Breaking: Military Government Losing Ground In Bangladesh

State Department Briefing, April 24 2007

[Via Drishtipat]

The military government in Bangladesh has given up trying to exile two former prime ministers due to pressure from within the country and from the international community.

There is breaking news from and the Daily Star from Bangladesh:

Dhaka, April 25 ( – The military-backed government Wednesday lifted the ban on Sheikh Hasina’s homecoming and said there were no restrictions on Khaleda Zia’s movement.

In a statement, the home ministry said the ban on Hasina’s return was temporary and the authorities have decided to lift it because of "views from the media and other quarters".

In another statement, the ministry said the government had never put pressure on Khaleda to leave the country.

This comes on the heels of the Bangladeshi press and courts showing some backbone and on the heels of this exchange at the State Department Press Briefing yesterday:

QUESTION: Sean, two questions on Bangladesh, please. The (inaudible) in Bangladesh has cancelled elections and also is trying to establish dictatorship just similar to in Pakistan by General Musharraf. And a Vice Prime Minister is under house arrest in Bangladesh, second one fled to London and she has not been allowed and she has been told you cannot return to Bangladesh. What’s the Secretary feel now as their human rights and dictatorships and also democracy that we’re talking about around the globe?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the situation in Bangladesh is one that we’re watching quite closely. There is a caretaker government in place and we have urged that caretaker government to move as expeditiously as possible to elections so the Bangladeshis can exercise their right to vote and choose who is going to lead them in the future and hopefully be able to put these past incidents behind them. It is a case where if not handled properly and if the caretaker government doesn’t take the right decisions, then this — there is a real possibility that this can threaten Bangladeshi democracy and nobody wants to see that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that’s it.

QUESTION: Anybody from the U.S. Government in touch with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in London?

MR. MCCORMACK: I know our embassy has been in close contact with them and several months ago, Nick Burns talked to them.

The Daily Press Briefing is currently featured in the State Department web site under the title "Daily Press Briefing: Bangladeshi Democracy at Risk?"

How do you spell P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E"?

There is reason for optimism today for Bangladesh and the future of democracy there.

Update (4/25/2007 5:30 pm):

  • BBC News and the International Herald Tribune report on the military government’s U-turn.
  • Sheikh Hasina was just interviewed [interview starts at 19:50 minutes into the audio] by the BBC World Service Newshour radio program. In the interview Hasina sounds exhausted but thanks the Bangladeshi and foreign press, Bangladeshis at home and abroad, foreign leaders for putting pressure on the military government. IBN live has more.
  • The Daily Star has more on the pressure put upon the military government.
  • The Daily Star also has the following editorial (a bold act from a newspaper that only last week was all but cowed):

The ban on Sheikh Hasina’s entry into the country and the apparent fetters on Khaleda Zia’s movements have been withdrawn.

We welcome this change in the direction of the government’s policy; for it is the fundamental right of the two leaders to live in their own country. Exile holds no answer to the political problems facing us. On the contrary, it can exacerbate them.

We have been observing with concern over the last several days government being enmeshed in a nontransparent, shortsighted, confusing, and boomerang of a policy exercise pertaining to consigning of the two political leaders — Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia — to exile. A chronology of events will prove our point.

Closely on the heels of two advisers to the government denying that any force was being applied on the two ladies to leave the country when Sheikh Hasina set off from the USA to return to Bangladesh earlier than scheduled to face extortion and murder charges levelled against her she was requested by an adviser to stay back for a few more days. Then a press note was issued by the government debarring her entry into Bangladesh and instructing the airlines not to carry her home. She was in effect not given a boarding pass to travel to Dhaka by British Airways. Then in a tell-tale sequence a warrant of arrest was issued by the metropolitan magistrate a few hours before the BA flight from London. Once it came to be known she was not flying home the warrant was withdrawn for six months to carry out further investigation. It was injudicious and farcical, making a mockery of the legal system.

As for Begum Khaleda Zia the government faced a ruling by the High Court in a Habeas Corpus writ to produce her in court by April 27 to prove that she is not confined to her home.

Bangladesh’s image abroad took a drubbing in the way the two ladies have been handled. Credibility of the government has also taken a tumble on the issue.

With the change of policy a great amount of uncertainty would have ended. We think now the government should move full speed ahead about preparation for election. We think the only durable solution to our problems can come through transfer of power to an elected government, but one that comes through a genuinely free and fair election. Let us now concentrate fully on that.


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10 Responses to Breaking: Military Government Losing Ground In Bangladesh

  1. I think every ten advisors of CTG need atleast one adviror each from ONLINE BLOGGING Community!

  2. Mash says:

    Sushanta, I’ve been following with interest your reports from London. Let us know when you hear of Hasina’s travel plans. Thanks.

  3. Sure!

    I think she has some appointments with Diplomats here.

    She will be in a sp. interview with http://WWW.FT.COM tomorrow morning. After the interview we may get some clue of her next journey plan.


  4. Asif says:

    Hello Mash,

    Just wanted to thank you for two things: your post on the saladhaka blog which I’ve responded to. It was really, really relevant. And for putting up the link to the state dept. transcript, which I’ve been looking for myself. As I suspected, it was a routine briefing that we’re turning into a full-fledged diplomatic initiative and churning out conspiract theories to(I’m of course referring to the DP entry on it!).

  5. Mash says:

    Asif, I will check out your comment on Salamdhaka.

    I posted the following at Drishtipat in response to your comment about the briefing. Here’s what I wrote:

    AsifY, the state department briefing is important for a number of reasons.

    First, this is the first statement about Bangladesh from either the State Department or the White House. Nothing gets said at these daily press briefings by accident. That statement is official US government policy. State Department statements in response to press questions are prepared well in advance – the spokesman is not simply winging it.

    Second, as I said, this is the first public statement from Washington. They made sure it was public. They also highlighted it by putting it on the front page of the State Department website under the title “Bangladesh Democracy at Risk?” That sends a very strong public message to the Bangladeshi government. I have a screenshot of the item from the main page of the State Department website on my blog. You can see it here:

    Now, clearly the US government wants the military govt in Bangladesh to back off their exile plans – and also as important they want the whole world to know that this is US goverment policy. Whether that means the US is trying to reign in the military government and is setting boundaries or whether this means that the US has withdrawn support remains to be seen. I think it will become quite clear in the next week which of the above is the case.

    Again, after months of radio silence from Washington, this is a significant policy shift. What the new policy is is not yet apparent.

  6. Asif says:

    Sorry Mash,
    Have to disagree on a number of points:

    1) They did not make sure this was public. A questions was asked about it. At this point, the US public would think it grossly negligent if they didn’t say something. Despite whatever you say about the US media, they still do not plant questions about foreign stuff. Especially, foreign stuff with relatively little strategic importance. The website includes everything asked at the conference.

    2) Not the first public statement. The US ambassador has been making some noises about democracy as well. Something that has pissed off a number of people. I think I quoted Shahedul Anam of DS on my blog about it under the post “Fear and Loathing”.

    This is no policy shift at all, but consistent with US policy to act warily in an area where it has little strategic interest. That’s realism for you!

  7. Mash says:

    Asif, last week Dana Perino was asked about Bangladesh and she waived the question off at the White House briefing. This week they had something to say. I follow the state dept. and white house briefings regularly. They will take a pass if they do not want to break new ground. It is notable that they did not do so. The State Deparment routinely does not take a position on a whole number of issues until and unless they are ready to do so. “We will get back to you.” or “I will not make policy from the podium” are probably the two most frequently used phrases from the State Deparment podium.

    I said that this is the first statement from Washington. I have noted on my earlier posts the statements by Ambassador Butenis which were largely supportive of the military government. When there is silence from Washington and comments from the Ambassador, it signals tacit approval.

    But when something is said from the podium at the State Dept and then they put they use the front page of the Web site to declare “Bangladeshi Democracy at risk?” they are sending a very public message. This exchange was a very small part of the briefing, yet, the State Department highlighted it as the lead story from the briefing. That NEVER happens by accident.

    It was clear pressure was mounting last week and over the weekend with Nicholas Burns saying to the BD ambassador what the State Department today articulated from the podium. They said it privately earlier, and leaked it. Today they went public. That is very significant, and not accidental.

  8. Asif says:

    Hmmmm…. I’ll give you that. But I still by my statement, when push comes to shove, they don’t care whose in power as long as their friendly. Case in point: Pakistan.

    Btw, do you have links to the Nicholas Burns- Dr. Ifte “leak”? I saw it on salamdhaka but he didn’t give a link yet. I know they met, but what did they say?

    Sad. That’s what it is. Sad! It’s not like we can’t rule ourselves. But it’s always the biggest idiots (Geeteara stands out from yesterday!) who get to rule!

  9. Mash says:

    Asif, I think the tendency is to support autocratic or military regimes. That way one does not have to deal with the messiness of democracy. After all, it was the Turkish parliament who voted to deny the US a key route into Iraq in 2003. A dictator in Turkey would have said yes for the right sum of money. :d

    I think the Bush admin is in love with the Musharraf model and when its blatant hypocrisy became obvious in Bangladesh, it had to pull back. How far back remains to be seen. The history of the Bush admin though is not encouraging.

    The Nick Burns meeting was pretty much confirmed by Scott McCormack yesterday. I cited New Age for both the Burns and Beckett meeting in my previous post:

    The Daily Star reported the Beckett meeting again today:

    Gulf Times reports on both Beckett and Burns:

    The British ambassador to BD confirmed the views of Beckett from the meeting:

    The US has not knocked down the Burns comments and yesterday reiterated them. So I think the New Age got its sources right.

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