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Former American ambassador William Milam’s audacious comment against Bangladesh


Former American ambassador William Milam’s audacious comment against Bangladesh

Muzaffar Ahmad Noori Bajwa

Anyone with minimum level of intellect would agree, there is a deep-rooted conspiracy against Bangladesh, especially after the December 30th general election. While people might have already learnt about the disturbing opinion of the Editorial Board of America’s most influential newspaper The New York Times, there are similar contents being appearing here and there, which seems to be missing attention of the policymakers in Bangladesh or those who are supposed to keep vigilant eyes on the local and international media. Although Bangladesh now has a new information minister, who is no more belonging to anti-India and anti-West party like Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), still Hassan Mahmoud, the publicity secretary of Awami League and the information minister seems to be enjoying the luxuries being on the media focal point, while he is already showing signs of missing or ignoring many of the ongoing evil propaganda against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government in the international media.

On January 11, 2019, Pakistan-based weekly newspaper the Friday Times published an article by former US ambassador William Milam. In this article titled – Civilian coup d’état he wrote, “The Awami League (AL) has finally proven what many outside observers had thought since 2011: a free and fair election is not possible in Bangladesh under its current political structure. The December 30 election appears from the results as well as the mounting evidence of an all-out wave of terror against the opposition, to be the most dishonest election held since the Soviet Union disappeared. Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League won 97.66 percent of the seats in the Bangladesh Parliament last Sunday, by pulling every dirty trick in the election stealer’s handbook.

“Opposition candidates were threatened with violence if they campaigned or went to their constituencies; some were arrested on spurious charges; some had spurious cases filed against them in courts; some were disappeared; at least two people were killed. Opposition polling agents, vital cogs, were told not to go to their polling places on the pain of death; almost none braved the threats. Voters were threatened if they went to vote; in the rural areas, women voters were told by Awami League toughs that it was dangerous to vote; those voters that tried were kept out of the polls by threat or by the police; while inside the ballot boxes were being stuffed by AL apparatchiks. An enterprising reporter for the Daily Star wrote a matter-of fact article of the officially reported voting numbers of a random sample of  25 polling places, some of which some of which recorded 100 percent turnout (quite rare anywhere) and in most of which almost all the votes were for the AL candidate. One of my friends reported that every vote in a polling place he knew went to the AL.

“It would take this entire article to describe the full extent of this wave of intimidation and violence waged by the AL government, using the forces at its disposal, the police, the Bangladesh version of Fascist Brownshirts (the AL paramilitary Chatra League) to win such an outlandish majority. I am told that there is no one in Bangladesh, even AL supporters, who believe it. And even most AL supporters are likely to view it as overkill (although they would not dare say so). Opinion polls by respectable pollsters showed that the AL would probably win a free and fair election. But public opinion is volatile and polls are unreliable because many Bangladeshis fear giving their political opinions in circumstances in which they might be identified, so clearly Sheikh Hasina concluded that the AL needed to ensure its re-election by unlawful means. Whether the PM meant to go so far and get such a large and clearly rigged majority is unclear. She seems, however, to be basking in the warm spotlight of victory and is very unlikely ever to give in to the increasing calls for a new election.”

In the concluding three paragraphs, Milam wrote, “Thus a political conundrum: Sheikh Hasina’s creeping authoritarianism is, if anything, likely to resume and intensify as she will drive to complete the demolition of the major opposition party, the BNP, and it would not be a surprise to see her move against key members of the center alliance which pulled those parties together with the remnants of the BNP to form the opposition Jatiya Oikiya Front (JOF) under whose banner this broad coalition contested the election against the AL.

“How should the loose alliance of democracies respond? First, they should recognize some fundamental truths: first, that free and fair elections are not possible when the institutions that constrain government break down, and the political culture is zero-sum; second, that a government elected by a clearly stolen election should not be recognized as an elected, legitimate government, but as a government which took power by force—in other words it was a civilian coup d’état; and third, governments that seize power by force and call it an election should be treated like those that come to power through a military coup d’état.

“I think the general mindset in Bangladesh after this stolen election is best illustrated by a video clip that I understand is circulating widely on social media in Dhaka. It opens in a class room with about 20 students of about 10 or 11 years old. The teacher writes on the blackboard that 2 + 2 = 5, and tells the students that this is the truth. One student protests that they all know that 2 + 2 = 4, and he is punished and metaphorically killed. The teacher returns to the chant that 2 + 2 = 5, and the camera slowly focuses on one student’s notebook in which he is writing and chanting 2 + 2 = 5, but slowly the pencil stops, then crosses out 5 and writes in 4. The video ends there. The message is Orwellian—that the government can declare its own truth as much as it wants, but in the end people will see through that to the real truth. And the real truth is that the election was stolen and the government is illegitimate.”

Twitting the above article, Alfons Lopez Tena, Catalan Parliament’s former member wrote “Civilian coup d’état in Bangladesh – The election was stolen and Sheikh Hasina government is illegitimate”.

On January 16, 2019, another Pakistani newspaper The Nation published an opinion editorial titled ‘Bangladesh: Hasina becomes a dictator’ where an author named Mohsin Raza Malik concluded saying “I am afraid Sheikh Hasina’s autocratic and dictatorial tendencies would eventually lead Bangladesh to a political cul-de-sac.”

On January 11, 2019, Republic published a report titled ‘Holding all the cards: Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League’ which had been catered by Asia News International, a news and feature service based in India. In the concluding paragraphs, the report said, “…So regardless of the Western criticism of flawed elections, neither India nor China is going to countenance any revision of the electoral verdict. India is particularly happy that Pakistan has been denied any opportunity to exploit Bangladesh for its designs in the east and northeast India. At the same time, policymakers and security strategists must not delude themselves that just because India was not an issue in the political campaign there is no anti-India sentiment.

“India would have to guard against the revival of this sentiment by the BNP, as also the possible gravitation of BNP leaders and cadres from their centrist positions to a more rightist anti-India position.”

I am unsure, whether those “media pundits” encircling Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would sense the ultimate consequences of such publications in the international media centering the December 30th general election. What I can understand, the ruling party in Bangladesh and its inner circle are in a honeymoon mood thus cherishing their grand victory. They are even thinking such publications would not hamper the future path for Awami League as they are confident – the record of massive economic progresses would silence all those critics at the end of the day. Without doubt I can say – their perception and understanding is grossly wrong. There certainly is a deep-rooted conspiracy against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government, which is gradually getting warmer. Unless Bangladesh immediately addresses and effectively counters these continuous publications of adverse or damaging contents in the media, there might be a complicated consequence most possibly because of sudden international actions. Are the policymakers in Bangladesh prepared for this?

Muzaffar Ahmad Noori Bajwa is the Editor in Chief of Eastern Herald

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