Vol. 5 Num 691 Wed. May 10, 2006  

No more letters please
At least talk about talking
It is two months since the protracted penmanship began between BNP secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan representing the coalition government and his Awami League counterpart and 14-party alliance coordinator Abdul Jalil. Yet, the parties are nowhere near forming a committee, the mandatory first hurdle they have to cross to initiate the much-awaited dialogue on electoral and caretaker government reform agenda.

It is time they tried out something creative and new to break the impasse. Both sides know it too well that without talking with each other rather than talking to each other reactively after each round of letter writing, they will continue to draw a blank even in terms of making a start. They have common stakes in the reform agenda and they are all too aware that without reaching a workable consensus on a minimum programme of reforms they cannot participate in the next general election on a level playing field.

Time is fast running out with national and international pressures mounting on them to negotiate a political settlement that can only take place on the basis of minimal give and take, compromise and trading of concessions. Cast-iron rigid positioning is bound to be self-defeating.

We can keep faith with certain positive signals underlying the long haul letter exchanging mode the opposition and the ruling party have fallen into. Both sides seem keen on avoiding responsibility for talks being a non-starter. Both parties are vigorously and visibly going ahead with preparations for the elections otherwise. Only that they do not want to be seen to be losing ground to each other in terms of political strategy which is more a matter of perception than realism.

The last and fourth missive despatched by Abdul Jalil to Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan is a predictable reiteration of the opposition's persistent positioning that it shall not sit with Mujahid and Amini included in the 4-party alliance list, names associated with war crimes, communalism and patronising extremist militancy. Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan's reply to the last opposition letter is awaited. It is at this point that we have a suggestion to make. We would like to latch on to his initial expression of hope that within the constraints of the rigid positions adopted by both sides, he is optimistic, they will make concessions to each other for a dialogue to start. They may not be prepared to discuss the concessions publicly right now, but at least Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Abdul Jalil can initiate a ground breaking tete-a-tat on what their parties are willing to concede to each other. So, we urge them to talk about talks.