Tuesday, September 23, 2008

National interests first


ALTHOUGH GOOD solutions are important instead of good speeches, but the address delivered by the Chief Adviser (CA) Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed to the nation, shortly before flying to New York to attend the UN General Assembly (UNGA) scheduled to begin on September 25, 2008, not only put an end to the long-drawn debates and speculations over the polling dates for the parliamentary and upazila parishad ballots, but also helped to dream of such a Bangladesh that would be totally free from hunger, poverty, illiteracy and conflicts.

There are plenty of reasons for everyone including the political parties and businessmen to feel happy about the announcement of the firm date for stalled elections. According to the CA’s announcement, the general elections will be held on December 18 and the elections to local village and town councils will be held in two phases - on December 24 and 28, which raise confusion among major political parties in Bangladesh as according to them it can distract the full attention of the Election Commission (EC) and the government to make the parliamentary elections a success. In addition, in their unpleasant list with the EC and the government, the CA neither made the issue of the withdrawal of the emergency clear nor the EC cleared its commitment with regard to registration of the major political parties and redrawing of constituencies.

But in regard to pledge together to prove before the world that Bangladesh is a democratic, peace-loving and forward-looking country, the general Bangladeshi people expect members of different political parties, government, and different democratic institutes to offer a positive agenda and get things done for the country.

The fact of change is more important than the feeling of change. Since its imposition on January 11, 2007 while President Iajuddin Ahmed cancelled scheduled general elections and declared a state of emergency and Fakhruddin, whose government had undertaken a number of schemes for political and electoral reforms and detained over 200 leading politicians on graft charges after he assumed the office as the head of the country, there was suspense and even clouded with suspicion and uncertainty regarding the journey toward transition to democracy.

Mentioning the previous anarchic situation, Fakhruddin hoped that only with the support of people and sincere cooperation from the political parties Bangladesh can establish a real democracy. A democratic system in the country where there will be no chaos and confrontation and where petty personal or party interest may not ruin the national interest. To reach a consensus on basic national issues shunning all negative and destructive politics, everyone will have to work with unity and amity to establish a congenial and stable atmosphere in the country so that the nation will come out from the vicious circle of terrorists and corrupt elements. He expressed his optimism that the next elected government would strengthen the institutional reform process that had been initiated by his government.

Besides other criticisms, if we put the country’s interest first, the CA’s address to the nation has some credentials. If we continue to operate as political operatives, rather than as dutiful citizens of a country, we will continue to wage the same old battle against the same old enemies with the same outcome. We are fighting on the battlefield of their choosing and on which they possess all the advantages. National interest cannot be achieved by settling old scores, vengeance for past wrongs, and demonization of those with whom we disagree. History operates its own court of justice and vengeance is the enemy of progress.

National interest is not an ideology and not the possession of a single cabal of self-appointed imperialists. It is not achieved by substituting consensus for principle. It is not bipartisanship for its own sake or in pursuit of bad policy. Bangladesh national interest is the product of its glorious national history. Equal rights for all, sustainable democracy, economic opportunity, respect to the constitutional guarantees, including most notable habeas corpus, regulation of market excess, natural heritage and environment, fairness, justice, and checks and balanced government are all national interests. On the other hand, concentrated wealth, fear of terrorism, theocracy, empire, corruption in government and politics, arrogant and ignorant executives, and violation of civil liberties always put the country in many difficulties.

Today people are considered to live in a planet without borders/ boundaries because any change of one element has an impact on other elements in the world. Good foreign policies can help to protect a country’s national interest, national security, ideological goals and economic goals. The foreign policy of Bangladesh is tied closely to the realities of its economic condition. Since independence in 1971, the country has required a great deal of foreign assistance in the effort to keep its people fed and to build, for the first time, a modern society. Despite its poverty and small military capability, Bangladesh has not hesitated to defend its sovereignty and to take strong stands on many international issues.

In the geopolitical sphere, Bangladesh has such prestige and influence in the world. It is one of the four largest Muslim democratic countries in the world. It is rich in historical heritage, cultural traditions and natural beauties. Besides various active roles in the UN organizations, Bangladesh is playing a vital role in other regional organizations like SAARC, ASEAN or OIC. In UN peacekeeping operations, Bangladesh is still the top troop contributing country in the world.

CA is now in New York and will address the 63rd UNGA on September 26, 2008. In addition, he will attend high level meetings of the Commonwealth heads of government, on millennium development goals, on Africa's development needs and on malaria. He will have an interview with TIME Magazine and BBC as well as interaction with local media. His last year address to the UNGA on September 27, 2007, had some merit considering climate change issue and Bangladesh’s participation in different UN organizations, but he repeatedly made an unqualified denunciation of the post-‘90 political governments.

In his 15-minute address, he neither mentioned anything about the legacy of democracy in the country nor even a word about the glorious democratic struggles of the people in the pre-independence and post-independence days or about the victory of people’s struggles against the military dictatorships and quasi-military rules in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

But his recent address to the nation brought new inspiration in the march of attaining total development of the country's progress and prosperity. And people expect that he and many of the future leaders of Bangladesh will put more positives agendas in front of them or global community rather using any negative narrative for any matter that goes against national expectations or interests in future. #

First published on September 23, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. Email: Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com