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Half empty or half full in Dhaka?

india Updated: Mar 11, 2007 23:00 IST

The gusts of change blowing in Bangladesh bring both good news and bad for its people. Last week, the authorities in Dhaka arrested several high profile politicians, including former ministers and, notably, Tarique Rahman, the son of former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. This will strengthen the ongoing drive of the security forces to wipe out corruption, stabilise the country’s volatile political situation and, hopefully, usher in democracy. That most of the detainees seem to belong to the country’s two major political parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League, indicates the levels of corruption. The way these parties have been looting the State has even prompted Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus to launch a new party, based on corruption-free politics.

Mr Rahman was widely seen as successor to Khaleda Zia, arguably the most powerful politician in Bangladesh until the caretaker government (CTG) headed by then President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency last month. Although the CTG appeared to be in a hurry to hold elections, it was forced to give up the idea when the Awami League-led Opposition intensified its agitation for political and electoral reforms, accusing the CTG of being biased towards the former Khaleda Zia government. Mr Ahmed eventually stepped down and appointed Fakhruddin Ahmed as the head of a new CTG, which has evidently helped restore some political stability in the country. Apart from its crackdown on corrupt politicians, the CTG has managed to successfully reconstitute the Election Commission and also indicated that it will ratify the UN Convention against Corruption.

Having said that, however, these developments also raise some uncomfortable questions. The most important is whether the CTG could actually be acting as an instrument of the military — a suspicion strengthened by the announcement that the armed forces would reconstitute Bangladesh’s National Security Council. That mechanism was abandoned in 1991, and its revival now would give the military a pivotal role in running the country. A disturbing thought.