By Bhaskar Roy
The Bangladesh Election Commission (EC) declared recently that the next general elections to the Parliament (Jatiyo Sangshad) will be held between December 2013 and January 2014. The last general elections in December 2008, which brought the Awami League (AL) and its “great alliance” to power, was acknowledged by international observers as the most free and fair ever in the country. The last government of the four-party alliance led by the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) was close to being declared as a government sponsoring international terrorism. Corruption, state sponsored assassination of opposition leaders, promoting ultra-Islamic terrorists and militancy crossed all bounds. They were not only used for state power but also as an instrument of warfare against a neighbouring country. In the course of it, the state willingly compromised with world’s most dreaded terrorist organization, the Al Qaeda. Efforts were also made to turn back the clock on the liberation of the country.
The new government under Prime Minister Sk. Hasina inherited a huge burden. The government succeeded in many areas and faltered in others. There are many factors involved including recalcitrant leaders within the party as well as sabotage by bureaucrats still loyal to the old regime. But this is a fact of democracy.
Prime Minister Sk. Hasina declared eradication of terrorism as her top most priority. She has done a commendable job. But the seeds of this scourge have been spread so deep and so wide with protection from their mentors inside the country and succor from abroad that it still defies total elimination.
Apart from her social and economic challenges as well as bringing the country back to the international stage as a responsible developing country, there was another monumental task. This was reversal of the slide towards an intolerant state trying to wipe out the history of liberation and revival of tolerant, secular and democratic Muslim state where all religions existed side by side without conflict and confrontation.
There are three challenges that stand between what the international community wants to see Bangladesh as: bringing to a close the 1971 war criminal trials and see the guilty punished for crime against the nation but under international law; bring to justice all the killers and conspirators of Sk. Mujibur Rahman’s assassination on August 15, 1975, and the killing of top Awami League leaders who were part of the exile Mujibnagar government in 1971, later that year. Third, and the most critical, the life of Sk. Hasina; If Sk. Hasina, the elder daughter of Sk. Mujibur Rahman, is eliminated the battle will be won by those who opposed the creation of Bangladesh. She is perceived as the chip of the old block who will not compromise. After her father, she is the symbol of the independent, secular Bangladesh.
The leading Bangladeshi daily, the Daily Star (Aug. 18) rekindled the fear of threat to Prime Minister Sk. Hasina in a well researched article on the conspiracy of the BNP led government from the very top to eliminate Sk. Hasina at a Awami League rally in Dhaka on August 21, 2004. It was a massive grenade attack that killed 24 Awami League leaders and workers including Ms. Ivy Reheman, member of the Party’s presidium and wife of current President of Bangladesh Zillur Reheman. Sk. Hasina escaped with her life but has permanent injury to her hearing. Around 200 others were injured.
The Daily Star report did not depend on speculations and hearsay. It was a collation of court hearing of the case where investigation officers at that time deposed. The details can be read in the article. But the crucial deposition under oath is as follows. The terrorist group Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI), linked to the Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) was enlisted to do the job. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was in full knowledge of the conspiracy, stopped investigation, and ensured the safe passage out of Bangladesh to Pakistan Maulavi Tajuddin, one of the major players. Tajuddin was the brother of a BNP Deputy Minister Abdus Salam Pintu. Pintu was also involved with a Pakistani terrorist organization and supplied grenades, ammunition and explosives to terrorists in Kashmir.
The other big players were Tareque Reheman, older son of Khaleda Zia and late President Zia-ur-Rahman who is also linked to Sk. Mujib’s assassination and revival of the JEI in Bangladesh. The top BNP team included Luftuzzaman Babar, Minister of State for Home Affairs, and some intelligence officers. Tareque and Babar were mentors of the terrorist organization Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), responsible for many terrorist acts and the country-wide bomb blasts on August 17, 2005.
This same group was the master mind of collaboration with the ISI to illegally import ten truck loads or arms and ammunitions from China destined for the United Liberation Force of Assam (ULFA) in North East India. In short, the BNP-JEI government under Begum Khaleda Zia established a terrorist wing for state power.
The critical question is how the people of Bangladesh, and the counter-terrorism nations of the world view political parties that freely nurtured and promoted terrorism when in power.
There are many other details. Suffice it to ask how the perpetrators will be dealt with, and the future. The USA, which is in the front of war against terrorism, has evinced a lot of interest in Bangladesh especially as a moderate Muslim country. But the American short sightedness is well known. It is, therefore, for the people of Bangladesh to fight the war. Sk. Hasina and her government must bring at least this particular case to its logical conclusion. It has to be done on a war footing. Otherwise, the scene forward is not encouraging.
(The writer can be reached at e-mail [email protected])