The opposition leader and former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Mrs. Khaleda Zia published an op-ed in the Washington Times. It is titled, The thankless role in saving democracy in Bangladesh – Corruption and stealing threaten a once-vibrant nation

Once a reader reads this piece, it leaves no scope of confusion in his/her mind that Mrs. Zia is appealing the USA to pressurize current Bangladesh rulers into becoming more democratic.

Without spending much time in introduction she jumps into a disguised complain by stating that USA is sitting idle while Bangladesh plunges into an autocracy and is shifting it’s economic alliance away from USA to China, India and Russia.

A major theme of Mrs Zia’s piece is constant direct reference to Mrs. Hasina. Person Hasina and her family, never the government of Bangladesh, never a minister, never Awami League. While the major opinion makers in Bangladesh- the corporate owned media and corporate influenced civil society were very active saving prime Minister Hasina and her family from the direct blame — instead trying to focus on former minister Abul Hossain, student wing Student’s league etc. as the scapegoat to blame for all the atrocities — in this piece Mrs. Zia goes straight to point, Mrs. Hasina and her family.

Starting from Padma bidge-World Bank debacle to Yunus saga — she pointed her fingers directly at PM Hasina and her family. When speaking about abduction of 300 opposition political figures or the death of RMG workers rights activist Aminul Islam – she was unequivocal in her assertion that PM Hasina used rapid Action Battalion to execute the crimes ( “Mrs. Hasina’s Rapid Action Battalion”).

Definitely she was tactical and covert but when she wrote that, “Political leaders and their supporters who are being accused by a local war crimes tribunal of involvement in atrocities during the 1971 war of independence also would question Ms. Hasina’s right to the Nobel Prize”, she did play down the righteousness of the ongoing trial of several Jamaat and BNP leaders for crimes committed in 1971.

After very quickly making her case against PM Hasina, Mrs. Zia puts her demands in very clear terms. One can find the gist of Mrs. Zia’s piece in these lines, “The United States and its allies, such as Great Britain, have the influence to insist that a caretaker government is instituted so the views of the voters are respected. To ensure this, their words and actions must be much stronger, to keep Bangladesh from slipping away from democracy.”

As Mrs. Zia details her demands to the west, she goes on saying, ” They also must explain to Ms. Hasina that general preferences for trade will be withdrawn if those who support workers’ rights … The Western powers should consider targeted travel and other sanctions against those in the regime who undermine democracy, freedom of speech and human rights. They should say and do these things publicly, for all our citizens to see and hear. This is how the United States can ensure that its mission to democratize the world continues.”

Critiques can use these lines to fault her but also in these lines, the US readers and policy makers will find, in clear unambiguous terms, what the leader of opposition of Bangladesh wants from them. Mrs. Zia could have told this in a better way that US must make Bangladesh Government understand that US policy and congress will act to curb GSP facilities for Bangladesh unless workers rights are protected as mandated in US trade policy and US was serious about the threat it already made about this. Her statement regarding this may be misconstrued by her detractors as demanding withdrawal of general preferential trade privilege. She could have been a bit careful.

Reading the piece I see basically what Khaleda Zia, the leader of opposition and former PM, was saying was, ” please save my country from a family dictatorship, from plunging into fascism from democracy”. And she only asked out to pressurize the Hasina government do a thing —a thing that is supported by an overwhelming majority of population/ civil society of Bangladesh— free fair election under care taker government.

It is much different from lobbying against privileged trade status, cancelling UN mission recruitment etc. And it is also different from campaigns to portray Bangladesh as a rising taliban style theocracy.

The most positive part of this article is the courage Khaleda Zia has shown in writing the article. Who else, living in Bangladesh, would dare directly blame PM Hasina and her family for all the atrocities starting from 300 + forced disappearances Aminul Islam killing to Padma corruption? And this courage is not the strength of a person Khaleda Zia. This is real peoples’ power. Khaleda Zia gets the guts to speak out against Hasina because she has people behind her. Same applies to Khaleda Zia. Even in opposition, Mrs. Hasina holds immense power because of the mass public support behind her. And this is one positive aspect of Khaleda-Hasina dichotomy of Bangladesh politics. Other than this two we hardly have anyone who command enough public backing to command such clout. The leader bagging 3rd most votes, Ershad, has made his role permanent as the cheerleader of the lady ruling the country. Jamaat’s probably bagged 4th most MPs and they were never a popular power to reckon with.

And my final point about the article — One may ask, can Khaleda Zia be blamed for resorting to the same thing she is attributing to Mrs. Hasina now? e.g. Family dictatorship, family corruption, extra judicial killing? A majority of people in Bangladesh will say “yes” to this question.

But to her credit Mrs Khaleda Zia can reply, ” Yes, a west influenced intervention prevented that from happening”. It’s about the time to prevent another one. If it was OK then, why not now? “