Al Jazeera scoop requires thorough investigation; it has inflicted heavy damage to Bangladesh Government’s reputation
Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, who is firmly in her saddle without any interruption for over the last decade, is now on target by the Qatar-based powerful media house, Al Jazeera. The very recent attempts by AJ, through a series of videotapes and write-ups, cast aspersions on Hasina and her Government including the Army Chief, four-star General Aziz Ahmad — for alleged connections with an organised crime syndicate operating from out of Bangladesh — complicit in money laundering, contractual favours and abuse of political connections. The AJ expose reveals that the brothers of the Army Chief, who are allegedly convicted offenders in Bangladesh, are blatantly misusing their brother's powerful position in the government system and building fortunes through unethical means.
The latest scoop titled "All the Prime Minister's Men" has caused an unsettling sensation in Bangladesh's political, media, and governmental circles. Reeling under pressure to extricate itself from the grave allegations, the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quick (Feb 2) to reject them as false, defamatory and part of a smear campaign unleashed by the extremists and their allies. The general secretary of the ruling Awami League party and Cabinet Minister, Obaidul Qader termed the disclosures as anti-Bangladesh propaganda emanating from London — a veiled reference to the London-based Tareq Rahman, the supremo of opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – alleged to have Pakistani links and consistently involved in anti-Hasina tirade.
Sources say that the Government is contemplating to ban AJ operations in Bangladesh but a section of the advisors advised against this — stating it could prove counter-productive and possibly lead to a backlash. A leading newspaper has suggested a rather specific point by point rebuttal of the allegations.
The investigative scoop mentions the names of Gen Aziz's brothers, Haris Ahmad aka Mohammad Hasan, Anis Ahmad and Yosef Ahmad. According to AJ, they are diehard criminals facing charges in Bangladesh for cold-blooded murders, who have been rehabilitated abroad with the Government's support to escape the tentacles of law. It's further alleged that one of the Ahmad brothers was in the personal security team of Sheikh Hasina during her first term as the Prime Minister. In the detailed running commentary and visuals recorded by AJ, Haris is seen striking a contractual deal offering business opportunities in Bangladesh. He brazenly boasts of his highly placed governmental sources in Dhaka and even shows his photos with Aziz Ahmad to prove his proximity with the corridors of power. He openly asks for commissions or cuts. The scene of activity in Hungary, where he has his business interests involved in a number of enterprises. His financial advisor or fund manager is also shown in the clip which shows the extent of funds he has amassed and how organised he is to handle such tricky issues. Another Ahmad brother is shown to be active in Kuala Lumpur, engaged in alleged nefarious activities.
The unsettling disclosures by AJ are presumed to have been carried out by professionals — possibly with a detective background. Further, Gen Aziz Ahmad is shown in the aircraft putting his baggage in the loft, arriving in Singapore then going to Malaysia sitting in diplomatic cars provided by the Bangladesh Mission in Kuala Lumpur, his brothers joining him there etc. It shows how persevered the AJ team was to trail and work in perfect coordination to put Gen Aziz and his brothers under the team's surveillance so as not to miss out on any tiny detail to shape the scoop story in perspective. Even Gen Aziz's texting a message to his brother didn't escape AJ's eyes, showing that he was tailed everywhere and someone very close to him physically did the job to piece the dots.
The scoop also alleges Ahmad brothers' involvement in activities of middlemen to facilitate postings in key positions in Bangladesh administration, helping to bag contracts, forgery of passports, murder etc. Many have testified against the Ahmad brothers for being goons and extortionists before they fled the country and secured refuge overseas. As per the scoop, their writ also runs in the Government.
Another significant revelation is the procurement of an aggressive and intrusive technology — which carries spyware for mounting surveillance on the political opposition — by Bangladesh from Israeli company Picsix. Interestingly, the deal has been kept under 'non-disclosure agreement' ostensibly to maintain secrecy. Bangladesh doesn't have diplomatic relations with Israel due to its consistent stand on Palestine, which makes the disclosure hard to digest. Equally implausible to accept is that four Bangladeshi intelligence officers were trained by the Israelis in Hungary. There is ample scope for further delving into the revelations to arrive at a holistic picture.
The AJ story has commentary by some western financial experts including David Bergman, who as per government sources, was convicted in 2014 by the International Criminal Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh for challenging the figures of those killed by the Pakistani occupation forces and their collaborators in their carnage in 1971. However, according to some, it's unfathomable to conceive that David would coalesce with AJ to embark on such a nasty story to malign the present Bangladesh Government to avenge his humiliation. This said, it's very pertinent to ascertain who is behind to sully Hasina's image at this point of time when she is trying to transit from the stature of a politician to that of a world statesman, especially during the centenary year of the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Analysts place the needle of suspicion towards Tareq Rahman, who might be getting information from anti-Hasina elements in the country.
With a huge viewership and good reach, AJ has inflicted good damage to the Government. Under the circumstances, it would perhaps appear prudent on part of the top echelons in the Government not to be provoked by the coverage and act in a calm manner lest it further fuels an anti-Hasina campaign within and outside Bangladesh. Yet, Hasina should be extra vigilante on her coterie so as to prevent further damage.
A section of the Bangladeshi media believes the story is not doctored and the involvement of the Army Chief, if true, is damning. A huge amount of homework looks to have been done behind this story, possibly to create an adverse public opinion targeting Hasina. The timing of the release of the scoop looks crucial and motivated. The Army Chief should also be discreet to ensure his PM's image remains intact. His actions will be closely watched.
Qatar-based AJ is funded therein. Qatar is a close ally of Turkey, which of late, has shown unusual and extraordinary interest in the affairs of Bangladesh. Both Qatar and Turkey pursue the tenets of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Bangladesh Foreign Minister was in Ankara not so long ago and Turkey has opened its new diplomatic mission in Dhaka. There is a streak of bonhomie emerging between the two countries. President Erdogan of Turkey, who has never been so favourably disposed towards Bangladesh, has suddenly found a new love for Bangladesh and has confirmed his presence in Dhaka for the Mujibur centenary celebrations. A few experts do not rule out the AJ story having a subtle backing of Turkey-Qatar combine. However, this awaits confirmation only after a thorough forensic audit.
The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal