In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, said that Bangladesh was a ‘basket case’ an ungovernable and chaotic nation with little prospect of succeeding into a viable nation state. He was wrong, flatly wrong; however there are still some fundamental issues in the country which are stunting the nations economic and political growth. Bangladesh suffers from an image crisis caused by its political system and history. In the international arena, Jamaat backers such as George Galloway MP, Bob Lambert, Sarmila Bose, Moazzam Beg, Muslim Council of Britain and Toby Cadman are exploiting the lack of knowledge on Bangladesh and are getting away with major distortions.
The Shahbag movement was borne because people didn’t want to remain pedestrian anymore. The younger generation had looked at Bangladesh’s vile history and wanted change. Jamaat should never be in opposition politics, it has only been because of Bangladesh’s weak standing in the world that has allowed Jamaat and its backers to continue with their designs to create a Saudi/Pakistani fiefdom.
Shahbag has been seen as a movement for capital punishment when it should be seen as a movement for secularism. It isn’t anti-Islamic, however the religious fanatics are trying to use that argument as a shield. It’s something that might work in British politics, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) which was setup by one of the suspected war criminals from 1971 could use it more effectively in Europe, but Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country. Shahbag are proud Muslims, not religious politicians and fanatics. Jamaat need to be educated that nobody trusts politicians, that is pretty universal across the globe, why should anyone trust a politician that says God dictates his policies. Politicians always screw up, so when policy fails does Allah get the blame?
The International Crimes Tribunals are politically motivated. I’ve said it. But, there is a difference between the tribunals being politically motivated and politicians interfering with the judicial process. Everyone should agree on that. However, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat’s propaganda wings deliberately muddle this.
The Awami League came to power in 2008 because one of its main election pledges was to setup a system of justice to end the ‘culture of impunity’ in Bangladesh. It hasn’t been a secret that Jamaat was involved in genocide and helped the Pakistani army to rape and murder hundreds of thousands. The trials were designed to look at personal responsibility for such crimes.
When Jamaat politicians got into ministerial positions during the 2001-2006 period, the Bangladesh public couldn’t take it any more. It makes you question by the BNP still retains Jamaat as a political partner. What exactly are they getting from the deal? Wikileaks diplomatic cables have shown that there is a great deal of anger and resentment within the BNP because of the support for Jamaat. Many BNP politicians believe that Jamaat is an anti-thesis of what they are working for. A meeting between the US Embassy and Dr. Kamal Siddiqui, one of Khaleda Zia’s top advisors in the BNP showed that there is a lot of dissenting voices behind the united front with Jamaat.
The Caretaker government and civil society had reached the end of their patience with the former BNP/Jamaat government which ran from 2001-2006. The international community, had also lost their patience too. Hence, the public demanded for tribunals to bring justice for the victims of 1971 and the Awami Leagues resounding victory in the 2008 election. Suspected war criminals had been absolved by political players and dictators, but not by the general public. The international media have deliberately forgotten about the developments under the BNP/Jamaat government. Idly sitting on the fence doesn’t really work in South Asia. Pakistan hasn’t changed its behaviour since 9/11. The recent critical remarks by the German Embassy in Bangladesh on the BNP’s flirtation with anti-women policies of Hezafat do show what can be done with more frank discussion.
The international community’s cowardly diplomacy has created an international security situation in the region. Nuclear confrontation is certainly on the horizon, but dealing with it doesn’t mean increasing war. It certainly isn’t the answer, but there are legal and diplomatic avenues which haven’t been pursued. Early this year, the US Senate finally charged western banks for working with suspected terrorist financiers. The Islami Bank Bangladesh (IBBL) was mentioned in the reports. This came a full decade after 9/11 and when the original investigations were conducted. The international community has failed because it treads too softly when it should have been more assertive.
The Liberation War of 1971 is framed as a 50/50 split interpreted differently by the BNP and Awami League. This isn’t true. Jamaat are a minority force in Bangladesh and for good reason. They are very powerful and well financed. Liberals always try to protect minorities, however in this case the violence and dogma of Jamaat politics should be shunned. Jamaat have had amble opportunity to make amends.
When they were brought back into the fold by military dictators in the 1970s they should have learnt their lessons and behaved. They didn’t. Many diplomats and political analysts figures believe that Bangladesh should let sleeping dogs lie, in reference to healing the country from its bloody past, however this is disingenuous considering they know these dogs have kept on biting. Bangladesh’s press were excellent in exposing the ties between the Jamaat and Islami Chattra Shibir’s suspected patronage of militant outfits such as the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
Sheikh Hasina and civil society had watched how Islamic radicalism had mushroomed under the tutelage of Jamaat, the Mawdudi movement in Bangladesh. Senior BNP figures had been using terrorists like Bangla Bhai to wipe-out their political foes. Hussain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the US and now works for Cassidy Associates, Jamaat’s lobbyists in the United States and Europe, said that Bangladesh’s politicians in the BNP/Jamaat alliance had ‘Pakistanised’ the country. He meant that nationalist politicians had been abusing religion for foreign and domestic political policies. He saw major similarities between the BNP/Jamaat and the DGFI and how Pakistan’s notorious ISI works hand-in-hand with Mawdudi inspired political parties in Pakistan and Kashmir. Haqqani argued that Islamist terrorism had been deliberately imported and was being allowed to grow by attaching itself to violent anti-Awami League politics. The August 21stGrenade attack case and the Chittagong Arms Haul have showed Haqqani’s conclusions to be accurate. Will Haqqani now flip his own findings? Probably. He has stood as the gate keeper for US relations in South Asia and has often advised the US to pull when he should have said push.
I urge international journalists start to examine the motivation for the Awami League and the Caretaker government’s need to end the culture of impunity. Bangladesh is certainly not a basket case, but there are a lot of rotten eggs in the basket. It is a disservice to humanity to see Bangladesh’s tribunals and 1971 as an Awami League and BNP spat. Journalists should look for more. They need to do much better.
[Originally published here.]
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed, or the assumptions made within the analysis in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Crimes Strategy Forum (ICSF).