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Friday, February 1, 2013
OP-ED

ZIA: The thankless role in saving democracy in Bangladesh

Corruption and stealing threaten a once-vibrant nation

Will 2013 be a watershed in US-Bangladeshi relations? My country of 150 million people, located between India and Myanmar, has been independent since 1971, when the United States was one of the first nations to recognise our right to self-determination. Yet in the past year, relations have been strained to the point where the United States may be accused of standing idle while democracy in Bangladesh is undermined and its economic allegiance shifts toward other growing world powers.

This is not to say that the US government, Congress or agencies they help lead have done nothing. Six months ago, the World Bank withdrew nearly $2 billion in funding for a four-mile bridge project, the largest single infrastructure project in Bangladesh for 40 years, and demanded an inquiry into ministerial corruption and misappropriation of funds.

At the same time, members of the US congressional caucus on Bangladesh condemned the government -- in particular Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina -- for removing Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus from his post as managing director of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh's award-winning microfinance institution that has pulled millions out of poverty. The reason for his ouster? Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the honour was presented to the wrong person: "If anybody in Bangladesh deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, it is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina."

Most Bangladeshis would disagree that Ms. Hasina has any claim on the prize. Just ask the families of some 300 people who have been registered as missing since 2009 at the hands of Ms. Hasina's Rapid Action Battalion -- a paramilitary wing of the police. Or consider the family of murdered workers' rights campaigner Aminul Islam, on whose behalf the AFL-CIO is campaigning to overturn US-Bangladeshi trade preferences. Political leaders and their supporters who are being accused by a local war crimes tribunal of involvement in atrocities during the 1971 war of independence also would question Ms. Hasina's right to the Nobel Prize.

The US ambassador for war crimes has condemned Ms. Hasina's government for trying only opponents of the regime. In December, the Economist published leaked emails and phone recordings revealing the complicity of the Hasina administration in these trials, and how they are abusing them to issue death sentences to Ms. Hasina's political opponents.

The simple fact is that over the past five years, Bangladesh has been moving rapidly away from being one of Asia's most vibrant democracies toward a single family taking over the levers of power. Now Ms. Hasina is attempting to remove from the constitution the need for a caretaker government -- six months before the election. Indeed, she herself helped institute this rule, which calls for a nonpolitical government to take the reigns of power and oversee the electoral process unencumbered by political interference.

Having a caretaker government has been the insurance that elections are free and fair. If the voters decide to vote for a new government, then power must change hands. Despite millions joining in street protests against plans to ditch the caretaker government system before the general election this year, Ms. Hasina seems intent on pushing ahead, believing it will allow her to be re-elected despite popular opposition to her rule.

Bangladesh's neighbour Burma is emerging from exile with the visit of President Obama in the aftermath of his re-election. India continues its growth as the world's largest democracy. If Bangladesh succumbs to the rule of one family, it would be a major step backward for the region. Southeast Asia is now a region full of hope because of the freedoms America has helped foster. Under a caretaker government, the people of Bangladesh have the chance to express their will through the ballot box.

The United States and its allies, such as Great Britain, have the influence to insist that a caretaker government is instituted so the views of the voters are respected. To ensure this, their words and actions must be much stronger, to keep Bangladesh from slipping away from democracy. Congress and the British Parliament must continue to honour individuals such as Mr. Yunus for what he has achieved to alleviate poverty, while others such as Ms. Hasina have merely coveted recognition.

They also must explain to Ms. Hasina that general preferences for trade will be withdrawn if those who support workers' rights and have political views opposed to those of the prime minister are not now allowed to express their beliefs. The Western powers should consider targeted travel and other sanctions against those in the regime who undermine democracy, freedom of speech and human rights. They should say and do these things publicly, for all our citizens to see and hear. This is how the United States can ensure that its mission to democratise the world continues.

It was once said, "There is a higher court than courts of justice, and that is the court of conscience." It is impossible to say in good conscience that democracy, justice and the alleviation of poverty in Bangladesh under Ms. Hasina are safe. Indeed, all are in grave danger. It is time for the world, led by America, to act and ensure that democracy is saved in Bangladesh.

[The article was originally published in The Washington Times dated January 30, 2013]

The writer is Chairperson, BNP, Opposition Leader and former Prime Minister.

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1. The Washington Times is not a leading newspaper in the USA like The Washington Post or The New York Times. It does not carry as much weight as the big ones do.

2. Khaleda Zia has the right to express her views in any civilized form. The right is given to every Bangladeshi citizen including Khaleda Zia in the Constitution (Article 39). Sheikh Hasina’s son, Sajib Joy, also wrote an article titled, “Stemming the Rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh” and it was published in the Harvard International Review. In that article, Sajib Joy and Carl Ciovacco criticized what was happening in Bangladeshi politics like the way Khaleda Zia has done. We did not hear any criticism about that from Sheikh Hasina and her deputies.

3. Expressing opinion whether someone likes it or not does not constitute sedition as some Awami League politicians are claiming. The sedition law was created and introduced by the British colonial ruler in the British India in order to suppress the independence movements. The British government has scrapped the law from Britain. It is time for Bangladesh to scrap that undemocratic law.

4. Whatever Khaleda Zia wrote is already known to the government of the United States. Nothing can be kept secret in this time and age. Khaleda Zia could have done a better job. She can be criticized for her actions (which is again guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 39), but no one should call her names as Hassan Mahmud of Awami League called her “Ghoseti Begum.”

: Truth Teller

Mrs. Zia,

I agree with most of your points in this article. But, if you want to talk about corruption - your son's name are to come first.

: Ronny

Comments

  • Sheikh Monirul Islam, Opee
    Friday, February 1, 2013 12:33 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    It is the greatest of all jokes that she wrote this piece; no one would believe that. And I do not think that I should not be a coward to challenge her on that as her education level is not unknown to anyone of us. So, it is a shame in total to start with.

  • Sahed Ali
    Friday, February 1, 2013 01:07 PM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    I am afraid that somebody else is behind generating this write up. If even this is her opinion that somebody translated in English for her, I would say this is unfortunate. Whereas her party failed to play a responsible role in parliament as opposition, she is calling mighty nations USA and UK, etc. intervention into internal matters of Bangladesh. Only people of Bangladesh can change the government through their vote; the mighty nations can do almost nothing on the issues this write up referred to.

  • OpeeMonir
    Friday, February 1, 2013 12:40 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    The nation want relieve from both the families and is that difficult to understand? Why she mentions here about one particular family, but makes no attempt to another similar family is deceitful. I think the nation had enough, please let us breathe in freedom and choose our destiny, not the same trap again! Regarding the rest of the writings, we are not even ready to listen to her anymore, its time to go.

  • MAG Osmani
    Friday, February 1, 2013 12:43 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    If any credit at all, it will go to Ziaur Rahman, not the rest of the family. I think we all need to go to political school one more time and learn the definition of democracy to start with. We do not want to go backward anymore.

  • Nazrul Islam, Dhaka
    Friday, February 1, 2013 12:55 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Sheikh Hasina is certainly not doing the right things, but coming from Khaleda Zia, this article can be laughed away. Doesn't she remember the kleptocracy she ran as PM, the false voters list by her chief election commissioner, the corruption of her sons?

  • shopnachowdhury
    Friday, February 1, 2013 12:59 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    I am surprised how a reputed newspaper like TDS has let itself down by publishing this article!

  • Joynul Hossain
    Friday, February 1, 2013 01:04 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Is the Daily Star getting ready to welcome Khaleda Zia back as PM? Sheikh Hasina now will have a new dig at this newspaper. Can anyone blame her for that?

  • Mo Chaudhury
    Friday, February 1, 2013 01:15 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Indeed, the USA, under the visionary leadership of President Obama, needs to be more pro-active visibly to promote human and democratic rights and practices in Bangladesh, Miyanmar, and Asia in general.

  • Roni Rahman
    Friday, February 1, 2013 01:32 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Great job by Khaleda...could have articulated the lack of democracy, political freedom, rule-of-law case better though. Bangladesh has been set back for decades by this current AL misrules in all political and governance metrics. The degree in which abduction, killings and imprisonments have become the standard routine by AL in persecuting the political opponents can only be found in Stalin-Fidel era. These will have long lasting impacts in the overall developments of democracy and civil institutions. The very basic element of democracy is a free and fair election which is now been hijacked by AL to keep election controlled by its own political apparatus rather than impartial 3rd party. In the mean time, national interests are being sold out, in the case of Padma Bridge and India corridors and other commercial/trade facilities. AL and Hasina are keeping India happy by giving always all the benefits from Bangladesh market so that India will provide AL the money, intelligence, and internal influence. Bangladesh's interests are being monopolized by one family,origins.

  • Hafeejul Alam
    Friday, February 1, 2013 03:09 PM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    While every citizen has the right to criticize the govern ment or it’s Prime Minister, it is not only indecent but shame to ask any foreign government to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign country of which the author herself was Prime Minister for two terms. It tends one to believe that she has lost confidence on the people of Bangladesh. Besides. What the author means when she writes that the United States was one of the first nations to recognize our right to self-determination? Are we still a province of Pakistan fighting for self-determination? Has she forgot that Bangladesh is an independent and sovereign country and the United States knows very well that it was not one of the first nations to recognize our independence. It appears that she is just cajoling the United States by misconstruing the historical facts and thus turning our image in the international arena. Well, as a sovereign country, Bangladesh may not agree with the United States in all matters. Such disagreements may occur with many other countries also. Such differences of opinion never tarnish the excellent bilateral relations that exist beteen Bangladesh and the United Statesmen or with other country(s). It’s very sad that a former Prime Minister of Bangladesh depicts through her writing nothing but her utter lack of knowledge not only about her own country but also about diplomatic norms and customs.

  • rch
    Friday, February 1, 2013 01:47 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Come on ! People will thank you by voting for you if you take your support from Jamaat - the Traitors. US support will not get your votes --simple math! The swing voters are just waiting for one move that will bring landslide support for you but Alas you are part of the same arrogance and misrule AL projects as politics.

  • Abdullah
    Friday, February 1, 2013 01:51 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Begum Khaleda Zia definately has had a nervous breakdown otherwise she couldn't have written this kind of piece in an international circulation. How could she support these war criminals in such a blunt way in front of the whole world? Doesn't she have a single bit of consciousness let in her?

  • Akash
    Friday, February 1, 2013 02:08 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    A former prime minister of the country inviting foreign forces to make an Iraq out of Bangladesh? Act and ensure democracy that is saved? How dare she!!

  • ekaturer_Jishu
    Friday, February 1, 2013 02:17 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Excellent article. Begum Zia is the proper definition of a self proclaimed Nationalist.Asking the US for a pat in the back. Someone who does not practice democracy by going to parliament this is rich. Also RAB was formed by her Government which she seems to have forgotten.

  • Shuel SALlQUE
    Friday, February 1, 2013 07:50 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    This letter is total lie she was in power she made Bangladesh champion of corruption when did she learnt to read write speak English shame on you Khaleda.

  • Tajuddin Ahmed
    Friday, February 1, 2013 04:36 PM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    When a country's leader so vehemently look to the West to establish democracy and that too knowing all the US global activities, that too being a Muslim how US acted indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan, now Iranian peninsular and in coming days in Egypt- I must say Khaleda Zia insulted the nation in general. She is again ill advised to publish an article in this fashion. It is her poor judgment and she is responsible.

  • nds
    Friday, February 1, 2013 10:53 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    What a wonderfully thankful role the opposition leader has played by safely shifting the thankless job of saving democracy in Bangladesh to the hands of mighty America internationally recognised savior of mankind.

  • Saleh Md. Shahriar
    Friday, February 1, 2013 08:27 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Thank you Madam for clarifying your position.In fact the government failed to manage the state efficiently.

  • MAS Molla
    Friday, February 1, 2013 09:21 AM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    Thanks to DS for publishing Opposition leader Khaleda Zia's article here. I endorse her view that democracy is not safe in the hands of a single family and also that the governing family encourages corruption; but I condemn her urge to a single country-US (instead of the UN) for helping restore caretaker government and democracy, and her miscalculation of the war crime trial is very unfortunate.

  • Shabbir A Bashar
    Friday, February 1, 2013 03:10 PM GMT+06:00 (63 weeks ago)

    I don't see much difference between Khaleda and Hasina. Both are autocratic; neither of their parties practices democracy. Both of them put their family before party or nation. While many of the things Khaleda says are absolutely true, many things that happened under Khaleda's watch were equally reprehensible. As long as people of Bangladesh go on relegating their thought process to dynasties and their cronies, thugs and thieves writing in foreign papers will just confirm exactly how failed the state is under these two ladies.


 

 


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