BANGLADESH : NUDGING THE POLITICAL STRUCTURE
- Minus Two Politics gather momentum as political parties propose internal reforms.
- Indoor political activity likely to be permitted shortly to activate the process of inner party reforms.
- Election Commission (EC) likely to be an autonomous body after separation from the executive.
- Elections to city corporations and municipalities likely to be held before general elections.
- Frigate, "Bangabandhu" likely to be recommissioned in Bangladesh Navy.
- Indo Bangladesh relations show signs of improvement with the Foreign Secretary Level talks held after two years.
- Bangladesh security forces to target terrorist outfit Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
- First nuclear power plant in Bangladesh in the offing.
Minus Two Politics
The Caretaker Administration`s alleged policy of Minus Two Politics continued apace with ban on move of Sheikh Hasina out of the country, weakening of hold of the two prima donnas of the main political parties, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and filing of a number of cases against these and other leaders. The law adviser said the country was deprived of correct politics and leadership "as a cartel of mafia" reigned over the country's politics in the bygone years. He said the present caretaker government sincerely wants to restore democracy to the mainstream. (Daily Star Report)
In line with these statements a series of measures legal as well as political were noticeable. On 5 June a case was filed with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court, Dhaka against 28 people including ex-premier Khaleda Zia, her son Tarique Rahman, Jamaat chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and former IGP Modabbir Hossain for abetting grenade attacks on an Awami League rally on 21 August 21 2004. (Daily Star Report 6 June). A New Age report indicated that former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Awami League chief, was sued on 13 June by two businessmen for alleged extortion of Tk 8 Crore from them during the tenure of her government between 1996 and 2001. Three extortion cases have been filed against Hasina after the interim government of Fakhruddin Ahmed assumed office early January.
On 14 June a Dhaka court banned Sheikh Hasina's foreign trips following the government's plea that her leaving the country could obstruct investigations into the two cases filed against her on 13 June. The former prime minister was scheduled to fly to the US. A New Age report also indicated that a special judge`s court sentenced former state minister Amanullah Aman to 13 years` imprisonment and his wife Sabera Aman to three years` imprisonment and ordered confiscation of their wealth of Tk 9, 94, 63,741 which the court found disproportionate to their known sources of income. This was the first ever verdict delivered by the fast-track court, set in the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban`s MP Hostel for trying major corruption suspects.
The council of advisers approved in principle an Election Commission proposal for separating its secretariat from the prime minister`s office and asked the law ministry to place a draft of an ordinance in this regard. An independent Election Commission will considerably enhance the prospects of free and fair elections in Bangladesh and would ensure that manipulations which were routine in the past do not continue. This is the first step to establishing of democratic norms in the country and needs to be encouraged.
A New Age report indicated that the interim government is planning to hold elections to the three city corporations that include Dhaka, Rajshahi and Khulna, along with 44 municipalities before the general elections, so the Election Commission is likely to prepare the voters` rolls of these areas on a priority basis, said official sources. In a move to encourage new parties to participate in elections all newly formed political party will be allowed to take part in the upcoming national elections after being registered by the Election Commission (EC).
A five-member European Union delegation, comprising, Andreas Michaelis, Thomas Wriessnig, Helen Campbell, Michael Swann, and Manuel Santiago, extended support to the efforts made by the interim administration to clean politics, anti-corruption drive and freeing the Election Commission from the influence of the executive. The delegates expressed satisfaction at the proposed conduct of elections in 2008. The European Union troika also called for an early lifting of ban on politics in Bangladesh to ensure that the parties can substantially contribute to the reforms agenda undertaken by the interim government. The team has been visiting Bangladesh to assess the situation for upholding democracy and elections. The European Union is ready to politically and financially supporting the Bangladesh government to ensure these reforms are undertaken.
Restructuring the BNP and AL
The dissident leaders of both the major political parties, Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), expedited moves to bring about political and organizational reforms within the party. The Awami League president, Sheikh Hasina, and party presidium member Amir Hossain Amu, one of the leading dissidents had a show down on 23 June. (Media Reports). Hossain Amu and Awami League presidium member Abdur Razzak on 30 June announced a set of proposals for broad reforms in the party including a provision barring a leader from holding any key post for more than two consecutive terms.
On the other hand pro-reform BNP leaders announced a 15-point reform plan on 25 June, including a proposal for curbing powers of the party chairperson. BNP Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan announced the proposed plan that, if anyone serves two terms as prime minister, he/ she won't be eligible for the post of PM or chairperson of the party. If chairperson becomes PM, he/ she has to resign as chairperson. All office-bearers will be elected by councilors instead of nomination by chairperson, a 15-memebr standing committee will be elected by councilors instead of nomination by chairperson, and advisory council of chairperson would be approved by standing committee.
Meanwhile there was turmoil in the Jatiya Party, the third major political party in the country with Rowshan Ershad, wife of former Bangladesh military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad declaring on 26 June that she had taken control. Ershad on the other hand indicated that, "I will expel her from the party for gross indiscipline and disobedience". (Dawn Report)
Comments on Political Restructuring
The restructuring of polity undertaken by the government is still underway. It is anticipated that till there are noticeable signs of inner party reforms within the two major political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party, the Caretaker Administration is unlikely to remove ban on political activities. The focus in restructuring is as follows:-
- Marginalize the present leadership of the two main parties by placing various restrictions, registering cases and general persecution.
- Allow alternate leadership to emerge in these parties by greater democratization.
- Allow alternate parties to emerge. Though the first step which was to seek Mohammand Yunus to lead a political party has failed, the government is attempting break always to emerge.
- Political parties are allegeing a role of the intelligence agencies in splintering the leadership and also propping up new parties.
Military Policies and Activities
The New Age reported that the army chief, General Moeen U Ahmed, on 20 June appreciated the role of the army in the present crucial moment of the nation saying, `Bangladesh Army is now extending their cooperation to the government and different national organisations in curbing corruption, establishing democracy and holding free, fair and meaningful national election.` The role of the Bangladesh Army so far has been balanced, however all will depend upon the exit policy that is worked out by the Caretaker Administration and the Army. A smooth exit should lead to restructured democratic forces taking over the country`s administration and the army coming under civilian control. The success of the exit policy is also dependent on how the political forces in the country particularly the leadership of the Awami League and the BNP play their role in stabilizing polity which had mired into corrupt practices benefiting a few. However instructions of virtual house arrest and restrictions on individuals such as Sheikh Hasina would have to be based on legal norms and cannot be at the whims of the top brass.
The Bangladesh military is considering recommissioning of the frigate, "Bangabandhu" Purchased in 2001 for Tk 500 Crore, equipped for underwater, surface and air operations, was decommissioned on February 13, 2002 and removed from the naval fleet on the pretext of corruption in purchasing the frigate. With the mandate to provide security and surveillance in a maritime area of 40,000 square kilometres, the Bangladesh Navy is in need of a modern frigate as its existing vessels and weaponry is becoming antiquated. With a normal life span of 25 to 30 years, the present ship has already lost five years of its life without being utilised at all. A helicopter costing around Tk 5 Crore is likely to be bought to fully equip the ship. (http://www.thedailystar.net/2007/06/03/d7060301011.htm)
Terrorism and Counter Terrorism
A11-member high-profile delegation from the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), headed by Executive Director Javier Ruperez undertook a review of counter-terror legislations and enforcement, "crossfire" deaths, the performance and operation methods of law-enforcement agencies and the military, the operation of the "underground terrorist groups", and the madrassa education system, among a host of others. The country had previously pledged to enact a counter-terrorism law, but a draft of the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance, 2007 has been shelved at the law ministry since March this year. The law ministry is also vetting an amendment to the Money-Laundering Act, 2002, which has already been approved, in principle, by the council of advisers. Port security and implementation of the UN's International Ship and Port Facility Security code or ISPS as well as air security was also assessed by the team.
Focus on the JMB
A New Age Report indicated that the police had been directed by the Home Ministry on 19 June to neutralize the banned Islamist outfit, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh which was reportedly regrouping under new leadership. The JMB was reported to have formed a new committee to run the organisation after the execution of the six front-ranking leaders in March. Moulana Saidur Rahman, a former Jamaat-e-Islami leader from Habiganj was reported to be at the helm of the new leadership. Hundreds of activists of different Islamist militant outfits, especially operatives of the JMB, who went into hiding after the arrest, trial and execution of six JMB kingpins, were trying to regroup under the new leadership.
The four tiers of the organisational structure of the JMB were denoted in ascending order as sathi or sudhi, ghayer ehsar, ehsar or amir and majlish-e-shura. Sathis or sudhis are recruited from comparatively young and dedicated people. Those who are in charge of districts are called ghayer ehsar and the divisional level leaders are called ehsar. The majlish-e-ehura is the top tier of the outfit comprising seven leaders. The seven members have `veto` powers and decision is by consensus.
Led by its district chiefs re-named as `nayak` or hero the JMB is now working across the country through 21 sub-centres by dividing the country into 40 regions. Operatives of the JMB are working under the supervision of five kingpins and 12 regional and district `nayaks`. 39 commanders of the suicide squad were still at large. Some 25 district commanders out of 64 also remain in hiding. (New Age Report)
Essentially a three pronged strategy would have to be undertaken for marginalizing the JMB. The first arm of the same is to focus on physical neutralization by busting hide outs, apprehending suspected members and so on, which needs to be undertaken based on effective intelligence and the Rapid Action Battalion appears to be the best bet. The second arm is to tackle fundamentalist organizations supporting the JMB. This needs to be done politically. The third direction is to cut off financial support and rapid follow up of the cases lodged against activists of the organization.
Economy and Infra Structure
The International Atomic Energy Agency has included Bangladesh among the eight developing countries that have been selected for setting up nuclear power plants after 2015. A two-member delegation of the IAEA, visited Bangladesh for this purpose. Power and energy adviser Tapan Chowdhury indicated on 24 June that IAEA had recently given clearance to Bangladesh to set up nuclear power plants. Tapan also told reporters that a number of foreign companies have already approached the government for setting up nuclear power plants in the country. (The New Age Report).
The advisory council on May 5 approved signing of the UN-sponsored Trans-Asian Railway Network agreement aimed at boosting trade and tourism in the Asia-Pacific region. (The New Age Report). Adviser to the food and disaster management ministry, Tapan Chowdhury, on 17 June issued a stern warning to control spiralling prices of essential commodities and admitted candidly that the state machinery was not functioning properly to rein in the market.
Indo Bangla relations
Indo-Bangla foreign secretary- level talks were held at Dacca on 25 and 26 June. Acting foreign secretary Md Touhid Hossain led the 11-member Bangladesh delegation while a nine-member headed by foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon represented India. The meeting held after a gap of almost two years touched all outstanding issues between the two neighbours including security, trade imbalance, peaceful border management and cooperation in management of water resources. India also agreed to allow more Bangladeshi products to have duty-free access to its market by December this year. On the issue of commencing Sealdah-Joydevpur train service, the meeting decided that a railway team from India would visit Dhaka in the first half of July.
Analysis on Indo Bangla Relations
Relations between India and Bangladesh have been less than cordial over the years, particularly during the last five years when a government which was seen anti India was in chair in Dacca. The Caretaker Administration is more amenable for betterment of relationship. The way ahead would be as follows:-
- Opening of trade between the two countries.
- Support this with development of physical infra structure and more number of routes of movement, both rail and road.
- Permit Indian investment in Bangladesh as a large number of Indian private sector entrepreneurs are interested in the same.
- Resolve the vexatious Indo Bangladesh Boundary Isssue particularly that of enclaves and adverse possession. India has 111 enclaves landlocked inside Bangladesh while the latter has 51 such areas inside India.
- Simultaneously check on the following:-
- Influx of Bangladeshi people into eastern India.
- Crack down on terrorist groups inimical to Indian interests operating in Bangladesh.
- Withdraw support to NE terrorist groups operating in Bangladesh.
(SAST JULY 2007)