Vol. 5 Num 558 Wed. December 21, 2005  
Front Page

Terror talks limp along on boycott, condition

The national dialogue that began last week amid boycott by the opposition alliance seems to be heading nowhere as it drags on with a reported condition being applied to the invitees that Jamaat-e-Islami cannot be held responsible for the rise of militancy.

No one can say for sure when the dialogue will complete while confusion is widespread about the fate of the suggestions that had already been placed at the dialogue by political parties and professional groups.

Federation of NGOs in Bangladesh and Alem-Mashayekh (Islamic scholars) met the prime minister yesterday. But the timetable for the talks with the other political parties and groups appears to be uncertain as she will be busy for the next few days.

She will be at the grand rally of the four-party alliance in the capital today and on a visit to Jessore tomorrow. Then the weekend of December 23 and 24 will be followed by a public holiday for Christmas on December 25, making impossible any dialogue to be held before the next Monday.

Her scheduled meet with the Liberation War heroes on December 18 had been postponed for her visit to Dinajpur to attend the annual rehearsals of the army, sources at the prime minister's office (PMO) said.

Meanwhile, some civil society members have questioned the effectiveness of the dialogue, which they say is plodding along at a very slow pace. Besides, they are not optimistic about the outcome of the talks that started on December 12.

Khaleda Zia so far has had talks with seven organisations out of 27 political parties and 15 professional bodies invited to the talks.

The invitees who have yet to take part in the dialogue are confused whether they will be able to speak freely during the talks, as the PMO is reportedly pressing them not to accuse Jamaat of having militant links.

The ruling BNP top brass appeared embarrassed after Krishak Sramik Janata League of Kader Siddiqui on the first day of the dialogue accused Jamaat of harbouring the militants and demanded the prime minister expel them both from the government and the alliance.

The PMO had reportedly asked the freedom fighters scheduled to meet the premier Sunday not to level any accusation at Jamaat, sources said.

Some Islamic political parties might as well lambast Jamaat at the dialogue and suggest the prime minister purge the party from the government and the ruling alliance.

Khaleda Zia however at the talks with the journalist leaders on last Wednesday categorically said the ties between the components of the four-party alliance will remain intact and that they will contest the next election together.

About the implementation of the suggestions, LGRD and Co-operatives Minister Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan on December 13 told journalists that they would first examine the suggestions and may implement some.

Khaleda on November 30 urged all political parties and eminent persons to sit in a dialogue to find ways to stop the bomb terrorism.

The officials at the PMO on December 6 and 7 dispatched invitation letters to some 43 organisations.

The Awami League (AL) led 14-party opposition alliance and pro-opposition professional bodies had rejected outright the invitations.

Khaleda met Krishak Sramik Janata League and Bangladesh Medical Association on December 12, HM Ershad-led Jatiya Party and Council for National Agenda on December 13 and Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists and Dhaka Union of Journalists on December 14, Federation of NGOs in Bangladesh and Alem-Mashayekh on December 19.

The freedom fighters under the banner of Muktijoddha Sangsad have yet to get the new date for meeting with the prime minister.

"We don't know yet when we're going to meet her," Kabir Ahmed Khan, chairman of the Sangsad, told The Daily Star.

The apex body of the freedom fighters has drafted a set of proposals to table at the dialogue, but is under pressure not to accuse the coalition partner Jamaat of patronising the militants, sources said.

The other invitees who have been waiting for a schedule to attend the dialogue have not been contacted by the PMO since they responded to the invitations.

"The date for our meeting has not been finalised yet. The prime minister's office told us they will inform us after setting the date," Fazlul Haque Amini, chairman of Islami Oikya Jote (Amini), told The Daily Star.

Islami Oikya Jote (Izhar) Chairman Izharul Islam Chowdhury told The Daily Star that they have not received any letter from the PMO. "We are not informed whether any date for us has been fixed," he said. The chairman however said he would wait for two or three more days and then would communicate with the PMO.

Islami Shashantantra Andolon, which has long been accusing Jamaat of links to militancy in public, has not decided whether they will attend the dialogue.

"If we join the talks, we will obviously speak the truth and that is Jamaat is the patroniser of militancy," Ataur Rahman Arefi, information and research secretary, told The Daily Star recently.

Allegations of politicisation of the dialogue had been raised against the government after it described the prime minister's recent meetings with the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and Federation of NGOs in Bangladesh (FNB) as parts of the national dialogue.

But both the organisations have declined to consider the meetings as dialogue, as they said they did not meet her by any formal invitation, rather on their own initiative.

They felt embarrassed as the government by its claim attempted to portray them as the ones having a leaning towards the ruling parties, though they are non-partisan organisations, they said.

The FBCCI delegation met the premier on December 4 while the dialogue formally began on December 12. The NGO leaders met her to voice their concern over the militant activities in line with its board decision.

Talking to The Daily Star, former advisor to the caretaker government M Hafizuddin Khan said, "In my view, there is no alternative to talks in resolving such national crisis."

On reported pressure on the invitees not to implicate any party of the ruling alliance in the militancy, he said, "The dialogue should be held in an atmosphere congenial enough for the invitees to speak their mind. A dialogue can be meaningful only when the participants can share their opinion unhindered."

He suggested the government go on with dialogue at a faster pace. "Any dilly-dally is not desired and it will not help the purpose of the dialogue."

Referring to the reported precondition for attending the dialogue, Prof Mozaffar Ahmed said the dialogue must be held in an open manner and there should not be any condition imposed on the invitees. "It is not called dialogue if a condition is imposed on invitees."

"The talks cannot be fruitful if the issue is not discussed with an open mind. I think the government also understands that it would not bring any result."

Major General (retired) Moinul Hossain Chowdhury, another former advisor to the caretaker government, is also not optimistic about the outcomes of the dialogue.

"I don't think the discussion will be fruitful as all their [the government and the opposition] moves centre around the next parliamentary election," he told The Daily Star.

"Security is a very important national matter. The security of the people and the country cannot be ensured if it is politicised and used for narrow political gains. Sovereignty and security of the country will be in jeopardy if the powercentric moves of the political parties get the upper hand," he observed.

"Both the ruling and the opposition parties do not seem to be concerned about the security of the people. Rather it seems their priority is to manoeuvre the next parliamentary election to their favour," he added.