THE admission by a former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence on Wednesday that the intelligence agency had funded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, currently the main opposition party in Jatiya Sangsad, during the general elections in 1991 is indeed disquieting. According to reports by several Pakistani and Indian media outlets, as quoted in a report front-paged in New Age on Saturday, the admission ‘came during a Pakistan Supreme Court hearing on the spy agency’s mandate’ in a case lodged by retired air marshal Asghar Khan with the apex court in 1996. Khan, currently the chief of the Tehreek-i-Istiqlal party, accused the former ISI chief and the then army chief of distributing public money for political purposes, both within and outside Pakistan, through the Mehran Bank. Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates-based Khaleej Times also reported that the ISI had paid the BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, Rs 50 crore before the 1991 general elections to ‘help her in the polls against [current Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh] Hasina’s Awami League generally perceived by Pakistan’s security establishment as pro-India.’
In the aftermath of the Khaleej Times report, the prime minister and her government wasted no time to accuse the leader of the opposition of selling the country while the BNP leadership dismissed the report as ‘absolutely false’. Now that the former ISI chief has himself made an admission, the partisan bickering over the issue in Bangladesh is highly likely to get much more boisterous and acrimonious. In the consequent political sound bites and partisan rhetoric, the greater issue of public trust in the political establishments could get lost. Notably, the BNP is not the only party alleged to have received election funding from the establishments — political, military or otherwise — of a neighbouring country.
According to a report published by the London-based Economist, an internationally acclaimed news magazine, in its July 30-August 5, 2011 issue, ‘bags of Indian and cash’ allegedly helped the Awami League, which currently leads an alliance government in Bangladesh, win the last general elections held on December 28, 2008. Then, too, there was a huge uproar in public, with the opposition accusing the ruling party of selling out the country and the ruling party dismissing the report as baseless.
Overall, both the major political parties stand accused of betraying first and foremost the trust that the people of Bangladesh have reposed in them almost in equal measure. Suffice it to say, despite their abysmal records in governance, and representing public interest, the people have unfailingly rallied behind the two parties through thick and thin, which proves why they have alternately ruled the country since 1991 except for a two-year interregnum of an illegal and unconstitutional rule by a military-controlled interim government. It is thus imperative for the BNP, and also the Awami League, to come up with credible and genuine clarifications against the accusations levelled against them.