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Volume:7, Number:35
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Nation In The News
THIS WEEK

Twenty-one Assassination Attempts

Between November 1987 and November 2016, twenty-one attempts were made on the life of prime minister Sheikh Hasina that included gunshots, bomb attacks, food poisoning and an alleged conspiracy to sabotage her plane during a foreign trip

A bullet is haunting our leader Sheikh Hasina. Imagine what will happen if she dies.” This is how Awami League (AL) general secretary Obaidul Quader has warned party leaders and activists on several occasions over the last couple of months. He said conspiracies are still going on and urged everyone to remain vigilant.

His repeated warnings speak volumes about how vulnerable Awami League president and prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s life appears to be in the face of a lingering threat. As a matter of fact, the eyes of the assassins have been trained on her since she returned to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981, six years after her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of the family members were assassinated by a group of disgruntled army officers on August 15, 1975. Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana survived the assassination of their family as they were staying abroad at the time of the gruesome incident. Then the regimes that followed her father’s killing denied her entry into Bangladesh and she was forced to live in exile in New Delhi, India for a number of years. Eventually in 1981 she managed to return home risking her life and joined politics. Since then, no less than 21 attempts have been made to assassinate her, some of which she narrowly survived.

The attempts on her life included shots fired at her home, a 76-kilogram bomb planted near her rally site, grenade attack on her rally, a bid to poison her and, most recently, an apparent attempt to crash the plane that was carrying her. Sheikh Hasina, eldest daughter of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, said in a speech that she did not care about conspiracies. “Only Allah can give and take life. I never bowed to anybody except Allah and never will,” she said. This correspondent collected the following chronology of the attacks on Sheikh Hasina from various sources. Sheikh Hasina first came under attack on November 10 in 1987 when she joined an agitation against the military rule of general HM Ershad near the Secretariat building. Bullets were shot at her car. A bullet hit a jubilant anti- Ershad protester Nur Hossain, who died on the spot.

Then on January 24, 1988 police and BDR fired at a rally of the then 8-party alliance at Laldighi Maidan in Chittagong in an alleged attempt to kill Hasina. Police fired on the crowd. Seven were killed and scores of people were injured, but Sheikh Hasina narrowly escaped. Armed assailants, mostly from the political party of Bangabandhu’s killers named Freedom Party, attacked Sheikh Hasina's Dhanmondi residence on August 11, 1989. Sheikh Hasina was in the house at the time of the attack. The attackers fired a volley of shots and lobbed a grenade into the house. On September 11, 1991, Sheikh Hasina came under the attack of BNP activists when she was visiting a polling centre at Green Road in the capital. Shots were fired as soon as she got out of the vehicle, but she escaped unhurt. Another attempt was made to kill Sheikh Hasina during her train-march program in Ishwardi on September 23, 1994.

She was survived for the sixth time when she was addressing a rally at Russel Square at Panthapath in the capital on December 7, 1995. On March 7, 1996, when Hasina had just finished her speech at a public rally at Bangabandhu Avenue, assailants fired shots and threw bombs targeting the rally stage from a microbus. Twenty people were injured during that attempt on her. In 1997, a man named Shoeb Chowdhury, who was the owner of Inter Asia TV, sent out emails announcing rewards for those who could kill 31 people including prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her son and daughter. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) had planted a 76-kilogram bomb in Sheikh Lutfor Rahman College field at Gopalganj’s Kotalipara on July 20, 2000. Sheikh Hasina was due to address a rally at that venue two days later. Fortunately, the bomb was recovered beforehand and she was saved again.

Again, explosives planted under Rupsha Bridge in Khulna to kill her during inauguration of the bridge were found on May 29, 2001. It was believed to be the work of HuJI militants. On September 25, 2001, an attempt was made to kill Sheikh Hasina when she went to Sylhet for election campaign. A bomb exploded in a house barely 500 yards from the rally venue around 8:00pm, killing two people. In 2002, when the BNP-led government was in power, a Juba Dal leader led attacks on Hasina’s motorcade in front of Naogaon’s BMC Government Women’s College on March 4. Hasina was the opposition leader then. On September 29 that year, the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami activists barricaded the road at Kolaroa in Satkhira and attacked Hasina’s motorcade. Shots were fired on Hasina’s motorcade by the then BNP-Jamaat cadres at Gouranodi in Barisal on April 2, 2004. Sheikh Hasina survived the deadliest attempt on her life on August 21, 2004. The Awami League president was speaking at a rally at Bangabandhu Avenue, and the atrocious attack was launched as soon as she finished her speech. At least 13 grenades were thrown from the rooftops of a nearby building which left 24 leaders and activists, including wife of late president Zillur Rahman and Mahila Awami League chief, Ivy Rahman, dead and 300 others injured. Although Hasina narrowly escaped death, one of her ears’ hearing capacity was damaged and she also suffered from various physical problems. Awami League, an opposition party at the time, alleged that the BNP-led government diverted the course of investigation and staged a drama of Joj Mia, a drifter, accusing of masterminding that attack.

Apart from these, the Awami League alleged that the army-backed 2007-08 caretaker government tried to kill her by poisoning her food during her incarceration from July 16, 2007 to June 11, 2008. At that time she repeatedly fell sick allegedly due to slow poisoning. Even when in power, someone had hired a Sri Lankan extremist outfit to kill Hasina. To execute the plan a suicide squad was formed and even advance payment was made in 2011. But that attempt failed as members of the suicide squad were killed in a road accident on their way to Kolkata Airport. Another conspiracy also took place against her in December 2011 by the killers of Bangabandhu. As part of the plot, a military coup was organized, which, however, turned futile as the conspiracy was leaked out and some of the conspirators were nabbed.

Then the 19th attempt to eliminate her was disclosed in the latter part of 2014 by an Indian militant named Shahanur Alam, who was arrested over the Burdwan blast in West Bengal. Before executing the plan, the whole story was revealed by leading Indian media outlets including the Times of India. On March 7, 2015, the JMB tried to kill her by hurling bomb at her motorcade in Karwan Bazar in the capital when she was going to the Suhrawardy Udyan to address a public rally. And lastly on November 23, 2016, a VVIP flight carrying prime minister Sheikh Hasina was forced to make an emergency landing at Ashgabat International Airport in the capital of Turkmenistan due to a technical glitch. It was found that several nuts in the lubricant oil system of the plane were loose. Several probe bodies concluded that the problem occurred due to ‘human factor’, but whether it was due to negligence or a plan to sabotage the aircraft could not be confirmed yet. Biman Bangladesh Airlines has suspended six officials following the incident.

An Unpaid Loan

Biman Bangladesh Airlines is in trouble with the BDT2.90-billion loan it had taken from the World Bank in 2007 in order to settle pension/ gratuity dues of its employees, who had embraced the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS). Although half of the loan was supposed to be repaid within the last eight years, Biman has not paid back a single penny, nor has it adhered to the loan conditions granted by the Finance Ministry. As a result, today the loan, along with the interests, stands at a staggering BDT4.19 billion. Unable to pay this huge amount of money, the national flag-carrier sent a letter to the secretary of the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry on January 8 this year, seeking conversion of the entire loan liability into government equity.

government took some initiatives to reform the highly corrupt Biman. One of those initiatives required Biman to downsize its manpower from 6,883 to 3,400 as part of a reform program to make it a viable commercial entity. Accordingly, a total of 1,876 Biman employees retired and their pensions and gratuities were paid from the loan received from the Finance Ministry. However, not only did Biman fail to pay back the loan, it was also unable to complete the manpower-shedding program and rehired many VRS participants on a contractual basis. Some of the retired employees filed a case against Biman to get their jobs back and were reinstated to their positions. A Biman official, who did not want his name to be disclosed, said that the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry has reacted very strongly against Biman’s latest attempt to transfer the load of VRS loan on to the government. In a letter to Biman administration, the ministry stated that the loan was sanctioned with 12 conditions, and one of the main conditions was to abolish the positions of the retired employees to reform the organizational structure of Biman. The reformed organizational structure was supposed to be approved by the Ministry of Public Administration and the Ministry of Finance.

However, Biman did not follow this condition. While Biman sent the proposal for a reformed organizational structure, signed by its managing director, to the ministry, it was not approved by its board of directors. The ministry reminded Biman eight times to send a new organizational structure approved by the board of directors, but Biman did not pay any heed to it. They are not in a position to get approval from the Public Administration Ministry or Finance Ministry. Another Biman official said that Biman did not abolish the positions of the retired employees. New manpower was recruited in the same positions by publishing advertisements in newspapers. The Biman Bangladesh Airlines was transformed into a company in 2007 on four conditions including reduction of manpower to 3,400. Nine years since then, the manpower of Biman is now 5,038. Biman is frequently recruiting new people. Most of the new recruits are allegedly relatives of the current Biman employees. From the position of peon to pilot, nepotism is apparently rampant in every layer of Biman’s hierarchy.

Another condition of the VRS loan was that Biman has to pay the loan at a 5 percent interest rate on a halfyearly basis. However, Biman did not pay back a single taka in the last nine years. The controller general of foreign aid project was supposed to conduct an audit two months after the proper use of the loan, but Biman did not fulfill that condition either. Some officials said that although 1,877 people received pension and gratuity on paper, the reality is completely different. Some of those employees got their jobs back, so they did not take any pension or gratuity. They will demand those benefits after their job tenure expires in due time. When asked why Biman is not being able to pay the VRS loan, a Biman official said that Biman used to be a corporation, but it was turned into a company. For the sake of reconstruction and commercialization, Biman decided to buy 4 Boeing 777-300 ER and 2 Boeing737 aircraft. To buy these three aircraft, Biman had to take loans worth BDT82.96 billion from various local and international banks. So far Biman has repaid BDT35.51 billion as loan installments. Four more Boeing aircraft will be included in Biman’s fleet in 2018 and 2019, and the bulk of loan will increase even further.

Biman is currently paying an average of BDT6 billion worth of loan installments. Coupled with the regular fare of rented aircraft, it is becoming more and more difficult for Biman to keep the balance of cash flow. So it is in no position to pay up the BDT4.19 billion loan. Hence it resorted to seeking conversion of the entire loan liability into government's equity, he added. Although Biman is claiming inability to pay back the loan, it is simultaneously claiming to have profit for the last couple of years. Biman claimed to earn a profit worth BDT2.76 billion in the last fiscal year and BDT3.24 billion in the FY 2014-15. However, people associated with this sector is not buying this claim, as Biman is not even being able to properly pay the cost of fuel and rent of private aircraftit. Only managing its own operating cost should not be considered as an indicator of profit. Biman has to pay all the dues and loans before it can truly lay claim to any profit figure, they added.

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