by Sadeq Khan
On January 15, Begum Khaleda Zia held her first press conference after losing her position as the Leader of the Opposition in parliament following “sham” elections on January 5 which she boycotted and which most citizens rejected by voting with their feet or being deprived of any chance to vote in more than half of the constituencies, where the Election Commission failed to enlist any candidate other than ones “selected” by the ruling “neo Bakshal” clique of Sheikh Hasina. Khaleda thanked the people for the seal of “illegitimacy” that the absentee voters stamped on the infractuous 10th parliament, thereby staging a “silent revolution.”
She seemed also to indicate that the silent revolution had enabled her to undertake a change of strategy from street agitation to dialogue for fresh polls with the new government by pressure of public opinion and engagements with the international community to augment such pressure. Earlier press reports suggested that the US ambassador and other Western diplomats, who found the January 5 polls ridiculously unrepresentative, had met Begum Zia and assured her of full moral support of the international community behind her bid for such a negotiated resolution of the political crisis and violent unrest in Bangladesh. In the press conference, Khaleda Zia called for “fresh dialogue” and for installation of a truly representative government through “fresh polls”. She argued as follows:
Death of democracy
“At the very outset of 2014 of the English calendar, our people once again witnessed the death of democracy through a farcical election on the 5th of January. Voting centres all over the country, including the capital Dhaka, were barren. Nationwide, the voter turnout did not exceed a measly 5 percent. However, a completely partisan and subservient Election Commission was made to show a turnout of close to 40 percent.
“While protesting against the farcical election of 5 January, at least 22 people were killed by police firing alone. Since the announcement of the election schedule, more than two hundred people have died. Many more innocent lives have been lost because of actions of government agents in their vile attempt to sabotage the democratic movement. In the last five years, about twenty two thousand people have been killed. A few hundred political leaders and workers have been abducted and have not been heard of since. A reign of terror has been let loose on the people. To thwart the opposition movement for restoration of the people’s voting rights, thousands of leaders of the BNP have been arrested on false charges, and they continue to languish in prison. An undeclared ban has been imposed on the normal political activities of opposition. Even peaceful protest marches were subjected to police firing. Raids have been carried out in people’s homes under the guise of law and order drive by the so-called joint forces. In many cases, their houses have been destroyed; properties looted, and women and children often taken away by force. Such atrocity cannot be allowed to continue.
“The ordinary people, religious minded people, members of the minority community, the business community and professionals altogether are today passing their days in fear and uncertainty. And yet the government continues on its arrogant path. The country must be saved from this abnormal course. Peace, tranquillity and healthy competition must be restored. First and foremost, the protection of the most vulnerable people and the minority community has to be assured. In an attempt to divert public and international attention from the scandalous and farcical election, attacks are being launched on members of the minority community.
“We have been alerting all concerned of this possible eventuality for quite some time. In different parts of the country, incidents of violence against the minority community have been carried out with support and encouragement from government agencies. At the same time, blame is being put on opposition parties, whose members are being subjected to repression and torture. Media reports, however, clearly show the involvement of the government’s own people in these vile incidents.
“I demand independent and credible inquiry into these wanton attacks to identify the real culprits, mete out appropriate punishment to all those involved and ensure that such incidents do not recur.
“The new Parliament has no public mandate and it lacks the approval of the people to govern.
“Hence this government lacks legality. Such a government does not feel accountable to the people for its actions. Continuation of such a situation is dangerous. This can only end with the replacement of this government by one that is elected credibly and one that enjoys public mandate.”
War against people
On January 20, in a mammoth public meeting in Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka, permitted by the government to be held by the BNP and its allies on condition of exclusion of Jamaat leaders, the 18-party alliance leader Khaleda Zia joined by the dissident Jatiyo Party leader Kazi Zafar, again congratulated the people of Bangladesh for boycotting the January 5 polls and rendering the 10th parliament “selected” by Sheikh Hasina “illegitimate”. She further raised questions about the weakened new government’s supposed extra-territorial dependence on neighbor boost and support in waging a war against the people countrywide, who have been agitating against the misrule of Sheikh Hasina’s government.
She referred to the banning of daily Inqilab which published a leaked or faked document suggesting that Indian commando personnel borrowed by the RAB-Police-BGB joint forces’ campaign against violent agitators in border districts took part in extra-judicial killings. The newspaper later apologised for publishing the report without prior confirmation from responsible quarters, but the ban on the newspaper’s printing and publication has not yet been withdrawn. In the relevant report on January 16, the newspaper quoted sources claiming that Indian troops were seen among the members of law enforcers conducting joint operation in Jamaat-dominated Satkhira area. Begum Zia made an issue of the case as follows:
“The government had been killing and abducting people in the name of joint forces’ drive across the country. “The reports that the daily Inqilab published also appeared in Facebook and many online (media). If the incident was not true, the government should explain it. Why did the government arrest the journalists and seal off the press?” After the action, the government did in fact contradict the news and termed it ‘completely false.’
Referring to Ershad’s joining the new government of Sheikh Hasina as the Prime Minister’s special envoy, Khaleda Zia in her public meeting in Suhrawardy Udyan commented: “The two autocrats are (now together for) eating up the country and plundering the country’s assets.” In conclusion she said it was necessary to initiate a dialogue immediately with a view to hold an acceptable election to bring peace in the country.
Sheikh Hasina’s response has been one of ridicule. In her speech at a rally in Satkhira on the same day when Khaleda Zia was addressing her public meeting in Dhaka, Sheikh Hasina suggested Khaleda missed the bus by boycotting January 5 polls and will now have to count her recompense for that mistake over the next five years. And indeed, as reported already in The Bangladesh Chronicle on January 13 quoting a ruling party roadmap “collectively divulged” by “three separate sources from within the Awami League’s leadership,” the geopolitical scheme of Sheikh Hasina and her backers in Delhi is to cover that time and to hang Jamaat leaders, not for “providing redress and closure for victims of, and those affected by, the Bangladeshi war of independence”, but for a more ambitions big power game beyond Bangladesh politics. The “roadmap” reads:
“With the exception of India, the international community has banded together to ask for immediate dialogue to hold credible elections that includes the participation of all political parties.
“(But) the newly-formed government will intensify the current operation by the security forces to detain/arrest as many leaders and workers of BNP and Jamaat as possible. They will continue this mass arrest program until the government senses the toughening of the stance of the international community in the form of economic or political penalties such as cancelling of GSP and other benefits, trade sanctions and/or limiting the role of Bangladeshi military in the UN, etc.
“(End of January), the government will pre-empt any such moves by the international community by suddenly agreeing to have immediate dialogue with the BNP to hold new elections within 6 months. The government will openly state that it does not wish to stay for 5 years and that it will immediately create a team of representatives to speak to the BNP.
Signals to Int’l community
“India will give open signals to the international community as well as statements to the media that they will encourage and support the AL to have such dialogue towards an inclusive election as soon as possible. To the hapless public it will be perceived as if the international community’s pressures have finally taken effect on Sheikh Hasina. To the international community it will be perceived as if Delhi has finally yielded to Washington. But in fact it will be the direct opposite.
“Whilst holding daily meetings of dialogue and compromise, the government will go ahead and execute all the Jamaat leaders, starting mid-February. The government will ensure that the process of negotiations to hold the new elections will be time-consuming, but will also show real progress by regularly sitting with the BNP (and other parties) over every detail of the agreement for the new elections. By the time the AL and BNP have agreed on individual members of the interim government, the new Election Commission, the heads of Police, RAB, BGB etc – almost all executions will be completed (early April).
“After the Jamaat executions during the dialogue, it is anticipated that the fallout from the hangings of Islamist leaders will result in a series of violent attacks on the government establishments, based upon which the government will suddenly stop the dialogue with BNP. The government will place the blame of the attacks on Khaleda Zia and the BNP for supporting Jamaat in the violence.
“The United States and the rest of the international community (may) begin to realise that the whole “dialogue for new elections” was in fact a hoax to keep them occupied and neutralised whilst the main agenda to hang the Jamaat leaders was being pursued with the Americans and the international community simply watching.
Likely options remains
“As soon as the Americans (and their allies) realise the above game, it is anticipated that they will have only two options:
(i) They may simply concede defeat to the Indians and agree to depend on Delhi to counter the imminent rise of fundamentalism and/or terrorism in Bangladesh
(ii) They may decide to pursue a state of emergency in Bangladesh in order to retain as much control over Bangladeshi security as possible so that they themselves can counter the possibility of any rise of terrorism or the advent of fundamentalist non-state actors from the region (i.e., Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc), instead of giving up full leverage of their national security to India as they did to Israel in the Middle East.
“If Delhi perceives the slightest hint that Washington may be thinking in the line of pursuing a state of emergency (using military elements friendly to Washington), Delhi will give the signal to Sheikh Hasina to declare a state of emergency (using a newly-appointed army chief) before Washington can act. It has been suggested that during the course of the dialogue, the government will transfer (not retire) the current Chief of Army Staff, General Iqbal Karim Bhuiyan. The Prime Minister will replace him with a general who is loyal to her and pre-approved by both Delhi as well as Moscow. Three candidates are already in the running for the post. They are Lt Gen Moinul Islam (CGS), Lt Gen Abu Belal Mohammad Shafiqul Haq (PSO) and Lt Gen Mollah Fazle Akbar (NDC).
“The tenure of the ‘emergency government’ currently remains open because this option is still regarded as a contingency to the primary target of the current government, which is to remain in power for the full 5-year term. As far as Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League are concerned, the above strategy will allow them to come back with a clean electoral slate, also having avoided anti-incumbency problems. As far as India is concerned, the hanging of Islamist leaders and the resulting fallout will make them successful in achieving irreversible strategic leverage over the US, the EU and all other global powers susceptible to Islamist terrorism. This will also significantly propel Delhi’s leverage in achieving their much-desired goal to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, including other significant geo-political leverage in the global arena. The strategically significant executions of Islamist leaders in Bangladesh will swiftly propel India as the single most influential partner of the United States.
“(In effect) India will possess the same leverage over the handling of Bangladesh that Pakistan has been retaining over the handling of Afghanistan.”
Source: The Weekly Holiday