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The Cat And The Sour Pot

January 21, 2017

For a moment, I made up my mind that I should cease writing on Fauji Foundation and should move on to other topics. But a news distracted me. It says Bangladesh Army has unveiled a new production unit at Mongla Cement Factory, operated by Sena Kalyan Sangstha. With the new one, number of the production unit now stands at 3. In addition, Army has also unveiled Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) plant there.

The cement factory in question remains a hot topic of debate when BBC Bangla broadcast a series of report on Army’s Business venture back in 2010. At that time, a strong aura of anti-Army feeling prevailed in the political and bureaucratic circles.

According to one investigative BBC report, Mongla Cement Factory was set up with Pakistani credit . A former Pak ambassador to Bangladesh played a key role to arrange credit for that plant. Former Pakistani Army chief Mirza Aslam Beg nodded positively to the proposal so that it would go on smoothly. The factory came into being when it rolled out its first brand “Elephant Brand Cement”. The newest plant will produce another new brand of cement, christened “Sena Cement”.

Is it necessary to operate a cement factory and to expand its capacity? What does the market signal?

Local cement industry has reached the saturation point long ago. According to an IDLC industry study, 45 cement factories are now operating in Bangladesh. Domestic production far exceeds demand. IDLC research study says country’s projected domestic demand was 17.5 million MT and projected capacity was 28 million MT in 2014. Moreover, most of the factories have yet to reach their full capacity.

In this backdrop , Sena Cement enters the market. Army can easily meet its need by floating tender and procuring the cement directly from other producers. Instead, it has started another commercial venture.

In 2013, govt transferred an island to Army in Noakhali. The 360 km2 is known to the locals as “Jahaijjar Char”. Army has developed the island as a site for staging war games and holding annual maneuver to make sure that its various units, armored cars and personnel achieve the anticipated skills.

Recently, government entrusted Army with the task of supervising the construction of a rail line that will link up Payra port and Jessore.

The decrepit condition of our democracy is largely due to the derailment of democracy in the past. On several occasions, Martial Law disrupted constitutional rule. Consequently, this produces a conducive environment to turn the country into an Army real-estate. As time passes by , that sketchy picture gradually becomes shockingly clear. Driving wedge between the people of different creed and playing one against the another help to consolidate Fauji grip on that real-estate.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto forewarned us about Army’s lust for power in his memoir titled “ If I Am Assassinated”: “Military interventions [coup d’états] divide and debase a free people. If there is any doubt on the subject, the events in Pakistan have shown that the people of the 3rd world have to primarily guard internal enemy if hegemony is to be resisted. Coup-gemony is the bridge over which hegemony walks to stalk our lands.”

There is no dearth of examples. Following the authoritarian rule of General Ayub Khan, united Pakistan was sucked into a political maelstrom. Creation of Bangladesh relieved the turbulence.

In Indonesia, General Suharto annexed East Timor against the will of its people. Finally, when he stepped down the subsequent government could not hold the country together: East Timor became the newest country in Asia. Nowadays, cost of direct military interventions is great. The regime runs the risk of becoming internationally isolated unless the country has geo-strategic importance.

Rather, pawns are used to advance the interests of interventionist. A country that already witnessed military coups at the nascent stage struggles all its life to heal from those old scars and fallout. Roadside tea stalls are a perfect place to get the right knowledge and information. A recent backchat that I heard in one such stall sets the record straight:” A rogue cat that licks milk from its owner’s pot sour the milk and the pot. One cannot get the taste of fresh milk even if s/he throws out the remaining milk and refills it. The pot needs a complete wash.”

In the same manner, direct military interventions alter a society to the core. And the society falls by the wayside because sycophants replace professionals, corruption becomes rampant, lies become the truth, beguiling behavior is the new norm, justice hides under the carpets of the elites and mediocrity flourishes in that society.

For this reason, we see a lot of minions hold key positions at various institutions and businesses. So it becomes easier to set one group against the other. And our conglomerates have such a short life span. If the little island of Noakhali were given to few agribusiness farms they would create jobs and make some money. Or perhaps it could have been used to resettle the evicted Santals of Gaibandha, Rohingyas and/or landless peasants.

In this part of the world, governments repeat past mistakes since they take a vow not to learn from history. More mistakes they commit, more they find themselves in political troubles. In the chaos and disorder, the iron gets hotter and prepared to be struck at the opportune moment so that it could be given a desirable shape, thereby sealing the fate of the government.

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