Dhaka: “I never think I have to remain in power,” said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at Gono Bhaban, her official residence, hours after she won a historic third consecutive term following an election marred by allegations of rigging.
When asked about the absence of political opposition in Bangladesh, Hasina, who was extremely relaxed and cracking jokes, took the example of the Congress party in India. “How many seats did they get in the last election? They could not focus on who would be their PM. Such an old and established party, but who will be the leader of the party? It was not clear. So people didn’t vote for them,” she said.
“Do you remember the BJP had just two seats when Rajiv Gandhi won the election? Now, they are in power. So there’s a chance for other parties as well if they work properly,” she said with a smile as her party workers clapped.
Her Awami League-led ruling coalition won 288 seats in Sunday’s election, while the Opposition alliance, which includes the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), got just seven.
At the Gono Bhaban, located on the north corner of Parliament House in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka, Hasina interacted for over an hour with foreign journalists and observers. Flanked by her advisers, H T Imam and Gowher Rizvi, she said, “I can’t accept authoritarian and military regimes. I am running the country very liberally. But, I will not allow terrorism, drugs and corruption, and I will do my best to save our people from these ills.”
Prioritising the fight against terrorism, she has targeted the Jamaat-e-Islami, impressing New Delhi. She has also targeted the BNP on “corruption”.
As the interaction began, she said, “We had a bad experience in the past, but have been trying to establish a system where people can cast their votes freely and fairly so that they can exercise their franchise without any problem.”
Voter intimidation and rigging have been major allegations against the government, which has returned to power with more than 80 per cent of votes. “You can see how enthusiastically people voted… the women and the young generation,” she said. “If we want to develop the country, democracy has to prevail,” she added. She then talked about the assassination of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and her own return to Bangladesh after six years in exile.
Referring to her father as the “father of the nation”, she said, “We have had bad experiences. Thank god, in the last few years, we have been able to establish democracy. These elections are very important for us.” “So far, so good,” she said, and called the polls “peaceful elections”, although she conceded that some instances took place where some of “our party workers were killed”. At least 20 people are said to have been killed in clashes on voting day.
She said the election provided a “good opportunity to continue with the development of our people”. “Economic development is very important, and people are getting the fruits of development.”
About the Opposition, she asked, “Who are they? It was established by a military dictator. The military dictator first captured power, then entered politics, and then introduced rigging.” She was referring to the BNP’s establishment by General Zia-ur Rahman, husband of Khaleda Zia, the current chairperson of the Opposition party.
And their “allies are war criminals”, Hasina said, referring to the Jamaat-e-Islami. “They don’t have a leader. Because of the corruption case, she is in jail,” she said, referring to Khaleda Zia. Zia’s son, Tarique, was also convicted and is a fugitive. “If a political party’s leadership is fugitive, what can you expect from them?” she said.
US withdrawal to drag neighbours back into Afghan war, warns report
WASHINGTON: The Taliban will lose interest in negotiating peace and Afghanistan’s neighbours will get even more involved in war if the United States withdrew its forces, a US report warns.
But a Republican senator, Rand Paul, said after a recent meeting with Donald Trump that the US president was ready to end America’s 17-year involvement in Afghanistan.
The report — co-authored by two former US special envoys for Afghanistan and two former defence officials — highlights the consequences of a possible withdrawal of half of the 14,000 US from Afghanistan that President Trump suggested last month.
The report — written for the RAND Corporation, a US think-tank that specialises in defence affairs — argues that Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India and Uzbekistan, have a history of backing various ethnic groups, such as the Pashtuns, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara.
“These relationships will likely be reinforced as the central government’s financial base collapses, its writ weakens, and its cohesion erodes,” the report warns, adding that a US withdrawal will do both — undermine the Kabul government and weaken the Afghan economy.
“Pakistan has long tolerated and facilitated use of its territory by the Taliban. In the event of a precipitous US withdrawal, Pakistan will likely become more open in its backing,” the report claims.
Pakistan has long rejected such claims as “negative speculations”, insisting instead that it no longer allows any terrorist group to use its territories for carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan.
The authors also note that since 2001, Russia and Iran have generally supported the Kabul government but, in recent years, they have also “provided limited aid to the Taliban as a hedge”.
They point out that the Taliban’s main goal in “recently energised” talks with the US “is a negotiated timetable for a US military withdrawal”. An early withdrawal, they argue, will cause the insurgents to “lose interest in negotiating peace with the United States”.
The authors also underline US expectations from the talks: Taliban forswearing ties with extremist groups, denying such groups access to Afghan territory, and becoming part of a new Afghan political and security architecture that is agreed upon among Afghans.
“If Taliban leaders receive or come to expect a cost-free US withdrawal, they will have little incentive to bargain with the United States or with the US-backed Afghan government,” the authors warn.
The report also highlights other consequences of an early US withdrawal, such as: Other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces also leave Afghanistan. The US and other international civilian presence is sharply reduced. External economic and security assistance diminishes. Power moves from the centre to the periphery. Responsibility for security increasingly devolves to regional militias and local warlords.
The Taliban extend their control over territory and population but encounters resistance. Afghanistan descends into a wider civil war.
Civilian deaths rise sharply and refugee flows increase. Extremist groups, including Al Qaeda and Daesh, gain additional scope to organise, recruit and initiate terrorist attacks against US regional and homeland targets.
Senator Paul, however, says that he returned with his White House meeting with President Trump with the impression that he believes “we’ve been at war too long and in too many places”.
In general, “the idea is that we’re going to do things differently. We’re not going to stay forever. The Afghans will have to step up”, he added.
The report’s authors include James Dobbins, a former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Jason H. Campbell, former country director for the US Secretary of Defence, Sean Mann, a former analyst for the US Special Operations Joint Task Force, Laurel E. Miller, an acting special representative from 2016 to 2017.
Trump says no amnesty for ‘Dreamers’, bashes Democrats for offer rejection
Washington: President Donald Trump said that his proposed immigration deal to end a 30-day partial government shutdown would not lead to amnesty for “Dreamers,” but appeared to signal support for amnesty as part of a broader immigration agreement.
In a morning Twitter storm, Trump also said he would not seek the removal of millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States, while bashing House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats for turning down an offer he made on Saturday, including for Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
“No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer. It is a 3-year extension of DACA. Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else,” Trump said on Twitter.
“Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!”
The Dreamers are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
DACA was put in place under former President Barack Obama. The Trump administration said in September 2017 it would rescind DACA but it remains in effect under court order.
Trump did not make clear what he was referring to regarding the 11 million people mentioned in his tweet. About 12 million people are living in the United States illegally, according to US Department of Homeland Security estimates.
Speech from the White House, Trump offered three years of protections for Dreamers and for holders of temporary protected status (TPS), another class of immigrants from designated countries affected by armed conflict, natural disaster, or other strife.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the plan as a “bold solution”, while a spokesman said McConnell would seek Senate passage of the proposal this week.
The legislation will include bills to fund government departments that have been closed during the shutdown, as well as some disaster aid and the president’s immigration proposal, a McConnell aide said.
But Trump’s amnesty tweet caught some Republicans off guard.
“I don’t know what the president’s calling amnesty,” Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, told ABC’s “This Week” program. “That’s a longer debate and obviously not something we can solve quickly.”
Trump appeared to be responding to conservative critics who accused him of proposing amnesty and reneging on a campaign promise, which could alienate his right-wing base.
Turkey is ready to take over Syria’s Manbij: Erdogan
WASHINGTON: Turkey is ready to take over security in Syria`s Manbij, where four U.S. citizens died in an Islamic State-claimed bombing last week, President Tayyip Erdogan told U.S. President Donald Trump in a telephone call on Sunday, the Turkish presidency said.
Erdogan told Trump that the suicide bombing in Manbij, a town in northeast Syria controlled by a militia allied to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, was a provocative act aimed at affecting Trump`s decision last month to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
Trump confounded his own national security team with a surprise decision on December 19 to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring the Islamic State militant group had been defeated there, a view not shared by many experts.
Manbij, which U.S.-backed forces captured from Islamic State in 2016, has emerged as a focal point of tensions after Trump`s decision to withdraw U.S. forces whose presence has effectively deterred Turkey from attacking Kurdish forces.
Manbij is controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia allied to the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has for decades waged a separatist insurgency in Turkey.
In its description of the call, the White House made no mention of Erdogan`s offer to take over security in Manbij but said the two men agreed to keep pursuing a negotiated settlement for northeastern Syria that meets both nations` security needs.
“President Trump underscored the importance of defeating terrorist elements that remain in Syria,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a description of the call.
“The two leaders agreed to continue to pursue a negotiated solution for northeast Syria that achieves our respective security concerns. They also discussed their mutual interest in expanding the trade relationship between the United States and Turkey,” the spokeswoman added.
Trump has previously warned Turkey not to attack the Kurds in Syria and appeared to threaten Turkey`s economy if it did.
In its statement, the Turkish presidency also said that the two leaders had agreed to accelerate discussions between their chiefs of staff about a safe zone in northeastern Syria.
Last week, Trump suggested creating a safe zone, without elaborating. The SDF said on Wednesday it was ready to help create a safe zone, as fears grow that the U.S. withdrawal will give Turkey the opportunity to mount a new assault.
Turkey wants the zone to be cleared of the Kurdish group.