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Why did Bangladesh appoint General Shafiuddin Ahmed as COAS?

Recently, Gen Shafiuddin Ahmed took over as the chief of the Bangladesh Army from his predecessor Gen Aziz Ahmed. According to Defence experts, Gen Shafiuddin Ahmed's appointment was political, and it remains to be seen whether his tenure will uplift democracy in Bangladesh or not.

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Many call it luck, yet the rest of my sources in the strategic circle of Bangladesh specify his dedication and sincerity. Despite there being other eligible candidates, Bangladesh Government has promoted Lieutenant General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed to General, the highest rank, as the present General Aziz Ahmed has retired.

Lieutenant General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed assumed the rank of General on June 24 for a three-year tenure, as per an official document signed by Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Defence Wahida Sultan on June 10. Bangladesh Army’s BA-2496 Lieutenant General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed, OSP, NDU, PSC, Quarter Master General is the 17th Chief of Army Staff belonging to East Bengal Regiment.

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According to sources in Inter-Service Public Relations, LtG SM Shafiuddin Ahmed was born in Khulna town on December 31 in 1963, and commissioned in the Arms forces in 1983. Earlier, Lt Gen Shafiuddin headed the Govt-run think-tank Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies as its Director General and served at National Defense College as the senior directing staff.

The new chief of the Bangladesh Army

“Maintaining the organization of Army would be newly appointed Army Chief SM Shafiuddin Ahmed’s first priority. The second would be to ensure stability in the Chittagong Hill Tracts Region. And third yet the most important responsibility would be to observe the situation in the neighbouring Arakan area of Myanmar,” retired Brigadier General  M. Sakhawat Hussain, who directed Staff Duties, Military Training and Artillery in Bangladesh Army remarked.

He further said, “Due to the coup in Myanmar low, intensity civil war may escalate in Bangladesh. New General will have to observe and act tactically to Rohingya crisis. The new General will have to observe what China is doing in the region.”

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“The new chief of Bangladesh Army is a professionally sound officer. Bangladesh Army is also in way of modernizing to face challenges of the new world order. As the ARDOC commander, his performence was remarkable,” Major (Retired) Shamsul Arefin, who actively participated in the Liberation War of 1971 told this reporter.

“LtG SM Shafiuddin Ahmed has contributed immensely in UN peacekeeping missions as deputy force commander in the Central African Republic. He took up a very risky and dangerous call of duty when serving as the Multinational Force Commander in a UN Peacekeeping Mission. He showed great bravura while on a UN Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic,” Col Abdullah Ibne Jayed, Director General of Inter-Service Public Relations informed this reporter.

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A political appointment?

Lieutenant General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed has replaced the now-retired General Aziz Ahmed who was defamed by an Al Jazeera sting which accused General Aziz Ahmed of massive corruption and embezzlement. One of the brothers of General Aziz was granted a presidential pardon from his death sentence. The military forces under General Aziz Ahmed were also charged with human rights violations.

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“The whole tenure of Gen Aziz was scandalous. He is the example of that person who behaves like a gangster in a position of CAS than a professional. He used to wear a number of rings in his fingers symbolizing a gangster. His corruption bounds no limits.

“We have to wait and see, whether SM Shafiuddin will attempt to undo this public perception or not. His background indicates to the negative. Officers closely know him commented that he might be no better that Gen Aziz as per the command and financial activities,” Barrister Sarwar Hossain, who served the Army as a Major told this reporter.

Read more: Al Jazeera’s sting on Bangladesh leadership

 “The appointment of Chief of the Army Staff is a political appointment; it’s not just in Bangladesh but anywhere in the world. In Bangladesh Army, there are five other serving Lt Generals. Government has the option of choosing any one out of those 05 names. The good side is that LtG SM Shafiuddin Ahmed is the senior-most among them and he belongs to the East Bengal Regiment that forms the major part of the Bangladeshi Army.

“LtG Ataul Hakim Sarwar Hasan and LtG Matiur Rahaman are believed to be more Professional than him. The political regime in case of appointing Chief of Army Staff (CAS) picks up their loyal person. During the BNP regime too, this practice was exercised.

“Secondly, the election of 2014 was one party election and highly controversial, when Gen Iqbal Karim Bhuiyan was CAS. The army was not deployed. The election of 2018 was plundered the previous night by the administration. The army was deployed apparently to ensure the plundering when Gen Aziz was the CAS,” said Barrister Sarwar Hossain.

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A waiting game

“People could not exercise the voting rights in those two elections, as such the image of the army went low to that extent that army stood against the democracy and against the voting rights of the people, which even Pakistani Army did not do during the 1970 election.

“Shamelessly General Azizur Rahman stated that 2018 election was the best election in Bangladesh. Therefore this will be the biggest challenge for incumbent Chief to change the negative image of Army. Restoring the democracy, ensuing the voting rights of the people,” Barrister Sarwar Hossain told.

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On being asked to elucidate his expectations, Barrister Hossain said, “As the regime has gone increasingly authoritarian, it fears free and fair election for losing power. The next general election will be held in 2023, which will be during the tenure of SM Shafiuddin Ahmed, and in that scenario, SM Shafiuddin Ahmed will have two options. Either to go like his immediate predecessors and comply with lawful and unlawful orders or to disobey. He is likely to opt for the 1st option.

We have to wait and see, whether SM Shafiuddin will attempt to undo this public perception or not. His background indicates the negative. Officers who closely know him commented that he might be no better than Gen Aziz as per the command and financial activities.”

Ayanangsha Maitra is a freelance journalist, Ph.D. Candidate at Department of Defence & Strategic Studies, University of Madras, India. He regularly contributes to GVS and tweets at @Ayanangsha. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.