Harming Bangladeshi interests
Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA
difference between government officials and the rest of us is not that
they are any smarter, more capable, or anything like that. The
major difference between us is that by choosing to be part of a
government, these individuals have taken on a responsibility that the
rest of us opt not to take. When we speak, our words represent our thoughts, our positions, and have implications for us as individuals. Not so for members of the government. For every word of theirs comes not from them as individuals but from the government as well. Like it or not, intended or not, and for better or worse, they speak for the entire nation.
For that reason, Information Advisor Barrister Moinul Hossain’s comments are generating a lot of curiosity. The entire world was mourning the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as 2007 was drawing to a close. By now, it has become clear that Islamist radicals carried out the deed fearful of a champion for democracy in Pakistan; a nation they have targeted to become the first nuclear Islamist state. Large numbers of Pakistanis took to the streets to protest the assassination. Social unrest continues, and the world is still holding its collective breath over what might happen next.
Almost every major political leader condemned the attack. US
President George W. Bush said it was a “cowardly act by murderous
extremists” and called on Pakistanis to “honor [her] memory by
continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave
her life.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said she “sacrificed her life for the sake of Pakistan, and for the sake of this region.” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner strongly condemned “this horrible act” and reaffirmed “France's commitment to the stability of Pakistan and its democracy.” The Chinese were “shocked at the killing” and strongly condemned it. The
Organization of Islamic Conferences condemned “in strongest terms the
outrageous and brutal murder” and called it “shocking.” Even
the Iranian Foreign Ministry hoped that “the Pakistani government will
identify and bring to justice those behind such a criminal act.”
Other statements condemned extremism and called on continued resolve in defeating it.
But Barrister Moinul, representing you, the people of Bangladesh had a different take on it. He was not shocked; nor did he think it a good idea for Pakistan to maintain its resolve to fight extremism. According
to him, the Pakistanis brought it all on themselves by doing just that
and by joining with the United States in combating al Qaeda, which he
also said was no threat to Pakistan. When you consider the countless terror attacks in Pakistan going back well before Pakistan’s involvement with the US’s war on terror; the statement is so nonsensical that most people are trying to figure out why Moinul even issued it. In fact, when an Al Qaeda spokesman called the assassination heroic, the terrorist group distanced itself from the statement.
It would be easy to ascribe Moinul’s comments to a serious lack of judgment, which it was. He
also is carrying out a now discredited and transparently mendacious
tradition in which appeasers and terrorists say one thing in English
and something entirely different in their vernacular. Presenting
one face to the West—to donor nations, to countries that gave freely to
assist Bangladeshis after the recent cyclone, to nations that purchase
Bangladeshi exports. The US, for instance, buys about 70 percent of Bangladesh’s garment exports. Does Moinul think he is not putting that needed economic tie at risk?
Over the past three years, the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington has had two major goals above all else. One is to secure a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia met with US Secretary Condoleezza Rice about it. Former Home Minister Lutfuzzaman Babar brought it up in a meeting with Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the President’s brother. And
no less a light than Nobel laureate Mohammed Yunus made a personal
appeal to the Senate Finance Committee about a consolation prize it had
considered that gives Bangladesh some trade benefits.
Those goals are no closer now than they were then, primarily because of Bangladesh’s continued persecution of Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and its other human rights violations and appeasement of terrorists. In 2006, in fact, one US
Congressman told the embassy that he and others would personally work
for an FTA if the admittedly false charges against Shoaib were dropped. Moinul’s statements have been circulated among several members of Congress now debating whether or not to renew Bangladesh’s appropriation.
The other goal for which the two most recent ambassadors have labored tirelessly is that of convincing the US government that Bangladesh is an ally in the war on terror and a moderate Muslim nation. That has been a hard sell at best. Shoaib’s continued persecution despite worldwide condemnation of it, including a US Congressional resolution, undermines the message. So
have Islamists in the previous coalition government, as well as the
languishing war on extremism once apparently carried out by the current
government. During the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, even the Arab League distanced itself from the Lebanon-based terrorist group. One Bangladeshi official, on the other hand, named a bridge in its honor—and the Bangladesh government never condemned or rescinded it. Now comes Moinul. What is he telling us?
First, while the world condemned the terrorists who murdered Bhutto, Moinul condemned the fight against terror. In doing so, according to one Washington source, “he is trying really hard to tell us that Bangladesh is no ally.” The actions his comments suggest mirror that taken by Spain after its 2004 subway bombings. Its immediate withdrawal from Iraq in response has been roundly condemned as contributing to further terrorist acts in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. But the big question that troubles many people is this. If the Bangladeshi government counsels Pakistan to cease fighting Al Qaeda, what does that say about its own policy?
Nobody is suggesting that Bangladesh tailor its foreign policy to anyone’s dictates, but Bangladeshi leaders like Moinul undermine their own diplomats. They also make the country appear either duplicitous or incompetent. The
question on more than one person’s lips is whether or not the
Bangladeshi government will condemn Moinul’s comments or appear in
agreement. Until it settles on a clear and consistent policy, it can expect that the nations of the world, and especially the US, will choose to invest their money in true allies.