2005-06-20 10:17:00
Embassy Dhaka
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 DHAKA 002880 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/14/2015

REF: A. DHAKA 02666

B. DHAKA 02610

C. DHAKA 02619

D. DHAKA 02409

Classified By: P/E Counselor D.C. McCullough, reasons para 1.4 b,d.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 DHAKA 002880



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/14/2015

REF: A. DHAKA 02666

B. DHAKA 02610

C. DHAKA 02619

D. DHAKA 02409

Classified By: P/E Counselor D.C. McCullough, reasons para 1.4 b,d.

1. (C) As the most senior State official to visit Bangladesh
since Secretary Powell in 2003, you will be warmly received
by Bangladeshis and the BDG. Dynamic but chaotic, Bangladesh
defies easy generalizations about its nature or future.
Nevertheless, most trends are negative.

Politics: The Art of the Dysfunctional

2. (C) Virtually every Bangladeshi problem -- from poor
governance to an under-performing economy to its potential as
a breeding ground for terrorism -- stems from a dysfunctional
political system that smothers innovation, accountability,
and a long-term national outlook. The opposition Awami
League (AL) and the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)
are family-run enterprises fixated on power, history, money,
and mutual animosity. Democracy is valued as a legacy of
independence, but for most Bangladeshis democratic practice
stops at voting. Decision-making is ad hoc and driven by
proximity to leaders, not institutions or even interest
groups. The next general election is expected in January
2007 and will be the most monitored in Bangladesh's history.
A failed election, with no broadly accepted outcome, could be
devastating for Bangladesh and key USG interests.

3. (C) The AL blames the ruling BNP for a series of sometimes
fatal attacks on opposition figures as part of an alleged
plot to rig the next election. It insists on early elections
but not before major changes in the country's much-admired
caretaker (interim) government system that it knows the BNP,
which has a huge parliamentary majority, will never accept.
It is progressively opting out of the political process by,
inter alia, boycotting by-elections and parliament (ref A).
The AL is divided on its implied threat to boycott the
general election.

4. (C) The BNP, under the direction of Tarique Rahman, the
PM's controversial son and heir apparent, is increasingly

preoccupied with preparing for the election and, it seems,
doing whatever it can get away with to win (ref B). In early
June, the heavy-handed arrest and treatment of former
President Ershad's now ex-wife underscored PMO paranoia of a
coalescing opposition (ref C).

5. (C) The AL has failed to find an issue to generate
momentum against a government whose most popular action in
three years is the creation of the Rapid Action Battalion and
its thinly veiled policy of extra-judicially killing alleged
criminals. However, the AL still has unmatched national
organizational strength, and it could benefit from
traditional anti-incumbent sentiments, especially if it
builds better political partnerships, capitalizes on popular
dismay over rising fuel and food prices, and exploits
apprehensions about violence, religious extremism,
corruption, and the PM's son.

Political Islam

6. (C) BNP leaders believe they need the support of Jamaat
Islami (JI),the country's biggest Islamist party, to win
marginal constituencies and beat the AL. Their alliance is
based solely on mutual expedience. JI says BNP is the
"lesser of two evils," while BNP says JI can be constrained
and co-opted inside government. JI's leader told us he'll
demand 50 tickets from BNP in the next election; the BNP
insists it'll hold the line to keep JI's representation in
parliament near its current total of 17.

7, (C) Political Islam is vertically integrated with its own
banks, NGO's, student coaching centers, health care
facilities, businesses, media, a violent youth wing, and a
mainstream political party--Jamaat Islami. JI works hard to
convince us that it is committed to democratic
constitutionalism and minority rights. Ironically, it's the
only party in Bangladesh to practice internal democracy,
reward merit, be relatively non-corrupt, and, critically,
have a ideological vision that it pursues with discipline.
JI says it aspires to real political power after two or three
elections. Failure by the mainstream parties to rehabilitate
themselves creates a vacuum JI is increasingly poised to

8. (C) There is a widening split between JI and other
Islamist groups, including fellow coalition partner IOJ,
driven by ideology, personalities, and envy (ref D). IOJ
elements might abandon the coalition, though their
contribution was largely a facade of Islamist unity, not
voters. Islamist groups have a predominantly domestic focus
for historical and other reasons; demonstrations against
alleged USG desecration of the Quran were relatively modest.
Also, Islamist violence continues to target other Muslims
using low-grade weapons and tactics. However, the
ingredients for terrorism -- corruption, porous borders,
ineffective security forces, sympathetic local elements --
exist and could combust if political volatility and violence
are not controlled.

Political Violence

9. (C) Political violence traditionally peaks in the run-up
and aftermath of national elections. In 2004, it claimed
246 lives, but in the election year of 2001 the figure was

494. The new trend in the past two years, however, is the
targeting of high-profile opposition and "liberal" civil
society leaders. Until recently, the BDG had failed to bring
any of the culprits to justice, fanning speculation it
condoned the violence. Significantly, the assassins of AL
MPs Ahsanullah Master and Shah Kibria are tied to the BNP,
not Islamists working in cahoots with the BNP as claimed by
the AL. Since the BDG in February banned two Islamist groups
charged with attacking two Bangladeshi development NGO's,
there has been a sharp drop in political violence. Getting a
handle on political violence is critical for the 2007

Human Rights

10. (C) Strong traditions of free speech, robust elections,
and a lively if unprofessional free press are mitigated by
serious problems with police abuses, harsh treatment of women
and children, and victimization of religious minorities,
especially at election times. Respect for democratic
concepts is skin deep, in and out of government. Faced with
the specter of U.S. sanctions on trafficking in persons, the
BDG last year acted quickly on several fronts to earn a Tier
II rating in 2005. We have repeatedly raised at senior
levels our objections to thinly-veiled extra-judicial
killings by the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and
other police units, noting Leahy amendment implications for
the military officers seconded to RAB. After a steep drop in
spring, "cross-fire" killings rebounded sharply in May to
reach 179 (37 from RAB) as of June 12. The BDG says that the
sensitivities and needs of the majority should not be
sacrificed for the needs of a few, in this case "criminals"
-- the same logic invoked to justify the BDG's ban in January
2004 of Ahmadiya publications.


11. (C) India is Bangladesh's most important neighbor but
their relationship is a comfort to neither. Trade, most of
it illicit, is significant but far below its potential.
Water sharing, illegal migrants, alleged Indian insurgent
camps in Bangladesh, alleged GOI sanctuary for Bangladeshi
criminals in India, and periodic border clashes are all
recurring themes. The AL's close ties to the GOI, real and
perceived, are a serious political liability for the AL. The
BDG believes that India manipulates foreign and Bangladeshi
media reporting to support the AL's projection of Bangladesh
as a failing, Talibanizing state. In the run-up to this
week's Foreign Secretary talks in New Delhi, BDG security
forces made two raids in border areas to kill and arrest
alleged Indian insurgents -- a first in recent memory --
though officially the BDG maintains there is no regular
insurgent presence in Bangladesh. The official, but
unreleased, BDG inquiry into the August 21 grenade attack
that killed 23 persons at an AL rally blamed India; recent
developments, including the recall of Interpol personnel to
Dhaka, indicate the BDG is again pursuing that line of

U.S. Relationship

12. (C) Because of the U.S.'s global status, our strong
trading and people-to-people ties, and potential USG leverage
with India and China, any BDG puts a premium on a visibly
healthy relationship with Washington. The BDG is therefore
susceptible to pressure if the issue, like TIP, doesn't
jeopardize a core political interest. The BDG believes that
the geographical breadth of its commercial and political
relationships, along with the declining donor percentage of
its development budget, shield it from foreign pressure.

Suggested Themes/Points for Meetings

13. (C) For BDG:

-- Congratulations on Bangladesh's historic cricket victory
against Australia. Beating the best is always satisfying,
especially when people were saying Bangladesh didn't belong
in top-flight (test) cricket.

-- I'm visiting Bangladesh early to underscore the USG's
continuing interest in Bangladesh, its commitment to our
broad partnership, and concerns about common problems like
terrorism, corruption, and political violence.

-- Greatly appreciate BDG's leadership in international
peacekeeping (new deployments to Sudan).

-- Appreciate your cooperation with FBI on the Kibria case.
You promised us full cooperation and you delivered. We look
forward to continued progress in this area.

-- Appreciate your work to update your criminal code to
facilitate investigations and prosecutions of terrorism.

-- Welcome your support for eight more UN CT conventions.
When will Parliament ratify? Positive action on the
remaining UN CT convention, on terrorist financing, is also

-- Know you want Millennium Challenge Account status, but a
clear, concerted government commitment to combat corruption
is critical. Last week's resignation of the Energy Minister
of State because of his acceptance of a luxury vehicle from a
foreign (Canadian) oil company sent a positive signal, but
more is needed.

-- Very concerned by the sharp increase in extra-judicial
"cross-fire" killings. Know that Ambassador Thomas has
explained Leahy amendment implications to you. Continued
killings and implementation of Leahy sanctions would
undermine a broad range of Bangladeshi interests in the U.S.

-- Like you, we want free and fair elections. We welcome the
successful election in Chittagong, which saw the re-election
of a mayor from the opposition; he is no friend of the USG
but his victory was good for democracy. Our focus is on how
the political process operates, and whether the opposition is
allowed to play its democratic role free of harassment and
other constraints. Containing political violence is
essential. We tell the opposition they should exercise and
defend their democratic rights, not surrender them.

For JI:

-- Concerned by anti-Ahmadiya attacks. We'd welcome explicit
condemnation from JI on violence and attacks on religious

-- How does JI view the 2007 election? How many seats does
it hope to win?

-- What are the BDG's successes and failures in government?
How would JI do better?

For AL:

-- We understand the importance of the next election. We are
watching the process closely and will react sharply against
attempts to obstruct legitimate opposition activity.
-- Therefore, we are concerned by AL's steady opting out of
the political process, by boycotting by-elections and
parliament. Democratic rights should be exercised and
defended, not surrendered.

Watch Out for from BDG

14. (C)

-- The USG should support duty-free access for Bangladesh to
the U.S. garment market to prevent hundreds of thousands of
Bangladeshi women from losing their jobs with the end of MFA
quotas. Bangladesh is democratic, moderate, and poor. It
deserves your help so it can compete with communist China.
(Note: There are many steps Bangladesh can take to improve
its competitiveness: reduce corruption, cut Chittagong port's
high costs and long delays, improve infrastructure, cut
delivery times, and diversify exports.)

-- The USG should, as a matter of policy, support Bangladesh
for MCA.

-- The USG should pressure the AL to rejoin the democratic

-- PM Zia would like to meet with POTUS/visit Washington.