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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

What Washington wants

Update : 16 Nov 2013, 06:43 PM

Is Washington betting on the right horse in the most turbulent political race in South Asia? As buses are burned, passengers are killed, and citizens are held hostage to nationwide strikes that completely disregard their livelihood and safety, Bangladesh is at a crossroads as election turbulence hits a critical threshold.

In this scenario, the nation seems to have become a pawn in the great game between regional power India and superpower United States.

Upon US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena’s India visit to hold meetings with the foreign secretary and other senior officials, unnamed Indian government sources have voiced their disagreement with the US.

India is openly aligned with Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League, which has provided it with unprecedented connectivity to its eastern region and counterterrorism cooperation against separatists and Islamists.

Sources have revealed to The Times of India that US is favourable to opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Moreover, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Chakravarty has remarked that there is a convergence among US, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia in leaning toward BNP and consequently its junior ally Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party.

In its October 30 edition, India’s century-long, leading English newspaper reports that the US tilt is due to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s harassment of Nobel-laureate Mohammad Yunus, the World Bank bridge loan cancellation, and International Crimes Tribunal.

Can two banks and a court bring the downfall of the party that led Bangladesh to its independence? Is this a three-strikes-and-you-are-out policy by Washington? If so, why is BNP in its current state the chosen racehorse?

As BNP spokespeople have repeatedly asserted that heir apparent Tarique Rahman will lead the party in the future, what is America’s long-term interest?

A US Embassy Dhaka cable from November 3, 2008, seeks advice from State Department on suspending Tarique Rahman’s entry into the US. The cable notes, “The Embassy believes Tarique is guilty of egregious political corruption that has had an adverse effect on US national interests. Embassy Dhaka has three key priorities for Bangladesh: democratisation, development, and denial of space to terrorists.

Tarique’s audaciously corrupt activities jeopardise all three. Much of what is wrong in Bangladesh can be blamed on Tarique and his cronies.”

The cable describes him building a multimillion-dollar empire from extorting businessmen and demanding bribes from government procurement and political appointments. How is the heir apparent going to move US interests forward?

The International Crisis Group notes that BNP’s administration “had been marked by the rise of violent Islamist militancy, unprecedented levels of corruption, and election rigging.”

During her 2001 - 2006 regime, the nation witnessed Islamist fundamentalists going on an explosive rampage. Terrorists simultaneously detonated 500 bombs in 63 of the nation’s 64 districts, in a spectacular display to demand an Islamist state.

This was the masterpiece amidst recurring attacks on non-governmental organisations, cinemas, and cultural organisations.

A US Embassy, Dhaka, cable from March 14, 2005, reports that Begum Zia’s principal secretary stated, US government pressure combined with an upcoming World Bank meeting made Prime Minister Zia arrest Islamists running the terror campaign.

No arrests were made earlier as Islamists were aligned with some BNP members of parliament. If it takes coordinated pressure from the world’s greatest economic/military power to receive this much cooperation from BNP, how much pressure is necessary to have a valid democratic party?

In an ideal scenario, US would only back BNP upon promised comprehensive reformation by second-tier leaders. This means removing Begum Zia and Tarique Rahman from the National Executive Committee, its highest policymaking body, and into the Chairperson’s Advisory Council.

BNP will no longer be an elite-based, cadre party with top-down structure. Proper internal democracy will ensure that key personnel such as the secretary general would no longer be appointed by an all-powerful chairperson; concerns of all members and supporters will be manifested with newly-elected leaders.

Upon electing competent, relatively-clean, second-tier leaders, the party leaders would thank Begum Zia and her family for their years of service, but would clearly indicate to the public that a new era has begun for BNP.

This party would break the alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist parties that never supported an independent Bangladesh, realising that this high-risk, low-reward strategy has not helped in gaining significant parliamentary seats, but has only led to terrorists gaining more power through supporters in the halls of governance.

BNP would evolve from the current feudal governance where patrons monopolise political/economic power, and provide clients security and government services access in return for loyalty.

Members of parliament would no longer be the sole gatekeepers for their constituencies; monetary allocations for local development would automatically go to locally elected officials, no matter what party they are from.

Although Bangladesh will continue to operate in a patron-client network, where the party leaders distribute national resources to clients in exchange for their support, BNP would no longer tolerate armed thugs murdering and assaulting citizens in the name of student politics.

If any member of parliament is found guilty of patronising armed thugs, he/she will be suspended from the party, no matter how much funds they have brought into the organisation.

On the same note, armed opposition activists will no longer be tolerated. All security agencies of the government, including the army, will be utilised to halt enforced strikes that kill civilians and burn property in the name of democracy.

A corruption-free land is a distant thought in a society that has enabled unbridled corruption for decades. Most party members will want a return on their investments, but there will be clear redlines: A party leader will not be known as Mr Ten Percent for his cut in almost every major government contract.

Murdering rivals and calling it business as usual will not be the norm. Decimating opposition party workers with false court cases and imprisonment will be of the bygone era.

The reformed party will foster a stable political climate. Known criminals will be ousted from membership, public meetings will not be where ministers talk at the audience with pie-in-the-sky promises, but for meaningful engagements on welfare-oriented solutions, and power will be decentralised into the nation’s 494 sub-districts.

Ultimately, this party would build the institutional framework for a modern, viable democracy.

A true grand strategy would serve long-term interests of the power implementing them. A comprehensively reformed political party would ensure that US objectives of democracy, development, and counterterrorism are fulfilled in this South Asian nation that supplies the second-largest UN peacekeeping forces and readymade garments across the world.  

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