Then opposition leader in parliament Sheikh Hasina in 1991 told the then US ambassador to Dhaka that there was still the feeling among some members of her party’s high-ups that the US had somehow been implicated in the assassination of her father.
Hasina said that she had taken great risk when she visited the US for the first time in the middle 1980’s. She stated that she had been criticised loudly by many parts of her party as well as other parties for doing business with the Americans.
At a two-hour-long meeting with then US ambassador to Dhaka William Bryant Milam on July 10, 1991, Hasina said that she did not think that most of the members of her party still held this view, but that some did, according to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
She said that perhaps the US should have worked harder to rebut these allegations in the early years after they occurred, and that the USG should still seek to assure people that it had no connection with the plot to assassinate her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whenever the opportunity arises.
In the cable sent to Washington the same day, Milam said: “Hasina appeared relaxed and much more friendly than usual … It is clear she wants to improve relations with the USG [we have heard this from another source also].
“In previous meetings, she has appeared tense and somewhat on guard; in this meeting, she seemed much more open and willing to discuss a range of issues without the usual sloganeering. Her relaxed demeanour was also evidenced by her willingness to talk about her family and other personal items.”
Hasina was also eager to know the US view towards the Awami League and wanted to improve the ties to the US government.
“… she asked me whether the US opposes her and or her party. She said that one of the current rumours in Bangladesh, particularly among her own party workers, is that the US is strongly opposed either to her or to her party coming to power,” Milam wrote in the cable.
“I responded immediately that there was no substance to this rumour and that we did not take sides among political parties in any country, and that we would work eagerly and positively with any government elected by the people of Bangladesh.
“I mentioned that we did not agree with all of the aspects of the party programmes of most of the parties in Bangladesh. I said that the tendency on the part of some elements of the AL to think in terms of socialist solutions had always been troublesome to US.
“I also mentioned that, as had been demonstrated over the past six months, there were small elements of her party and of the leftist parties with which the AL is aligned, towards a knee- jerk anti-Americanism.”
In his comment on the discussion, Milam wrote: “I am unable to judge whether Sheikh Hasina really believes that the US opposes her or her party. However, the length of the meeting, its warmth, and her relaxation clearly indicate that she wants to improve her ties to me, to this mission, and to the USG.”
No sympathy for socialism
Sheikh Hasina spent a considerable amount of time explaining why the party’s call for socialism was really not/not a call for socialism.
She said that she personally had no sympathy for socialism, that she knows that it is a failed system, everywhere. She said that the only prescription she wanted was how to help the Bangladesh people develop economically.
Milam wrote: “I assured her again that we do not interfere in the internal affairs of countries and we work positively with freely elected governments.” She mentioned that in part, the anti-American cast of some AL workers might also stem from our perceived proclivity to work with anti-democratic forces such as the previous regime.
The meeting ended on a very friendly note.
Towards the end, “I suggested that if Sheikh Hasina were prime minister we would be working closely and positively with her, as we would with most governments. When I said that she might now be prime minister, she lifted her eyes to the ceiling and said ‘God help me,’ implying very strongly that she was perfectly prepared at this point in Bangladesh history, with all the immense problems the new government faces, to sit in opposition,” the ambassador said.