Thursday, January 03, 2008

Will it be a one-way ticket for both Hasina and Khaleda?

A.H. JAFFOR ULLAH

THE military-backed interim government of Bangladesh will soon complete its one-year stay in power and still they could not decide what to do with the two most powerful leaders of the nation. The government initially thought that if the two leaders are interned, their followers would lose interest in them and the government then could hold the election favoring a party to its liking. But this scenario never panned out the way the military and its civilian façade thought the events would unfold. Now they are having a second thought over the fate of the two leaders.

There is one thing that is working in favor of the military-backed interim government and that is the age of the two leaders. Let us be honest about it. These leaders are not at their prime as they were in 1990s. They are in their sixties; therefore, they are not in the best of their health. Sheikh Hasina had been complaining about her hearing ever since a barrage of hand grenades was tossed at her in 2004. Unlike Ms. Benazir Zardari she was lucky to have come out unscathed from the assault in which twenty plus party workers and leaders were killed. Hasina is also suffering from other bouts of ill health including exhaustion. The other leader, Khaleda Zia, is slightly older than Hasina and she is also not in her prime anymore. She tried to camouflage her real age with extreme makeup and supposedly botox treatment that she received from time to time while she was in abroad did help smooth out the wrinkle but bereft of those treatment she now looks considerably older and as per news report coming out of Dhaka she is also suffering from a myriad of age-related maladies.

Sheikh Hasina had expressed an interest to visit abroad for treatment. In late December 2007 while Hasina was taken to a court in Dhaka, she had a dizzying spell. It indicates that she is now infirmed. The same is true for her rival, Khaleda Zia.

I read a piece of news in today’s paper dated January 3, 2008 wherefrom I learned that the government is also interested sending the two leaders out of the country for treatment. They are asking the respective party leaders for their opinion. The newspaper report however did not mention whether the government would offer them a one-way ticket to both the leaders who is suffering from a variety of maladies that made them infirm.

The Fakhruddin Ahmed government would be completing their one-year tenure on January 11, 2008. This administration that has no legal cover for governance has brought an immense misery upon the common folks. The inflationary pressure on staples such as rice, lentil, wheat flour, vegetables has made the price go to a stratospheric height resulting in common people not able to afford this simple luxury of life. The other day, one of the advisors of Fakhruddin, Tapan Chowdhury, made an imbecilic remark pointing out erroneously that government cannot do anything to check the soaring prices of everyday food items. Bangladesh is not an epitome of free market economy. The government dictating the economy through state bank policies, and myriads of other policies is in catbird seat of power. How could the government not do a thing to bring any semblance of normalcy vis-à-vis the realistic price of everyday commodities.

There are other failures too. The military-backed government simply dragged their feed delaying the setting up of election commission, make the new voters’ list, speed up the judiciary to prosecute the dishonest and greedy politicians, etc. This government also earned a bad reputation when the police arrested a few professors from three leading universities. The government also allowed the military intelligence (DGFI) to negotiate with the spouses of the arrested professors. These failures are going to foment dissatisfaction among people, unquestionably. The people of Bangladesh are a patient bunch but there is a limit too. If the caretaker government unnecessarily delays the holding of election, then there may be trouble ahead. The two major political parties, Awami League and BNP, have grassroots organization scattered allover Bangladesh. The government knows this for a fact. Therefore, the military and its civilian façade are trying now to engineer this deal to send the two leaders abroad on the plea of receiving advanced treatment. What the military-backed government is not telling the newsmen that the leaders could only get theirs one-way ticket. If the leaders are gullible enough to gulp the bait it will be a win-win thing for General Moeen, Dr. Fakhruddin and the rest of the oligarchy.

Many folks in Bangladesh do not quite see to it that the military of Bangladesh follows the military of Pakistan. There are an awful lot of similarities between the modus operandi of the military establishment of both Pakistan and Bangladesh. They unnecessarily poke their bloody nose into civilian’s affair. They also think that they are the final arbiter of political dispute. Don’t forget for a moment the military also hold the opinion that they are kingmaker in this country of teeming 145 million people. The year 2008 will bring a lot of changes in Bangladesh. Fasten your seatbelt for the ride could be bumpy and jarring. #

A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA