Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Bangladesh General Elections 2014 - Perspectives August 2013

Dated 12-Aug-2013

Introductory Observations
Bangladesh next General Elections could be held in 2013 at the year- end but since January 20 2014 is the outside limit as per the Constitution, they are being termed as General Elections2014.
Therefore Bangladesh at the outside limit is only five months away from General Elections 2014 which could turn out as probably the most significant elections held so far.
Bangladesh stands today at crucial political cross-roads where the nation was engulfed in 2013 with incessant violence centred on the politics of national identity on one hand and opposed on the other side by political groupings banking on the religion of Islam in electoral politics, desperately bent on pushing Bangladesh towards an Islamist Caliphate.
The Shahbagh Protests that erupted in early 2013 were an expression, going by the large-scale participation of Bangladesh youth of both sexes and women protestors of all ages, as expressing rejection of Bangladesh collaborators who colluded with the Pakistan Army in the ethnic genocide, rape and plunder that it unleashed on their fellow Bengalis of then East Pakistan; demanding death sentences for these collaborators has been vociferous this year as it was as an electoral issue in the last General Elections.
Hence the demand for death sentences for such Bangladesh traitors was a natural response in the Shahbagh Protests. Violent rear-guard reactions from the Jamaat-i-Islami supporters were also not long in forthcoming. Analytically, it is debatable that unrestrained violence by Right-wing elements in Bangladesh can cow down the popular upsurge against the Bangladeshi Jamaat leaders who collaborated with Pakistan Army’s brutalisation of what is now Bangladesh.
So on the eve of General Elections 2014, Bangladesh and also neighbours like India breathlessly wait in expectation as to whether the politics of national identity and Bangladesh nationalism prevails over the politics of Islamisation of Bangladesh, outsourced from abroad, in terms of voter’s preferences.
One saving grace however is the imponderable of the perceptions of ‘young voters’ and women voters who perceptionaly view the Bangladesh Nationalist Party being intimately tied with Islamist radical organisations like the Jamaat and the Hefazat-e-Islam and would tend to reject that brand of politics.
Bangladesh General Elections: Seats Won by Political Parties in Last Two Elections
Before viewing perspectives on the forthcoming General Elections it may be pertinent to illustrate the voting patterns in Bangladesh in the last two General Elections and the seats won by each political party.
The picture emerges as follows:         
                                                               2001                 2008
  • Bangladesh Nationalist Party            198                   30
  • Awami League                                   62                 230
  • Jatiya Party                                       14                   27                       
  • Jamaat-e-Islami                                  18                    2
From the above figures the major deduction that emerges is that something very extraordinary and drastic has to surface against the incumbent government in the next four to five months which could enable the Bangladesh Nationalist Party to reach triple figures in terms of seats to enable it to be within striking distance of displacing the incumbent Government.

In terms of politically divisive electoral issues dominating the last two General Elections nothing significant has changed, with the exception of the sentencing by the War Crimes Tribunal leaders and the banning of the Jamaat on Court orders and ruling out its putting up candidates for the next General Elections.

Would these two developments generate a heavy political downslide of the Awami League? It does not seem so.

Bangladesh General Elections 2014: Major Observations

Viewing the political scene five months in the run-up to the General Elections, the following major observations can be made:
  • National reconciliation between the two major political parties is definitely not visible.
  • Political forecasts are banking on the old formula of the ‘Anti-Incumbency’ factor that would suggest that the Awami League would be voted out and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party would logically assume the mantle as per this trend.
  • The results of the recent city civic elections being swept by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party is also being quoted to reinforce the above assertion.
  • Large-scale violence can be expected during the electioneering as all the opposition parties have at least one major issue on which they whipped up frenzy and violence in2013. This trend seems likely to continue.
  • The Awami league however maintains that the cities civic elections cannot be read as a trend in the making; the general elections in an unprecedented trend breaking development may witness the continuance of the Awami League in power.

Recent Developments That Could Possibly Have a Bearing on Forthcoming Elections.
The following recent developments could possibly affect or queer the election campaign and the outcome of the General Elections:
  • Jamaat-i-Islami being banned by Courts orders.
  • Foreign Minister’s unsuccessful visit to India bringing the India Factor into focus as an electoral issue.
  • Awami League rejects calls by Bangladesh Nationalist Party for reintroduction of Caretaker Government system in the run-up to the General Elections
  • Election Commission giving recognition to new political parties.
  • The Hefazat-e-Islam factor gaining salience.
On a Public Interest Litigation petition filed in January 2009 by a Sufi group which practices Islamic mysticism, the High Court ruled recently that the Jamaat’s charter was in violation of the country’s Constitution and declared this Islamist organisation as illegal. The ruling was confirmed by the Bangladesh Supreme Court.

This creates a number of complex impacts on the election campaign in the run-up to the General Elections. The first impact would be that the Jamaat cannot field candidates for the General Election though the order does not ban political activity of the Jamaat.

The second impact would be on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party as the main opposition party which had the Jamaat as its leading coalition partner. It would rob the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of much of its firepower in the election campaigns and also its outcome.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni’s visit to India recently drawing a blank on crucial issue like the Teesta Waters sharing agreement and the Land Boundary Agreement drew much attention from Bangladesh media columnists. The Bangladesh Foreign Minister during her New Delhi visit pressed for resolution of these agreements speedily so and also cautioned that “If the Bill does not go through and the Teesta Waters sharing deal are not signed they will become important issues in the run-up to the Parliamentary Elections in my country”. But evidently with India itself being dominated by election year politicking, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister drew a blank from both the Indian Government and the main Opposition Party.

This could be a big handle for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party to use against the Awami League, moreso, when the Awami League is perceptionaly viewed as very close to India.

The Awami League has rejected calls by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party for reintroduction of the Caretaker Government system to be put in place for 60 days on announcement of General Elections.

Ironically, it was the Bangladesh Nationalist Party which was forced to introduce this system after the 2006 elections when this Party which had risen to power questionably due to electoral malpractices and was forced to backtrack after massive political boycott of the Parliament by all opposition parties. A Caretaker Government was put in place to remedy the political situation.

But a new factor has crept in after the recent city civic polls where the Bangladesh Nationalist Party swept the polls in major urban centres. There are voices within the Bangladesh Nationalist Party that when political trends in voting are as it is favouring them, is it worthwhile for them to insist on reintroduction of the Caretaker Government system?

The Election Commission is in the process of examination of giving recognition to new political parties. About forty one new outfits have applied so far. Only the Bangladesh Nationalist Front is in the run for recognition. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has threatened an agitation and possible boycott of elections as it insists that the new party’s logo and election symbol is very much akin to that of the older party.

The Hefazat-e-Islam surfaced more significantly in 2010. It is headquartered in Chittagong and is a coalition of a dozen or so radical Islamist organizations drawing its strength from the thousands of ‘madrassas ‘run and controlled by it.

 It came into focus in May 2013 when it led a 50,000 man march to Dhaka to protest against the Shahbagh Square protests calling for execution of war criminals. This turned out to be a very violent protest in which fifty of the protestors were killed in clashes with the police.

It has recently withdrawn from the 18 member Opposition Coalition to continue its struggle alone to get its 13-point agenda enforced which is basically radical Islamist in content. Primarily, it is against women emancipation and education and also granting inheritance rights to women.

What the Hefazat-e-Islam stands for can best be explained by BBC’s report on it which reads:  “It has traditionally not sought power through elections, but has looked to use its street muscle to change Bangladesh’s traditional secular culture and politics through the imposition of what it believes are proper Islamic ways.”

Bangladesh media suggests that Hefazat is determined to influence the outcome of the 2014 General Elections and some view it that it could emerge as the kingmaker. This implies that radical Islam would find great acceptance in the forthcoming General Elections. It is a perspective that is in the realm of speculation going by the Jamaat’s past election performances in which it failed dismally despite whipping up Islamist causes.

Concluding Observations

While the Bangladesh General Elections 2014 domestic dynamics and internal challenges are covered in the perspectives outlined above what have not been covered are the eternal Islamist forces that are likely to play a significant role this time.

Initially it stands pointed out that Bangladesh is at critical political crossroads where its advance to establish its national identity shorn of 1971 events and Islamist radicalism is being desperately being challenged by radical Islamist organisations bent on transforming Bangladesh into an Islamic Caliphate.

Bangladesh radical Islamist organisations draw their ideological inspiration and financial sustenance from religious organisations in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. This election may witness an extraordinary influx of funds from these countries to assist the emergence of Bangladesh Islamist organisations as strong political factors in General Elections 2014. They may not be able to capture political power directly but could claim to emerge as kingmakers.

The ruling Awami League will have its hands full in maintaining Bangladesh law and order situation and internal security in the coming months to ensure free and fair elections.

(Dr. Subhash Kapila is the Consultant, International Relations & Strategic Affairs, South Asia Analysis Group.  He can be reached at

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Bangladesh – Roots of Liberation at Stake

Dated 06-Aug-2013

By Bhaskar Roy
On August 01, the Bangladesh High Court finally delivered a judgement warning those bent on reversing the spirit of liberation that the nation will not give up on its principles. 
The court declared that the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) Bangladesh’s registration with the Election Commission (EC) stood null and void.  This will debar the party from contesting the next elections.   The JEI is, however, free to appeal to the Supreme Court or change its constitution in line with the Constitution of the country and the Representation of Peoples Order (RPO).
The High Court verdict come on a public interest litigation filed by the secretary general of the Bangladesh Tarikat Federation’s (BTF) Rezaqul Haque Choudhary and 24 others in January 2009, challenging the legality of the JEI registration as a political party.  The matter could come up because the Supreme Court barred the use of religion in politics, restoring the 1972 Constitution based on secularism.
Bangladesh separated from Pakistan in 1971 based on a vision.  While language and culture were prime issues, democracy, secularism and equal rights for all religions were no less.  It was a bloody war of liberation in which three million Bengalees of East Pakistan were massacred and around two hundred thousand women raped.
The critical point which still disturbs this country even after 43 years is that a section of Bengalees who were against the partition of Pakistan fought on behalf of the occupying Pakistani army.  This was the Jamaat-e-Islami and its students’ wing then known as the Islami Chaatra Sangha.  These were the main collaborators who formed organized bands called the Razakars, Al Bader and Al Shams.
Witnesses and documentary evidence including books by two young Pakistani army officers who served in East Pakistan at that time conclusively prove that the Jamaatis were in the forefront in killings, rape and torture.  The Jamaatis espoused a extreme form of Islam expounded by the Pakistani founder of JEI, Alam Al Moududi in 1941.
The extreme Islam propounded by the Jamaatis gradually metamorphosed into the demon of extremism and terrorism which is threatening to swallow Pakistan today.  Similarly, the JEI Bangladesh has not moved an inch from its original ideology and agenda.  In fact, they have grown stronger in street power thanks to the opportunist politics of the BNP comprising robbers, barons and the stray.
After liberation in 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s government banned the JEI.  The JEI Ameer, Gholam Azam, who remained in Pakistan, because Islamabad’s emissary to the Muslim country of the Middle East, spread the lie that Hindus in Bangladesh were killing Muslims.
After Sk Mujbur Rahman’s assassination on August 15, 1975 in a major conspiracy, the Pakistani Trojan Horses began to emerge.  The biggest and most destructive of them was the much decorated “freedom fighter” Maj Ziaur Rehman.  Zia, who was by omission involved in Sk Mujib’s assassination, moved quickly to eliminate any challenge and consolidated his power to become the army Chief and President of Bangladesh.  He was killed in a coup attempt by a nationalist army officer Maj. Gen. MA Manzoor.  Manzoor was betrayed by another colleague, Gen. H. M. Ershad who again went to become the army chief and president of the country.
As President, Zia politically rehabilitated the JEI in 1977-78; allowed Gholan Azam to return to Bangladesh and regain his citizenship.  Zia also formed his own political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition which is headed by his widow Begum Khaleda Zia.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the BNP and the JEI formed a strong alliance and ruled Bangladesh from 2001 to 2006.  Bangladeshis, especially the post 1971 generation and the youth would do well to remember that this was the worst period for the country where rise of terrorism and corruption is concerned.
Bangladesh under BNP-JEI government with Khaleda Zia as Prime Minister came close to be declared as a state sponsor of terrorism.  It was only after a strong warning issued by US President George W. Bush that leaders of the terrorist group Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and the subsequent caretaker government executed six of the top JMB leaders.
It is also during the BNP-JEI government that two JEI leaders served as ministers in the government, though the party never explicitly accepted the constitution and independence.
The High Court decision to ban the JEI from contesting elections must be seen through the history of the party from 1970 till date.  The EC is giving them another opportunity to bring the JEI manifesto in line with the constitution and the RPO.  This will be the fifth opportunity given.  But the JEI has consistently tried to circumvent the EC’s directions.
In its latest charter the JEI holds the position of “establishing a society based on justice and equality through democratic process in Bangladesh and to get the contentment of Allah, the Benevolent”.
Experts point out that several clauses of the Jamaat’s charter that call for establishing the rule of Islam contradicts the Constitution and surreptitiously seeks to sabotage it.  The Jamaat also makes Allah supreme in making laws, negating the power of parliament.
It is quite transparent that the JEI is seeking ways to push its charter through the EC to pave the way for Sharia law in Bangladesh.  This is on the ideological front.  On the political and diplomatic fronts it is steadfast on a future federal relationship with Pakistan, but a Pakistan that is Sharia guided.
The advent of Hifazat-e-Islam Bangladesh is significant in the context.  This organisation came out suddenly in the midst of the JEI demonstrations to stop the 1971 war Crimes Tribunal trials.  The two Tribunals have sentenced several JEI top leaders to death, and one to life imprisonment (because of his old age).  Judgements on several others are awaited.  But they have been given a recourse to appeal.
The Hifazat, which held a major demonstration in Dhaka on May 05 with a 13 point demand on lines of Sharia law and segregation and cloistering of women had JEI and BNP backing.  The Hifazat leader’s derogatory comments on women goes against the sensibility of normal Bangladeshi Muslim families.  Which Bangladeshi man can tolerate his mother, sister or daughter being described a objects of lust?  None, but a handful for Bangladeshis, their culture hold “mother” and “sister” as sacrosanct.  Such public pronouncements from religious leaders echo the Jamaat atrocities against women in 1971.
The Hifazat, a conglomeration of private Madrassas and their uninitiated students do not have any strength of their own.  They are funded and indoctrinated by the BNP and JEI.
The current government may have many faults.  There were weaknesses in certain areas, but the best of the governments in the world is not free from criticism.  There is nothing called ideal, as people are not ideal.  Yet, the government has to pull up its socks and address obvious shortcomings.
Official statistics show that the present government has done far better according to social and economic indicators.  It has earned international praise and status including in the fight against terrorism.  It is now stepping into major development cooperation with neighbours both bilaterally and multilaterally.  Stability, good governance and economic policies, and curb on terrorism have been the main drivers.
The manner in which the JEI is moving and the BNP openly declaring its support to the JEI, does not bode well for the country.  Elections are just a few months away.  Eviction of the present government using religious right and the shadow of Sharia law will undo everything achieved.  Pakistan is now trying to get out of this very cage into which the JEI and BNP are pushing Bangladesh into.  Ironically, Pakistan continues to receive huge US and other western aid including military because of its special position.  Bangladesh does not enjoy the advantage.
According to younger BNP cadres, the old beaten political path is becoming self-defeating.  These are post liberation women and men who most probably would have joined the way of liberation if they were around.  They clearly sense the folly of supporting the JEI, but are restrained by their old leaders who think about themselves and not the nation.  If explained by the society, and not political parties, these young people can bring a change.
Almost similar is the case of JEI and its student wing, the Islamic Chaatra Shibir.  They are not only post 1971 generation but also children of a globalised world.  Most of them are well educated, but are kept blinkered by the party hierarchy, being a disciplined cadre based party.  Somehow, their minds must be opened to the fact that 1971 was a different era and as inheritors of the Razakars, they have everything to lose.  They have to ask themselves if they are Bengalees and citizens of a free and independent country, or would they prefer to bury themselves in the quicksand of obscurantism.
Having said this, the coming months are going to be difficult.  It will take much more time for young people in the BNP and the JEI to make a transition, if at all.  The BNP has no ideology.  Its political goal is to oust the Awami League, which is understandable.  But supping with the devil will draw it into a deeper vortex.
It is now the responsibility of the international community, especially the US, the UK and the European Union not to use Bangladesh as a pawn in their diplomacy with other Islamic countries.  Positioning the JEI as a moderate, democratic Islamic Party is going to backfire.  The JEI is neither moderate, nor democratic nor secular.  What they can do is persuade the old JEI to go into retirement and encourage a new, globally educated, JEI to see religion as universal and tolerant.
Bangladesh is walking on a knife’s edge.  It needs support and sustenance to emerge further as a country that contributes to its own well being.  As a participant regional development it is already making a contribution.  Religious dominance and anointing the grave wrongs of history will destroy everything.  The people of Bangladesh have to choose.
(The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached at e-mail

Sunday, 4 August 2013

1,500 Bangladeshi tribals seek refuge in India

The Times of India
IANS | Aug 4, 2013, 05.32 PM IST
AGARTALA: Over 1,500 tribals in Bangladesh fled to the Indian border along Tripura seeking refuge after ethnic strife broke out with non-tribal Muslims, officials said here on Sunday.

"Over 1,500 men, women and children of Chakma and Tripuri tribes have taken shelter in the India-Bangladesh border village at Karbook after fleeing from five villages in Khagrachari district," Border Security Force (BSF) deputy inspector general Bhaskar Rawat told IANS.

"The tribals entered Indian territory on Saturday evening after ethnic troubles in Bangladesh. They were stopped at the border by the BSF. We are providing them food and other assistance."

The tribals, mostly Buddhists and Hindus, fled the Chittagong Hill Tracts after clashes over the reported abduction of a local leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition in Bangladesh led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia.

An official of the Tripura home department said the state government has informed the home ministry about the development.

"At least one tribal villager was killed, four tribals were seriously injured and about 500 tribal houses were burnt to ashes," Delhi-based rights group, Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) director Suhas Chakma said in a press release.

Additional troopers of the BSF have been deployed along the India-Bangladesh border to deal with the situation.

"The villagers have been insisting that officials of the Bangladesh government and BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) should talk to them," Rawat said.

In 1986, over 74,000 tribals - mostly Buddhist Chakmas - took shelter in southern Tripura following violent attacks on thousands of tribals by non-tribals.

Demanding a sovereign status for tribals in Chittagong, separatist outfit Shanti Bahini had waged a guerrilla warfare against the Bangladesh government.

All the 74,000 refugees had returned to their homes in 1997-98 after the Bangladesh government signed a peace agreement with Shanti Bahini.

Tripura shares a 856-km border with Bangladesh, which is porous because it extends over mountains that are densely forested. Most parts of the border have been fenced.

50 houses torched in Khagrachhari

The New Nation

5th August, 2013

UPDF road blockade today

UNB, Khagrachhari

 Around 50 houses of indigenous families were reportedly set on fire by some miscreants in Matiranga upazila here on Saturday.

 Locals said, unidentified miscreants set fire to the houses at Bandar Shing para, Boga para, Manudas para and Laku headman para following abduction of Md Kamal,32, a motorbike rider, from Taindang area in the uapzila on Saturday noon. The victims deserted the houses following the incident.

 United People's Democratic Front (UPDF), anti-peace treaty organization, staged demonstration in the district town in the evening protesting the incident. It will enforce a dawn-to-dusk road blockade progamme in the district Monday demanding punishment to the responsible people and compensation for the victims.

 Deputy Commissioner Md Masud Karim said 6/7 houses were torched and additional police and BGB members were deployed to avert further trouble.

 BGB Guimara sector commander Col Emdad, Mariranga upazila parishad chairman Md Shamsul Haq, Matiranga UNO Dr Mahe Alam visited the spot. UNO Dr Mahe Alam said 20/25 houses were set on fire. The victims will be rehabilitated, he added. Meanwhile, the abducted motorbike rider was rescued from Noapara in Taindang in the upazila around 6 pm .