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   Volume 10 |Issue 38 | October 07, 2011 |


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Current Affairs

Leaked from the
‘Confession Chamber’

Bangladesh's top political leaders blurt their hearts out
whenever they come across a foreign diplomat


Five years ago, the country was put on a sharp, poisonous tenterhook by two of the second-most powerful men of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Awami League. Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Abdul Jalil started a parley, which was kept off-limit to the journalists, anxiously waiting to break the news of a breakthrough. A stalemate was indeed reached, and every time the duo came out of their one-on-one discussion, they both, without batting an eyelid, chorused: "We are going to reach a consensus soon." Soon, they said, and once even uttered, "Sooner." Those were dark dreary wintry nights, and the nation hoped against hope, thinking that good sense would finally prevail, that these two towering figures of the country's politics would rise before the occasion and convince their bosses, the battling begums, to bridge their differences and come to a compromise on whether Justice KM Hasan should be made the Chief of the next Caretaker Government (CTG).

Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Abdul Jalil.

The rest, as Shakespeare would have put it, is history. Bhuiyan died last year, expelled from his party and Jalil is now sober after making a string of cantankerous comments on the last CTG. A few recently leaked US documents, however, have added a new twist to their meetings--both the leaders lied to the press, bluffed the nation--they did not even know what their parties' stance on the issue was. "Everything depends on the two leaders (Khaleda and Hasina), he (Bhuiyan) said 'and neither of them left any guidelines for concessions'," a diplomatic cable sent by the then US charge d'affairs in Dhaka Geeta Pasi reads.

In fact, there had been no breakthrough in the talks, and to make matters worse, leaders of both the parties at that time told US diplomats that the discussions were meant to fail. “The Awami League sees the dialogue as a pressure tactic against the ruling party….Hard-line AL Presidium member Sheikh Salim (Selim), a cousin of Hasina's, told us Jalil's upbeat public stance is designed to 'encourage' the voters and put onus on the BNP for any breakdown,” Pasi wrote. She also said that Haris Chowdhury, Khaleda Zia's political secretary, was of the view that, “accepting the opposition demand to drop Hasan (Justice KM Hasan) is out of the question.”

Hasan, on the other hand, had played the role of a shy bride, never accepting or rejecting his future role in the CTG. Blood was shed on the streets of the capital, people died, the country's economy bore the brunt over his appointment but the former Chief Justice kept mum. Instead of coming out of the closet, he, according to US diplomatic cables leaked by the Wikileaks, met Ambassadors of countries as varied as US, Australia and Canada, to open his heart. The cable reads, “Hasan remains torn over whether to accept the appointment according to diplomats who have spoken with him.”

This is indeed shocking for it exposes the bankruptcy of our leaders, who did not have the courage to spit out the truth when it mattered the most. They lied blatantly to the nation and made foreign embassies their confession chambers.

Khaleda and Hasina are no exceptions either. They fretted and frowned to ambassadors whenever things had turned sour. “Asked how she would respond if (Khaleda) Zia reached out to her to find a solution, Hasina said she would reject any such overtures from Zia."

Khaleda, for her turn "complained" that "…Hasina had ignored Zia's demand in 2001 as the then-opposition leader for the resignation of Chief Election Commissioner Syed, so why should she accommodate Hasina now?”

The animosity between two top leaders has been so bitter that Hasina told the US Embassy official that she would rather prefer a solution that involved the Army than see her bitter rival back in power.

Another cable leaked by the whistleblower website questions the AL government's eagerness to pursue the trial of war criminals. The government's preparation for the trial at the onset has been a shoddy one, as it nominated two sitting AL MPs as prosecutors. New lawyers have later been recruited, but a leaked comment made by AL General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam throws more darkness into the uncertainty. A cable says, “(He) predicted (that) the process of gathering evidence and taking the cases to trial would be a 'long process' that likely would take more than five years. Those convicted would likely receive lenient sentences."

Even more surprising perhaps is that members of Bangladesh's once all-powerful Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), who do not even talk to the press, also sat in the confession chamber and talked about the organisation's activities with a foreigner, and that too the ambassador of a foreign country. The DGFI director Brig Gen ATM Amin has told the US Ambassador, "We have infiltrated Huji-B and we don't see them attacking western interests.”

Wikileaks has opened a can of worms. It exposes unsavoury facts regarding the country's leaders who, instead of upholding the rights and dignity of the nation, are constantly letting its people down. Diplomats of any country will want to glean pieces of information they receive and analyse them to assess the host country's existing political and social conditions. An ambassador, after all, is not an ambassador if he dines alone. But a country's top leadership exposing its dark, dirty secrets before the members of a foreign mission and telling them their hidden desires is unprecedented. It stinks of undemocratic practise and has the potential to be used at the hands of those who rely on conspiracy and intrigue to grab power.

It also shows how petty and insecure the country's politicians can get at times to cling on to power or to get the throne back. To them, at times of crisis, only people's support is not enough, an added grain of foreign backing can deliver some extra mileage. Lust for power takes them to places where any leader with an iota of dignity and self-respect would have found himself uncomfortable to be in. In a country teeming with millions of people who toil in the heat and the rain to make their ends meet, the Wikileaks exposé has hardly made a ripple. That is the what Bangladesh's politicians lean back on to divide the nation on issues that are more personal than political, more tribal than nationalistic, more clannish than people-oriented. As the proverbial acrimony between the two leaders has reached a new height, thanks to the scrapping of the provision for Caretaker Government, and as they will not expose their heart before a fellow countryman, one can only imagine the minutes of the coffee-table discussions our leaders are having with foreign diplomats.



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