Cross-posted on Drishtipat. Interesting discussion taking off there
Keep Me Honest has reproduced a Wall Street Journal article on Bangladesh which is definitely worth a read.
While we have all heard about the to-and-fro movements of Western diplomats (in all fairness, only Beauty Apa and Anwar Chacha!), we have heard very little of the statement issued publicly by the Resident Coordinator of UNDP, Renata Lok Dessallien, the highest-ranking UN official in Bangladesh:
"In a formal statement released in Dhaka, the most senior U.N. official in Bangladesh, Renata Lok Dessallien, cautioned that the scheduled election “would not be considered credible or legitimate.” Because of this, her statement warned, there may be “implications” for the Bangladesh army’s future participation in U.N. peacekeeping should the election be allowed to take place."
There's quite a bit to be said about the information in this one paragraph alone.
Let's start with the U.N. for example. The UNDP and DPKO are separate entities. The former is an agency under the Economic and Social Council, while the latter is a department in the Secretariat. Indeed, traditionally such has been the disparate nature of the U.N. that when they go into peacekeeping missions, they need a non-coercive, advisory body called OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) to coordinate the different bureacracies. So how does the UNDP Resident Coordinator make veiled threats about peacekeeping quotas?
(And since when does an election, no matter how farcical, ruin any country's peacekeeping prospects. If it did, then Pakistan would not be the second-highest troop contributor under Musharraf. More in the update below.)
Now this is only my humble opinion, but part of the reason lies with the restructuring of the U.N. SG's office that took place under Kofi Annan in 2005 to make it more of an executive cabinet. One assumes that this "cabinet" has control over peacekeeping quotas as well as the UNDP. An influential member of this "cabinet" is Kemal Dervis, the UNDP Administrator and Dessallien's boss, sometimes also referred to as the third-most powerful person within the U.N. system. However, he is not in charge of peacekeeping operations, the under-secretary for which is Jean-Marie Guéhenno.
Mr. Dervis is a former Economic Minister for Turkey, having served in the Cabinet of a Bangla-speaking, Tagore-translating Turkish Prime Minister (not relevant, just funny). More importantly, he is a former World Bank official, much like boss man (or is that an "epistemological" error?) Dr. Fakhruddin . Dervis is also said to have drawn some comparison with military interventions in Turkey
when he met Dr. Iftekhar Chowdhury in Feburary.
So what am I trying to say? That this obviously secular, Kemal-loving, pro-soft coups Turk orchestrated our current state of emergency? No, not at all. Nor do I believe that the Security Council Permanent Five decided to play their Great Game through the U.N. As reported, their embassies were not too shy about doing so without the cover of the U.N. This is less of a statement and more of a question. Or perhaps, several.
What possessed the normally reticent and divided U.N. to issue this statement, one clearly meant to influence a country's military and thus undermine its sovereignty? For anyone who knows the history of the U.N., sovereignty is a cornerstone of the system, and the U.N. has generally been reluctant to undermine it. Yes, I echo the sentiments of the American right-wing when I worry about the U.N. undermining sovereignty. But the truth is that the U.N. does not have the power to undermine U.S. sovereignty, and has historically restrained itself from violating the sovereignty of its weaker member states. Bangladesh-2007 could indicate a major policy-shift.
Secondly, who pulled the strings behind the scenes? Not only does the U.N. lack legitimacy in the form of popular representation (otherwise it would be the "sovereign"), it is also notoriously opaque to the stakeholders. I've already fingered Dervis as a possible mastermind. But it could be pretty much anybody else! Perhaps Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, who also serves on the "cabinet" and hails from Bangladesh? The possibilities are endless. The important thing is, we don't know and they have left it open to speculation. Much like the CTG, and with the same long-term consequences: a gradual deterioration of the people's trust in these institutions.
Worse, parts of the U.N. are highly in favour of a bottom-up development agenda, in which governments discuss issues with stakeholders to hear their concerns and get their inputs. By putting forward this example of top-down, opaque politicking on a global scale, in which the U.N. RC starts making veiled threats to incite the armed forces, the U.N. has probably lost the moral high ground for preaching its development model vis a vis future host governments in Bangladesh. Amartya Sen and Mahbubul Haque's "Human Development": R.I.P.
Shifting away from the U.N. to our domestic politics: one keeps hearing that the potential loss of peacekeeping revenue stops them from taking over completely. yet from the article, it seems that that possibility is what made them act in the first place! It does indicate however that when Chief Advisor Fakhruddin says, "I'm in charge", he's not being altogether dishonest. He might just mean that (Bangladeshi? More on this below) bureaucrats with U.N. experience are calling the shots. If this is true, then so far they have managed to control the army by being able to influence DPKO. Once they are unable to do so anymore, elections might be an option because I don't think they want a total military takeover any more than the politicians do.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, what does the UN RC statement say about our military? One hopes that it did not have too much of an effect on their decision to do what they did. Because if it did, then we might just be in big trouble as a sovereign nation. I'd rather have a patriotic but inefficient and disorderly military as we did in the late 70's, than have an efficient one whose loyalties are less to their nation and their people than to foreigners with cash. Again, it's the opacity and bureaucratic tangle of the U.N. that prevents us from knowing who was calling the shots: people with little investment - personal, emotional, economic, political - in our country (like Dervis) or our citizens serving in New York (like Chowdhury). If the military are not under Bangladeshi civilian control - bureaucratic or political - far better they are their own masters than controlled by faceless, nameless bureacrats across the seas.
They used to have a name for that in the old days...
Update: Googling "Renata Lok Dessallien"+statement leads first to this site and then to her original statement. Needless to say I'm flattered.
From the Handbook on United Nations Multi-Dimensional Peacekeeping, pg. 73:
As soon as DPKO becomes aware of the need for a military element in any particular situation, it establishes informal contacts with potential troop and personnel-contributing States. Based on a proposed concept of operations, DPKO identifies the type and capability of military elements needed. DPKO must also consider a number of political issues when selecting contributions for a specific situation, including the stated preferences of the parties to the conflict, the need for broad geographic representation and the historical or cultural ties a potential contributor may have with the region or State in question.
One can see, if further proof were needed after Pakistan, that the local political conditions of the troop-contributing country is not exactly on the list of priorities especially with U.N. peacekeeping missions are at an all time-high.
June 05, 2007at 3:29 am
Cross-posted on Drishtipat. Interesting discussion taking off there