Sunday, March 27, 2011


It would be a mistake to consider the Yunus dismissal and ensuing controversy just from the standpoint of these recent events or the family relationship that exists between Yunus and Hillary Clinton.  The story should start from the 1 /11 episode when an American/ British initiative brought in an extended caretaker administration under Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed backed by the military under Gen. Moeen U Ahmed.  There exists opinion that the sponsors of this enterprise were under the clear understanding and impression that free and fair elections would usher in an Awami League administration which would be democratic in nature and respect human rights and would practice clean and transparent governance. It was also hoped that key energy deals involving US and British companies would be finalized and exploration in the Bay of Bengal permitted, once disagreements with India and Myanmar on the maritime boundary were resolved. Foreign quarters, analysts state, had probably assumed that once the democratic government was installed in power, there would be no obstacles or political difficulties in the country. There were also strategic considerations of more than one foreign power with interests in Bangladesh. Certain regional and international analysts are of the opinion that the US had perhaps expected that India would adopt a policy of containment in reference to China, and this would suit them well. The US had indeed increased cooperation with India on several fronts and it was felt that this was on the basis of understanding that India would “permit” the US greater role in the region. Again, analysts perceive this as a move to counter Chinese penetration and influence.  However, once Awami League came to power in January 2009 , all these hopes and expectations were soon dashed. It took the US a quite some time to realize that things were not going as planned. The goods were not being delivered. The US had probably believed the Pilkhana mutiny and massacre to be an aberration in which internal conflict within the BDR exploded into the open. But then again there existed the opinion, among certain keen observers of the situation, that this tragic incident may have been part of a larger plan to undermine the armed forces and hobble the BDR. This was entirely lost on the Americans. Again, the chaos and anarchy created by Chhatra League was a troubling trend but the US assumed that with time this may be subdued. The US started to become concerned with developments when Khaleda Zia and the BNP began to be directly targeted by the government for harassment. It was only when the government became serious in pursuing war crimes that the US government may have felt something was amiss. It had been hoped that the Awami League would not dig up past issues and divide the country but this is exactly what it was doing first by erasing the name of Ziaur Rahman and then going after the alleged war criminals. The US still remained hopeful that the energy deals would be completed and exploration blocks allocated to ConocoPhillips and Tullow as well as open pit mining permitted in Phulbaria. Two years passed with no sign that the government was ready to move on any of these deals. Instead the US saw the government sign deal after deal with Indian companies (in the energy and infrastructure sectors) and sometimes even in conjunction with state-owned Russian energy companies. It was becoming apparent that US entry into Bangladesh was not going to be a cakewalk and was not fully in tune with America’s perceived aims in regard to China. Analysts of the situation say that while India feared Chinese military growth and economic might, New Delhi was to oppose these through its own military, intelligence, economic and diplomatic arrangements and seek US assistance from a distance and much preferred Russian cooperation in this regard. But it was apparent that India was not adhering to these plans and the Obama administration apparently adopted a go-slow policy in regard to New Delhi. FDI in India decreased significantly and the much touted Nuclear Deal hit one brick wall after another. It was increasingly felt in New Delhi that Obama was treating India with far less respect and importance in comparison with the Chinese. That this may have been a reaction to Indian behavior seems to be conveniently ignored in policy making circles in New Delhi.      It was amidst all this that the Yunus controversy suddenly erupted. In fact, Yunus had been a target for government smear tactics right from the start. This was, however, subdued in nature just to keep Yunus on the defensive and his foreign friends guessing. When it was becoming clear that the western quarters had seen through the game of the Awami League government and its outside ally, the government became more aggressive against Yunus. It was probably the rebellions in the Middle East that triggered the Awami League government to finally act against Yunus. Concerned that Yunus could become the symbol for an anti- government movement and protest organized and sponsored by his friends overseas, the Awami League government decided to eliminate him as a threat.  The fact that Yunus is a close friend to the Clinton family is largely irrelevant in how the US will react if at all. That Yunus is a Nobel Prize winner gives him symbolic significance but it is unlikely that the US will put its interests at risk for one man. That Yunus is also a Congressional Gold Medal holder is of greater import for America making his removal as MD of Grameen Bank a direct slap in the face. The complicating factor for any American response is the fact that this is a democratically elected government in Dhaka which is acting according to law with the judiciary consistently finding in favor of the government.   It is unlikely that the US will act immediately as these developments will take time to digest and a more assertive policy towards Dhaka formulated. Comparisons may be made with the crisis created when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman incurred US displeasure for exporting jute products to Cuba. However, at that time the world was neatly split between the US and USSR. Today’s world is moving inevitably towards multi-polarity but with the US remaining far ahead of other countries for the foreseeable future. A problem for the US could arise if a combination of countries such as India, Russia and China were to align together against American interests. It might be such a concern that would spur the US to act against the Awami League government and also put India in its place. It is now obvious in Washington that in many respects Indian and US interests do not always converge and this has to do with Indian special interests in South Asia. India also may eventually perceive the US as a rival and a competitor in the region and a provocation to China. If the US were to react to the humiliation it is facing at the hands of the present regime then it will be based on preexisting grievances amongst the population of the country. This could emerge from the garments sector, share market debacle, power crisis or due to food price inflation. Most likely there will be a combination of these factors at work that could tilt the public violently against the government. At the same time India and Awami League realize they are both running out of time. India needs the infrastructure projects related to transit to begin immediately so that some of the work will be completed before the 2013 general elections. It appears however that almost nothing will be done in time to meet the deadline. Awami League, on the other hand, cannot give too much to India as this will be viewed with disfavor by the electorate and could be exploited by the opposition parties before the next elections. Awami League also fully knows it cannot do anything to reduce food price inflation or add more power to the national grid. The situation could turn acute during the summer months of 2011 , 2012 and 2013. All indicators suggest that the public are now irate to no end with the government, but BNP and other opposition parties are weak organizationally. Thus the situation over the micro- finance guru has more connotations that meet the eye. He may be a personal friend of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but the reverberations of the treatment being meted out to him by the Awami League government go much further. Will Hasina tone down her tirade against Yunus or will Hillary let it pass? It will be difficult for either of them to simply sit tight, things have gone too far for that.