Friday, April 27, 2007

Bangladesh Political Situation Update - 28th April 2007

No reaction on the street: Unease, uncertainties continue:

Forty eight hours after the dramatic move of the military backed interim Government to withdraw a ban on Hasina’s return to Bangladesh, and letting Khaleda off her near house arrest status, there have not been many reassurances forthcoming to the people at large to feel rested and let the suffocating uncertainties melt away. Likewise there have been no scenes of jubilation other than among handful of workers and activists of both parties.

The political development is unique in the country’s history for what we are witnessing for the first time is a crisis that is essentially created by the elite, of the elite, and for the elite to deal with. To the man on the street the outcome matters little for what he has is a semblance of peace that he did not enjoy until very recently. The past disquiet was because of the endless bickering between the two women who had by default ruled the country as if it was their personal fiefdom on their fathers and husbands ‘ghosts’. The fate of the two leaders is therefore of little consequence to ‘the people’ as we know them, other than those that have been direct beneficiaries to the previous status quo.

I found an excellent summary giving us a backdrop to recent events by the former
Indian Foreign Secretary Salman Haidar in his piece, The crisis of Bangladesh where he writes:

Action against the two leaders comes after a long sequence of discouraging events. Begum Khaleda handed over at the appropriate time to a caretaker government headed by the president, who, assisted by 10 advisers, had the task of conducting the general election. But what had been devised as a means of ensuring electoral fair play, and had served a useful purpose on previous occasions, did not calm political worries this time. Tensions in the lead up to the polls did not abate, for in many eyes the caretaker authority was too close to the one it had replaced, and it was believed that many key decisions were taken in a partisan spirit. The perception of bias led some of the advisers to resign, which further damaged the credibility of the caretaker administration. Before long, the argument was transferred to the streets of Dhaka where violent clashes took place, and the problem that the caretaker administration was intended to solve remained not just unsettled but dangerously magnified. Eventually, the deteriorating situation led to the declaration of a state of emergency early this year, followed by the reconstitution of the interim administration and the appointment of Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, a respected banker, as the chief adviser and thus the titular head of the administration. The muscle for this arrangement was provided by the army, which has remained in the deep background until now.

Dangerous Liaison: AL and BNP on the Military boat:

What is hurtful is the ability of the average Bangladesh citizen to forget recent history and fall into a trap of collective amnesia. As if fifteen long years of ‘tested Western style democracy’ was not enough to fool the people with violently divisive polity that by insinuation meant ‘my way or the highway’ stances, leading to murder mayhems at any given opportunity by the respective parties of the two women, the innocent being the likely target, I am not at all surprised that when push comes to shove as is the case now, politics will continue to make stranger bed fellows. Read on -
Reports today speak of
AL, BNP leaders busy healing wounds :
As the interim government has changed its official stance as regards keeping two top political leaders, Khaleda Zia of BNP and Sheikh Hasina of Awami League, away from the country, the second tiers of leadership of the parties in question are now trying to remove the differences within the parties. The BNP secretary general, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, is expected to visit the party chairperson, Khaleda Zia, who was under apparent confinement at her house for about 24 days, anytime soon, a close associate of Bhuiyan told New Age. Some Awami League leaders have also taken a move to bridge the gap reportedly created between the party chief and presidium members Amir Hossain Amu, Abdur Razzak, Tofail Ahmed and Suranjit Sengupta, an Awami League source said.
however if we are to reflect on happenings to earlier on in the week, we are reminded that whilst indoor politics have been banned, Mannan Bhuiyan had no less that two dozen BNP MP’s in his house for consultation which simply couldn’t have been done without the tacit support of the military backed regime. Similarly Suranjit Sengupta’s recent statements were enough to send signals that things were not very rosy within the AL leadership as well?

and as BBC reports

With Sheikh Hasina out of the country on a personal visit, the government saw its chance. And so too did some of the two leaders' closest colleagues

What transpired in reality as the vernacular Naya Diganta reported yesterday is both the parties have in fact agreed to the Government to make sure that their leaders tone down their rhetoric’s. It also means that both the party looking the other way till reforms are completed up until the next poll which if at all, is slated to be held on a vague date in 2008.

The Net Gain / Loss thus far: Khaleda or Hasina?

By looks of things both ‘Begums’ are sure to lose, for as the Government speaks
courageously about the ‘Army backed’ faux pas, a fresh move at pinning down both women this time on corruption charges appears to be underway. The Government has asked the central banking authorities to figure out how much cash they have, and this is what we have learnt :

She [Khaleda] maintains 48 accounts with different commercial banks, including NCBs and specialised commercial banks. Bangladesh Bank sources said Hasina had a number of accounts with different commercial banks, including state-run Sonali, Janata and Agrani banks. ‘She [Hasina] has ‘huge balance’ with different branches of state-run Agrani Bank,’ a senior central bank official told the news agency.~~~ Commercial banks so far have reported that Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina each have up to Tk 3 crore in bank accounts, said banking sources. More banks continued to submit information on the two leaders and their dependants as part of the central bank's inquiry into their transaction details
The final ‘money tally’ next week would be an indicator if the Government is planning to bring corruption charges and whether it is serious about its action, or is yet another one of its ‘courageous faux pas’!

Thus far Khaleda appears to be the gainer in the see-saw effort by the Government to throw her out. Reading the BBC report
‘What next for Bangladesh Dynasties’
on rumours circulating is good stuff to chew upon:

There are many theories and rumours. That element of the military, loyal to the memory of her late husband, the assassinated president General Ziaur Rahman, intervened on her behalf. hat her sons insisted she stay regardless of the consequences.~~~ Or perhaps she simply decided to dig her heals in to be absolutely sure there was no chance of Sheikh Hasina returning, before she herself agreed to leave

What needs to be seen is how things fare out in the first week of May, when
Khaleda Zia steps out to go to Saudi Arabia and Hasina despite her anxious moves to get back soonest to the country last week, seems to have developed cold feet and has ‘appointments’ to attend to before she also returns on the first week of May ?

Hasina has fared badly, and despite the press she received thanks to this episode she could neither impress nor express, nor rise up to the occasion. Her interview with BBC’s Asia Today last night (26th April) was a disaster as she was incoherent, went into her ‘my regime’ score card report on ‘golden period’, which took up more than the three or four minutes slotted for her to speak her mind.

A sample of her diatribe is however available in the article
'Battling begums' warn Bangladesh won't wait for polls where she states:

"They have gagged the press and have yet to hold elections. I don't know what will happen but the people will not wait forever. Once the people come out on to the street, I don't know how long their patience will last." ~~~~Sheikh Hasina warned the military against any such move: "I think some quarters [of the army] were encouraged by the Pakistani model, but Bangladesh is totally different, our society and people won't let it
happen," she said.

More than the people losing patience and converging on the street to be massacred, Hasina seems to be the one that has lost patience and her ‘newest plan’ comes into play with this report:
Hasina to sue British Airways for denying boarding card
Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina planned to sue British Airways demanding compensation worth 100 million pounds for "wrongfully" denying her the boarding pass to return home from London earlier this week, her lawyer said here today ~~~~ He said the British Airways authorities had violated their own "General Condition for Carriage for Passengers and Baggage" which allowed them to refuse boarding passes only if requested by Bangladesh's immigration authorities, whereas in her case the request came from the Civil Aviation Authority according the airways formal letter denying her the pass. .
The decision by British Airways not to let her board was neither a political decision, nor an infringement on her Human Rights. It was a purely commercial decision as hypothetically speaking, if she was allowed board - BA would have had to compromise the interest of all other passengers on the flight. If the aircraft was not allowed to enter Bangladesh airspace (as gathered from an Intelligence flash) it would have meant diverting to Delhi or Mumbai and letting off Hasina before onward flights to Dhaka could commence, or return directly to London. This would have meant losses in revenue that would have been staggering for any airline, and would have indicated their lack of professionalism. Hasina stands to lose some political clout in the UK, for not every Brit would accept its flag carrier to be sued.

However the bottom line is
the caretaker government was yet to withdraw its letter written to the British Airways not to carry Hasina on its flight in view of the banso it is still premature to say that Hasina will return to Bangladesh with any bit of certainty!

Another issue that seem to have upset a lot of people in Bangladesh is
India was in touch with Hasina during her ban
"India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke to me and the Indian High Commissioner Kamalesh Sharma met me here," Hasina, Chief of the Awami League said. She did not give further details. Hasina said her party always valued 'friendly relations with India and other neighbours.
Admittedly Bangladesh has ‘friendly relations with India and other neighbors’, but the high profile probing into the welfare of Sheikh Hasina is certainly bewildering. Have the Indian’s been in touch with Khaleda too? If NOT, then is it because Hasina was more ‘friendlier’ than Khaleda?


I leave readers with highlights from the article
A fragile democracy by Tanvir Ahmad Khan, a former foreign secretary of Pakistan who has also served as ambassador to Bangladesh, that sums up the current situation in Bangladesh and gives us a forward vision when we juxtapose Pakistan’s experience and plight with the military with our own:
The best hope for democracy now is an election after a period of internal reforms, perhaps before the end of 2008. Bangladesh has inexorably been moving towards being a national security state though the threats are largely internal.~~~~ Events in Bangladesh are also said to have been shaped by external factors. Apparently, in 2003, an exaggerated version of Islamic militancy in the country led to heightened outside pressure on the government to take pre-emptive action against the Islamists. As it complied with the stricter norms of the war on terror, the government polarised the internal situation further. BNP needed bonafide Islamic parties as coalition partners, which raised their demands for a share of parliamentary seats. Alarmed by this prospect, the West reportedly wanted a transformation of Bangladesh's polity citing Pakistan as a model. If true, Bangladesh may, in the short run, experience an exacerbation of tensions similar to those in Pakistan.~~~~ Somewhere along the line, there has been a breach of communication, a grave disconnect in the perception of the national mission Bangladesh has, indeed, faced an identity problem since its independence.
Mac Haque

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