Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in his hey days as Pakistan's Prime Minister in the early 1970s had said that there is never a point of no return for politicians. A politician is never finished till he/she is dead; in fact charismatic politicians influence politics even after they are dead. Bhutto should know it for with his own political career, he has established this truth. Even after his death, his name lives, carried by his daughter Benazir and now her husband who has become Pakistan's President based on the legacy of Bhutto. Two military dictators have failed to wipe out the legacy.
History is replete with such examples. If the military backers of this Government had cared to look at history, they would have known politicians cannot be banned by a military decree. The nature and course of politics cannot be pre-determined by military intelligence. No one doubts that this military backed government was right in assuming that the BNP and the AL were conducting destructive politics for which the two ladies were largely responsible. They were however hasty and wrong in assuming that they could set politics right and that too as a Government with limited constitutional responsibilities.
Another major mistake they made was they never resolved whether they are a caretaker government or an interim one. Fakhruddin said many times that this is a caretaker government under emergency but he himself left no one in doubt that this is a military government where he and the Advisors are carrying out the agenda of the military that showed a determined to change politics qualitatively. Early in its tenure, the Army Chief General Moyeen attempted to give the country the military's “vision” of democracy. He also told us what we should do with the issue of Father of the Nation versus Announcer of the Declaration of Independence; a thorny political agenda. He undertook visits to the USA to strengthen our relations with the world's only Super Power and then went to India to deal with our most important neighbour where elected and military governments of the past have all dreaded to tread. When Sidr struck, he was seen receiving relief although in the past, in case of such a national calamity, this was left exclusively to the Head of the Government.
Fakhruddin's Advisers chose the media to keep the nation abreast with the CG, trying to give a sense of transparency in governance. They failed to see that instead they have contradicted one another because real power has never been in their hands. First, Barrister Moinul Hossain gave us the minus-two formula under which we witnessed fruitless drama. We waited to see the two ladies to be forced out on exile; instead we saw them sent to jail.
Cases of corruption were brought against them that made no headway. Then in a 180 degree turnabout, government emissaries were sent to the two ladies for “negotiation” about which we came to know, courtesy, Adviser Zillur Rahman's running commentary on TV channels. In his enthusiasm he told us how he “negotiated” the release of the two former Prime Ministers, although their cases for corruption are pending in a court! In less than a year, this government has humiliated Khaleda and Hasina by accusing them as corrupt politicians and then turned both into presumptive Prime Ministers, now acknowledging openly that the country cannot do without them. It is again Zillur who came up with the idea of “Summit” between the two ladies so that the country's future could be secure in their hands. These acts of the Advisers convinced the public that they are carrying out the military's agenda; an agenda largely political set into motion by intelligence agencies who unfortunately created a fear psychosis that paralyzed governance and caused havoc to the economy as it took upon its weak shoulders much more tasks that it could handle; most of these tasks were also outside its constitutional responsibilities.
It is therefore hardly surprising that politics has come back, to use a cliché, to square one, into the politicians' court. Khaleda and Hasina have emerged stronger. Most of those arrested for corruption in high profile cases are out of jail. One does not need a crystal ball to predict that very few of these politicians will spend time in jail once elected government returns.
The dramatic turnabout has been the result of this Government's attempt to provide military or military influenced solutions to political problems. Yet when this military backed government came, people gave it full support because the politicians had taken the country to the verge of becoming a failed state. They also felt that as this was not martial law per se, they could perhaps take it as a civilian one, with Fakhruddin in charge.
Our last tryst with military rule under Ershad was a nightmare and still makes people shudder at the thought of military rule. As a result of all these, people are disenchanted with this government and are now convinced that their hope on the military to solve their political problems has been misplaced, seeing the mess this government has created in governance, particularly on the corruption agenda, which was main reason for people to support this Government, an agenda that has now virtually collapsed.
Our experience with this government should remind us to be cautious in expecting that the military would solve our political problems. But more importantly, it is the politicians who should know that when they hold the country for ransom for their selfish ends, the military will step into the political arena as they have done on 1/11. Let us not fish around for conspiracies, which is our favourite political pastime. One eleven came because unwritten laws that govern politics came into play.
The BNP and the AL in fact offered the country's governance to the armed forces in a silver platter by the ugly nature of their political strife. If they do the same after return to civilian rule, the military may intervene again. As for the military, they should know civilians do not like military or military backed rule; they can overstay and give us their “visions” but none of these will be sustainable, for “visions” to be sustainable must come from politicians. The military's intervention in politics must be surgical, quick and precise. Our military could have helped their image and done the country immense good, by focusing on a limited agenda, dealt with it quickly, helped hold an election and then left, which should have happened long ago. It has stayed too long and hence made a mess of governance. The experiences since 1/11 therefore have enough lessons for all; the military, the politicians and the people and hence in that sense it has not been wasted time.
This Government has little power to control political events anymore. They should thus let politics take its own course and hope with the people that the politicians, particularly Khaleda and Hasina, have learnt a few important lessons. The other ray of hope for the future lies in the EC putting a stop to “election commerce” that could send a good number of honest people to Parliament with the ACC acting as the watchdog to stop the influence of black money in elections. There is no quick fix to political problems, or military or intelligence initiated ones. Politicians themselves must solve political problems.
The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to Japan and Director, Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies and can be reached by email at email@example.com.