12:00 AM, March 14, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:22 AM, March 17, 2013

AL-BNP Talks

No sign in sight yet

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Shakhawat Liton

Calls for the ruling Awami League and the main opposition BNP to hold talks to resolve the growing political crisis ring out loud, but it appears that frequent changes in political situation are narrowing the possibility of a dialogue between the two archrivals.
Fearing an escalation in political violence, the masses, businesspeople, civil society members and foreign diplomats have been urging top leaders of the two parties to shun the path of confrontation and hold talks to find an amicable solution.
Talking to The Daily Star over last few days, a number of AL and BNP leaders and political analysts have forecast that the crisis would deepen in the days to come.
They said the way both the sides remain stuck to their guns, it seems the country will witness further confrontation between the two archrivals ahead of the next parliamentary polls scheduled for the end of this year.
They said they cannot be much optimistic about finding a solution to the political standoff through talks, considering the past failures in resolving political crisis through dialogue.
In the past, several high-profile efforts to break the deadlock between the two major political parties ended in failure.
In 1994, an attempt by Sir Ninian Stephen, special envoy of the then Commonwealth secretary general, to mediate between the then ruling BNP and the opposition AL to resolve a political standoff over introduction of the caretaker government system failed, as both sides remained rigid in their positions.
And in 2006, dialogues between BNP and AL failed to end the political standoff that eventually led to the declaration of the state of emergency in January 2007.
Now, the bone of contention between the two parties is the caretaker government system. The ruling AL is determined to hold the next parliamentary elections under the present AL-led government, while BNP vehemently demands a non-partisan polls-time government.
The main opposition party has repeatedly said it would not accept any election under the present government.
The delay in resolving the political crisis has already made the situation complicated and led to some undesirable incidents, observed political analysts.
The political developments over the last two weeks -- large-scale violence by Jamaat-Shibir men over the death penalty for their leader Sayedee, BNP's move to strengthen the 18-party alliance by bridging the gap with Jamaat and the decision to wage a one-point movement to topple the government -- have widened the gap between the two major parties, they observed.
Besides, the decisions by both the government and the opposition to form “public safety committees”, police raid on the BNP office and wholesale arrests of opposition leaders, and BNP's support to Islamist groups demonstrating against Gonojagoron Mancha also contributed to that gap.
"The situation is getting complicated every day. Now what is needed is a game changing move to get out of this situation," said political analyst M Hafizuddin Khan, also former adviser to a caretaker government.
"But no move has been made to create an environment conducive to holding dialogue."
Echoing his view, Dr Al Masud Hasanuzzaman, professor of the Department of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University, said, "Now, it's difficult to predict whether there will be any dialogue between the two parties. Similarly, it's also hard to say that there will be no dialogue at all."
They both said there was no concrete move from the government to start talks between the two sides to resolve the political standoff over the election-time government.
The political crisis over polls-time government arose in June 2011 with the cancellation of the caretaker government system by the government through an amendment to the constitution.
Before the scrapping of the caretaker government system, AL General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam on June 17, 2011 said talks were the only way to find a solution to problems and there was no alternative to dialogue.
“So, we are certain that the discussion on the caretaker government must be held with the opposition party," he said.
On December 31 last year, Ashraf, also the LGRD minister, said the talks between the two sides would start upon positive response from BNP. “Informal talks are taking place with opposition parties. What we need now is to sit formally,” he said.
Again on March 7 this year, he spoke for holding talks with the BNP to discuss the mode of interim government that is to hold the next parliamentary polls.
But no move has been made by either the ruling party or the government to begin talks with BNP. And by this time, the entire political situation has taken a new turn centring many issues, including the trial of war criminals.
However, some senior AL leaders and ministers are still talking about holding dialogue between the two major parties.
Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir yesterday said the government would welcome any proposal from the main opposition BNP for dialogue with the government if no condition is attached to it.
Suranjit Sengupta, member of AL advisory council, told a discussion in capital, "A national dialogue is a must to resolve the current political crisis. The talks must be held with those who want trial of war criminals."
AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif yesterday said there was so far no discussion in his party forum about starting talks with BNP.
"However, we are ready to hold dialogue with BNP on any important national issue. But for this to happen, BNP has to ditch Jamaat, an anti-liberation force," Hanif told The Daily Star.
He said Jamaat is resorting to violence to foil the war crimes trial. "Therefore, it will be meaningless to hold any talks if BNP doesn't expel Jamaat from its alliance," said Hanif, also a special assistant to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The recent developments, however, suggest that BNP will no way ditch Jamaat. BNP policymakers want to use Jamaat's strength to intensify agitations to force the government to accept its demand for a non-partisan polls-time government.
In a recent meeting of BNP national standing committee, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia asked her senior leaders to intensify street agitations against the government without thinking about the government's possible offer to hold talks, said a senior BNP leader wishing anonymity.
Acting BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told a press briefing on Tuesday that his party didn't have any confidence in vague proposal for talks from the ruling party leaders.
Talking to The Daily Star recently, BNP national standing committee members Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain and Mahbubur Rahman also said BNP preferred resolving the crisis through dialogue, but the government was not sincere about it.

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