the strand of corporatist thought, it is believed that military intervention consists of multiple factors (Chowdhury 2014). This research distinguishes the reality of military intervention from the rest of the political situation by mainly blaming the politicians. In fact, this scholarly group supports military factions instead of the politicians. Though there are some differences among the authors of the corporatist group as they pursue a broader line of research considering a number of factors responsible for military intervention, they finally agree that military factor remains the main issue over all other factors. Emajuddin Ahamed (1988) echoed this view in arguing that military intervention takes place during a political vacuum, in other words, because of systemic weakness. Ahamed could not establish a direct connection between the ‘systemic weakness’ and military intervention. Moudud Ahmed (2012) avoided the issue of the massive corruption of the army and their associates during military and quasi-military rule in 1982-90 when he was also part of the government. However, he found that the state was run by the combined class of officers and technocrats instead of the politicians. Hence, the character and complexion of the administration changed, he added.

Regarding the Bangladeshi coup of 1975, Franda (1982) and Maniruzzaman (1975), as supporters of military factors, recognize that the coup leaders’ interests are important factors in this case. The 2007 military intervention was an example of the manifestation of this theory. Then the army chief used all his forces to become President of the country (Ahmad 2014). Lieuwen (1960, 1962, 1964), Finer (1978) and Decalo’s arguments give importance to the most common issue, which is the personalistic self-interest that causes military intervention. They consider political problems, corporate interests and corruption as the other factors in military involvement in statecraft. Following the 1975 coup, there were more coups until 1977, and both abortive and successful coups occurred during 1981, 1982, 1996 and 2007 in Bangladesh (Chowdhury 2014). According to Ali Riaz (1998), as far as interpretation is concerned, Emajuddin Ahamed, Marcus Franda. Lawrence Lifschultz, Rounaq Jahan, Talukdar Maniruzzaman and Zillur Rahman Khan belong to a corporatist group while Alan Lindquist and Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir support structuralist group and Hassan Uzzaman and Peter Bertocci take their position in the middle.

Maryam Mastoor explains that the lack of public involvement for reforms carried out by the military-backed government and their illegitimate and unconstitutional role were responsible for 2007-08 military-backed government’s drastic failure. In fact, unlike other armies, the Bangladesh army is the product of a bloody war. Thus it can be distinguished from other disciplined armed forces in the world. In most cases, research has been undertaken only on general aspects of military intervention.

Background

Logi-Boitha agitation on 28 October 2006

Bangladesh has been experiencing political problems due to the rivalry of the main political parties since 2006. In the name of a political demonstration, concerning the “Logi-Boitha” (Paddle-Stick) program on 28 October 2006, 28 people were killed in Dhaka, which was instigated by the military (Hossain 2006). According to existing literature, military factors were evident here. A faction of the country’s military took advantage of this situation. The army instigated rivalry and enmity between the political parties (Samad 2008). Subsequently, a coterie comprising a civilian group backed by the military faction supported by the army chief managed to cancel the third major party chief’s electoral nomination (BD News 2006). They used this as a trump card to foil the democratic process by canceling the 22 January planned parliamentary election (BBC 2006). Although a successful dialogue ended the political crisis (as all parties joined in the election following my parley) which was created by the agitating political parties, ultimately the trump card (cancellation of Ershad’s electoral candidature) destroyed the achievement. I was then at the helm of affairs of the country and was engaged in solving the political crisis. I was involved in continuous dialogue with the politicians and diplomats and thus overcame the deadlocked situation. However, the army chief and his faction went for different options, which were a UN letter and UN peacekeeping mission.

Eventually, on 11 January 2007, the Army Chief Lt. General Moeen U. Ahmed used a letter of the UN in capturing power and ruled the country for two years (Defence Pakistan 2009). However, the UN Coordinator Renata Lok Dessallien helped the military-backed government, although later she denied her involvement with such a letter (Daily Star 2010) when she was completing her diplomatic assignment to Bangladesh about three years later. By the time Moeen succeeded in taking over the power of the country in his hand.

Military intervention required international back-up under cover of the UN, at a time when military intervention was almost impossible in our era of globalization and a unipolar world. Moeen confessed himself in his book “Shantir Sopne Shomoyer Smriticharan” that he was looking for such letter from the UN; he contacted the Under Secretary General Jean-Marie Guehenno of the UN (Ahmed 2009) and managed the letter of Renata Lok Dessallien.

Bangladesh’s political problem includes a lack of trust between the major political parties. For this reason, the country practices the Caretaker Government system during national elections. International mediation led by the UN Secretary General’s special envoys Oscar Fernandez Taranco and Craig Jenness, the Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy Sir Ninian Stephan and the former US President Jimmy Carter are those who among others played a role in negotiation between the Bangladeshi rival political parties to solve the impasses on different occasions. Bangladesh always remains the largest peacekeeper in the UN. There is a risk of losing this facility for the country if there is a military takeover. Moreover, the people of Bangladesh are for democracy and against military rule. Economically, the country’s business and investors face problems under military rule.

Lt. General  Moeen who declared a state of emergency on 11 January 2007

On 11 January 2007 Bangladesh’s military ousted the constitutionally established Caretaker Government (CTG). It installed an extra-constitutional military-backed government and declared a state of emergency.

Empirical experience

As my empirical experience is part of this project, I hypothesized beforehand that the army chief would take over, which was not understood by the major politicians (Thikana 2008). As a political analyst and journalist, I have been using my analytical mind for many years. Thus I analyze political situations and predict political discourse. During December 2006, I had a one to one meeting with the visiting UN Special Envoy Craig Jenness in Dhaka. I divulged the army chief’s hidden agenda to Jennes and maintained confidentiality by not keeping Renata Lok Dessallien and another member of the UN, Peter Eric in the exclusive meeting. Prior to holding that meeting as part of diplomacy, I had a formal meeting with all three of them.

I also predicted a military takeover to the US Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis. We met a number of times to solve the political crisis as I had several meetings with Sheikh Hasina, who was the immediate past opposition leader, to reduce the gap and solve the political impasse. During my parley with both national and international actors, the US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called me from the State Department. We discussed the entire situation during this call. A visit of US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher followed (Amar Desh 2014). We had a cordial discussion, while America supported the democratic and constitutional process. With the UN and the US diplomats, I worked in favor of democracy in this era of globalization.

More specifically, I worked with Dhaka-based foreign diplomats such as the US Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis, the UK High Commissioner Anwar Chowdhury, the Australian High Commissioner Douglas Foskett, the EU Ambassadors, the Commonwealth Secretary General and other dignitaries to stop probable military intervention. I convinced them that there would be a military intervention by 12 January 2007 (Thikana 2008). Under the leadership of America, Western diplomats worked along the same lines. The role of some diplomats was, however, questioned which was unprecedented.

The tenure of Khaleda Zia’s BNP government was scheduled to end at midnight on 29 October. Maintaining the deadline, the oath-taking ceremony of the new Chief Adviser (in place of the Prime Minister during the Caretaker Government – CTG) was arranged for the President. Accordingly, the new Chief Adviser was sworn in at 8 in the evening that day. Following the ‘Logi-Boitha’ event of 28 October, the army chief and his faction convinced the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, that the declaration of a State of Emergency was necessary to control the law and order situation in the country. Accordingly, Moeen, along with the then Law Minister Moudud Ahmed, the Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and the State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar were those who, among others, worked to declare the State of Emergency in Bangladesh on 29 October 2006. They did not all think that power would thus go to Moeen. Rather, they thought that it would help them return to power. Babar, however, switched his loyalty to the army chief, which became evident from his later activities. They used the good offices of the former Law Secretary, Justice Abdul Quddus Chowdhury, who had been the expert in this kind of constitutional drafting. Since the independence of Bangladesh, he had drafted all the documents of Martial Law and the States of Emergency.

Upon completion of the drafting of the proclamation order, the emergency rules and other relevant papers of the State of Emergency, the outgoing Prime Minister Khaleda Zia carried them to the President at the Bangabhaban on the night when the head of state became the Chief Adviser in addition to his first responsibility. Khaleda Zia requested the declaration of a State of Emergency under the provision of Clause141A of the Bangladesh Constitution, which gave this authority to the President, with written advice from the Prime Minister. Then the President received both powers, as he had taken the oath of the Chief Adviser (in place of Prime Minister during the Caretaker Government period) (Ittefaq 2014).

I disagreed with the notion that this action would control law and order in the country. Rather, I advised that the problem needed a political solution, and we would, therefore, hold elections bringing in all the political parties, including the parties agitating outside. Later we did this. The army chief attempted to declare a State of Emergency at least three times between October 2006 and January 2007.

To control law and order, immediately after assuming the responsibility of government we called on the army to act in aid of the civil power according to the constitution. Moeen, however, limited the deployment of the military to two terms, to proceed with his intention of taking over. The two terms were combating terrorism and corruption. Constitutionally we were not mandated for this.   We had two primary duties, which were to run the government’s day to day affairs, and to hold parliamentary elections within the stipulated time of 90 days, to hand over power to the democratically elected government.

As we were exercising our power, we annulled the terms included by the army chief. Then Moeen successfully used the intelligence agencies, the agitating political parties, including some advisers, and the media to make military deployment inactive in the field. This helped the political parties which were demonstrating on the street. However, Moeen, since he was obstructed by me and using all the options, tried to bring me over to his side. He proposed, through his military officials, to make me President. His first suggestion was that I had been doing everything since the President was sick. When I opposed this, they suggested that I had been loyal to the president, so the head of the state would relinquish his additional responsibility as Chief Adviser to me. He in fact handed over this responsibility to Fakhruddin Ahmed later. I also opposed this with the logic that our priority was now to hold the elections smoothly and then to hand over power to the elected government. After failing to carry out both these options, the army faction led by the army chief Moeen U Ahmed and the Military Secretary to the President (MSP), Major General Aminul Karim, planned to oust me from the Presidency and use the President as their puppet (Amar Desh 2014).

My hypothesis included the prediction that army chief would attempt to be president (Daily Star 2013). He had an immediate, short term and long term plan (Ghosal 2009) while he was working to discredit the government and increase its rivalries so that there could be a background from which he could have benefited. He assured both the parties of his support to form a government. What I was hypothesizing from the presidency before the appointment of the army chief in June 2005, I was also supported by the counter-intelligence branch of the primary intelligence agency DGFI on 7 January 2007, regarding probable military intervention. However, I could not make top politicians understand this.

Following the diplomatic maneuvering, the US and the UN diplomats met the army chief and the principal staff officer (PSO) on 8 and 9 January 2007 respectively. They transmitted clear message that Martial Law will not be accepted. If there were Martial Law, Bangladesh would be excluded from UN peacekeeping. On another consequence of military intervention included a sanction to be imposed on Bangladesh by the UN (Chowdhury 2014). Subsequently, military factions loyal to the army chief decided to proceed with a state of emergency. The military camp convinced both the major parties that of the two top political leaders that one would come to power and the other one would be suppressed.

The author with the President of Bangladesh 2006

On the very day of 11 January 2007, top politicians did not receive my phone call as I needed political support to take action against the ‘soft coup’ which occurs that day (Amar Desh 2014). Eventually, for the sake of democracy, I used my good offices with the American Ambassador Butenis in line with my meeting with the UN and the US’s hierarchical position. The US Ambassador coordinated with other diplomats. As part of accepted norms, we took support from foreign powers to save democracy and sovereignty in this era of globalization. Kuwait was the best example of this, as it was freed from Iraq in 1991 in this way. The US Ambassador was informed that Bangladesh’s constitution has a provision to declare a State of Emergency to control violence. She added, “If the government declares this we won’t do anything as already we have stopped the Martial Law responding your advice” (Chowdhury 2014).

The UN Letter

There was a letter from the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon on 10 January 2007 in which the world body pressed for stopping violence on the streets and holding participatory parliamentary elections in Bangladesh (Amar Desh 2014). This was an original letter of the UN, which had straightforward messages for both the contesting parties, and I showed it to the President on the morning of 11 January. But in the afternoon, when the army chief and his group took over power, they used the fake letter issued by the Resident Coordinator Renata Lok Dessallien to the President and forced him to declare the state of emergency (Independent 2010).

According to the letter was used by the army chief in the name of the UN Resident Coordinator’s letter, “… should the 22 January Parliamentary Elections proceed without participation of all major political parties, deployment of the Armed Forces in support of the election process raises questions. This may have implications for Bangladesh’s future role in UN Peacekeeping Operations” (Chowdhury 2014).

The UN Resident Coordinator maintained an excellent relation with the army chief including attending exclusive meetings on key days. While I was saying from day one that the UN letter used by the military was a fake, the outgoing UN Ambassador confirmed this after three years upon the completion of her diplomatic assignment in Bangladesh (Dessallien 2010; Karim 2010). Thus breaking a long silence, UN peacekeeping played a role in declaring the State of Emergency in 2007, and again it facilitated the return to democracy at the beginning of 2009.

Peacekeeping missions

Evidently, as the UN pays the peacekeepers in US dollars, (a US dollar is equivalent to approximately 78 Bangladeshi Taka), the compensation rates provided by the UN peacekeeping missions have been a lucrative attraction for a country like Bangladesh. The increased amount of pay influences army personnel to be serious about UN missions (Armed Forces Division 2015). Besides, a major section of military personnel come from middle and lower-middle class backgrounds, hence the individual financial packages hold great significance.

The army chief told his forces that if they did not intervene, all army personnel would be back from UN peacekeeping. That was a tool. The UN was blackmailed. Renata Lok Dessallien helped and was silent. After three years she said that was not correct. It can be compared with “the patient had died before the doctor came.” The original UN letter was overshadowed by the fake one, which was used by Moeen. In the original letter, there were two clear messages for both the contesting the main political parties. Street violence should be stopped, and there should be a participatory election (Chowdhury 2014).

Finally, the military took over power in Bangladesh on 11 January 2007, which was named ‘1/11′ by the army chief, comparing with the takeover event of ‘9/11′. Eventually, no stone was left unturned by the military under the leadership of Moeen to make him president. For example, the army chief managed a crackdown on politicians, arrested hundreds of thousands of leaders, took them on remand, tortured them brutally, and attempted to bar top politicians including former prime ministers from politics. Evidently, the formula of Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf was followed to oust two top leaders from politics in Bangladesh. General Musharraf succeeded in ousting Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto from politics in 1999 for a decade. Moeen advocated his ‘own brand of democracy,’ going against the western world’s system of practice, while he was in power (Daily Star 2007). He was running the country in disguise, and the coup dared to speak in its name (Economist 2007).

The Army Rule’s misuse of power

Moeen extended his tenure, upgraded his military rank, managed to appoint his brother as MD of the Trust Bank, a government bank for the armed forces, and collected money from top businessmen (US Department of State 2008). He paid a maiden visit to India and sought support to be president, made comments against politics and politicians in the uniform of the army, which is paid for by the taxes of the people. He assured the president that he and his family would be untouched, using the president’s power during his two-year rule and making the president a puppet. He forced the government to ensure that all visiting foreign dignitaries would call him on and he used the forces of the SSF and PGR for his security and protection. These forces are assigned to serve the head of state and government and visiting VVIPs, and this was the violation of the army code of conduct. He also gave assurances that he would allow normal politics to resume in the country. One of the former leaders could be PM, and the other could be Opposition Leader. All detainees would be released, and the normalcy would return. In no time, America understood that what I told them beforehand had now come true.

When the military-backed government failed to receive support from the people, the army chief sent an emissary to the US State Department seeking approval of Martial Law for a limited period, even for a day, to declare himself as president and to lift the Martial Law (Ahmed 2009).

At that point, the top super power rejected the army proposal, saying that the letter established my hypothesis. As in principle, the US promotes democracy worldwide; it asked Bangladesh to follow the road map of democratization by arranging a parliamentary election, transferring power to elected representatives and go back to the barrack. Thus the days of the army chief and his faction were numbered.

Conclusion

The military had managed to take over due to the issuance of a letter by the UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka on 11 January 2007, which the Army Chief asked for, although western diplomats including the UN and the USA were against a military takeover.

The Peacekeeping played a major role in military intervention in Bangladesh during 2007 when military intervention was impossible as peacekeeping was threatened by this. The army chief was seeking a letter from the UN on peacekeeping and Renata’s support made this possible. It has been seen in this research that the army chief wanted to become President of the country. Another issue has been found in this essay, which is that western powers, specifically the US, the UN, and the UK helped democracy in Bangladesh. Thus the 2007 military intervention made new history in respect of military intervention in any country in the world. It also added a new argument in theory and the scholarly literature as peacekeeping is a new topic for the study of military intervention.

Bibliography

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——————. 2013. “Amar Karagarer Dinguli: 2007-08” [my days in jail] by Moudud. The University Press Limited, Dhaka. Published on 11 May 2013. Available at: http://archive.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/moeen-u-ahmed-wanted-to-be-president-moudud/ [Accessed: 28 January 2016].

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3 Comments

  • bondhumohol@googlemail.com'
    Bondhumohol
    June 13, 2017, 1:45 pm

    A must read analytical research article on Bangladesh politics. Amazing!!!

    REPLY
  • theweeklyp@googlemail.com'
    Weekly Prekshit
    June 13, 2017, 1:57 pm

    Dear Mukhles Chowdhury Sir, please divulge more information as our politicians still did not take lesson from the 2007 military intervention and Bangladesh went far behind since then. This research is highly appreciated, Sir. Thanks.

    REPLY
  • zakir.alif@gmail.com'
    Alif Zakir
    June 13, 2017, 2:08 pm

    South Asia Journal did the right thing in right time. As fans of Mukhles Chowdhury Sir, we welcome the way he revealed the untold facts. We hope he will tell more in the days to come. Thanks.

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