by M. Shahidul Islam
The power parameter of the incumbent Awami League regime is getting smaller by the day. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina not only has held the nation of 165 million hostage by not addressing the underlying reasons for incessant blockades, killing, mayhem and mindless destruction of assets, her intransigence has stirred an international crisis involving the major regional and global players.
The next phases of the ongoing Bangladesh crisis will get played as much in the international arena as it will be within the country. Besides the abstention from the state celebration of the Victory Day on December 16 of the EU diplomats, the USA’s exasperation has seemingly crossed all bounds of tolerance.
That is what has resulted in the US Ambassador Dan W Mozen’s meeting with Finance Minister AMA Muhith and the USA’s specific and formal request to the Bangladesh government for an “official explanation on the January 5 elections” in the aftermath of 154 seats already having unofficially declared won by the incumbent regime without any voter casting the ballot.
Based on this explanation, which may or may not be given as requested, the Obama administration will decide how to recalibrate its policies towards Bangladesh, it was learnt from a diplomatic source in Washington. Another source said the matter might even get referred to the UN Security Council if it’s deemed as posing danger to regional peace, security and stability.
That scenario is not far off; given the crisis already having been internationalized due to the Indian propping up of a regime that is seeking to establish a one party rule in the country and the myopic intransigence of the Sheikh Hasina administration not to allow a pluralistic democracy to continue.
Sensing this reality, President Barack Obama took personal initiative to bring India to the same mindset and tasked in late October the US Ambassador to Dhaka, Dan W Mozena, to visit New Delhi to seek India’s views on the situation arising out of uncontrolled and incessant opposition protests in Bangladesh.
Mozena’s botched mission in Delhi resulted in his summon to Washington for further consultation. After the briefing in Washington, Obama told his officials on November 8 to allow diplomacy to play out its full course and to “ramp up consultations” with India on the deteriorating Bangladesh crisis. Obama also expressed over phone his deep concerns about Bangladesh’s future with the Indian PM, Manmohan Singh.
Amidst further escalation of the crisis following JP leader HM Ershad’s decision to withdraw from the scheduled January 5 polling, India hurriedly dispatched to Dhaka on December 4 its foreign secretary, Sujatha Singh. Bypassing all diplomatic protocols and niceties, Singh was allowed to meet Bangladesh PM, Leader of the Opposition, as well as the hitherto dithering HM Ershad who had later told in public that the visiting Indian envoy confided him the risk of ‘Jamat coming power’ if his party abstained from contesting the poll.
This caused a major embarrassment to India and its main rationale for sticking with Hasina’s game plan became exposed. Ershad was later arrested under an orchestrated pretext of getting admitted to CMH for medical reasons. His special adviser, Boby Hajjaj, whom Ershad appointed as his spokesperson, was forcibly whisked out of the country few days later. Ardent Ershad loyalists have now joined the BNP-JI activists to foil the sham election.
Last ditch attempt
Viewed from hindsight, Sujatha Singh’s latest Dhaka mission seems to be the last desperate attempt by India to sort out the strategies and the consequences of holding a poll without participation by the main opposition parties. After the Dhaka mission, she dashed to Washington on December 10 to make a full briefing on the crisis to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry. But there was nothing new in the Indian stance about changing the stance of the Hasina regime toward holding a sham election.
As Delhi let it know to Washington that it stood by the decision of the beleaguered Bangladesh PM, the Obama administration became further angry. One US official termed the Indian stance as “anti-people’ with respect to Bangladesh.
From then on, the US decided to take a principled stand on the Bangladesh crisis due to its standard policy of espousing global democracy through free, fair, inclusive and credible elections.
And, as the last ditch attempt, Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon both called Sheikh Hasina on December 11, only a day after being briefed by the Indian foreign secretary, and, the both expressed deep concerns over the ongoing violence in Bangladesh which by then had claimed 100s of lives and maimed 1,000s others. They also implored upon the Bangladesh PM to make room for opposition parties’ participations in the poll, it was learnt.
Ironically, both Moon and Kerry found Hasina more condescending and unyielding than before, according to diplomatic sources. Hasina’s insistence that she would go ahead with the poll on the scheduled date left Kerry spell bound. “Good Luck to you” was the last sentence Kerry uttered with Hasina before hanging on, according to grapevine buzzes in Washington diplomatic encampments.
SH/Are they connected?
Much water rolled since and much more occurred beneath the surface. What became manifested finally are more like the sweeping plots of a blockbuster movie unraveling by the minutes. Despite being locked in a strategic partnership, India and the USA waged an unprecedented diplomatic kickboxing and Pakistan too got sucked into the Bangladesh fray.
Some analysts are of the opinion that the Pakistani Parliament’s decision on December 16 to adopt a Resolution condemning the hanging of Jamat leader Abdul Qader Molla, and, the India-US diplomatic sniffing sparked since December 17 by the arrest in New York of an Indian diplomat, are linked with the stubbornness of the Hasina regime to impose a one party rule on the people of Bangladesh.
The USA and other Western governments are also alarmed by the brutal human rights abuses of opposition politicians in the country which the Guardian newspaper of the UK headlined lately as ‘The prison named Bangladesh.”
The precise nexus in these events may seem feeble and far-fetched, but both the USA and Pakistan justifiably believe the obnoxious game plan of the incumbent Awami League regime has originated from outside the border of Bangladesh and the election façade of the Hasina regime contains seeds of destruction for the nascent Bangladesh democracy and the survival of the nation itself as a sovereign entity. Sensing impending danger to Bangladesh’s existence, China has already cautioned it “wants to see a sovereign Bangladesh.”
Cocooned and cornered
If nothing else, the incidents in India, Pakistan and the USA have left the regime of Sheikh Hasina further cocooned and cornered, notwithstanding the government’s loss of control over 90 per cent of territory within the country to the marauding blockaders.
Besides, India is fully engrossed in preparing appropriate responses against the world’s only super power while Pakistan has an explosive issue to extract vengeance on its perpetual nemesis, India, due to the condemnation of Mollah’s hanging coming from the peoples’ representatives, not from the executive branch of the government. Sujatha Singh’s derogative and insidious comment about the Jaamat with HM Ershad has facilitated further this Pakistani maneuvering on the Bangladesh imbroglio.
What should be more worrying for the Hasina regime is that the wound in the India-US relations is unlikely to heal sooner. Delhi has retaliated too strongly against the arrest and the alleged humiliation of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, for allegedly underpaying her nanny and committing visa fraud to get her into the USA.
Indian media claimed Khobragade was handcuffed upon arrest and strip-searched before being released on a $250,000 bail and surrendering of her diplomatic passport. If convicted on both counts, she may face 15 years in jail.
Worst still, Delhi over-reacted to the incident, which the USA maintains is a legal and criminal episode. Instead of launching a formal diplomatic protest first, Delhi withdrew security barriers from the US Embassy, started spying on the movement of all US diplomats and requested formally that all the diplomatic passes and IDs issued to the US diplomats be returned forthwith to the foreign ministry.
Washington, however, maintains that the concerned diplomat committed criminal offenses and thus forfeited her diplomatic immunity. Sources and some reports say the alleged crime of the Indian diplomat occurred months ago. That the call for justice has rung only now shall provoke some suspicion with respect to whether the timing is related to something else or not. We wish it’s not.
Source: The Weekly Holiday