Was Bangladesh siege waiting to happen?

After Friday's attack, Sheikh Hasina government can no longer be in a denial mode about the existence of terror groups in the country

Was Bangladesh siege waiting to happen?

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Bangladesh has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for a very long time. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League led government continued to be denial mode about the existence of terror groups in the country, secularists, bloggers, members of religious and sexual minorities were killed at regular intervals.

For all the woes plaguing Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina blamed the opposition parties and religious groups.

Extremism has been on the rise  in the traditionally moderate Muslim nation for  a very long time.

The political animosity between Hasina and  her arch rival Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has provided a fertile ground for the growth of  Islamic extremism of various hues.

The Awami League government expended more energy in consolidating its political position by suppressing the opponents. The main opposition BNP to resist the government, heavily leaned towards the conservative and extremist elements thus providing a cover for the extremist activities of the ultra Islamist groups.

[caption id="attachment_287800" align="aligncenter" width="680"]Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina[/caption]

Washington Post quotes South Asia expert  of Woodrow Wilson Centre Michael Kugelman : " The prime minister has blamed much of the country’s extremist violence on the political opposition, namely the Jamaat-e-Islaami (JI) and the Bangladesh National Party. This accusation may not be altogether false. ... Still, to seemingly rule out that groups other than Dhaka’s chief political foes are perpetrating Bangladesh’s intensifying extremist violence is naïve at best, and dangerous at worst."

[caption id="attachment_284563" align="aligncenter" width="680"](151228) -- DHAKA, Dec. 28, 2015 (Xinhua) -- Bangladeshi former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia speaks during a press conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 28, 2015. Bangladeshi former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia (Xinhua/Shariful Islam) Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia[/caption]

The government's move to prosecute the 1971 war criminals seems to have catalysed the current spate of extremism.

The international community and human rights organisations have always maintained that the pro-Pakistan militia responsible for the genocide during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh  must be tried and punished for war crime.

But they have also demanded that it must be done in a transparent manner, following due legal process.  Many rights  organisations  have decried the judicial process of the war crimes tribunal established by Hasina government.

“Justice and accountability for the terrible crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence are crucial, but trials need to meet international fair trial standards. Unfair trials can’t provide real justice, especially when death penalty is imposed " said Brad Adams, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch.

Five senior leaders of Jamaat -e Islaami including  former minister Motiur Rahman Nizami  have been hanged after the government established special tribunals to try war criminals.

[caption id="attachment_292767" align="aligncenter" width="680"]nizami-web Motiur Rahman Nizami was the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami. He was hanged for his role in war crimes[/caption]

The conviction of war criminals has triggered a civil war like situation in Bangladesh, killing more than 500 people in 2013.

The spontaneous protests by students, secular bloggers and online activists  demanding swift execution of the war criminals triggered counter protests from Jamaat-e-Islami and its affiliates.

The extremist  groups seems to have used the ensuing crisis to further their divisive agenda.

Oblivious of what is happening in the country, Hasina government tried to stabilise her power by authoritarian methods. The government's excesses against political opponents resulted in torture, extra judicial killings etc.   A deeply politicised, almost dysfunctional judicial system added to the country's problems.

Though  Islamic extremism has been rearing its  head in Bangladesh for some years and political parties are using it to further their interest, the nation was a secular country when its Constitution was adopted in 1972.

The Constitution, perhaps as response to the bloody civil war that preceded the formation of the nation was  based on tolerance, and ethnic identity as some of its major ideals.

But later amendments of the Constitution which reflected the drift towards authoritarianism.

The 1975 military coup and the assassination of President Mujibur Rahman changed the political landscape completely.

The basis of the  unending struggle  for power between Sheikh Hasina, who is daughter of  Mujibur Rehman and Khaleda Zia can be found here ( Zia's husband Ziaur Rehman rose to power after the military coup of 1975. Hasina accuses Ziar Rehman for the killing of her father).

The 1975 military rule deleted the secularism clause from the constitution.

Friday attack by terrorists in Dhaka's high security diplomatic enclave have put the government in such a situation that they can't be in a denial mode anymore on the existence of terror groups in the country.

But how they are responding to this is paramount. Not only for peace in the nation, but also for the entire region.