by David Bergman
Here are seven initial take-aways from the leaked conversation between Bangladesh’s prime minister and the opposition leader that took place on Saturday 26 October.
1. The government recorded the conversation and leaked it
A day before the conversation was broadcast on Ekkatorer TV, the information minster stated that the government should publish the contents of the conversation between the two woman. One can be pretty confident that the conversation was therefore recorded by the government and then leaked by its officials. That it was leaked to Ekkatorer (rather than any other broadcaster) also fits into this picture – since it is a reliable pro-governemnt broadcaster.
2. Publication will have negative repercussions for future dialogue
Perhaps the BNP expected the conversation to be recorded and leaked (and perhaps the BNP were even recording the conversation themselves), however, it is more than likely that the Khaleda Zia did not expect that the conversation would be published without her consent. This inevitably increases the levels of mistrust between the two woman – and the two parties – which are already pretty much at rock bottom.
Can the BNP ever assume that any future conversations – between the two woman, or at a lower level in the party – will not be recorded and put in the public domain? How can negotiations take place when one of the parties thinks that the other one may be recording the conversation and possibly considering publishing if they believe they can get political benefit.
In such a situation, it is difficult to see how future negotiations between these two parties can take place
3. Hasina’s invitation, Khaleda’s rebuke
The invitation by Hasina came quite soon into the conversation – before a lot of the more antagonistic dialogue between the two women. At this early stage, Zia refused to meet Hasina before the Hartal had finished, or to consider calling it off. Subsequently Zia says that she cannot call it off as she would have to consult with all the other members of the alliance, and that had Hasina called on Friday, then it may have been possible.
As I have written elsewhere, this rejection was a strategic mistake by Khaleda The transcript also shows that the reasons for her not accepting the invitation are really not justifiable. Khaleda said in her speech that she would hold a hartal unless the prime minister initiated dialogue – and this is what Hasina is doing though this conversation. It was clearly not too late to call of the hartal, or at the very least agree to meet each other with the hartal ongoing.
4. It was Hasina who first starts making the accusations
There is much accusation and counter accusation in this conversation, but it is worth noting that it was Hasina who started to raise the allegations first, when she said near the beginning of the conversation: ‘Killing people, throwing fires… stop these.’
It was also Hasina who brought up the August 21 grenade attack. ‘I remember everything, I remember the August 21 grenade attack…’
And later again she said, ‘Will you keep killing people in the name of hartal?’
The Awami League government must have thought that Hasina came out of the conversation better than Khaleda – otherwise it would not have allowed it to published.
Unsurprisingly, of course, the BNP are stating that it was Zia’s combative style that made her the victor, and the word on the street is that BNP activists are quite chuffed by their leader’s role.
Whether people think BNP/AL won or not, very much depends on what they think of Khaleda’s dominant/agreessive role in the conversation, and their view on whether they consider Hasina was inappropriately provoking Khaleda.
Whilst in many other countries, Khaleda’s style may be perceived negatively as bullying, this may not be the way it is seen here in Bangladesh.
Hasina: I called you around noon, but unfortunately you didn’t pick up. I want to invite you.
Khaleda: This is not correct. You have to listen to what I have to say. You say you called in the afternoon, but I received no call. The hotline has been inactive for years now.
Hasina: But I called to the red phone personally.
Khaleda: The red phone has been dead for a long a time. You run the government, and you don’t even know the Opposition Leader’s phone is dead.
Hasina: Red phone is never out of order.
Khaleda Zia: Send your people over right now, and let them check.
Hasina: You know that red phone always works.
Khaleda: It always works, but mine is not working at all. I checked it just recently. If you don’t tell the truth, it will not work.
Hasina: There’s nothing I can do if you lie. I know I have called several times.
Khaleda: Can a dead person come alive? How can a dead phone come to life all of a sudden?
Hasina: Ok, so for some reason you weren’t able to receive the phone.
Khaleda: No, that is not true. I have been sitting here. It is a small space. I cannot miss a phone call. There is no reason not to answer if a phone call comes.
Hasina: The phone was either dead or kept dead…
Khaleda: It was dead. Several complaints were made. There is no one I can talk with through the red phone. Thus, who will I talk with?
Hasina: I will look into why your phone was dead tomorrow.
Khaleda: It is good that you will see to it. …….
Hasina: Your phone is all right.
Khaleda: My phone is not okay.
Hasina: I called up 10-12 times. The phone rang.
Khaleda: Do you think we were all deaf? That the phone rang and we did not hear? You might hear it.
Hasina: How will I hear? One of my ear is damaged.
Khaleda: It is you who have said that my phone had rang, but we are saying that it didn’t.
Hasina: Phone…… Phone, I made the call myself.
Khaleda: It does not matter if you say you have called. You are saying that a dead phone has rung.
Hasina: The phone rang.
Khaleda: How will it ring? A dead phone does not ring. This is a display of your mentality, and it shows if you are telling the truth or not.
Hasina: I am telling the truth.
Khaleda: I checked the phone yesterday [Saturday]. We told your people that the phone was dead, but no one came. Nobody thinks of us as human, nobody feels it important to fix our telephone.
Hasina: Why are you blaming the telephone and telling a lie?
Khaleda: [snaps] Why will I tell lies? A dead telephone is dead.
Hasina: …21602, I remember.
Khaleda: You might have the number memorised, or written down somewhere nearby, but the fact is that the telephone is dead. Nobody will believe anything else otherwise.
Hasina: A cameraman once came…This is nothing. The telephone exchange can be contacted to know what had really happened…
Khaleda: Who of Gulshan Exchange said that the phone was ringing? Actions should be taken against that person.
Hasina: The red telephone of yours belongs to a separate exchange.
Khaleda: That is true…Why is it being said that the phone was okay…Did the person you spoke to tell you as such? I was sitting here waiting for the phone call. We talked over the phone many times, during anti-Ershad campaigns that we waged together. Why will we not talk? We talked so many times, went to your home, why not talk now? Come let us sit together for talks for the sake of the country.