Battle of Begums turns bitter


Battle of Begums turns bitter, Kuldip Nayar, Bangladesh Nationalist Party. It was not a midnight knock. It was a blatant arrest in the broad daylight. Moudud Ahmed, former Prime Minister.

It was not a midnight knock. It was a blatant arrest in the broad daylight. Moudud Ahmed, former Prime Minister, was picked up by the police as soon as he stepped out of a hotel at Dhaka. His crime is that he is a top opposition leader belonging to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by former Prime Minister Khalida Zia. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Chief of Awami League, hates both. The last time when Moudud was detained it was during the military rule of General Ershad. He too is at present detained and shares the same prison. He and his party, Jatiyo Sangshad, had refused to support the Prime Minister. No doubt, fortunes change.

Rulers of today are the opponents of tomorrow. Yet what is seen in Bangladesh is the politics of vendetta. Khalida even had gone to the extent of eliminating Hasina when she was in the wilderness. Moudud and other detainees have dared to oppose the authoritarian rule of the Prime Minister. An autocratic ruler is bad enough. But it is worse when she or he does not want to give up power. This is the crux of Bangladesh problem. The opposition parties’ demand is to hold free and fair polls under a neutral authority. Instead, Hasina has held elections under her government, having done away earlier with the constitutional provision to conduct the polls by a care-taker government headed by the outgoing Chief Justice.

The farce of elections, even before one vote was cast, returned as many as 154 members unopposed and 103 through the one-sided polls a few days ago. Parliament in the country has strength of 300. Hasina’s victory makes little sense when the BNP and most of the parties boycotted the election and refuse to accept the new government. A survey by a daily newspaper shows that 77 per cent of people do not accept the verdict.

The most disconcerting part is the unending violence. Dozens of people have died in boycotts and hartals. This is bound to affect the economy which has had a steady growth of 6 per cent for the last five years. There will be more unemployment, more poverty and more inflation. Neither Hasina nor Khalida are worried about the situation which is deteriorating day by day.

The beneficiary is the Jamaat-e-Islami which, no doubt, is on the side of Khalida but targets own line to polarise the society and spread fundamentalism. Organised as the Jamaat is, it has contaminated the intelligentsia as well. Violence through its cadres is the Jamaat’s contribution. Unfortunately, India has openly come out on the side of Hasina. There is no doubt that she is secular and, like her father, Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, founder of Bangladesh, she is staunchly pro-liberation. But her determination to retain power by hook or by crook has thrown all norms to the wind. New Delhi should have played a conciliatory role. Initially it did but it is now seen partisan.

The anti-India feeling is spreading and the Hindu population, nearly 8 million is feeling the heat. If at all India had to show preference, it should support a person like Kamal Hussain, first foreign minister of Bangladesh and Nobel Prize Winner Yunus, to provide the third front. Khalida, otherwise pro-liberation, puts a question mark against her credentials when she voices protest against the hanging of Abdul Quadir Mullah who had collaborated with Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh war. Those who committed the excesses on this count have to be punished by a regime which liberated the country. Yet hanging person beyond the age of 80 makes little sense. Pakistan cuts a sorry figure when its National Assembly passes a unanimous resolution to hail Mullah as a martyr. It indicates a biased mind. Instead of expressing remorse, the Pakistan establishment goes on behaving as if it is not sorry for all that it did.

The country is pursuing a wrong policy on Bangladesh. The Pakistan nation proves again and again that it cannot come up to the expectations of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah who advised Pakistan not to mix religion with politics. Islamabad first trained Taliban to fight against Afghanistan and Kashmir. Now those very Taliban are endangering the stability of Pakistan. Fundamentalism in Pakistan is increasing and even liberal voices are rare. When the lawyers shower flower petals on the accused for the murder of Punjab governor Taseer who wanted amendments to the blasphemy law, it shows the deepening of extremism in Pakistan. Taseer’s son, kidnapped two years ago, remains untraced and has been forgotten even by the media which is otherwise alive and kicking.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to make up with India and Afghanistan are a breath a fresh air. He has to reckon with the rightist forces, many in his own camp, on one hand and the military on the other. Still he sent his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Nothing concrete seems to have come out. New Delhi is not willing to resume the composite dialogue, which is the only option to span the distance between the two countries. Nawaz Sharif would have accelerated the process of détente if he had pushed the punishment of the 26/11 perpetrators, the terrorists, who attacked Mumbai. Pakistan may underplay the retired General Pervez Musharraf’s challenge that the army still ‘stands behind me’. But there has been no contradiction by the army chief or his publicity setup. This makes a mockery of the case of treason being heard by a law court. It means that the military continues to remain Pakistan’s third chamber. That the Pakistan army agreed to a solution of Kashmir, the main impediment, has come around is indeed a surprise. The army cannot afford to have an ex-general sentenced to death or life imprisonment. It seems that an honourable way like his bad health is sought to be found to send him out of the country.

One plus point in the relationship between India and Pakistan is the acceptable agreement on Kashmir. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said in a press conference that the Kashmir problem had found a solution but ‘some other things’ came in the way before it was finalized. Why not renew the same solution?

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