Sunday, July 20, 2008

Shadowy conference at Wilton Park

Shadowy conference at Wilton Park
Hasanuzzaman Khan
Source: The New Nation
July 6, 2008

The Government is yet to issue any statement on the policy conference on Bangladesh held at Wilton Park in southern England on June 23 and 24. The two-day conference brought together a diverse group of representatives from the Bangladesh Government, political parties, and civil society organisations to discuss the future of democracy in Bangladesh.

A similar conference was held at Harvard in the US a couple of weeks ago. Political observers are dismayed that certain quarters are trying to determine our future in the lecture halls of Wilton Park or Harvard or in the lobby of the House of Commons.

Out of fifty conferences scheduled to be held at Wilton Park, the conference on Bangladesh is the only one that deals exclusively with the internal affairs of the country. It is aimed at giving a global implication of the issue of disrupted democracy in Bangladesh. Political observers wonder whether the issue of temporary disruption of democracy in Bangladesh has become a global issue.

The name Wilton Park is not familiar in Bangladesh. It has featured in media reports here for having organised the conference titled 'prospect of democracy in Bangladesh, ways and means to strengthen it on June 23 and 24.'

Wilton Park was set up in 1946 as a part of an initiative inspired by then British PM Sir Winston Churchill to help establish democracy in Germany after the Second World War. It is an academically independent agency of the UK's Foreign Ministry, which brings together decision makers and opinion framers from around the world. The Wilton Park Conference was designed to facilitate discussion among leading Bangladeshi players on how democracy can be strengthened.

Eight representatives from five political parties - Awami League, BNP, Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami and Bikalpa Dhara joined the Wilton Park conference besides dignitaries from international organisations. Among the politicians Dipu Moni and Saber Hossain Chowdhury of Awami League, Mofazzal Karim of BNP reformist faction, Barrister Abdur Razzak of Jamaat-e-Islami and Mahi B Chowdhury of Bikalpa Dhara participated in the conference. The Bangladeshi politicians confided to this correspondent that transition to democracy was the theme of this conference. It was also aimed at building a political consensus among the Bangladesh politicians with a view to restoring democracy in the country.

Besides, former diplomat Faruque Chowdhury, economist Rehman Sobhan, political Scientist Dr. Raunaq Jahan, Dr. Iftekaruzzaam of TIB, economist Dr. Atiur Rahman, political scientist Dr. Dilara Chowdhury of Jahangir Nagar University and Journalist Mahbubul Alam were among the participants. Widower Rehman Sobhan (about 80) and virgin Dr. Raunaq Jahan (65) attended reportedly as newly married couple.

Political developments in Bangladesh have evoked keen interest among development partners. Donors often remind that future relationship with them will be dictated by how things shape up politically in Bangladesh.

Major themes of discussion at the conference were: democratic reform and anti corruption drive, political reform, democracy and good governance and development. Included also were topics on the past performance of the parliament and the post election scenario. About 906 conferences have so far been held in Wilton Park exclusively on Bangladesh. The latest conference was the 39th in last six months.

Wilton Park conferences are exclusive deals. The delegates are to stay in the Wilton Park Hall and remain out of reach of anybody from outside. The delegates are advised not to disclose anything to the media about the topic of the discussion or the contents thereof. Dr Dipu Moni of Awami League said, something sensitive relating to Bangladesh was discussed in the conference, which were tabooed not to be disclosed to media. Even all telephone connections were kept inoperative during the conference.

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