Tuesday, April 8, 2014


-->The following articles have been carried by The Independent, Daily Sun, Financial Express and Holiday in the last 2 months.



Teesta and LBA go out of Bangladesh’s orbit

M. Serajul Islam



Manmohon Singh has finally communicated to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Summit in Myanmar the bad news that the Congress Government would be unable to deliver the Teesta and the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) deals in its present term to end next month. Lest readers forget facts, Bangladesh’s negotiators had assured the nation that delivering the deals was a formality and that these would be signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka in September 2011.

Bangladesh had by then delivered to India most of its security requirements, including the hand over of the 7 top ULFA leaders that helped India break the dangerous ULFA secessionist movement. Bangladesh also had provided India land transit on a trial basis from which Tripura built the 700 MW gas based Palatana power plant in Tripura at great harm to its roads. Dhaka had prepared the letters that were to be exchanged to give to the Indians land transit on a permanent basis.

The formality over the Teesta deal did not occur because Mamata Banarjee refused to back the centre that needed her province’s concurrence to sign it because under the Indian Constitution, water is a provincial subject. Her refusal came literally at the 11th hour with Dhaka ready to celebrate the signing of the Teesta agreement as the icing on the cake for the initiatives that Sheikh Hasina had taken at great political risks to further relations with India.  Bangladesh retaliated and withdrew the letters that would have been exchanged in Dhaka between the two Prime Ministers to give land transit to India permanently. The two sides nevertheless signed the LBA in Dhaka subject to ratification in the Indian parliament.

Manmohon Singh gave no hint in Dhaka that the ratification would be a problem. He also said that the   delay to sign the Teesta agreement was temporary. The aides of the Bangladesh Prime Minister backed India to dismiss any concern in the country about its promise to deliver. In fact, one curious thing about Bangladesh’s negotiators was their confidence in New Delhi’s promises. Thus when everybody knew the Teesta deal was off, then Bangladesh Foreign Minister refused to believe that India would withdraw it and told journalists the night before Manmohon Singh’s visit that the deal would be signed the next day!

Subsequently, New Delhi repeatedly many times that the deals would be delivered to Bangladesh  “soon.” Senior Bangladeshi ministers said that the Teesta deal would be signed within two to three months. One of Prime Minister’s Advisers said that Bangladesh would invite Mamata Banarjee to Dhaka to convince people that her objection was not serious. Notwithstanding the assurances, independent sources regularly reported that the deals were stuck due to differences between the Congress and the BJP/Trinamool in case of the LBA and Congress and Trinamool in case of the Teesta deal. The Bangladesh negotiators, acting in blind faith, dismissed such concerns, sometimes angrily. Eventually, nervousness gripped Dhaka as New Delhi continued to keep it hanging on hopes. Bangladesh sent its High Commissioner in New Delhi to Gandhinagar to solicit Narendra Modi’s support for the LBA.  Instead, Narendra Modi tweeted that a predominantly Muslim Bangladesh had knocked at his door by sending its top diplomat to him.

Manmohon Singh’s admission in Myanmar now suggests that media speculations that the two deals were seriously stuck in Indian politics were true. The admission therefore raises new issues that have to be addressed to take Bangladesh-India relations forward. One of course is the need for truth and honesty in carrying forward these relations. In the way New Delhi and Dhaka conducted bilateral relations, the need to be truthful was never taken seriously by either side, much less so by New Delhi. Former Foreign Minister SM Krishnan and incumbent Salman Khurshid time and again assured Dhaka knowing such assurances was misplaced. So did Manmohon Singh. Dhaka negotiators never bothered to check the assurances and instead drummed India’s assurances. Dhaka did so because the AL led government was increasingly fearful of the political consequences, the so-called “India factor’, in case India failed to deliver.

In the end, the “India factor” became irrelevant because Bangladesh did not have the  “inclusive” elections. Many senior Indian diplomats who served in Bangladesh repeatedly said in the media that if the elections were “inclusive” , the AL would suffer the consequences from the “India factor” for its  betrayal, a line that many Indian and international newspapers of standing have also supported. The Congress is now almost certain to lose the forthcoming national elections. USA based PEW research centre’s survey conducted between December 2013 and January 12, 2014 has revealed that 6 out of 10 Indians (62%) want a BJP led government in New Delhi against 2 in 10 (19%), a Congress led government.

A BJP led Government in New Delhi is unlikely to ratify the LBA having opposed Congress Government’s efforts to do so. Trinamool has also opposed the LBA ratification. Additionally, Mamata Banarjee continues to oppose the Teesta deal strongly. The AL, upset with her, is now accusing Trinamool for giving sanctuary to Jamat elements running from law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. Therefore, Manmohon Singh’s wishes communicated to Sheikh Hasina that the next government in India would deliver the deals was a cruel joke on Bangladesh. Instead, if he was honest, he should have conveyed an apology to Sheikh Hasina and the people of Bangladesh for betraying her trust that she had taken at great political risk.

Of course, he was under no pressure to apologize because the Bangladesh government expressed neither anger nor any dis-satisfaction over the news he conveyed. Instead, the government expressed gratitude to the India for the offer to sell an additional 100 MW of electricity that Manmohon Singh conveyed to Sheikh Hasina while regretting his government’s inability to deliver the Teesta and LBA deals. The bad news on the two deals was followed by steps by the Ministry of Commerce to deliver to India the India land transit on a permanent basis.  One Minister recently reminded that Bangladesh should forever be grateful to India for its role in 1971.  Its reaction to the Indian film “Gundey” that explained the emergence of Bangladesh as the outcome of Indo-Pakistan war was thus lukewarm as if it was afraid to annoy India. The Bangladesh government by its actions appeared apologetic for New Delhi’s failure!

The Bangladesh government is again using the carrot of connectivity with a new spin to take people’s mind off from New Delhi failures to deliver the Teesta and LBA deals. In the new spin, the connectivity carrot is being spun around the concept of Bangladesh, India, China, and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BICM-EC), a transnational highway in which Bangladesh would be the hub of regional economic activity. There has been no official response from China on the BICM-EC in any detailed manner to back what is coming out from official sources in Bangladesh. Myanmar is also silent over the spin.. The spin also does not say what would be the position of the new government in India if it is led by the BJP given the fact that the proposed highway would give China road access to the fragile seven sisters where India has major security concerns vis-a-vis China.

The new spin also does not take into the equation the interests of  US that has recently invested hugely in Myanmar to bring it into its fold for strategic reasons vis-à-vis China. Therefore, this new spin could again be another attempt by New-Delhi to give the Bangladesh Government ammunition to encourage the people happy with new promises without   delivering past ones, only this time the spin will most likely be tested by new developments in India itself and US’ stake in the region. In all these pros and cons, one thing is certain; the Teesta and LBA deals have gone off Bangladesh’s orbit for the foreseeable future and the favours that Bangladesh did to India in the last five years have been largely wasted.

 
The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email is serajul7@gmail.com


Teesta and LBA go out of Bangladesh’s orbit

M. Serajul Islam



Manmohon Singh has finally communicated to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Summit in Myanmar the bad news that the Congress Government would be unable to deliver the Teesta and the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) deals in its present term to end next month. Lest readers forget facts, Bangladesh’s negotiators had assured the nation that delivering the deals was a formality and that these would be signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka in September 2011.

Bangladesh had by then delivered to India most of its security requirements, including the hand over of the 7 top ULFA leaders that helped India break the dangerous ULFA secessionist movement. Bangladesh also had provided India land transit on a trial basis from which Tripura built the 700 MW gas based Palatana power plant in Tripura at great harm to its roads. Dhaka had prepared the letters that were to be exchanged to give to the Indians land transit on a permanent basis.

The formality over the Teesta deal did not occur because Mamata Banarjee refused to back the centre that needed her province’s concurrence to sign it because under the Indian Constitution, water is a provincial subject. Her refusal came literally at the 11th hour with Dhaka ready to celebrate the signing of the Teesta agreement as the icing on the cake for the initiatives that Sheikh Hasina had taken at great political risks to further relations with India.  Bangladesh retaliated and withdrew the letters that would have been exchanged in Dhaka between the two Prime Ministers to give land transit to India permanently. The two sides nevertheless signed the LBA in Dhaka subject to ratification in the Indian parliament.

Manmohon Singh gave no hint in Dhaka that the ratification would be a problem. He also said that the   delay to sign the Teesta agreement was temporary. The aides of the Bangladesh Prime Minister backed India to dismiss any concern in the country about its promise to deliver. In fact, one curious thing about Bangladesh’s negotiators was their confidence in New Delhi’s promises. Thus when everybody knew the Teesta deal was off, then Bangladesh Foreign Minister refused to believe that India would withdraw it and told journalists the night before Manmohon Singh’s visit that the deal would be signed the next day!

Subsequently, New Delhi repeatedly many times that the deals would be delivered to Bangladesh  “soon.” Senior Bangladeshi ministers said that the Teesta deal would be signed within two to three months. One of Prime Minister’s Advisers said that Bangladesh would invite Mamata Banarjee to Dhaka to convince people that her objection was not serious. Notwithstanding the assurances, independent sources regularly reported that the deals were stuck due to differences between the Congress and the BJP/Trinamool in case of the LBA and Congress and Trinamool in case of the Teesta deal. The Bangladesh negotiators, acting in blind faith, dismissed such concerns, sometimes angrily. Eventually, nervousness gripped Dhaka as New Delhi continued to keep it hanging on hopes. Bangladesh sent its High Commissioner in New Delhi to Gandhinagar to solicit Narendra Modi’s support for the LBA.  Instead, Narendra Modi tweeted that a predominantly Muslim Bangladesh had knocked at his door by sending its top diplomat to him.

Manmohon Singh’s admission in Myanmar now suggests that media speculations that the two deals were seriously stuck in Indian politics were true. The admission therefore raises new issues that have to be addressed to take Bangladesh-India relations forward. One of course is the need for truth and honesty in carrying forward these relations. In the way New Delhi and Dhaka conducted bilateral relations, the need to be truthful was never taken seriously by either side, much less so by New Delhi. Former Foreign Minister SM Krishnan and incumbent Salman Khurshid time and again assured Dhaka knowing such assurances was misplaced. So did Manmohon Singh. Dhaka negotiators never bothered to check the assurances and instead drummed India’s assurances. Dhaka did so because the AL led government was increasingly fearful of the political consequences, the so-called “India factor’, in case India failed to deliver.

In the end, the “India factor” became irrelevant because Bangladesh did not have the  “inclusive” elections. Many senior Indian diplomats who served in Bangladesh repeatedly said in the media that if the elections were “inclusive” , the AL would suffer the consequences from the “India factor” for its  betrayal, a line that many Indian and international newspapers of standing have also supported. The Congress is now almost certain to lose the forthcoming national elections. USA based PEW research centre’s survey conducted between December 2013 and January 12, 2014 has revealed that 6 out of 10 Indians (62%) want a BJP led government in New Delhi against 2 in 10 (19%), a Congress led government.

A BJP led Government in New Delhi is unlikely to ratify the LBA having opposed Congress Government’s efforts to do so. Trinamool has also opposed the LBA ratification. Additionally, Mamata Banarjee continues to oppose the Teesta deal strongly. The AL, upset with her, is now accusing Trinamool for giving sanctuary to Jamat elements running from law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh. Therefore, Manmohon Singh’s wishes communicated to Sheikh Hasina that the next government in India would deliver the deals was a cruel joke on Bangladesh. Instead, if he was honest, he should have conveyed an apology to Sheikh Hasina and the people of Bangladesh for betraying her trust that she had taken at great political risk.

Of course, he was under no pressure to apologize because the Bangladesh government expressed neither anger nor any dis-satisfaction over the news he conveyed. Instead, the government expressed gratitude to the India for the offer to sell an additional 100 MW of electricity that Manmohon Singh conveyed to Sheikh Hasina while regretting his government’s inability to deliver the Teesta and LBA deals. The bad news on the two deals was followed by steps by the Ministry of Commerce to deliver to India the India land transit on a permanent basis.  One Minister recently reminded that Bangladesh should forever be grateful to India for its role in 1971.  Its reaction to the Indian film “Gundey” that explained the emergence of Bangladesh as the outcome of Indo-Pakistan war was thus lukewarm as if it was afraid to annoy India. The Bangladesh government by its actions appeared apologetic for New Delhi’s failure!

The Bangladesh government is again using the carrot of connectivity with a new spin to take people’s mind off from New Delhi failures to deliver the Teesta and LBA deals. In the new spin, the connectivity carrot is being spun around the concept of Bangladesh, India, China, and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BICM-EC), a transnational highway in which Bangladesh would be the hub of regional economic activity. There has been no official response from China on the BICM-EC in any detailed manner to back what is coming out from official sources in Bangladesh. Myanmar is also silent over the spin.. The spin also does not say what would be the position of the new government in India if it is led by the BJP given the fact that the proposed highway would give China road access to the fragile seven sisters where India has major security concerns vis-a-vis China.

The new spin also does not take into the equation the interests of  US that has recently invested hugely in Myanmar to bring it into its fold for strategic reasons vis-à-vis China. Therefore, this new spin could again be another attempt by New-Delhi to give the Bangladesh Government ammunition to encourage the people happy with new promises without   delivering past ones, only this time the spin will most likely be tested by new developments in India itself and US’ stake in the region. In all these pros and cons, one thing is certain; the Teesta and LBA deals have gone off Bangladesh’s orbit for the foreseeable future and the favours that Bangladesh did to India in the last five years have been largely wasted.



The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email is serajul7@gmail.com


Asia Cup: Lessons for Bangladesh cricket
M. Serajul Islam



Bangladesh’s cricket reached its highest pinnacle immediately after touching its nadir in the space of just a few days. Its loss to Afghanistan in its second game in the Asia Cup caused uproar in the country and for the right reasons. Afghanistan is a war-ravaged country and playing for the first time in a competition in the company of Test playing countries and only its fourth game against a Test playing team. Yet it won the match convincingly after two of its batsmen staged a rescue operation that saw Afghanistan rise from the debris at 90/5 to reach 254. In chasing, the Bangladesh batsmen made a mess and were bowled out for 222.

Sports scribes, cricket administrators and almost everybody else in the country condemned the team for the defeat as a national shame. Captain Mushfiqur Rahman accused his teammates and the cricket administrators for the debacle. Mushfiq’s grievance against the administrators was that he was not given the best team and was not even consulted in the choice of the team he was given. He accused some of his teammates of not giving the team their best. Nothing changed in between the game against Afghanistan and the one against Pakistan where the Bangladesh team reached lofty heights. There is of course no reason to believe that the one to one meetings that the Board’s President and his colleagues had with the players who were not giving the team their best (they were not named) had any impact in motivating the team. Yet the Bangladesh team totally transformed itself and played against Pakistan like the Afghan nightmare never happened.

In the match against Pakistan, the odds were clearly stacked against the Bangladesh Team. It has a dismal record in the limited overs match against Pakistan having lost more than 30 matches against it so far with only one win. Moreover, Pakistan came to the match with its confidence high having won the match against its arch-rival India. It also has arguably the best bowling attack among all the sides competing in the Asia Cup and Bangladesh batsmen were not expected to perform particularly well against that attack.

The Bangladesh batsmen proved everyone wrong. They batted like champions and except for Hafiz; all other bowlers were given the drubbing that they have not received for a long time. In the end, Mushfiq and Saquib played Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, considered among the best bowlers in limited over game, like they were playing cricket with tennis ball! Newcomer Alamul scored his second one-day century and all the other batsmen, Imrul, Mushfiq and Mominul, scored half centuries. Saquib was unbeaten at 48 in only 18 balls and the way he was going he could have scored a century effortlessly in near record time. In the end, 326-3 was not just Bangladesh’s highest score ever in one-day cricket; the score was achieved with the Pakistan cricketers looking totally dishevelled and conquered.

With such a huge score and the way it was reached, Bangladesh went to the field defending that total with the odds heavily in its favour. Pakistan had never chased any score in excess of 250. Unfortunately, while defending, Bangladesh’s weakness in the bowling department became palpably evident. The two pacers were nothing more than ordinary. Except Saquib no other bowler seemed to be of any class. Razzak once redoubtable for his ability for length bowling is now a shadow of his old self. He should not have been in the team in the first place when he had more than tough competition from the young Arafat Sunny.

Mushfiq’s batting has reached a high level of class and maturity. His captaincy has not. He did not handle his bowlers efficiently with any degree of vision. He handed the ball to Razzak to bowl the 48th over when Bangladesh came back strongly getting Afridi out with 33 needed of 18 balls. In that Razzak over, Fawad hit two exquisite sixes and turned the advantage that Saquib had given to the team by running Afridi out with a brilliant direct throw. In fact, in a post match briefing, the Pakistani captain gave more credit to those two sixes for Pakistan’s ultimate victory. In fact choice of Razzak in the team was a big mistake. Instead of giving him the 48th over, a better choice would have been Al Amin who was given the 50th over and almost pulled off a miracle when there were only 5 runs to be scored.

The final match of Bangladesh against Sri Lanka helped identify the advances of Bangladesh cricket as well as a few more of its cricketing problems. Bangladesh had Sri Lanka, chasing a moderate 206, on the ropes at 3-8 and then again at 75-5 reviving memories of the match in the bilateral series before the Asia Cup when Bangladesh lost after having SL at 67-8. When to these two matches, the loss to Afghanistan and Pakistan are accounted, the conclusion is that either there must be a jinx working in the team that encourages it to lose from winning positions regularly or the team just has not have what it takes to win! In the 7 limited over matches it played in the last one month, most other international sides would have won at least four. instead  the Bangladesh team managed to lose all seven!

The time has come for Bangladesh’s cricket administrators to return to the drawing board to plan for the future of Bangladesh cricket, at least as far as the limited overs version is concerned. The team has now shown the potentials that could and should make it a winning team against any competition. It is losing because the team lacks the guidance on how to play under pressure. Individual talents are being wasted at crucial times of the games for either captaincy errors or because of unforgivable fielding errors or simply because the team has not jelled as a unit. The management would need to focus on bowling and fielding weakness, phase out a few non performers and ensure that the crop of extremely talented batsmen do not give away their wickets as they are still doing.

That leaves the most important question in the equation, which is whether the management would be able to play the role Bangladesh cricket needs from it in the drawing board. Mushfiq has made it clear that there is a tension between the team and the management. Saquib’s lewd behaviour that led to his suspension at a time when the team needed his services desperately underlined that these young and talented cricketers are not really under a tight leash. The team’s couch does not appear to have any major role in shaping the team to reflect the talent in it. All these points to the conclusion that Bangladesh’s cricketing problems today are largely management related. Otherwise, there is no reason why after coming so close to beating Pakistan and Sri Lanka and matching India as equals, it had to go out of  Asia Cup at the bottom of the table, losing even to Afghanistan.


January 5th elections, democracy and the spirit of 1971
M. Serajul Islam



The Prime Minister had said before the January 5th elections that her government must hold the national elections for the 10th parliament even if the BNP boycotted it to fulfil a constitutional necessity. She had argued that without timely elections, extra-constitutional forces would intervene in the constitutional vacuum that would be created without elections. She and her colleagues had also stated explicitly that after the elections for the 10th parliament was over, there would be discussions with the BNP to find a way out to hold the elections for the 11th parliament.

The AL is now saying that it has a five-year mandate and elections for the 11th Parliament would be held after the 10th parliament completed its term. In fact, some of its leaders are looking even beyond 2019, in particular for the landmark year of 2021 to be around to celebrate the 50th year of the liberation of Bangladesh. Its leaders are spending a good part of their time taunting and teasing the BNP. In what can only be described as politics in its surreal worst, the ruling party’s most favourite pastime at present is to rub salt into the wound of the BNP for its current predicament. The ruling party has chosen the BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia for humiliation where they are abusing her and making fun of her and in between accusing her of committing crimes in a manner like politics with the opposition is a joke! In all these, it is in a state of denial about what the January 5th elections have done to it’s standing in the country and to the country itself.

In the last 43 years, Bangladesh has seen many unbelievable things happen in its politics. Yet, what the country is witnessing with the January 5th elections and subsequent developments would beat all the strange and unbelievable things that have happened in the past taken together.  Take for instance the AL’s stance present stance in the country’s politics. it is behaving like it won a thumping victory in an election participated by all the parties, including the BNP, and that the elections were held in a free and fair manner.

That was hardly the case. The January 5th elections cannot be called democratic elections for many reasons. First, 154 of the 300 members of parliament for the 10th parliament have won their seats without a single vote because of the boycott of the BNP and 33 of the 45 registered political parties and political apathy because the elections were nothing more than one-party. Second, in the remaining 147 seats, the turn out was less than 10 % that meant that only about 5% of the country’s 9.2 crores voters have voted in elections for the 10th parliament! Third, the January 5th elections have given the country a parliament where the Speaker does not have even the vote of a single voter in her favour. Fourthly, 23 Cabinet Ministers, out of 31, like the Speaker, are  “voter-less” and thus cannot be called people’s representatives. Finally, the January 5th elections have dis-enfranchised over 50% of the voters. These realities have taken away from the present government the faintest semblance of democracy and democratic basis of governance.

There were many other bizarre things that happened with regards to the January 5th elections. The opposition BNP that had boycotted the elections for the same reasons for which the AL had boycotted the 1996 elections but under more convincing reasons, was not allowed any democratic space to express its right of dissent. Begum Khaleda Zia was kept detained in her house in full view of the media to ensure that she would not be able to lead her supporters in the  “March for Democracy” she had called on January 29th to encourage the people not to vote for the one-party elections on the 5th of January. The government, however, explained that she was “protected” for her own safety and at her own request! The BNP office was kept under lock where no one was allowed to enter after the party’s Joint Secretary General was arrested following a Bombay-style raid and most senior BNP leaders were either jailed or forced into hiding not just out of fear of arrest but also out of fear of their lives!

That was not the end of eeriness surrounding the January 5th elections. The AL led government through the law enforcing agencies and party activists ensured that the BNP/Jamat were not be able to come out in public without being arrested or shot. In contrast, the government allowed itself all the privileges, lost of it illegal under the election rules, to carry out electioneering. The contrast was so distasteful that any right thinking member of the public found serious problems with what was happening. The Election Commission, whose duty it was to ensure that all political parties were treated as equals, turned a blind eye to the contrast and left no one guessing whose interest it was serving. In fact, the EC went out of its way to serve the interests of the ruling party in matters related to the January 5th elections on occasions galore that were palpably evident to everybody and embarrassed the nation except the ruling party.

The way the ruling party treated the Jatiya Party and former President HM Ershad was absurd. There was no doubt that he had read the political situation correctly when he had decided to boycott the elections when the BNP was adamant about boycotting. The way he was arm twisted to participate by being taken to the CMH by the law enforcing agencies was the substance of a very cheap and third-rate storybook. The unbelievable thing about this story was that everybody saw what was happening. For instance, while the government stated that HM Ershad was sick and thus was in hospital, everybody knew he was hale and hearty and playing golf! An Adviser went to meet him at the CMH to wish him speedy recovery. He knew that the rest of the country knew that all he was play acting but he seemed to have no qualms, like truth has no place in our politics! The way a small part of the JP openly played its disgusting role in this cheap political drama was disgusting.

The Prime Minister, while on a visit to England sometime ago, had said that Bangladesh followed the Westminster type of parliamentary democracy. The January 5th elections have messed the Westminster model where the government that Bangladesh has today and the Westminster model are at two polar opposites.  Jatiya Party has been made the “official opposition” and Begum Raushan Ershad, the leader of the Opposition in the same manner HM Ershad, as the military dictator, had made the JSD as the “loyal” opposition party 1988 and had made ASM Rab, the Leader of the Opposition. In fact, what the AL did this time was worse. It made the JP not just the “official opposition” but also a part of the government! That was done as benefit for the small faction of the JP that played its part against the majority of the JP members who had stayed away from the elections when HM Ershad had decided to boycott the elections before being arm-twisted, many would say “blackmailed”, to participate in the elections in the open political engineering of the ruling party to return to power.

The January 5th elections in the end made a mockery of the right of the people to vote in a free and fair election to elect the government of their choice. It was a mockery of what the people in 1971 fought for under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The war of liberation was fought because the military regime of Pakistan turned down the will of the people of then East Pakistan expressed in the December 1970 elections through which they had voted the Awami League to form the Government of Pakistan and Sheikh Mujib to lead that government as the Prime Minister. The people had voted for the AL to remove the economic disparity between East and West Pakistan on the basis of the party’s Six Points programme. Instead Pakistan’s military regime committed genocide after declaring void the verdict of the people of East Pakistan expressed through the December, 1970 elections. Thus the very spirit of 1971 was to protect people’s right to vote and elect the government of their choice. The January 5th elections, by disenfranchising over half of the voters of the country and electing a parliament with only 5% votes leaving 95% out thus contradicted the spirit of 1971 in no unambiguous term.

All these strange ways in which the elections were held and the government established notwithstanding, the ruling party did not bother about what it was doing. It did it all by taking the nation into “confidence”. Its efforts thus watched in public left no one in doubt that all it was interested was to retain power at any cost. It did not bother that not just Bangladesh but the rest of the world was watching, particularly the country’s development partners, who all advised before the elections were held, not to hold it without the opposition and thereafter, after the way the elections were held, to hold new elections to return legitimacy to the government as elections on January 5th to them were “deeply flawed.”

Thus none of Bangladesh’s development partners, European democracies and Canada, Japan and Australia welcomed the new government in a considered decision designed not to give the elections legitimacy. The Muslim world likewise also refrained from coming forward to welcome the new government. India, China and Russia nevertheless welcomed the new government and were later followed by a good number of countries that appeared more like their welcome was solicited with many in the list, countries that have little to no claim to democracy. India stated that the elections were a constitutional necessity.

India played a major role in the way the January 5th elections were held remaining behind scenes though inexplicably not all the time. The public perception shared by many who are not opposition supporters is that India stage managed the entire process and provided the ruling party the strength and support to hold what eventually turned out, constitutional as it may have been, grossly undemocratic elections. In fact, outside the ruling party and its supporters, India has cone its standing in Bangladesh great harm by not just openly supporting the Awami League but from the way the Indian Foreign Secretary behaved on her official visit to Dhaka in early December; going much supporting its favourite. In fact given India’s claim to democratic credentials, many in Bangladesh felt that Sujata Singh would carry a message from New Delhi to Sheikh Hasina to seek the democratic way over the elections issue.

Instead, she asked the Jatiya Party to support the AL’s efforts to hold elections without the BNP to ensure that the AL once again returned to power! It was unbelievable that the Indian Foreign Secretary did not consider that the proposal she made to HM Ershad was a blatant interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. It was even more unbelievable that she trusted HM Ershad who is not trusted by anyone in Bangladesh to keep her proposal confidential. HM Ershad spilled the beans as soon as the Indian Foreign Secretary had left his residence where the meeting was held. India’s role in the elections of January 5th will certainly haunt it in future. The Congress led government has exposed it for sacrificing the very beliefs for which India is respected worldwide. All nations in one way or another pursue its national interests and sometimes, improper ones like what India has done in Bangladesh. The clever ones do not get exposed; India has been and as the expression goes, with its pants down. India’s improper role in Bangladesh in 2013-2014 has placed at jeopardy the country’s gratefulness to it for its 1971 role.

In fact, if it were possible to have a referendum on India’s present standing in Bangladesh, it is most likely embarrass India. India’s blatant support for un-democratic elections in Bangladesh following at the heels of its failure to deliver the LBA and Teesta deals has pushed its acceptance in Bangladesh at its lowest ebb ever. The Mumbai film “Gundey” that suggested that Bangladesh’s independence was the result of the India-Pakistan war of 1971 that ignored the war of liberation therefore came at a wrong time for assessing how people in Bangladesh perceive India. It fanned the perception now gaining ground in Bangladesh about India’s patronizing view of the country. Although there was a grudging “apology” from the producers of Gundey, Ahmed Zafar, the writer and director had this to say: “ Each country has its own version of events… [The Bangladeshis] see it from their point of view, but according to Indian history, the war began when Pakistan attacked India on December 3.”

The January 5th elections have thus messed up with democracy, the spirit of 1971 and the image of the country abroad. It has also exposed that India wants in Bangladesh a regime willing to fulfil its interests with no questions asked. Overall, the elections have seriously dented people’s pride in Bangladesh as a democratic country built upon sacrifices of millions because the country now has a government in which 90% of the people did not have any say, thus very short on legitimacy. Therefore, the January 5th elections have not created problems for the BNP really; the problems are squarely on the lap of all Bangladeshis. They owe it to the millions who gave their lives in 1971 so that present generations and future ones would be able to live in a country where their democratic rights, most important of all to vote to power the government of their choice, would be ensured without any excuse whatsoever.



The writer is a retired career Ambassador and retired Secretary  and can be reached on ambserajulislam@gmail.com



Second round elections: AL changes strategy yet loses to BNP/Jamat
M. Serajul Islam




The BNP backed candidates have again won more seats in the second round of Upazilla elections. In 115 posts of Chairman, the BNP backed candidates won 51, the AL 44 and Jamat 8 when counting was completed in 112 seats. (Source: Daily Independent). The gap between the BNP and the AL has lessened by a few seats while Jamat has not done as well in comparison to first round elections. In straightforward elections, the conclusions should be that the AL has gained some lost ground and Jamat’s surge has been somewhat checked. Unfortunately so far as elections in Bangladesh are concerned these days, nothing really is straightforward.

The AL is the reason why there cannot be straightforward answers to what would appear simple questions regarding either national or local level elections. It held national elections where less than 10% voters voted and called its victory a sweeping one. It literally kept the opposition locked up and on the run and yet called the elections free and fair and held without any hindrance. In fact, it went ahead and claimed that the national elections gave it a mandate to rule for another five years!

After losing the first round comprehensively with very strong showing by the Jamat, it first tried to spin the results as proof that under party government, elections could be free and fair where the opposition could win. That spin was given to explain to the people that the national elections were also likewise free and fair and the BNP should blame itself for staying away. The spin was given that way also to dismiss demands for new national elections.

Nevertheless, the people interpreted the elections, both the national and the Upazilla ones, differently. They perceived the  first round of Upazilla elections results as proof of strong BNP support at the grassroots. They also perceived that contrary to the ruling party’s claims, Jamat has also strengthened its support among the ordinary folks because they thought that party has been victimised and persecuted by the law enforcing agencies for upholding the cause of Islam. The ruling party quickly realized that its spins that the first round results proved the elections could be fair under party government failed to gain traction.

Awami League leaders therefore quickly changed their strategy. They claimed in public that in the second round the AL would come out ahead of the BNP/Jamat by any means. They were not bothered that people would conclude from such claims that the ruling party had decided at the highest level that no matter which way the people voted, the outcome would be different from the first round. The ruling party was particularly upset with the loss in Pirgacha Upazilla. Pirgacha Upazilla falls in the constituency from where the Prime Minister had won a parliamentary seat on January 5th that she relinquished for the Speaker to become a Member of Parliament in the bye-election!

That the ruling party meant business to win the second round elections by any means was palpably evident in the second round from the start of voting. From what people watched on TV cameras, it was evident that fairly widespread vote fraud took place that were much widespread than in the first round that had led the BNP to claim that without the fraud, it would have won 95% of the seats. Opposition candidates and their polling agents were forcibly evicted from polling stations, agents of ruling party backed candidates in collusion with election commission officials stamped votes and denied those they thought would vote for opposition candidates from voting. As a result, opposition backed candidates withdrew from the contest in 4 districts mid way through the voting when the law enforcing agencies and EC officials declined to take action against the wrong doers.

With these withdrawals in perspective, the straightforward analysis that the ruling party has done better in the second round than the first one does not hold to reason. In fact, if  these palpable interferences  were taken into the equation, the BNP/Jamat backed candidates would have done even better than in the first round. Even side-tracking the interferences, the BNP/Jamat backed candidates taken together were able to win a good number of seats more than the AL backed candidates. One win that rubbed salt into the AL’s wound was the loss of the Mujibnagar seat that caused the same type reaction in the ruling party as the loss of the Pirgacha seat in the first round.

When the elections for Vice-Chairman (male) and Vice Chairperson (female) that were also held during the second round, an encouraging picture and not such an encouraging one for the ruling party emerges. In 93 posts of Vice Chairman (male), Jamat backed candidates emerged on top taking 30 seats followed by the BNP and Jamat with 28 each! In 85 posts of Vice-Chairperson (female), BNP backed candidates won 44, AL 26 and Jamat 9. These results have taken away some pleasure from the ruling party for closing the gap in elections for the posts of Chairman.

Increasingly, the ruling party is throwing concerns to the wind about people’s feelings about the way elections are being held in the country. In the second round, it has thus wasted the confidence that some people had that fair elections could be held under party government and strengthened the demand of the BNP for elections under a caretaker government. The EC’s palpably spineless conduct in the two round of Upazilla elections have  also helped weaken the argument for elections under party government. One political analyst on a TV Talk Show has said that EC members in the past had one major problem; in their posts they behaved like civil bureaucrats working for the government that they were before moving to the EC. He said that the present EC is behaving like civil bureaucrats working for the Awami League!

With three more rounds of Upazilla elections to go, people are likely to lose interest knowing that these elections would not be fair because the ruling party would not allow and the EC is too eager to please the ruling party and too weak to stand up to it. Therefore, if the first two rounds have established anything it has established that it is not only national elections that cannot be held under a party government freely and fairly but also local elections. It has further established that the present Election Commission and holding free and fair elections that would put the ruling party’s candidates at risk of losing are standing at two polar opposites. Increasingly the much-criticised CEC under the last BNP government Justice M.A Aziz is being seen in better light than the present CDEC that could only be considered as a damning assessment of him.

The January 5th elections and the two rounds of local government elections have unequivocally underlined that democracy is under threat in Bangladesh. In a commentary in a blog, Lord Avebury, Liberal Member of the British House of Lords; National Secular Society’s award winner as “Secularist of the year” in 2009 and Co-Chair of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission had this to say about the January 5th elections: “The result is today she leads clearly an illegitimate executive heading towards one-party rule.” The two round of Upazilla elections that were held after Lord Avebury had posted his commentary only underlined the concerns he expressed about Bangladesh moving towards one-party rule.

Nevertheless, the results so far, however flawed the two rounds were, have shown that the BNP/Jamat have major hold at the grassroots and quite capable of launching their movement for new elections sooner than later with the ruling Awami League now in no mood to hold national elections before 2019.


The writer is a retired career Ambassador



Benghazi affair surfaces: worries for Hillary Clinton
M. Serajul Islam



In September 2012, armed Libyans killed the US Ambassador to Libya J Christopher Stevens and 3 others in an attack at the US Embassy compound in Benghazi. The incident has ever since remained a contentious matter in US’s diplomatic history.  Hillary Clinton under whose watch as the US Secretary of State the incident happened has been under a cloud about the Benghazi Affair with her opponents arguing that she did not do enough to prevent the attack that she should have seen was coming.

With the former Secretary now most likely to become the Democratic nominee for President in the elections to be held in end of 2016, the Benghazi Affair has again hit the national headlines. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee has last week published a Report that contradicted the testimony that the Secretary of State had given in the Senate following the attack. In that testimony and in statements issued by her from the State Department, she had argued that the attack was the result of impromptu-armed attack by armed Libyans incensed over an anti-Islam video documented in USA ridiculing Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and aired over the YouTube.

Democratic Party Senator   Dianne Feinstein chaired the Senate Committee. It concluded convincingly that the attack was not spontaneous street protest based on TV footages from cameras surrounding the Embassy compound that recorded no signs of such protests. Instead the Committee “flatly concluded that fighters loyal to groups with ties to Al Qaeda took part in the attack.” In fact, the Committee named the groups that used the acronyms of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula that worked together to plan and execute the attack on the Embassy compound.

The Senate bipartisan Committee’s Report came in the wake of an investigative report by the New York Times that had cleared the former Secretary and in turn the President of any negligence for preventing the deaths of the Ambassador and his three colleagues.  The NYT investigation released in January had “argued that no international terrorist groups were involved in the assault, which the paper said was spurred, in part, by an anti-Islam video.”

The Committee Report thus places Hillary Clinton in a soft spot with focus now increasing on her with parties and candidates now beginning to posture for the next presidential election in which the former Secretary is seen as a formidable candidate both by the Republican Party and those likely to challenge her for the Democratic Party’s ticket. In fact, with the presidential election in view and Hillary Clinton’s candidature in particular, it is natural that the Benghazi Affairs has again hit the news headlines.  Rasmussen Reports had therefore conducted a survey on the issue even before the Senate Committee Report was made public.  The survey found that most Americans thought that the US Ambassador and the three others were killed as a result of a terrorist attack and a “growing number think Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations are likely to suffer because of the Benghazi affair.”

In the Rasmussen survey, 46% thought that the Senate report will hurt Hillary Clinton is she runs for President. When likely voters were asked the same question in October last year, 42% thought the Benghazi affair would affect the former Secretary. In the latest Rasmussen survey, 53% believed that the Benghazi Affair was the result of planned terrorist attack and only 13% thought it was a spontaneous attack in response to the anti-Islamic video. 34% were undecided about the Benghazi Affair. The percentage of likely voters who had felt earlier that the administration’s explanation that the attack was spontaneous was good or excellent has fallen from 37% to 28% in the latest survey, something that should worry the Clinton camp.

The other matter of concern for the former Secretary in the Rasmussen survey conducted among 1000 likely voters on January 17-18 was the response of likely voters about the importance to find out what happened in the events surrounding the murder. 78% thought that it was “at least somewhat important”, 47% felt it was “very important” and only 19% considered it was “unimportant.” Given the fact that the perpetrators of the murders have not been brought to task as was promised by President Obama, these responses could suggest that the Benghazi Affair could become a major election issue to haunt Hillary Clinton. Her concern would be enhanced given the fact that this Rasmussen Survey Report was published before the  Report of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

There were however a few positive outcome from the Senate Report for the former Secretary of State. The Report did not place the blame for what happened in the Benghazi Affair upon the Secretary of State directly but on security lapses committed “further down the chain of command.” The Report also cleared the former Secretary fro attack by critics who questioned the wisdom of the US being the only country keeping its mission open in Benghazi. The Report stated that a number of other countries also had their missions open together with the US mission. The Report found that the US military was not responsible as alleged for blocking relief efforts and failing to get assets moving quickly enough, allegations meant to criticize the way the Pentagon and State Department handled the Benghazi Affair. The Report also came out with a “stark revelation” that will help Hillary Clinton. Ambassador Stevens was offered “more security by extending the deployment of a military site security team” by General Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command but the Ambassador turned down the offer without referring it to the State Department.

Nevertheless, with a lot at stake in US politics these days, the Republicans have given a spin the Senate Committee Report to tie Hillary Clinton for the security lapses. Republican members in the Senate Committee on Intelligence signed the but also gave an addendum in which they said these findings did not go far enough to bring into focus “the role of White House and State Department officials who pushed the intelligence community to blame protests rather than a coordinated terrorist assault.” In a fund raising event on February 17th, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Congressman Darrell Issa provocatively said “I have my suspicions which is Secretary Clinton told Leon Panetta to stand down”.

The “stand down” order that was allegedly issued by the Pentagon to US military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi was used by Hillary Clinton’s critics to pin her down to the Benghazi Affair for serious lapses in responsibility and judgment.  Her critics had alleged that the stand-down order was given by Pentagon at her instance. The Congressman’s “suspicions” however went to the advantage of the former Secretary as it allowed her name to be cleared in the context of latest developments in the matter, including the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Glen Kessler, writing for the Washington Post, stated categorically that based on the Senate Committee Report and another Report by the Republicans in the Armed Services Committee, the Darrell Issa’s “ suspicions that Clinton ordered stand-down on Benghazi aren’t supported “. He used a quote from the Armed Services Committee Report that stated categorically: “There was no stand-down order issued to US military personnel to join the fight in “Benghazi” to place the former Secretary in the clear on the issue of “stand-down” order that, without proper explanation, could harm her in her campaign for the White House.

Nevertheless, the Benghazi Affairs would in all likelihood continue to cause worries for Hillary Clinton as she herself acknowledged publicly recently. In a recent address to the US Automobiles Dealers Association she said that “her biggest regret is what happened at Benghazi” .


The writer is a retired career Ambassador and Secretary to the Government.



Jamat and first round of Upazilla elections and Jamat
M. Serajul Islam


The good performance of the BNP in the first round of the Upazilla elections was expected. What was not expected, in fact worrying for many, was the way the Jamat performed, coming as a strong third after the BNP and AL. The ruling party has been telling the nation ever since it assumed power in January 2009 that its main aim in politics would be to expose the Jamat as an anti-liberation force and try its leaders for war crimes committed in 1971. In fact, it brought the top leadership of Jamat to the War Crimes Tribunal where many are incarcerated with death sentences or life imprisonment. One leader, Qader Mollah, has already been hanged.

In the period following the Shahabag uprising last year and leading to the January 5th national elections, Jamat cadres, particularly its student wing, the Shibir, have been targeted not just for incarceration but also for extra judicial killings by the law enforcing agencies. The government, in taking actions against the Jamat, has argued its terrorist links to convince the people that the actions taken against Jamat have been correct and that such actions have been able to contain the Jamat in a major way.

A media largely pliant to the views of the government, particularly on the issue of our liberation and the spirit of 1971, accepted the actions of the government against the Jamat without much question. Some in fact have written editorials that militancy is the major problem in the country that must be tackled at any cost. These editorials and the line taken by the media against the Jamat have only encouraged the government to set the law aside and deal with it even to the extent of overlooking the conflict that such actions have with the rule of law that is at the core of the spirit of 1971.

In fact, the media has been highlighting the success of the government in weakening the support of the Jamat across the country. Opinion polls by a few of the leading dailies have  shown that the support of the Jamat has come down into the lower end of the single digit. The country’s secular forces have consistently been putting pressure upon the government to ban Jamat to end, in their view, the menace of this fundamentalist Islamic party that did not believe in Bangladesh.

The results of the first round of the Upazilla elections have thus come, to put it mildly, as a shock for the ruling party, the media and the country’s secular force as far as Jamat’s performance was concerned. In the 97 posts of Upazilla Chairman it contested, Jamat backed candidates took 12. In the overall contest that also included 97 posts of Vice-Chairman (male) and 97 Vice- Chairman (female), the Jamat took 46 of the total positions. Against the Jamat, the ruling party took 92 and the BNP 114. The reaction of the media to Jamat’s performance was interesting At first, it was reluctant to show Jamat’s strong performance separately and tried to hide it under heading “others”.

When that did not hold, the media tried to confuse the people by suggesting that Jamat’s strong performance was because of its alliance with the BNP. It was however revealed that was not the case. In fact, in some of the positions of Chairman, Jamat and BNP contested against each other and Jamat backed candidates won by defeating both the BNP and AL backed candidates. Therefore, the results were not an eye-opener for the ruling party but also the BNP that was considering cutting its ties with the Jamat for future politics in the country. Over all, in the first round, Jamat backed candidates won 15% of the total votes cast in these elections placing it in a strong third position. In contrast, the Jatiya party that the ruling party has placed as the opposition in parliament won just 5 posts that included just one of Chairman.

Jamat’s strong performance becomes more of a concern for the ruling party and the secular forces because it has been earned when it is in pursuit by the law enforcing agencies and ruling party activists. A large number of Jamat leaders/activists have been incarcerated and many have been killed extra-judicially and most of the party supporters are on the run. If the allegations of the BNP that that the government agencies openly worked for the candidates of the ruling party are correct, and there are good reasons to believe that such interferences were there, than Jamat would have done even better than what it did.

The facts that have emerged from the first round of Upazilla elections therefore point at the opposite direction than what the ruling party has been telling the nation with the media backing it that Jamat’s acceptance at the grassroots is on a sharp decline. The media is still shy from answering the reasons for Jamat’s rise in popularity. Those in the media that have dared to take an objective look at what has happened have concluded that one main reason why Jamat has done so well is because at the grassroots, people have taken a sympathetic view of its sufferings at the hands of the law enforcing agencies and the government’s attempts to eliminate the party totally. Their arguments are based upon the strength of Islam among the ordinary voters at the local government level where Jamat has been viewed as the victim for upholding the cause of Islam.

In fact, this view has re-established the reaction in the country to the message that had gone out from Shahabag last year. Once it was revealed that among the leaders of the Shahbag movement there were those who thought it fit to ridicule Islam and Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), people who had thought it was their national duty to own and support the Shahabag movement abandoned it as quickly as they had stood behind it. The lesson here therefore is a strong one; that Bangladesh is essentially a predominantly Muslim country that though liberal, would not stand up and watch the defenders of Islam being persecuted as the witnessed the fate of Jamat in recent times and have thus stood behind Jamat backed candidates in the Upazilla elections.

The more important lesson for everyone to take, more so the ruling party is that branding Jamat as anti-liberation and against the spirit of 1971 is losing traction at the grassroots. In fact, the way the national elections were held, where today Bangladesh has a parliament and a government for which less than 10% have voted, have significantly weakened the strength of these calls. The ruling party and its supporters have used these calls so often without themselves showing their commitment has turned these calls into clichés. These facts notwithstanding, the strengthening of a party like the Jamat that did not support the liberation of Bangladesh with Shibir recently being named by a foreign organisation as the third most dangerous terror outfit in the world should worry not just the Awami League and the secular forces of the country but the nation. The strength of Islam in the country notwithstanding, the path to the well being of Bangladesh and the cause of Islam cannot be served by allowing a party that uses Islam and terror tactics for gaining its political ends.

Nevertheless, Jamat must be given democratic space to remove apprehensions from the minds of the common folks that it is being made a victim because it is defending Islam.  The election results have flagged this reality for the government in no uncertain ways.


The writer is a retired career Ambassador and Secretary to the government











Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dear Visitors to my Blog


I have not updated my Blog for the last couple of months but meantime I have continued to write my columns. I shall soon update the Blog with the articles that I have written but have not yet been posted here. Thanks.

Ambassador M. Serajul Islam

Saturday, November 30, 2013

India and the present crisis

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Saturday, 30 November 2013
Author / Source: M. Serajul Islam
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The BNP finally said it. After remaining quiet on India’s role in the current political stalemate, BNP’s Acting General Secretary pointed at New Delhi for backing the ruling party in its current conflict with the opposition BNP. Another senior leader did not mince with words and directly accused India for backing the Awami League Government against a compromise for holding “inclusive” national election. Following the CEC’s declaration of election schedule that has apparently closed doors for negotiations unless some extraordinary initiatives are undertaken, India’s role has become a major subject of speculation.


The nation is now literally in prayers for that extraordinary initiative.  The dangers of an election without compromise have been graphically etched out on the country’s political canvass through the violence seen following the BNP’s blockade call after the election schedule was announced. Earlier, the people watched one after another their hopes dashed on the compromise. It was the UN Secretary General who had first raised hopes when he called both Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition Begum Khaleda Zia to encourage them to hold discussions for a compromise. Their hopes were raised again when the US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote letters on the same line to the two leaders. China and other friends of Bangladesh also joined the efforts of the UN Secretary General and the US Secretary of State.


The people watched in despair as the AL led government turned a deaf ear to these requests from friendly quarters. They were curious to find out the reason for such a stand from the government. As they asked questions of one another, they realized that India had remained as the only friendly government that had not joined the United States, China, the UN and other countries in urging the ruling party and the BNP to negotiate and find a way out because they felt the consequences of a failure to do so would be catastrophic for Bangladesh. In fact, when US Ambassador went to New Delhi for what was a very unusual visit, newspapers speculated that the Indians were not on the same page with the United States on the nature of election time government in Bangladesh meaning that while the US was backing a compromise, India was backing the AL for election without the BNP.


India joined in the concerns of the other friends of Bangladesh eventually. The Indian High Commissioner went to the media and stated that he was in consultation with the other Embassies over the political situation in Bangladesh. People were relieved to hear that from the Indian High Commissioner, as they believed that because of the closeness between New Delhi and the AL led Government, it was India that could encourage the AL led government to find the negotiated settlement out of the present crisis. The news that President Obama and Manmohon Singh had met and had agreed that the two countries would coordinate positions on Bangladesh raised people’s hopes even further.


The Prime Minister’s call to Begum Khaleda Zia further raised the hopes of the people.  Although that did not produce the result, the people next hoped that the coordination of position between USA and India would be visible when the US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal visited Dhaka. That also did not happen. In fact, the Government ended the hopes of the people for a negotiated settlement right in the middle of her visit. The Prime Minister went to the President and recommended to him for election under the 15th Amendment or election without the BNP immediately after the Assistant Secretary in her meeting with her had requested her for  “inclusive” national election, a request that the US Secretary of State had earlier made to her and Begum Khaleda Zia in letters addressed to both.


The Prime Minister, while recommending to the President election under the 15th Amendment, maintained that she had made efforts to encourage the BNP for negotiations by her telephone call. The Prime Minister also maintained that her offer to BNP to join the All-Party government was further proof that she had tried to negotiate with the opposition.  Some people blamed the BNP for not taking up the offer for talks made through the phone call but the general feeling was that the effort was not genuine enough to bring the BNP to election. However, the formation of the All-Party Government and its nature left the people no other choice but to conclude that the ruling party was determined to hold elections without the BNP. The way former President HM Ershad and his party joined the controversial All-Party Government took away the little element of credibility that the All-Party Government was anything the government claimed.
The formation of the All-Party Government was followed by the announcement of the election schedule.

The conduct of the CEC in announcing the schedule added further suspicion in the opposition on the intent of the government.  The CEC came before the media and stated that the announcement of the schedule would be held back for the ruling party and the BNP to negotiate. The next day, he addressed the nation and announced the schedule without explaining what happened to the negotiations between the AL and the BNP with which he had raised people’s expectations. These developments left the people frustrated, disappointed and apprehensive. Quite naturally, the public wanted to know where the ruling party was getting the strength to go against countries of critical importance to Bangladesh and also public opinion in the country.  When the BNP leaders stated in public that the strength was coming from India, they only articulated what was in the minds of a great majority of the people of the country.


The conclusion that India’s backing has given the AL led Government the strength to turn a deaf ear to pleadings and urgings made sense because its interests in Bangladesh are quite different from those of other friends of Bangladesh. Bangladesh holds one of the major keys to India’s security interests. Bangladesh also holds the key to the future of India’s fragile seven provinces that border Bangladesh. India has succeeded in furthering its security concerns to a large extent but not entirely and has genuine hopes of getting land transit. But for that, New Delhi would need the AL to be in power for another term.


India’s desire for AL to return to power is therefore understandable. However, the choice for India is not that simple. There is also another dimension to India’s predicament. People are convinced that it is India alone that can encourage the AL led government to resolve the political stalemate and hold “inclusive” national election. Therefore, if the ruling party went ahead and held the one-party election, India that has become unpopular to almost the whole of Bangladesh over its failure to deliver the Teesta and the LBA deals and killings of innocent people on Bangladesh-India border would also be held responsible for the catastrophe that is sure to occur in Bangladesh as a consequence of holding elections without the BNP, the preview of which is already visible.


India has before it the same opportunity to befriend Bangladesh as it had done in 1971 by supporting the Bangladesh liberation war. By encouraging a one-party election, India would end up losing all the gains it had made with the AL government because the civil disturbances currently under way dangerously are certain to intensify manifold with AL’s attempt to return to power by elections without the BNP. These disturbances are likely to make the country fertile for terrorists and insurgents to regroup and cause India nightmarish security concerns. Therefore, India really has just one choice in Bangladesh as its High Commissioner has said let the people of Bangladesh decide. The people of Bangladesh would expect that India would not strengthen the hand of any of the political parties in the country.



The writer is a retired career Ambassador