Friday, 29 September, 2023

Defend the Fort, Man the Ramparts

  • Syed Badrul Ahsan
  • 11th September, 2023 05:00:50 PM
  • Print news

Strange things have been happening in and around Bangladesh and about Bangladesh. There is the matter of the 170-plus Nobel laureates and other global figures who decided that it was their moral responsibility to write a letter to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister on the Yunus issue. The letter smacked of arrogance, for these letter writers, for all their intellectual antecedents, did not stop to think that one does not write such letters to heads of government in such language.

Politeness was a huge missing factor in the letter. Their concern about Professor Muhammad Yunus is certainly understandable. And Professor Yunus is an eminently respectable person in Bangladesh not only because he came by the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2006 but has been instrumental in launching a micro-credit programme which has been replicated in a large number of countries around the world. One expects that he will come by justice in the legal complexities he has been mired in and that this entire story which draws public attention these days will soon be behind us.

The problem is not Professor Yunus in this context. It is those letter writers who, in perhaps a deliberate cavalier attitude to the law, asked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to suspend all legal proceedings against the Nobel laureate and have the charges against him reviewed by legal experts. For good measure, they also floated the idea of an international body of experts to be brought in and review the case. They should have known, before releasing that letter, that no legal system anywhere in the world has the scope for the withdrawal of a case when it is being heard in a court of law. A case cannot simply be taken away from a court and handed over to experts to decide the merits or otherwise of it.

An important missing point in the letter is that no head of government, except in a country ruled by a dictator, has the authority to suspend the proceedings of a case. It is entirely up to a court to decide whether or not a case should be proceeded with or suspended or withdrawn or dismissed. One is rather surprised that the eminent men and women who affixed their signatures to that open letter to Bangladesh’s leader did not consider these finer points of the law before deciding not only to despatch it to the Prime Minister but also, rather shockingly, have it publicised in the media abroad.

The open letter was a subtle threat to Bangladesh’s leader ‒ because the writers of the letter let it be known that they, with millions of others, would track progress in the Yunus case in light of their missive. One wonders how these letter writers arrogated to themselves the right to keep watch on the government of a sovereign country only because they are offended at the wrong they think is being done to Professor Yunus. We need to go into the credentials of these men and women to see if they have ever written in such open and angry tones on similar issues to other world leaders. Obviously, they have not.

So why are these signatories to the letter so determined to have Bangladesh’s Prime Minister and Bangladesh’s people genuflect before them? Go through the incidents of the recent past. With a fresh general election approaching in early January of next year, considerable international pressure is being brought to bear on Bangladesh’s government, the pressure being one of the government’s ensuring a free and fair election. Every citizen of Bangladesh is sincere in his sentiments that the election must be fair and credible. Every Bengali is keen about democracy deepening its roots in the country.

But go back to the letter. At one point, the signatories call for a fair election in the country. They have thus made their intentions obvious: by linking the Yunus affair to the election, they have succeeded in arousing the suspicion among Bangladesh’s people that they are on a warpath against the Awami League government, that it is in their interest to ensure that Sheikh Hasina and her party do not return to office at the election in January. It is, therefore, much more than an issue of a fair election. It is one of an election which brings to power those who today are arrayed against the Awami League.

It is a bizarre situation, but Bangladesh did not give rise to this situation. The persistence with which foreign governments have been interfering in Bangladesh’s politics militates against the principles of diplomacy. No self-respecting government, in any country, will accept such interference. Of course, countries often are concerned about happenings in other countries, but such concerns are passed on to the latter through discreet diplomatic means. That has not been happening with foreign government representatives who have of late been visiting Bangladesh and discussing the election with government and opposition leaders in Dhaka.

And in recent days, new drama has been unfolding in the country. A Deputy Attorney General, having publicly made it known that he was not willing to affix his signature to a statement from the Attorney General’s office condemning the writers of the open letter to the Prime Minister since he believed Professor Yunus was not being treated fairly, went off to the US embassy with his family, for he feared his and his family’s lives were in danger. The gentleman has now returned home, on assurances by the government that his security is in place. Meanwhile, the Law Minister has made it known that the Deputy Attorney General has been dismissed from service.

Quite a few questions arise here. If Imran Ahmed Bhuiyan, the Deputy Attorney General in question, felt he could not agree with the contents of the statement he was expected to sign, he could have made his views known to the Attorney General. If he felt any pressure being exerted on him to have him signed the statement in question, he could have exercised the option of submitting his resignation and then explain his action to the media. That he spoke to the media, in his position as Deputy Attorney General, to make his views on the Yunus case known was a violation of rules and an undermining of the office he held.

Important figures in governments around the world certainly have their individual views on the issues of the day. In service, they identify with the standpoints of the governments they serve, but if they are morally and ethically unable to do that, they resign from their positions before letting people know, if they so wish, the reasons behind their move. Bhuiyan failed to do that. And then came the dramatic episode of Bhuiyan’s seeking shelter at the US embassy with his family. Why he needed to do that, unless of course he wished to embarrass the Bangladesh government, is inexplicable. As for America’s diplomats in Dhaka, one can understand the predicament they were put into when this law officer turned up at their door.

Let us be under no illusion. Bangladesh is under pressure. There are the many enemies at the gates. Only strong and assertive leadership can defend the fort. Manning the ramparts is an imperative at this point in the nation’s history.

(The writer is a journalist)

Source: Sun Editorial