Tipped to head the caretaker government, Justice K M Hasan had begun recruiting advisors even before his scheduled date of appointment.
Dhaka, Oct 10 (bdnews24.com)—Tipped to head the caretaker government, Justice K M Hasan had begun recruiting advisors even before his scheduled date of appointment.
He had also requested meetings with foreign diplomats where he solicited their opinion about a 'prudent course of action'.
The US embassy cables, released on Aug 30 by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, show that the former chief justice expected to take over and run an interim regime overseeing elections in early 2007. He was at the centre of much attention near the end of BNP's last tenure in office that ended late October in 2006.
The leaked cables show K M Hasan was also a point of interest for the US embassy besides Bangladesh's political circles.
Still expected to take over charge within a month and a half, the former top judge figured prominently in the discussion the US ambassador Patricia Butenis had with president Iajuddin Ahmed at a meeting on Sep 14, 2006.
The meeting was for Butenis "to solicit [Iajuddin's] views on the current political situation, the upcoming elections, and his role during the caretaker government", states a cable (06DHAKA5839) signed off by the US envoy later that same evening.
The president had expressed his confidence and supported Hasan's appointment at the meeting. Iajuddin had told Butenis that he thought "Hasan would accept the appointment".
"Asked if he was coordinating yet with Hasan, he said he was not, that Hasan was already well prepared," says the memo.
Iajuddin "cited his past experience as an advisor to a previous caretaker government" to illustrate his past experience and "felt little planning was needed in advance".
Butenis, however, 'notes' as an aside that the man had had a heart attack a few months back. The cable states, "Note: President Ahmed was medivaced to Singapore in late May following a heart attack."
Near the end, Butenis adds her comments saying, "Despite the President's assurances that he was physically well and fit for his responsibilities, he appeared visibly weaker than when the Ambassador first met him in April at the presentations of her credentials; his right hand was shaking and he did not speak as clearly, sometimes slurring his words slightly."
This discussion was followed by a private meeting with Lutfozzaman Babar, the state minister for home at the time, who told Butenis that Iajuddin was "under strain".
According to him, the president's doctors in Singapore advised senior BNP leaders that Iajuddin would have problems holding up under the stress of his current position, and as president during the caretaker government.
"Babar said this put the BNP in a difficult position: if they ask the President to resign, even if it is in the President's own best interest, the BNP will be accused of pushing him out of office for partisan reasons."
Justice Hasan comes up in an Oct 10 cable (06DHAKA6224) dispatched by Geeta Pasi, the US embassy charge d'affaires, which says that appointment of the caretaker chief had become a crucial issue at the fourth round of talks between the BNP secretary-general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and his opposite number in Awami League, Abdul Jalil.
"Who heads the next caretaker regime, has emerged as the pivotal issue."
The despatch says that Awami League, the main opposition, insists that Hasan "is disqualified by his BNP past, and that this issue must be resolved" before other issues are addressed.
Pasi's cable says two weeks before the meeting, the Awami League had indicated to US and UK diplomats that it would agree to replace Hasan with Justice Mahmdul Amin Chowdhury.
Within parentheses the cable adds, alluding to the rule that the last former chief justice become the caretaker chief, "Ironically, Justice Chowdhury, as a judicial reform measure, had publicly lobbied for the constitutional amendment raising the retirement age of judges, which is what put Justice Hasan in line to be chief caretaker adviser."
Another heart-to-heart with Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, described as Awami League's "hardline presidium member", is cited to say that Bhuiyan had told Jalil he personally had no objection to replacing Hasan although other BNP stalwarts would not budge.
The cable continues to quote Selim, this time within quotes, "But maybe something dramatic will happen at the end. Maybe Justice Hasan will say he is not ready to take up the responsibility and withdraw. That would save both parties from losing face."
Haris Chowdhury, Khaleda Zia's political secretary, however, had apparently told the Americans "accepting the opposition demand to drop Hasan is out of the question."
On Oct 23, just five days before the BNP-led government was set to leave office, another US embassy cable (06DHAKA6392) observes that the main debate still centred around K M Hasan as the caretaker chief, and M A Aziz as the Election Commission chief.
The cable cites the views diplomats from other countries, namely the Australian and Canadian envoys who described Hasan "as ill prepared, isolated and not confident, adding that he told them he was having difficulty recruiting people to serve as advisors to the Caretaker Government". Hasan had told them both that he wanted to know about the US opinion in this regard.
The two high commissioners had met with the former top judge separately at his invitation. He also invited the US ambassador, and had a meeting with Butenis the day before this cable was despatched.
Regarding the Oct 22 meeting between Butenis and Hasan, the cable states, "He said he would 'seriously consider' declining the appointment if the 'constitutional' question regarding the choice of an alternative could be resolved."
As comment, the cable commends the former chief justice. "Ambassador found Hasan more confident and less uncertain than diplomatic colleagues reported."
According to the cable, Hasan had said that he was "successfully recruiting people to serve as advisors".
It goes on to say that Hasan appeared genuinely concerned about the impact of his decision and that his comments only underscored the complexity of the caretaker government issue.
The comment concludes, "Were Hasan to step down, it is not clear — or agreed by the two parties — who would succeed him."
Amid rumours, which were proven false later, that the president was taken ill the two main parties blamed each other for a breakdown in talks on Oct 27.
Signed off by Butenis (06DHAKA6411) the cable marking BNP's last day in office begins with a string of defections from BNP to join the disgruntled Oli Ahmed and former president A Q M Badruddoza Chowdhury, both frontline men since BNP's formation.
Regarding the political stalemate the cable observes that the two parties could not reach an agreement regarding the election chief and the caretaker chief.
The AL has said it would not accept Aziz as an alternative to Hasan and has raised constitutional questions concerning his eligibility for the position.
The cable says, "It is increasingly likely that the President will ask Hasan to serve as Chief Advisor. An announcement is possible on the evening of October 27, with a formal appointment on October 28."
But according to diplomats who had spoken to Justice Hasan, he remained "torn over whether to accept the appointment".
"He remains concerned that his refusal to serve, absent political agreement on an alternative, would cause worse political turmoil."
The Oct 27 cables ends saying that the launch of a new party with a number of defections would "likely leave the BNP feeling more threatened as it leaves office, and more determined to see Hasan appointed as chief advisor".
"Hasan himself remains isolated and indecisive, neither of which bode well for his leadership, should he accept appointment as Chief Advisor."
The Oct 29 cable (06DHAKA6416) reports Hasan finally turning down the appointment and president Iajuddin Ahmed offering himself as the chief adviser.
It says although all the major parties had accepted Iajuddin as the head of the caretaker government, "the opposition Awami League is stoutly opposed".
It goes on to say that day's violence, which killed 15 persons and injured hundreds, "was largely instigated by the Awami League, which stayed on the streets even after the controversial Justice Hasan announced he would not serve as chief adviser".
"The violence continued even after Justice Hasan's mid-afternoon announcement that he would not serve as chief caretaker [advisor]." Hasan was cited to have said the "the level of mistrust between the political parties" had made his position "untenable".
Striving to describe the rapidly changing situation of Oct 28, 2006, the cable reports exchanges between the ambassador and two Awami League officials where the US envoy had impressed upon them following their 'victory' on Hasan that the Awami League should "negotiate, not fight for, its political objectives" and keep away from fomenting violence.
Apparently in an attempt to end violence, the president held a meeting with the general secretaries of the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and offered himself as chief caretaker adviser.
The cable notes, "In an ironic twist, the Awami League began insisting that constitutional provisions for selecting a chief adviser be faithfully observed, the line the ruling party had used to justify the anticipated selection of Justice Hasan."
The Awami League complained that Ahmed should have "fully considered interim constitutional options for chief adviser (i.e., other judges or a consensus candidate) before jumping ahead to the presidential option."
After meeting all the parties, Iajuddin managed to gain the endorsement of all the major parties except the Awami League by Oct 29. "President Ahmed will now reportedly address the nation at 1700 to announce that he will be the chief adviser."
As confirmation, the cables cite a foreign ministry source saying that 'protocol was in touch with diplomats for a swearing-in ceremony' later that night.
The cable ends by saying that another despatch would "report Ahmed's address and its cloudy potential for clarifying Bangladesh's volatile political climate".
Wikileaks released 2,000 secret cables on Aug 30 that were sent out from the US embassy in Bangladesh between Mar 2, 1987 and Feb 28, 2010. But the bulk of these internal US communications span roughly five years between 2005 and 2010.
Almost half (46.85 percent) of all the cables are marked 'unclassified' and about a third (34.35 percent) were marked confidential. 'Secret' cables constituted 4.65 percent, while those marked 'secret/noforn' and 'confidential/noforn' (noforn meaning that the cables are not meant for any non-American) were only 28 each. The remainder were marked 'unclassified/for official use'.