On 28 November 2010, website Wikileaks and its five international associates, namely, The New York Times, The Guardian, EI Pais, Der Spiegel and Le Monde, began to publish serially "Secret US Diplomatic Cables". Worldwide repercussions followed and world politics looked a bit different. The US government was embarrassed. Information published by Wikileaks were considered to be true.
On the contrary, transcript of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's telephone conversation with Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina published on 16 January 2011, has raised doubts about its credibility. Photocopies of this transcript (in English) have been circulating. Two English newspapers, an English weekly and a Bengali newspaper published abridged version of the transcript. But, the question remained, is this transcript, which may be termed Hillaryleak true? Not just Awami League supporters have dismissed it as untrue, but some BNP supporters have expressed doubts as well. So, is Hillaryleak true?
Before going into that, I would like to mention about Art Buchwald who was the top satirist of the last six decades. In 1925, he was born in an Austrian-Hungarian Jewish family in New York. His father was a tailor and very poor. Buchwald was sent to an orphanage. After some years, Buchwald returned home. At 17, he left home and joined the US Army. During World War II he was at the Pacific. After the war, he chose journalism as his profession. He left US and went to Paris. There he joined as an editorial staff of the European version of The New York Herald Tribune. Since then he became highly popular by writing humorous but sharp, satirical yet humanitarian, analytical yet easy reading socio-political columns. In 1962 Buchwald returned to US. Tribune Media Syndicate began publishing Buchwald's column in 550 newspapers simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. Buchwald's column became an institution. For readers with sense of humour and political consciousness, Buchwald's column became a must read. In 1982 Buchwald was awarded Pulitzer Prize.
I was introduced to Buchwald's writings in early '80s. In 1979, I returned to Dhaka from London and felt the absence of good newspaper in Bangladesh. We had to depend on BBC World Service radio for international news. At that time I began to read International Herald Tribune and was deeply attracted to Buchwald's column. I noticed, he was the only columnist who could write by mixing fictitious dialogue with facts. Of course, not all his writings were of this type. But, often he wrote fictitious dialogue based satirical columns. It is now said, after Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) who wrote Gulliver's Travels, Art Buchwald was the topmost political satirist.
In April 1980, I began writing a weekly column, Jaijaidin, in a Bengali weekly, Sometimes, I began to follow Buchwald's technique. In 1984, I began editing-publishing weekly Jaijaidin and there I began writing a weekly political column, called Diner Par Din. Occasionally, I wrote dialogue based columns. They were popular with the readers, but disliked by the rulers. Weekly Jaijaidin was banned first in 1985 and then in 1986. One of the reasons was, in Diner Par Din column, I published a fictitious dialogue between the then president HM Ershad and his foreign minister. I was sent to exile in London. I realised how dangerous it could be to write fictitious political dialogue.
I continued to read Art Buchwald's columns and came to the conclusion, to avoid such dangers, the columnist must have deep knowledge on his characters, his power of imagination should be strong and maximum precaution must be taken in this kind of writings. In short, this is a difficult art to muster.
That is why, although in US and UK there are so many good columnists, we do not see someone like Art Buchwald who can write imaginary political dialogue.
And on this logic, I would say, tele-talks published in Hillaryleak may be true. Had there been a Bangladeshi writer who is capable of writing such imaginary tele-dialogue, we would have known long before. Had there been an American or a British columnist who is capable of writing such imaginary tele-talk, we would have read his columns long before.
So, the question is why some people are hesitant to accept Hillaryleak as true?
To answer that, we shall have to consider Hillaryleak's contents which can be broadly divided into seven parts. Now read on.
One: After preliminary exchange of greetings Secretary of State said, Madame Prime Minister I have been updated by Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Rapp about his visit to Dhaka. Honestly, at the request of New Delhi, we sent him there and tried our best to help you better organise the trial. After listening from Amb. Rapp and our Ambassador Moriarty, I felt obligated to inform you that both I and President Obama take the issue of human rights in its proper spirit. It is on this context, I called you to inform you that United States does not support the trial in its form and content. Bangladesh has to reform the whole process in a way so that it doesn't become a conduit of punishing opposition.
Comment: On 13 January 2011, in a press briefing in Dhaka Ambassador Rapp said that US attaches importance on a fair and transparent war crimes trial and on amending the law regarding International War Crimes Tribunal. So, nothing new came out here. The new information is Ambassador Rapp was sent to Dhaka at the request of New Delhi.
Two: In reply, Prime Minister said, Madame Secretary, I understand your concern and I already asked my Law Minister to take note of what Amb. Rapp suggested. This is a trial we undertook with active support and assistance of New Delhi. I am sure Indian Ambassador in Washington DC will brief you further on that.
Comment: It was generally regarded that the Prime Minister had begun the trial with active support and assistance of New Delhi. So, here too nothing new has come out. The new information is, the role of Indian Ambassador in Washington is significant.
Three: Secretary then said, Prime Minister, United States stands for a certain values and policies which may or may not be the likes of New Delhi. Of course, we have been attentive to New Delhi's most of the suggestions but this one I thought I should forewarn you.
Prime Minister replied, Madame Secretary we noted your concerns and can tell you this much that this was in our manifesto and our people would like to see the trial should go on.
Comment: There is no new revelation. Hasina has always been saying, people would like to see this trial to go on.
Four: Secretary then said, absolutely, but that has to be done in a way so that it is accepted internationally. I am sure, even people who voted for your party, may not accept the trial in its form and format which is, to our view, flawed and politically motivated. President Obama working hard to bring peace to your part of the world, Madame Prime Minister. Therefore, United States would not allow any action that may only help some legitimate political forces going underground to create more problem for you and thereby, for us as well.
Prime Minister replied, I understand. I understand. Don't worry we will fix it. Don't take it that seriously. We are doing it as we have to do and there are some culprits who we need to straighten up.
Comment: Recently, US foreign policy has been changing to some extent. You can understand that when you see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is apparently supportive of the Egyptian people who are demonstrating against President Mubarak. The US does not want punishing religion-based parties on the pretext of weeding out terrorists. US now knows, such repressive measures against religion based political parties may drive party activists into underground and in this jet age, revengeful terrorists may arrive in US and pursue terrorism there. So, the US wants politics to remain open where religion based parties may participate without fear. But note, Prime Minister said, the matter should not be taken seriously. Can the Prime Minister say this in public? Of course, she is serious. That is why all the top leaders of Jamaat are in jail.
Five: Secretary then said, Ambassador Rapp also informed me about your government's influence on the judiciary and I was told how judiciary is giving verdict the way you want. This is not good at the end. You have to be watchful.
Prime Minister replied, thank you, thank you. I always value suggestion from yourself and President Clinton.
Comment: Everybody knows that the judiciary has been set up. The US also knows it. That is why secretary is forewarning that such a judiciary may be bad for the country at the end.
Six: Secretary then said, Madame Prime Minister, let me come to the core point for which I called you. As you have seen even Washington Post picked up your treatment to Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank. I thought it is about time to tell you how upset we are in Washington DC. I am personally upset because Dr. Yunus has been a family friend to the Clintons long before his wining of Nobel Prize. President Clinton is equally upset. Hope you are aware how hard he worked to see Dr. Yunus gets this award. I know people may have personal issues, but when it comes to national icon like Dr. Yunus, I thought Bangladesh shouldn't demonise country's only Nobel Laureate.
Prime Minister tried to stop her. Madame Secretary, please listen, please listen …
But Secretary continued, Madame Prime Minister, please let me finish first. I hope you are aware that President Obama is a big fan of micro-credit. He is a fan of microfinance since his mother had her thesis on this subject. So, I am making this call to let you know how upset both of us — President Obama and I — at your continued effort to demonise Dr. Yunus.
Prime Minister replied, Madame Secretary, I hope you are aware that it is not us who brought up this issue. Norway is the first to complain about Dr. Yunus' misplaced fund. After all, this is our domestic issue and Madame Secretary we will do it as per our own rules and regulations.
Comment: It is well known that Dr Yunus has a close relationship with Clinton family. Also known to some is that Bill Clinton had put his efforts to secure a Nobel Prize for Dr Yunus. What has now been revealed by this tele-talk is current President Obama is also a fan of Dr Yunus and Obama's mother had written a thesis on micro-credit finance. Note that, Prime Minister blamed Norway's initiative. But she did not say Norway had investigated and cleared Dr Yunus before awarding him Nobel Prize. Neither did the Prime Minister say that the prime drive of the documentary telecast in a Norwegian television was to criticise the concept of micro-credit. Although, Prime Minister did not mention these, clearly Secretary was aware of the real position.
Seven: After this, Secretary said, Madame Prime Minister, I thought I would not have to go that far. But, unfortunately, I was wrong. I hope you know as much we know, how your government came to power. Don't forget that we helped you by congratulating you after the election terming it as a free and fair. You know Prime Minister, how this election result was pre-arranged at the behest of our good friends in New Delhi. We acted the way they suggested us. And please don't forget that Gen. Moeen, who brought you to power, now in the USA and perhaps, we now know, more than you could possibly imagine. Prime Minister, I am not saying that we will disown you so soon. I am just trying to place issues in the order of history demands it.
At this point, Prime Minister tried to change the subject and said, Madame Secretary we are aware of your support and assistance. We will do all we can to keep you happy. Don't worry. We noted your point. Now let me know when you are coming to visit my country.
Secretary replied, Thanks for the invitations, Madame Prime Minister. I thank you for your time.
Prime Minister said, Madame Secretary, please bring President Clinton and your daughter and son in law.
Hilary hangs up on the other side …
Comment: It was generally understood that Awami League had won the last election (December 2008) with the help of General Moeen and India. But, it was unknown how much support was given by US to Awami League.
The two most significant information to emerge from Hillaryleak are:
a. the results of the elections were pre-arranged, and
b. US had supported this.
So, this then was the main points of Hillaryleak. Those who are saying that this is not reliable are arguing that the full identity of the source is not known and the language of the Secretary is not befitting.
First, consider the source. It was published in Facebook on 16 January 2011 at 10:28 am by Hidden Truth. Obviously, people behind Hidden Truth did not wish to take risks like that of Julian Assange and refrained from publishing their real identity.
Note the date and time of the publication.
Prime Minister's Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad in a press statement said, Secretary had telephoned Prime Minister on Saturday 15 January 2011 at 9:30 am (BST). It was then 8:30 pm in Washington DC on Friday 14 January 2011, After this tele-talk, the transcript was published in US on Sunday 16 January at 10:28 am Washington DC time. In other words, in US, people concerned, had 36 hours to take action on Mr Azad's statement. Clearly, concerned people in US were deeply annoyed because something quite opposite regarding the tele-talk had been stated by Mr Azad. He claimed Secretary of State had praised the Prime Minister and had promised to act jointly on different issues.
Perhaps that is why, someone in US, who was informed and concerned, disclosed the text of tele-talk in the Facebook.
Regarding the Secretary's language, anybody who had been listening to her regularly, will know, terms such as, absolutely, honestly, conduit, demonise, let me come to the core point, are typically hers. She also called Clinton as President Clinton. Because, once elected President of US, he is always called President. The Secretary knows this. She also knows that President Obama's mother had written a thesis on micro-credit financing. Not many people (American or Bangladeshi) would have known this.
And, Prime Minister's language is also typically hers. Note that how she repeats, I understand I understand, thank you thank you, please listen please listen.
Actually, Bangladeshis already know about the close relationship of Awami League with India and that India has been assisting the government on many issues.
Hillaryleak has merely confirmed what was widely known. So, why hesitate to accept it as true? Why be reluctant to accept that the 2008 election results were pre-arranged?
We should understand that, that is why Sheikh Hasina after returning from US in November 2008, decided to contest in the December election, but did hardly do any election campaign. Whilst her rival, BNP Chairperson criss-crossed some 10,000 km in two weeks, Sheikh Hasina stayed back in Dhaka conducting video conferencing. Sheikh Hasina knew strenuous campaign was unnecessary, a pre-arranged win was waiting.
People will judge whether Hillaryleak is true. It is curious that so far US has not given any rejoinder on this.
However, if Hillaryleak is true, then we must conclude that, December 2008 election did not bring back democracy — conspiracy was established.
But where does that leave the Election Commission?
Before answering that, let me go back to Art Buchwald. Due to kidney failure Buchwald died on 17 January 2007 at age 81.
He wrote his own video obituary which was published the next day by The New York Times. It showed Buchwald smiling and saying, "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald. I just died".
Perhaps, after the publication of Hillaryleak, the Election Commission may say, "Hi, we're Election Commission. We just died".
But, does the Election Commission have the honesty and sense of humour like Art Buchwald?
Shafik Rehman is a writer, editor, TV programme presenter, chartered accountant