By Bhaskar Roy
Bangladesh is a country poised to take off economically. True, there are serious issues of corruption, governance, shortage of power and law and order situation. None of these things are new. It will take time and patience to rectify these challenges. But if any one demands an ideal situation he is surely going to be disappointed. But these have to be addressed urgently also. It calls for realism also.
On March 26, Bangladesh will celebrate its 42nd Independence Day. The 1971 generation belong broadly to two distinct ideological and political streams. One group fought in the war of liberation, lost family and friends, but achieved their goal. The other group threw their lot with the Pakistani army fought against their brethren, killing men, women and children in bloody rampages.
These comprised the rightist Islamic forces of the Jamaat who formed their killing brigades called Razakars, Al Badars and Al Shams. Among the second group were some who were more sophisticated and cunning, pretending to be liberation warriors, but actually owing allegiance to Pakistan and revealed their true colours later.
The Father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, an emotional and forgiving person, pardoned may of the butchers of Bangladesh. But the key conspirator, Prof. Ghulam Azam, the Amir of the Jamaat at that time, was denied Bangladeshi citizenship, and his organization banned. Sk. Mujib was assassinated on August 15, 1975 along with his family members. His daughters, Sk. Hasina and Sk. Rehana survived because they were abroad. The assassination was a huge conspiracy spanning countries.
Sk. Mujibur Rahman’s assassination had more than one dimension. It was revenge for Pakistan and pro-Pakistanis embattled in Bangladesh. For the US, (read Henry Kissinger) it was a blow to India for having supported the liberation war which turned into an India-Pakistan war in which Pakistan was roundly defeated. Pakistan was a close ally of the US, and staged the secret Kissinger visit to China to establish US-China relations. The cold war entered South Asia. A new rearrangement of forces followed: an US-Pakistan-China axis, and a perceived Soviet Union-India axis.
Liberation was almost overturned when Gen. Zia-ur-Rehman a Bangali Major in the Pakistani army, a ”freedom fighter “of convenience assassinated and executed opponents to become president in 1987-88. Zia formed the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and legitimatised the Jamaat. He almost took Bangladesh back to Pakistan.
Zia lived by assassination and died by the gun. He was killed by Maj. Gen. Manzoor, a pro-liberation officer and GOC Chittagong Division, in Chittagong, in 1981. Manzoor, in turn, was betrayed by Lt. Gen. H.M. Ershad, and killed. Ershad assumed the position of Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and President. Ershad, however, did not change Zia’s direction. He amended the constitution, and Bangladesh changed from a secular country to an Islamic Republic. His martial law administration was finally toppled in joint political action in 1992.
Tumultuous politics in Bangladesh followed, with the country’s worst ever period between 2001-2006, when the BNP-JEI was in power. The BNP-JEI partnership along with two other smaller allies formed what is known as the four-party alliance.
The rule of the four party alliance was remarkable for its misdeeds. Right wing religious extremist terrorism was co-opted as a political factor. The most notable figures was Bangla Bhai and his Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB), and Pakistan’s ISI linked HUJI. These groups were used to terrorize the people. The JMB exploded bombs in a synchronised action in 63 out of 64 districts of Bangladesh in August 2005, the day BNP chairperson and Prime Minister Khaleda Zia left for her China visit.
Political assassination of Awami League (AL) leaders began to take root. Three attempts were made on the life of Sheikh Hasina, President of the AL. In the 2004 August grenade attack on an AL public gathering in Dhaka severely injured Sk. Hasina. The attack killed AL Presidium member Ivy Rahman, wife of current President on Bangladesh Zillur Rehman, and 21 others. The main culprit, Mufti Hannan, then commander of the HUJI, is currently under trial and confessed to his crime. He also implicated several BNP leaders. The then chief of National Security and Intelligence (NSI) has recently raised serious questions on Khaleda role in the grenade attack.
The key man of this alliance, Tareq Rahman Zia, elder son of Khaleda Zia and Zia-ur-Rahman, dined with the devil. Pakistan was given a free run of the country to launch terrorist acts in India, did deals with the No.1 international criminal Dawood Ibrahim, now under ISI protection in Pakistan, and with the terrorist tanzims. Around 120 terrorist organizations were created affiliated to the Jamaat, ISI and Pakistan. The Jamaat and the BNP actors used the Islamic Bank of Bangladesh, the Ibn Sina Trust and other Jamaat financial organizations to bring in money from Kuwati and Saudi NGOs for terrorism and Wahabi indoctrination. The list can go on. The critical issue is that Bangladesh was on the verge of being declared a state sponsor of terrorism.
The foregoing is history but connected to and extremely relevant to the and present understanding of the charged atmosphere in Bangladesh.
The dark forces opposing the Bangali culture and tradition, those who want to use a misconstrued version of religion and go back to the dark ages against progress, were allowed, encouraged and then facilitated to grow.
It is difficult to imagine how the BNP leadership could even think of using terrorist and regressive forces for political gains. What do BNP partners like Dr. Badrudozza Chaudhury, who broke away to form his Bikalpadhara Bangladesh, or AOi Ahmed, the founder of LDP, and others like him think? Would they like to live under a disposition imposing the Wahabi Sharia Law?
The divide witnessed in 1971, has grown and the obscurantist vastly strengthened. The post 1971 generation, who were brought upon distorted stories of the liberation war, have suddenly woken up. This is a globalized world and nothing can be hidden from people who want to know the truth. They are asking why Bangladesh is not progressing while their closest neighbour India, is. There is a critical reason why the AL won the December 2008 election with a land slide vote. The youth realized that the BNP-JEI were winding back the clock of development. The new voters between 40-45 % voted against the BNP-JEI. In the next elections scheduled for December 2013/January 2014 more aspiring youth will join the voters’ list.
The Shahbag movement is neither religious nor political. It has to do with development, progress, jobs and opportunities. The youth have realized that the failure to bring to full judicial closure the atrocities of 1971, all the blood that flowed, and all the leaders that have not been wiped out, has held the country back. Without a just and credible resolution, there will be no closure. The dark forces will grow as they have been. The most powerful international opinions have moved towards the action of the Bangladesh government and its International War Crimes Tribunals (ICT-I&II). With the exit US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the scene, the US policy appears to have become non-partisan. US ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan W. Mozzena, on his return to Dhaka after three weeks at home, supported the proceedings and even remarked that banning the Jamaat was an internal matter of Bangladesh. Visiting Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Marty Natalegawa declared in Dhaka that only Bangladesh can determine how it can deal with its past, and its government had the capacity to deal with it. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. The UK and European Union are on the same page. Saudi Arabia has been silent.
The attacks on Hindu minorities, a soft target, by the Jamaat has been taken very seriously by the Bangladeshi government and the Bangladesh High Court. The Indian government has been right in not intervening in the matter. For the Jamaat this is a do or die situation. The Jamaat and its students wing have ideologically indoctrinated cadres trained in violence like Hitler’s and Mussolini’s thugs. The BNP cadres are also dedicated because of the advantages they can get from the party. But cracks are beginning to appear in the BNP students wing, the Chhatra Dal, who are also beginning to think of their future. They do not want to sink into a dark well either.
It is time that the Shahbag group, the Generation Circle, reach out to the BNP youth. The Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (GDNC) led by intellectuals like Shahriyar Kabir and others must reach out to them. Ask the Shibir Cadres if they want to lock up their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, inside their homes, uneducated and subjected to unending sufferance.
The worst is yet to come. The divide between the moderates and the Islamists is growing wider by the day. The BNP is a parasite riding on the Jamaat’s shoulders. The Jamaat has not shown its full anarchic strength. It will come when the sentences on the war criminals start being executed.
If the government dithers or gets cold feet, everything will be lost. It is time for resolute action.
Note: The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected]
About the author: SAAG
SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.