Former Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina Returns Home

Sheikh Hasina's return

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.

Update 2:

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.


This entry was posted in Bangladesh, Human Rights. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Former Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina Returns Home

  1. ZaFa says:

    What will happen now is difficult to predict. If it weren’t for state of emergency blood could be on the streets again.

    There’s going to be battles, but Hasina won’t have to fight alone; she’ll most likely team up with her arch enemy Khaleda (as they did in the 80’s while crusading against the millitary dictator Ershad). Khaleda already stretched her arms out with an official “welcome” note towards Hasina. They both have been burnt by the ill schemes of the govt, and faced some sorts of mutiny within their respective parties.

    The nature of the crisis is similar to the one from ’75 but there are distinct differences as well. For examples the oppositions are very much present within the country and enjoying over whelming supports from their members (whereas in 1975 the detractors of AL, Obayedur Rahman et al lined up in Moshtaq’s cabinet almost immediately).

    The press is not so mum; in fact the news media is extremely bold in presenting the entire spectrum of news. The court also appears to have some backbone and is questioning the legality of the govt actions.

    There is no famine or flood (as was in ’75). People are in need, but may be not desparate. There are business quarters that were benefitted from both BNP and AL regimes.

    The general public, not just the people with internet access, but general people on the streets are much more vigilant (than they were in 1975) and do not want to give away a blanket check of approval to just about anyone.

    International forces are also caving under pressure and not daring to go against popular democratic demands (gone are the Kissinger days!).

    You think Moeen hs given up all his hopes and ambitions? Well I think his emergence as the puppet master was the results of two things:- (1) he could let Iajuddin and the BNP cronies get away with a farcical election, and (2) his own job was in jeopardy based on the rumor/claim that BNP was about to sack him (pre Jan 11), and fill up the chief’s position with someone more loyal to BNP, more like Yaj(yes)uddin type. But Moeen has definitely learned valuable lessons from Zia and Ershad, and measuring his every steps. I don’t think he’s going to take his troops back to barrack any time soon.

  2. Mash says:

    Zafa, I think you are right. The key difference is the inability of the military to clamp down on information. The internet and the availability of mass media prevents the military from becoming the sole source of information.

    I recall the bizarre news articles from 1975 in the Bangladesh Observer while people were dying and tanks were on the streets. We could see for ourselves that there were tanks on the streets yet the newspaper was peddling happy stories. It was surreal.

    The lack of control over the media has really hurt the military this time. They tried this time via intimidation but there were too many news sources in Bangladesh and abroad that people have access to now.

    I dont think Moeen is done yet. He probably is pondering his scheduled retirement in 2008 and the consequences of his failed putsch. But I hear there are atleast two camps in the military now, maybe even three. I think Moeen miscalculated by going public so soon with his speech on “elective democracy” – I think he was counting his chickens before they were hatched. My guess is that if the army makes an overt move, it will not end well for Moeen. The cancelled India visit bears watching – it may be a harbinger of the upcoming internal struggle in the military. Generals usually don’t leave the country when they fear that there may be a counter-coup in their absence.

    About the comparison to 1975, I think the infighting in the military is quite similar. What they didnt count on is the public, the press and the judiciary as you point out.

Comments are closed.