Sheikh Hasina has said since Bangladesh was born amid fierce opposition from the global superpower US, it will not perish if certain countries choose to leave its side.
The prime minister believes difference of opinions with a country does not mean their relations will sour.
A journalist pointed out a report in a national daily that feared Dhaka-Washington ties may be dented by LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Syed Ashraful Islam’s comments on Biswal where he dubbed the latter a “worthless minister”.
Hasina skirted a direct reply.
“The US assistant secretary of state met the opposition leader and the BNP chief [during her visit]. If anyone made any comments, he is responsible for it. Please ask him about it,” she said.
She recalled reports suggesting the World Bank president had suspended the lender’s funding in Bangladesh’s Padma Bridge project without the board’s approval at the behest of the US State Department.
The Washington-based lender suspended its funding raising graft allegations involving high government officials.
“They blamed us [for corruption] but no proof was found,” Hasina said.
Bangladesh withdrew its funding request after a long tussle and is executing its largest infrastructure project till date with domestic funding.
“Won’t we survive if a certain country does not stand by us?… Bangladesh didn’t meet its end in 1971 despite opposition by the US,” she stated.
“We can survive now as an independent country since we survived during the Liberation War.
“…We are a sovereign nation now… it is incorrect to think that we’ll survive if someone stands by us or perish otherwise,” the prime minister added.
She said Bangladesh’s foreign policy was very clear.
“We’ll deepen ties with someone if it’s needed for Bangladesh’s economic development,” she said at the press call held at the Ganabhaban on the recent SAARC summit and her Malaysia visit.
‘A strong base’
The prime minister alleged the BNP tried to ‘thwart’ ongoing trials of suspected war criminals.
She again took a dig at BNP chief Khaleda Zia for making war criminals her ministers.
“The BNP chief is sad [for this reason],” Hasina said in her response to a question.
Much-coveted trials of individuals, who collaborated with Pakistan to foil Bangladesh’s birth, began after Hasina’s government set up a tribunal.
Most of those convicted of war crimes are either current or former leaders of BNP’s key ally Jamaat-e-Islami. Two from the BNP have also been convicted.
The Jamaat, accused of war crimes, unleashed countrywide violence last year to stop the trials.
Hasina alleged the BNP wanted to topple the government to save those who opposed Bangladesh.
Khaleda and her allies stayed away from the Jan 5 general election after Hasina ignored their call for a non-party government’s supervision and have since been pressing for a snap election.
“We are an elected government. Our base is very strong,” the prime minister said.
‘Let TI point out graft’
Hasina also questioned a report by Transparency International (TI) on corruption.
The report is usually published in the third quarter but this time it was unveiled in December.
“What is their purpose?” she asked.
Bangladesh has been deemed to be the 14th most corrupt country in the world in the report.
“They are saying such things at a time when our growth is 6.2 percent and we have a reserve of $22.3 billion,” the prime minister said demanding an explanation from TI about where corruption had taken place.
She said the TI had a made a fuss over small things.
“They are silent on those who had made billions through corruption. Did the TIB (Transparency International Bangladesh) say anything about it?” she asked.
The prime minister said it was difficult to uproot corruption at once blaming military dictator Ziaur Rahman for introducing graft and her wife Khaleda for “institutionalising” it.
In a slanted reference to Khaleda’s advisor Mosaddaque Ali Falu, Hasina said, “Now you can buy honour with money. Someone becomes chief of a private TV channel committee after earning billions through corruption.
“But the TIB does not say anything about it.”
Leak and ‘loose’ comments
The criticism over her Public Administration Affairs adviser HT Imam’s comments at a programme over the Jan 5 polls, the prime minister said, “He took liability for what he said.”
Imam told a Bangladesh Chhatra League programme that he had visited Upazilas before the polls and talked with local officials.
“They are with us. Nineteen policemen died in Jamaat-Shibir attacks,” he had said.
Hasina, who heads the Awami League, said loose comments by people in authority could harm the party.
“There’s freedom of speech, you can say whatever you want. But those who enjoy the freedom should at least have a sense of responsibility,” she observed.
About question paper leak, the prime minister said steps were taken on such instances. She alleged opportunists were running a smear campaign against the government.
“We are taking steps promptly whenever anyone is committing a crime,” she said.
The prime minister said it was a difficult task to find out the perpetrators of Narayanganj’s seven murders.
“They were found out because of us. We consider a criminal a criminal no matter who he is, be it someone’s son-in-law or nephew.
“We also don’t consider their political affiliations,” the prime minister added.
Narayanganj murder suspect former RAB-11 commander Tarek Sayed Mohammad is the son-in-law of Disaster Management Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya. Mohammad is currently behind bars and has reportedly confessed to his involvement in the crimes.
Relatives of the victims claim RAB officers carried out the abduction and killing of seven men, including former Narayanganj City councillor Nazrul Islam, in exchange for Tk 60 million bribes from former Awami League leader Nur Hossain.
Hossain was arrested in West Bengal and is currently in Indian police custody.
Everyone should have spoken up against the manner in which Rajshahi University teacher AKM Shafiul Islam was murdered, the prime minister further said.