Al Jazeera published a series of scandalous reports last week alleging that Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has practically surrendered control of the state to Army Chief General Aziz Ahmed. The Qatari outlet’s investigative journalism team claims to have proven that he’s engaged in a far-reaching international corruption scheme involving one of his fugitive gangster brothers who they say formerly guarded the country’s leader before being sentenced to life in prison for murdering a political opponent prior to fleeing abroad to Hungary. According to Al Jazeera, General Ahmed played a direct role in helping his brother Haris establish a new identity there, after which the company caught him in a sting operation bragging that Sheikh Hasina allows him to profit from all Bangladeshi government contracts in Europe. Haris was also recorded talking about how he used Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion to target his opponents. Furthermore, their investigation claims to have proven that he played a role in Bangladesh’s indirect acquisition of “Israeli” stringray-like spyware technology via a proxy company despite Dhaka having no official ties with Tel Aviv. The UN has since called for an investigation after the military claimed once the scandal broke that it was for their peacekeeping operations.
The Bangladeshi government has vehemently denied all of the allegations, which they described as a “smear campaign”, and are preparing to sue Al Jazeera. At the moment, it’s unclear whether any of the allegations are true, but the company nevertheless provided a plethora of compelling evidence to the public which provokes some very difficult questions that Dhaka will ultimately have to answer more in detail than simply dismissing them all like they’ve thus far done. In the event that Al Jazeera accurately reported the facts, then the political consequences would be devastating for the reputations of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League and the nation’s armed forces. Some critics have claimed that all of this is actually just a gigantic conspiracy aimed at tarnishing their images at home and abroad. The truth will likely be revealed with time, but before that happens, it’s worthwhile analysing why all of this is happening and what it might lead to. Qatari publicly financed Al Jazeera invested an enormous amount of time and resources into their investigation, which while ostensibly being done solely to discover the truth about this alleged far-reaching international corruption scheme, will nevertheless have differing degrees of political consequences for Bangladesh and others.
Most immediately, Al Jazeera has proven itself very committed to carrying out extensive journalistic investigations into international corruption regardless of whether or not its claims ultimately hold up to legal scrutiny. This has been devastating for Bangladesh in more ways than one since it brought its ruling party’s and armed forces’ reputations into disrepute. The narrative put forth by Al Jazeera’s investigation is that Sheikh Hasina, despite claiming to be a passionate supporter of democracy, has practically surrendered control of the country to its armed forces that are nowadays coincidentally led by the brother of one of her bodyguards, the same bodyguard who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a political opponent before he fled abroad with what the outlet claimed might have even been the assistance of Indian military intelligence before ending up in Hungary. Haris’ bragging about controlling all Bangladeshi government contracts in Europe despite his fugitive status and the alleged role that he played in facilitating his armed forces’ “Israeli” spyware deal (which some fear could have been abused to suppress the political opposition at home) raises concerns about the true nature of the contemporary Bangladeshi state, its democracy, and the role of its armed forces in both.
Building off of this, the domestic opposition might feel emboldened by these revelations to revive their previously quashed nationwide protest movement against Sheikh Hasina. Bangladeshis might also think less about the previously heroic role of the armed forces in their society, especially if they believe Al Jazeera’s claims that it secretly purchased spyware from “Israel”, which would in effect amount to the self-professed “Jewish State” helping the military suppress the political opposition for potentially corrupt reasons related more to Gen. Ahmed’s personal relationship with Sheikh Hasina than any genuine security concerns that they might pose. The UN’s investigation call could also result in a permanent black mark on Bangladesh’s international reputation if it leads to the global body concluding that Sheikh Hasina’s government and her armed forces were engaged in unscrupulous activity, to put it mildly. The UN also contradicted the Bangladeshi military’s claims that the spyware, which the latter insisted that it truly thought was from Hungary and not “Israel”, was employed by its peacekeeping forces. This dispute might lead to changes in Bangladesh’s relationship to UN peacekeeping missions, where it’s presently the larger provider of uniformed personnel.
More broadly, questions are now swirling about the consequences that foreign government-funded media outlets’ investigations can have on their targeted state’s domestic political affairs. It’s also unclear what international legal right the UN has to investigate anything other than the Bangladeshi military’s contentious claim that its purchased spyware was intended for use by its peacekeeping forces abroad. There are concerns that future reports of the kind like Al Jazeera’s latest one about Bangladesh could be weaponized as Hybrid Warfare by hostile forces to meddle in the affairs of foreign countries, whether if the former directly funds and carries out such operations with that intent or if they perhaps contract the journalistic services of a third party (whether government-funded or otherwise) to that end. Moreover, the negative attention that this scandal has brought Bangladesh puts its purportedly pro-democratic American and Indian partners in the spotlight whereby they’re now pressured to either speak out in support of their values or remain silent in suspicious contradiction thereof. They risk pushing Bangladesh away from them and closer towards China and Russia if they jump on the international investigations bandwagon, but not doing so calls the sincerity of their soft power into question.
As was stated earlier on in this analysis, it’s up to the court of law to establish the facts about Al Jazeera’s investigation, but the very publication of the outlet’s series of reports has been enough to provoke an enormous international scandal involving Bangladesh, Qatar, India, Hungary, and “Israel” as the primary players. While there had previously been whispers about Sheikh Hasina’s alleged corruption, the Qatari media company’s claims shocked even her sharpest critics who couldn’t have ever imagined the extent of the corruption that she and the country’s armed forces are accused of. It must be said, however, that for as seemingly systematic as their suspected crimes are, it would be amiss to assume at this point in time on the basis of this supposed evidence alone that the alleged actions of the country’s leader and the head of its armed forces mean that the entire Awami League and the country’s military are all equally corrupt. Even in the event that some or perhaps even all of Al Jazeera’s claims are proven true in the court of law, then the only conclusion that can confidently be made are that those implicated for the relevant crimes must be brought to justice per the established procedures involved and that under no circumstances must there be any violent public unrest.