Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) has published an explanation for the second time two weeks after the broadcasting of Al Jazeera's controversial video clip, 'All the Prime Ministers' Men'. The army headquarters issued a statement following the broadcasting of the report. One of the allegations was explained while the remaining allegations were left unanswered, resulting in further questions and controversies. In the second statement, answers of many questions were given, but gave rise to many new ones.
The first statement protesting against the allegations was published a day after the documentary was aired, terming Al Jazeera's report false and fabricated and an explanation was given about the procurement of internet and mobile monitoring equipment from Israel. Referring to the first explanation, Al Jazeera wanted United Nations' response on the matter and the world body said that such surveillance equipment is not used in peace keeping activities. This has given rise to new questions.
In the second explanation, specific information was been given explaining the procurement of that equipment. Any sort of allegation of corruption was rejected. In a sequel to the procurement of this equipment, army chief General Aziz Ahmed's Hungary-expat brother Haris Ahmed comes to the fore and ISPR also mentioned another brother.
Within few hours of the circulation of second statement, the army chief himself answered some questions while meeting newsmen in Dhaka. The statements of ISPR and the army chief proved the authenticity of the Prothom Alo report published on 16 February, 'government pardon for Haris and Anis too'. The report proved that the killers can return to normal life despite conviction in two murder cases. We are doubtful of whether we can ask questions how their punishment was pardoned. As the law minister and the home minister said, they are not aware of such pardon of punishment. How could this take place?
In response to Al Jazeera's allegations, ISPR statement said the wedding reception of the army chief's son took place on 29 March 2019 and before that the army chief's brothers (Anis and Hasan) were pardoned. The cases were termed 'false and fabricated and were filed for political vengeance.' As a result, the army chief's brothers, who were given full clemency, attended the wedding reception on 29 March. So they did not attend the function as convicted persons or accused fugitives.
The home minister said there is no scope for convicted persons to get pardon without surrendering to the court. But ISPR claimed they were acquitted legally. Did ISPR consult with their law officials about the difference between the pardon of a convicted person and acquittal?
There is no end of surprises here. The statements the prime minister's international affairs advisor Gowher Rizvi made on the talk show ‘Conflict Zone’ arranged by the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, were not based on any information, and that is very clear now from these new statements.
Following the broadcasting of the video clip, it is vital now to discern how much the government were based on information and how much were political. Although it is easy to reject any allegation and to raise allegations of defamation conspiracies, it does not help establish the truth. Evidence and proof are very important here.
According to the Prothom Alo report 'Government pardon for Haris and Anis too', the home ministry had issued a gazette notification on 28 March 2019, pardoning them from their sentences. That means they were pardoned a day before the event of the army chief's son. In another picture they were seen dancing at an event. When and where did this event take place? When did they reach Dhaka? Were they not fugitives when they came to Dhaka?
The ISPR statement said, "The documentary appears to have been made basing the long time stay of the brother of General Aziz in Hungary. It is pertinent to mention here that none of the brothers or relatives of the Chief of Army Staff has ever been involved in any kind of supply or purchase process of arms, ammunition or equipment in Bangladesh Army. It is conceivable that this documentary is just an attempt to create chaos and anarchy in the country by attacking the head of a reputed and well-organized organization like the Bangladesh Army and a sensitive institution like the military by smearing his family members."
The reference made in the ISPR about the army chief's brother's 'long stay' in Hungary, is actually about his stay there as a fugitive criminal. Haris Ahmed, accused of two murder cases, was a fugitive convicted on the basis of statements made by the victims at the time of their death. ISPR also mentioned that the report was an attempt to taint image of the army chief's family. Does 'family' here refer to the brothers? If so, how justified it that?
The latest statement of ISPR gives rise to more questions. The most important question is the court's connection with the fugitive convict outside the country. As ISPR mentions the long stay of the army chief's brother in Hungary, the question naturally arises about how prudent had it been for him to visit Hungary before taking over as the army chief. In response to the statement Al Jazeera made quoting a man named Sami, ISPR said that man was arrested on charges of theft and deception by using fake identity and army uniform and had been declared persona non grata in the cantonment in 2006. So can General Aziz meet another criminal too, along with his brother? What was the purpose of that meeting?
The writing of this article is not to judge whether a part or the whole of the video clip of Al Jazeera is right or wrong. Our point is that the allegations made by Al Jazeera are very serious and the citizens have the right to know whether those are true or false. Accurate information and credible evidence is important, but if any kind of ambiguity is created, it would be unfortunate and detrimental. Why were these statements not placed to Al Jazeera before the broadcast? The person who had been staff officer to the BGB chief (Gen Aziz at the time), had cleared his position to Al Jazeera and rejected any sort of involvement in the matter. Why didn't the army chief and ISPR take the similar opportunity?
These statements give rise to new questions over the relation between the person and the institution. The matters, including the past crimes of the army chief's brother, conviction in the court, pardon by the president or the home ministry and keeping these matter secret, are not related to the armed forces. Is it possible to hide the injustice and unlawful benefits by bringing about allegations of attempts to tarnish the institutional image of the armed forces? Speaking to the newsmen, the army chief said statements on behalf of his family on the matter will be made soon. Although delayed, that would be a proper step. The state institution is not liable to talk in favour of his brothers. It cannot be acceptable to mix the institutional image of armed forces with them.
Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.
*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul islam.