Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  

Unending predicament

It seems the penultimate Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh and now Ambassador in Washington has done a good job at least for his country's head of the caretaker government. As a diplomat it is of course an unwritten part of his duty to ensure that the image of the government which he represents is not tainted abroad. This demands of the incumbent ambassador or his mission doing some sort of subtle lobbying with the State Department. Ambassador Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury was the Foreign Secretary during the 4-party alliance government and was very much in its good book. It has been a practice for long that the outgoing Foreign Secretary enjoys his last posting in our mission in Washington, USA before retirement. On Dec. 15 evening by the courtesy of a television channel it was learnt that the US Assistant Foreign Secretary Richard Boucher was telling his listeners in a meeting in Washington, inter alia, that the President and head of the caretaker government has been doing his best to ensure a free and fair election in Bangladesh.

It may be recalled that Boucher visited Dhaka a couple of times in the past few months. A number of other US government representatives and a delegation of NDI had also been here. In their agenda a free, fair and transparent election in Bangladesh was very much there. Besides, in their press briefings re-constitution and reform of the Election Commission had been a priority. The US Ambassador in Dhaka has been moving back and forth in a desperate bid to get clear and unambiguous word from the President-cum-CA of the caretaker government and the Election Commission chief that they would arrange a fair and credible election in the country. With a view to resolving the conflict between the two big alliances Ms Butenis has been frantically on the chase to get due affirmation from the feuding leaders Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia. Incidentally, she also has been seeing the President and briefing the press in the same language as Mr. Boucher was reported to have been telling his listeners on Dec 14.

So, there may not be any reason for the caretaker government chief and his principal benefactors in the 4-party alliance to be elated. More so, when we were offered a detailed report on Dec. 16 in the daily Prothom Alo on Mr. Boucher's statement. Here, we can see the Shamsher twist in the report of NTV reporter in Washington. About the statement attributed to US Ambassador in Dhaka Ms. Patricia Butenis that the demand for Prof Iajuddin's vacating the position of the Chief Adviser to the caretaker government was unrealistic, Mr. Boucher was quoted as saying that he was yet to come across such a statement. He thought that he would have to talk to the Ambassador to know what she said actually. In the face of all these conflicting news it can be said that there has been a deliberate and purposeful concoction of the actual version of the two statements. The motive can be understandable and it is to make a bid to salvage the emaciated image of the President both nationally and globally.

Since he took over the position of the Chief of the caretaker government, almost all his actions, decisions and reversing decisions on the present political crisis have been controversial. He has trying to be outwardly neutral but his inner mind has been persistently betraying. The mischiefs are supposedly not his own creation, rather, they have been pumped into his brains from behind the screen. Perhaps his difficulty has been that he doesn't have the mettle to use his own judgment to ensure fair play.

It can also be partially true that he wanted to be clever and firm but in the end could not hold on to his own citadel. Eventually he stands there trapped in the snare spread over by his formidable benefactors. Things are now terribly muddled. A successful retreat from the tangle is far more difficult and uncertain.

Holding of a free and fair election in the country has been a deep concern not only for the people at home but also among the international community. There has been a common feeling that a really congenial atmosphere is yet to be there as would enable all the political parties to effectively participate in the election. The NDI representatives from the United States, the European Commission delegation, the UN body, Ambassadors and High Commissioners of a number of Western countries in Dhaka have expressed their scepticism about the ultimate holding of the election as would be credible to the national and the international community. The outgoing secretary general of the United Nations, for one, had been highly concerned and was insisting that ground should be prepared for all to participate in the election freely. In his statement on December 15 he reiterated his conviction that the caretaker government would play an absolutely neutral role to restore confidence of every one in the Election Commission towards holding a fair election reflecting the genuine verdict of the people.

The whole situation around the prospect of holding a fair election on one hand and on the other of holding it at all continues to be very uncertain. More so after the announcement that the grand alliance is not participating until the demands are met. Rather a confrontation is more apprehended as the 4-party alliance has stressed for holding it as announced without caring for participation by 'others'.

Earlier US Ambassador Patricia Butenis told her listeners in a seminar on Dec. 17 that the President and Chief Adviser of the caretaker government would have to prove his neutrality and ensure a free and fair election which would have to be acceptable to all. She also insisted that there should be fresher dialogue between the contesting political parties in order to arrive at a consensus. She regretted that the last dialogue between the two was ineffective as both were stiff-necked and unable to give in on any item on the agenda.

The 4-party alliance, as it appears, is all set for participating in the election. The 14-party alliance, on the contrary, will not take part till the package deal is realised. Besides, the former insists that the election schedule be revised at least by two months and likewise the date for submission of candidature be also shifted. The proposition sounds reasonable because much of the available time has been wasted by the people responsible for holding the election in time. The Election Commission is yet to complete the voter list purging out the fictitious voters and entering the genuine ones who were left out mischievously. The wastage of time has been very costly and the entire responsibility, as per the logical sequence, devolves upon the man at the helm. He is yet to extricate himself out of the dubious role he has been made to play. The constitutional handicap as frequently alluded to by the leader of the 4-party alliance is a very weak argument. The constitution is for the people, it is not the holy book that cannot be changed for the present, to offset the impending deadlock. The President might seek the opinion of the Chief Justice and of the leading experts on constitution in the country. The people want peace and nothing lass than peace.

Kazi Alauddin Ahmed is a management consultant.