Categorized | South Asian Politics

Political leaders in Bangladesh about to lose to the military

Posted on 26 December 2013 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

Lahore

      Pakistan’s relations with Bangladesh are passing through a difficult period. Whenever the Awami League’s government comes to power under Sheikh Hasina Wajid in Bangladesh, there is a cooling-off in Pakistan-Bangladesh relations. Sheikh Hasina’s government always plays up the nationalist card with reference to the 1971 independence of Bangladesh. This translates into anti-Pakistan and pro-India sentiments in the attitude and policies of the Bangladesh government.

      The current problem in Pakistan-Bangladesh relations relates to the war trials in Bangladesh and conviction of several people for their alleged crimes against the Bengalis in 1971.  One of the convicts, a Jamaat-i-Islami leader, was hanged to death in a hurry to do this before December 16, anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.

     Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution expressing sorrow and resentment on the implementation of death sentence and questioned the whole notion of war trials.   This was a major shift in Pakistan’s policy. In the immediate aftermath of the execution of the Jamaat-i-Islami leader, Pakistan’s Foreign Office argued that this was an internal matter of Bangladesh and that the Pakistani state would not publicly make comment on it.

     In Pakistan, the Jamaat-i-Islami and several other political parties protested on the incident and staged protest marches to express their resentment. The PMLN, the ruling party, remained quiet on the issue but Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Interior Minister, shared the views of the Jamaat-i-Islami on this issue.

   The PMLN changed its policy and joined with the Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf to pass a resolution in the National Assembly that was critical of war trials and execution of the Jamaat leader in Bangladesh.  The PPP, MQM and ANP opposed the resolution, arguing that the resolution related to an internal issue of Bangladesh.  The majority in the National Assembly overruled their objection.   Pakistan’s Foreign Office that argued in the past that it was Bangladesh’s internal matter went silent on this issue.

    The Bangladesh government launched a formal protest on the passing of the resolution by Pakistan’s National Assembly. The Awami League activists were unleashed to stage public protest in Dhaka and several other cities and virtually made the Pakistan High Commission hostage for some time. Pakistan flag was burnt down in more than one instance.  Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh issued anti-Pakistan statement that encouraged the Awami League activists to adopt a hostile posture towards Pakistan, demanding the breaking off relations with Pakistan.   The response of Pakistan on this protest was restrained because it was not interested in intensifying conflict.

    The war trial issue in Bangladesh relates to its internal politics and the political style of Sheikh Hasina who has not been able to overcome the trauma of the killing of her family in August 1975 raid on her family home by Bangladesh army colonels and others.  The other influence on her mind is the 1971 conflict, killings and war. Whenever she comes to power, she adopts a tough line towards those associated with these two incidents.

   Sheikh Hasina came to power for the first time after the June 1996 elections and ruled for five years. These two issues were raised and there was a freezing of relations with Pakistan. However, there were no instances of hanging of people with reference to these incidents. She returned to power in January 2009 and during this tenure the trial of the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was re-opened and some people were given death sentence. After this a special court was established to prosecute some people for their war crimes against Bengalis in 1971.

    All this can also be viewed with reference to the general elections in Bangladesh on January 5, 2014. Sheikh Hasina Wajid is killing two birds with one stone. On the one hand she is playing  the nationalist card to strengthen the position of the Awami League. On the other hand she is building pressure on her political adversaries. The Jamaat-i-Islami has been banned in Bangladesh and the main opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Begum Khalida Zia (Prime Minister 1991-1996, 2001-2006) is under a lot of pressure by the Awami League government.

    The BNP and its allies (18 political parties) have boycotted the forthcoming elections because Khalida Zia wants these elections to be held under a neutral caretaker government but Sheikh Hasina offered to create an all-parties government with her as prime minister for holding the elections.

    The Bangladesh Constitution provided for a neutral caretaker government for holding the elections. This arrangement faced problems for holding the election after the expiration of the term of the elected government in 2006. When Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister in 2009, she abolished this provision and declared that her government would hold the election.

   The BNP and its allies led by Khalida Zia rejected the holding of the elections with Hasina as Prime Minister. The countrywide protest by the BNP and its allies resulted in violence and killings on the streets of Dhaka and some other cities. The implementation of death sentence for a Jamaat-i-Islami leader added fuel to fire and violence has intensified in Bangladesh.

      The Bangladesh government is insistent on holding the election on time. Due to the boycott by the BNP and its allies 154 seats out of 300 seats have been elected unopposed. These unopposed members belong to the Awami League, its allies and some independent. This means that the Awami League is assured of a clear majority in the new Parliament.

    The credibility of the new elections is in serious question. Even if the elections are held on time, these will not produce stable government.  More violence is expected during and after the elections.  The prospects of holding credible elections are minimal unless the government and the opposition come to an understanding and new nominations are called for the elections.

    It seems that the present confrontation between the government and the opposition will continue and the Awami League will find it very difficult to rule. This can encourage the military to take the political initiative and create an interim government to cool down political temperature. This was done by the Bangladesh military in January 2007 when it established an interim government which lasted for two years and then elections were held in December 2008.  Unless the political leaders in Bangladesh show restraint and responsibility they can again lose to the military.

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