Bangladesh can’t afford indefinite blockade

Shamsul Huda: Bangladesh’s unabated countrywide blockade is increasingly taking its toll on human lives, as also on its economy, education and every day life.
Since Jan. 6, when the blockade was enforced, nearly 100 people have died, many of them roasted alive, and several hundreds have been fighting their lives in various hospitals with severe burn injuries.
The economy is losing its vitality with counting close to SR40 billion in losses; uncertainty reigns over the fate of over 1.5 million students as their scheduled secondary school examinations hangs in the balance.
Bangladesh was thrown into political turmoil when the 14-party alliance led by the ruling Awami League (AL) tried to observe the “Victory Day for Democracy’ on Jan. 5, the day they won an uncontested parliamentary election last year to come to power for the consecutive second term.
BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party)-led 20-party alliance marked it as the “Democracy Killing Day” and took to the streets demanding a free and fair poll under a caretaker government with which the AL government did away in 2008.
Innocent people are bearing the brunt of blockade when they are rampantly patrol-bombed while they are in buses, cars and other means of transportation disrupting the entire communications system of the country. Most notably, seven people died altogether when a bus packed with passengers was set afire by arsonists on a long route in the southern part of Bangladesh. The gruesome incident drew headlines in the international media.
The hardest hit is now the country’s fragile economy. According to the Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI), the ready-made garments industry, the world’s second largest after China, has already incurred a loss of over SR15 billion, followed by the retail sector with around SR8 billion.
Farmers are paying a heavy price. Perishable products such as fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish are seen rotting in the fields as they do not reach the consumers in major cities resulting in a price hike in almost all consumer goods. The FBCCI estimated the loss in the country’s agriculture sector at over SR2 billion. Bangladesh farmers have made the country of over 160-million people self-sufficient in food and politicians are now biting their hands who feed them.
Not only farmers are getting their fingers burned, day laborers and transport workers remain unemployed suffering from the crisis of food and other essentials. According to the FBCCI estimate, the transport sector has incurred a loss of nearly SR2.1 billion forcing its workers to stage a sit-in in front of BNP leader Khaleda Zia’s party office in Gulshan where she has been confined since Jan. 6 after the announcement of the blockade.
While the country is on the edge of collapse, who is to blame for this predicament? There are many reasons to hold the government responsible. The first and the foremost is it is not permitting the opposition to exercise its democratic rights of staging street protests letting out the genie out of the bottle. Then there were arbitrary arrests of thousands of supporters of opposition parties and unwanted intimidation and restrictions on media.
For instance, two popular private TV channel owners, Abdus Salam, chairman ETV, and Mosaddek Ali Falu, chairman of NTV, a close aide of Khaleda Zia, were put behind the bars. The former was arrested allegedly for airing a speech live of Khaleda Zia’s exiled son from London.
The recent death of Khaleda Zia’s youngest son, Arafat Rahman Coco, had opened up a chance for breaking the ice between the two powerful ladies in Bangladesh politics when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went to Khaleda’s office to pay condolence but she was turned away without giving audience.
A country like Bangladesh can’t afford a blockade for indefinite period with invaluable human lives being lost, economy being ruined and foreigners turning their back on its ready-made clothes. What is needed urgently is a fruitful dialogue between Sheikh Hasina and her nemesis, Khaleda Zia. If it is not possible, the dialogue initially may get under way between top leaders of the main political parties.

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