Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina had become a great admirer of religious bigot Shaikhul Hadith Azizul Haque and penned a controversial electoral deal with Khelafat-e-Majlish in late 2006, said a recently leaked US embassy cable.
Hasina “pandered to the son of Azizul Haque, a hard-line leader of Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) whose anti-Jamaat-e-Islami views have driven him away from the BNP-led four party alliance,” noted the cable quoting Hasina's adviser Salman F Rahman.
The AL president reportedly blamed her home minister for ordering Shaikhul's brief detention during her previous tenure in government. She said she had read his books in her childhood with great reverence.
Salman indicated that Hasina would not have subjected herself to such a display unless she was serious about broadening her electoral coalition, the cable maintained.
Directed by Hasina, the then AL general secretary Abdul Jalil signed the deal with Khelafat-e-Majlish, a splinter faction of IOJ, triggering a huge outcry both in and outside of AL.
After the deal, the then US envoy Patricia A Butenis wrote in another cable to Washington on December 28 in 2006 that the AL had long castigated BNP for its willingness to include “militants” from the IOJ in its coalition.
“Nonetheless, with the election on the line, the AL's leadership has shown it is ready to go to almost any length to secure a winning coalition,” Butenis noted.
The news that AL would contest the election was overshadowed by reports that the party had entered into an election pact with an Islamic party.
The press reported that Jalil had signed a memorandum of understanding with Khelafat-e-Majlish. The concessions it made to bring Khelafat on board and the publicity surrounding the agreement, are unprecedented for the AL, mentioned the cable.
The agreement stipulated that if the AL-led alliance is elected, no law will be enacted that contradicts Quranic values and sharia; steps would be taken to ensure the government recognises the certificates and degrees from kwami madrasas; laws would be enacted acknowledging Mohammad (PBUH) as the last and greatest prophet; laws would be introduced criminalising criticism of the "prophets and their associates" and certified Islamic leaders will be permitted to issue fatwas, the embassy wrote to Washington.
Several AL leaders denied the agreement initially. Suranjit Sengupta claimed the story was “baseless” and a “hoax”.
AL leader Aktaruzzaman told the embassy that it was not possible and offered to call Abdul Jalil to verify the story was false.
Anonymous "disgruntled" AL leaders attributed the decision to a small clique of advisers around Hasina, including Kazi Zafarullah and Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim and businessman Salman Rahman.
Once Jalil had confirmed the story in the press, several of the AL's partners declared that the MoU was "inconsistent" with the AL-led grand alliance's common platform.