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Dhaka Tribune

Dialogue drama back on track with Biswal's visit

Update : 16 Nov 2013, 10:13 PM

The drama over dialogue between Awami League and BNP has unfolded again after a short interval just ahead of the Dhaka visit of US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal.

Biswal arrived in the capital early afternoon on Saturday and she is scheduled to meet Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia this evening. She is also expected to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today.

BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on Friday claimed that he had made a phone call to AL General Secretary but failed to reach him.

The BNP leader’s claim courted controversy as the same day AL general secretary and LGRD Minister Syed Asharful Islam firmly denied getting any phone call from Fakhrul.

Amid claims and counterclaims leaders of both the major parties have in fact expressed their desires again to hold dialogue over the last couple of days to end the prevailing political crisis centring the polls-time cabinet.

Interestingly, much the same way a positive intent to hold dialogue was expressed by the leaders of both major parties when United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez Taranco held a series of meetings on May 14 with various political parties including Awami League and BNP to create a favourable atmosphere for dialogue.

Meanwhile, Pankaj Saran, Indian high commissioner to Dhaka, told reporters on Saturday that they had been in discussion on the developing political situation in Bangladesh with different countries including US, especially with those who have interest in peace and stability of Bangladesh.

“I have come to know that both Awami League and BNP now want to sit across the table as an US official is visiting Dhaka,” said a senior lawyer barrister Rafique-Ul Huq, who has always been optimistic about holding polls with the participation of major stakeholders.

“This is unfortunate; we all have urged them to hold talks but they have never paid any heed,” he retorted.

Barrister Rafique, however, said: “Dialogue has to take place to solve the crisis. The solution can be found only if BNP takes part in the all-party polls time administration and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina steps down from the post of the head of the government.”

Before the latest move the possibility of dialogue began to fade away three weeks back when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina phoned Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia and invited her to join a dinner but this move failed to make any headway towards a constructive dialogue.

BNP’s frequent call for shutdowns, a total of 204 hours violent hartal in the past three weeks, and the recent arrests of five senior BNP leaders, have exhausted all possibilities of dialogue.

BNP on Thursday sent letters to some influential foreign missions in Dhaka informing them about the latest political situation and explaining its stance on dialogue with the government, said party insiders.

The letter reads that BNP will sit for a dialogue if the government comes forward with sincerity.

A week ago, Khaleda at a rally blamed the government for not holding talks: “We have not yet shut the door to dialogue. It was the government that moved away from dialogue by putting conditions beforehand.”

Earlier, Khaleda however said the dialogue could only be held if the government agreed to meet her demand for a non-partisan government.

On October 21, Khaleda proposed a non-partisan government while Hasina, earlier, offered all-party polls-time government headed by her.

Fakhrul sent a letter to the AL general secretary to inform him about the Khaleda’s proposal formally. In response, Ashraf made a phone call to Fakhrul acknowledging that he received the letter.

On October 23, BNP placed the same proposal in parliament but the treasury bench asked it to do so as per the parliament’s Rules of Procedure.

BNP later said they would not join the elections if Hasina remained as the head of the interim government.

The dialogue issue took the centre stage again on Friday while Fakhrul told media that he tried several times to reach Ashraf over phone to talk about holding dialogue but failed to reach him. Hours after, Ashraf ruled out his claim.

“On Saturday (Thursday) his (Fakhrul) leader (Khaleda) said there was no scope for dialogue. He should talk to his leader first. If his leader says there is a way to hold dialogue then it can take place,” Ashraf told reporters on Friday.

Responding to Ashraf, Fakhrul on Saturday said: “I am taking the consent of the leader of the opposition. Do not waste time anymore. Do not create any more confusion; take dialogue initiative.”

Communications Minister Obaidul Quader on Saturday, however, said the initiative to launch dialogue was not at the general secretary level anymore. “Now it lies with the party chiefs. It can never go back to general secretary level.”

Meanwhile, Hasina on Saturday at the Ganabhaban reiterated that her invitation to BNP for dialogue was still valid.

Though BNP has repeatedly said it would not budge an inch from its stance Fakhrul’s voice on Saturday softened. He dropped a hint about a compromise on the polls-time government.

“We are cordial but the dialogue should be based on polls-time government and nothing beyond that,” Fakhrul said at a discussion at Jatiya Press Club. Though earlier BNP said dialogue should be focused only on its demand for a non-partisan interim administration.

Khaleda, also the former premier, on Thursday reiterated that her party would not compromise on non-partisan government: “compromise means allowing injustice.”

Meanwhile, some political observers view Hasina’s recent remark as a hint of shifting her strong position from being the head of the polls-time administration.

In the wake of recent bloody shutdowns Hasina, on November 9, at a programme said: “I want peace and development, not the premiership.”

Amid violent political whirlpool the ministers submitted letters to the prime minister expressing their intents to resign to “pave the way for forming an all-party polls-time cabinet.”

However, Fakhrul said ministers’ resignation would not resolve the crisis. Problems could be solved only if the prime minister resigned, he said.

On October 18, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on a televised address to the nation proposed the formation of an all-party government to hold polls and appealed to the opposition to give names of their lawmakers for the interim cabinet.  

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