Hass’ hustle-and-bustle

Published : 28 Dec 2022 07:38 PM

Diplomats are taught one big lesson in training academies -- learn to respect national sensitivities in countries of posting.

But this is something US envoy in Dhaka Peter Haas seems to be reminded of.

One would expect him to join other senior diplomats to pay homage to martyrs , both intellectuals and commoners, on Dec 14 and 16 , atleast to overcome the national guilt and make up for the Nixon-Kissinger backing of 1971 genocide by Yayha's military junta.

The US has strongly pushed for UN recognition of other post-colonial genocides like Balkans,  Rwanda or Cambodia but never sounded enthusiastic over Bangladesh's demand for UN recognition of the 1971 East Pakistan genocide , despite much larger casualties and brutalities on record. Former Minister Tarana Halim has recently said the US and Western reluctance over UN recognition of 1971 genocide perhaps is because they see Pakistan as a strategic asset and do not intend to upset its military.

Be that as it may, many US voices like former consul general Archer Blood have come out strongly to condemn the 1971 genocide but also pull up the Nixon-Kissinger duo for being on "the wrong side of history." That includes legendary Democrat senator Edward Kennedy.

If Peter Haas was out to win hearts and minds in Bangladesh,  the least he could do was to bow at the national masoulem with a bouquet of flowers to remember the tens of thousands who perished in 1971. But ironically, not even a single post in memory of martyrs from US embassy’s facebook page did appear on that day.  

For a country like US that respects and adores talent, the assassination of the best minds of Bangladesh should be particularly abhorrent. Just two days before the public surrender on 16 December 1971, the Pakistan army, with active assistance from Jamaat-e-Islami and other local collaborators, abducted and killed more than 1000 top Bengali academic and writers, cultural personalities and celebrated professionals to leave the new nation with a brain deficit. 

But what did Peter Haas do ? He had no time to join the National mourning on Dec 14 or the Victory Day celebrations two days later. He found time to visit the house of a BNP activist reportedly gone missing in pursuit of his regime change agenda by weaponising human rights. Then he set out to stir a diplomatic storm by alleging his security had been compromised due to a crowd of justice seekers whose near and dear ones were killed at the behest of country’s first military dictator-turned-BNP’s founder Gen Zia.

 After Gen Zia’s rise to power months after assassination of Mujibur Rahman, over 1000 freedom fighters who later joined the armed forces fell victim to extra judicial killings during Zia's violent purges within the military.

According to independent researchers including foreign journalists that ruthless killing spree  was unleashed ostensibly to consolidate Gen Zia’s grip on power and even tribunal judges used to read death penalties pre-signed by Gen Zia.

 Broad hints were dropped through media assets that some in government had leaked his plans to visit the BNP activist's home and organized the heckling. 

But an explanation from these victim families cleared the air about their hurried gathering outside the home US ambassador was visiting on that morning. Turning out after hearing of the presence of the US ambassador, these victims under the platform of Mayer Kanna (tears of mothers) attempted to bring into notice their long pending cries of justice before Mr Peter Haas.  These victims are not terrorists and unheeding their call was a display of selective bias .

On a day that Bangladeshis across the political divide hold dear , the day of the emergence of the new nation,  Haas rubbed salt into old wounds by working up a chaos on a divisive issue.

Even the brazen sheltering of killers of country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, let alone the role of US in favour of Pakistani army during their 1971 genocide has done little to assuage popular sentiments in Bangladesh. 

What moral right has the world's strongest nation has in selectively picking a few cases of so-called disappearances when it refuses to recognise the killing of millions as genocide. But as Tarana Halim pointed out, it has less to do with human rights and more to do with US strategic calculations over Pakistan,  whose military it does not want to displease.

The presence of someone as important and as well guarded as the US ambassador is likely to attract attention whenever his convoy moves into any crowded and densely populated Dhaka locality.  Supporters , friends and family  of the BNP activist are bound to crowd around the vehicle as much as any other victims of disappearances to catch a glimpse of the viceroy from Washington and complain to him , since word has gone around Peter Haas is moving round with a register to list all cases of human rights violations. 

And if one knows Bangladesh and Bengalis, some cross-shouting is entirely expected. It could also be a false flag effort on passing the blame on Awami League. The BNP was aware of the envoy’s visit because they had tipped him off to create the kind of diplomatic ruckus one is now witnessing.

It could be one-off , if not planned mutually. The BNP , which has depended so much on US and Western noise-making on human rights for its own political mobilization,  is blessed with some former bureaucrats and intelligence officers who are quite capable of staging flase flag operations to demonize the ruling party and government.

Its past record of such operations, when it was in power from the times of Gen Zia to his widow Begum Zia and the party’s acting Chair Tarique Rahman, such examples are aplenty.

But can Peter Haas win hearts and minds in Bangladesh by tossing his considerable diplomatic weight behind a political party or coalition whose last government ( 2001-06) was seen as responsible for the huge spurt in Islamist terrorism and atleast one of its constituent ( Jamaat-e-Islami) was responsible for the genocide of 1971?

The answer is an obvious no.

The ruckus he has created or helped create may pose some temporary embarrassment for the government in Dhaka. Perhaps a visiting US State Department official,  realizing the damage done by the Haas hustle-and- bustle,  tried to make up by going on record that Bangladesh was an important strategic partner.

Diplomats often love making noises to stay in news and attract attention of principals and bosses back in headquarters. That is often useful for career advancement-- or seen as useful. But those diplomats who actually do solid work ( both in repairing old damage or breaking fresh grounds) do it without much fuss. Haas,  or one of his predecessor Dan Mozena, does not belong to the latter variety. And what happened to Mozena after his noisy Bangladesh tenure when he rushed off to Delhi to complain against then Indian envoy Pankaj Saran? Did he not sink without trace!

Sukharanjan Dasgupta is a veteran columnist and author of "Midnight Massacre" on the 1975 Bangladesh coup. As chief correspondent of Anandabazar Patrika, he reported on the Liberation War by gathering information from freedom fighters in Bangladesh