Bangladesh's army chief vowed on Tuesday there would be no let-up in the hunt for corrupt politicians and terrorists as the country's interim authority clears the way for a free and fair election.
"It is time to look back (at our past), and fight against injustice, terrorism, corruption as well as corrupt politicians," Lieutenant-General Moeen U. Ahmed said at a reunion for 1971 independence war veterans in Dhaka.
Organised the day after Bangladesh marked the anniversary of its independence from Pakistan, the general said the country had failed to achieve desired goals, and he blamed this largely on politicians.
"Through the 36 years after independence politicians gave us nothing good, not even to give due recognition to the national leaders," Moeen said in a rare outburst against politicians.
Those whose role had not been properly recognised included the "father of the nation", the late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who led the independence struggle, and other key figures, he said.
"Politicians divided the country by their feuding while indulging in corrupt practices," the general said. "Now the time has come to reunite the country and try to deliver the benefits of independence."
Moeen insisted that the armed forces were only helping Bangladesh's interim government to fight corruption, restore order and set a stage for a free and credible election. "But they (the armed forces) are not running the country themselves," he said.
The interim authority declared a state of emergency on Jan. 11 after countrywide political violence in which 45 people were killed and hundreds injured. A general election set for Jan. 22 was cancelled and all political activity suspended.
Behind the scenes role
The interim government headed by former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed has vowed not to reschedule the election until politics and administration have been cleansed of corruption.
Fakhruddin has been firmly backed by the armed forces, which seemed to prefer a behind-the-scenes role to open intervention. Bangladeshi troops have won wide praise for their role as international peacekeepers under the United Nations, analysts say, and they would not wish to jeopardise their reputation by getting involved in a power takeover at home, analysts say.
After Sheikh Mujib was assassinated in August 1975, the army in one guise or another ruled Bangladesh until December 1990 when a people's revolt toppled General Hossain Mohammad Ershad. The revolt was led by Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina, and Begum Khaleda Zia, widow of another assassinated president, Ziaur Rahman. The two women later fell out, alternating as prime minister of the impoverished country for the next 15 years. They have not spoken to each other for over a decade.
Hasina, head of the Awami League, and Khaleda, who heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, are expected to face off once again in the next election, for which no date has yet been set. Khaleda and the BNP have always refused to accept Mujib as the country's independence leader, insisting it was Khaleda's husband Zia who declared Bangladeshi independence.
In return, Hasina's Awami League has declined to recognise Zia as one of the top commanders of the independence struggle. Since January, security forces have detained over 160 senior politicians for graft and misuse of power, including Khaleda's son Tareque Rahman. The government said charges against them were still being investigated and they were likely to be tried by special courts.