Bangladesh: USA asks PM Hasina to end crisis
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Once known for sweatshops and cyclones, Bangladesh has emerged in recent years as a fragile democracy with an expanding economy. In 2013 Bangladesh suffered its worst political violence since its independence in 1971, with more than 500 dead. The violence has disrupted the key garment industry and tarnished the image of a country that, while still poor, has made remarkable gains in life expectancy, literacy and gender equality. Bangladesh also stands out as one of the few Muslim-majority democracies.
In 2009, Hasina inflamed tensions by resurrecting a long dormant plan to hold war-crimes trials of about a dozen leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and the opposition BNP. The BNP has traditionally been closer to religious conservatives. In the name of fighting terrorism, as per the modern trend, to appease anti-Islamic forces in the country and outside, Hasina targeted anyone whom she or her party does not like. Hasina has used the threat of rising extremism as an excuse to imprison opponents and harass journalists and human rights activists. The United States has also raised concerns about violence by both parties and disappearances allegedly carried out by the security forces. Human Rights Watch alleges that government security forces have been involved in at least 20 politically motivated killings.
The political scene in Bangladesh remains as turbulent as ever. The main opposition parties, the Bangladeshi National Party (BNP), led by Khaleda Zia, and Jamaat e Islami (JeI) have been calling without avail for fresh parliamentary elections since they boycotted those that took place in January 2014, in which the Awami League (AL), led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, won an overwhelming victory. Their dispute centres on the fact that Zia wanted the 2014 elections to take place under the auspices of a neutral caretaker government, whereas Hasina instituted an all-party interim cabinet instead.
In recent weeks, the hostilities between what media outlets have called the ‘battling Begums’ have further intensified. Khaleda Zia called for mass demonstrations on 5 January under the banner, “Murder of Democracy Day”, to mark the first anniversary of the 2014 elections. The AL government responded by banning demonstrations. Zia then called for an indefinite blockade of roads, railways and waterways leading into Dhaka, the capital. This began on 5 January and remains in effect.
Some rays of hope are visible on the horizon in Dhaka which has been for quite some time under a virtual siege by opposition BNP party. Now it appears the political crisis due to power struggle between the two top leaders PM Sheik Hasina and Opposition BNP leader Khaleda is going to come to an end soon if one were to believe the signal relayed form Washington.
After along time of ‘wait and see’ how the crisis evolves in Dhaka, the US Secretary of State John F. Kerry has called for Bangladesh government’s action to peacefully end the recent violence in the country which has claimed over 100 lives in the past seven weeks and condemned the targeting of civilians by political parties. John F. Kerry has asked PM Hasina also to ensure political expression of all parties in the country and emphasized the need for a free and fair media that plays a constructive role in ensuring human rights. He condemned the targeting of civilians by political parties and stressed the need for opposition parties to cease such attacks immediately.
In a meeting with Bangladesh foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali in Washington on February 19, Kerry also offered renewed US support to help achieve a political solution that returns Bangladesh to its democratic foundations. During the meeting, Kerry offered renewed US support to help achieve a political solution that returns Bangladesh to its democratic foundations. The two leaders also discussed bilateral relationship and other regional issues.
“The secretary of state stated there can be no tolerance for tactics that target innocent citizens or inhibit political expression in a democratic Bangladesh,” said a release by the US state department press office.
Ali met Kerry on the sidelines of the Summit to Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) hosted by White House on 19th Feb at the US capital Washington DC. During the meeting they discussed the entire gamut of Bangladesh-US bilateral relations and expressed their satisfaction with the current level of cooperation and acknowledged that the bilateral relation is expanding from strength to strength. John Kerry also emphasized the need for a free and fair media that plays a constructive role in ensuring human rights.
However, John Kerry conveyed his appreciation for the close relations the United States shares with Bangladesh and applauded Bangladesh for its laudable success in the socio-economic fields and said that the US would be happy to continue expanding its cooperation with Bangladesh. He noted Bangladesh’s increasing strategic importance in the region and underscored the need to protect Bangladesh’s fundamental freedoms. They discussed Bangladesh’s economic growth and gains in development, as well as our shared efforts to address climate change and improve labor conditions.
Mahmood Ali urged John Kerry to expedite repatriation of the most-wanted fugitive Rashed Chowdhury, one of the convicted killers of former premier Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who is living in the USA illegally. Kerry responded very positively, when he was invited by his counterpart to visit Bangladesh, and said he would love to take the visit at the earliest opportunity. The Foreign Minister was accompanied by Bangladesh Ambassador to USA Ziauddin, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque and Director General (Americas) Mahfuzur Rahman. US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal assisted the Secretary of State.
A news release issued by Bangladesh mission in Washington said the two leaders agreed that violence has no space in a democracy, and condemned the mindless violence and extremism in the name of ideology or political expression.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali attended the Ministerial Segment of the White House Countering Violent Extremism Summit, which was addressed by US President Barack Obama. The White House Summit, first of its kind, gathered government and civil society representatives, including faith leaders, from more than 60 countries to discuss a forward-looking strategy to counter the generational challenge of violent extremism.
The participants at the meeting shared insights on the drivers of violent extremism, on effective community-based initiatives to build counter-narratives to violent extremism, and on the various proven means of de-radicalizing and reintegrating former terrorists and extremists. The Summit adopted a statement highlighting eight work streams to take forward the CVE agenda through concerted global action, including developing a multi-dimensional CVE action plan under the aegis of the UN.
Reaffirming support for global efforts to counter violent extremism, Mahmood Ali has said that there must be a “zero tolerance” approach to all forms of terrorism and violent extremism. “Terrorists are terrorists irrespective of beliefs, creeds or castes. There must be a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to all forms of terrorism and violent extremism,” asserted the Bangladesh Foreign Minister in Washington.
Foreign Minister Ali lamented the extremist agenda being pursued by the BNP-Jamaat alliance to undermine the democratic, non-communal and non-confrontational narratives being propagated by the government. Kerry noted Bangladesh’s increasing strategic importance in the region and underscored the need to protect Bangladesh’s fundamental freedoms.
US Secretary of State and Bangladesh counterpart Foreign Minister agreed that violence has no room in a democracy and condemned the mindless violence and extremism in the name of ideology or political expression. They agreed to work together on a number of global issues, inter alia, climate change, countering violent extremism, terrorism, peacekeeping, human security and disaster preparedness. John Kerry expressed deep interest to work with Bangladesh in fighting climate change.
The message from Washington to end crisis in Dhaka is loud and clear. Now it is for the government to give peace a chance or further precipitate the crisis and prolong the conflict for political purposes.
UN should have separate and powerful commission to deal with such alarmingly serious domestic cases, highly explosive and hence injurious to societal harmony. .