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Current Bangladesh Time: 5:11:39 AM (Fri)

AL makes disingenuous pitch to US

Richard L. Benkin

On July 27, it was Sheikh Hasina’s turn to try and capitalize on the United States’ call for Bangladeshi elections before the year’s end. Reading about her conversation with US Ambassador James Moriarty in Washington has to make one wonder just how stupid she thinks we Americans are. She must think the answer is “very stupid.” One of Hasina’s aides described that meeting and a subsequent on with Assistant US Secretary of State Richard Boucher said that Prime Minister in a way that made it seem the US sought out the exiled and disgraced former Prime Minister because they felt she alone could advise them on what to do about Bangladesh. According to the aide, “Hasina apprised [the Americans] of the current political situation in Bangladesh.” But his self-important statement could be taken seriously only by some one who has been asleep for the past two decades. Seeing Hasina as an objective analyst of the Bangladeshi political scene would be so basic a mistake as to be expected only from someone in an entry level position. To be sure, it is not unreasonable for Hasina and her minions to convince Bangladeshis that she has some sort of inside track with the Americans, but the fact is that the Moriarty and other US officials have been meeting with numerous Bangladeshi political leaders. It should concern all of us, however, that Hasina issued a string of empty promises and disingenuous declarations about corruption, human rights, and fighting terror similar to those which have made Bangladeshi credibility almost nil among many in Washington.

On corruption: It has become fashionable to “support” the current government’s anti-corruption campaign with one hand and criticize it as a human rights issue with the other. Hasina seized this opportunity like a hungry tiger going after a piece of raw meat. She claimed that an Awami League (AL) government would continue the current anti-corruption efforts, but added a loophole. “We cannot support political arrest and harassment in the name of anti-corruption drive.” Because of Bangladesh’s history of massive corruption, finally tackling the problem invariably would net scores of formerly influential politicos. This included the two Begums, Hasina and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) rival, Khaleda Zia. Their personal battles determined Bangladeshi politics and governance for decades, built massive wealth for themselves and their families, and drove most Bangladeshis into horrendous poverty. When the current government called them to account for doing what everyone was aware of, they naturally cried foul. Hasina’s promises, however, simply do not match the reality of the AL’s history. The authoritative Transparency International Corruption Index debuted just as the AL was about to leave office after its five-year rule; and when it did, it ranked Bangladesh dead last; that is, as the most corrupt country in the world. It was not even close. Hasina’s Bangladesh was the only nation with a score of less than one! Moreover, statistics compiled by Dhaka University’s Abul Barkat, show that during its rule the AL wound up with 44 percent of the property stolen under the racist Vested Property Act (only a one-point difference with the BNP during its rule).

On human rights: "Awami League is also pledge-bound to ensure human rights, curbing terrorism, establishment of equal rights and the rule of law.” How much easier is that to say than to do! Because of the BNP’s abysmal record on human rights, the AL often has said that human rights violations were only a Bangladeshi problem under BNP rule. But the actual record—as compared to the one Hasina would like us to believe—contradicts that claim. Under the AL, the decades-long ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus continued unabated. The Hindu population continued to decline under the left-leaning coalition, and Bangladeshi officials continued to look the other way when radicals attacked minorities. When I visited their camps in West Bengal earlier this year, Hindu refugees reported numerous attacks on them and their families and testified that they were as frequent and vicious during AL rule as they were under the BNP. They also reported that under the AL, Bangladeshi officials did no more either to stop the attacks or to act when the victims reported them. Patrick Merloe of the National Democratic Institute said the BNP and AL alike were “driven by money and muscle power” and noted that police broke up opposition rallies under both governments. Additionally, the AL likes to blame the BNP for Bangladesh’s racist Vested Property Act, which allows the government to seize minority property almost at will. But the AL did nothing to stop the illicit confiscations during its five-year rule and, as noted above, benefited from the plunder. At the very end of its tenure it passed a revocation law, but refused to give it teeth or to enforce it even from a parliamentary position after it left office. Its own newspapers called the act a mere fig leaf that was entirely ineffective and unenforceable.

On Fighting Terror: At a separate meeting with Boucher, Hasina protested that she and the AL are such fierce enemies of the radicals that they are their main victims. She also pledged that under an AL government, the US and Bangladesh would cooperate in the fight against terrorism. Here, too, Hasina is hoping to capitalize on the BNP’s open affiliation with Islamist radicals, including at least two radical parties in its coalition government; but conveniently forgets that her own government took no action to stop the growth of Islamist radicals in the country. During that time (1996-2001) the number of radical madrassas rose significantly. That was when madrassas became the leading venue for spreading radical philosophy among Bangladesh’s young, a phenomenon first noted by Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. The AL also presided over a growing presence of Middle Eastern “charities” in Bangladesh; most notable among them were Saudi Arabia’s Al Haramaim and Kuwait’s Revival of Islamic Heritage, both of which have since been kicked out of the country for their support of terrorism. If Hasina believes that an ignorant US will prefer her party to the BNP because of the radicals in the latter’s coalition, she is exercising selective memory. Shortly before the aborted January elections, the AL signed a concordant with the radical Islamist group, Khalefat Majlis (KM), promising the group a role in the ruling coalition if it prevails in the election. Among KM’s most cherished and oft-stated goals is to bring the country under Sharia law. Once the military stepped in and stopped the elections, AL apologists, sensing how the agreement damaged their pretensions to democracy, began back-peddling and coming up with various excuses to explain it away. Unfortunately for them, they convinced no one of anything other than the fact that AL can be counted on to put its own interests above those of the nation.

Let us hope that the United States met with Hasina only to make sure it sampled all opinions and not because it was willing to give her statements and credence.