Islamabad attempts to have some hold on Bangladesh appears to be futile says Nayar

Kuldip Nayar | January 14, 2015 09:53 PM
Kuldip Nayar

Bangladeshis love to rule themselves raucously and irrationally

Dhaka was understandably in the midst of violence a few days ago because Begum Khalida Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had given a call for a blockade. Hers was a protest against the polls held on January 5 last year when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won a majority even before a single vote was cast.  

Bangladesh is in the midst of something like that. The army once took over the state and tried to govern it. But it found that the Bangladeshis loved to rule themselves, raucously and irrationally. 

Begum Zia is to blame herself largely because she boycotted the election. She suspected that the polls would be a farce and that it was futile to contest. But that argument did not hold water because the election held despite her boycott was by and large free and fair. Gen H.M. Ershad's Jatia Party was able to return some numbers who constitute the main Opposition in Parliament today.
That Sheikh Hasina is authoritarian is nothing new. But Begum Zia gave legitimacy to Sheikh Hasina's strong methods by avoiding the polls. Sheikh Hasina's governance is a one-person rule and even the judiciary feels shy of giving judgments which may annoy her. As for the bureaucracy, it has become a rubber stamp.

Begum Zia's charge that she was forced to stay in her party office for the whole night may be true. The police themselves admit that they had beefed up the security and were willing to take her to her home. Apparently, she wanted to go somewhere else so as to pursue the call for a demonstration on the first anniversary of her election boycott.

Bangladesh won independence through the blood of thousands of people who fought the then ruling Pakistani army. The country should have settled down to peaceful conditions by now. But, as has happened in other liberated countries, the freedom fighters themselves battle against one another to gain supremacy. Bangladesh is no different. 

What is painful is the effort to tear the social fabric which the liberators and custodians of democracy had inherited when Bangladesh was born. But over a period of time they have been concentrating more on usurping power and wanting to dominate. And they seem to stop at nothing in achieving these goals.  Bangladesh is in the midst of something like that. The army once took over the state and tried to govern it. But it found that the Bangladeshis loved to rule themselves, raucously and irrationally. 

Therefore, the army does not want to burn its fingers again. The two Begums, Sheikh Hasina and Khalida Zia, continue to fight and have no compunction in harming the country to establish their supremacy. However, a good fallout of their never-ending confrontation is that the people have learnt not to obey their calls for hartal or disturb the work. Bangladesh has sustained the growth rate at 6 per cent a year for the last two decades.
Yet what is the solution to peaceful governance? New Delhi, which helped the Bangladeshis liberate themselves, could play a role. But it is backing Sheikh Hasina because of her secular credentials. Begum Zia has staked her future by aligning with Jammat-e-Islami, which is fundamentalist and which sided with the anti-liberation forces, including the Pakistani army, during the freedom struggle. Islamabad continues trying to fish in troubled waters. But its dependence is on the extremist elements which do not seem to sell at this juncture. 

Despite an appeal in the name of Islam, Bangladesh remains a secular, democratic state. Although the Indian Muslim League, which founded Pakistan, originated in East Bengal, later East Pakistan, could not silence the voices of liberalism that has been the bedrock of this area. The people, increasingly becoming religious today, are liberal at heart. Nearly one million Hindus still live there and go about their religious obligations without much interference.

Pakistan, although trying its best, has not been able to make headway because of the murders and atrocities its army committed to suppress the Bangladeshis' freedom movement. The cold-blooded murder of the cream of the Bangladesh society was meant to deny it a future of meritorious people. Islamabad's army was instrumental in the worst kind of pogram. 

A book entitled "The Blood Telegram-India's Secret War in East Pakistan" by Gary G. Bass has confirmed this. But what the book reveals is the misreporting of events in Bangladesh. Many of the US Embassy staff did not approve of them. "(The US) Embassy has had full-scale revolt on general issue by virtually all officers in Consulate General, Dacca, coupled with forfeiture of leadership for American community there, Dacca's reporting has been tendentious to an extreme," says the book.
Bangladesh has not been liberated in the true sense because it heavily depends on foreign aid. There is a consortium with America playing the leading role to provide Dhaka with foreign exchange and a large amount of takka, the Bangladeshi currency.

As long as the Bangladesh leaders do not look within, they will continue to depend on foreign powers which will naturally extract the price. Engaged as they are in internal squabbles, the political parties have no concrete programme to liberate themselves from foreign influence. In fact, the assistance of foreign powers is sought to deal with the domestic problems. However, this is not a long-term solution.
The tragedy of Bangladesh is that both the Begums, because of their personal enmity, continue to build their support with the help of outside powers. As long as they dominate the political scene, Bangladesh has little future. But then how does this change? Unfortunately, no alternative is emerging. And many attempts in the past have made no headway.
Fundamentalism is no solution because it seeks to mix religion with politics, apart from the archaic thinking it cultivates. There is no go from democracy. But the hitch is that hostility between the ruling Awami League and the BNP is concentrating on how to grab power. The key to unlock the problem lies with Shiekh Hasina.

It is probably too much to expect from the Prime Minister to announce fresh elections so as to give a chance to the BNP to seek its fortunes from within the system. But that seems to be the only way out in a country that is sharply divided and engaged in political feuds. Both parties promised to eradicate the poverty of the people but this is not possible until there is reasonable normalcy. This cannot happen without a fresh start in the political field.

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