Bangladesh: A credible solution to power struggle is elusive!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
The political scene in Bangladesh, unfortunately, remains as turbulent as ever. The main opposition parties, the Bangladeshi National Party (BNP), led by Khaleda Zia, and Jamaat e Islami 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. It appears, Zia got into the trap laid by Hasina.
Bangladesh with an expanding economy has emerged in recent years as a fragile democracy with ruling opposition parties fighting for their own survival, forgetting about the plight of people. 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.
It is crudely pathetic that neither the ruling Awami party nor the opposition BNP cares about the life or security of its people in Bangladesh or what happens to education or the economy of the country. Coming to power at any cost is the only objective of major political parties. In such a situation, political dialogue could end with more destructive anger, fatal to the citizens of the country.
Today Bangladesh stands out as one of the few Muslim-majority democracies. But Bangladesh is now undergoing severe political crisis, with innocent people losing their lives almost every single day. The rolling strikes and blockades not only cause death, but destroy the country’s economy, education, and makes life intolerable. Recently, the education minister has had to reschedule the SSC exam timetables on multiple occasions due to non-stop shutdowns (hartals) called by the BNP-led 20-party alliance. Nobody knows exactly how many more reschedules like this will take place in the recent future. This unexpected rescheduling is completely demoralising for students sitting for the examination.
PM Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia underwent jail terms for their corruption related crimes. By using mild authoritarian methods, each caused jail term to the other, and therefore they fear each other.
By summarising the various speeches and statements of ruling Bangladesh Awami League leaders, it is clear that they are not in a position to give up their power until the legal validation of present parliament expires by 2019. On the other hand, the present inimitable objective of the BNP-led 20 parties’ alliance is to bring down the government first and then facilitate a new national election by a caretaker government which is banned by the latest reformation of the Bangladesh Constitution.
True, both Hasina and Khaleda used violence as a key tool to get power. 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 of the opposition BNP. The BNP has traditionally been closer to religious conservatives.
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.
The United States, among foreign nations, has also raised concerns about violence by both parties and disappearances allegedly carried out by the security forces. After along time of ‘wait and see’ how the crisis evolves in Dhaka, the US Secretary of State 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.
In a meeting with Bangladesh foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali in Washington on February 19, on the sidelines of the Summit to Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) hosted by White House on 19th Feb at the US capital Washington DC, US Secretary of State 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. 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.
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. Kerry noted Bangladesh’s increasing strategic importance in the region and underscored the need to protect Bangladesh’s fundamental freedoms.
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”. Kerry stated there can be no tolerance for tactics that target innocent citizens or inhibit political expression in a democratic Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, the White House Summit on Violent Extremism, 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 effective community-based initiatives to build counter-narratives to violent extremism, and on the various proven means of de-radicalizing and reintegrating former extremists.
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. 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. However, he may not make the trip if the political conditions remain so volatile.
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. Kerry also emphasized the need for a free and fair media that plays a constructive role in ensuring human rights.
USA, as per its Asia pivot policy of encircling Beijing, is making efforts to take Bangladesh out of China’s hold and patronage.
In the name of fighting terrorism as per the modern trend, possibly to appease anti-Islamic forces in the country and outside, Hasina targets 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. Human Rights Watch alleges that government security forces have been involved in at least 20 politically motivated killings.
The government rejects the opposition plea for a talk, saying talks are not useful. So if a dialogue is not useful, what else would be effective? Many people are thinking about a military takeover, which could solve the problem.
If Bangladesh PM Hasina thinks the USA and Europe would support her misrule, 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.
If Hasina objects to US counsel on internal problems of Bangladesh, she would face the wrath form the West and so she won’t try that, upsetting her own apple cart.
Some rays of hope, however, are feebly 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 from Washington.
Political casualty may affect politicians in the political arena, and not the general public which allows the politicians to rule the nation on their behalf with a mandate. The attitude “ if I can’t rule, none else also can” is not a sound one.
Meanwhile, the UN should come forward to assist in solving the Bangladeshi problem of perpetual power struggle. UN should have a separate and highly powerful commission to deal with such alarmingly serious domestic cases, highly explosive and hence injurious to societal and even regional harmony.