Vol. 5 Num 544 Wed. December 07, 2005  
Front Page

PM invites 16 parties to talks
14-party rejects, Hasina refuses to receive letter

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia yesterday sent letters to 16 political parties inviting them to a national dialogue on combating the rising religious terrorism in the country, but the 14-party combine and a number of other opposition line-up rejected the bid outright.

Leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina refused to receive the letter, as the Awami League-led 14-party dubs the government's offer 'nothing but a farce'.

The prime minister, who left for Makkah yesterday afternoon on a three-day trip to attend an Organisation of Islamic Conferences (OIC) summit, intends to invite some 30 to 35 political parties to the dialogue, said her Political Secretary Harris Chowdhury. "The [invitation] process will be completed in a day or two," he added.

In the letter faxed to Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda wrote, "We have arranged a national dialogue to define ways and means to resolve the crisis, which is also expected by the people."

"The date and time of the dialogue will be fixed in consultation with you," said the chairperson of the ruling alliance leader BNP.

Besides the AL, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) yesterday sent the invitation to the chiefs of Jamaat-e-Islami, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Janata League, National Awami Party (NAP), Samyabadi Dal, Zaker Party, Gono Forum, Bangladesh Smajtantrik Dal (BSD), and the three factions of Jatiya Party, two of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) and three of Islami Oikya Jote. Of them, Gono Forum, NAP, Samyabadi Dal and a JSD faction are components of the 14-party combine.

The 14-party opposition camp termed the invitation a farce, alleging the government is not sincere in routing the Islamist militants and the move is aimed at gaining political benefits.

"Consultation with the opposition parties is not needed to find ways to contain militancy. The government itself has spawned the militants and it alone can resolve the problem," Abdul Jalil, AL general secretary and coordinator of the 14-party opposition combine, remarked yesterday.

Zaker Party also expressed its unwillingness to join the dialogue. The party chairman, Mostafa Ameer Faisal, at a discussion meeting yesterday dubbed Jamaat-e-Islami the godfather of militants and said the dialogue is not possible keeping Jamaat in the government.

As of 8:00pm, when this report was filed, the CPB did not receive the letter.

CPB General Secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim told The Daily Star, "We have asked the government to let us know when it will expel the war criminals from the cabinet and punish them, and when it will take actions against the ruling alliance leaders accused of patronising the militants."

He said, "We have no problem to join the dialogue if the government meets our demands."

Kazi Firoz Rashid, political adviser to Jatiya Party (JP) Chairman HM Ershad, said they too were yet to receive the letter. But if invited, the JP will sit in the dialogue.

Prime Minister's Assistant Private Secretary (APS) Shamsul Alam arrived at Hasina's Dhanmondi residence Sudha Sadan at 4:50pm to deliver the letter and waited until 5:05pm, when AL President's APS Alauddin Nasim told him Hasina will not receive it.

"As per a party decision, the opposition leader will not receive the letter," Alam quoted Nasim as telling him over cellphone.

"I am here to deliver the letter as directed by Prime Minister's Political Secretary Harris Chowdhury," Alam told reporters in front of Sudha Sadan. Before leaving the spot, he made another attempt to deliver the letter, but Sudha Sadan staff member Akkas Ali told him at the gate there was no one in the house to receive the letter.

Alam then went to Hasina's office in the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban but found none to receive the letter.

PMO sources said the letter was then faxed to both Sudha Sadan and Hasina's Jatiya Sangsad office, and was also given to a courier service operator to deliver to the opposition leader.

Before sending Alam to Sudha Sadan, Harris Chowdhury informed AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil and Political Secretary to AL President Saber Hossain Chowdhury about the government move over telephone.

Harris said, "We will send the letter to the Opposition Leader's parliament office and, if the office does not receive it, our leaders will meet Awami League leaders."

Coming down heavily on the government for its double standard, Saber told The Daily Star, "On one hand the government invites us to dialogue and on the other it accuses us of bomb terrorism." He said, "We will have to assess the situation... the context of the invitation... whether the government is sending the letter to a political party or a terrorist group. The government will have to make it clear first."

Leaders of the 14-party opposition combine at an emergency meeting last night discussed the prime minister's move for a national dialogue.

Abdul Jalil quoted the meeting as maintaining that, "It is now transparent that the ruling coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami is the main force behind militants and actions should be taken against it."

He said, "Ministers like Aminul Haq and Ruhul Quddus Talukder Dulu, and a number of other government high-ups have been accused of patronising the militants. The government has to prove its sincerity in eradicating the militants by taking action against these people."

He said the prime minister should discuss the issue in the cabinet before sitting with opposition parties.

About Harris Chowdhury's phone call to him, Jalil said, "He phoned me about sending the letter to the leader of the opposition. I told him to send it to her parliament office, from where we will collect it later. Instead, they sent the letter to the opposition leader's residence.

"We have differences in opinion, ways and techniques which is usual in a democratic society. But today's problem is not related to any party or politics but the entire nation. Therefore, resolving the problem unilaterally is difficult for," Khaleda wrote in the letter.

Expressing her eagerness to deliberate on the issue with other political parties, she said the date and time of the dialogue would be fixed in consultation with the leaders of the parties concerned.

"You know destructive bomb attacks are being carried out in different areas of the country. Innocent people are being killed, maimed and property damaged," Khaleda wrote. These well-planned terrorist activities by an isolated and derailed circle in the name of holy Islam have posed a threat to the public safety as well as damaged the national interests and image, she added.

According to the letter, the national dialogue aims at defining ways and means to resolve the crisis, which, Khaleda said, is also an expectation of people.

"I believe you will carry out the time-needed task and fulfil the aspirations of people and demand of the day by participating in it," she added.

In the letter, the prime minister said a ploy is on to hinder the nation's success and advancement, including the democratic process, social stability and economic progress.

"You have noticed that the government has already taken all-out measures to tackle the situation," she told the opposition political leaders, adding it has acquired a new dimension with the adoption of the suicidal approach.

"It is the demand of the time to face the national problem nationally," she said.

"We have bright instances of working together in our great struggle for independence, movement for democracy and addressing different national calamities," Khaleda said and expressed her firm conviction that there would be no exception in the present case.