Khaleda Zia’s Last Stand

I was trying to explain Khaleda Zia’s career to an American, and her moniker of “Aposh-hin netri” came up. I paused a little bit when wondering how to translate that to English. The literal translation is uncompromising leader, but in the US political system, those who can compromise and work with the other side are highly valued. To explain the allure of this title would require an explanation of the horrors of Hossain Mohammed Ershad, and the dark stain he represented in Bangladesh’s political history.

The Aposh or compromise in question was in regard to the 1986 election, when Khaleda Zia stayed true to her commitment to boycott the elections under Ershad, while Sheikh Hasina gave in and joined Ershad in rigged elections. In many ways, this was the divergence of the paths between the two leaders that saw Khaleda Zia remain true to her democratic principles while Sheikh Hasina, like her father, turned her back on democracy and imposed a Soviet-style dictatorship in Bangladesh, complete with two rigged parliamentary elections.

Khaleda Zia is currently confined to a CCU hospital bed, slowly dying. The Hasina regime, out of malevolence, is preventing her from going abroad by citing convictions that they brought against Mrs. Zia in Hasina’s kangaroo courts. Khaleda Zia knows that if she agreed to betray democracy one last time and indicate that BNP will join the next elections under Hasina, she will be placed in an air ambulance within the hour and taken to any of the best hospitals in the world, where she can get the liver cirrhosis treatment that will save her life. But she is, once again, choosing democracy over herself.

Her husband, Ziaur Rahman, won undying glory for himself when he advanced when the entire political class of Bangladesh was retreating, and declared independence on behalf of Bangladesh. But the courage that Khaleda Zia is showing is of an even purer type, because the enemy is not an external army, but your own body, that is failing you and causing constant pain. The pain will not come from a bullet in the battlefield, but is constant, gnawing, and internal. And there is the ever-present fear of death. But she is unflinching now as she was forty years ago.

Barry Goldwater famously said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” In the pursuit of democracy in Bangladesh – Khaleda Zia is keeping faith with us, maybe for the last time. For all our sakes, she is not compromising.