Vol. 5 Num 864 Thu. November 02, 2006  

Strategically Speaking
Profit and loss

The two major political parties are perhaps shaking off their battle fatigue and counting their respective gains and losses due to the turmoil that resulted from their positions on the chief of the caretaker government (CTG), as all political parties must do keeping in mind the forthcoming elections.

But if any one feels inclined to sit back and bask in glory for the notional political victory, they must not forget that victory, if any, has been at the cost of the nation. It has been a Pyrrhic victory at best. It would be odious for political parties to think in terms of gains and advantages accrued against losses, seeing in terms of according political space to the opponent, that is achieved through the miseries caused to the people whose very welfare their policies are supposed to serve.

Although some may feel that we are yet to see the final outcome of the drama that has been staged by the two major parties, that the final act is yet to be played out, most are of the view that the AL's stand on the president's assumption of the office of the caretaker head has been a strategic setback for the party.

However, not all are willing to see it in such a cut and thrust manner, of irremediable loss to the AL. In fact, for the AL, not rejecting outright Mr Iajuddin's assumption of the caretaker head has been the most pragmatic action it could have taken. Also, that it has decided to go along with the composition of the council of advisors, which it, nonetheless, feels lean heavily towards the past incumbent, demonstrates a very realistic approach to the issue.

It is, if one can equate with a military manoeuvre, a tactical readjustment in order to gain future strategic advantage. And whatever may have compelled the AL to assume that posture, it must not overlook the fact that it has gone down very well with the public, most of whom failed to see the logic of violence its program of action generated.

It may be premature at this moment to assess the outcome of the AL's position on KM Hasan. But one would like to ask whether the AL thought that its main rival would accede ground on this issue without getting some political mileage out of a situation in which they appeared to be in the driving seat from the beginning.

If the AL had thought that the BNP would not give in to their demands without a fight, it was a fight that was best fought not on the streets all over the country, at the cost of great many lives and national and private property. It was indeed foolhardy to believe that force, not logic, would decide the issue.

It has perhaps left the AL wondering whether the final solution is not the worst of the two bad options, and whether they would have opted for KM Hasan, a man with BNP link of 20 years ago in place of Mr Iajuddin, whose umbilical is still attached to the BNP, had they known it was coming. Under the circumstances, the AL's best course of action would be to continue to assess the situation while at the same time not to refrain from engaging the president as the chief of the caretaker government.

AL's violent outburst has been dysfunctional and the public response to its siege program has put it on its back foot. What has been very damaging is stopping the operation of the Chittagong port that has, according to some well informed sources, caused a daily loss of Tk 200 crores to the garment sector alone.

It is time for all right thinking person to consider whether our only surface lifeline to the outside world should not be not brought under some special arrangement that would free it from influence of political programs. We cannot afford to be laid siege to from within.

A city mayor holding hostage a vital installation, as was the case of the Chittagong port, is unacceptable. What if tomorrow, the mayor of Dhaka announces that the Zia International Airport would be made to stop work and nothing will be allowed to operate from there, in support of his party program?

The BNP cannot escape its share of responsibility of the political violence and death and destruction either. It in the end had to back-track on KM Hasan. Softening of its stand earlier might have averted the bloodshed. Their position demonstrates how far a party is willing to go to achieve its political ends. It has exposed the wily tendency of the party to cling on to power at any cost with a steadfastness that has bordered on Taurean obstinacy.

The redeeming feature amidst the chaos is the induction of council of advisors who were sworn in on Tuesday. One hopes that this would ensure the complete mechanism of the interim government to be now firmly in place and they will set themselves to guarantying a free and fair election.

But it is hard not to dwell on the impact of the recent development on the concept of the CTG. It is difficult to disagree with those who feel that we have all but seen the end of this arrangement, an arrangement necessitated by the very basic character of our politics, mutual distrust among the political parties, and since the idea was to ensure a free and fair election, which the incumbent party could not be trusted to organise, a non-party arrangement was put in place. This too has been made a debatable concept with disagreements over who merits heading the CTG.

Prospects of dispute on this count in the future have been made acute by the KM Hasan episode initiated by the BNP. In any case the idea of "non-party" has become a mere euphemism, and to call it so is a mockery.

To start with, the president seeking suggestions (or nominees) from political parties defeats the very spirit of the idea of a non-party caretaker government. On would have thought that it would be possible to select ten persons of repute without falling back on the suggestion of the parties. That is not to suggest, however, that party nominees would not be able to dispense their responsibilities in a neutral manner.

We have suffered great losses in recent times. The best course for all would be to participate in the political process. For the CTG, its most important task would be to present us with a free and fair election. That might necessitate effecting important and quick changes in the administration and the Election Commission, to restore the confidence of the opposition as well as of the people in the system.

The author is Editor, Defense and Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.