By Bhaskar Roy
It was inevitable and had to happen, because some politicians in Bangladesh have conscience.
Recently, some senior leaders of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), told the media, on condition of anonymity, that their Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia was being misled by some close to her to make statements that were both damaging to her and their party. These leaders did not take any names, but mentioned some “party outsiders” and a particular “leftist-turned-Islamist jihadi intellectual”, and that a section of Khaleda Zia’s staff, including some retired civil servants and military officers, helped this jehadi intellectual to influence her. Names may not have been mentioned, but for those within the party and other politicians and the media, the accused people would have been quickly identified. Cracks within the BNP had become evident for almost a year now. Sections of the party’s youth and student bodies have been questioning the direction of the party. Even at the division level and upazilla level, there was discontent. Infighting and rivalry are normal in democratic political parties. When ideology, direction and alliances are questioned, there would have to be serious problems.
The issues flagged by the outspoken BNP leaders suggest more than jockeying for position and influence within the party. They are more fundamental to the stability and development of the nation, and the relevance of liberation and independence in the quest of more than three million nationalists did at the hands of the Pakistani army, and the pro-Pakistan anti-independence forces who were vicious perpetrators of crimes against humanity, otherwise known as genocide.
The unhappy, if not yet rebellious BNP leaders, saw Begum Zia’s statement in Bogra that “the army would not sit idle if the government continued with genocide”. It was a very damaging statement. The remark implied Khaleda Zia was inviting the army to stage a coup. Khaleda’s late husband Gen. ZiaurRahaman staged the first military coup in Bangladesh. After his assassination, Gen. H.M. Ershad executed another coup in his turn. The army was used by the BNP during its coalition rules between 2001-2006, and another coup in 2007 was somehow put down by the Army Chief. The current government of Awami League’s grand coalition with Prime Minister Sk. Hasina amended the Constitution to make military coup illegal and unconstitutional. As a rebut to Begum Zia and BNP, the three Service Chiefs jointly took an oath in the Parliament that they will abide by the Constitution, and will not allow the Constitution to be desecrated. In essence, the main Opposition leader warned that had better not try to divide the armed forces.
This was resounding rejection of any plans Khaleda Zia harboured to use the military. It also assured the government that jihadist and Islamic radicals will be rooted out from the forces. Some elements of the Hizbul-ut-Tehrir had attempted a coup of sorts last December.
The other aspect of Khaleda Zia’s pronouncement was the use of the word ‘genocide” to describe this action of security personnel in quelling riots engineered by the Opposition combination in which some people died. The police may have used excessive force in some cases, but ‘genocide’? The BNP is yet to clearly declare the 1971 killings as genocide. Such statements are bound to distance the people, especially the youth, from the BNP. The emerging youth of Bangladesh, who are educated, globalized, and have understood 1971 better resulting in the Shahbag Square protests demanding death sentence for the 1971 anti-Liberation war crime perpetrators under trial now in Dhaka. It is an open question to all BNP leaders and youth – how do you compare 1971 against today’s police actions which may be termed at the most as police excess?
Another blunder was Khaleda Zia’s call to support the Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) siege of Dhaka, Narayanganj and Chittagong, among others, on May 5 to force the government to concede their 13-point demand. There was chaos and rioting and the government had to respond with force. Some people died, including a police officer. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and its students wing, the Islamic Chatra Shibir (ICS) went viral on the internet and Facebook to say more than 2,500 peaceful protestors were killed and heavy weapons, including burning of the Holy book Koran. Their huge, but uneducated conspiracy is to blame the government and pro-Liberation citizens of being guilty of desecrating the holy book. The conspiracy, however, failed miserably. What is HIB? It consists of Maulavis and teachers of Quami (independent) Madarssas that form two percent of the total Madarssas. Where do they get the resources to stage such huge demonstrations in different parts of the country?
What do the HIB’s 13-point demands mean for Bangladesh? The demands are basically to sabotage the secular pillar of the nation’s Constitution and destroy the soul, spirit and ideals of the Liberation War. Introduction of the phrase ‘Absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah” in the Constitution as demanded by the HIB will put into a corner the other religious minorities.
Secularism is the lynchpin of Bangladesh’s profile among the international community and the United Nations. This is particularly so when the world at large, save a few, are fighting against religious terrorism and promoting religious inclusivity. The world is fully aware of the activities of terrorist organizations like the Jamaatul Muhajidin Bangladesh (JMB), its associated body JMJB and others functioning freely under the BNP-JEI rule between 2001-2006. The then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is on record saying that the JMB was a fiction created by the media. Members of the BNP and JEI are under arrest for their close association with these organizations.
The HIB also calls for the introduction of the Blasphemy Law, calls the protestors of Shabag Square demanding secularism and execution of the 1971 war, anti-Islam and demand their execution. They also demand, among other things in their 13-point demand, segregation of women at work and outside their homes. If such demands are acquiesced to, demands would be raised on their dress code, education and many other things.
By calling for support to the HIB strike on May 05, which was infiltrated by BNP, JEI and ICS activists and led to violence, Opposition leader and Prime Minister aspirant Khaleda laid siege to secularism, encouraged retrograde religious constitution and rules, and tried to disenfranchise the women of Bangladesh of their moral and constitutional rights.
In Bangladesh, women hold up half the sky. They work shoulder-to-shoulder with men and contribute significantly to the GDP of the nation and get their families come out of poverty. Bangladesh’s garment export industry, only second to that of China’s and is the biggest foreign exchange earner.
The progressive elements and media, even in Pakistan, are aghast at the demands of the HIB and their support from Khaleda Zia and the JEI. Pakistan enacted the Blasphemy Law and declare the Ahmedias as non-Muslims, something which the HIB demands. As a consequence, it is not only the Ahmedias who are suffering in Pakistan, but has also encouraged religious sectarianism with the dominant Sunnis massacring the minority Shias at every opportunity. All these policies culminated in the terrorism that has engulfed Pakistan.
It is difficult to decipher Khaleda Zia’s mind, because the only method in her madness is that the Awami League must be ousted, no matter what, even if the country becomes Talibanized.
The BNP and the JEI have invested significantly for propaganda abroad. A highly reputed Western weekly surprised everyone by supporting the BNP against the Awami League, and viciously attacked India, in turn, for supporting the secular Awami League.
The human rights organizations seem to have got confused whose rights they are fighting for. Most of the time, they empathize with leaders of the 1971 genocide who are under trial in Bangladesh. A Hong Kong based organisation, which calls itself “The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong”, issued a statement on May 06, titled “A massacre of demonstrators”. The statement was bizarre. It alleged that the security forces used “heavy artillery”, which are “normally used in battle fronts”, to disperse the protestors. The statement was clearly supportive of the HIB.
The European Union has finally come around to accept that the War Crimes Tribunals are working well, but are against death penalty. The U.S. is also beginning to see some merit in the way the trials are being conducted, but also is against death penalty. The EU must especially be sensitive to the cause of Bangladesh, having suffered under Adolf Hitler’s Germany in the World War-II, and extermination of Jews in the gas chambers of Serbibor and the like.
There, however, appear to be two conspiracies that go beyond Bangladesh’s borders. One is the preference for the BNP to rule with the JEI projected as a moderate Islamic political party. The politics here is the West’s projection that it is not against Islam.
The other conspiracy is to promote Wahabi Islam in Bangladesh where the huge Muslim majority has been traditionally moderate and follow a Sufi mode. The JEI is keen to promote Wahabism, and used HIB as a front. The Saudi and Kuwaiti NGOs financed the JEI and the Islamist groups promoting Wahabism. The Jamaat has understood that its existence in Bangladesh is under threat from the secularists. Elimination of their leaders under trial will expose them and cut them at the grass-roots. The action of the secularist youth who want a different future, took them by surprise. For the JEI, it is now do or die.
Khaladea Zia’s actions have divided the party. Most BNP leaders come from different ideological permutations. The party does not have any strong ideological moorings. If Khaleda persists in her destructive path, the BNP will fragment, tendencies it demonstrated earlier.
It is good that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon finally intervened and wrote to Khaleda Zia to reconcile political differences peacefully, and through dialogue. That is the best way forward. But Bangladesh will never be at peace till the anti-Liberation forces are eliminated. The negative developments in Bangladesh will not reside within the boundaries of the country. It will affect India to start with, and traces of this were seen in Kolkata, capital of the neighbouring Bengali-speaking Indian state. They will also encourage Islamists in Maldives, Sri Lanka and in Myanmar. These views will recirculate in Pakistan and also in Afghanistan.
There is a heavy responsibility on the international drivers to ensure Bangladesh remains secular, instead of playing small time politics. Bangladesh may be far away, but the globalised world has ensured that nothing is too far
The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.