Calling the big brother
Facebook status of an Awami League supporter friend reads: ‘Is Bangladesh a US colony? Why should we justify to them how we are dealing with Yunus?’ — and that’s one of the more polite versions of this sentiment I’ve seen in Facebook / twitter / pro-AL Bangla blogs. The message is simple: how dare US interferes in our internal affairs, and isn’t it a shame that Yunus and his allies are crying to the foreigners about our domestic dispute.
Meanwhile, in CNN and Al Jazeera I see (and I read in the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune) people debating the need for western intervention in Libya. The argument made is this: we cannot sit idly by while Qaddafi and his sons brutally suppress a popular uprising, the rebels are outgunned but they are on the right side of history, and we must help them — ‘we’ here is a very elastic term of course.
What do almost all the AL-ers and many of the pundits calling for a no-fly zone in Libya have in common?
What they have in common is that only a few years ago, their actions were completely at odds with their stated positions today.
Just four years ago, the same AL-ers were busy lobbying foreign politicians on behalf of their party chief. For years before that, these same people hardly missed a chance to tell any foreigner about the valley of death that was Bangladesh under the Khaleda-Nizami government. Of course, now that AL is in power, and it’s Awami transgressions that are the target of foreign criticism, the nationalist rhetoric comes out in full force.
Meanwhile, many (though not all, or even most) of the western and Arab pundits calling for the NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya were virulently opposed to essentially the same policy adopted against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Many would-be liberators of Libya were dead set against regime change in Baghdad.
When pressed, these pundits and the AL supporters retort thus: you see, now is nothing like then, now we have the good guys in power, it’s a completely different situation when the bad guys were running the show. Thus, it was okay to lobby the west against the wrongdoings of BNP-JI or army, but AL is a different matter altogether. Thus, it was okay to oppose interventions by the Republican presidents, but Obama is a different matter altogether.
Well, we can ignore these partisan hypocrites. They’ll support or oppose an intervention depending on who’s in power. But is there any ideologically consistent stance that would allow one to support foreign intervention, but only on selective occasions?
Of course there is an ideologically consistent stance for supporting interventions in both Libya and Iraq, and in Bangladesh too — that of the neo-cons. Meanwhile, people like Anu Muhammad or Farhad Mazhar would oppose foreign meddling regardless of who’s in power in Dhaka (and I suspect they are opposed to western intervention in Libya as well).
But can one support western intervention, but only in some circumstances?
My personal view is pretty undecided on this matter.
On the one hand, if not for foreign intervention, Bangladesh’s existence would have been very difficult, if not impossible. No, I am not talking about the Indian participation in the war in 1971. Even had Indian army not marched on Dhaka that December, India was involved in many other ways. India physically sheltered the rebel Mujibnagar government, and armed and trained the Mukti Bahini. Suppose India had told Tajuddin Ahmed and others that ‘you can stay in our territory, but you cannot participate in any political activity’, or suppose Ziaur Rahman and Khaled Mosharraf were told ‘you are mutineers and we’ll hand you over to Pakistanis’ — could there be a Bangladesh then?
Of course there are many differences between Bangladesh in 1971 and today’s Libya. But there is a striking similarity between the pattern of military developments in the two conflicts. In both cases, initial outbreak of the crisis saw the capital under the control of the regime, while rebel forces (including mutineers) took control of the second city and other smaller towns. In both cases, it was believed that the regime’s time was limited. In both cases, the passionate rebels were outgunned, and after the initial set back, the regime brutally captured rebel-held territory.
As I write this, it appears that Benghazi will fall the way Chittagong did — it’s only a matter of time. If the Libyan rebels are to win, it seems that they will need foreign help.
So in Libya, if the aim is to see Qaddafi toppled, foreign help is needed. Now, I have no sympathy for the Qaddafi regime — it’s a brutal dictatorship that not only suppresses its own people, but also financed murderers and thugs (posing as revolutionaries) around the world, including in Bangladesh (the perpetrators of the 15 August massacre found sanctuary and funding there). But does that mean a prolonged war in Libya (which is what foreign intervention might mean — see Afghanistan) is worthy of support, particularly given what it might mean for the world economy?
I don’t know. But at least I can think of the factors that need to be considered in deciding whether to support foreign intervention in Libya.
I cannot, however, think of any intellectually honest reason why it would be okay to run to the foreigners when Awami League is in the receiving end, but complaining about the Awami misdeeds is a big no-no.