Thursday, April 24, 2008

Is Dialogue or Election Date Declaration Appropriate To Reduce Uncertainty?

Dr. ABDUL MOMEN

ONCE AGAIN the new game in Dhaka is ‘dialogue or sanglap’-- dialogue with political parties and other interest groups. Have we seen such before? Dialogues of Mannan Bhuiyan and Abdul Jalil of 2006 or past dialogues of CTG Advisors that resigned in 2006 are still fresh in our minds. Question is; will it reduce political and economic uncertainty that plagued the country since 1/11 and brought economic disasters, one after another—double-digit inflation, plummeting investment, increase of joblessness, decrease of business confidence, increase of load shedding and water flow disruption and the like. If the objective of the dialogue is to have a ‘managed election’ or ‘to buy time’ for a new adventure, in that case, such dialogues may end in futility. Is it the reason as to why the newly appointed U. S. Ambassador to Bangladesh warned the military not to take additional burden? Are these dialogues prelude to a new adventure?

It is reported that the military intelligence forces have finalized a list of ‘300 acceptable candidates’ in each parliamentary constituency for the ensuing election. The government will do its best to get them elected. Reportedly, this list is composed of politicians of all shades and opinions, former bureaucrats both civil and military, NGO and civil society leaders, journalists, educators and also businessmen. Necessary arrangements will be made so that none outside this ‘acceptable list’ could be elected. More importantly, if there is any chance of a candidate getting elected outside the list, in that case, all popular tools such as corruption, extortion or terrorism cases will be lodged against such candidate to prevent him/her from contesting. If that does not deter him or her, ‘extra judicial killing’ like ‘encounter, heart attacks’ are still available to achieve the desired end. Will such ‘managed parliament’ deliver benefits to the country? Will they authorize all the actions of the current Caretaker government (CTG) of Dr. Ahmed?

Dr. Ahmed repeatedly declared that he is committed to hold election by December 2008 and he would withdraw the ‘state of emergency’ prior to it. But is he really in-charge and if so, why is he reluctant to declare a specific date yet? In earlier governments, for example, during 1975-81, we all knew that General Ziaur Rahman was in-charge of decision making. We knew that during 1982-90, it was General H. M. Ershad, during 1991-96 and again in 2001-2006, it was Begum Khaleda Zia and during 1996-2001, it was Sheikh Hasina in-charge of decision making. They could take decisions, good or bad. But now who is in-charge, which Ahmeds? Is it Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed or Dr. Moeen U. Ahmed or Dr. Iazuddin Ahmed? Or is it General M. A. Matin, the Home Advisor or Lt. Gen. Hasan Mashud Chowdhury, the ACC Chief or the British or the Indian High Commissioners? Or are they all order takers? Does Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed have absolute command and respect? We don’t know.

Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed is an intelligent bureaucrat. He knows that prolonging emergency will discourage both domestic and foreign investment and will create economic hardships in the country. He knows that the major problems of Bangladesh are (1) food shortage and price spiral, (2) energy crisis, (3) ill governance, (4) poor literacy rate, (5) mistrust between political leadership and military generals, (6) large scale unemployment and (7) corruption. Unfortunately, his government other than some lip service in the area of corruption, failed to initiate projects either to reduce energy crisis, or price spiral, or shortages and/or unemployment. Reportedly 30 million Bangladeshis will suffer from food hunger, malnutrition and starvation. His government failed to take necessary steps to evade the impending crisis. Nor he initiated any projects to help improve governance or to reduce illiteracy. More importantly, his only achievement other than creating an office of a 4-star general is ‘corruption jihad’ and it is basically targeted to punish a ‘select group of politicians and businessmen’ to gain cheap popularity. Sadly no effort has been seriously initiated or taken yet to improve the nation’s dysfunctional system to reduce chances of pervasive corruption and misuse of powers (extrajudicial killing, a form of misuse of powers is still not under control). No wonder, his corruption jihad is blamed as politically motivated and therefore, questionable. His administration is aware of it and therefore, they refrained from trying the cases openly and transparently in any legal court under existing laws. He is trying them in Kangaroo courts under emergency rules. Such is a disservice to the nation more so as their high hopes of ‘corruption-free Bangladesh’ have been virtually shattered and raped. Question is; when the emergency will be over, will such cases be declared null and void? Since many of our judges change their minds with the change of powers like weathers, we are afraid; will such corruption jihad be a waste of public resource and futile exercise?

In Bangladesh, there are mainly two camps; one Awami League (AL) and the other anti-Awami League. The anti-AL groups overwhelmingly supported Begum Khaleda Zia to power in 2001. They had high hopes and many thought, she would do well. Unfortunately, her performance was very poor, worse than her own record of 1991-96. Most of her close associates were highly corrupt and greedy unlike the current CTG. Other than her commendable effort of controlling environmentally non-friendly plastic garbage bags and three-wheel baby taxis off limit to Dhaka, her government’s milestones were looting, misappropriation and ill governance. Many of her supporters that were not die-hard BNP were shocked as well. They were shocked when she tried to defraud the nation with a ‘doctored election’. They disapproved her manipulation of appointing her handpicked President Dr. Iazuddin Ahmed (the current President) as Chief Advisor with an evil motive to cheat the election results. Such attempts created fear, mistrust and rejection. Finding no alternatives, her rival the AL party launched a country-wide agitation for a ‘free, fair, non-violent and credible election’. It was supported by moral majority and the public at large. As a result, the BNP-Jamaat manipulation did not work and 1/11 became a reality. Dr. Iazuddin Ahmed had to resign as Chief Advisor, and he confessed of his government’s wrong doing and voter fraud or manipulation. A new Caretaker government (CTG) backed by army was installed. AL leader Sheikh Hasina welcomed the new CTG of Fakhruddin Ahmed as people’s victory. Dr. Ahmed took the oath of office to hold a ‘free, fair, non-violent and credible election as soon as possible’. But unfortunately, he was misguided and he is taking too much time to hold an election. Question is; will his election be ‘fair, free and more importantly, credible’?

Those that were anti-AL but not necessarily hardcore BNP also welcomed the military-backed interim Caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. Although most of the advisors of the CTG are anti-AL and they are all beneficiaries of the past BNP-Jamaat government, Khaleda Zia abstained from welcoming the new CTG. For example, Dr. Ahmed who was a retired banker living in Washington D. C. was appointed as the Governor of the Bangladesh Bank by Khaleda Zia. Reportedly, he got the job due to two people; his wife’s elder brother, Enam Ahmed Chowdhury, Khaleda’s Advisor (and then Chairman of Privatization Board) and Dr. Osman Faruq, another World Bank economist who was Khaleda’s Education Minister. General Moeen U. Ahmed was made Army Chief by Khaleda Zia at the advice of Khaleda’s son, Tareq Rahman by bypassing six senior generals. Being beneficiary, they had to compromise. In one end, their ethical and moral minds demand them to punish the looters of the nation i.e. BNP leaders and on the other, such punishment would destroy their own ideological group, i.e., the BNP and anti-AL group, and therefore, they were at a loss. Under such a situation, they could not be straight forward and judicious in their decisions. Therefore, they followed highly complex, non-transparent, discretionary and non-standard approaches creating extreme uncertainty and ambiguity. No one could follow them nor could understand their divergent motives. They moved one step ahead but immediately two steps backward. In fact, they had to devise creative ways and manipulate evidence to punish their targeted ones while causing minimal damage to their own ideological party; i.e. BNP. They tried to balance BNP by eliminating die-hard but corrupt Zia supporters and by encouraging forming a ‘reformed BNP’ party mostly composed of those politicians and ex-bureaucrats that could be easily brought and sold. However, they were hard onto the AL, their perceived-enemy, the party that they dislike. They picked up few corrupt people but left many gurus that support them made their effort questionable.

In addition, they tried to set up new political parties but failed. They used cheap slogan-- ‘political reform’ formula and tried to use ‘stick and carrot’ policy to divide the AL. It also did not succeed much. Now they are using ‘dialogue’ to befool the political parties and the nation. Will that work? However, good news is that finally ‘no dialogue with politicians’ that taboo is over.

Soon they might argue through their opinion leaders that ‘failure of dialogues’ and ‘release of the AL leader Sheikh Hasina and the BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia’ will lead the nation to a situation prior to 1/11. No one wants to go back to 1/11 and witness a ‘doctored election’ or a ‘managed election’ (now stories are coming out that then Police Chief Anwarul Iqbal was involved in the conspiracy of the deaths of October 28th event. He withdrew police forces from the area in spite of knowing fully-well that such would create law and order problems. As a reward, he became an Advisor). No one wants the nation to go down and derail its process of growth. The current emergency rule has led the nation backward and created vacuum, uncertainty and political mistrust. There is also fear of rise of terrorism. All these can be avoided if the CTG declares an election date right now, and with a view to end mistrust and promote confidence building, releases political leaders both Hasina and Khaleda and withdraw the state of emergency. Let them be tried in normal court of law. Could the CTG rise above partisanship? Does it have the maturity and mindset to be an honest broker?

Let the ACC and the EC be non-partisan and honest brokers as well. It is not easy to be non-partisan----already it is reported that Gen. Hasan Mashud Chowdhury of the ACC had threatened resignation if Hasina is allowed to go free (and allowed to face her cases in normal court of law). The actions of the CTG, the ACC and the EC are all questionable and claimed to be politically motivated although all of them are personally honest and not corrupt to the best of my knowledge. No one can blame that Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, Dr. ATM Shamsul Huda or Lt. Gen. Hasan Mashud Chowdhury is personally corrupt or they have any evil design. They hope to do good to the nation. In spite of this, the EC is being blamed by the ‘Khaleda-BNP’ for division of their party. The ACC is being blamed for ignoring corruption cases against military, and the CTG is being blamed for weakening the political parties under various pretexts. Such partisan mentality and approach has to be given up. Can they do it? Otherwise, the nation may face more uncertainty, more economic deprivation, and surely, more cloudy days. Who knows, will such partisanship lead it into another Afghanistan or Iraq, the land of misfortunate and prolong civil wars and terrorism? Is it prudent for Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed to make an about turn not for himself or Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed but for the nation and its wellbeing? Ahmed must review and reflect one question and it is; ‘becktir cheye dhal boro, na dhal thekey jathi’ ---is the interest of a group or party is bigger to that of an individual ego and is the public interest of the nation bigger to that of a party or a group’? If Hasina and Khaleda are released under street demonstrations not under due process, then many of the achievements of the present CTG will be evaporated. Therefore, he must decide and take appropriate actions now. Remember, one day lost is lost forever. #

First published on April 21, 2008, Boston, USA

Dr. Abdul Momen, a professor of economics and business management, Boston, USA <Sylhet@Verizon.net>