Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia did not talk to each other for over a decade. But when they did, it was one long conversation—over 37 minutes, last Saturday, October 26, 2013.
Prime Minister Hasina was eager to to end the stand-off with Khaleda-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) over the arrangement of how the next parliamentary elections —Hasina had proposed an all-party government till the elections, while BNP has been demanding a caretaker government—should be held.
The stand-off didn't end, but the conversation was leaked and expectedly went viral on social networking sites, and ever since then, all of Bangladesh has not stopped talking about the telephone talk.
Khaleda has demanded a probe into the leak but Hasina's party maintains that her nation should know exactly what transpired between her and the opposition leader.
The transcript of the English translation [Courtesy Dhaka Tribune]
Preamble to Hasina-Khaleda phone conversation, conversation between the PM's ADC and BNP chairperson’s special assistant Shamsur Rahman Shimul Biswas which is all about who was supposed to call whom:
PM ADC: Greetings.
Shimul: Yes, Mr ADC.
PM ADC: Shimul da, you didn’t call me.
Shimul: We were waiting for you. Madam has been waiting since 6.
PM ADC: No. You people were supposed to call.
Shimul: No, I don’t remember telling you anything to that effect. You’ll call us at 6. I have made her [Khaleda] wait for the last eight hours.
PM ADC: I didn’t tell you that I would call you. Because we were expecting that you would call us.
Shimul: No, you are saying the opposite. We never talked about that. I’m telling madam.
PM ADC: I never said the PM would call, either. I said…
Shimul: You will arrange the conversation over phone. This is your duty.
PM ADC: It is also your duty to arrange the conversation over phone.
Shimul: Madam is still waiting.
PM ADC: We are waiting for your call.
Shimul: Madam is waiting. Give the phone to the PM now. I am handing it over to madam.
PM ADC: Are you people there?
Shimul: Yes, madam is here.
PM ADC: Okay, please wait.
After this conversation between the prime minister’s ADC and the BNP chairperson’s special assistant Shamsur Rahman Shimul Biswas, they hand their phones over to Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.
Hasina: I called you around noon, you didn’t pick up.
Khaleda: This is not correct.
Hasina: I want to inform you that…
Khaleda: You have to listen to me first. You said you called me, but I didn’t get any call around the time you mentioned.
Hasina: I called your red phone.
Khaleda: My red phone has been dead for years. You run the government, you should know that. And if you intended to call, you should have sent people to fix the phone yesterday. They should at least check whether the phone is working or not.
Hasina: The red phones always work.
Khaleda: Send people over now and to see whether the phone is working.
Hasina: You were prime minister yourself. You know that the red phones always work.
Khaleda: They always work? But mine is not working at all.
Hasina: It is working perfectly. At least, it was working when I called.
Khaleda: I checked it just recently. You can't just not tell the truth.
Hasina: There is no reason for me not to tell the truth. I have called several times.
Khaleda: How can a dead phone come to life all of a sudden? Is your phone so powerful that it will bring life to my dead telephone?
Hasina: All right, you could not receive the phone for some reason.
Khaleda: No, that is not true. I have been sitting here. There is no reason not to receive if a phone comes. A dead phone does not ring. Did you understand? This is the truth.
Hasina: The phone was dead or kept disconnected...
Khaleda: It was dead. Several complaints were made. But you... there is no one I can talk with through the red phone. Thus, who will I talk with?
Hasina: I will see to it tomorrow, why your phone was dead.
Khaleda: It is good that you will see to it.
Hasina: I am calling you to invite you in the evening to Gana Bhaban [PM's residence] on October 28. You already know that I have spoken to several political parties about the next elections. I am inviting you.
Khaleda: If you are really sincere about a dialogue, I will come. I will not come alone, of course, there will be others.
Hasina: You can bring as many people as you want, not a problem.
Khaleda: I don’t want to bring my full party over. I will bring those I think will be needed.
Hasina: I am urging you for the sake of the nation, the people, withdraw the hartal.
Khaleda: No, I cannot go on October 28.
Hasina: Killing people, throwing fires... stop these.
Khaleda: Killing people, throwing fires is in your habit to kill people. Not ours. We are not in the habit of doing things like that. You torch people, kill people, kill people with logi-boitha – these are all recorded. These words came out of your own mouth. That is why you cannot deny it. Therefore the hartal will be on. It will end at 6pm on the 29th. We can talk afterwards.
Hasina: I am telling you, for the sake of the people and the nation, please withdraw your hartal.
Khaleda: No, the hartal is for the sake of the people and the nation. It is because you are not willing to come for a dialogue. Your ministers said there would be no dialogue. You said yourself that you rejected our proposal. You have said there is no need for dialogue. Now you are talking about a dialogue. So this dialogue can wait till our program is over.
Hasina: I am requesting you...
Khaleda: No, I will not lift the hartal, it is not possible. If you had done this one day earlier, it could have been possible.
Hasina: This is not a matter of one day earlier. You know I sat for talks with several parties...
Khaleda: I know you are a busy person. We are also busy people, though we might not be as busy as you are. But where there is a will, a way can be found. You did not do that. Yesterday, the permission you gave us yesterday for the rally, why did you grant the permission so late? We requested it many days ago. Why did it come so late? You didn’t even allow us to connect speakers. People come to rallies hear speeches. You didn't let us connect speakers, and people couldn’t hear a thing. What kind of democracy is this?
Hasina: I have let everyone know that I would sit in talks with everyone from beforehand...
Khaleda: Why didn’t you allow speakers in our rally?
Hasina: We did allow speakers.
Khaleda: I will put up speakers as far away as I wish, so that more people will hear. You stopped transport to prevent a gathering, imposed Section 144. Is there a state of emergency in the country? Is it a time of war? Are we in a state of war that you have started this behaviour? What is this?
Hasina: I don’t want to talk you about this now.
Khaleda: If you don’t want to talk, there is nothing further to say.
Hasina: What you say is not true. You are holding meetings.
Khaleda: You will allow meetings, but ban speakers. You will allow meetings, but you give permission at the last moment, with hardly enough time to construct a stage. Haven't you held meetings before? You know what is involved…
Hasina: I remember everything, I remember the August 21 grenade attack...
Khaleda: We were not involved. It was you who did that.
Hasina: You gave permission at 11 at night, I remember that. These words does not suit you.
Khaleda: The rally was in Muktangan. But you changed the venue to your office, you did not even let us know. There is no point talking about these old issues. I am telling you now, if you are really sincere, then after our program...
Hasina: We don’t want to quarrel.
Khaleda: You are quarrelling.
Hasina: You are only one doing the talking. You are not allowing me to talk.
Khaleda: Why would I do that? You are asking questions, I am replying.
Hasina: I am not getting a chance to speak.
Khaleda: You are only talking about the hartal. The hartal will not be revoked. After our program is over... you know... if you...
Hasina: Will you keep killing people in the name of hartal?
Khaleda: I don’t kill people. You kill people. You killed nine people yesterday... Your Chhatra League, Jubo League doesn’t.
Khaleda: I can show you photos of your Chhatra League-Jubo League with arms. How your Chhatra League-Jubo League kills innocent people.
Hasina: We don’t do the politics of murder; on the contrary I see...
Khaleda: This is your old habit. Since after independence in ’71, you have been killing people. You killed so many people, did you forget that?
Hasina: We killed people in ’71?
Khaleda: Yes of course, after ’71.
Hasina: For justice for the war criminals...
Khaleda: Not justice for war criminals.... If you had tried the war criminals properly, you would have had our full support. But the tribunal you formed... it was biased. You did not try the war criminals in your own party. You have not touched a single one of them. Why is that?
You are the prime minister of Awami League. You were not able to be the prime minister of this country. You could not achieve neutrality.
Otherwise, you could not have behaved as you have with me, the things you have done... the things you have done in my party office. Does I need to say more? You don’t know how to respect the opposition, then what is your democracy?
Hasina: To answer this I need to turn the pages back to 2001.
Khaleda: I also have much I can say . You and I both can...
Hasina: ... what happened with Ershad and his party. And in 2001....
Khaleda: We did nothing in ‘71. Whatever happened with Ershad, it was you who did it. When Ershad snatched power from an elected government, you said "I am not unhappy," then you told the BBC ...In this case, what more can I say? And what about Fakhruddin-Mueenuddin? Under which constitutional provision did they take power?
Hasina: Fakhruddin-Mainuddin was your choice.
Khaleda: They were not my choice. You said it yourself, that your movement produced fruit. Why do you forget all this? You want to forget all our deeds but the people do not forget.
Hasina: You made Mainuddin the army chief ignoring nine other officials.
Khaleda: You sent many officers home; the numbers do not matter, you did the same. that's not the issue. Mainuddin or anyone else.... When this happened, why did you go there? That was unconstitutional. Why did you go there? Both our parties were out of power... Then you did not think of dialogues. You did not think that it would be wrong to go with unconstitutional Fakhruddin-Mainuddin. You went there smiling.
Hasina: ... I can smile even when I am sitting on fire. My father, mother....
Khaleda: I do not want to linger on the past. Now if you really have a true intention to go forward... we want to go forward too.
Hasina: You have complained a lot. I do not want to do the same. Little Rasel... August 21 grenade attacks and the attempt to kill me.
Khaleda: You orchestrated the August 21 attacks. Nobody wanted to kill you. The longer you linger, the better it is for us. The longer you linger, the better it is for us.
Hasina: When you cut cakes on August 15...
Khaleda: It is my birthday, I will cut cake..
Hasina: When you encourage the killers of Bangabandhu and cut a cake on August 15...
Khaleda: Do not talk like this... will not anyone be born in Bangladesh on August 15? You talk a lot about Ziaur Rahman. He [Zia] did a lot for you. You were Baksal. If Zia had not been there, you would not have been Awami League.
Hasina: You have come to our Dhanmondi 32 residence on many ocassions. You have seen little Rasel. Do not you remember him at all?
Khaleda: If anyone is born on August 15, will they not celebrate their birthdays? You make these accusations all the time. Stop this. Ziaur Rahman gave you a new life. Do not talk about all these. You were Baksal. Ziaur Rahman was a gentleman and that was why you could do politics as Awami League, otherwise it would have been impossible.
Hasina: You have seen Russel in that house.
Khaleda: Drop the topic. I do not want to talk about this. I have made my statement, leave this, we can start something new. If you agree, we can hold a dialogue. If you want to talk, it has to be after the hartal.
Hasina: You will not withdraw the strike?
Khaleda: No, we cannot do this. This is not my decision, this is a decision of my alliance. How can I change it on my own?
Hasina: Call others in your party and tell them.
Khaleda: No, there is no time for that now. The manner in which you unleashed police on our men, everybody is on the run.
Hasina: Why would we do that?
Khaleda: Who else could have done it? Do [the police] act on my command? You are making [the police] raid the houses of our men. Police are taking them away.
Hasina: It is natural that the police will raid houses of bombers.
Khaleda: You are the bombers. You blast the bombs and put the blame on us. This is an old tradition of yours. Do not come back to the same old discussion.
I want to say: if you can talk after October 29, we are interested.
Hasina: You gave two days’ ultimatum, I called you up within this time, but now you are staging hartal and want dialogues after October 29 – what have you said in your speech and what are you doing?
Khaleda: I have said: movement and dialogue will run simultaneously.
Hasina: You have said it yourself, that you would not call hartal if a dialogue was initiated.
[Both leaders talk at once, garbled voices, nothing is clear]
Hasina: It seems like you are making a speech in front of the camera.
Khaleda: I do not have any camera in front of me, I am alone.
Hasina: Same with me, there is no camera at my end either.
Khaleda: I am talking from my home. If I was in my office, there would have been cameras. I do not want to stoop so low. And then later, it will be seen that you have broadcast it on televisions.
Check my Gulshan house, see who told you that my telephone was okay. I want to see an end to this matter.
Hasina: Your phone is all right.
Khaleda: My phone is not okay.
Hasina: I called up 10-12 times. The phone rang.
Khaleda: Do you think we were all deaf; the phone rang and we did not hear. You might hear it.
Hasina: How will I hear? One of my ear is damaged.
Khaleda: It is you who have said that my phone had rang, but we are saying that it didn’t.
Hasina: Phone...... Phone, I made the call myself.
Khaleda: It does not matter if you say you have called. You are saying that a dead phone has rung.
Hasina: The phone rang.
Khaleda: How will it ring? A dead phone does not ring. This is a display of your mentality, shows if you are telling the truth or not.
Hasina: I am telling the truth.
Khaleda: I checked the phone yesterday [Saturday]. We told your people that the phone was dead, but no one came. Nobody thinks of us as human, nobody feels it important to fix our telephone.
Hasina: Why are you blaming the telephone and telling a lie?
Khaleda: [snaps] Why will I tell lies? A dead telephone is dead.
Hasina: ...21602, I remember.
Khaleda: You might have the number memorised or written down somewhere nearby, but, the fact is – that the telephone is dead. Nobody will believe anything else otherwise.
Hasina: A cameraman once came...
This is nothing. The telephone exchange can be contacted to know what had really happened...
Khaleda: Who of Gulshan exchange said that the phone was ringing? Actions should be taken against that person.
Hasina: The Red Telephone of yours belongs to a separate exchange.
Khaleda: That is true..... Why is it being said that the phone was okay... Did the person you spoke to told you as such? I was sitting here waiting for the phone call. We talked over the phone many times, during anti-Ershad campaigns that we waged together. Why will we not talk? We talked so many times, went to your home, why not talk now? Come let us sit together for talks for the sake of the country.
Hasina: Come let us sit for talks on October 28.
Khaleda: No, I cannot come on October 28. If you are really willing to talk, set a date after October 29, I will respond.
Hasina: You said yesterday [Friday], that you will not call hartal if dialogue was arranged.
Khaleda: You did not act in time. You should have said much earlier.
Hasina: Listen to your own speech, the one you placed yesterday [Friday].
Khaleda: Yes, I said, but there is nothing to do now, it is too late. I said dialogue and movement will run simultaneously.
The program has been set with 18-party. Now where can I find them for revoking the decision?
Hasina: You can get to them. It is not credible when you say you cannot reach the 18-party leaders.
Khaleda: It is true that no one will believe it. Dialogue was possible, but, you are late.... If you had said last night [Friday], something could have been done. I went to the office after the rally. If you had called immediately, something could have been done.
Hasina: I do not stay up till late. I wake up early, recite the Quran...
Khaleda: I know that you are pious, you create militants and then shoot them, I know everything. These are nothing new.
Hasina: Everyone knows who burnt Qurans..
Khaleda: You made people do it, because that is what you believe. If you want a dialogue after October 29, we can see to it. There is no scope to sit for talks before that.
Hasina: I called you within the time you set for us. We arranged a dialogue within the stipulated time. Now, if you retract you said yourself citing alliance-related reasons, there is nothing to do. The people will see it.
Khaleda: My leaders are not around. They are not available. The leaders of 18-party are not available. Who will I talk to for revoking the hartal?
Hasina: It is not believable that you will not get someone to discuss the issue with. Everyone will be around on your command.
Khaleda: How will they come? Your law enforcers are on our heels. How will they come?
Hasina: This is not true. Drop your weapons, come to talks.
Khaleda: You killed Biswajit. Did you not? It is you who have the weapons. Your men killed Biswajit.
Hasina: This is not true. Those who killed him, were ousted. The murderers have been arrested.
Khaleda: This is not the only one. You killed people back in the days with ‘logi-boitha’.
Hasina: We arrested all criminals. After arrest, it has been known that their parents were supporters of BNP or Jamaat.
Khaleda: The murderers have not been held. Instead, you have brought in innocent people and harassed them.
No they were not members of BNP. They said they were activists of the Awami League. It was published in all the newspapers. I will request you to set a date after October 29 for talks, I am willing if you comply.
Hasina: What you have said in your speech, stick to it, withdraw your hartal. I am inviting you.
Khaleda: Not possible. Talks will be possible after October 29.
Hasina: Since your secretary general is an acting, we agree to talk to him.
Khaleda: Do not bring this up. Even you had an acting position of general secretary. If you had called last night, I would have called a meeting and have the hartal home.
Hasina: You will give more hartals, on earlier occasions you gave 330 days of hartal...
Khaleda: You staged 173 days of hartal, we did not do 330 days of hartal.. We did hartals together against Ershad in those 330 days. But, when we came to power, you as the opposition leader said you would not allow us to live in peace even for a single day.
You discussed caretaker in ’96 in consultation with Jamaat and brought the provision through movements. Now you abolished the caretaker provision.
You asked deputy commissioners to seek votes. The next thing you know, you will be asking them to fill ballots for you.
Now this is my final word: If you can hold talks on October 30, it will be possible.
Hasina: My party is strong enough, I do not need others to seek votes for us.
Khaleda: We also struggled a lot and came to power. Talks will breed talks.
Hasina: Tell your leaders that you made the withdrawal [of the hartal] after my phone call for the sake of the people.
Khaleda: It is not possible. But for that to happen, you have to say that you have accepted our demand for a caretaker. Only then can the hartal be withdrawn.
Hasina: Then what is left there to talk about?
Khaleda: No. There are many processes of a dialogue.
Hasina: Though I have 90% seats, I have asked you for an all-party government.
Khaleda: An all-party government is not possible. We will not participate in an all-party government.
Say, do you agree on the caretaker? If yes, then we will withdraw hartal.
Hasina: Those who wanted minus-2, why are you headed that way?
Khaleda: We do not want to go there. But....
Hasina: You are sweet-talking....
Khaleda: I know what language you speak in.
Hasina: My ears are ringing from all your sweet-talk.
Khaleda: Your political language, we know of it. We ignore them.
Hasina: We both have been in parliament hot seat. We can talk in parliament.
Khaleda: You give a neutral government... we will call off hartal.
Hasina: Accept all-party government. Or else, you might bring in someone like Fakhruddin-Mueenuddin again.
Khaleda: No, all-party government is not acceptable. I will not bring anyone, you are the one with that intention.
Hasina: Come on October 28, tell me who will you be bringing along.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine