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Khaleda’s imprisonment stirs global uproar, election uncertainty

Shahid Islam in Toronto

A missed opportunity often yields disaster and turns unmanageable, if not handled with care. The conviction and imprisonment of BNP chairperson and, three times PM of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia, on February 8 could have led to instant chaos; which has been averted, thanks to Khaleda’s instruction to her followers not to become unruly, as well as the sagacity displayed by the law enforcers, so far.

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Shahid Islam in Toronto

A missed opportunity often yields disaster and turns unmanageable, if not handled with care. The conviction and imprisonment of BNP chairperson and, three times PM of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia, on February 8 could have led to instant chaos; which has been averted, thanks to Khaleda’s instruction to her followers not to become unruly, as well as the sagacity displayed by the law enforcers, so far.

Politics transformed
But the political landscape has been transformed, perhaps irretrievably. The BNP had already declared not to join the upcoming election unless Khaleda Zia is freed and allowed to participate in the polling; transforming the political ambiance into a dreaded uncertainty similar to the one witnessed prior to the 2014 election.
Khaleda Zia, who has been the chairperson of BNP for the last 37 years, is considered indispensable by her followers due to the entrenched culture of family rule that had characterised Bangladesh politics for over three decades now.
That filial legacy has been crushing on many counts. For instance, incumbent PM Sheikh Hasina also faced somewhat similar corruption charges; initiated by the same Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC), but her charges were quashed upon her coming to power in 2009, and, she too inherited the throne of her deceased father who was gunned down by a faction of the military on August 15, 1975.

Turbulence feared
However, the nation is heaving a sigh of relief, at least momentarily, that nothing too unpleasant had shattered the street peace as yet; to cause public discomfort and economic damages of a kind that often happened in the past. That having said, what tomorrow will beacon is very much an unknown. The comparative calmness could turn into a calamity any time; the signs of impending turbulences are very much visible in the horizon.
In coming days, BNP will look for few indications before catapulting its peaceful movement to the next, combative rung. Intentional delay in facilitating a deserved bail; mistreatment of the imprisoned former PM in captivity; deterioration of her health; mistreatment of peaceful demonstrators in the streets; can all combine, conflate, conflagrate and contribute to the degeneration of a peaceful movement for her freedom. Hence, the government will be wiser by not allowing the crisis to derail and retrograded by design, or by accident.

Global concern
Already observers within and outside the country are concerned about the venue where the former PM has been sheltered in captivity and, the manner in which her party loyalists are being treated in streets across the country.
Within an hour of her conviction, Khaleda was taken to the ghost-infested, abandoned Old Dhaka central jail at Najumuddin Road from Special Court-5 of Bakshibazar. Her lawyers and supporters said she was donned in prisoners’ garb and treated like a normal prisoner. On the Valentine’s Day, a team of doctors were not allowed to see her in the prison to take stock of her physical condition.
Meanwhile, BNP followers among the expatriates have already launched demonstrations in major cities of the world, while the UN — which tried unsuccessfully in 2014 to make the Bangladesh polling an inclusive one by bringing the abstaining BNP to the hasting — released a statement on the prospective deterioration of Bangladesh’s political ambiance following Khaleda’s arrest.
The UN Secretary-General`s deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said about the arrest of BNP loyalists across the country that, “We only recently received the report concerning the arrest and the subsequent events. We are monitoring what the events are on the ground and we will react accordingly.” Haq added: “We would, of course, be concerned about any reports of violence and, at this point, we call on all sides to maintain calm and we expect to have a further reaction after we have evaluated the situation further.”
Asked whether the conviction of Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman is the process to eradicate them from the general election, Haq said: “We are not ready to say anything on whether the verdict will have any effect on the election. We are analysing the situation.”

US’s concern
The USA, the lone existential superpower of the universe, had already expressed concerns about the conviction, arrest, and imprisonment of Khaleda Zia and urged Bangladesh to ensure ‘fair trial’ for the ex-prime minister who was sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment for what the BNP says a ‘retributive venture’ to break up BNP and censor Khaleda from contesting the upcoming election.
“We are aware of the conviction of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia, and encourage Bangladesh to the guarantee of a fair trial,” a State Department spokesperson said following the Dhaka Special Court’s verdict of five years’ imprisonment of Khaleda for alleged embezzlement of 21 million taka (about $250,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust, named after her deceased husband, Ziaur Rahman, who too was gunned down by a faction of the military in 1981.
The US spokesperson further added: “”We are concerned by reported arrests of opposition members. We encourage the government of Bangladesh to ensure fair trial guarantees for all of its individuals in Bangladesh.”  The statement opined:  “”We continue to call upon the Government of Bangladesh to provide the right to all individuals to freely express their political views, without fear of reprisal, and to hold elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people. We also call on members of society to act peacefully and responsibly. We stress that all sides must eschew violence; violence hinders democratic processes.”

Global media
Global media and observers have also expressed concerns as the verdict simultaneously sentenced Zia’s ‘fugitive’ elder son and BNP’s senior vice president, Tarique Rahman, who was tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison, along with four others.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) wrote: The judge also sentenced Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, and four others to 10 years in prison for involvement in the crime. All can appeal their convictions……. But Bangladesh law says anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for the next five years.” Quoting law minister Anisul Huq, the CBC said: “It’s up to the appeals court to decide whether she will be eligible to run (for election).”
The Hindu newspaper of India wrote: “The sentencing of former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to five years of rigorous imprisonment by a special judge’s court in Dhaka on charges of corruption has upended politics in an election year. Her arrest and possible disqualification from contesting — unless higher courts decide otherwise — has created a political crisis for her Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and equally a challenging opportunity for the ruling Awami League. The BNP is entirely dependent for leadership on the Zia family.”
As the crisis deepens, some of the BNP insiders are maintaining in private that they have prepared for all the eventualities; including the consequences of boycotting another polling which the BNP did in 1984, 1986, and in 2014.
That makes the nation of Bangladesh vulnerable to another major political storm which could derail all the development programs the ruling AL had undertaken, and swaggers about as its glorious achievements in rebuilding a nation that the AL had led to independence. Curiously, it was the deceased husband of Mrs. Zia, who had made the first public proclamation of independence on March 27, 1971.


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Prosecution of big party leaders not a way to win election

Faruque Ahmed

Rule of law and arrogance of power can’t go together, one just cancels out the other. The government has announced parliamentary election; this is good when it comes about allowing the people to elect the representative of their choice.
But the imprisonment of the major opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia on February 8 on whatever the grounds and indiscriminate arrest and torture of the opposition party men are not good at supporting election politics. It is poised to undermine the very possibility of an inclusive election to raise questions on government motives.

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Faruque Ahmed

Rule of law and arrogance of power can’t go together, one just cancels out the other. The government has announced parliamentary election; this is good when it comes about allowing the people to elect the representative of their choice.
But the imprisonment of the major opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia on February 8 on whatever the grounds and indiscriminate arrest and torture of the opposition party men are not good at supporting election politics. It is poised to undermine the very possibility of an inclusive election to raise questions on government motives.

The motive is not much hidden either. The government appears not ready to relate elections with Begum Zia’s conviction. When the government leaders say election will not wait for Begum Zia or her release, they make the case clear.
Law Minister Anisul Haq was candid when he said he apprehends whether Begum Zia would be able to take part in the next election. But why they created the situation has no direct answer. It hears highly disturbing when Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) lawyers say they would oppose petition at the High Court seeking bail for Begum Zia or exempting her imprisonment.
Moreover when they say they would ask the court to double her jail term they seem to be highly invective crossing all limit of decency in a democratic polity. Victory processions by ruling party leaders were also equally reprehensive. Almost every people know she is victim of dirty politics.
But it surely unveils the government plans to book the BNP chairperson in as many criminal cases so that she can’t qualify for election. The government has denied allegations that it has influenced the court. But party leaders’ rhetoric suggests it otherwise.
Here the bigger question is: Begum Zia is not an individual; but the government by ignoring her popularity as the leader of the biggest opposition party is ignoring the sentiment of the masses. Many believe it is a mindless insult to the people. One can’t ignore the fact that people have elected her Prime Minister for three times and she has every potential to lead the nation again in free and fair election.
Her call for boycott of election in 2014 in absence of an election environment left the ruling party Awami League to face the critical situation to hold virtually a one party election in which 153 MPs were elected uncontested in absence of opposition candidate.
Elections to other constituencies were similarly held in name shake manner. Rivals were forced to shut and withdraw to make election of Awami League candidates absolute. Only Jatiya Party (Ershad) was accepted as a friendly opposition in parliament with few seats simultaneously acting as coalition partner of the government. 
The imprisonment of Begum Zia made similar prospect of an election without the major opposition this time again as most political observers believe BNP and its 20-party alliance may boycott the polls. BNP leaders made it clear they will not take part in election without Begum Zia on whatever grounds the government wants to disqualify her from the race.
BNP leaders say they want election but they equally want Begum Zia to lead the opposition to election. The government leaders say whether or not she will be able to contest election is a legal matter but the government will be at zero tolerance to thwart any movement seeking the release of Begum Zia.
She has a total of 34 cases now against her that include 20 at the stage of hearing for framing of charges. Trials in 11 cases that include one for treason and 10 as the mastermind behind subversive activities during last election remained suspended on High Court order. Indications are there that the government is going to prompt their hearing.
Media report said when Begum Zia’s lawyers were preparing for filing bail petition in Zia Orphanage case, which they claim as a concocted case, the government lawyers are lining more cases for hearing and planned to oppose bail. Four cases are due for hearing in February and early March. Police have also shown her arrest in some other cases, although Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan categorically denied it on Tuesday.
The room for consensus with BNP for an inclusive election has suddenly disappeared. The situation shows the government is purportedly pushing BNP on the edge.
Meanwhile, the ruling party has already started election campaign at different level keeping the opposition BNP busy in legal battles even by manipulating thousands of old and new cases against BNP leaders and workers at national level and grassroots.
Prime Minister herself is seeking votes while launching new projects when her rival BNP chairperson is languishing in jail.
On the day Begum Zia landed in jail, the Prime Minister lashed out at her poising a question “where is Khaleda” in a public meeting in Barisal. Contrary to it, Begum Zia told distressed relatives and party men they must keep patience and wait; she will come back.
The rhetoric from both leaders landed as symbolic of different situation on both camps. The Prime Minister is undaunted while the opposition leader is unbeatable in her resolve. It appears BNP has taken a new strategy now to avoid bloody street confrontation in favor of peaceful movement riding on sympathy of the people on Begum Zia’s imprisonment.
She also left similar instruction to party men before going to jail and there is no doubt it looks like a major turning point in BNP politics. Party men believe her imprisonment will prove big blunder for the government.
Prior to verdict in the orphanage case, police ran indiscriminate arrest of BNP leaders and workers throughout the country and particularly in the capital. Law enforcers even restricted arrival of party men to the capital. City entry points were guarded and yet party men showed heavy presence in the capital to protest.
But they refrained from engaging with heavily mobilized ruling party cadres waiting to take on the opposition. It could have been a bloody occasion but BNP men exercised restraint picking nationwide praise.
Some newspapers ran provocative stories saying Awami League had easily overcome the ordeal to suggest BNP men did not dare to engage. But party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam however said none should take it weakness of the party; they have carefully avoided unequal fight with ruling party men under police protection. They had saved their strength.
The new policy now seeks to create a people’s platform with 20-pqrty alliance and other parties beyond the alliance. It highlights the party’s new politics calling for national unity and to set up a ‘Combined Opposition’ for movement for restoration of democracy and prepare for national election. It wants to mobilize people to foil the ruling party’s plan to continue in power using a name shake election.
The platform may include 8 leftist parties staying outside the government, Nagorik Oikya and a big part of the Jatiya Party and some Islamist parties. They will not initially raise voice for release of Begum Zia but run simultaneous movement for an inclusive election under an election time caretaker government.
Communist Party president Mujahidul Islam Salim said when the government leaders say none is above law to justify imprisonment of Begum Zia, they are right. But the onus now lies on the government to prove it with opening cases against hundreds of ruling party men who have stolen thousands of crore taka from state owned banks.
If five years jail is justified for an alleged graft involving $250,000, how many long years party men deserve for laundering big banks is the big question.


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Khaleda’s conviction casts deep uncertainty over next polls in BD

Shakhawat Hossain

Many fear that amidst a a long-time rivalry among two the major political parties, the ongoing political crisis in Bangladesh is deepening further as well soon after the country’s main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia landed in jail on February 8 in a graft case filed during the military-controlled regime in 2008. The three-time prime minister is the second former head of government after ex-dictator HM Ershad to have been convicted on corruption charges.

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Shakhawat Hossain

Many fear that amidst a a long-time rivalry among two the major political parties, the ongoing political crisis in Bangladesh is deepening further as well soon after the country’s main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia landed in jail on February 8 in a graft case filed during the military-controlled regime in 2008. The three-time prime minister is the second former head of government after ex-dictator HM Ershad to have been convicted on corruption charges.

There hardly seems any hope of the much-awaited political understanding regarding the election. Political conflict, mistrust and distance grow in the country’s political circles. All this has come about over Khaleda Zia’s trial. This does not bode well for democracy. The nation don’t see no glimmer of hope. A participatory democratic election for which the country aspires, is steadily drifting away.
Now, it looks like the next general election is going to be one-sided too like the previous one. This will effectively result in a one-party rule. To all appearances, the process is on to usher in such a one-party rule.
It is perceived that unless both the major political parties - Awami League and BNP - take part in the election or are unable to take part in the election, there could be no functional democracy in the country. Democracy cannot come into effect without a strong and effective opposition. If a single party dominates in all spheres of politics, this is what modern political science terms as ‘hybrid democracy’.

Against such a backdrop, expressing their grave concern country’s eminent citizen and politicians on Friday last categorically said that the verdict that jailed BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia for five years would further deepen the political crisis and make inclusive general elections uncertain as the three-time former prime minister has been sent to jail barely ten months before the country’s next crucial general elections, casting deep uncertainty over the next polls being an inclusive one.
They also called for punishment for people involved in corruptions and scams like Hallmark scam, Bismillah Group scam, BASIC Bank and Janata Bank scams, Bangladesh Bank reserve heist and share market scams, which that shook Bangladesh, to prove that the government wanted to curb corruption
They observed that government steps regarding the verdict, including mass arrests, allowing ruling Awami League activists to defy ban on procession and irresponsible comments from the ruling party, were vindicating democratic atmosphere creating fear among the people.
In the evolved circumstances, Serajul Islam Chowdhury professor emeritus of Dhaka University, said: “The imprisonment of BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, following the court verdict, may create uncertainty in holding a credible election. The election is ahead. It must be participatory and credible. An environment must be created to this end. Begum Zia’s case has not been conducive to creating such an environment.” ‘If BNP does not participate in the next general elections, it would push the people in more tough time,’ said the academic.
‘Public perception is clear. People would not accept the verdict as they are not seeing punishment for other big scams,’ he said pointing at large scams in banks, share market and other sectors. He also criticised the government for dropping graft cases against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after assuming power. ‘Such activities of the the authority are not acceptable.’
He continues as saying, “Billions of taka is being looted in the country, but one hardly hears of any cases regarding such embezzlement. In terms of money, the charges against Begum Zia are nothing in comparison. Charges against a politician who had been at the helm of government are definitely serious, but there was no need to settle the case before the election. However, that was given priority and this has made a participatory and credible election uncertain.”
When leaders are sent to jail, this invariably generates public sympathy. This may happen in the case of Begum Khaleda Zia too. At the same time, the people are worried about the ensuing political situation before the election. It would have been better if such apprehensions were not created before the election.
Security analyst ANM Muniruzzaman said that BNP chairperson being sent to jail following the court verdict in a corruption case will have a negative impact on election politics. The election year is vital where political continuity is concerned. All parties should proceed with caution during this time, so as to avoid political unrest, so that no circumstances arise that may hamper political continuity.
And election environment is essential for participatory, credible and fair elections. There was much to be done this year to that end. If this is not done, maybe the election won’t be participatory. This will have a far reaching impact on politics, which is unwarranted. This pre-election preparatory phase calls for much caution, he added.
He also observed that in consideration of a participatory, fair and credible election, the timing of the judgement against Begum Khaleda Zia has not been correct. This is the time for political parties to be preparing to participate in the coming national election. It was also the time to create an environment conducive to elections. If there is unrest in the political arena at this juncture, the entire election politics and process may be disrupted. This must be kept in mind.
Former caretaker government advisor M Hafizuddin Khan also viewed that Begum Khaleda Zia’s incarceration in the corruption case will have a significant impact on the country’s politics.
He also questioned: How will BNP go to the election? Even if Khaleda Zia wasn’t sent to jail, they haven’t been getting a chance to prepare for the election. Around four thousand leaders and activists of the party have been arrested and detained in the situation created over the court verdict and Khaleda Zia going to jail. The government isn’t allowing them to campaign. One the other hand, the prime minister has already begun campaigning for the election.
Former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder said as a result of the verdict in Khaleda Zia’s case, distrust and distance will further grow in the political arena. I have nothing to say about the court’s decision. It came through legal procedure. There will be further legal procedures, leading to a final settlement
But the issue is the election. BNP is a major political party. They must join the election. They have to be able to carry out their political activities in order to prepare for the election. That remains a problem. The government has adopted an aggressive stance towards BNP’s leaders and activists. And centering on Khaleda Zia’s verdict, they have been arrested arbitrarily, he added.
Former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain has indicated that the existing political instability may remain in future too as Khaleda Zia was sent to jail following the court verdict.
“Khaleda Zia went to jail after fighting a case in which she was the accused. This can happen to any politician. The legalities of the case are not over. It will take time for the matter to be finalised. There remains uncertainty whether BNP will join the election or not, of how they will join the election, if the legal procedures are not completed before the polls,” he added.
Human rights activist Sultana Kamal said that the trial proceedings and verdict in this case has created further distance in the political arena. Mistrust has deepened. The apprehensions created in the public mind will complicate the political scene further.
She also said that the trial was so politicised that it seemed as if the case was not the state versus Khaleda Zia, but Awami League versus BNP. So much has been said, and is being said, by both sides about this case, that the public is confused as to whether Khaleda Zia has been jailed for committing any actual crime. Such confusion in the public mind is harmful. Devious quarters take advantage of such situations and people turn away from politics.
Communist Party of Bangladesh president Mujahidul Islam Selim said that the verdict raised question among people who found it politically motivated. ‘If Awami League wants to prove that there is no political motivation behind the verdict, it has to bring all corrupt members of their party to justice for embezzling thousands of crores of money,’ he said. He questioned as to why the government was not trying those involved in financial scams related to Basic Bank, Farmers Bank and Hall-Mark Group and in share market scams.
‘Country should be made free from sick political culture that party in power should drop all cases against them,’ he said, adding that the government should prove the equality of all before the law.
Incidents centring the verdict once again proved the bankruptcy of bourgeois political parties that made everything uncertain and chaotic in the politics, Mujahidul Islam said regarding the uncertainty over the next general polls.
Ganasanghati Andolan chief coordinator Zonayed Saki said that the verdict intensified the uncertainty of a participatory general election. ‘People cannot keep confidence in election atmosphere when the prime minister is seeking vote and top political party leaders are visiting courts and jails,’ he said.
He said that Khaleda was convicted in a case filed during military-controlled interim regime. Grafts cases were filed against Sheikh Hasina also during the same regime but the authorities dropped the cases terming those politically motivated after the Awami League assumed power.
‘People finds cases against Khaleda politically motivated as the government without solving big scams involving billions of money pays more attention to her cases,’ he added.
Workers Party of Bangladesh, also an ally of the ruling AL, general secretary Fazle Hossain Badsha said that general principle of politics should be all corruption irrespective of political parties should go through proper investigation and come under purview of law for the sake of rule of law and good governance.
Had the country’s democracy developed properly, incidents of dropping of corruption cases against ruling party leaders would have come down, he said.
Democratic Left Alliance, CPB and Socialist Party of Bangladesh in a joint statement demanded punishment for all corrupt people irrespective of political identities. Khaleda has been was convicted of corruption when many big scams involving billions of Taka and big fishes of ruling party are not being prosecuted. The government should take actions against all of them to prove that the verdict has got no political motivations, the statement said.
A perception emerged among people that the government’s will was reflected in the verdict because of over enthusiasm of the government to convict Khaleda without settling the issues of large scams, autocratic rule having no mandate, the statement added.
It said that corruption took place during BNP tenure, it was also continuing during this government’s tenure and people in ruling parties were getting indemnity from prosecution, which was not acceptable.
Jukta Front, a combine of Bikalpa Dhara, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal faction and Nagorik Oikya, in a statement said that people’s doubt that Khaleda’s future legal steps like appeal and bail petition would be influenced by the government was getting stronger.
‘It would be complete violation of her [Khaleda] basic rights,’ the statement said. Government will be responsible for any untoward situation that hampers upcoming election atmosphere, it added.
Workers Party of Bangladesh in a statement demanded punishment of people who attacked Bangladesh High Commission in London centring the verdict.

UN monitoring situation in Bangladesh
In the backdrop of the recent political development, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling on sides in Bangladesh to maintain calm in the aftermath of the jailing of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who was convicted of embezzlement, and the violent protests that have ensued. “We are just monitoring what the latest developments regarding this verdict and we expect that we will say something more once we have evaluated the situation,” Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson for Guterres, said on Thursday answering a reporter’s question about the verdict. “It is too early to judge what impact this will have (on elections),” he added. “But we do continue to call for an inclusive and democratic process in the country.”

No barrier for Khaleda to contesting polls if she appeals?
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, convicted for five years in jail in a graft case, will be qualified for the next parliamentary elections if she files an appeal with the High Court (HC) challenging the verdict, legal experts said. Citing existing electoral laws, an election commissioner, requesting anonymity, said since Khaleda has been convicted for five years, she stands disqualified for contesting elections until she files an appeal with the High Court. Legal experts echoed the election commissioner, saying the BNP chief can contest polls if she files an appeal with the HC because the case will then turn into a sub-judice matter. However, some legal experts deferred with the opinion and said Khaleda will be able to contest polls only if she can secure a stay order against the lower court verdict. Article 12(1) (d) of the Representation of the People Order (RPO) 1972 says that a person shall be disqualified for election if he/she is “convicted of an offence punishable under Article 73, 74, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, and 86 and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years” until five years has elapsed since the date of his/her release.
Also, according to Article 66(1) (d) of the Constitution, a person who “has been, upon conviction for a criminal offence, involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years” shall be disqualified for election as a member of Parliament, until five years have elapsed since his/her release.
Law minister Anisul Huq said that the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (SC) and the Election Commission (EC) will decide whether Khaleda can contest the polls.
“There are two verdicts of the HC and the SC in this regard. One says that a verdict will not be considered complete unless the appeal against it is disposed of as well. Hence, the convicted person can take part in the elections,” he explained.
“There is another verdict against this (the one mentioned above). Now, it all depends on the decision the Appellate Division and the EC will take regarding her (Khaleda’s) case,” he added.
Opposing the law minister’s comment, former BNP law minister Barrister Moudud Ahmed said the law minister could not specify the matter on whether the BNP chief could take part in the next elections or not.
“The BNP chief will take part in the next elections. This is the first court’s verdict. Now, it will go to the High Court and then Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. We think that the BNP chief will take part in the elections until the Supreme Court deliver final verdict in the case,” Moudud said.
Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president and BNP vice-chairperson Joynul Abedin said that there is no problem for the BNP chief to take part in the elections, if the HC stays the lower court verdict.
“This is not the final verdict. So, the question whether the BNP chief will able to take part in the next elections is quite immature. It is possible for her to join the polls as per the existing law,” he added.
Former SCBA secretary and current Awami League legal affairs secretary SM Rezaul Karim, said: “There will be no problem for her to take part in the next election if she gets a order from the HC against the lower court verdict.”
However, irrespective of whether Khaleda takes part in the election or not, her party has to fight the next general polls or risk losing its registration. The political party registration law says that if a party does not take part in the general elections for two terms, its registration will be cancelled.
The BNP and some other parties had boycotted the last parliamentary polls held in 2014. So, this time, the party has to fight the polls if it wants to keep its registration with the EC.
(The writer is a Dhaka-based freelance Journalist and political commentator)


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“Bangladesh grows tired of the Battling Begums”

Justin Rowlatt, South Asia Correspondent

Move over Machiavelli, step aside Sun Tzu. If you want to know how to defeat your enemies and hold on to power the real playbook should be Bangladeshi politics.
The conviction of the leader of the Bangladeshi opposition, Khaleda Zia, is just the latest gambit in a decades-long battle between the country’s two formidable leading ladies.

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Justin Rowlatt, South Asia Correspondent

Move over Machiavelli, step aside Sun Tzu. If you want to know how to defeat your enemies and hold on to power the real playbook should be Bangladeshi politics.
The conviction of the leader of the Bangladeshi opposition, Khaleda Zia, is just the latest gambit in a decades-long battle between the country’s two formidable leading ladies.

In Bangladesh they call them the Battling Begums - where “begum” refers to a Muslim woman of high rank.
But there is nothing ladylike about their conflict.
The vicious enmity between the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and her great rival, Khaleda Zia, has dragged the country into a spiral of violence with bus bombs, disappearances and extrajudicial killings becoming sickeningly regular occurrences.
It wasn’t always like this. They actually worked together in the 1980s to oust General Ershad, a military dictator, and restore democracy to Bangladesh.
Both women are political royalty, scions of leading figures in the independence movement that saw Bangladesh created out of what was then East Pakistan in 1971 after a bitter war.
Tragedy prompted both to enter politics.
Sheikh Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is celebrated as the founding father of independent Bangladesh. He was the nation’s first president, but was assassinated in 1975.
Khaleda Zia’s husband, Ziaur Rahman, was another independence hero - a key military commander. He founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in the late 1970s and became president in 1977, before he too was assassinated, in 1981.

‘Persuasion’ politics
But, having combined their forces to defeat Ershad, they turned on each other, and power has pretty much shuttled between them since the early 1990s.
At the moment Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party are very much on top, having audaciously outmanoeuvred her rival and ruthlessly entrenched her power.
She won the last general election, back in January 2014, even before the polls opened.
It wasn’t because her supporters had been stuffing ballot boxes: the BNP decided to boycott the vote. One of the reasons was to protest against the charges of misusing orphanage funds which saw Khaleda Zia jailed this week.
As a result Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League candidates were uncontested in 153 of the 300 parliamentary seats - a clear majority.
“Didn’t other candidates decide to stand when the main opposition pulled out?” I asked one grizzled observer of Bangladeshi politics.
He sighed heavily. “Of course they did. They just chose to withdraw, or maybe they were ‘persuaded’ to do so,” he suggested with a wry smile.
Bangladeshi politics is marked by a lot of what he characterises as “persuasion”.

Barred from office
Since winning the last election, Sheikh Hasina has hounded the BNP’s leaders and banned its coalition partner, Jamaat-e-Islami.
And the five-year sentence handed down by the court this week could see Khaleda Zia excluded from another general election, due in December, thereby potentially handing Sheikh Hasina a fourth consecutive victory.
That’s because under Bangladeshi law anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office.
Ms Zia is expected to appeal the conviction and, so long as that is pending, she should be able to stand. “Nobody will be allowed to score a goal this time on a playground void of opposition,” she told party activists the day before sentencing.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Security forces have cracked down hard on protesters
But she knows there’s a teetering tower of more than 30 other criminal charges pending against her. Ms Zia has been accused of everything from corruption to sedition.
Her supporters insist this is all part of Sheikh Hasina’s attempts to undermine her and her party. They say hundreds of BNP activists were arrested and detained in the run up to the verdict.

Tired of endless battles
Last week the international campaigning group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), called on Sheikh Hasina to stop all such arbitrary arrests and detentions.
It accused the government of “violating the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly,” by preventing opposition supports from demonstrating.
Bangladeshi security forces used tear gas and batons to control thousands of Ms Zia’s supporters who took to the streets following the verdict.
Brad Adams, the Asia director at HRW, called for restraint. “The Bangladesh government’s claims to be open and democratic ring hollow as it cracks down on political debate,” he said.
But the truth is many Bangladeshis have grown tired of the begums and their endless battles.
Try and start a conversation about politics in a Bangladeshi “dhaba” - a street café - and you always get the same hushed tones and pained expressions. Bangladeshis seem exhausted and disillusioned by the personal animus that fuels so much of what happens in politics here.
That doesn’t stop the two women at the heart of Bangladeshi politics, though. Both are now in their 70s, but neither is ready to throw in the towel.
You might imagine this week’s verdict would change that. Many commentators believe this marks the final collapse of Bangladesh’s two-party system. But Khaleda Zia is having none of it.
“I will be back, there is no need to cry,” she told her weeping supporters and relatives as she left the court on February 8.


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Trump announces funds for credible polls in Bangladesh

Special Correspondent

Trump administration, for the first time, has allocated $ 80.9 million for holding a credible elections in Bangladesh and strengthening the civil society and democratic institutions which are now under pressure.
Besides, this fund will also be used to improve the rule of law and to improve human rights situation in Bangladesh. In the proposed budget of US President Donald Trump for the fiscal year 2018-19, this money has been allocated through USAID.
On Monday, US President Donald Trump announced the 2018-19 Foreign Affairs budget. The president proposed a $ 39.3 billion budget for State Department and International Aid Agency USAID for conducting their respective activities.

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Special Correspondent

Trump administration, for the first time, has allocated $ 80.9 million for holding a credible elections in Bangladesh and strengthening the civil society and democratic institutions which are now under pressure.
Besides, this fund will also be used to improve the rule of law and to improve human rights situation in Bangladesh. In the proposed budget of US President Donald Trump for the fiscal year 2018-19, this money has been allocated through USAID.
On Monday, US President Donald Trump announced the 2018-19 Foreign Affairs budget. The president proposed a $ 39.3 billion budget for State Department and International Aid Agency USAID for conducting their respective activities.

Under  the  budget, Donald Trump proposed 500 million dollars for Afghanistan, 80.9 million for Bangladesh and 200 million dollars for Pakistan in his proposed budget. There is no other South Asian country on the list of help where the President’s help for whole Central Asia is only 16.7 million.
Meanwhile, in order to keep the US budget deficit narrowing to $ 3 trillion in the next 10 years, President Trump cuts several federal agency budgets and proposes to close the budget allocation for 22 federal agencies - which has already begun to crack in the US media. Analysts say the Congress may not endorse all the proposals for the president’s budget cut-offs. In the meantime, keeping the budget deficit in the range of 3 trillion, without any federal budget allocating budget and keeping the President happy, the budget of foreign ministry can be passed, that is now a big challenge for the Congress.
Amidst the huge hue and cry in the US media about the state department’s budget, it is a convincing argument that the ‘House Operations Committee’ of the House of Appropriation Committee, subcommittee on ‘Foreign Operations, Trade and Other’ has proposed the budget for 2018-19 fiscal year of the United States Foreign Ministry on July 13, 2017.
A total of $60 million has been proposed for improving worker safety and labor rights in Bangladesh. In the suggestion of the sub-committee, the Foreign Office, Trade and Other Sub Committees have also been asked to provide details about the steps taken by the State Department to ensure a fair, neutral and participatory election in Bangladesh.
The proposal approved in the sub-committee (House Resolution 3362) has been submitted for the passage of the Congressional House of Representatives on July 19, 2017. However, on Monday, President Trump proposed the State Department budget to increase the amount of allocations for Bangladesh to $ 80.9 million, where it is the first time that the US National Donald Trump’s interest in crediting the next national election is credited.


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India concerned with Kashmiri youth joining militant ranks

Special Correspondent

Indian Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu on Wednesday said that local youth joining militancy in Kashmir is a ‘concern’ and the trend needs to be addressed. He termed the fidayeen attack at military station Sunjwan in Jammu as a “frustrated attempt by Pakistan” and ruled out possibility of any “tit for tat” action against the neighboring country.  
“We take disturbance as three point challenge, first: to stop infiltration bids across the border, second: to eliminate whosoever is active in hinterland and the third and the most important is to address the concerns of youth, who are joining militancy,” Lieutenant General Anbu told reporters during a customary press conference after Northern Command’s Investiture Ceremony in Jammu.

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Special Correspondent

Indian Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu on Wednesday said that local youth joining militancy in Kashmir is a ‘concern’ and the trend needs to be addressed. He termed the fidayeen attack at military station Sunjwan in Jammu as a “frustrated attempt by Pakistan” and ruled out possibility of any “tit for tat” action against the neighboring country.  
“We take disturbance as three point challenge, first: to stop infiltration bids across the border, second: to eliminate whosoever is active in hinterland and the third and the most important is to address the concerns of youth, who are joining militancy,” Lieutenant General Anbu told reporters during a customary press conference after Northern Command’s Investiture Ceremony in Jammu.

“In the first two areas, the army is doing pretty well but our main focus is on new recruitment of local youth. The trend continues to increase and there are large numbers of reasons for this,” he said.
“We don’t consider new recruits as threats but even joining of a single (Kashmiri) youth is a concern for us in a larger context,” he claimed.
“The new recruits are mainly below 30 years of age. Almost 50-60% youth, who pick up the arms belong to poor families and another 40% are unemployed,” he said, adding that this was the category of people who were getting influenced in very large number. “This needs to be taken care of.”
“The life span of militants is just 6-7 months. Nearly 33% of new recruits have already been eliminated and 12% have given up the arms, remaining are on target,” Lt General Anbu said.
He urged the civil society to intervene and play a “positive role” to bring “misguided youth” to mainstream. “The curve of joining will come down, but it will take a while and every section needs to play its part,” he added.
The army commander of the strategically-important Northern Command, which looks after the borders from Ladakh to Jammu said, “Process has already started and 6-8 militants have returned home.”
The army commander asked the parents to approach their children to shun the gun and join the mainstream. “Apart from militants, we have to deal with over ground workers, who play a pivotal role in motivating the youth to pick up the arms. If these two factors are addressed properly, it (new joining) will come down,” he added.
Lt General Anbu claimed that “social media is acting as a catalyst” in brewing militancy. “Social media is also responsible for increase in terror, it’s engaging the youth at a large scale and I think we need to focus on this issue soon.”

Jammu army camp attack
Referring to last week’s suicide attack on Sunjwan military station in Jammu he termed it “frustrated” attempt by Pakistan after it “failed to counter the army’s dominance at the LoC.”
He said the army would not be cowed down by “small incidents” like “fidayeen” (suicide) attacks or other things and would rather work according to the strategy adopted after the Uri attacks.
“We have adapted to it very well and in the whole year we have dominated the adversary. It has been a proactive action after the Uri incident and we have not looked back,” Anbu said.
Militants on September 18, 2016, had stormed a battalion headquarters of the army in north Kashmir’s Uri town in the early hours, killing 17 soldiers and injuring 20 other personnel.
Anbu said Pakistan and its snooping agency ISI were directly involved in “promoting militancy” not only in Jammu and Kashmir but also in neighbouring countries.
Asked about possible Indian retaliation against the attack on the Sunjwan Army camp, he said, “Operating along the LoC is quite complex and challenging. I do not feel that we really need to do tit for tat.”
The army commander maintained that the force would continue with its endeavour of ensuring zero infiltration. “Infiltration does take place. We endeavour to ensure zero infiltration that is our job and we put our best effort,” he said.
He said there was considerable reduction in infiltration, but the number of attempts almost doubled in 2007 compared to the previous year.
He also said that Hizb ul Mujahideen (HM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant outfits are working in unison.
“All three groups like HM, JeM or LeT are hand in glove whether it’s in Valley or here. There is no differentiation; they keep jumping from one Tanzim to other. Anyone who picks up arms and is against the state is a militant and we’ll deal with him,” he said.


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