Bangladesh Elections Minus “Three Begums”
Tuesday June 26 2007 13:59:53 PM BDT
Source: News from Bangladesh.
By Abdullah Dewan and Kawser Jamal, USA
After arriving in Dhaka on April 3, 2006, the US ambassador to Bangladesh, Patricia Butenis, gave her first major speech exactly 58 days later (June 1 2006) in the American Chamber of Commerce in Dhaka. The speech was written, structured, and delivered in a manner that suggests Ms. Butenis intends to play a prominent role in Bangladesh politics – more specifically, as the third “Begum” along side former Prime Ministers Begum Khaleda Zia and Begum Sheikh Hasina.
The 2202 word speech read like a developing country’s version of the US President’s annual “State of the Union Address” in the US congress in Capital Hill. She said, “Our overarching goal is to help Bangladesh achieve its full potential. As I look forward to the next few years, I intend to work with Bangladesh to strengthen democracy and governance, to support economic growth and development, and to combat the scourge of terrorism, wherever it seeks to take root. To build the future, we must make sure these foundations remain strong.”
As her speech progressed, Patricia spoke about elections, rule of law, human rights, training police and prosecutors, criminal trafficking of women and children, local governance, combating corruption and financial crimes and terrorists’ financing, foreign direct investment, infrastructure development, rising inflation, high fuel and commodity prices, customs and tax regimes, gas and electricity distribution system, family health and combating HIV/AIDS, education and the list goes on and on. Premise
The speech was obviously very uplifting for the impoverished Bengali nation. However, looking back, one finds that the envoy squandered her 14 months tenure by brokering for political reconciliations among the country’s most pigheaded and rancorous politickers.
The US envoy and to a much lesser degree all the EU diplomats- appear to operate under the premise that their diplomatic assignment is to meddle in the internal politics of a sovereign country. A cliché that is often tiptoed around is that being a development partner doesn’t make one a governing partner.
After the 1/11 state of emergency, all visiting foreign envoys and resident diplomats have been courting the favor of the beleaguered politicians by voicing their demands for lifting the emergency, restoring indoor politics and holding “election as soon as possible”, much to the detestation of the country’s intelligentsia and concerned citizens at home and abroad. Thanks to the army backed government for rebuffing all spurious pressures and continued with its focused mission.
In her June 12 farewell speech at the Gulshan Club, Dhaka, Begum Butenis acknowledged the expediency of institutional reforms and proclaimed that corruption is a “long overdue recognition of an insidious disease that saps the nation’s vitality and promise”. However, she failed to emphasize the dimensions of the effort and time that will be needed to pave the way for a free and fair election.
Her suggestion that “the USA among other interested parties and countries would hope to see the elections as soon as possible, not necessarily wait until the end of 2008” is not merely inappropriate—it’s also shortsighted and dangerously rash. Why can’t the US and other countries “necessarily wait until the end of 2008?” Tell us why? In this respect, the Canadian HC Barbara Richardson’s June 3 observation that “the people of Bangladesh would have to decide whether democracy and state of emergency could move together” appears more sensitive to our country’s government and its sovereignty.
At her Gulshan Club speech Begum Butenis made another insinuating statement: "I’m disappointed that I’m leaving Bangladesh with the ban still in place on all political party activity, a ban which doesn’t seem to apply to some behind-the-scenes activity promoting the concept of a new party."
As if that pointed jab at the government wasn’t undiplomatic enough, she continued to remind the government, "However, it’s also clear that a government that is seen to deny the people their fundamental and sovereign right to pick their leaders and determine their future does so at the risk of its legitimacy and legacy."
She gives an impression that she is a sympathizer of the country’s political parties now in dire disarray? We wonder if the US government sent her to Bangladesh to serve the interest of the corrupt politicians there or the interest of the US citizens. Are her statements and assertions propelled by her personal feelings and associations with corrupt politicians, or are they driven from pressures back home? She may have somehow overlooked the surveys which found that over 90% of the people want the reforms consummated before the 2008 elections?
After meeting with Islamic fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Ismali leader Matiur Rahman Nizami on June 12 the envoy said "Longer the ban is kept in place, the more difficult it would be to enact reforms, it’s as simple as that,” If it’s so simple why does she think the CTG and intelligentsias here don’t see it that way? Are the people in the government lesser intelligent in any way?Begum Butenis made a lot of friends here—unfortunately, many of them are corrupt politicians who are now languishing in prisons. One would like to know many intellectuals and common citizens she had conversed with and made friends during her 14 months as US envoy? On many occasions, she openly wined and dined with some of our most brazenly corrupt and criminal wrongdoers (e.g.,former state minister for home affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar, who hosted her farewell party etc.).
What has she accomplished here as US ambassador other than capturing news headlines for meeting and criticizing politicians? Have there been any improvements in any of the issues listed in her virtual “State of the Bangladesh address” on June 1, 2006?
She claimed that her “biggest regret” was that she didn’t did not witness the free, fair and credible elections. What about other issues she so passionately spoke about? Her overreaching goal- which ostensibly was to serve the interests of the common people of Bangladesh, not its throngs of debauched politicians-- now seems nothing more than baldly rhetorical.
There will be a free and fair election in Bangladesh by the end of 2008, save any devastating natural disaster. We will concede that Begum Butenis was a significant player, largely self-imposed, on recent events.
The ‘minus two’ doctrine (two former Prime Ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina) is a politically astute policy and the government must succeed in debilitating the political wings of both Khaleda and Hasina. The planned election “minus the third Begum” the outgoing Begum Patricia Butenis” won’t change anything except that she may be missed from newspaper headlines.
On a personal note, ambassador Butenis said, "I know that some Bangladeshis believe that I was sometimes too outspoken," but rationalized that by suggesting that in a fast and complex world of diplomacy, "Ambassadors must be clear about their country's interests and viewpoints to avoid misunderstanding."
To judge objectively, there was no “misunderstanding” on our part and we find that she was not just “outspoken”- Ms. Butenis openly meddled, apparently beyond her mandated duty, in the internal affairs of a sovereign country and made it look like a client state of America.
Dr. Abdullah Dewan is Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University and Kawser Jamal is an IT Professional at Little Rock, Arkansas (Board Members of http://www.changebangladesh.com/). E Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
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