Dhaka: Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, it seems, has been secretly in touch with Israel through her son Tarique Rahman and some of his key acolytes such as party Joint Secretary General Aslam Choudhary.
Choudhary’s recent meeting with Mendi N Safadi, a leader of Israel’s major center-right Likud Party, has generated considerable controversy in Bangladesh.
Aslam Choudhary is said to be very close to BNP senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman, and it is widely believed and recognized, that the former would not have met Safadi without Rahman’s green signal.
At the time of his arrest on May 15, Choudhary was candid in admitting that he did meet Safadi on the sidelines of a ‘Indo-lsrael Relations’ seminar held in Agra in India, but said that it took place in his personal capacity in March 2016.
He told his interrogators that the seminar was organized by DelAviv, an Indo-lsrael relationship platform.
Police in Bangladesh, however, charged him with conspiring with the intelligence agency of a foreign country to overthrow the present Awami League government, which is led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed.
A known acolyte of Tarique Rahman, Choudhary owes his political relevance and importance only to the former’s patronage.
Choudhary, a Chittagong-based businessman who heads Bangladesh’s Rising Group, which has interests in ship-breaking, real estate, transport and gas-filling stations, entered politics in 1991 by joining a platform called the ‘Zia Parishad’, which is one of the off-shoots of the opposition BNP. He has always had a close association with the BNP, and especially with its Chittagong North District branch.
Rahman has often showered kudos on this trusted lieutenant for his various anti-Awami League activities, Choudhary is personally charged in 17 cases of arson and violence. It is these anti-government activities that have landed him the coveted position of the BNP’s Joint Secretary-Generalship.
Choudhary and another acolyte Ruhul Kabir Rizvi have been given key party positions at the specific instance of Tarique Rahman, who has always championed and promoted an extremist and violent brand of politics, and opposed to progressive and democratic leanings.
Experts and old BNP hands are of the view that the present leadership of the party is adopting Machiavellian and devious tactics to ensure the longevity of the contributions of former martial administrator Zia-ur-Rahman, his wife and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and their son Tarique Rahman.
These old BNP hands, experts, analysts and observers have warned that these political gambits being perpetrated in the name of the so-called “First Family” of the BNP have the potential to backfire on them sooner than later.
A case in point is Tarique Rahman’s recent statement, where he declared his father to be the first president of Bangladesh.
This has been rubbished by Major General (retired) K. M. Shafiullah, a sector commander during the Liberation War of 1971, who confirmed that Zia-ur-Rahman had claimed himself to be the president of Bangladesh while reading out the declaration of independence on March 27, 1971, but corrected it afterwards.
Shafiullah said that Zia-u-r Rahman made the declaration at the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra at Chittagong’s Kalurghat a day after Awami League leader Abdul Hannan read it thrice on March 26, 1971.
“We and Awami League leaders present there protested that right away. He (Zia) reread (the declaration) again on March 28 and that day he said ‘I on behalf of Bangabandhu…’,” said Maj. Gen. Shafiullah, who is a former Awami League MP.
According to the bdnews24.com web site, at another event, the elder son of Zia and BNP chief Khaleda Zia claimed that the nation’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the first “illegal prime minister.”
The BNP senior vice-chairman has in the past made a series of remarks, castigating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and members of his family. He has called them “more than a family of killers. they are a curse on Bangladesh.”
Using the UK as his base since 2008, Tarique’s self-styled narrative of historic events between Mujib’s assassination in 1975 and the time when his father, Zia-ur Rahman, assumed state power is being described by different quarters as a deliberate distortion of history.
Knowing the functioning style of the BNP, where the writ of the mother-son duo runs unchallenged and unquestioned, it is unlikely that Aslam Choudhary would have attended a public meeting in India and hob-nobbed with a senior Israeli politician without clearance or instructions from Tarique Rahman.
Choudhary’s claiming of his Agra visit being undertaken in a personal capacity, and not being aware of Safadi’s identity as being a former Advisor to Israeli Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara, seems far-fetched and difficult to believe for the simple reason that he has been a politician and a senior opposition leader with over two and a half decades. Other acolytes of Rahman have described Choudhary as foolish to deflect the blame away from Rahman, who fancies himself as a deft practitioner of Machiavellian politics.
It is being felt in certain circles that his (Rahman’s) gambit of using Israel as a prop “is a reflection of his devious and unscrupulous political thinking.”
It is also a well known fact that Tarique Rahman and his group have been carrying out intensive lobbying with various international entities in the hope to seek a way for the BNP to return to power, and in this lobbying endeavour, have spent huge resources, especially targeting the West.
What is politically alarming is that his “desperate” coziness with Israel is being seen as having crossed the “Rubicon” in Muslim-dominant Bangladesh which has always steadfastly supported the Palestinian cause and been opposed Israel.
There is a feeling in the public domain and a cross-section of politicians that Tarique Rahman and his cronies have displayed an utter disregard for the standing and credibility of the country and its principles, while doggedly pursuing their own selfish agenda of returning to power by hook or crook.
There is a view that this son of Zia-ur-Rahman and Khaleda Zia stands accused of betraying the Muslim Ummah, the state religion of Islam and showing scant disregard for any ideological commitment in his blind pursuit of power.
Has Rahman realised that his efforts at international lobbying are not bearing the desired results? Many who think so; believe that this could be the reason for him to go in for what they term a “dubious Israeli connection.”
Living the life of an exile in the UK for last eight years, he appears to have lost touch with the ground realities of Bangladesh and shown little inclination to return to the country of his birth and plunge into its political grind.
Rather, he has displayed a marked preference for indulging in conspiracies and machinations to corner his political opponents both within the party and outside.
Given the developments mentioned above, there is no doubt that he definitely instructed Aslam Choudhary to open a line of communication with the Israelis, and he seems to have abandoned his mother Khaleda Zia’s more cautious and careful approach to politics.