From the Editor-in-Chief: The difference a day can make

Enayetullah Khan
Thursday, September 1st, 2016


It may well have been an afterthought, and probably was, judging by the minimal paperwork that featured in the exchanges. On the website of the US State Department, Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s schedule for Monday, August 29th returned a blank on the day, even as it did have him scheduled for arrival in Delhi the next day (30/8). That had indeed been in the books for a while already, and understandably fuelled much expectation and anticipation in Indian circles.


Bangladeshis though, till the morning his flight touched down in Dhaka’s international airport, hardly knew what to expect from his trip. A tentative schedule handed out by the US Embassy over the weekend showed he would be here for a little over 9 hours. Security was sure to feature prominently in a series of meetings with high-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.  The Foreign Ministry here was putting together a proposal to restore the GSP facility that was taken away in 2013. To most Bangladeshis, John Kerry’s name was associated with an infamous phone call that took place in 2013. It wasn’t a particularly happy memory, made as it was to ask for a convicted war criminal, The Butcher of Mirpur in ‘71, Abdul Quader Molla’s life to be spared. If anything, it hastened his fate.


So with the verdict in the trial of another one of the beastly characters who sowed such terror in the lands comprising Bangladesh in 2013 still hanging, some even whispered Kerry was going one step further than the failed effort in 2013, to make his plea in person. This time there would be no stone left unturned.


Yet during the very first site visit of what eventually would be a 9-hour stay, Secretary Kerry dispelled all the doubters and naysayers who mocked the seriousness of his assignment, and reflected to conclude he himself was actually a liberal. That set in motion a career in politics that has since been nothing if not upright, like the ramrod straight back that characterises his own posture. In this day and age, vanishingly few politicians get the chance to quit this arena of deceit and intrigue with their reputation intact, or their character untouched.


Those who do, can fashion history and the destinies of nations. And time is at their bidding, they’re not bound by hours. That is why John Kerry, an all-American hero who never lost sight of keeping his finger on the pulse, never lost a defence of his title. And that is why in 9 hours on Monday, he set about to straighten out the US-Bangladesh relationship, that despite being always cordial, for some reason had failed also to really take off and realise its potential. From the pitch-perfect message he scrawled in the Bangabandhu Museum’s guest book, to the complete and utter lack of hectoring or talking down at his counterparts, each minute of Secretary Kerry’s stay in Dhaka was a credit to his craft, a triumph for diplomacy. Read on to appreciate fully, what can only be called the Kerry pivot.

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