Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013

Strategically Speaking

Putting up with the turmoil: For how long?

Must the nation’s pain be as repetitive and regular as to assume a degree of permanence in national life? We had hoped that the end of the autocratic regime would usher in political stability with politics back on track and the charge of the country reverting to the democratically elected party.

Short lived was that period of peace because no sooner had the elected party taken over the reins of the government than we found it grappling with issues thrown up by the opposition. The same vein has continued till now and the nation is faced with the same uncertainty that it found itself in 1992-96 or 2005-2007. The regrettable aspect is that with every passing year since 1991, and after every regime being replaced by a new one, the degree of violence and uncertainty has been ratcheting up.

One often wonders whether our politicians thrive only in turmoil and chaos, because that is what the people have been experiencing ever since the two major parties started alternating their roles as the party in power and the opposition, little pondering why none of them was endorsed for a second consecutive term since 1991.

This time round the potential uncertainty emerged with the ruling coalition turning the corner of its first year in office. And very few would contest the fact that the uncertainty we are facing today is mainly due to the inept treatment of the important national issues by the coalition in power. If saner counsel does not prevail, it is perhaps because the power that be, is not willing to accept counsel or put much faith in the partners’ ability to offer sane advice.

It has been the tradition in this country for the opposition to make life of the party in power as much difficult as possible. We have not forgotten the opposition leader’s declaration immediately after an election that her party would not let the government be in peace even for one day. And this time, while the opposition alliance has done everything to make life difficult for the 14-Party alliance, the alliance itself, by the very clumsy handling of major issues, has made life for it impossible.

But unlike the past, the issues now are of more serious nature than merely the way the next election is going to be held. New factors have come to the fore, and the worst fear that the trial of the war criminals will be made to appear controversial is coming true. The opponents of the trial inside and outside the country have been more active than the government on this issue; the government has planned to embark on a diplomatic foray to project the true perspective of the trial, though belatedly. The most dangerous aspect of the matter has been the attempt to show the trial as being against the “Islamic forces.” And the detractors have managed to project the war criminals as stalwarts of Islam.

But what perhaps has caught the government unawares is the ability of Jamaat to be more than a political nuisance. The violence Jamaat has perpetrated is not politics, and the destruction of Kansat substation and many government offices in different parts of the country is nothing but an act of sabotage. Regrettably, we do not know if the perpetrators have been identified and subjected to the process of law. More disconcerting is that Jamaat has managed to garner enough support locally, may be only in some pockets in the country, but that support is enough to compel the police to deem some areas in the country as no go areas. Equally worrisome is the attack on the Hindus whom we have failed to protect or provide adequate succor.

The police actions have resulted in the death of harmless civilians, creating a sense of resentment against them. The situation calls for the government to revise its strategy, if there is one, to counter Jamaat psy-warfare, because much as we may hate to admit, Jamaat’s rank is pretty substantial given the way it has carried out violence all over the country since early this year.

In the political front, storming of the BNP office on March 10 was callowness exemplified. The police action has been criticised even within the AL, albeit in a muted tone. Even if we were to concede the government version that the entire incident was preplanned by the BNP, the government has walked right into the BNP’s trap lock, stock and barrel with the police action on BNP office. Only those with little experience of politics would say that it was the correct action to take. It will reinforce those who say that the government wants an opposition-less polity. The special assistant to the prime minister has said that the AL did not support the police raid on the political party’s office and the arrest of senior leaders. If that is so, whose idea was it?

Our optimism of a peaceful dénouement that stemmed from the indication from the AL of dialogue has vanished with what has occurred in the last few days. We gird ourselves for further turmoil with the natural refrain, for how long?

The writer is Editor, Op-Ed and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.