WikiLeaks: Hasina wanted to improve image with US in 1991

Hasina-Khaleda 1991-2 W MilamSoon after the BNP came to power on March 20, 1991, then opposition leader in parliament Sheikh Hasina alleged that the government had been turning authoritarian.

She was also against the BNP’s constitution amendment proposals, especially shackling the president.

She said that the BNP proposal contains a provision that the president is ‘bound’ to dissolve the parliament if the prime minister so requests. The Awami League, Sheikh Hasina said, is opposed to this shackling of presidential discretion on the matter of dissolution of the parliament,” then US ambassador in Dhaka William Bryant Milam wrote in a cable sent to Washington after a two-hour meeting with the AL chief on July 10 the same year.

She mentioned that the Awami League was very much opposed to the provision that would bar a party member who crossed the floor from running for reelection for five years.

Hasina pointed out that Khaleda Zia, the country’s first female prime minister, would end up with authoritarian powers over her party and over any dissenters in it through such provisions.

Currently, Milam is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, DC

Hasina appeared relaxed and much more friendly than usual…It is clear she wants to improve relations with the USG [we have heard this from another source also].

In previous meetings, she has appeared tense and somewhat on guard; in this meeting, she seemed much more open and willing to discuss a range of issues without the usual sloganeering. Her relaxed demeanour was also evidenced by her willingness to talk about her family and other personal items.”

Milam said: “She began the discussion by saying that she had just come from a meeting with upazila chairmen who were extremely upset because they were being dismissed by the BNP government.

As she pointed out, these chairmen were elected in the upazila elections of march 1990, and their terms are not yet completed. Sheikh Hasina raised the question of how elected upazila chairmen could be dismissed by the majority party in the parliament under the constitution.”

Hasina said the BNP was harassing Awami League members and workers in villages and upazilas throughout the country,” reads the cable.

She said that she was trying to lead her party in responsible opposition. She pointed out that there had been pressure within the Awami League for insisting that the “indemnity bill” be linked to the constitutional amendment. [the indemnity bill is a bill which authorises the prosecution of the assassins of her father, Sheikh Mujib.] She resisted these pressures and instead directed that the indemnity bill be put in as a separate bill, to be debated on its own merits.”

Milam said: “I mentioned that we had noted her responsible leadership over the past few months, and praised her for keeping opposition to the BNP government within the confines of parliament. I indicated that the roots of democracy must sink deep and take good hold, and that a responsible opposition, confining its opposition to legitimate parliamentary procedures, would have great bearing on the ability of democracy to flourish.”

Student violence

Milam said he had asked Hasina about the student violence at the university. “I indicated that in my view this issue had to be resolved quickly if it was not to spread and worsen. I went on to suggest that all parties would have to agree to refrain from backing their students in these universities power struggles, and indicate to their student factions that they would not support the use of arms or violence on the campus.”

Hasina replied that it is up to the government to stop violence on the campus. She blamed the prime minister for continuing to allow student violence to occur.

She said that if the government cracked down, the situation could be rectified in 30 minutes. These students only have weapons she said because the government looks the other way.

She would support the government in a general agreement to back away from student politicisation and on disarming the campus.

When pressed, she mentioned that the main reason she would support such a resolution is because arming the students is costly. “She said the Awami League can no longer afford to supply its students with arms,” the cable states.

The conversation shifted to US presence in Bangladesh, particularly after I broached the subject of the recent visit of the peace corps director, Paul Coverdell,” Molam said.

I mentioned that, in 1978, a peace corps agreement had been signed but that the then-government of Zia Rahman had never established a peace corps program because of the reaction of the opposition, including her party.

I went on to describe the peace corps as a volunteer, face-to-face organisation which essentially works at the micro level, usually under the direction of the government itself.”

Hasina did not respond directly to the points. “Instead she asked me whether the US opposes her and or her party. She said that one of the current rumours in Bangladesh, particularly among her own party workers, is that the US is strongly opposed either to her or to her party coming to power.

I responded immediately that there was no substance to this rumour and that we did not take sides among political parties in any country, and that we would work eagerly and positively with any government elected by the people of Bangladesh.

I mentioned that we did not agree with all of the aspects of the party programmes of most of the parties in Bangladesh. I said that the tendency on the part of some elements of the AL to think in terms of socialist solutions had always been troublesome to US.

I also mentioned that, as had been demonstrated over the past six months, there were small elements of her party and of the leftist parties with which the AL is aligned, towards a knee- jerk anti-Americanism.”

She responded that there is still the feeling among some members of her party’s cadre that the US was somehow implicated in the assassination of her father.

Hasina said that she had taken great risk when she visited the US for the first time in the middle 1980’s. She stated that she had been criticised loudly by many parts of her party as well as other parties for doing business with the Americans.

She went on to say that she does not think that most of the members of her party still hold this view, but that some do.

She said that perhaps the US should have worked harder to rebut these allegations in the early years after they occurred, and that the USG should still seek to assure people that it had no connection with Sheikh Mujib’s death, whenever the opportunity arises.

Sheikh Hasina spent a considerable amount of time explaining why the party’s call for socialism was really not/not a call for socialism. She said that she personally had no sympathy for socialism, that she knows that it is a failed system, everywhere. She said that the only prescription she wanted was how to help the Bangladesh people develop economically.”

Milam said: “I assured her again that we do not interfere in the internal affairs of countries and we work positively with freely elected governments. She mentioned that in part, the anti-American cast of some AL workers might also stem from our perceived proclivity to work with anti-democratic forces such as the previous regime.” (Note: Sheikh Hasina continually throws the regime of Ziaur Rahman into the anti-democratic forces.)

The meeting ended on a very friendly note. towards the end, I suggested that if Sheikh Hasina were prime minister we would be working closely and positively with her, as we would with most governments.

When I said that she might now be prime minister, she lifted her eyes to the ceiling and said “God help me,” implying very strongly that she was perfectly prepared at this point in Bangladesh history, with all the immense problems the new government faces, to sit in opposition.”

During this same part of the conversation, I had mentioned the tremendous task the government has in reforming the economy and she agreed with that, and understood that it would take very, very hard decisions on very difficult issues.

In his comment, the former ambassador said: “I am unable to judge whether Sheikh Hasina really believes that the US opposes her or her party. However, the length of the meeting, its warmth, and her relaxation clearly indicate that she wants to improve her ties to me, to this mission, and to the USG.”

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Authorities should have authority

Sheikh Hasina - Dhaka Tribune April 30
Sheikh Hasina – Dhaka Tribune April 30

Despite being governed in line with a pro-people constitution focusing on mainly those who are poor and marginalised, the successive governments since the birth of Bangladesh have been failing to establish a nation where the driving force [elements] of the state system are sensible about the people in general, and serve them with their highest efforts – due to the job responsibilities and obligations of standing for office.

Since its birth 42 years back, ordinary people have been unable to reach the higher echelons of government – that are supposed to be formed by politicians elected as lawmakers by the people’s vote.

The helms of the top two parties that have ruled the country most of the years since independence have been occupied by single persons and/or their families.

Therefore, even though only a few reliable and efficient leaders could reach the higher rungs of these parties, they had to stop or were forced to stop at a certain stage.

As we have experienced, the mindset of the government heads, developed through their family and social orientation and assisted by political norms, are often pro-business in the name of pro-development.

The development theory generally aims at planning sustainable development tools for poor communities, executing those through ventures involving the government and non-government organisations, monitoring and research on the implementation and reassessment of previous development plans – everything in line with constitutional guidelines. Impressed by project proposals, developed to assist millions of people, many foreign governments and organisations extend their hands too.

The people become happy when they hear about such initiatives through media and public addresses by political leaders and government representatives. And at the same time, they pray to Almighty God that the funds are not embezzled by dishonest officials and public representatives.

But, they are cheated! Even though the people are paying taxes every day in many ways, they are hardly heard or attended to by their elected officials in government, reportedly, because the rich people, mainly the businessmen, pay higher and snatch the attention and benefits that every citizen should be ensured.

The perception of the successive governments resembles the rich’s view though they can’t say that in public due to constitutional obligations. However, they express their pro-business stance at all times, except for when they attend humanitarian campaigns or civil society discussions or address the nation as a whole. At present, over two-thirds of MPs are engaged in business while most government officials have investments in different business too.

Invest and return has been the key driving philosophy of the time; it is rapidly spreading among the people as they are deprived and cheated by the governments they elect as their representatives. Hence, for quick access to public funds and projects, these deceptive people join the political parties in power, or join other influential groups, or just bribe corrupt officials and party leaders. Some people protest the misdeeds – mainly corruption and irregularities – while the majority, who are sarcastically called “ordinary people,” stay mum and deal with the consequences, which are often brutal.

This piece is merely a psychoanalysis; here, figures and facts of growth, economic indicators, and government data on the success stories in reducing harmful indicators in some sectors [poverty, mortality rate, agricultural production, literacy rate] are not supposed to suppress the “ordinary” people’s voice, which portrays the inhuman characteristics of the present leading quarters in our society that influence the government mechanism.

And interestingly, when leaders of the political parties address people, they mean their people [supporters], not those apolitical ordinary people.

In a relatively stunning economy like Bangladesh, those people who are privileged and holding responsible positions involving the people, need to take a second look at their perceptions and attempt to look at things from different perspectives; reassess their aims that are irrationally higher than what they need; shun the rowdy game of invest and return; stop favouring only the people who pay higher taxes and making mountains with coins, often by snatching or cutting others’ pockets.

Justice for the ordinary people is what should be ensured first in a country like ours where the majority lives from hand to mouth and can’t find a way for generations to rise above chronic poverty. People who are unable to see the light of development easily.

We feel frustrated during every government term, when we hear that the ministries and other agencies indulge in massive corruption, irregularities and nepotism, and the authorities entrusted to punish the culprits have no effective or strict authority to address the crimes.

A similar scenario is seen these days in the private sector too.

This culture of apparent “weakening of the regulators and also the supervising entities” is supported and adopted by all political parties that are handed power. Say for the ACC, the corruption watchdog, or the SEC, the stock market regulator, or the BERC, which oversees the power and energy sector, or the UGC that monitors higher education, or the Board of Revenue, or the BTRC that regulates the telecommunications issues, or the BRTC, the transport regulator, or the Election Commission, the DoE, the environment regulator, or the Directorate of Health, and even the parliamentary watchdogs, all these bodies as well as the other state components are constituted in line with the guidelines of the constitution.

The already-rough road to achieve rights and get justice for the poor victims has been aggravated further by some dishonest politicians, public servants, and policymakers and officials of the institutes linked to the judiciary – law enforcement agencies and the court.

But this should change, and it’s not impossible either.

We have the guidelines stated in our constitution and we just need to honour and follow those, and uphold the “spirit of humanity” as Bangladeshi nationals.

Also Published in Dhaka Tribune

শান্তি চাইলে ন্যায়বিচারের বিকল্প নেই

যদিও আমি শিওর না আমার বিচার-বুদ্ধি বা আস্পর্ধা হয়েছে কিনা এরকম একটি বিষয়ে কিছু বলার, তথাপি বেয়াদপিটা করলাম।

দেখছি আমাদের দেশে কাগুজে আইন-কানুন ও সংবিধান না মেনে চলাটা একটা রেওয়াজ। ১৯৭১ থেকে ২০১২: আইনের শাসন, সামাজিক ন্যায়বিচার ও মতামত প্রদানের অধিকার কি সর্বক্ষেত্রে প্রতিষ্টিত হয়েছে?

নাহ। তবে, হচ্ছে, প্রক্রিয়া চলছে। ধীরে, ধীরে। হবে কোন একদিন। ধীরে, ধীরে।

সার্বজনীন “ষড়রিপু” ও কিছু বিশেষ প্রকারের “একান্তই দেশীয় অনুঘটকে”র কারনে রাষ্ট্রীয় প্রতিষ্ঠানের কর্মকর্তা-কর্মচারি থেকে শুরু করে রাজনৈতিক দলের নেতা-কর্মী, ছোট-বড় ব্যবসায়ি, সেবাখাতে (শিক্ষা-স্বাস্থ্য ও অন্যান্য) পেশাজীবী, কর্পোরেট চাকুরিজীবী, সিনেমা-টিভি-রেডিও-পত্রিকা-বিজ্ঞাপনে জড়িতরা, খন্ডকালীন চাকুরিজীবী, নিম্ন-আয়ের মানুষ, বেকার ও শিক্ষার্থীদের অনেকেই সবসময়, কেউ কেউ আবার মাঝে মাঝে, নানানভাবে নানা উদ্দেশ্যসাধনের কারনে দায়িত্ব ও আইন-কানুন পালন করছে না। এদের মধ্যে একটা বড় অংশ আবার নিছক মুদ্রাদোষের কারনেও এ কাজ করছে।

ফলে বর্তমান সময়ের রাষ্ট্র-ব্যবস্থায় ও সমাজে অস্থিরতা, অব্যবস্থাপনা, অনৈতিক ও অমানবিক কর্মকান্ড বেড়েই চলেছে এবং তা জনগন এবং খোদ রাষ্ট্রীয় উচ্চপদস্থ কর্মকর্তাদেরও শান্তি দিচ্ছেনা। ক্রোধে উন্মত্ত ও পাশাপাশি হতাশ মানুষের সংখ্যা বাড়ছে।

প্রশ্ন হলো, ক্ষমতাবান, প্রভাবশালী ও দরকারি মানুষগুলো কি তাদের যার যার দায়িত্ব পালন করছে? আমার দৃষ্টিতে বেশিরভাগই করছেনা; আর এ কারনেই সমস্যা বাড়ছে, বাড়ছে অস্থিরতা।

চোখেপড়ার মতো বিষয়গুলোর উদাহরন হিসেবে বলা যায়ঃ খুন-ধর্ষন-অত্যাচার, হিংসা-প্রতারণা-মিথ্যা বলা-অকৃতজ্ঞ আচরন-ঠকানো-বৈষম্য, দুর্নীতি-স্বজনপ্রীতি-ঘুষবানিজ্য, অনৈতিকভাবে মুনাফাভোগ, টেন্ডারবাজি-চাঁদাবাজি-সন্ত্রাস-ছিনতাই; আর আরেকটি ভয়ংকর বিষয় হলো আমরা যেই পৃথিবীতে বাস করি তার দূষন ও জীববৈচিত্র ধ্বংস করা।

নিয়মনীতি-থানা-পুলিশ-জেলখানা ইত্যাদি আমাদের ভালো লাগেনা। তাই শাস্তি বিষয়টা ধীরে ধীরে আপেক্ষিক হয়ে যাচ্ছে। ফলে অসাংবিধানিক, অমানবিক ও আকার্যকর কিছু সামাজিকভাবে জনপ্রিয় “জোর যার মুল্লুক তার” সূত্রের মাধ্যমে শাস্তিপ্রদান কার্যক্রম পরিচালিত হয়ে আসছে যুগ যুগ ধরে। মানে পুলিশ বা সন্ত্রাসী দিয়ে ঠ্যাঙ্গানো, ভয়-ভীতি দেখানো, সতর্কবার্তা বা উকিল নোটিশ পাঠানো, সাময়িক বরখাস্ত করা, ধর্মীয় সালিশ ও পারিবারিক নির্যাতন।

তাই দেখা যাচ্ছে রাষ্ট্রীয় ও সামাজিক আইন বেশী কার্যকর হচ্ছে সরকারের বিরোধীপক্ষ ও সমালোচক এবং যারা রাজনীতির সাথে যুক্ত নয় অর্থাৎ অপেক্ষাকৃত দূর্বল জনগনের উপর।

আর সেসবের আওতার বাইরে থাকছে যারা আইন প্রনয়ন, রক্ষা ও প্রয়োগ করে এবং তাদের আশেপাশের স্বার্থ-সংশ্লিষ্ট ব্যক্তি ও গোষ্ঠীরা।

কিন্তু, এদিকে উন্নত বৈশ্বিক যোগাযোগের কারনে আমাদের দেশে কি হচ্ছে কেন হচ্ছে ইত্যাদি যেহেতু অনেকেই জেনে যাচ্ছে তাই তড়িঘরি করে আই-ওয়াশ হিসেবে কিছু আইন করা বা পুরানোগুলোকে “শক্তিশালী” করা এবং কিছু লোকের বিচার করে শাস্তি দিয়ে দেখানো হচ্ছে যে এদের আইনের শাসন আছে এবং মানুষ ন্যায়বিচার পাচ্ছে। নইলে তো জাত থাকবে না।

চিন্তার বিষয় কেন?

অভাব, হতাশা, ভয় ও লোভে পড়ে দেখা যাচ্ছে দিনদিন রাষ্ট্রে ও সমাজে শাসক ও শোষকশ্রেনীর দলে ভিড়ছে অনেকেই। আর আরেকদিকে শোষিত-বঞ্চিত-নির্যাতিত-অবহেলিত-প্রতারিত মানুষের সংখ্যা বাড়ছে। তবে আশ্চর্যের বিষয় হলো দূর্বলদের দল কিন্তু সংখ্যায় অনেক ভারী হওয়া স্বত্তেও সবলদের আর্থিক, রাজনৈতিক ও পেশীশক্তি বেশী হওয়ায় পরাজিত হচ্ছে।

কেউ কেউ এই পরাজয় মেনে নিয়ে মাথানত করে জীবনযাপন করছে, কেউ পদস্খলনের কারনে ক্ষমতাবানদের দলে যোগ দিচ্ছে, কেউ আবার সইতে না পেরে ক্ষনে ক্ষনে প্রতিবাদমুখর হয়ে উঠছে, একা কিংবা অনেককে সাথে নিয়ে।

দেশে আইনের শাসন থাকলে বিশাল এই জনগোষ্ঠীর মধ্যে কোন আশংকা, ভয়, দূর্বলতা, অভাব-অভিযোগ থাকতো না, কেননা তাতে করে দিনদিন স্বৈরাচার, অদক্ষ ও লোভী শাসকগোষ্ঠী ও সমমনাগোষ্ঠী, দুর্নীতিবাজ, খুনী-সন্ত্রাসী, মিথ্যাবাদি-প্রতারক-প্রতিহিংসাপরায়ন মানুষের সংখ্যা কমে আসবে, আর তখন এরা জনগনকে ভয় পেতে শুরু করবে এবং এদের সংখ্যা আরো কমবে।

এই অবস্থায় জরুরি হলো ঘরে-বাইরে, কর্মক্ষেত্রে, নিজের সমাজে, এবং দেশে প্রতিনিয়ত ঘটে যাওয়া ক্ষতিকর-অশান্তি সৃষ্টিকারি-অপরিনামদর্শী কর্মকান্ড দ্রুত কমাতে ও সম্ভব হলে থামাতে “কার্যকর পদক্ষেপ” নেয়া।

বর্তমানই যেহেতু ভবিষ্যত তৈরি করে, সেহেতু এই মুহুর্তটাকে সুন্দর করতে পারলে পরের সময়টিও সুন্দরই হবে তাতে কোন অনিশ্চয়তা নেই।

আমাদের পূর্বপ্রস্তুতি নেই, অনেক ব্যাপারেই!

কিছু শব্দ “থাকবে না”