Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, career diplomat and till January Bangladesh's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. During his recent visit to New Delhi to attend the SAARC summit, his first since he assumed the office of Foreign Affairs Adviser, Chowdhury spoke to the Hindustan Times about his government's vision for change in Bangladesh.
'Bhadralok' values of 19th century Kolkata prevail in Bangladesh today: Chowdhury
Q) Do you anticipate a backlash after the recent hanging of six Islamic fundamentalists, including the notorious 'Bangla Bhai' of the Jagrata Mussalman Bangladesh?
Chowdhury (A) I will not say the threat from fundamentalist forces is over, but we will allow the law to take its own course. What the hangings demonstrate is that no one is above the law. The whole system is trying to adjust to the intellectual equilibrium. What prevails in Bangladesh today is the 'Bhadralok' value system of the 19th century Kolkata. The churning of the system is throwing up ideas for change to bring the country back to the mainstream of liberal democratic societies.Bangladesh again aspires to be known for what has made it great; the power of ideas.
Q) The army is widely believed to be the power behind the Caretaker Administration. Do you believe what you are attempting will be acceptable to the majority of people in Bangladesh, who are, after all, very politically volatile and democratic people?
(A) Our administration is dependent daily on public support. The changes have come and are coming from the ideas that have been thrown up to help transform the face of democracy in Bangladesh. Measures undertaken by the administration are widely supported by the very vibrant civil society in Bangladesh, including a fiercely free media, ordinary people and the armed forces.
Q) Do you see the transition during this interim period as a difficult one?
A) We don't see the transition as a difficult one. It has widespread support on the ground. We want to cleanse Bangladesh politics and institutions to make the democratic process a truly sustainable one. What was happening was that the political system could not maintain and sustain the plurality of Bangladeshi society. What we are trying to do is to eliminate the sources of corruption from the electoral system; remove the money power as the sole driving force in the political system. We are seeking to break away from the winner-takes-all system. We are trying to rebuild institutions.
Q) Does the Caretaker Administration have a time frame in mind for the reforms it is attempting in Bangladesh?
A) This government will not remain in power a day longer than necessary. At the moment we are looking at somewhere between a year and two years.