The storm around The Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam's editorial mea culpa reached a defining moment as the honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself hinted to his possible conspiratorial involvement during the 1/11 regime, and challenged him to resign, taking responsibility of his editorial lapse. This commentary analyses the Prime Minister's call in a non-partisan and objective manner.
The Prime Minister is absolutely right in her call for taking responsibility of a highly consequential error by an eminent personality in his influential capacity to mobilise public opinion. Her call, if principled, is totally in line with the historically righteous norms and practices in democracies and civilised societies around the world.
There are, however, a number of issues that attenuate the potentially virtuous nature of the PM's call. First, there is no publicly available record of Mahfuz Anam admitting, spontaneously or by coercion, to purposeful collaboration with the 1/11 regime to vilify her or former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia to facilitate the path of their riddance. A legitimate curiosity is why the Prime Minister and her two-time administration since 2009 waited all these years until Mahfuz Anam's own recent TV admission. Did the honourable prime minister become aware of the incriminating information/evidence only very recently?
Second, the Prime Minister promised to prosecute the collaborators of the 1/11 regime on the grounds of conspiring to dismantle democratic governance. If validated, such collaboration may amount to treason. Reasonable questions, however, arise; why did the PM's regime drag its feet until now to prosecute Anam and other alleged collaborators for such a high crime (treason)? Why are the names of other alleged collaborators not mentioned in the same breath?
Third, the DGFI is a vital part of the nation's security and is believed to be run by highly competent, professional and patriotic officers. If Mahfuz Anam is prosecuted now for 1/11's facilitation, it is likely that the information supplied by today's DGFI will be needed as evidence for the 1/11 DGFI's interaction with him among others. It will then be necessary to establish that today's DGFI is trustworthy and patriotic, while the 1/11 DGFI was not. Wouldn't such a path be toxic and self-inflicting for the nation?
Fourth, both the PM and the former prime minister deserve the nation's unqualified thanks and respect for leading the country into many miraculous achievements, including the return to parliamentary democracy. But leaders are to lead the nation by example, in this case publicly taking responsibility of at least some of their past leadership and governance errors, as inadvertent as they may be. The emergence of the non-democratic interim government practice and the wrangling about it that led to the 1/11 regime is a case in question.
Fifth, the 1/11 regime had support from some senior leaders of the two main political parties and it initiated numerous legal cases against the PM, Khaleda Zia and their top associates. But only those against the ex-PM and her associates have gathered vigour at the courts since 2009. One is literally led to accept the monstrously incredible scenario of the allegedly evil 1/11 regime being right regarding only one set of case evidence marked along the political fault line.
Lastly, Mahfuz Anam's admission and the PM's call for him to resign may finally usher in a highly coveted democratic practice of resignation by persons in key positions for their failure to uphold the highest standards in serving the people, both in private and official capacity. It is also in this regard that the PM's call is perhaps the most vulnerable. Despite her strong leadership in maintaining the nation's admirable economic progress (since liberation) and continuing achievements in education, digitalisation, infrastructure, power supply and the like, the nation is undeniably mired in a whole litany of problems, most notably concerning security and sanctity of life for ordinary citizens (including minorities, women, progressive thinkers and opposition activists) and rampant corruption. As the well-known, high profile and widely evidenced governance failures keep reaching aggravated levels, the unholy and unreal practice of denial on the part of the cabinet and the ruling party and government officials is gathering steam instead. This is principally because no one seems to own the failures and is voluntarily paying or made to pay a demonstrably grave price, political or legal.
Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari resigned in January 2016, taking responsibility for a political funding scandal. Romania's (a new democracy) Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned in November 2015, following the loss of 32 lives in a club tragedy, stating that it is not fair to leave the responsibility to the officials on the field alone. In April 2014, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-Won resigned facing criticism for the handling of the sinking of a passenger ferry that claimed the lives of more than 180 people. These are but just a handful of instances of really meaning to take responsibility.
I am not advocating, by any means, the resignation of the Prime Minister for the colossal failures (like those mentioned above) during her time in governance. There will inevitably be failures and hopefully those will be fewer than accomplishments. But the point is that if the PM's cabinet and officials rush to claim credit for the country's progress under their watch, can the nation not hold them responsible for their notable failures as well? In that case, shouldn't there be consequentially more exacting, exemplary and public prices to be paid by them, like the external examples above? The traditionally argued mechanism of an electoral defeat did not historically work well in Bangladesh, is passive and reactive in nature, and is far too general and convoluted a venue for this purpose.
The commentary above raised some queries based on rational arguments. But perhaps the absence of rational discourse itself is driving the chain of events in today's Bangladesh. That certainly cannot bode well for the nation going forward. Such an ominous path can be averted if the PM and the former prime minister advance the culture of accountability by way of illustrative leadership in this crucial regard.