So its dialogue season again. ‘Dialogue’ is the talk of the town now a days.
This dialogue is in fact a formal face-to-face meeting of leaders of a political party and representatives of the government, which, under order of the military generals, is ruling Bangladesh since 1/11/07.

 
Although some insignificant political entities are attending these time-limited, agenda-obscured formal chit chats with great pride, the mainstream political parties seem to be shunning the dialogue.
Now the question, should the mainstream political parties boycott the dialogue or attend it in an open mind while their main leader remains in custody, still without any sentencing by a court of law.
Before discussing the merits of this dialogue, let me do a little time travel. Let’s get a snapshot of ‘Dialogues’ in our political history. There have been many instances of ‘dialogue’, ’round table’ or ‘Hurriyat’ in our immediate political history spanning the last century. I won’t lengthen this post by telling about all of them, but in the eye of history, almost none of those dialogues had a significantly successful outcome. We all recall the dialogue/round table Bangabandhu was having with west Pakistani/military leadership during the days leading to March 25 genocide. Most of the time the dialogue has been used to buy some time for a certain goal. In March 71, Yahya was buying time for operation search light preparation. And if we look at very recent times, our short-term memory is filled with despair about the dialogue between Mr. Mannan Bhuiyan and Mr. Jalil and the dialogue between political parties with the immediate past and current Election Commission. The Mannan-Jalil dialogue was aimed (From both parties) at taking the situation to a point of no return. Even if we decide to ignore the first two, the last one, a dialogue between current ‘SH’ Election commission and the political parties can be termed as a mere formality as EC has decided to do what they were instructed from a different quarter.

What this current dialogue will do? And is it a convincing effort by the government to break the stalemate?
First, the representatives on government side are two junior most members of the government, both having no clue of the whole 1/11 phenomenon. And it has been visible that these two/three do not have any decision-making capacity. They are carrying messages from a hidden entity. It would have been more important if the dialogue was held between (Informally though) between the main parties and the hidden entity, which I guess would be the military intelligence agency (DGFI).
Second, The messages that are being delivered to the parties during the dialogue are nothing new. These are very nonspecific and generic and have already been presented to the nation by the CA. Dialogue could have been more specific with more clear future directions and commitments.
Third, the government is playing dialogue game in the day and in the night arresting senior politicians with ridiculous charges. This sort of gesture casts serious doubt about government’s real intentions.
Fourth, this government has actively pursued political engineering but has failed miserably so far. Attending dialogue would be humiliating for the parties unless the government gives clear and verifiable indication that they have abandoned their political maneuvering goal.
Fifth, this government seems to be heading smoothly with their plan to politically purge two popular political leaders. While they failed in all other aspects, thanks to a ‘yes minister’ judiciary, the legal plans are working quite as planned. There is no doubt that these cases are overwhelmingly more political persecution than something of a real anti-corruption case. I expect the dialogue to be continued until a guilty verdict on both of them can be delivered via a spineless judiciary. Then the government stand would be that law has taken its own course and let them appeal etc.
Sixth, in principle, who is Fakhruddin to talk to about national reform? CTG’s role is limited to conducting an election and nations approval of their ‘extra-constitutional’ venture will only encourage another future takeover to ‘correct’ all the wrongdoings of the ‘bloody civilians’.
Seventh, by now, “the fear of a ‘full takeover’ ” is a used up strategy and nobody should be coerced into a dialogue.

At the end of the day, for AL-BNP, attending the dialogue or boycotting it, it is lose lose situation. Nobody can blame Awami League for not cooperating with this CTG. AL went beyond limits to cooperate and Sheikh Hasina even publicly announced that if elected, AL will endorse all the acts of the Fakhruddin government. If government decides to do the right thing, they don’t need a dialogue. They simply can go back to their role of a election conductor and leave. If they have a different agenda, dialogue would not make them change their plan.
Although, AL-BNP boycotted dialogue, there are high chances they will participate in election if they are allowed to do so. In its history Every time AL won an election from opposition, it did it at the climax of a street movement. It is true in 1970 and it is also true in 1996. AL wants to repeat that in 2008. Without BNP, an AL victory will be useless and hence AL, will like the weakened BNP to participate in this election under an administration (1996 syndrome) very fearful of a BNP comeback. BNP will participate as long as it is minimally re-organized. In both parties, there is heavy grassroots interest in election. AL feels it will be a slam-dunk election for them with a weakened BNP and a very friendly administration. BNP feels a fair election with Khaleda as leader and sheaf if paddy as symbol will be win win situation for them.

Government must make use of this opportunity. The right move from this government would be to hold a fair, all party participating election and do all that is needed to bring all back to the election. Once election date is announced, Hasina/Khaleda is released; the focus will shift towards election preparation. Rest of the tenure of the government will be easy as, with an election looming, the political establishment will be busy hitting at each other.
If government thinks that they will do otherwise and put the blame on political parties, they will be gravely mistaken. At this time the right way is the best way. Any alternate plan is destined for failure.

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