BNP’s list of pledges ring hollow

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Published on October 7, 2018
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Shah Ali Farhad:

On 30th September, at a public meeting at Suhrawardy Udyan, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced a 12-point list of pledges regarding what the party would do if returned to power by the people of Bangladesh.

It was a bit refreshing to see BNP talking policy in the run-up to the next general elections since in the run-up to the last general elections five years ago they were busy setting vehicles ablaze and burning people alive.

So, what to make of their 12-point list? The initial excitement can dampen down a bit once one has had the opportunity to have an in-depth look into the contents of the list.

First, a number of the points seem quite vague lacking the necessary specificity. They appear more like a ‘wish-list’ of things people say they want to be changed when asked from the top of their heads rather than a well-thought-out policy proposal from a serious political party.

For instance, Point 11(A) pledges to improve the standard of living of low-income people but does not even hint how, let alone elaborate. By the same token, the phrase ‘adopting equitable policies to reduce income inequality’ is equally ambiguous.

Second, given the BNP’s previous records of governance on several of the sectors referred to in the list, it is difficult to take their pledges as genuinely held ones.

For instance, it is hard to take Point 7 about anti-corruption promises seriously from a party, which “gifted” us with ‘Hawa Bhaban’, and the notoriety of being the world leader in corruption for four straight years between 2002 and 2005.

In Point 11(A), BNP talks about uninterrupted electricity supply for agriculture and industries, which is quite rich coming from a party, which during its last tenure in government between 2001 and 2006, did not add even one megawatt of power to the national grid.

Rather, they gifted the nation with what was ironically known as ‘Khamba Ltd.’ a company for concrete poles meant for transmission wires, which were never installed, for electricity that was never generated.

Similarly, when the BNP pledges to start a culture of ‘non-confrontational politics’ in Point 12, it is hard to take their word for it, given their complete denial of, events such as the 21st August grenade attack.

That was the turning point which drove an insurmountable wedge between the two political parties in Bangladesh and resulted in a perpetual state of mutual mistrust, especially on part of Awami League.

Third, it appears that the BNP, while formulating the 12-points, did not take account of the achievements the country has made under the current Awami League government in the last ten years, such as in education, women empowerment, information and communications technology, communications and infrastructure development, and overseas employment.

Just to take the point of defence for instance, in Point 5, the BNP says it plans to make our armed forces more ‘modern, powerful and effective’. Perhaps, they aren’t aware that since 2009, the Awami League government has been implementing the ‘Forces Goal 2030’, which involves massive expansion and modernization of the army, navy and air force.

The Diplomat in its article ‘Bangladesh’s Ambitious Military Modernization Drive’ (9th January 2018) said this was the first such initiative to modernize the armed forces and turn it into a three-dimensional force.

Already under this plan, Bangladesh has acquired a large amount of military hardware from China and Russia, including helicopters, aircraft, missiles, tanks, rockets and even submarines.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Bangladesh’s defence spending increased by 123 percent between 2008 and 2017.

Thus, it is clear that the current government has been sufficiently focused on strengthening the armed forces over the last ten years.

So, either the BNP has no idea what they are talking about or they are suggesting that we should divert more resources from other essential sectors to defence, both options being equally irresponsible for a major political party.

The most striking of the 12 points is Point 10 where BNP pledges not to encourage any form of terrorism or allow any such element to use Bangladesh’s soil. The fact that this has to be spelt out like this speaks volumes.

It is almost as if BNP is trying to assure the international community and perhaps even the people of Bangladesh that they will not repeat their mistakes of 2001-06 in patronising, sponsoring and commissioning such terrorist groups as Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Bangladesh (HuJI), among others.

None of us wants to go back to the days when Time Magazine used to publish stories like ‘Deadly Cargo: Bangladesh has become a safe haven for al-Qaeda’ (14 October 2002) or Far Eastern Economic Review published articles such as ‘Bangladesh: A Cocoon of Terror’ (4 April 2002) to describe the situation in Bangladesh.

We also don’t want to see Bangladesh once again become a safe haven for separatist elements from our neighbouring countries, whether it’s the ARSA from Myanmar or the ULFA from Assam.

Since 2009, Bangladesh has fought back against international, regional and domestic terrorism under Sheikh Hasina’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. The fight has often been bloody. A high price has been paid to sustain this fight against a civilization threat. We must maintain this status quo of peace no matter who is in power.

If the BNP genuinely mean what they said, that would be a positive development for the country undoubtedly. However, I have reasons to doubt that this might simply be a pre-election rhetoric and not a sincere statement of self-reflection.

Because even as recently as in 2016, right after the deadly Holey Artisan attack, top BNP leaders including its chief Khaleda Zia and Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir denigrated the risky counter-terrorism operations mounted by our brave security officials by saying these were staged and that the government was picking off innocent youths by ‘making them terrorists’.

Lastly, my doubt about the ability of BNP to deliver on these pledges stems from their, and their alliance partners’, ideological underpinnings. It is difficult to believe that parties like Jamaat-e-Islami or Khelafot-e Majlish will stand for women empowerment. In fact, many of these groups openly took a stance against the current government when it formulated the progressive National Women’s Development Policy in 2011.

By the same token, when in Point 11(B), BNP talks about safeguarding the lives and livelihood of people of all religions, such a promise sounds painfully hollow when assessed against the campaigns of violence against religious minorities by BNP itself and its extremist ally Jamaat during the post-2001 election period, following the Sayeedi verdict in March 2013 and in the run-up to and following the 5th January 2014 election.

In Digital Bangladesh, people have become more informed and aware than ever before. Facts and figures are at people’s fingertips. If BNP wants people to take them seriously as a policy-driven party with concrete plans for the nation and country, it must do a better job than a half-baked list of vague pledges written down at the back of a political speech.

Writer: lawyer, researcher and political activist

Source: Bangla Tribune