Bangladesh is a long way from Afghanistan and not merely in terms of distance. The Bangladesh Prime Minister dwelt on a welter of very pertinent issues on Tuesday, quite the most topical being the ferment in Afghanistan. Begum Hasina has said that her country is ready to respond to the challenges posed by the Taliban, claiming that “many have been trained in Afghanistan to spread militancy in Bangladesh”. Pretty obvious is the suspected route of the Taliban to Afghanistan via Pakistan and Nepal. This is also the route chosen by Kashmiri militants on their way to this country’s eastern flank.
It is equally obvious that Hasina has been the most assertive among South Asian leaders in matters relating to Afghanistan, not surprisingly because politically her principal opposition comprises those who have flirted with fundamentalism. This is doubtless a new flank in South Asian studies. Incidentally, both Afghanistan and Bangladesh are members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. “We have to remain vigilant to ensure that the change of guard in one SAARC country does not affect Bangladesh.” She has stopped short of discussing bilateral ties between Dhaka and Kabul, but close to 40 years after the assassination of President Ziaur Rahman, she has articulated the need for an investigation into what she called “indiscriminate killings” of military officers during the dictatorship of the military ruler.
Her virtual briefing to reporters at her official residence, Gana Bhavan, turned out to be pre-election rhetoric, indeed a sniper attack on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its leader, Begum Khaleda Zia. She utilized the opportunity to condemn the BNP for its relentless efforts to make the elections “questionable and controversial”. The top leaders of the BNP will not be able to contest the polls because they have been convicted. Without naming Khaleda, she said “one person is accused of embezzling money meant for orphans while another is a fugitive who has been sentenced to life imprisonment in a grenade attack case (2004), one that killed the Awami leader, Ivy Rahman. “As the country’s Prime Minister and president of the ruling Awami League, she wondered what the people have got from the BNP, which was once in power.
Aside from stoking a fundamentalist agenda, the party had turned the country into a “champion of corruption for five times in a row and a safe haven for acts of militancy”. Khaleda’s party realizes that it does not have any possibility of winning the polls. With Khaleda under detention, the BNP realizes the need to make the polls questionable and/or destroy democracy. Hasina has advanced a robust pre-election presentation. In comparison, the reference to Afghanistan may seem rather tangential.