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Feuding camps need to heed UN envoy̢۪s advice

THE UN assistant secretary general for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, who left Dhaka Wednesday evening after a longer-than-scheduled visit, has reasons to feel ‘very happy’ about the outcome of his mission, the first aim of which, as he told a news briefing in the capital before his departure, was to get the ruling Awami League and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party to sit for talks. Even until Tuesday morning, it seemed increasingly remote that the two parties would ever agree to sit across the table to talk about the ongoing political impasse about the election-time government. Fernandez-Taranco certainly deserves kudos for having broken the ice, so to speak, to an extent that the two parties not only had two rounds of talks on Tuesday and Wednesday, but also, as the UN official told journalists, agreed to continue with the dialogue. It goes without saying that the dramatic turn of events over the past two days does raise the hope, as articulated by Fernandez-Taranco, that ‘there is a ground for an agreement’ and that a resolution of the ongoing impasse is ‘still possible’.
However, the UN official’s express optimism about the two sides’ working ‘together constructively to decrease tensions and to find mutually agreeable solutions for free, fair, inclusive and non-violent elections’ could yet prove to be premature, if not completely misplaced. After all, the two feuding political camps have thus far appeared more adept at whipping up tension and confrontation than engaging constructively and resolving differences across the table. Since their historic coming together in 1990 that eventually led to the ouster of the autocratic regime of HM Ershad, the two feuding political camps have repeatedly chosen to settle their score out on the street, not in parliament, nor across the table; sometimes, exhortation by international agencies has not made any difference. For example, at the height of their standoff over the demand of the Awami League, then in opposition, for an election-time, party-neutral caretaker government, the then Commonwealth secretary general, Sir Ninian Stephen, flew in, to talk some senses into the two sides, but failed, thanks to the intransigence of the feuding camps, especially the BNP.
Now, the country faces a similar situation; the roles have only reversed. Whether the ongoing standoff would deepen further and result in further violence and loss of life and limb or be resolved peacefully through dialogue depends on the two parties, as Fernandez-Taranco has pointed out.  Insiders say that, even after two rounds of talks on Tuesday and Wednesday, the two sides have shown little signs of softening their respective positions, with the Awami League tagging withdrawal of the opposition programmes and the BNP release of opposition leaders and activists as preconditions for effective negotiations to begin.
The two camps need to realise that the United Nations is not Commonwealth and that, despite its significant loss of credibility for its perceived bias towards the United States, it remains the premier global organisation. Suffice it to say, the UN has not only invested considerable time and energy in its effort to mediate the ongoing political crisis but also put its prestige on the line. The reluctance of the two feuding camps to arrive at a negotiated settlement of their differences would thus not only send the country hurtling down to the abyss of political uncertainty and social disorder but also invite the wrath of the UN and, by extension, of the international community. Hence, the two sides would be well-advised to pay heed to the parting words of the UN assistant secretary general and ‘continue their dialogue in the spirit of good will, and compromise’.

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