- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

DHAKA, Bangladesh — In August 2001, while visiting Dhaka as head of a team sent by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, former President Jimmy Carter stood between Khaleda Zia — who had recently stepped aside as prime minister and yielded power to a caretaker government pending parliamentary elections — and her predecessor in office, Sheikh Hasina Wazed.

Mr. Carter clasped their arms and tried to have them shake hands, but the country’s two most powerful political leaders looked the other way and Mr. Carter’s efforts to mediate between the two women failed.

In the last three years, more attempts at mediation by representatives of the United States and the European Union have failed to bring Mrs. Zia and Sheikh Hasina to the bargaining table.

A power struggle between the prime minister, Mrs. Zia, and the opposition leader, Sheikh Hasina, which stems from a bitter personal rivalry, has spun Bangladesh into near anarchy.

Bombs and guns have trumped politics and good governance, plunging the country into crisis.

On Aug. 21, Sheikh Hasina was injured when an explosion killed 20 persons and injured 300 as she addressed 25,000 of her Awami League supporters at an opposition rally in downtown Dhaka. As bodyguards whisked her into her bulletproof sport utility vehicle, gunmen peppered the vehicle with gunfire.

Sheikh Hasina was reportedly being treated this week by medical specialists in Singapore for concussion and bleeding in the ears caused by the explosions.

The dead included senior party leaders and a bodyguard who shielded Sheikh Hasina with his body during the attack.

At the insistence of advisers, Mrs. Zia sought to meet Sheikh Hasina and offer her personal condolences, but the latter refused to see her.

U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas said Washington urgently wanted the two women to “sit and work together for peace and stability in the country,” but Sheikh Hasina turned down his request, saying she would never speak to Mrs. Zia because her government and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) were involved with those behind the Aug. 21 attack.

Sitting in her Dhaka residence recently, the Awami League leader said: “This well-planned assassination attempt could have never taken place without the involvement and complicity of the government.

“They [Mrs. Zia and the ruling BNP] think they can carry on in power smoothly if they can eliminate me. It is impossible to sit with the leader of this party for any dialogue. There is no alternative but to topple this autocratic and terrorist government to ensure the security of lives and property.”

Although Sheikh Hasina blamed Mrs. Zia’s four-party coalition government, which includes two Islamist fundamentalist parties, for the deadly attack, the government and BNP flatly deny the charge.

Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, secretary-general of the BNP — the largest party in the ruling coalition — said: “It is a ridiculous allegation. There is not an iota of truth in it.”

The attack on Sheikh Hasina provoked an immediate response. Awami League partisans rioted in Dhaka and fought pitched battles with police. They set fire to a train, scores of cars and some BNP party offices.

Story Continues →