Thursday, November 28, 2013
Bangladesh the land of the
resurrected. Here, a dictator can be overthrown, disgraced and imprisoned, and
still make a comeback.
More than two decades after being ousted, Hussain Mohammed Ershad is now being called the “Queenmaker.” Thanks to recent political maneuvering, he is in a prime position to tip the scales between the two main contenders in the general election to be held in January: Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, and Khaleda Zia, former prime minister, leader of the opposition and Ms. Hasina’s longtime foe.
Mr. Ershad came to power in 1983, as the head of a military-backed government. By late 1990, after nearly a decade without free and fair elections, a massive popular uprising — led by the two most powerful opposition parties, the Awami League (Ms. Hasina’s party) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (Ms. Zia’s) — was putting pressure on Mr. Ershad to step down. His government fell after the army withdrew its support. Within weeks, Mr. Ershad was in jail on corruption charges.
More than 20 years later, Mr. Ershad’s influence is on the rise again. Though Ms. Hasina and Ms. Zia once cooperated in the movement to restore democracy, they have become bitter opponents in the intervening years, as power has shifted back and forth between the Awami League and the B.N.P. Now, on the eve of another election, Mr. Ershad is the accidental arbiter in the enduring rivalry between the co-architects of his downfall.
But Ms. Hasina’s decision to stand by allegedly corrupt ministers and her consistent repression of her political opponents have damaged her standing. Especially controversial, Ms. Hasina has scrapped the so-called caretaker government that had overseen national elections since Mr. Ershad’s fall. In its place she has appointed a special election-time cabinet formally open to all parties and placed herself at its helm.
Ms. Zia looks even worse. Her last term in office was marred by allegations of corruption (some involving her immediate family), and she reigned over an unprecedented spate of violence by religious extremists, including the Islamic terrorist Bangla Bhai. While in the opposition, Ms. Zia has been obstinately uncooperative. She has boycotted Parliament since losing the election in 2008. Now she is threatening to boycott the January election unless the caretaker framework is reinstated. In the meantime, she has called a series of strikes and demonstrations that have brought the country to a standstill. She has refused to join Ms. Hasina’s interim cabinet.
Mr. Ershad, for his part, has accepted to join the new cabinet. He has also agreed to run in the election, a move that will lend the process the credibility that Ms. Hasina badly wants and Ms. Zia is trying to deny her. And if Ms. Zia does stick to her boycott, the Jatiya Party of Mr. Ershad will likely become the country’s new main opposition party, vastly increasing its current influence.
And so it is that while the two leading ladies of Bangladeshi politics quarrel, Mr. Ershad’s clout is growing. In fact, it is almost tempting to forget the dark spots in his past. Mr. Ershad’s rule is sometimes looked upon as a dictatorship of the benign sort. The 1982 coup that brought him to power was bloodless (conveniently, his predecessor had already been assassinated). And the years of democracy that have followed his downfall have been tainted by so much corruption, cronyism and repression that his regime can seem innocuous by comparison.
But nostalgia underestimates the damage the man did to
. Mr. Ershad
institutionalized corruption on a large scale, undertaking building projects
that enriched him and his cronies. In 1988, his government amended the
Constitution, ignoring its foundational secular principles to declare Islam the
country’s state religion. The return to politics of this dictator, whose fall
was so hard-won, sends a message of impunity. Bangladesh
taken another hit, in other words. Politicians are unaccountable. The electoral
process is sketchy. Yes, Bangladeshis have held on to the right to vote, but it
is, in effect, the right to vote only for warring factions determined to
destroy each other. Bangladesh
A few weeks ago, in a bid to convince her to end the strikes, Ms. Hasina made a telephone call to Ms. Zia. The transcript of the conversation, which was circulated online, reads like a parody.
Ms. Hasina: “We don’t want to quarrel.”
Ms. Zia: “You are quarrelling.”
Ms. Hasina: “You are the only one doing the talking. You are not allowing me to talk.”
Ms. Zia: “Why would I do that? You are asking questions, I am replying.”
Ms. Hasina: “I am not getting a chance to speak.”
Amid that bickering, Ershad doesn’t need to do much talking at all.
Published in The NewYork Times, November 26, 2013
Tahmima Anam is a writer and anthropologist, and the author of the novel “A Golden Age.”
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Self-assured commentators who saw
as a “basket case” not many years ago could not have expected that the country
would jump out of the basket and start sprinting ahead even as expressions of
sympathy and pity were pouring in. This informative Lancet Series
on Bangladesh helps
to explain what happened—and why. It is important to understand how a country
that was extremely poor a few decades ago, and is still very poor, can make
such remarkable accomplishments particularly in the field of health, but also
in social transformation in general.
The lessons are important for
own future, and for what The Lancet Bangladesh Team describe
as the construction of “a second generation of health systems”. But the
messages from Bangladesh's
experience are also of great relevance for many other countries in the world
that suffer from debilitating poverty. It might not be good manners for Bangladesh to
start lecturing the world on what to do, so soon after jumping out of the
basket to which it had been relegated, but the country's experience has
important lessons for other developing countries across the globe.
These lucid and helpful papers discuss the main avenues of change on which
Bangladesh has travelled. I will
not summarise the findings: this has been nicely done in the introductory paper
by Mushtaque Chowdhury and colleagues. Instead I will concentrate on a
small number of striking features of the strategy followed by Bangladesh in
moving rapidly towards health transition.
One direction of change is the emphasis that the country has placed on reducing gender inequality in some crucially important respects. The impetus for the change was linked in many different ways with the politics of liberation that made the issue of freedom, including the liberation of women, a part of the progressive agenda of what people wanted and were ready to fight for. There are inescapably complex issues to be addressed in order to explain more fully how exactly that happened. It can be argued that there were historical elements in the culture of
Bengal, and particularly in the emergence
of radical movements in various forms in that province throughout the first
half of the 20th century, that leant them to include a serious concern for
gender equity. But it was the nature of the struggle for independence of Bangladesh, particularly in focusing on the
contrast with West Pakistan, that made it
possible to make an effective political translation towards empowering women.
The causation of this move towards gender equity cannot but remain somewhat speculative, but its consequences are clear enough. Schools focused particularly on expanding the education of girls:
is one of the few countries in the world where the number of girls in school
now exceeds the number of boys. Public services, including school teaching, health
care, and family planning, employ a much higher proportion of women workers
than is the case in most developing economies, including in Bangladesh's
neighbouring countries. Women have also entered the economic workforce in
plentiful numbers, led by such industries as garment making that provided easy
entry to female labourers, even though the neglect of safety at work has been a
huge blot in the record of that industry, a serious deficiency that is only
belatedly being addressed, and perhaps not yet strongly enough.
Women have also received special attention from Bangladesh's powerful non-governmental organisations (NGOs)—from large initiatives like BRAC and Grameen Bank to smaller organisations—and the mobilisation of the active agency of women has been a distinctive feature of the vision that has moved Bangladesh forward. And there has been a general determination in post-independence
target the elimination of female disadvantage in different fields of action,
including maternal and child survival.
The removal of female disadvantage and the use of female agency have raised
record of achievement even on its own, but it is in fact the case that women's
agency has also contributed greatly to the advancement of the lives and
freedoms of all—men, women, and children. The unlocking of the power of women's
active role in the society and in the economy has been an extremely productive
move for Bangladesh and
contrasts with what has happened in much of India. Bangladesh's
powerful achievement in making much greater use of women's agency is a remarkable
affirmation of the importance of what Mary Wollstonecraft called, in 1792, “the
vindication of the rights of woman”. Indeed it turns out that the removal
of the social shackles that restrain women has a crucial part to play in the
progress of all people—of both sexes and of all ages.
A second striking feature of the
story is the general acceptance of a multiplicity of instruments in the public
and private sectors for rapid social advancement. Just as state initiatives
have been seriously undertaken, NGOs and private enterprises have been
forcefully supplementing the efforts of the public sector. As Syed Masud Ahmed
and colleagues argue, the use of pluralism has allowed Bangladesh to
get off to a quick start bringing the country a little closer to a health transition.
This is not to deny that the mixture of instruments that characterise
Bangladesh's path of development
will demand critical examination over time, since substantial overall
advancement can coexist with persistent inefficiency and inequalities in the
sharing of the benefits of health transition. These evaluative issues remain
open to scrutiny and critical examination, but what has to be immediately—and
firmly—recognised is that Bangladesh has been, in its own way, going ahead
rapidly, rather than remaining paralysed by the slowness that is often entailed
by the pursuit of “purity” in more ideologically oriented initiatives which
favour either exclusive reliance on private enterprise or exclusive use of
state-based programmes. The pragmatism that Bangladesh came to accept through a
complex political and social process has yielded noticeable success, which has
impressed—and to a considerable extent surprised—the world.
A third feature, closely related to the second, is the intelligent use of community-based approaches in the delivery of health services and medical care. As Shams El Arifeen and his coauthors outline, the mobilisation of community-based participation has many advantages, not only for the fostering of social cooperation, but also for extending the reach of the health initiatives and their impact. The innovations in health-service delivery from which Bangladeshis have benefited have been possible partly because of these participatory features in the process of social change. The importance of innovations is also discussed in the context of equity in the paper by Alayne Adams and colleagues.
A fourth feature, which demands particular attention in Bangladesh, is the country's improved ability to face natural disasters, such as storms, cyclones, floods, and droughts. These natural calamities have acted as a persistent drag on the country's progress. As the contributions by the Richard Cash and colleagues highlight, the deep vulnerability of the disaster-prone country to unruly forces of nature, which needed to be subdued, has indeed been, to a considerable extent, reduced. The elimination of these problems would, however, demand much more security-oriented progress in future years, especially if the threats for climate change become stronger.
I have pointed to a few of the special features in
progress towards a health transition, and many other features have been
explored in this valuable Lancet Series. One very important
aspect of this compendium of investigations is the continued focus on a call to
action that nicely
supplements the appreciation of what has been accomplished. Bangladesh has
still a long way to go. This Lancet Series shows how Bangladesh has
firmly placed itself on the way to that long journey (and has made an excellent
beginning), but also points to further problems that have to be tackled as the
journey proceeds. The key to Bangladesh's
laudable success has been the avoidance of the twin dangers of inertia and
smugness. The future will demand more from these virtues.
I declare that I have no conflicts of interest.
First published in The Lancet journal, 21 November 2013
Prof Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate and professor of economics, Harvard University, Littauer Center, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Monday, November 11, 2013
On October 7, 2013,
Bangladesh's Cabinet ratified the Extradition
Treaty with .
Disclosing this, Bangladesh Cabinet Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan stated
that the Cabinet meeting was chaired by Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh
Hasina Wajed, and that the treaty would now require the approval of the
Parliament in order to come into effect, following the exchange of documents
after legal procedures by both countries. The Indian Cabinet had already
ratified the treaty. On October 23, 2013, the instruments of ratifications were
exchanged, and the Treaty came into effect. The Extradition Treaty had been
inked on January 29, 2013. India
Some of the significant aspects of the treaty include:
Article 5: Nothing in this Treaty shall preclude the extradition by the
of its nationals
either in respect of a territorial offence or in respect of an extra-territorial
Article 11(1): In case of urgency, one
may request the other to provisionally
arrest the person sought. Such request shall be made in writing and transmitted
to the Central Authority of the Contracting
State through diplomatic
Article 17(1): When a request for extradition is granted, the
Requested State shall, upon request and so far as its law
allows, hand over to the articles (including
sums of money) which may serve as proof or evidence of the offence. Requesting
Article 18: Each
shall, to the extent permitted by its law, afford the other the widest measure
of mutual assistance in criminal matters in connection with the offence for
which extradition has been requested. Contracting State
However, according to Article 6, persons accused of political crimes [offence of a political character] would not come under the purview of the Treaty. Further, offenders accused of small crimes, with a maximum penalty of imprisonment for less than one year, are also outside the scope of the Treaty. Article 8 states that the signing countries also reserve the right to refuse extradition.
Apart from its specific provisions, the Treaty well enhance the already-much-improved Indo-Bangladesh security ties.
India hopes that the Treaty will facilitate the
extradition of Anup Chetia alias Golap Barua, 'general secretary' of the United
Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and other criminals taking shelter in . Chetia
has been in a Bangladesh
jail since his arrest in 1997. A Bangladesh court jailed Chetia for
seven years for illegal entry. Although his sentence has expired, he is still
custody. Chetia sought political asylum in Bangladesh Bangladesh
thrice, in 2005, 2008 and in 2011, after being arrested from Dhaka's
Mohammadpur area in 1997.
In addition to Chetia, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) leader Thulunga alias Tensu Narzery and many other insurgents from
insurgency-wracked north-east have been hiding in , and are now under
imminent threat of deportation. Bangladesh
Further, with an over 4,000 kilometre porous border between the two countries, mainly along India's insurgency-plagued north-eastern States, and reports suggesting that both Indian and trans-border terrorists are taking advantage of security gaps in the Indian State of West Bengal, the treaty will be crucial for both countries to take effective action against serious offenders for a wide variety of crimes, including terrorism, smuggling, human trafficking, organised crime, and white-collar crime. The treaty has also extended the scope of mutual cooperation on security and border related issues. It can be hoped, moreover, that it will help the enforcement agencies on both sides to secure their common goals of protecting their respective citizens and eliminating cross-border safe havens for criminals.
has also operationalised the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in Criminal Matters
The Legal Assistance Treaty assume importance in combating transnational
organized crimes, trans-border terrorism, and other serious offences such as
human and drug trafficking, money laundering, counterfeit currency, smuggling
of arms and explosives, etc. Keeping in mind the regional challenges of
terrorist funding and the recent Rohingya problem, such cooperation will create
strong instruments of 'official hindrance' to anti-governmental formations and
non-state actors with radical political agendas. Bangladesh
The India-Bangladesh relationship has been on a sustained upswing since Sheikh Hasina came to power in January 2009. With remarkable transformations in the domestic scenario, Dhaka sought to repair relations with
Delhi, and to stamp out the anti-Indian
sentiment in . Bangladesh
These gains, of course, remain tenuous. Recent developments, including the political turmoil in Bangladesh, and evidence that the US has revaluated its position on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) - Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) combine, with an assessment in its favour, suggest that the outcome of the General Elections due before January 24, 2014, are deeply uncertain. A restoration to power of the BNP-Jamaat combine in Dhaka would lead to the inevitable resurgence of Islamist extremist radicalization and the anti-India sentiment in
and the rapid erosion of the gains of the past years in India-Bangladesh
relations. Significantly, the Extradition Treaty has several loopholes, particularly
including the clause that allows the signatory states to refuse extradition, which
would allow an uncooperative Government to subvert the letter and spirit of the
agreement. As with much else, Bangladesh South Asia
remains a region of extreme uncertainty.
First appeared on South Asia IntelligenceReview, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 12, No. 19, November 11, 2013
Sanchita Bhattacharya is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
Saleem Samad in Santhia, Pabna
As she loiters past damaged houses in Sahaparha village, 5-year old ‘Orgho’ fumes over her smashed water mug, plastic chair and, most loudly, about the damaged television in her house.
She blames the Nov 2 mayhem on Kali Puja day on 'dustu chelera’ (naughty boys).
Her mother is cautious, as she recollects how she hid in a smelly toilet for three hours to escape an armed mob of fanatic Muslims.
A part of her house was smashed to smithereens.
The State Minister for Home Shamsul Hoque Tuku had gathered at Karamjat madrasa ground to thwart Opposition protests, barely 10 kilometres from Bongram bazaar at Santhia.
That was just before the Muslim mob, fuming over a reported Facebook posting denigrating Prophet Muhammad, went on an orgy of violence in Santhia.
Sahaparha was one of the worst affected because the Facebook posting was blamed on Rajib Saha, a resident of the village.
The conspirators deliberately chose Saturday, a weekly haat-bazaar day.
On the day hundreds of photocopies of an alleged Facebook posting were distributed, indicating that Rajib Saha had insulted the Prophet.
The distribution left Muslims of all parties inflamed.
What followed was hours of violence in which atleast 40 Hindu homes were ravaged.
The young women are yet to return to villages, as fear grips the Hindus in the area.
They are worried because those suspected of perpetrating the mayhem have not been arrested.
Worse, the Hindus now suspect that many who made up the violent mob enjoy protection of senior Awami League politicians including local MP and State Minister for Home Shamsul Hoque Tuku.
This is what has shocked them most -- how could those attacking them enjoy Awami League protection!
Tuku has also been blamed for letting the police on Awami League dissidents close to senior leader Prof Abu Sayeed, one time close confidante of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
But what about the alleged Facebook posting!
Like many similar so-called Facebook postings that inflamed Muslims and led to anti-minority violence elsewhere in the country like Ramu, this one allegedly by Rajib Saha also appeared a complete fake.
Journalists in Pabna argued that the photocopy of the Facebook ostensibly posted by Rajib was 'photoshopped' from a fake account “Innocent Rajib”.
Much like the alleged Facebook posting at Ramu in Cox's Bazar in September last year, in which hundreds of Buddhist homes were vandalised and scores of pagodas desecrated.
The miscreants in both Ramu and Santhia seem to have lost no time to loot valuables and cash in the second wave of violence following the initial fury.
Superintendent of Police (SP) of Pabna Mirajuddin Ahmed promised that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
But he was quick to add that the attackers had not been identified. Except for those who spoke to Rajib's father Babul Saha in the morning.
Have the conspirators been arrested? ‘No,’ said Babul Saha who filed the case with police.
Ataikula Police Station OC Rezaul Karim claims they have arrested several of the suspects. Three cases have been lodged including one by police for obstruction to perform duty.
Police officials told visiting civil society groups, rights activists and journalists that those named by Babul Saha have been arrested.
But Saha said he had only heard of the arrests and was not able to confirm them.
Deputy Commissioner of Pabna Ashraf Uddin explained it was a 'police matter' and progressing “very well”.
But he said the civil administration had nothing much to do, except for initiating a confidence-building process after the violence.
The victims of Bonogram, Sahaparha and Goshparha have rejected the district administration’s offer of relief of 30 sacks of rice (each weighing 28 kg).
Rajib's uncle Kartick Saha says they need protection, not rice which they can afford to buy.
Like the Buddhists in Ramu, the Hindus in Santhia want the government to compensate them for the damaged temples to facilitate reconstruction.
A RAB platoon and two platoons of armed police have been deployed in Santhia. Police presence, says the SP, will deter a repeat of Nov 2.
He added a permanent police camp will be established there.
Local journalists say minister Tuku received news of violence in 10 minutes. But he did not do enough to protect the Hindus.
A small police contingent arrived within 30 minutes after desperate phone calls from Babul Saha.
But the larger force of police and RAB came only after three hours of intense violence, the elders complain.
Most Hindu elders do not remember when they had faced violence like they did on Nov 2.
Some recollect violence during 1971 by marauding
and their local collaborators.
As most Hindus here had fled to
safety, they did not have any direct experience of violence -- not until Nov 2.
Like other planned attacks on religious minorities elsewhere in
the perpetrators targeted the house of worship to break the morale of the
It is a pattern that has often been repeated -- at Taindong (Khagrhachharhi), Ramu and Ukhia (Cox’s Bazar), Sathkira, Begumganj, Gaibanda, Lalmonirhat and other places.
But the biggest worry -- leaders of all political parties belonging to the majority community, despite their political differences, seem to take the same line of connivance or indifference when minorities are attacked.
First published in BDNEWS24.COM,
Saleem Samad, is an Ashoka Fellow for journalism, an award winning investigative reporter, is a freelance contributor to bdnews24.com
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
A clash of civilizations is unfolding in Muslim Bangladesh, where the forces of radical jihadi Islamism are trying to topple a liberal democracy, and no one in the West seems interested.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League have accomplished something of which no other Muslim leader in any Islamic country could dream.
She fought a courageous battle against jihadi Islamism by strengthening secular democracy in the country’s constitution and barring religious parties from using Islam as a political tool.
While other leaders in Islamic countries with quasi democracies such as
Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia
have surrendered to the bullying tactics of the Islamists and bent over
backward to accommodate medieval mullahs, ’s PM has not blinked, despite
threats and strikes that are disrupting the country’s economy. Bangladesh
With a national election looming, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its religious partners, the jihadis of the Jamaat-e-Islami, have resorted to a dangerous tactic that brings back memories of the 1971 genocide, when the country’s Hindu population was virtually wiped out by
occupation army and its Islamist collaborators. Pakistan
On Monday, at least 15 people, including six women, were injured when opposition BNP men stormed a Hindu village and vandalized and looted houses.
The villagers complained they came under attack after they refused to participate in a nation-wide strike called against the government.
Traumatized by the violent attack, Hindu women and children of 125 families had to flee the village as opposition goons ransacked about 40 houses and looted valuables, said witnesses.
The Muslim on Hindu attacks in
Bangladesh come in the shadow of a war crimes
tribunal sentencing two prominent leaders of ’s Islamist movements to
death for their role in the 1971 genocide committed by the Pakistan Army. Bangladesh
Both convicted Islamists happen to be residents of the
and were found guilty on 11 charges relating to the abduction and killing of 18
pro-independence activists, including academics and journalists, in the final
days of the 1971 war. U.S.
Stung by these verdicts, the opposition Islamist parties are threatening to bring the country to its knees if Hasina does not resign before the elections in the New Year.
The opposition BNP says, unless Hasina relinquishes power, its supporters will whip up nationwide strikes. It is also threatening to boycott the elections.
Last week, Hasina offered the formation of an all-party government to see through the elections, but the BNP is going ahead with a rally in
Dhaka on Friday, with
one party leader asking supporters to come “prepared with arms”.
To counter the Islamist threat, the ruling Awami League has also announced plans for a competing rally on the same day, raising the risk of more bloodshed.
So far this year at least 150 people have died in opposition protests and more than 2,000 have been injured during strikes and protests.
If the Awami League of Hasina is either pushed out of office by mass protests or in an election, be prepared to see another
Pakistan emerge on ’s eastern
flanks, with hard-core allies of the Muslim Brotherhood turning back the clock
on one more Islamic country. India
and the West must keep a watchful eye on the developments inside Bangladesh and help Dhaka
fight the jihadi onslaught.
FIRST POSTED IN THE
SUN, NOVEMBER 05, 2013 TORONTO
Monday, November 04, 2013
With less than three months left before the General Elections in
(the term of the present Parliament expires on January 24, 2014)
political tensions in the country are approaching a knife-edge, with mass
mobilisation and violence escalating continuously, and the major political
formations in the country increasingly polarized. The Opposition parties led by
the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) have started a movement demanding a
non-party Caretaker Government (CG) to oversee the next polls. A three-day
countrywide shut down by the BNP between October 27-29, 2013, saw violent
clashes between mobs and Police, and at least 10 persons were killed. Bangladesh
Earlier, on October 19, 2013, with the crescendo of street demonstrations and violence soaring, Bangladeshi authorities had banned rallies and street protests in capital
for an indefinite period. Police and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion
(RAB) personnel were deployed around the Bangabandhu International Conference
Centre (BICC) and other strategic locations of the city to thwart possible
street protests by BNP cadres. On October 20, 2013, the Opposition parties
staged demonstrations across the country as part of their protest against the
indefinite ban on public gatherings in Dhaka
city. At least 20 people were injured in a clash between the activists of
ruling Awami League (AL) and opposition BNP at Ku Koramara village in Bagerhat
District on that day. Later, on October 25, 2013, seven people were killed in
violence that broke out between BNP activists, activists and law enforcers in different
places across the country. Several hundred people were also injured. AL
Meanwhile, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) had arrested four leaders and cadres of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) from Ashulia, an outskirt of Dhaka city, on October 7, 2013, and recovered one foreign-made pistol, 32 bullets, and 1,135 rounds of SMG (Sub-Machine Gun) bullets, five detonators, one kilogram of high-powered explosive and other blasting equipment from their possession. Separately, RAB arrested three leaders of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), an Islamist extremist outfit, at Rahanpur Bazar under Gomastapur
District on October 8, 2013, and recovered two computer central processing
units (CPUs) and monitors, 26 CDs, and books propagating extremism. Indeed, in
the wake of a bomb blast at Hefajat-e-Islam (HeI) Nayeb-e-Ameer (Deputy
Chief) Mufti Izharul Islam Chowdhury's madrasa (religious
seminary) in Chittagong on October 7, 2013, top officials of the Home Ministry
and Police disclosed, on October 8, 2013, that banned militant outfits were
planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the country. sub-District
In an exceptional gesture on October 26, 2013, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had phoned her archrival Khaleda Zia, leader of the BNP, and had a 37-minute conversation inviting the BNP chairperson to the Gono Bhaban (People's House), the official residence of the Prime Minister, to talk about the impending parliamentary elections. Khaleda, however, rejected the invitation, demanding, instead, "If you first agree in principle on holding the next general election under a non-partisan polls-time Government, then we will call off all our agitation including the 60-hour hartal. And we will sit to discuss how to form the polls-time Government."
With the initiative to evolve a consensual solution in tatters, BNP, in alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI), and other radical groups, unleashed a wave violence in the streets across the country. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), as many as 194 people, including 102 civilians, 83 JeI-ICS cadres, and nine Security Force (SF) personnel 631 have been killed since the delivery of the first verdict in the War Crimes Trial on January 21, 2013 (Data till November 3, 2013).
Significantly, it appears that the 18-Party opposition alliance, till now headed by the BNP, is progressively being hijacked by the JeI, with its focus shifting to opposition to the War Crimes Trials and obstruction of the execution of its verdicts, rather than any dispute over the impending Parliamentary elections. Indeed, at a rally held by the alliance at the historic Suhrawardy Udyan in
JeI cadres scuffled with BNP activists in their attempts to occupy the stage
and the first seats. With ugly clashes between JeI-ICS cadres and BNP activists
at the venue, JeI cadres cheered only when their leaders were making speeches. The
Daily Star reported
that the ICS activists had been ordered by the party high command to rush to
the venue and take control of the rally. This was repeated in other places in ,
where simultaneous 'joint' rallies were being held. Bangladesh
Even as her party was upstaged, Khaleeda Zia intensified her attack against the Sheikh Hasina Government, describing it as 'totally illegitimate' and 'unconstitutional'.
Significantly, in a public opinion survey conducted by The Daily Star and Asia Foundation, with 1,400 respondents across 14 Districts during the second and third weeks of September 2013, the AL-led Government received significant praise from voters on various issues, including agricultural policy and performance, power supply, delivery of public service and law and order. Nevertheless, a majority of 55 per cent of the respondents declared that they would vote for the BNP, with just 28 per cent saying they would vote for
Counter-intuitively, at the same time, public opinion appears to be building up against radicalization and public demonstrations to this effect have been prominent. Thus, after the Opposition of October 28, children of the freedom fighters of 1971, under the banner of Amra Muktijoddhar Shontan (AMS, We Are Children of Freedom Fighters) washed the alter of the a liberation war memorial site at the Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka with their blood, declaring it had been 'desecrated' by Khaleeda Zia, who made a speech demanding the release of convicted war criminals. In a symbolic gesture, AMS leaders donated blood drawn by a doctor, which was then dissolved in water, with which the altar was cleansed. Suhrawardy Udyan in
Dhaka is the venue where Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had
delivered the historic March 7, 1971 speech. It is also the historic venue
where the remnants of the Pakistan Army surrendered to on
December 16, 1971. India
Meanwhile, even as polarized political passions intensified, the International Crimes Tribunal-2 (ICT-2), on November 3, 2013, awarded the death penalty to absconding Al-Badr leaders Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman Khan alias Nayeb Ali and Chowdhury Mueenuddin for their involvement in the 1971 War Crimes. All 11 charges leveled against them by the prosecution were proved. The convicts received the death penalty for abduction and killing of nine
teachers, six eminent journalists and three physicians in December 1971. Mueen
was the 'operations in charge' and Ashraf was the 'chief executor' of Al-Badr
and they directly took part in the killing of intellectuals in Dhaka University Dhaka. On June 24, 2013, Ashraf and Mueen were jointly
indicted on 11 counts of crimes against humanity for abducting and killing 18
persons. The trial began on July 15. The two
accused were tried in absentia. Mueen lives in London
and Ashraf in . New York
Earlier, on October 9, 2013, the ICT-2 had sentenced Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Abdul Alim (83) to 'imprisonment until death'. Alim was the chairman of
Liberation War period, and was subsequently a founding member of BNP. He was
elected Member of Parliament in 1979, 1996 and 2001. Zia-ur-Rahman made Alim a
Cabinet Minister in 1978. Alim was found guilty on nine of the 17 charges brought
against him. The four charges on account of which he was sentenced to
'imprisonment until death' included: committing genocide in Karai Kadipur,
Chawkpara, Sonapara, Palpara and Munshipara of Jaipurhat District on April 26,
1971; committing genocide at Uttar Hatsahar and Harunja Hat of Khetlal in
Jaipurhat District towards the end of May 1971; killing 15 youth at West Amatra
in Jaipurhat District on June 14, 1971; and killing three freedom fighters at
Khanjanpur Khuthibari in October 1971. Joypurhat
Thus far nine verdicts have been awarded by the International Crimes Tribunals (ICTs) conducting the War Crimes Trials that begin on March 25, 2010. While seven verdicts had been announced earlier, the Abdul Alim verdict is the second against a BNP leader. The first BNP leader to be convicted, on October 1, 2013, was Salauddin Quader Chowdhury.
In another trial on the same day, ICT-1 indicted the vice-president of the Nagarkanda unit (Faridpur District) of BNP, M.A. Zahid Hossain Khokon (70) alias Khokon Razakar on 11 charges, including genocide, torture, abduction and confinement during the Liberation War of 1971. According to the charges leveled against him, Khokon, at that time a local leader of the Razakars (Volunteers), an auxiliary force of the Pakistani Army, in Faridpur District, was involved in at least 13 incidents of war crimes that resulted in the death of more than 50 people, serious injuries to another eight and the rape of two women. Khokon was also proven to be involved in the forced conversion of Hindus, the torching of numerous houses and two temples, and the deportation of seven people. Khokon became the 14th high profile leader in
be indicted for War Crimes. Earlier, 13 leaders,
including 11 of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and two of the BNP, had been indicted
for War Crimes. Bangladesh
Further, on October 6, 2013, the Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament) passed the 'Voters' List (Second Amendment) Bill, 2013', with a provision of removing the names of those who were awarded punishment for War Crimes. The amended section of the law stated that the names of those who were awarded punishment under the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunal) Order 1972 or under the International Crimes Tribunal or mentally retarded person declared by any court or a person not citizen of
, would be removed from
the voters' list. Law Minister Shafique Ahmed tabled the Voters' List (Second
Amendment) Bill, 2013, in Parliament and it was passed by voice vote. Bangladesh
Significantly, on October 8, 2013, accusing the BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia of siding with war criminals, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned that if the BNP came to power again, the country would experience a reign of terror and corruption, declaring, "The BNP resorts to terrorism, looting and corruption when it comes to power, while the AL brings peace and carries out massive development." Further, she added, "I believe that we will be able to complete the trial of those who committed crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971. The BNP cannot save them." While addressing her party's grassroots leaders at her residence in
Dhaka city on October 9, 2013,
Prime Minister Hasina articulated the apprehension that pro-liberation forces
would be wiped out and a dangerous situation would prevail in the country if
the "BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami-Hefajat- e-Islam" combine came to power
through the next parliamentary election.
Indeed, the achievements of the Sheikh Hasina Government in its counter-terrorism and de-radicalization programmes, as well as on the developmental front, have been extraordinary. Nevertheless, the political uncertainties persist, and her performance does not appear to have been translated into a consolidated electoral advantage. The current mass mobilisation on the War Crimes issue and the arrangements for the coming elections certainly have the potential to undermine the Hasina Government's gains, even as subversive and extremist Islamist formations retain significant potential to stage a dangerous and disruptive revival.
First appeared in SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 12, No. 18, November 4, 2013
S. Binodkumar Singh is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management,