Nilova Roy Chaudhury,
Courtesy: Hindustan Times
New Delhi, September 06, 2007
When it came to power in January, the caretaker administration (CA) headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed was widely welcomed as the only means by which Bangladesh could come out of the vicious political quagmire into which it had sunk. But the tenor of its reaction to major developments like the recent campus riots, the targeting of the two main political parties while leaving the Jamaat-i-Islami out of the purview, and the arrest of the leading ladies of Bangla politics would suggest the CA has "lost the plot."
"You must remember that the caretaker administration under the Constitution is only intended to ensure free and fair elections," a former Indian envoy to Bangladesh said. "While initial reactions were very different and seemed quite a change from the past, there is no alternative to strong democratic structures in Bangladesh."
"The CA has taken several false steps in the recent past," another former Indian envoy said. "The situation is very difficult and we have to see how they extricate themselves."
India finds itself in an unenviable bind, watching the situation as its leverage at the political level in Bangladesh declines. Some of its frustration showed through in its reaction to the arrest of Khaleda Zia on Monday. "In our view, the early and full restoration of democracy, due process of law and respect for individual rights will contribute to the evolution of a stable, democratic and prosperous Bangladesh," MEA spokesman Navtej Sarna stated.
"Over the past seven months, we (India) have been giving them (CA) brownie points," said Sreeradha Datta, senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA). "But with the arrest of (former premiers) Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda (Zia), we have no leverage. At the best of times, the Bangladesh government is not amenable to suggestions. Now we don't have any real channel of communication with them; with Hasina in jail, we have no communication with the second rung of the leadership, even Saber Husain Chowdhry," Datta said.
"With Khaleda's arrest, the BNP appears headed for a split," a former envoy said. "Similarly, the Awami League. The students agitation must have further rattled the army and administration."
Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the CA to set up an "independent inquiry" to determine who instigated the campus riots last month that left several people dead and led to the closure of all universities.
It is unlikely, however, officials said, that the army will come "up front" and take control of the administration. "They stand to lose too much by way of aid from the US, UK and European Union, their main aid donors," Datta said.
According to senior government sources, the CA - which has spread itself thin on trying to curb corruption in the political arena with mass arrests - has also lost its zeal to quell jihadi elements, with around 6,000 members of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) reinforcing their terrorist tentacles.
On the Hyderabad blasts, Bangladesh has officially denied any arrests in the country in this connection and said it has not received any request from India for information.
"Bangladesh's position on terrorism is clear and unequivocal as it abhors terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. It is committed to cooperating with the international community in combating global terrorism," a foreign ministry statement said.
While the Indian government does not believe the CA is actively aiding the HuJI, it feels "11 men (in the CA) and the army cannot control the fallout, without the assistance of political parties, which are being sidelined and silenced," an analyst said.