By Bhaskar Roy*
The recently released Vision-2030 document of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) demands some deep thought and assessment. The 256 paragraph document would suggest that a massive genetic transformation is on in the second largest party of Bangladesh. It is basically a road map for the 2018 end general elections, projecting and tempting rosy picture of the nation, if the people brought the BNP back to power next year. Reportedly, many BNP members are rubbing their eyes in disbelief after reading the document. Of course, at the end the document admits “Realization of our vision is difficult but not impossible”.
The ruling Awami League leaders and their alliance partners in the government have dismissed this document as a “stunt”. Many were not even interested in reading the document. Veteran Awami League reader Tofail Ahmed reacted to the Vision-2030 document, saying it had divided the BNP leaders. This could be because the document raises questions over the party’s ideology, its history and alliance partners like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and other radical parties which were against liberation.
BNP’s Vision statement appears to be playing catch up with Prime Minister Sk. Hasina’s Vision 2021 with its 23 point manifesto, which helped propel the Awami League to power in the 2009 elections. Her manifesto was bereft of fat, specific and limited to achievable but very important or rather critical goals.
One of them was rooting out terrorism from the country and terrorism that affected other nations in South Asia. The other focus was development and empowerment of the youth through education and employment. In both areas she made significant progress. She saw to it that no neighbouring country suffered from terrorism and militancy emanating from Bangladesh’s soil. On development, social indicators have been applauded internationally. Limited goals and sincerity in application did the trick.
On the other hand BNP leaders and cadres have other reasons for hesitation. The road map charted by the BNP chairperson Bagum Kaleda Zia and her close advisors appears to have lost a sense of reality. The promises made are unachievable by 2030, and many of them are vague. They will have to answer the people who will start questioning them in the run up to the 2018/19 elections. Also, how will the BNP match their past track record, especially during their rule in 2001-2006? A Pandora’s box will open up!
It would be pertinent to discuss a few of the subsections of the vision statement. Under the heading “Terrorism, Extremism and Militancy”, it says that at present, under the Awami League led government, “Terrorism, Extremism and Militancy have become a perilous problem for the nation”. It goes on to say, “BNP shall not tolerate any such activity on the soil of Bangladesh”.
However, BNP’s track record says otherwise. Terror and political assassination of the opposition, especially of Awami League leaders, was the hallmark of their rule in alliance with the JEI.
A stark example of BNP terrorist activity is reflected by the grenade attack on a public gathering by the Awami League on August 21, 2004 in Dhaka. The main target was Sk. Hasina. Although she narrowly escaped with her life, she was seriously injured and had to be treated abroad for a long time. Ivy Rehman, member of the Awami League Presidium was killed, along with 22 others. Scores were injured.
Mufti Hannan, the commander of the outlawed terrorist organisation Harkatul Jihad al Islami (HUJI) was the chief executor of the attack. Following his arrest after the BNP lost power, Hannan gave a sworn affidavit to a magistrate, detailing the conspiracy behind the attack. The details are worrisome. The kingpin was Tareque Rehman, the elder son of Khaleda Zia, then prime minister of Bangladesh. Tareque ran his office from a building called Hawa Bhaban. He virtually ran the government from there. Ministers of the government closely involved were Lutfozzaman Babar, then Minister of state for Home (Khaleda Zia kept the main portfolio for Home with herself), and Abdus Salam Pintu, a deputy minister. Two intelligence officers of Brigadier rank and one Commissioner were also involved from the government side, according to Hannan’s statement. It was Pintu who supplied 15 grenades to Hannan and his accomplices. They were assured of all protection. Several terrorist leaders including the Amit of HUJI were involved.
There were over 200 Islamic terrorist organisations active during the BNP-JEI rule. Most destructive among them was the Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Their near simultaneous bombing in 63 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh in August 2005 terrified the people of Bangladesh. Lutfozzaman Babar was one of their patrons. Money from NGOs of the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia flowed in quite easily through banks in Bangladesh, especially through the Islamic Bank of Bangladesh.
It was only after a strong warning from US President George W. Bush that the government cracked down on the JMB. Its top six leaders were arrested and later executed. The BNP had taken the country of the verge of being declared a state sponsor of terrorism. If that had happened, it would have been an ignominy that not only was difficult to live with, it would have made Bangladesh an internationally Pariah state.
Once the seeds of extreme Islamic ideology are planted, they are like poisonous weeds very difficult to uproot. They morph into different forms, as is being witnessed in the recent years and currently, too. The security agencies are hunting them down, but they seem to sprout like mushrooms in the rainy season. The culture and politics of Bangladesh has been severely damaged by BNP-JEI combine. Evidence suggest that these parties have not yet discarded this line.
In dismissing the appeal of two BNP members for permanent residency in January this year, a judge of the Federal court of Canada wrote that “BNP was a terrorist organisation”. The judge based his judgement on the interrogation of these two individuals by a Canadian Immigration officer.
In March last year a New York Court sentenced Rizwe Ahmed Caesar, FBI agent Robert Lustiyik and another American citizen to different terms in jail for accessing privileged information from the FBI about Sajeeb Wazed Joy. Joy is the only son of Sk. Hasina. The court concluded that the intention was to harm Joy physically. Ahmed Caesar is the son of BNP’s US unit head, Mohammed Ullah Mamun. At least two other Bangladeshi journalists were arrested in connection with the conspiracy.
This suggests that the BNP has not discarded its practice of political assassination.
Between 1987 and 2015 at least 23 attempts were made on Sk. Hasina’s life in Bangladesh. Why? Because she is the symbol and flag bearer of Bangabandhu Sk. Mujibur Rehman, the father of liberation. Pakistan’s army and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) are yet to forget their defeat in 1971 and the break up of Pakistan. Sk. Mujibur Rehman was assassinated in August 1975 in another conspiracy between Pakistan and some officers of the Bangladeshi army, and some of Sk Mujib’s own cabinet members.
The BNP Vision 2030 has a paragraph on foreign policy which states certain things in camouflaged language. While it says BNP will not interfere in the internal affairs of any other country neither will it create any security threat to any other country; it will also not tolerate interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. Then it says that across the borders it will have friends but not masters.
The reference is clearly to India. Bangladesh has land borders only with India and Myanmar, but Myanmar is not so significant. The policy towards India during BNP-JEI government (2001-2006) must be recalled even if briefly. Indian militants and separatists like the ULFA, the NSCN (1/11) and others of north-east India were given sanctuary and support. And that too quite brazenly, cocking a snook at India. Leaders of these organisations visited China on Bangladeshi passports in different name to procure arms and ammunition.
One landmark case was the clandestine import of ten truck loads of arms and ammunition from China in 2004 to support separatists like the ULFA. They were brought in through Chittagong Port, and accidently discovered by two patrolling police officers. This was a huge conspiracy. According to Bangladesh to media reports following interrogation of suspects after the BNP-JEI lost power, it was reported the Babar, JEI leader Nizami, Tareque Rehman and some intelligence officers were behind the conspiracy. It was also reported that the ISI was involved and provided financial support.
One of the immediate casualties if the BNP returns to power in the 2018/19 elections will be India-Bangladesh relations. Both the BNP and ISI resisted several aspects of the growing India-Bangladesh relations under Sk. Hasina. The transit facility given to India through Bangladesh to its north-east was resisted on the grounds that if an India-China border war broke out and India transported troops through Bangladesh, the Bangladesh-China relations would be hurt. BNP continues to oppose the Ramphal power project alleging environmental degradation of the Sunderbans. Of course, if it is a threat to the environment or ecology, its demands questioning. But it must be backed by solid scientific evidence.
The 2001-2006 BNP-JEI government took the bilateral relations to unprecedented depths, though the Indian policy was to hope Bangladesh would ultimately realise and return to a cordial relationship. That did not happen. If the BNP and its alliance still nurture their visceral antipathy towards India they would suffer. India would continue to grow on its own. Mortgaging Bangladesh to Pakistan and China to spite India would be a disastrous policy.
The rest of the BNP Vision-2030, to say the least, is anodyne. It does not inspire confidence. Rather, it is futile, and indicates retardation of a resurgence for which Bangladesh has been appreciated internationally and by international financial and development institutions.
Sk. Hasina and her government appears to be hamstrung by the powerful donor countries protecting Tareque Rehman and Khaleda Zia.
The next general election is critical for the future of Bangladesh, and the basic aspirations of liberation. Prime Minister Sk. Hasia will have to work very carefully hence forth. Time is of essence.
*The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected]