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06DHAKA5892 2006-09-18 11:47:00 SECRET Embassy Dhaka
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DE RUEHKA #5892/01 2611147
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					  S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 005892 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/18/2016

Classified By: Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis, reason para 1.4 d.

1. (S) Summary. As Bangladesh's polarized political parties
count down to the arrival of the Caretaker regime in late
October, we, with support from our Canadian, British, and
Australian colleagues, are working publicly and privately to
promote dialogue between the opposition Awami League and the
ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party. At this point, our two
main interlocutors (PLEASE PROTECT) -- Presidium Member Kazi
Zafarullah and Home Minister Babar -- are saying and mostly
doing the right things, and direct party-to-party contact may
start in the near future.

2. (S) While it is very much an open question whether either
party wants compromise, it is important to test the actual
intentions of both sides, especially the boycott-threatening
Awami League. In addition, publicly seeking to facilitate
dialogue underscores our neutral posture and deflects
frequent Bangladeshi appeals to us to sort out "the two
ladies" to avert what many fear will be an exceptionally
violent and volatile campaign period. There is also a
possibility that the two parties will ultimately blink on the
boycott issue and need a face-saving mechanism to step back
from the brink. End Summary.

3. (S) Two weeks ago, the Ambassador began a series of
private meetings and telephone calls with Awami League
Presidium Member Kazi Zafarullah and Home Minister of State
Lutfuzzoman Babar to promote the concept of inter-party
dialogue. With Zafarullah, a proven confidant of Awami
League president Sheikh Hasina, the Ambassador noted that the
Awami League's actions and statements create the perception
at home and abroad that it is disinterested in dialogue and
committed instead to confrontation and street action in
pursuit of a highly-ambitious and risky political agenda.

4. (S) Rather than focusing on protocol or on the
personalities of a BNP negotiating team (as when PM Zia
offered parliamentary dialogue on reforms last May), the
Ambassador said, there should be recognition that inherently
political problems require political, not legalistic,
solutions and that the "two ladies" would be the ultimate
arbiters. Zafarullah agreed that this approach was logical.
With Babar, who is closely tied to PM Zia and her son
Tarique, the Ambassador stressed the importance of reaching
out to the opposition, demonstrating a commitment to a level
playing field, and acting in a statesman-like manner.

5. (S) A proposal for a small dinner at the Ambassador's
residence was moving forward when Babar said his party had
decided that it wanted first to see the outcome of a parallel
proposal for the two parties' secretaries general to talk to
each other, an idea recently resuscitated by business leaders
exasperated by strikes and uncertainty. However, the Awami
League's Abdul Jalil was away in South Korea, and as he
returned his BNP counterpart, Mannan Bhuiyan, was being
hospitalized with an unknown illness. Thus, the current
permutation is for BNP to designate a substitute for Bhuiyan
who would then meet with Jalil to explore areas of possible

6. (S) Our contacts with Babar and Zafarullah are
closely-held, especially within the Awami League, and have
occurred against the backdrop of negative and positive
statements from the "two ladies," as well as the Awami
League's continuing program of street actions demanding the
replacement of the Chief Election Commissioner and the
presumptive Chief Caretaker Adviser. On September 17, Hasina
charged that Bhuiyan's hospitalization is a ruse to avoid
dialogue. PM Zia, while continuing to rail against a "plot"
to ruin the election and plunge the country into chaos, has
affirmed an openness to dialogue which, revealingly, she says
should not be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness in the
face of Awami League pressure.

7. (S) Comment: The good news is that we have effectively
engaged Zia and Hasina on the issue of dialogue and that
neither one of them wants to be seen as an obstacle to that
effort. At least privately, our interlocutors have accepted
the desirability of compromise and that neither side, in
Jalil's words, can expect to "get 100 percent." Our British,
Canadian, and Australian colleagues have reinforced our
points on dialogue with their own senior Awami League and BNP
contacts to demonstrate that our concerns have an
international dimension. Public reaction to these efforts,
reported with varying degrees of accuracy in the press, has
been generally receptive since Bangladeshis are desperate for
any opening to reduce violence and acrimony during the

DHAKA 00005892 002 OF 002

election. The recent NDI assessment team's hard-hitting but
balanced conclusions have helped reinforce the USG's
credentials as a concerned but non-partisan party.

8. (S) The key challenge is to persuade the two parties that
it behooves their own interests to step back from
confrontation just as the campaign struggle should be
starting in earnest and the Awami League shows every sign of
escalating its street campaign. It is a very open question
whether either party leadership is genuinely interested in
dialogue or compromise, the BNP because it thinks that it
already occupies a strong electoral position and the Awami
League because it is wary of legitimizing an electoral
process that, rigged or not, looks more and more foreboding
following General Ershad's apparent move to join the BNP.

9. (C) In addition to clarifying the Awami League's actual
intentions, whether it is bent on confrontation or open to
compromise and a democratic outcome, and deflecting
Bangladeshi appeals for the USG to sort out "the two ladies,"
a structure of inter-party dialogue could provide a
face-saving mechanism for the two parties to step back from
the brink. Ironically, the issue that could scare the two
parties into compromise is an opposition boycott: BNP fears a
boycott would produce more violence, undermine the outcome's
legitimacy, and ensure prolonged instability, while boycott,
in the eyes of many AL leaders, would be tantamount to a
political poison pill.