Monday, May 28, 2012

Ambassadors in our politics again
Daily Sun
May 26, 2012
M. Serajul Islam 

The US Ambassador Dan Mozena loves Bangladesh. It is just that he says things about Bangladesh; even his body language is extremely positive.  The US Ambassador in Dhaka is by whatever goes with the position a celebrity in Bangladesh. There was a US Ambassador in Dhaka during the AL’s last term who was once called to the MFA by the Foreign Minister. The Ambassador asked the MFA official that he would be pleased to have “ a cup of tea” with the Minister at his Residence instead. 

That of course did not happen.  The Ambassador was reminded about protocol that resolved the issue. Dan Mozena appears to be more down to earth. He perhaps does not think that his position gives him the authority to dictate his views to the Government like some of his predecessors in the past. Recently, the Ambassador met an audience in an open discussion organized by a local think tank where he touched upon all the issues current in our politics and gave views on all but in a manner that was inoffensive. 

In was interesting to note from the discussion that the US is seriously interested that the current political impasse in the country would be resolved soon. He seemed certain that the ruling party and the BNP would eventually sit and find a way out to hold the next elections in a free, fair and credible manner. He hoped that the two protagonists would sit sooner to find the solution rather than later for the good of the country.  Interestingly, the discussion was supposed to be on “US policy towards Bangladesh” but it ended with an open discussion of the Ambassador’s views on Bangladesh’s politics! 

Nevertheless, the conviction with which the Ambassador stated that the AL and the BNP would eventually sit and resolve the deadlock over the issue of the caretaker government has raised a lot of hope in interested quarters. The whole country, barring the Prime Minister and a few of her loyal Ministers and party leaders,  has little doubt that the country would be doomed should the Prime Minister’s insistence to hold the next general elections under an interim government is carried through. Perhaps the Ambassador knows something that he is not willing to share at the moment to have made such a definitive statement that the two parties would sit and resolve their differences.

Many however feel afraid at the way the Prime Minister has been dismissing the opposition’s demand on the CG to be convinced that the Ambassador’s definitive statement on talks between the AL and the BNP would take place. They apprehend that the Prime Minister would not relent on supervising the next elections that would lead to a conflict and break down of the civil order. To prevent such a predicament taking place, the US Ambassador would need not just his efforts; he would need those of his fellow Ambassadors of the developed countries to make an impact upon the government to hold free, fair and non-party led general elections that would encourage the opposition to participate. 

The Ambassadors of the developed countries in Dhaka meet regularly and coordinate their positions on the politics of Bangladesh. During the last BNP term, they used to meet in what was then known in the media as the Tuesday Club. In that forum, they discussed all the issues of Bangladesh politics and collectively had put pressure on the BNP Government to do what they thought was correct. Individually, the Ambassadors also went to the media with their opinions, views and recommendations like they were a part of the political process and had a stake in it. 

The BNP of course did not listen to their views and suggestions. They paid a heavy price and the country, even more. The refusal of the BNP to heed to what these Ambassadors had to say eventually led to 1/11. The army used the emergency to push the country back decades. One reason why the BNP did not pay heed to the Ambassadors was the way they gave their advice and suggestions. They appeared partisan in the way they interfered in politics. At least one of them did not leave anyone in doubt which party’s interests he was representing.  

A similar situation is again facing Bangladesh; in fact worse. In 2006, the AL had pushed the country to the edge on the issue that the retired Chief Justice that the BNP wanted to head the Caretaker Government was unacceptable to it. The AL contended that as Justice KM Hasan was once a member of the BNP, he could not become the head of the CG Government. The fact that he had resigned from the BNP more than a quarter of century before to become a judge and eventually the Chief Justice was of no consequence to the AL. They suspected that he would use that flimsy link with BNP to help it to win the election. 

The same AL is now asking the BNP to participate in elections that the Prime Minister would supervise with a smaller number of AL Ministers where all of the nearly 240 directly elected AL MPs would be able to again participate in the elections as sitting MPs if they receive the party’s nomination. The ruling party has introduced this system for the next general elections sidetracking the Supreme Court’s recommendation for holding the next two general elections under the CG. In fact, the AL used its 3/4th parliamentary majority to abolish the CG system and introduce the system under which the incumbent PM with her party would hold the next general elections. Simple common sense would dictate anyone except those trying to force this system to conclude that the BNP would not participate in a ruling party supervised election. 

The BNP has been trying to encourage the ruling party to create the conditions that would allow it to participate and carry forward the fragile democracy of the country. It has been doing so largely by democratic protests. Those protests have resulted in the government throwing the party’s leadership behind bars, thus attempting to gag democracy by means that are outright undemocratic that would do credit to dictatorial regimes the country has seen in the past and not a party that claims for itself to have led the democratic and liberation movements of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the ruling party is showing no signs so far of its willingness to resolve the political impasse before it democratically. If it insists on this course of action, then it would not need a crystal ball to predict that the country is sliding towards disaster. 

The developed nations are our development partners. They have a stake at the way we progress because they have invested directly and indirectly in our development. That investment apart, we need their continued positive encouragement for a variety of reasons.  Recently we have seen three important visitors to Bangladesh. They have all said that the country has a great future that has been articulated by Dan Mozena who said that we have the potentials to become the “Asian Tiger.” The three visitors and all others who have visited Bangladesh in recent times have stressed upon the need of political stability and strengthening the democratic process. 

Dan Mozena and his colleagues can make a very important impact in encouraging political stability and democracy in Bangladesh. However in doing so, they must see that they do not do so by intervening with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that prohibits them from interfering in the host country’s internal affairs. Their predecessors did so before the last CG. Many say their undue interference brought the emergency; in fact one of them bragged about his role in doing so. 

More importantly, with the ruling party, they would need to be diplomatic to get it to do what is in the interest of the country. Embarrassing it by going public would not serve their objective or Bangladesh’s interests because this party would  be much more difficult to motivate and encourage than the BNP. Thus the Ambassadors need to unite and talk on our politics not in the media but behind the scene. Ambassador Mozena has already created for himself the credibility to lead such an endeavor by demonstrating that he is a genuine friend of Bangladesh. 

The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan

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