'Minus 2' met messy fate | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 16, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 16, 2011

'Minus 2' met messy fate

DGFI held Khaleda to balance Hasina's arrest


L-R: Brig Gen ATM Amin, Brig Gen Fazlul Bari

Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia were arrested in July and September of 2007 for turning down “a number of options to exit politics gracefully”, a US embassy cable quoted the then DGFI officials as saying.
A few months before their arrest, the then army chief Moeen U Ahmed said reforms in political parties were essential but difficult to carry out with Hasina or Khaleda in Bangladesh, according to another cable sent by the then US ambassador Patricia A Butenis on April 22, 2007.
“Moeen said senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders met recently with government officials and decided that [BNP Chairperson Khaleda] Zia must go,” said the cable Butenis wrote citing discussion with Moeen.
Awami League chief Hasina, who left for the US on March 15, 2007, was indefinitely barred from returning and Khaleda was expected to depart for Saudi Arabia shortly, she added.
Briefing US embassy officials in Dhaka on July 17, 2007, hours after Hasina's arrest, Brig Gen ATM Amin, the then counterterrorism head of DGFI, also said Khaleda Zia will be arrested to be “even-handed”.
“He [Amin] opined that Zia knows this and is prepared for her own arrest. She must be counting the days,” Geeta Pasi, US charge d'affaires in Dhaka in a cable on July 19, 2007 quoted Amin as saying. Khaleda was arrested on September 3.
“Amin added that Hasina will be charged for the murder of ten to eleven people killed when she ordered the burning of a bus in 2004… He said there could be as many as twenty other charges.”
In the wake of her arrest, Amin opined that “there could be violence, but we believe we have things under control”, the cable added.
He acknowledged that Hasina's son Sajeeb Wazed Joy (currently in the US) could inspire demonstrations, but that the authorities had warned political leaders and others not to demonstrate in her support.
The US embassy, which was maintaining close contacts with the “officials behind the scenes”, informed Washington earlier on June 4 that having “failed to exile the two ladies, the next option for the government is to take Hasina and then, for the sake of bipartisanship, Zia to trial on corruption and perhaps other charges”.
In a cable sent on April 17 the same year, Butenis detailed, after talking with Khaleda's family, the arrangement of their leaving the country.
“The military will send Zia abroad to prevent Hasina from returning,” Butenis quoted former BNP MP Mushifiqur Rahman as saying.
A classmate and friend of the then caretaker government head Fakhruddin Ahmed, Mushifiqur Rahman was permitted access to Khaleda's cantonment house, she said.
The BNP leader also talked about a deal, saying “It is more or less decided that she will leave and that Arafat [Rahman Koko, Khaleda's younger son] will go with her”. Her elder son Tarique Rahman's fate remained undecided till then, the April 17 cable said.
Mushifiqur Rahman also said the military used Khaleda Zia's brother, Major (retd) Sayeed Iskandar and Major General Sadique Hasan Rumi to broker the deal. He added the threat of further charges was used to encourage her to leave.
Rumi was appointed DGFI chief during the ending months of BNP-Jamaat coalition government rule and was transferred as director general of Ansar and VDP on May 17, 2007.
After Hasina had left for the US in March, the government moved to prevent her return but ultimately failed to do so under international pressure.
Talking on the caretaker administration's restriction on Hasina's return, the then law adviser Mainul Hosein on April 18, 2007 said legal measures would have to be taken against her in case she came back.
Hasina returned on May 7 that year. Her attempt psychologically boosted her arch rival Khaleda who u-turned on her decision to leave the country.
Preparation began then to file cases against the two leaders.
The Anti-Corruption Commission was working on 27 cases against Hasina. One of the cases was on sedition charges as she threatened to topple the previous BNP government by “people's pressure" if it didn't resign by April 30, 2004, the cable on June 19, 2007 quoted ACC contacts as saying.
The two cases against Khaleda Zia might be designed to suggest political balance for the possible arrest of Hasina, the cable added.
In early April 2008, when moves were still on to split political parties in the name of reforms, the US embassy got James F Moriarty to succeed Butenis.
Moriarty wrote to Washington a cable on July 3 under the title “Bangladesh military intelligence active but not very adept at politics”.
He identified the DGFI as the “much-feared military intelligence force that active in domestic politics” since the CG came to power in January 2007 “with the strong support of Chief of Army Staff Gen Moeen Uddin Ahmed”.
“Its (DGFI's) 'minus-two' policy of attempting to sideline the two former prime ministers by sending them into exile abroad or destroying them politically at home has failed. Both women remain firmly at the helm of their parties despite multiple corruption charges.”
In pursuit of its goals, the DGFI had played a key role in trying to remove from politics former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, “who it views as responsible for the country's endemic political violence and graft”, Moriarty wrote.
THE INFLUENTIAL TWO
ATM Amin and Brig Gen Fazlul Bari, a DGFI director and an influential figure during the tenure of military-backed caretaker regime, are much-talked-about for their role in execution of the “minus-two” policy.
Fazlul Bari, posted to Bangladesh mission in Washington DC by the end of the caretaker regime's rule, is considered a fugitive by the military authorities, army sources said.
Talking to The Daily Star over the phone on October 5, 2009, Bari denied any move seeking political asylum in the US. He, however, confirmed that he was not coming back to the country soon.
The government in February 2009 asked Bari to hand over charge as military adviser and return home. As he disobeyed, he was called back again in April. This time, he handed over charge but did not come back.
ATM Amin was made DG of Ansar and Village Defence Party (VDP) on October 11, 2008 and sent into retirement on May 17, 2009, said sources.

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