Friday, 06 December 2013
Author / Source: KAZI ANWARUL MASUD
Given the acts played out by the political parties in Bangladesh, in particular the brutality displayed on the innocent citizens being maimed and burnt to death in the name of “regaining” their allegedly lost of civil rights, it is difficult to ignore Nicolo Machiavelli and his book The Prince. “In Bertrand Russell’s words—Machiavelli in fact occupies a more complicated ethical terrain. His central claim is that politics has a moral logic of its own, at times requiring actions to preserve the state that might be regarded as reprehensible within polite society. There are times, in other words, when conventional ethics must be set aside for the pragmatic and expedient dictates of (what would later become known as) raison d’état or “reasons of state”( Stewart Patrick- ‘The National Interest’- September 25 2013).
Jacksonian democracy of the common man, of universal suffrage, and Wilsonianism, albeit seen by some as the US bid to structure the world according to its terms but identified with human rights and fostering democracy can be idealized. But the pursuit by George W Bush of his gung-ho type of foreign policy for the spread of democracy with strong imprint of American Exceptionalism smacked of Machiavellism as pointed out recently by Vladimir Putin in his op-ed in The New York Times rebuking President Obama.
Putin wrote “I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy”.
Politics these days in underdeveloped societies are less determined by Jurgen Habermas’ communicative action or the merits of the manifestos proclaimed by the political parties but by the astute detection of Nicolo Machiavelli that “the manner in which men live is so far removed from the way in which men ought to live, that he who leaves the common course for that which he ought to follow will find that it leads him to ruin rather than to safety”.
One may argue that Machiavelli’s advice perhaps relevant to 15th century Europe would not be welcome in the 21st century where the development of technology has made the world far different.
People can see and are in touch with the way life is led in far away countries. In this age of “contingent sovereignty” Orwellian fear of totalitarianism and Aldous Huxley’s dystopian nightmare set out in the Brave New World, still thriving in some parts of the world, should be on their way out in a gradually increasing democratic world.
Many political scientists have unequivocally said that election, a faltering step in the right direction, is not democracy unless the people can live a life of their choice and improve their lot for themselves and for the future generations. Columbia Professor Jeffrey Sachs advocates for “good society”— not just in terms of economic progress but also in terms of social cohesion, trust, community, responsibility to other species, and the wellbeing of future generations.
Sachs warns that “Humanity is dangerously changing the climate, depleting freshwater supplies, and poisoning the air and oceans. Most economies are becoming less fair as well, with widening gaps between the rich and the poor. And violent conflict remains widespread, with the world’s poorest regions the most vulnerable to outbreaks”.
One wonders whether our political leaders in their struggle for power are sincerely wedded to public well being. Had it been so then keeping people hostage through destructive political agitation leading to the loss of lives of innocent would not have become a daily occurrence.
By media accounts most of those killed are poor and their death often means the death of their families. It is doubtful whether they will get justice as often all are not equal before the law. Evidently the law enforcing agencies are not able to prevent saboteurs from carrying out destructive activities.
Though such failure does not necessarily mean their inability to contain terrorism. One may argue that what is going on in Bangladesh today is not terrorism as non-state actors are yet to be identified as a group. But then killing people in the name of political agitation can hardly be called anything else.
Professor Theodore P Seto, of Loyola Law School, Los Angeles writes “ I use the term “terrorism” to mean the killing, disruption, or destruction of something of value for political purposes by someone other than a government or its agents acting overtly. In assessing its morality, however, I treat terrorism as a subset of politically motivated violence (and) explore the morality of politically motivated violence in general, without regard to actor or legality”.
In the case of Bangladesh restraint shown by the administration may be due to apprehension that strong actions against terrorism may deepen the crisis. The US, European Union and some other international organizations as yet have not been able to take decision on sending election observers missionS to Bangladesh because they are not yet certain that security can be provided to the observers.
Should the international community fail to send election observers then the whole exercise of holding the elections may become futile and such elections would lack legitimacy both at home and abroad.
The administration appears to be in the horns of a dilemma. If it bows down to the opposition demand of a caretaker government it would mean amending the constitution and “defeat” of the Prime Minister to the leader of the opposition. On the other hand if she remains steadfast in her refusal( while she continues to invite the opposition to join the interim government and make concessions which in a different situation would have been unthinkable) the situation may go totally out of control paving the way for unconstitutional forces to take over the state apparatus.
Would it be feasible? The 15th amendment to the Constitution disallows unconstitutional seizure of power. Traditionally , however, one of the first actions of a military government has always been to put the constitution in abeyance. Even if the people fed up with the ruling and the opposition combines were to acquiesce with a military government its acceptance by the international community may not be assured.
India, depending on the policy to be followed by such a government, may have a say in the change of government because of the insurgency in north eastern states and the Maoists’ disruptive activities in some states in India.
Ali Riaz of the Woodrow Wilson Center recently told the US Congress subcommittee on Asia and Pacific of Foreign Relations that a chaotic and violent political situation in Bangladesh would create a hospitable environment for both domestic and regional extremist groups.
Understandably security concerns are playing a key role in the policies of Bangladesh’s neighbors, particularly India. The rise of militancy, the presence of some regional militant groups and the use of Bangladesh as a sanctuary by Indian insurgents in the past has caused Indian policy-makers some concerns.
Unlikely though it may seem an intellectual debate is going on about India’s possible intervention if her security interests are threatened (India’s Foreign Policy- ‘The Diplomat’-Nov 24 2013. ) One school of thought advises that “India would be better off maintaining its opposition to challenges to the established principle of sovereignty. At the same time, however, India’s policy of selective engagement must note that sovereignty is a privilege, not a right.
In the context of national security, if a state allows its sovereign territory to be used to wage war against another state, the former forfeits that privilege. In that situation, Indian action against such a state would be warranted”. In the post-cold war era such intervention would be counterproductive as it may not only encourage China to flex her muscles in her “area of influence”, opposed by the great powers, and would be unacceptable to the people of Bangladesh.
Such an intervention would prevent regional and sub-regional cooperation involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. Besides Indian intervention, even if considered as a theoretical possibility , would help the Islamic extremists to portray India as an enemy of Bangladesh and help reestablish the lost corridor of insurgents from Pakistan to go through Bangladesh to India for terrorism.
It is necessary to remember that such a theoretical possibility cannot be a repeat of 1971 when India’s humanitarian intervention in our war of liberation was welcomed by the people of Bangladesh and eventually accepted by the international community. One would like to hope that our feuding political leaders would agree on inclusive elections that would be acceptable to the people at home and abroad.
The writer is a former Secretary and ambassador