Crossing threshold of diplomatic norms | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 05, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 05, 2011

Crossing threshold of diplomatic norms

Photo: laura tedeschi

The United States has come up with a categorical statement telling the Bangladesh government what it should do and to whose satisfaction on the Yunus issue. The US assistant secretary of state has said that if a compromise was not reached on the Yunus issue, US-Bangladesh relationship would get "impacted." "We in the United States have been deeply troubled by the difficulties he is currently facing," he told the media. This is probably the most apocalyptic public statement we have ever heard involving two sovereign "partners in development." The intimidation came at time when Bangladesh was all prepared to celebrate her 40th year of independence.
Grameen Bank is a bank in Bangladesh and Professor Yunus is a citizen of Bangladesh. The multitude of laurels he has attained has made the people of Bangladesh proud. His unceremonious removal as managing director of the Grameen Bank has resulted in a nationwide outcry condemning the action of the government. Many civil society members, including some well-wishers of the government, urged the government to salvage the damage inflicted on itself and to come to a solution respecting the dignity of the Nobel laureate.
Professor Rehman Sobhan wrote a masterpiece, entitled "The need for statesmanship," where he concluded, echoing the sentiments of millions of his fellow citizens: "The prime minister should perceive Yunus not as her adversary, which he obviously cannot be as she is the democratically elected leader of the country, but as an asset in the building of a din bodol where poverty and injustice can be banished from Bangladesh. The measure of a leader is the ability to transform her perceived adversary into an ally. The measure of a statesman is a leader who can join hands with her adversary in building a better tomorrow for the generations to come."
What if a democratically elected prime minister fails to listen to and comprehend the voice of the people and the advice of her well-wishers? The final resort for the people of a democratic society is to exercise the power of the ballot to punish the government that fails to abide by their wishes. Notwithstanding the outcome of the pending appeal in the nation's highest court, the government has failed to make its case in the people's court that the removal of Professor Yunus was guided by the equal applicability of law. It is the people's court that matters most to a government elected by the people.
The issue is largely legal and not moral. However, the moral side has taken centre-stage since it involves Professor Yunus. The outpouring of sympathy and concern from his friends from all over the globe was overwhelming. However, all of them, except for the government leaders of one nation, recognise that the issue is an internal affair of Bangladesh. This is more so because Grameen Bank is not an international financial institution, and is governed by the statutes of the partly state-owned bank of the country. The people of the country, including hopefully its most famous son, never expected that a foreign power would dictate what is good for the Grameen Bank -- whose 85 millions borrowers are citizens of this country.
From the very inception of this unfortunate incident, the US ambassador in Bangladesh, twice in as many days, came out with the public statement that the United States was deeply troubled by the government's removal of Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus from the office of the managing director of Grameen Bank and termed it "an unusual way to handle a Nobel Laureate."
Now the US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, who made the unusual trip to Bangladesh with the sole purpose of attaining a "compromise solution to the satisfaction of all parties," at the end of his meetings with government leaders warned: "US-Bangladesh ties could be hampered if the issue of ouster of the Grameen Bank managing director was not settled in a respectable way." The tone of the assistant secretary's statement has crossed the norms of diplomacy.
The pressure by the United States to "reinstate" the "respect" of Professor Yunus in his own motherland is simply counterproductive and humiliating for him as well. In fact, the US action has put Professor Yunus on a murky ground. Firstly, if the government agrees to the US demand and reinstates him in one way or the other, will it "satisfy" him to witness a breach of diplomatic niceties? Secondly, if the US intimidation brings him back the "respect," as they see it; would it not simply add credence to the criticisms of his detractors who portray him as a blue-eyed boy of Washington? Will these situations make Professor Yunus "satisfied"?
In fact, Professor Yunus does not need any reinstatement. Whether he remains at the helm of his brainchild or not, he will remain in the hearts of the millions in Bangladesh for ages to come. It would be only wise for him to tell his overseas friends to leave him alone in the midst of his own people. Ours is a democratic state, not a despotic one, and it is the fear of democratic retribution of the people that is bound to act as a deterrent in preventing sustenance of moral wrongdoings.

The writer is Convener, Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.

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