The US and its allies, the beacon light of Western democracy, sponsored the counter-revolution in both Afghanistan and Bangladesh in the 1970s to prevent a socialist takeover, ending up ruining one and failing to ruin the other.
According to multiple accounts, the latest by the iconic journalist John Pilger (The Great Game of Smashing Nations), the CIA initiated ‘Operation Cyclone’ with hardline Islamist mullahs who mobilised mujahideen immediately after the bloody Saur (Sowr) Revolution, by which the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan on April 27-28, 1978.
Daoud – a cousin of King Zahir Shah – who had himself taken power in the 1973 Afghan coup d’état, and most of his family were killed at the presidential palace by military officers in support of the PDPA.
Foreign journalists in Kabul, reported The New York Times, were surprised to find that “nearly every Afghan they interviewed said [they were] delighted with the coup.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that “150,000 persons … marched to honor the new flag … the participants appeared genuinely enthusiastic.”
The Washington Post reported that “Afghan loyalty to the government can scarcely be questioned.”
Secular, modernist and, to a considerable degree, socialist, the government declared a program of visionary reforms that included equal rights for women and minorities. Political prisoners were freed and police files were burned publicly.
Under the monarchy, the average life expectancy was 35; one in three children died in infancy. Ninety per cent of the population was illiterate. The new government introduced free medical care. A mass literacy campaign was launched.
For women, the gains had no precedent: by the late 1980s, half the university students were women, and women made up 40 per cent of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70 per cent of its teachers and 30 per cent of its civil servants.
Though the PDPA government was no Soviet lackey, it was backed by the Soviet Union.
President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, later wrote in his memoir: “We had no evidence of any Soviet complicity in the coup.”
But Carter was the one who authorised ‘Operation Cyclone’ that started the whole cycle of violence and war that has ravaged Afghanistan and reduced it to where it stands today.
The Soviets intervened militarily to save the ‘Saur Revolution’, the US went ahead with Pakistan and Islamist regimes like Saudi Arabia to give the Soviets their ‘own Vietnam’. The rest is history.
Cut back to Bangladesh, whose emergence as a free sovereign nation after the bloody 1971 Civil War was seen by the US as a defeat because its Seventh Fleet intervention failed to save East Pakistan for the military regime of Gen Yahya Khan, which Nixon had used so effectively for his China outreach.
Again multiple accounts, the most prominent being that of American journalist Lawrence Lifschultz (Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution), point to CIA involvement in the 1975 coup that killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with much of his family. Disgruntled military officers were involved in the coup that led to two successive Bangladesh military regime, strongly backed by US and China.
It is during these military regimes that Bangladesh’s secular democratic polity was dumped and successive constitutional amendments ended up making Islam a state religion. Again Mujib was seen in US as an Indian and Soviet stooge, hence a legitimate target for the Cold Warriors like Zbigniew Brzezinski.
But Indira’s India did not make the Soviet mistake of military intervention after the 1975 coup. It perhaps helped Bangladesh’s political parties like the Awami League reorganise and fight to bring down the Ershad military regime.
Towards the end of the highly unpopular BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami regime, when Sheikh Hasina barely escaped a grenade attack, the US backed a military-backed caretaker and tried to promote Nobel laureate Mohammed Yunus to form a political party to take charge.
As US and India drew closer following the nuclear accord into a strategic partnership, Delhi prevailed on Washington to push for a free and fair poll in Bangladesh.
Former president Pranab Mukherjee has recounted these details in his book, his long arguments with Hilary Clinton and his persuasion of army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed to pave the way for an election.
Hasina’s Awam League convincingly won the December 2008 polls and has now presided over Bangladesh’s Golden Decade of Development.
But all through this decade, beginning with the World Bank’s dillydallying over financing the country’s mega infrastructure project, the Padma river railroad bridge, to rattling her regime on other counts, the US has been ill at ease with the present Bangladesh government.
Even as the western media lauds Hasina for her leadership in ensuring an amazing economic turnaround to promoting gender rights, inclusive distributive justice and fight against terrorism, the US has been less than supportive of the Hasina regime.
In 2013, as its envoy Dan Mozena openly advocated the need for a change of government, the US suspended GSP facility for Bangladesh exports to inconvenience the Hasina government. The list is long and US’ National Endowment for Democracy’s backing for overseas-based Bangladesh specific media outlets ceaselessly attacking the Hasina government with fake news is just one of them.
Jeff Richelson (US Intelligence Community) does expose on the NED as an US intelligence funded institution to ensure regime change. So the US deep state never quite gave up an attempt to topple Hasina.
The recent human rights stink by US Congressmen coincides, not accidentally, with Kamal Hossain’s call for an alliance to oust Sheikh Hasina. Interestingly, his son-in-law David Bergman’s Netranews is funded by the NED. The regime change architecture is well and truly in place.
Afghanistan is a country ravaged by four decades of war and deprivation, now going to be ruled by a radical conservative Islamist regime that grew out of the US Great Game of Smashing Nations, to quote Pilger.
Bangladesh, by contrast and also a Muslim majority nation, is a success story in organic national growth, both in its emergence as an Asian economic bull from a basket case and also in thwarting the possible takeover of political power by a radical Islamist ecosystem.
Some Western or Bangladesh-based apologists conveniently overlook the ‘foreign element’ in backing local radical Islamist forces and cry wolf over tough policing as an unforgivable violation of human rights.
Even as the hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan paved the way for a Taliban takeover, some US Congressmen resumed needling of the Hasina government over ‘forced disappearances’ and ‘extra-judicial murders’ of regime opponents. The UK High Commissioner joined in by painting Bangladesh as a corrupt country where doing business was not easy.
A simple question to these Western guardians of human rights: Do you dialogue with fundamentalist elements who want an end to women education, sodomise children in madrassas they control, and want blasphemy laws in place or do you hit them when they create mayhem on the streets to pave the way for regime change?
A dialogue with these elements, as the Awami League itself discovered ahead of 2019 polls, can only lead to compromising the secular democratic polity created out of the 1971 Liberation War and undermining its values.
If the West fails to realise that Bangladesh-type homegrown secular democratic polity is the only alternative in the Islamist world and it pursues either a parachute democracy model as in Ghani’s Afghanistan or backing oppressive monarchies like Saudi Arabia, it will soon pay dearly for consequences in its own shores with more 9/11s.
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)
(The writer is a former journalist and author of Midnight Massacre. He covered Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the 1970s and ’80s).