Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh today to cheering crowds after, under intense international and domestic pressure, the military reversed course in their attempt to exile her by banning her from the country.
The Associated Press reports:
Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who had been barred from returning to Bangladesh after she was accused of speaking against its military-backed interim government, arrived in the capital Monday, and thousands of supporters cheered, beat drums and sprinkled her with rosebuds.
"It’s my country; it’s my home. I’m so excited to be able to return to my country," Hasina said at Dhaka’s Zia International Airport after arriving from London.
The government lifted a ban on Hasina’s return on April 25, seven days after it barred her homecoming amid media reports that the government wanted to exile her.
Asked if she feared arrest, Hasina said the authorities "made a mistake in imposing the ban on my return. I don’t think they are going to repeat that mistake."
Senior aides of Hasina greeted her at the tightly guarded airport with flowers.
Thousands of other supporters, many of them beating drums, lined the streets as a bulletproof jeep drive Hasina to her residence in downtown Dhaka.
Hasina waved to the cheering crowd, which sprinkled her with rosebuds along the 10-mile journey.
The military had earlier tried to restrict people from meeting the returning ex-prime minister at the airport. The military had granted permission for only 10 people to meet her at the airport. However, people appeared to ignore the state of emergency by coming out onto the streets to greet her.
The stage is now set for a confrontation between the military and the political parties. The military has failed in its gambit to exile the two leaders of the country’s leading political parties. But I think it is unlikely that the military will now quietly return to the barracks. It is also not clear who is in control of the military. The general who was widely believed to have engineered the coup, General Moeen U Ahmed, has receded from public view – a sudden turn from his earlier very public statements claiming Bangladesh did not need "elective democracy". In another possible sign of confusion within the military, General Moeen’s anticipated official trip to India has apparently been called off – the army now denies any such trip was ever scheduled.
The situation in Bangladesh looks and feels like the period of coups and counter-coups in 1975. It has been widely reported that junior officers in the Bangladesh army, majors and colonels, had been intimidating the press recently – that in itself has echoes of 1975. However, the press in Bangladesh has begun to openly challenge this military government. The situation is ostensibly calm but highly unstable and fluid. As pressure builds on the military government to hold early elections and return the country to democracy, there is certain to be pushback from some quarters within the military.
The army now lacks an exit strategy. The results could be bloody.
Update (via Schuchinta):
Below is Sheikh Hasina’s recent interview with Sir David Frost. Frost had interviewed her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1972 after Bangladesh became independent. Take a look at the woman that the Bangladesh military had declared a threat to national security.
Before her return, Sheikh Hasina was also interviewed by the Bangladeshi newspaper, New Age.
The Washington Post weighs in with an article on Hasina’s return to Bangladesh. The article also takes a skeptical view of the military’s "anti-corruption" drive and its promise to hold elections at the end of 2008.