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Friday, April 8th, 2011
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Shamim Ahmad


A couple of critical pieces of information have emerged from the meeting of the ruling Awami League’s presidium Tuesday night at Ganobhaban, the official residence of prime minister Sheikh Hasina.


One is about the reshuffle of Hasina’s 27-month old cabinet and another about the prime minister’s own words as quoted by her party’s general secretary that the Bangabandhu’s killers had lurked in his own cabinet.


Let’s first focus on the question of reshuffling the cabinet. In recent months, several national dailies published reports on the cabinet reshuffle analyzing the performance of the ministers and state ministers. The speculations were deepened particularly just before and after Hasina completed her two years in the office. Because, Hasina had indicated that she would go for changing the cabinet evaluating the ministers’ performance after two years.


But the media reports proved wrong as Awami League general secretary and LGRD minister Syed Asharful Islam Tuesday ruled out the possibility of reshuffling the cabinet.


Quoting the prime minister, he told reporters after the party’s presidium meeting that the present cabinet is more efficient than her cabinet of 1996. The past cabinet had no experienced ministers barring late Abdus Samad Azad who was the Minister for Foreign Affairs and later on, the Minister for Agriculture in the Bangabandhu’s cabinet. Azad held the post of the foreign minister in the previous cabinet of Sheikh Hasina.


Syed Ashraf said present cabinet has got some ministers who have previous experience of ministerial jobs (Matia Chowdhury, Syed Abul Hossain). He said even the prime minister herself has got the experience of running the country as the prime minister.


Political analysts say what is crucial of Syed Ashraful who again quoted the Prime Minister as saying that the leaders who held the anchor and led the party during the critical days are real leaders of the party and deserve the ministerial jobs.


The critical days Ashraful meant the days under the army backed caretaker government when a group of Awami League’s potential leaders took the adventure of ‘reforming’ the party axing Sheikh Hasina at the behest of the army-backed caretaker government.


It is now crystal clear Hasina would not pardon the four big wigs –Amir Hossain Amu, Abdur Razzak, Toafael Ahmed, Suranjit Sengupta for orchestrating the ‘reform’ campaign to exclude Hasina from Awami League leadership and her former general secretary Abdul Jalil who made a statement under the captive against the party and pledged not to do politics.


And for this reason, she would not change her cabinet at this time. If she goes for reshuffling the cabinet, the question of inducting the old vanguards will come to limelight. To avoid any such situation she would continue with the present cabinet. What is most significant, Hasina once again reminded that the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had lurked in his cabinet. She told her senior party colleagues that “Mustaq did not come from outside. He emerged from within the party,” Ashraful said, quoting the prime minister.


What does Hasina indicate by reminding so? Does she mean that the ‘reformist’ leaders of her party wanted to kill her physically during the army backed caretaker government or assassin her politically by implementing the ‘minus two’ theory?


The analysts say perhaps Hasina still smells rats within her party and she may have to face a difficult challenge ahead. According to a report when presidium members Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir and Kazi Zafrullah drew the attention of the prime minister that the ‘culprits’ of 1/11 were not punished yet, rather, their collaborators are holding important positions Hasina reportedly said “ Sit in my chair and feel how difficult the reality is.”


She briefed the party leaders on ins and outs of the 1/11 and the challenge they had to face at that time. She also thinks that they will have to face even harder challenges in future. Now what could be the harder challenges? Will those come from her political opponents or from ousted managing director of Grameen Bank Prof Muhammad Yunus?


There were many speculations before and after the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State for South and central Asian Affairs Robert Blake about bilateral relations between Dhaka and Washington over the Yunus matter. Although our foreign minister and foreign secretary would not accept the notion that Yunus episode would strain the bilateral ties, but Blake himself admitted at his pre-departure news conference that this will have an effect on bilateral relations.


Ashraful said there was no discussion on the issue in the meeting. However, he said Dhaka-Washington relation is multidimensional and the relations will not be affected for a particular person. “We had also personal discussions with Blake. We didn’t see any indication of deterioration of Dhaka-Washington relations.”


Ashraful said the government did not go to the court on Yunus’ matter; rather it was Prof Yunus who went to the court. If he did not go to the court, there could have been an amicable settlement, he noted.


“We want an amicable settlement. We always wanted it. Our finance minister has already mentioned it. Now, Prof Yunus will have to take the initiative,” he said.


It seems that the government has softened its stance on Yunus affair and wants to reach a settlement with him. But, Prof Yunus now seems to buy time to mount pressure on the government from foreign governments and international civil society to retreat. Diplomatic sources told Dhaka Courier that Robert Blake gave some ideas to the government during his visit to thrash out a respectable solution for both the parties—Prof Yunus and the government.


One idea is that Prof Yunus could be given a chance to resign from the post of managing director of the Grameen Bank and he would withdraw his appeal from the Appellate Division. In that case the Bangladesh Bank will have to call back its March 2 removal order. Will the Bangladesh Bank or the government concede to retreat to that extent? The time will speak.


If the Yunus affair is not settled, analysts say, it would definitely put the government in a very awkward situation particularly in maintaining warm relations with the US State Department. Is the prime minister apprehending harder challenges in the future because of the beleaguered Nobel Laureate? Is the professor appearing in the role of brinkmanship? Only time we tell.

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