Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s return to Dhaka will leave the interim government — which tried to silence the Awami League (AL) leader by blocking her homecoming — red-faced. Sheikh Hasina arrived in Bangladesh on Monday after a dramatic tussle with an international airline that initially acceded to a request from the military-backed caretaker government not to fly her home. She faces charges of extortion and abetting deaths during street fighting between activists of the AL and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Begum Khaleda Zia.
Intense local and international pressure seem to have forced the government to lift the ban on Ms Hasina, and abandon its plans to persuade Ms Zia to go into exile in Saudi Arabia. The government did have valid reasons for trying to push these two leaders off the political scene, since political reforms would be that much harder to bring about with them around. Bangladesh has been under emergency rule for almost four months after disputes between the two women leaders snowballed into street battles, forcing the cancellation of scheduled elections. In the subsequent crackdown, security forces detained hundreds of key political figures, including Ms Zia’s son and political heir apparent, Tariq Rahman.It would be unfortunate for Bangladesh if the interim government’s climbdown now discourages its fight against corruption.
It is to the credit of Fakharuddin Ahmed, who took over from President Iajuddin Ahmed, that he has led the Dhaka administration in kick-starting reforms in such a corruption-ridden system of governance. In fact, trying to exile the two leaders may not be such a bad idea after all, if it actually encourages a process of reform within the AL and the BNP. But for that to happen, the government will first have to regain public confidence by working out a solution to the problem of political reform through democratic means and under the Constitution. At the same time, the government should also crack down on the potential threat that Islamic extremism in Bangladesh poses to global security. The longer the political uncertainties persist, the more the chances of these fundamentalist forces exploiting them and threatening peace and security in the belt extending from India’s North-east to Southern Thailand.