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UN mediation effort: right intent but wrong course

THE UN assistant secretary general for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, in Dhaka since Friday evening, on his second visit to Bangladesh since May, could be said to have touched all the bases possible in the past three days on his apparent mission to mediate a peaceful resolution to the ongoing and increasingly violent political impasse between the feuding political camps led by the ruling Awami League and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. He met the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and the leader of the opposition, Khaleda Zia, on Saturday, and the chief election commissioner and a few members of civil society on Sunday. However, what stood out in his hectic schedule were his meetings with the heads of some diplomatic missions in Dhaka, including those of the United States, India, China and Russia.
While the United States, the so-called lone global superpower, and India, the regional powerhouse, are generally perceived to have been given indulgence by the ruling elite spread over the mainstream political parties, to interfere with, and even intervene in, the internal affairs of Bangladesh for years now, such string-pulling has thus far been officially a secret, albeit not so well-guarded, one must add. However, by meeting the foreign diplomats under the intense glare of the media, that too, to discuss ways and means to resolve the ongoing impasse and thus stem the tide of political violence and fatalities, the UN official has, wittingly or unwittingly, officially recognised the individual foreign powers as stakeholders in Bangladesh’s power politics. While Bangladesh should not have any qualms about the UN initiative itself, such diplomatic deviation by the visiting UN assistant secretary general, by design or default, amounts to an affront to its sovereignty and the pride of its people. It also undermines the credibility and dignity of the UN as the custodian of ‘the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people’.
Meanwhile, given that the BNP-led opposition alliance on Monday extended its countrywide road, rail and waterways blockade up to Friday morning, Taranco-Fernandez’s mediation efforts do not seem to have had any visible impact on the ongoing impasse. The reason could very well be that the UN official and, for that matter, the foreign diplomats have failed to identify the crux of the problem. According to media reports, Taranco-Fernandez seems to be exploring the possibility of a deferral of the election schedule as a means to resolve the impasse. While a deferral could give the mediators some time, it is highly unlikely to resolve the impasse, as it has become increasingly obvious that the opposition is gunning for the resignation of the prime minister; nothing else is supposed to work for them.
It is worth noting that, back in 2006, the Awami League refused to accept Justice KM Hasan as the chief adviser to the caretaker government simply because the former chief justice of the Supreme Court had been remotely involved in BNP politics, that too, long before he became a judge. Suffice to say, Sheikh Hasina obviously has stronger partisan credential than Justice KM Hasan could ever have. It is thus not surprising that the BNP insists on the prime minister’s resignation above and before anything else; after all, in Bangladesh’s unique political culture, people consider the person in power during the elections, with or without executive authority, as having symbolic significance.
Whether or not the prime minister accepts the opposition demand will ultimately dictate the future course of Bangladesh’s politics. The best the well-wishers of Bangladesh can do at this point in time is to let the local politicians, with their unique politico-cultural orientation, sort out their differences. Their over-enthusiasm could, after all, may do more harm than good to the political process in particular and the people in general.

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