Thursday, April 30, 2009

PM's Saudi trip and the Embarrassing Ministerial Conducts

Published in The Dhaka Courier, May 1, 2009

The Prime Minister's just concluded visit to Saudi Arabia, although taken for the purpose of performing the Umrah, achieved significant results in the shape of furthering Bangladesh's bilateral interests in the Kingdom where some 2.5 million Bangladeshis live and work. The expatriates from KSA remit the largest amount of foreign exchange to Bangladesh that amounted to US 2.7 billion in 2008 but our people there work in conditions that are pathetic and inhuman in many instances. The news that KSA has been preparing a list of 200,000 Bangladeshis who had switched jobs to be deported despite having legal papers was a burning issue that our expatriates there had been trying for the entire period of the emergency to bring to the attention of the government without either support or sympathy.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit has resolved this issue as part of a Saudi law that was enacted while the PM was in Saudi Arabia. The new law will allow expatriates to switch jobs without losing their legal status to live and work in Saudi Arabia. The 200,000 Bangladeshis who were facing uncertainty and unbelievable tension will now be able to breathe again. They thus see the Prime Minister as a benefactor from the Almighty.

However, the press briefing of the Foreign Minister who accompanied the Prime Minister on this visit surprised everybody when she told journalists that Sheikh Hasina's meeting with King Abdullah was the first time in seven years that a Bangladesh Prime Minister had met the Saudi King. The BNP protested immediately with facts that showed that Khaleda Zia had met the Saudi King as Prime Minister during her tenure from 2002 to 2006 not once but four times. To embarrass the Foreign Minister even further, the State Minister for Foreign Affairs acknowledged the error made by her in a press briefing of his own.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni is a bright and intelligent Minister and it is unbelievable that she made such a mistake. The press briefing of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs after the BNP had come out contradicting the Foreign Minister was also a surprise move. This was a reflection on the unprofessional way things are handled at the Foreign Ministry. In the first two decades of our independence, there used to be a Director-General (External Publicity) in the Foreign Ministry who used to handle all these briefings. This office was then modeled after a similar office in the Indian External Affairs Ministry where a Minister or a State Minister in the Indian External Affairs Ministry seldom appears before the media. A Joint Secretary level bureaucrat deals with the media on a regular basis.
The Prime Minister's visit to Saudi Arabia was not a visit that was undertaken to allow her and her entourage of over 2 dozen mostly family members to perform the Umrah where at our request; the Saudis arranged a meeting with their King. The welcome news about Bangladesh expatriates was also not the result of the efforts of the Prime Minister but it was an outcome of a new Saudi law enacted by Saudi Arabia. This notwithstanding, one must share the feelings of excitement and relief among Bangladeshis in Saudi Arabia and give credit for this outcome to Sheikh Hasina. One also understands that there is political mileage here to cash upon that may have prompted the media briefing by the Foreign Minister.

The Foreign Minister, however, could have simply flagged this and left it at that. If there was an issue here to blame, that blame could have been squarely placed upon the government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed that failed to take up the inhuman sufferings of Bangladeshis in Saudi Arabia. BNP for all its failures during its tenure for which it lost the elections miserably had no role to play in all this. Instead the Foreign Minister was quick to bring the BNP into the equation to suggest that one of the main reasons for the success of the visit to Saudi Arabia was because our Prime Minister was able to meet the Saudi King that Khaleda Zia failed. The State Minister while putting records straight also tried to outsmart his boss Dipu Moni. In his press briefing, Mahmud spent more time telling journalists about earlier meetings of Sheikh Hasina with the Saudi King after quickly getting over the mistake made by his boss and then going on to tell them that the Saudi King referred to our Prime Minister as "sister". It is a usual practice for the Saudi King to refer to someone like our Prime Minister as a "sister". In case of a Prime Minister who is a Muslim and male, he would call him "brother". There was nothing special in this address although the State Minister made it sound like one and also left the journalists with a feeling that this was again a "first" for Bangladesh where a Saudi King had addressed our Prime Minister as "sister".

There are two elements here that we need to focus upon. The one I have touched briefly and will again do so shortly is on the Foreign Ministry. The other is the tendency among Ministers of this Government to get on the right side of this Prime Minister by losing no opportunity of blaming the BNP and more so, Khaleda Zia, for the ills in our politics. They seem to have concluded that if they attack the former Prime Minister and the BNP, they will end up by pleasing the Prime Minister because they see her blaming the BNP and Khaldea Zia for most of the problems her government is facing now.

A significantly development in Bangladesh that has been the direct product of the rapid growth of private TV channels in the country is the exposure that it has given to the Ministers before the media. Ministers relish this exposure for it gives them publicity that they can see visually. It also gives them the opportunity to reach the Prime Minister that they normally cannot because of a variety of reasons. In other words, the Ministers use the media, particularly the visual media, to interact with the Prime Minister and say things that they think will please her. In their eagerness, most of them do not do their own homework; nor do they care to consult their other colleagues. Thus they just not end up making mistakes quite often, like the one made by the Foreign Minister, but also contradict each other. Only recently when the British born Bangladeshi Faisal was caught, a Minister went before the TV and instantly concluded that all Qaumi Madrassas are dens for Islamic terrorists. The Prime Minister thereafter met all the senior leaders of the Qaumi Madrassas and assured them to the contrary!

It is time to draw a line and get the Ministers out of media glare for their sake and for the sake of this government. No professional government conducts governance before the media; it is right of information extended beyond bounds of reason and often propriety in what these Ministers are doing on a daily basis. A Minister must come before the media when the issue is of national importance and within his/her jurisdiction. In all other cases, there should be a bureaucrat in the Ministry to do the job under the right of information. When a Minister makes a mistake before the media, there is no way of retracing without embarrassing the Government. When such a mistake in terms of information is made by a bureaucrat; it can be easily dealt with as a bureaucratic lapse.

Coming back to the Foreign Minister; her lapse is not a simple one that the State Minister for Foreign Affairs would have us think. The Saudis, if they care about Bangladesh, could of course take this differently. At its worst, they could feel drawn rather undiplomatically into the internal affairs of Bangladesh. All this could have been avoided without either of the Ministers at the Foreign Ministry facing the media. The Director-General (External Affairs) who is a senior level bureaucrat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (this post is now filled by a career diplomat after being retrieved from the Ministry of Information) could have easily given the media the briefings, instead by the Ministers. As a bureaucrat, it would have been less likely that he would have made such factual mistake. Even if he had, the way out would not have been at all embarrassing as it has been in this instance.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Are we crying wolf over terrorism?

A friend said something thought provoking recently. He said Bangladesh is in company of Afghanistan and Pakistan as three exceptional countries whose governments are telling the rest of the world that they are infested with terrorists. While Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot claim otherwise as there are deaths and destructions aplenty from terrorism, all reported in the international media the moment they occur, it is a mystery that our own government is projecting us as such where there are neither deaths nor destructions to show nor do we figure anywhere in the context of reporting in the international media as a militant prone country.

It is true though that there are terrorists in Bangladesh. Where is a country that does not? Next door, India and Sri Lanka are reeling under very real manifestations of terrorism. However, these governments, while in battle with terrorism as a daily fact of life, constantly underplay the menace to minimize the potentials for damage such news can have on their international trade, investment and tourism.

The news about the arrest of the Bangladesh born British national Faisal in Barisal with a huge quantity of arms is a case in point. The discovery is worrying but the way it was handled by the government and the media is mysterious. One very senior minister was the first to jump into the fray, seeing a link with the Qaumi Maddrasas that have three million students and quickly identifying them as terrorist outfits. Other ministers joined the fray and together they identified many hundred terrorist outfits in the country and several million terrorists to boot! This information made the butt of many talk show swipes where participants joked about the likelihood of one participant in every talk show being a “terrorist!“

Sometime ago, I wrote a piece in this paper where I said that worldwide, Islamic terrorism is on the decline. Although President Bush has been taken apart for his international politics, one has to give him credit for this declining trend in Islamic militancy. Since then, the situation in Iraq has turned around and Islamic militants are on the run. His war on terror has weakened the nexus of Islamic militancy worldwide. Islamic militants are now concentrated primarily in the no-man's land between Afghanistan and Pakistan where their national politics is sustaining Islamic terrorism.

Historically, Bangladesh is fundamentally different from these countries. Islam here has been tampered by other cultures, and more particularly, Sufiism has made Bangladeshi Muslims tolerant to other religions. In our family and social lives, Islam plays a major part. We are good Muslims and respect our religious leaders. But we have never in a major way backed their political aspirations. The most important Islam based political party, Jamat e-Islami, that has existed amongst us longer than both the Awami League and the BNP never won more than a score of seats in any of our national level elections.

There is however no room for complacency. There are serious potentials for rising Islamic extremism in Bangladesh and in that context the Faisal case deserves most serious attention. Having said these, we must also bring into the equation the fact that in Bangladesh Islamic militancy has gained ground due to sponsorship of the major political parties. The BNP must share the major blame for allowing its Islam based alliance partners, when in power from 2001 to 2006, all the freedom to build a network of armed cadre as payback for their electoral support in the 2001 elections. For political reasons, the BNP looked the other way and allowed the JMB terrorists to establish themselves, and turned a blind eye when the media and no less a person than the then US Ambassador, tried their best to draw the government's attention to the emerging frankstein. The Islam based parties used their political influence to penetrate the intelligence in a major way; a presence that was brought to dramatic focus when the Islamic terrorists managed to blast nearly 500 bombs all over Bangladesh in August 2005 while Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was on an official visit to China in a manner that could have been possible only with direct connivance of the intelligence agencies. Interestingly, although the number and the synchronization that went with these blasts were amazing, only a couple of people were killed and there was no devastation either, suggesting two things. First, these terrorists could carry out the acts because of state sponsorship at some level. Second, their capability to cause devastation like Islamic terrorists abroad was very limited indeed.

When the US Government took a serious view of events and pressured the government to tackle this growing menace, the JMB top leadership was caught in a manner that was almost farcical. These terrorists were later hanged under the Caretaker Government. There was not even a whimper from their cadre, which suggests that once state sponsorship was withdrawn they became innocuous. Since then, with decline in Islamic terrorism abroad, it is only logical to assume that such militancy should be on the decline in Bangladesh.

Why then are we crying out so loud that we are surrounded by Islamic terrorists on all sides for to have millions of terrorists we must surely be rubbing shoulders with many of them every day! The media is also not doing a bad job either in overstating our case. One reason is that our ministers are now behaving like loose cannons when confronted by the media, saying pretty much what they perceive will please the Prime Minister with whom most of them have little or no contact except at the Cabinet meetings. The second reason seems to be coming from the emergence of the need to reestablish secularism in our politics, a move that has official government backing. There is, however, very little coordinated approach in these moves. Those seeking to reestablish secularism feel that Islam based parties are an obstacle. Hence they are trying to establish a fear in the public mind that these parties are creating and supporting Islamic terrorism.

There is urgent need for the sensible people in this government to set things in order for unless they do so, we would end up creating those very conditions that breed militancy; the way things are moving, very soon we could see secularism and Islam come in conflict with disastrous consequences. It was thus heartening to see the Prime Minister meet the leaders of Qaumi Madrassas where there were mutual assurances against terrorism. We should also spare a moment and re-asses secularism which is a western concept that came from the need to keep the Church out of politics. In the Middle Ages of European history, also known as the Dark Age, the Church by the power that Christianity gave it, had turned the lives of nations and nationalities into hell through corruption and degeneration. Islam has no such baggage from history where the secular and religious forces have lived side by side in tranquility. We must re-think about the necessity of taking a western concept that has little relevance in our lives and inject a new element of conflict in our society, more so because we are in no threat of having Islam based parties rule our lives.

We must weed out those who propagate violence in the name of religion. The present government is determined to end Islamic terrorism. It should not be difficult for them to do so because terrorism has thrived in Bangladesh mainly under state sponsorship. However, in overstressing the case against Islamic terrorism, the government is allowing the common and politically based criminals, who cause the people and the country more harm, to re-establish themselves as well as help create an image that could bring disastrous economic consequences for the country. This government has called for establishment of a Digital Bangladesh. In the digital world, news and perceptions travel in the speed of light. We should keep this in mind and reflect upon the dangers of the call this government gave on Mujibnagar day which was “unite to free the country from militancy”. Why are we crying wolf?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Presidency in Bangladesh

Published in The Dhaka Courier, April 24, 2009

The President of Bangladesh is in the public perception a titular head of state, elected by the party in power in parliament to carry out the decisions of the Prime Minister. However the events preceding and succeeding 1/11 and the role that President Iajuddin played or did not play makes it imperative to focus on this important institution of the government.

That role is coming under critical attention from a number of quarters; interestingly from both sides of the political divide. Former BNP Minister Moudud Ahmed is talking about this period as forcefully as the former AL Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir. They both are arguing against the emergency to pinpoint responsibility upon the former Chief Adviser Dr. Fakhruddin and the army leaders of the caretaker government for the humungous violations of human civil rights during emergency rule.

In their strong and may I add legitimate feelings, the former Ministers have not focused on two facts. First, that politics before 1/11 had been vitiated in a manner that merely provided an excuse for the real architects of the emergency, the army and army intelligence, to usher the emergency for which the politicians must bear more than a fair share of responsibility. Second that the President of the country allowed himself to be dictated to act against the oath he took upon assuming office to defend the Constitution. At first, the President acted as a puppet of the BNP that put him in office. The manner in which he allowed himself to be manipulated by the BNP made politics of the period appear surreal; like a drama that the people were witnessing in a nightmare. Under their influence, he assumed the role of the Chief Adviser and for a period became a puppet at the hands of the Hawa Bhavan. The story of his Press Secretary keeping his mobile open in meetings of the Council of Advisers so that the proceedings could be heard at the Hawa Bhavan has been written in the media that prompted the President, instead of sacking his Press Secretary, to elevate him to the rank of an Adviser on "advice" of the Hawa Bhavan!

It did not need a crystal ball to predict that the President's inability to act independently and even without the basic common sense would lead the army top brass and its intelligence to put together a plan (call it a conspiracy if you like) where they would eventually move on the President. They did exactly that and forced him to declare emergency just a month before the 90 days limit that the Constitution has set clearly and unequivocally as the term for the Caretaker Government. Like a puppet two times over, the President surrendered himself to the whims and dictates of the army without even a murmur where a civilian fa├žade was given by Dr. Fakhruddin for purposes of meeting any possible opposition at home and abroad. The rest is history, some of it revealed by the present army chief in a book he recently wrote of these events. It is a mystery how a sitting army general can write about contemporary politics, some of which is controversial in which he played the key role.

Unfortunately, the authors of the Bangladesh Constitution were more concerned in restricting the powers of the President than giving him any. Articles 48 to 53 are devoted to the President but most of it sets out the restrictions of his power; his impeachment and removal. The Constitution, however, does not make the President a puppet at the hands of the Prime Minister in case the former wishes to show character. The Constitution requires the Prime Minister under Article under 45 (5) to keep the President informed on matters of domestic and foreign policy. The same article also gives the President the right to request the Prime Minister to submit for Cabinet's consideration on any matter of domestic and foreign policy. Thus, though the spirit of the Constitution does not give the President independent powers, there is enough leverage constitutionally for the President not to submit himself to become a puppet in the hands of the Prime Minister.

In times of crisis, when politics is fluid and national identity is at crisis, the President can use the constitution in his favour for the country without letting politics go into the hands of extra-constitutional forces such as the army or introducing emergency by abrogating the constitution and suspending fundamental rights. The Presidency under the present constitution really emerges as a powerful institution during the period of caretaker government when, without a parliament and a Prime Minister, his powers are immense. It was just such a situation that had befallen former President Iajuddin when he could have played a momentous role. Instead, he chose to be a puppet and has ended creating a constitutional mess for which the elected government is now facing a challenging task to bring constitutional governance on rails. In doing so, they were also forced at one time considering whether President should face legal proceedings for his actions, a move that seems to have fallen by the way side due to development of other pressing matters in our politics.

The Iajuddin Presidency has left a very bad precedent. Therefore the nation welcomed the election of the incumbent President to the post. He is a veteran and tested politician. During his party's bad days, with the party leader incarcerated, he remained steadfast both to his leader and democracy by not wilting to the pressures of the military and their intelligence. The nation therefore expects that he would bring the Presidency back from the threshold into which the former President, threatened by the extra-constitutional forces, had pushed it.

The nation's expectations notwithstanding, President Zillur Rahman made a disappointing start. Before entering office, he told the nation in an interview on a TV channel that his "Netri" cannot do anything wrong when asked if he would advise the Prime Minister when he thought she was taking an incorrect decision. In the same interview, when the interviewer asked him about his reaction to the August 22nd bombing incident in which his wife was brutally killed, his answer was he wants to be with his "Netri" to protect her from conspiracies against her life. The President must have forgotten about the high status of the office he was about to enter from where his personal desires must be subordinate to the demands of his office.

Bangladesh's politics is weak. Institutions that sustain democracy are weaker. Hence there is an urgent need to strengthen the institutions. The PMO and the President's Office are crucial institutions in this process that should be complimenting each other without one needing to subordinate the other. In the present context, the PM is riding a massive mandate where the thought of the President interfering in her exercise of executive authority is not relevant. This notwithstanding, President Zillur Rahman can play a very positive role in an advisory capacity given the status of his office, his advanced age and reputation as a politician. He can also use his wisdom to help bring the ruling party and the opposition to work together for making the parliament function. In the event of a political crisis that is not at all uncommon in Bangladesh, the presidency can become a nation's savior if the president is a worthy one. He could have for example played a significant role in the BDR mutiny but his presence was visible only in the form of a condolence message that came out after the macabre event was over.

The nation does not expect President Zillur Rahman to follow the inglorious footsteps of his predecessor whose inability and lack of character had pushed Bangladesh to the brink. There is enough space within the bounds and spirit of the Constitution for both the office of the Prime Minister and the President to grow as complimentary institutions for the good of democracy and Bangladesh.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Moving towards a government by advisers?

Published in the Daily Star, April 16, 2009

BANGLADESH'S peaceful transition to elected government has unfortunately been overtaken by post-election conflicts, of which the BDR carnage has been the worst. As a consequence, we have failed to take advantage of an opportunity to turn the corner.

In the midst of these conflicts, we have overlooked a new trend in governance that has been set into motion by the government. Bangladesh opted for parliamentary democracy in 1991 after the country's two major political parties, Awami League and BNP, succeeded in ending the military dictatorship of General Ershad.

However, in the fifteen years during which BNP and AL held power alternately, parliamentary democracy was compromised as Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia emerged as undisputed leaders who exercised unrestrained power in the party, and in governance when in the government. At the same time, the parliament was also made non-functional as the party in opposition opted for the streets for resolution of conflicts, which made politics more conflict-ridden and violent.

The form of government in Bangladesh during this period can best be described as prime ministerial where, unlike the Westminster model, the prime minister was by no means the "first among equals;" she was much more like a president.

The incumbent government, without any discussion in parliament, has made further dents in the parliamentary or prime ministerial form of governance. This government has amended the Rules of Business to empower the prime minister to appoint any number of advisers and special assistants, and to give them status of ministers, ministers of state and deputy ministers.

The amendment thus allows the prime minister to sidestep the constitutional requirement that restricts her from appointing more than 10% of her ministers as "technocrats," who do not have to be members of Parliament. It also allows these advisers and special assistants to participate in cabinet meetings as equals to ministers, who are members of Parliament.

In the context of forms of government, this is uncharted territory for it does not fit into any known form -- parliamentary, presidential, prime ministerial, etc. The issue is not just one related to the form of government; more fundamental issues are involved here. Allowing advisers and special assistants the status of ministers/state ministers/deputy ministers, and also charge of different ministries, contradicts the sovereignty of the parliament because they are not answerable to it. Instead, they are answerable to the prime minister. In this context, the amendment has put the prime minister's power over that of the Parliament.

It would be worthwhile to look at Alexander Pope's famous dictum "for forms of government, let fools contest, whatever is administered best is best" to try and understand what is emerging in Bangladesh. Is this emerging form really going to be best for Bangladesh? This is a tough call because such a form of government has not been tried anywhere before. One can look into this issue from various viewpoints to find an answer.

First, the prime minister chose to leave out from her cabinet those who had experience as ministers during the party's last stint in power. Instead, she inducted individuals without such experience. Second, she told the new ministers that she was keeping them under watch, and if they failed to perform they would be shown the door. Third, in a talk show, one of the high profile advisers said that it was his responsibility to keep watch over the ministers and report to the prime minister.

In all these viewpoints, there is very little that suggests that this new experiment in governance will succeed. Instead, there is plenty to hint that it could cause problems rather than solve them. An interesting case in point is the ministry of energy that is headed by the prime minister. This ministry has an elected minister with the rank of a state minister, and also has an adviser with the rank of a full minister. The adviser will obviously not act under the state minister given the superior status he holds. But then, if the state minister acts at the dictates of the adviser, the principles of elected government will be compromised.

An adviser enjoying the rank of a full minister as the minister of planning and the minister of finance has been given the responsibility to look after these ministries as the prime minister's economic affairs adviser. In terms of realpolitik in Bangladesh, where access to the prime minister is a major basis of influence in governance, this system has the potential of becoming a management disaster.

The incumbent government has followed its predecessor, the un-elected caretaker government (CTG), in amending the Rules of Business (RoB). The CTG had amended the RoB to by-pass the constitutional restriction on the size of the council of advisers. The constitutional legality of that amendment was not tested in court because people were more focused on the constitutional legality of the CTG itself for extending its stay in office beyond the constitutionally set limit of ninety days.

Times are different now, and it is an elected government that is in office where the principles of democracy and constitutionality are of the essence. In the case of the AL, the principles of democracy should be more sacrosanct than it was for the un-elected (CTG).

People were disappointed when Bangabandhu imposed one-party rule in the shape of Baksal , rejecting the very principles with which he had motivated the people to follow him in 1971 to establish a democratic society and a democratic system of governance. The people have given his daughter Sheikh Hasina a historic majority and mandate, believing that her party would establish the democratic Bangladesh that had eluded her father.

Amending the RoB to allow non-elected individuals to head ministries and take part in cabinet meetings at par, or better, with elected individuals contradicts both democratic the premises and the constitution. If contested in a court of law, there is no reason why the amendment of the RoB would not be declared un-constitutional.

For a government that has been installed with broad public approval, a better way out is to elect these advisers to Parliament. The AL can do this easily, given the numbers they have in Parliament. A few members could vacate their seats to get these advisers elected. It will allow the prime minister to use their services democratically and constitutionally.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bangladesh, conspiracy theories and unraveling truth

THE BDR carnage has left a scar on the face of the nation that will take a long time to fade off. At the same time, the country's image has taken a battering that will further debilitate its efforts to expand her interests in the international environment that is crucial to her existence and her future. The carnage has been covered by the international media in the context of the abhorrent nature of the atrocities committed. It has also reflected upon our inability in dealing with it in a manner that would help the nation recover from the shame the carnage has given us.

A recent New York Times report, while writing on the BDR carnage, has said that “conspiracy theories are a national sport” in Bangladesh. It was by no means a compliment to us as a nation because this tag has been given for our failure to deal with past political assassinations and acts of terror. In the context of the BDR carnage, the Minister of Commerce who has come before the media on the government's behalf as one responsible to deal with post-carnage responsibilities was quick to suspect a conspiracy and the hands of militants behind the BDR killings only to retract his suspicion days later. Most recently, the Prime Minister has informed the nation that the BDR carnage was a conspiracy by the evil forces who “wanted to foil the December 29th elections and push the country towards civil war by creating anarchy.”

There are three investigations underway. One has been set by the Ministry of Home Affairs and headed by a former bureaucrat Mr. Anisuzzaman. There is another investigation being conducted by the CID. A third is being conducted by the armed forces. Their reports are still awaited. International agencies like the FBI and Scotland Yard are assisting national efforts to unravel the heinous crime. The US Ambassador has said recently that it will take some time for FBI to make its report known. The investigation committee headed by ex-bureaucrat has just been given a month's extension; it was asked initially to submit its report in a week and afterwards given two further extensions, which suggests that this is not going to be an easy investigation. It is therefore surprising that the Prime Minister has gone public in speaking of the February 25th carnage as a conspiracy by the forces that lost the 29th December elections to push the country towards civil war.

The Prime Minister's conspiracy theory has been picked up by her ministers who are using the media to tell the nation that the February 25th carnage has been committed to destabilize the country by the forces who lost the last elections. While the Prime Minister as head of the government may know by the means available to her about the investigations underway (although not the right to reveal it till investigations are complete), the ministers orchestrating the Prime Minister's conspiracy theory have no means or reason of knowing about the investigations. Nevertheless, they are publicly talking about such a conspiracy theory with confidence. The BNP and the Jamat have also come up with their own conspiracy theories conflicting with that of the ruling party. It is just not the political parties that are suggesting conspiracies; the people are also participating in this “national sport”. It would therefore be interesting to quote here relevant part of the NYT story on the conspiracy theories afloat related to the BDR carnage: “Some point to terrorist groups and anti-Indian insurgents. Others say that it was fuelled by intelligence agencies in either India or Pakistan both countries have been alternately friend and foe to Bangladesh. There are those who suggest that it could involve politicians who lost the last election, while others blame people within Mrs. Hasina's party whose goal is to keep the army in check.”

In the midst of these conspiracy theories what is being overlooked is that there has been a massive failure in intelligence. To date, no one responsible has been asked by the government to stand down to facilitate the investigations. The BDR carnage, in the manner it has been carried out by its perpetrators and handled by the government, makes it imperative for the investigations to unravel the chain of events transparently. The perpetrators must be identified, including the masterminds behind it, and punished so that any theory of conspiracy, if there is any, is rested and the families of the victims satisfied that justice has been done. We must not forget that the carnage and its handling has affected civil-military relations adversely like never before in our history. A resolution of this issue will depend squarely upon transparent investigation and punishment of the perpetrators if a conspiracy involving forces external to BDR and/or the country is found in the investigation reports.

There is an event underway to brand Bangladesh: a nation that has stood with its head high before the rest of the world when its people fought and won freedom against the worst forces of oppression; a nation that has sacrificed blood for her mother tongue; a nation that has as rich a historical and civilization roots as the best on earth. It should be an easy nation to brand. Bangladesh has made itself difficult to brand because her politics has stood in the way. Politics dominated by some degree of conflicts, acts of terrorism and killings, disagreeable as these may be, is not unique to Bangladesh. Nations that suffer these unfortunate incidents come together to deal with it like India came together following the Mumbai terrorist attacks last November. What is unique in the case of Bangladesh is that when such killings and conflicts or acts of terror occur in our politics, there is little attempt to unravel the causes to bring the perpetrators to justice. Instead, we divide our nation by accusations and counter accusations by our political parties and our conspiracies almost always succeeds in helping the perpetrators get the benefit. Even the people get caught in this frenzy of conspiracy theories that hinders in dealing with such tragedies. Bangladesh's history is replete with such examples.

February 25th has hit the national psyche at the core as it was hit on March 25th, 1971. The nation needs to get together now as it did then if it wants to heal the scars that the February 25th carnage has left. All quarters should have patience to let the investigating agencies complete their work and then the Government should come forward to take action that should be firm, transparent and should rest all conspiracy theories to rest. Failure to deal with the February 25th carnage could have far-reaching consequences that could be disastrous for the nation. It is time for the Prime Minister to lead the nation just as her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mijibur Rahman had done in the dark moments of our history: in the days preceding the beginning of the genocide by uniting the nation, not dividing it. It is time for us to give up our “national sport” with conspiracy theories for such indulgence only dilutes the investigations and help the perpetrators. Let the Prime Minister show the way; let her tell us about any conspiracy that there may have been behind the February 25th carnage but only after this has been established as a fact. That can only be established after the investigations are complete.