Friday, December 03, 2021

Embattled Desh

The spate of murders by Islamists in Bangladesh takes place amid a failing politics.

Written by Syed Badrul Ahsan |
May 4, 2016 12:41:29 am
Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh, bangladesh Prime minister, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, Islamists, John kerry, al-Qaeda, IS, ISIS, Islamic state, indian express editorials Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh is in a straitjacket and its government is embattled. With no sign of a let-up in the killings of liberals and secular writers, the feeling grows that the administration led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is not on top of the situation. The recent murders of two young men, one a gay rights activist and cousin of former Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and the other his friend, occurred only days after a respected academic, Professor Rezaul Karim Siddiquee of Rajshahi University, was killed by men suspected to be linked to Islamist groups.

The irony is not to be missed. The authorities have failed on all counts to prevent such crimes. Once the crimes are committed, they are manifestly unable to nab the culprits. And yet, the police and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal have persisted in asserting that investigations, essentially those which began with the murder of Avijit Roy in February last year, have been proceeding apace. Such statements fly in the face of the Dhaka metropolitan police commissioner’s admission that many of the killers have left the country. He didn’t explain how.

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The government has been in a state of inexplicable denial. Contrary to the general view that Islamists are behind the killings, with a clear pattern discernible, it has vociferously denied that the IS or al-Qaeda is operating in Bangladesh. That, despite statements from the IS and al-Qaeda about the involvement of their men in the killings. Not one murder has been solved. But that hasn’t prevented Hasina from stating her own views. Law and order, she stated emphatically in parliament, was normal. The pronouncement was soon undermined by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s telephone call. Kerry, whose concerns centred around the murder of Xulhaz Mannan, the gay rights activist once employed at the US embassy, asked the PM to ensure justice was done and the men responsible brought to trial.

For her part, US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat met Home Minister Kamal. Subsequently, she let it be known the Bangladesh government by itself was not in a position to combat the rising spate of murders. That statement was taken to mean an American desire to come into the picture and assist Bangladesh. Obviously, Dhaka will not readily accept it. The EU and the European Parliament, too, have been piling on the pressure. The government’s difficulty is that it presides over a police force and security agencies whose competence is increasingly perceived to be absent. Law enforcers have patently failed to demonstrate their ability to plumb the depths in investigations that go beyond murders committed by Islamist groups. Those responsible for sexually harassing young women at last year’s Bengali New Year celebrations at Dhaka University are yet to be apprehended.

The rise in crime cannot be seen separately from the overall state of politics. The recent trials and executions of 1971 war criminals appear to have emboldened extremist groups. To its credit, though, the government hasn’t faltered in its determination to bring the ageing collaborators to justice, despite the largescale propaganda against the trials in the West. However, it’s on its handling of domestic issues that the government has rendered itself vulnerable. The recent heist of more than $100 million of Bangladesh’s forex reserves from the US Federal Reserve and its transfer to the Philippines has justifiably rung alarm bells. But it has led to no serious debate in parliament. The largest opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has no parliamentary representation. The Jatiyo Party of former military ruler H.M. Ershad sits on the opposition benches, even as some of its senior figures serve as ministers in Hasina’s cabinet. Ershad has been a great survivor. He’s today a special envoy of the PM.

Politics is not a pretty picture in Bangladesh today. Compounding it has been the government’s seeming reluctance to go full throttle towards restoring political secularism as enshrined in the 1972 constitution. A few weeks ago, the high court struck down a petition to lift the provision of Islam as state religion. Once again, irony is at work. The factor of state religion was superimposed by Ershad’s military regime in the early 1980s. A putatively secular Awami League hasn’t proved bold enough to strike it down.

Bangladesh’s crisis is existential. The government may not be in its best form. But the alternatives are worse, as political history, following the assassinations of the founding fathers in 1975, has shown.

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The writer is associate editor, ‘The Daily Observer’, Dhaka, and columnist for online newspaper bdnews24.com

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