UN warned army against coup
The United Nations in January 2007 warned Bangladesh military that any extra constitutional action or involvement in one-sided parliamentary polls could jeopardise its participation in UN peacekeeping missions.
To avoid the consequences, the military leaders pressed the then president Iajuddin Ahmed to declare state of emergency, resign as the chief adviser and postpone the elections planned for January 22, 2007, said an US cable released by WikiLeaks on August 30 this year.
A UN representative told US ambassador Patricia A Butenis in Dhaka that chief of army staff General Moeen U Ahmed had complained to her of the horrendous pressure he was under to step in, either under a state of emergency or otherwise, and solicited a letter from the UN threatening loss of UNPKO duties should the military act extra-constitutionally.
"Moeen claimed that he could not 'stick his neck out' and approach the president/chief adviser to beg off from any political role for the military without such benefit of proof of the dire consequences for the army," said the diplomatic cable.
Another cable said a senior army official had told the ambassador about the military's pressure on president/chief adviser Iajuddin Ahmed to declare a state of emergency and resign as the chief adviser.
The military moves were motivated both by UN statements that getting involved in the one-sided elections could put at risk its job in UN peacekeeping operation (UNPKO) and concern over renewed threats from Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the cable said.
The then DGFI counterterrorism chief Brig Gen Amin also told the ambassador two factors influenced the military's decision to approach the president at this point, said another cable.
Several UN actions early January called into question Bangladesh's continued participation in UN peacekeeping operations if the military worked in support of a one-sided election.
They included the United Nations secretary general's statement on Bangladesh, the local UN representative's statements that specifically linked UNPKO and military support for elections and a purported letter from the UN linking military action to UNPKO.
In a note the cable said participation in UNPKO carries significant prestige and financial rewards and is highly prized by the Bangladesh military.
It said Moeen had earlier approached the UN to request a letter he could use to convince the president that UNPKO participation could be jeopardised if the political crisis was not resolved.
The growing political turmoil centring the parliamentary polls triggered widespread speculation and fear that Bangladesh army could take over by declaring martial law as it did twice in past since 1975.
Expressing no-confidence in the then caretaker government headed by Iajuddin and Election Commission by Justice MA Aziz, the Awami League-led grand alliance declared their boycott of the January 22 polls.
The grand alliance's boycott paved the way for the one-sided polls with participation of BNP-Jamaat alliance and a very few small political parties. The AL-led alliance also declared to resist the polls and started vigorous street agitations.
Amid escalating political turmoil on January 10, 2007, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement calling on all sides to compromise and refrain from violence, said the diplomatic cable.
According to the local UN representative, further steps under discussion at UN Headquarters include: a call by the head of UN peacekeeping to the Bangladesh army chief of staff; a letter from the head of the UN Elections Assistance Division to the president/chief adviser noting lack of progress by the caretaker government and Election Commission on concerns raised with them in early December; and a possible call from a senior UN official to the two party heads offering the services of the secretary general's "good offices" to resolve the political crisis, the cable continued.
Besides, the ambassador and others in the embassy have made clear in both private meetings with political and military leaders and publicly that they categorically do not support any extra-constitutional role for the military.
"We further emphasise that the present situation is the result of political disagreements among the parties and requires a civilian, political solution; the military must continue to act solely under and in support of the civilian government and within the boundaries of the constitution," the cable said.
The ambassador and defence attaché (DATT) met January 7, 2007 with the army principal staff officer, Major General Md Jahangir Alam Choudhury, to reinforce their positions against military intervention and solicit his views. DATT held a similar meeting January 9 with Moeen U Ahmed, it said.
"Both officers said there is no appetite among military officers or the rank and file for martial law, a coup or any other extra-constitutional action by the military and said they would not support such actions."
"Why would we support a coup," Jahangir asked, "when we don't even like the current deployment?" A note in the cable said the military was then constitutionally deployed to maintain law and order.
Jahangir emphasised that even discussion of such actions is illegal and any soldier caught doing so would be subject to arrest. He urged the ambassador to continue to press the Caretaker Government to resolve the political crisis and to tell the political parties not to provoke the military as it maintains law and order.
Moeen told the DATT he had similar discussions with the British high commissioner on January 8.
Jahangir and Moeen both stressed the decision of a civilian government to declare a constitutionally permitted state of emergency is a political decision for the president, emphasising the military is subject to civilian control and has a duty to remain impartial, the diplomatic cable said.
"Neither believed they or other military leaders should approach the president to 'press,' 'suggest,' 'recommend,' or otherwise try to influence him on political decisions concerning how to resolve the political impasse."