Was Bangladesh siege waiting to happen?
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.
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.”
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.
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.