Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sajeeb Wazed, transcript of interview with foreign journalists

On 6 January, immediately after Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister gave a formal interview with foreign journalists, at Gono Bhavan, Sajeeb Wajed (her son, possibly leader in waiting, and key organiser of the Awami League election campaign) entered the room, and started talking to a small group of journalists, which I joined after a few minutes. A short news report on this is set out here.

Here is an audio recording and transcript of the impromptu press conference that took place is below. To see a 'fact-check' and my comments about what was said, see here

Please note that small sections of the audio are not good, but those parts last for only a few seconds.

Q1: I have a sense from listening to your mother, that she does not sense any kind of problem with the government having been instituted in the way that it has and  does not feel a need to engage with opposition, or think about another election. Is that right? 
A1: No, what you are not looking at is the fact that we have been trying to engage with the opposition. Now, you are saying engagement. So, I mean, indefinite. Of course the engagement has been constant from our side. We have never said no. We have always tried, but we can’t force them to participate in anything. Even my mother called Mrs Zia personally to invite her here for diner, just to talk, and she refused. So engagement, unfortunately does not work one sided. If the other party is not willing to engage and purely focus on terrorism, then there is nothing you can do  
Q2. They say that they have also tried to make contact with the Awami League  
A2: How?  
Q3: The general secretaries tried to contact each other,  
A3: They did, they spoke  
Q4: And Ashraf apparently had his phone off and all those kinds of things happened  
A4: Complete bogus, because Ashraf said ... Even if we forget that drama, but they did meet several times. We have made multiple concessions, repeated concessions, we made as many concessions as possible, within the constitution  
Q5: So the narrative of crisis that you know  international media has and diplomats have and many people have in the country , that is kind of the wrong way to describe what is going on in Bangladesh as far as you are concerned, and there is no need for Sheikh Hasina to engage with that?  
A5: I would actually say that you are actually late to the party. The crisis has been going on for several years and has been escalating. Specially in the last six months or so, our opposition has gone on an all out offensive. Several of their leaders including Khaleda Zia’s advisers have gone on BBC saying, declaring war in Bangladesh, and that is exactly  what they have done. We are talking Molotov cocktails, civilian buses on fire with people in them, I have been to the hospitals myself. So as far as we see it could not have possibility gotten any worse, they have gone all out  
Q5: Do you think BNP is going to continue to exist as a party, as from what you are saying it should be illegal 
A6: I agree with you. I completely …  
Q7: But they have a large number of voters that are loyal to them  
A7: I think there are plenty of good people in the BNP. I don’t think the problem is with the BNP itself. I think the problem is the leadership. If you look at the term of the two governments subsequently and you compare just what was written by you guys about Bangladesh during their term. Every focuses on Bangladesh during the election, But you have to look at the five years as well as what caused each crisis. During the BNP term, Bangladesh was considered a failing state, you had grenade attack, terrorist attacks, 500 simultaneous bombs, terrorists  were running rampant, ten trucks of weapons being smuggled in just openly. It was called a failing state. And because of the BNP actions trying to rig elections, the military took over. We did not leave a scope for that. We did not try to rig elections. BNP refused to participate, that is true. But the only peaceful constitutional handover of power in the history of Banglaesh has been under the Awami League’s term in 2001. BNP both terms they were in power, and the end of both times there was a crisis.  
Q8: If people in this country don’t regard this elections as credible, how long can this government last  
A8: I don’t get the sense that people don’t regard it, you are obviously not going to please everybody, there are BNP supporters out there. I believe that a majority of the people just want the violence to stop  
Q9: Mainstream, very popular newspapers were extremely negative about the elections?  
A9: Right, and those very same, I would urge you to read those newspapers from 2007 and 2008. Those very same papers, those very same editors were openly supporting  a military regime  
Q10: But your mother was also recorded in the state dept memos as also welcoming the army, perfectly happy. A lot of people at that time were comfortable with the army intervening  
A10: Intervening in terms of holding a constitutional election within 90 days as specified by the constitution. No one expected them to stay two years. That was unconstitutional  
Q11: Can I ask, you focus on the BNP and clearly I understand many of the points that you make, but if you look at the pre 1996 elections and the pre 2007 elections that did not happen, when the Awami League was in the opposition, there was an enormous mount of violence that took place at both of those times, which were in the that same way you suggest that the BNP was responsible for today’s violence, the Awami League was responsible for that violence. How do you different as parties?  
A11: Completely different. If you again look at news reports then versus what has been happening in the last five or six months. There we had mass street protests, what we had was just like Tahrir Square in Egypt, where you had police attacking protesters and protesters fighting back, or government party activists. The violence then was between the political parties and between the law enforcement agencies. You did not have incidents of Molotov cocktails on buses and pouring petrol on buses with people inside.  
Q12: There was the incident where in 1994 where some people who died. So there are similar  
A12: Even in 1994, those were all political activists that died. And again four people. How many have died in the last four months alone. All innocent civilians, it was not even in political clashes on the streets. They were burnt alive in buses and trains. That did not happen in 96. That did not happen in 1994  
Q13: You mention Shamsher Mubin Chowdhury mentioning on the BBC. I am from the BBC, I just want to ask you. You are essentially saying that they have gone all out, so there is violence, how are you going to stop it essentially?  
A13: We have tried to stop it as much as possible. This is not something new. This is not just violence that started yesterday. This violence that started several months ago. I went to the burn unit of Dhaka medical college hospital three, four months ago. This has been going on. This started in April, May  
Q14: The victims we spoke to blamed both parties actually, which comes to the point about sense of crisis. I mean, all the things that you accuse the BNP of, they accuse you of in the past. And there is the sense that it is going on around, and it is getting more violent, as you say. Isn’t there someway of breaking the cycle.  
A14: How, how. If one side is hell bent on violence, how do you stop it.  
Q15: But the BNP would argue is that you are hell bent on violence.  
A15: What violence have we committed?  
Q16: Well of the 18 killed yesterday, 17 were killed by the security forces, if I am not mistaken Yes, they were trying to set fire to polling centres. Maybe, I don’t know. But the point is that the  violence is not one sided. It is two sided. Large number of opposition leaders in Jail. And also thousands of supporters were detained in the last few weeks  
A16: That is because they have been attacking civilians for months. We have to try contain the violence. You are asking me if there has been a crisis, how we are going to contain the crisis, how are we going to stop the violence. That is how we have been able to stop the violence. Again if you just look at the facts, look at 1996, look at 2006, both times, anyone will tell you the BNP were trying to rig elections, by elections were rigged. In 2006, they had written a voters list with 14 million more people than the population of voting age.  In the last five years we have had almost 6000 elections and not even the BNP has complained about a single one of them. We have digitized the voters list with photographs. Our economy has been booming.  
Q17: There is a pattern in Bangladesh, every five years the incumbent gets kicked out, which if you follow that pattern, BNP would have won this election. Do you think it would have?  
A17: Nope, not necessarily. Yes the pattern yes, the incumbent may have lost , it does not mean that the incumbent was kicked out. If you look at the 2001 election, I would urge you to look at the election commissions website’s data, the Awami League lost the election by about half a percent. From 96 to 2001, Awami League’s percentage of vote increased by about 5 %. So the Awami League government did not become unpopular, it was a very close election and most of the latest polls showed the Awami League and the BNP neck and neck right now.  
Q18: So either one of them could have won?  
A18: Our polls showed the AL as slightly ahead, specially once we started its campaign. Mid year, we were neck and neck and then we starting pulling ahead.  
Q19: Does your mother talk about retiring. She talks about it all the time What is keeping her. Is there not a new generation to take on that burden ..  
A19: No, it’s the violence, we don’t want our Bangladesh to become a failed state as it was about to under the BNP’s term  
Q20: Isn’t though the response to that, though I understand the criticism of the BNP, that unless you incorporate the main opposition party which has been to power a number of times since democracy was re-established in Bangladesh, unless you have that , you are not going to avoid being a failed state, that you are more likely to become one  
A20: Well, ok, if the BNP says that why did they let terrorists run rampant when they were in government? Why did they assassinate our political leaders? Why did they try to assassinate my mother? Someone asked whether this was personal. Well I am sorry, if someone tries to blow you up, I tend to take it rather personally.  
Q21: Sure. If you look at the human rights record of this government, there are lots of criticism of it, disappearances
A21: How many attempts on the life have been made of Khaleda Zia. Zero, zero. How many BNP leaders have been assassinated. Zero  
Q22: What about the disappearances. 
A22: They have criminal elements amongst their own group, they have associated with terrorist. Yes, who killed them. We don’t know. We would love to find out. Perhaps their own terrorists blew them up. I don’t know. We don’t know. When you partner with terrorists, I mean it could go both ways.  
Q23: Turning to Jamaat, do you think that Jamaat is a party that you would like to destroy. Is that the gameplan?  
A23: I don’t think anyone in Bangladesh wants’s jamaat around. Right now Jamaat’s polling at half a percent of one percent and overwhelmingly we get pushback from the people demanding the banning of Jamaat and hanging all the war criminals. In fact that is what all the protests at Shahbag is about, and if you contrast Shahbag, which was called Bangla spring. You had peaceful protests for a month with hundreds of thousands of people, with not one incidents of violence, not one.  
Q: 24 One of the interesting things about Jamaat is that as you say there is general support for the war crimes trial, but when the polls ask the question do you think jamaat should be banned, all of them across the board, even your one - I don’t know whether your one did actuall y- but all across the board say they do not think that Jamat should be banned. 
A24: That is not the one that I have seen  
Q25: The Recent Dhaka Tribune one  for example quite a significant number, overwhelming, the one that was published in the Dhaka Tribune last Friday.  
A25: I don’t remember seeing that question about Jamaat, but  Jamaat ban was made by the Supreme court because its constitution was unconstitutional, because they don’t recognise the supremacy of the constitution. Furthermore the courts have found Jamat was party to war crimes, so Jamaat essentially has the status of the Nazi party in Germany. Now are you suggesting that the Nazi party should not be banned.  
Q26: I suppose the concern is that 42 years on from a war that took place, even …  
A26: So you are willing to forget about the holocaust. That has been 70 years. So we just forget about that perhaps. No there has been a huge There were 3 million people killed in Bangladesh in nine months. The rate of killing was greater than the killing in the holocaust. 4 million people killed in five years.  
Q27: The 3 million figure is of course a disputed one.  
A27: If you look at American figures. In April 1971, they say about 200,000 dead. Then again in October, it still says 200,000 dead, and December it still says 200,000 deaths. So pretty much one month of war you have 200,000 dead and nine months of war you have zero dead, so clearly that was a figure that was decided on somewhere and set. Just because western nation declines to acknowledge the genocide, just like the Armenian genocide, or any other genocide which western countries have denied, it does not man that genocide did not take place. Till this day we are uncover mass deaths.  
Q28: People say your mother does not rely on aides, she really makes her decisions herself. Does she ask ever you for advice, do you give it to her and does she take it?  
A28: All the time. She asks all our advisers most of the time, I will have two advisers going back and forth with me with opposing views and I have to present, we discuss everything. It is a very democratic process  
Q29: Are you the most important adviser  
A29: No, 
Q30: Who is the most important adviser  
A30: I would say that we are all, I don’t think there is any one who is more important. We all have our distinct area of responsibility. I am not officially an adviser

1 comment:

  1. Should have been asked about official investigation of government brutality on 5th and 6th May.