Saturday, 14 December 2013

Amnesty fears attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh after execution


Zee News

Dhaka: Execution of a top leader of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami for war crimes in Bangladesh could lead to reprisal attacks on minority communities, especially Hindus, a leading human rights watchdog has warned. 

Bangladesh executed Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah, infamous as the "Butcher of Mirpur", for 1971 war crimes last night, making him the first politician to be hanged for such crimes. 

"At this volatile time many people including minority Hindus are at risk of reprisal attacks....They are at particular risk of violence now the execution has been carried out," said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International's Bangladesh Researcher. 

"Authorities must ensure that anyone at risk, especially Hindus are given the protection they need at this tense time. Whole villages were burned down in the violence against Hindus this year and no one has been brought to justice," he said in a statement.

"It is also crucial that all politicians in Bangladesh make it crystal clear to their supporters to refrain from human rights abuses, and that attacks on Hindu communities are unacceptable," said Faiz.

Jamaat cadres have targeted Hindus over the International Crimes Tribunal trials of the party's leaders relating to the 1971 liberation war. Many of the prosecution witnesses have been Hindus.


PTI

Thursday, 5 December 2013

BJP asks Bangladesh to stop atrocity on minorities

BJP on Thursday urged Bangladesh to stop alleged atrocities on the minority Hindus living there during the ongoing political unrest over the forthcoming general elections on December 5.

A seven-member delegation of the BJP from West Bengal, including its president Rahul Sinha, met Bangladesh Deputy High Commissioner Abida Islam and submitted a memorandum.

"The information we are getting from Bangladesh speak of attacks on the minority Hindus there. Along with the Hindus we are also receiving information about attacks on Christians and Buddhists," the memorandum said.
 
Alleging that the "atrocities on minorities in Bangladesh have taken an alarming proportion since last month", it said, "We respect Bangladesh's sovereignty but we are failing to understand why your country is not stopping them?"
 
"We have nothing to do with the political violence in that country, but that should not take a communal turn", Sinha said."We are also pressuring the India government so that the matter is taken up at a diplomatic level," it said.
 
 
Party leaders, including Tathagata Roy, a former state BJP chief, also staged a sit-in demonstration on College Street in the central part of the city over the issue.
 
Sinha later said, "We will wait for one month and if there is no improvement, we will take up a 'Bangladesh Chalo' movement."
 
 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Hindu Houses, Shops Looted in Lalmonirhat, Bangladesh

12 hurt in attack by 'Jamaat-Shibir men'

A villager watches a shop vandalised and looted by Jamaat-Shibir activists at Ghoshpara village in Jongra union of Patgram upazila under Lalmonirhat district. The activists vandalised, torched and looted five shops and two houses of Hindus at the village yesterday, the third day of the main opposition BNP-led 18-party sponsored countrywide blockade programme. PHOTO: STAR
 
Hindus came under attack allegedly by activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir at Patgram upazila in Lalmonirhat for the second time in a month yesterday.

The attackers beat up at least 12 women and children and torched and looted at least five shops and two houses at Ghoshpara village of Jongra union on the third day of the opposition-sponsored 71-hour blockade.

The incident fuelled concerns over a fresh spell of attacks on the Hindus as men of the village have fled in fear of further attacks.

Earlier on October 28, Jamaat-Shibir men along with BNP activists unleashed a terror on another Hindu majority area at Shafinagar in Bawra union during hartal, torching at least 18 shops.
Ghoshpara, situated nearly 87 km from the district headquarters, is only three kilometres away from Shafinagar.

Opposition activists on November 4 also attacked another village at Satpatki Majhipara in Sadar upazila. They vandalised and looted several houses after villagers had refused to pay them toll.
About 200 to 250 Jamaat-Shibir activists and supporters led by Patgram upazila unit Shibir president Rana Islam yesterday made a sudden attack on the shops and houses from a procession, said police and witnesses.
 
They vandalised and looted three groceries owned by Manik Chandra Ghosh, Subhas Chandra Ghosh, and Jamini Ghosh, a fertiliser shop of Khokan Chandra Ghosh, and a pharmacy of Koyel Chandra Ghosh. The attackers also vandalised two houses belonging to Koyel Chandra Ghosh and Dhanjit Ghosh Tapos, president of Bangladesh Chhatra League of Rangpur district unit.

Locals were confused about the reason behind the attack. Some said the Jamaat-Shibir men were angry with Dhanjit and attacked his and other Hindu houses.

A number of Hindu villagers however alleged that ruling party men had instigated the attack.
Police arrested Nazrul Islam, member of local Union Parishad and former president of Shibir of Patgram upazila.
 
Officer-in-charge of Patgram police Sohrab Hossain said Rana was a listed criminal and was on the run.

Gopal Chandra Barman, general secretary of district Puja Udjapan Parishad, said several male members of at least 23 Hindu families had left the village and were in need of security.

Rabindra Ghosh, president of Bangladesh Minority Watch, said after the two incidents, the Hindus of Patgram were living in fear and a sense of insecurity.

Source: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/hindu-houses-shops-looted-in-lalmonirhat/

Bangladesh: Turmoil May See Return of Terrorism

By Bhaskar Roy
 
It is about time that the United States Congress realized that the current political turmoil in Bangladesh may see a return of terrorism to Bangladesh.
 
Eradication of terrorism from the country was one of the top priorities of Sheikh Hasina when she took over prime ministership in 2009. She delivered on her promise. Bangladesh was fast becoming a new center of terrorism under the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) government. The Al Qaida was testing the grounds. The return of the Awami League led 14 party alliance government thwarted externally promoted and JEI spearheaded conspiracy to turn Bangladesh into a Wahabi Islamic country.
 
The Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs organized (November 20) a 90 minute hearing titled “Bangladesh in Turmoil : A Nation on the Brink”. An apt title for the subject, given the open threats the country is facing from its own constituents.
 
Representative Steve Chabot who chaired the meeting highly appreciated Bangladesh’s development but was dismayed by the positions taken by the political parties threatening the upcoming general elections. Chabot had just returned from a visit to Bangladesh where he met the top political leaders including Prime Minister Sk. Hasina and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia.
 
Ed Royce, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee told the hearing that the Bangladesh government was not doing enough to protect the minorities. He raised a pertinent question : whether madrassa education was instigating fundamentalism in Bangladesh like in Pakistan. He noted the deep crisis that fundamentalism has created in Pakistan as the authorities failed to nip it in the bud.
 
Maj. Gen. (Retd) ANM Muniruzzaman, President of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) felt that Sk. Hasina’s refusal to bring back the “caretaker government” (CG) system could delay the elections and ultimately draw the army in. The constitution has been amended to make coup a treason, and the three current services chiefs have sworn not to interfere in politics. Bangladesh is no stranger to military coups and martial law, but one of the reasons a coup was avoided in 2007-08 was the UN Secretary General’s warning that a coup would render Bangladesh military personnel ineligible for lucrative UN peace keeping jobs.
     
A recent editorial, in the influential New York Times (NYT) held Prime Minister Sk. Hasina responsible for all the woes of Bangladesh. It said that top political opposition leaders and human rights activists have been arrested; courts have delivered guilty verdicts and death sentences that flout the most basic standards of due process; the banning of the JEI, an ally of the BNP, from participating in the electoral process was only forcing frustrated supporters into the streets.
 
An influential weekly, the Economist, has been reporting biased stories against the Awami League which included swipes at India, for almost three years. A couple of its earlier articles appeared almost dictated by the opposition leaders.
 
It is known that the western countries especially the US, exercise significant influence over Bangladesh. They are the main donors and control aid agencies and international financial institutions. On one platform, they all demand free and fair elections which is what everyone wants. This is how it should be.
     
However, should outside interference force a democratic sovereign nation to change its constitution to accommodate their favourite parties? While writing a secular and democratic constitution, should a popular government elected by the people in an internationally acknowledged free and fair election have draft national constitutions passed by foreign powers?
 
These questions arise because there is quiet pressure on the Bangladesh government to reinstate the caretaker government system. Certainly, Sk. Hasina in the past had favoured the caretaker system. But the experience with the last caretaker government showed this body could easily be manipulated by the immediate government.
 
This is exactly what happened in 2006. The caretaker government which was supposed to hold elections within 90 days of its takeover failed to do so. Many members changed. There was a plan to jail both Sk. Hasina and Begum Khaleda, the famous “minus two” formula and bring in a third front. The caretaker government got extended by almost two years.
 
A repeat of that situation is in nobody’s interest, and the country would stand to lose its impressive development trajectory. If the BNP suspects rigging of the elections by the government it could have joined the poll time government and scrutinize the election process. This they have refused to do.   
 
Begum Khaleda’s uncompromising demand is the removal of Sk. Hasina from her post. This is politics of personal vengeance. Polls are to held by January 24, next year, and many BNP leaders are beginning to lose patience with these leaders. Politicians cannot stay away from parliament for long.
 
The interest among western governments, NGOs and media to encourage a free and fair elections, as said earlier, is welcome. But there is something curious about the way they are conducting this process.
 
The Awami League is seen in the west as a socialist inclined party and does not fully subscribe to the American sense of democratic politics. So are most of Awami League’s allies. The BNP, on the other hand, is perceived as more capitalist oriented in sync with some western political views.
 
Is there a 1971 hangover in the US government and media? Despite US support to Islamabad Pakistan lost the war and Bangladesh was born at a huge humanitarian cost. People of that generation still recount that the waters of Foy’s Lake near Chittagong turned red with bodies of Bangladeshis including minorities killed and dumped there by the Pakistani army and their Bangladeshi collaborators who represent the JEI.
 
There is a clear sympathy for the JEI for having been banned from elections. Would western democracies allow political party like the JEI who refuse to abide by the national constitution and promote Sharia Law, where the ideology goes back to the dark ages and who are emphatically anti-women, take part in their politics? The JEI is the vector of radical Islamism in Bangladesh. The Hifazat-e-Islam (HEI) put up by the BNP and the JEI has emerged as a serious religious arm of the JEI-BNP agenda.
 
When US Congressman Ed Royce blamed the Bangladesh government of not doing enough to protect the minorities like Hindu and Christians from, violence, he apparently forgot to mention who or which party was committing the violence. It is mainly the JEI and they are not afraid to own it. In their ideology non-muslims including Ahmediyas have no right to exist.
 
There is a lot of criticism of the trial of the 1971 collaborators who killed Bangladeshis in hundreds and thousands. The west shows little or no understanding that unless the 1971 killings are put to rest there will be no peace in Bangladesh. More people were killed and more women raped by the Pakistani army and their collaborators than the Nazis did.
 
It is time the US Congress and others sit down and take into account how and why terrorism grew during the BNP-JEI rule between 2001-2006. It is time the Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger policy towards Bangladesh be buried in the US State Department, Congress and the media.
 
BNP president Begum Khaleda Zia is making a momentous mistake of overly depending on the JEI. It will be the case of the tail wagging the dog.
 
(The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached at e-mail grouchohart@yahoo.com)
 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Congressional Hearing on Bangladesh Highlights Hindu Plight


Washington, D.C. (November 21, 2013)Persecution of Hindus and religious minorities in Bangladesh took center stage at a Congressional hearing entitled 'Bangladesh in Turmoil: A Nation on the Brink,' hosted by the Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific yesterday.  Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affair Committee, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who served as the acting Ranking Member of the hearing, peppered witnesses with questions about concerns over growing radicalization and recent violence targeting Bangladesh's Hindu population.  The panel of three witnesses lacked any minority representation.
 
"I am particularly concerned over issues...regarding religious freedom and specifically over attacks on the minority Hindu community remaining in Bangladesh today," said Rep. Gabbard. "I think it's unfortunate that sometimes perpetrators of crimes against this community go unpunished, and it's up to the Government of Bangladesh to act authoritatively against those who incite and commit violence against anyone and protect the rights of all minorities."
 
While noting that the majority of the population in Bangladesh had no role in violence against minorities, Chairman Royce drew a parallel to Pakistan in expressing concern over the growing radicalization of young men being educated in Islamist schools.
 
"Unless the State in Bangladesh is ready to come forward and close these particular Deobandi schools, the ones that have been identified as the most radical, the ones that are telling their charges, their graduates to go out and commit this kind of violence...[Bangladesh, like Pakistan,] are going down roads here where the consequences will eventually engulf the state itself," said Chairman Royce.
 
For ten years, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has highlighted the plight of the Hindu and other minority populations in Bangladesh.  Earlier this year, at its 10th annual DC Advocacy Days, HAF delegations urged Congressional leaders to host a hearing that would examine more closely the growing crisis in Bangladesh and its potential impact on U.S. interests in the broader region.  HAF also submitted written testimony to the Subcommittee yesterday.
 
"While we were initially concerned by the lack of Hindu or any minority representation on the witness panel, we're pleased that the plight of Bangladeshi Hindus as well as other religious minorities became the central theme of the hearing," said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF's Senior Human Rights Fellow. "We appreciate Chairman Royce, Rep. Gabbard, and Rep. Sherman for being vocal critics of the violence being perpetrated against innocent minority populations in Bangladesh."
 
The International Crimes Tribunals generated much debate from both panelists and Congressmen alike.  Rep. Gabbard marked that despite the "obvious flaws" with the tribunals, clearly this was an issue of bringing about justice, albeit forty years later, for the absolutely heinous acts of violence against humanity. Panelist Ali Riaz, Ph.D., Fellow in Residence at the Woodrow Wilson Center, agreed in testifying that it was imperative for the international community to allow the Tribunal proceedings to continue and to stand by the verdicts.
 
The Tribunals are widely popular in Bangladesh and have thus far issued nine convictions, with eight pending trials and three ongoing investigations.  The majority of the convicted or indicted war criminals are leaders from Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical Islamist organization with ties to militant networks throughout South Asia and the pro-Islamist right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party.  Officials and supporters of both groups have also been implicated in recent incidents of large-scale anti-minority violence.
 
When asked of his overall impression of the hearing, HAF's Associate Director of Government Relations, Jay Kansara said, "In spite of the efforts of a lobbying firm, hired by the family of a war criminal, to discredit the Tribunal over the past two years, today was a day of reckoning long awaited by Bangladeshi Hindus -- especially those in the U.S., who have fled persecution in their home country."
 
Source: Hindu American Foundation Press Release

Saturday, 9 November 2013

US concerned over attack on Hindus in Bangladesh

November 7, 2013 at 00:46
 
US concerned over attack on Hindus            
 
Asks government to ‘act authoritatively’ against the perpetrators Expressing grave concern over the recent attack on Hindus in Pabna and Lalmonirhat districts, the US embassy has urged the government to protect the rights of the minority communities.
 
The call came through a statement issued on Wednesday by the embassy in Dhaka.
 
The statement read: “We call on all those involved in these incidents to desist from abusing the rights of minorities, and ask all parties to ensure they are stopped immediately and the perpetrators are held accountable.”
 
It asked the government to act authoritatively against those who incited and committed this violence. The statement also expressed concern over the deaths, injuries, and ongoing violence associated with hartals.
 
 “While engaging in peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right, we firmly believe violence is never the answer.” 
 
We look to the government of Bangladesh to ensure the safety of all its citizens and encourage all Bangladeshis to peacefully express their views,” it added.
 
It also urged all political parties to stage peaceful demonstration programmes to avert violence.
 
 
Source: http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2013/nov/06/us-concerned-over-attack-hindu-minority#sthash.P1xoSqPs.dpuf

Human Chain Held in Patuakhali, Bangladesh

Human chain held in Patuakhali against attack by fundamental Muslim thugs on Hindu temples & Hindu people in Pabna, Bangladesh.


Thursday, 31 October 2013

Age-old Dipali festival gets off in Barisal, Bangladesh

 
The Hindu community across the district will observe Shamshan Dipali Utsav at Maha Shamshanghat on friday, plus Dipabali and Diwali Utsav in their houses.
 
The special religious festival of Barisal Hindu community has a history of traditional worship of more than 160 years dating back in 1850.
 
 
The religious fervour takes place at the night before Kali Puja for blessings of the departed souls of near and dear ones.
 
Narayan Chandra Dey Naru, secretary, Barisal Maha Shamshan Rakkha Committee, said the Hindu community had been observing Maha Shamshan Dipali festival since 1850 only in Aadi Shamshan Ghat of Natun Bazaar and Maha Shamshan Ghat of Kawnia, two crematoriums in Barisal city.  
 
Thousands of people from across the district attend the festival every year.
 
From Thursday, devotees started offering flowers and foods through rituals (Puja) and special prayers at the Shamshan Ghat for eternal blessings of the departed souls of their dear and near ones.
 
The organisers of the festival said several “Fanus” – colourful gas-filled Balloons, would be released in the sky at the night of Maha Shamsan Dewali at the Shamshan Ghats.
 
The religious festivity will also be marked by an arrangement of fair in the area accommodating stalls for sweetmeats and traditional toys.
 
The Maha Shamshan Ghats at Kawnia Marokkhola and Aadi Shamshan Ghat of the Natun Bazar areas in the city will see thousands of members of Hindu community pour in from across the district.

The houses of the Hindus would be decorated with lighting on this occasion.
 
The act of worship of Maha Shamshan Kali would start from early Saturday and the entire crematorium would be decorated. Security has been intensified by the law enforcers.
 
The lawmen were patrolling the city roads leading down to the Shamshan Ghats for ensuring safety and security of the devotees and maintaining peaceful interreligious harmony and coexistence, said Md Shamsuddin, Barisal Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
 
See more at: http://www.dhakatribune.com/arts-amp-culture/2013/nov/01/age-old-dipali-festival-gets-barisal#sthash.TJ4mEOZR.dpuf

Saturday, 12 October 2013

For puja at this Dhaka temple, door’s open to all

Jaideep Mazumdar, TNN | Oct 13, 2013, 05.49 AM IST
 
DHAKA: She gave Dhaka her name. And though she has been attacked several times she remains an inspiring example of communal integration in Bangladesh. The best time to witness this is during Durga puja. The 800-year-old Dhakeshwari temple is like no other Hindu temple in the world. The national flag of Bangladesh is hoisted here every morning and even flies at half mast during official mourning.

Durga puja at Dhakeshwari too is unique in many ways. It is a must-visit for not only the country's estimated 140 lakh Hindus, but also for the vast majority of Muslims here. Senior politicians of both the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party make it a point to drop by and greet puja revellers here.

The long queues waiting to be served the rich bhuna khichuri served on Ashtami include Muslims too. Bijoya Sammilani (the post-puja social and cultural gathering) held in the temple grounds is a major event in Dhaka's cultural calendar. "Durga Puja, for us, is an occasion to do some social service and strengthen bonds between members of other communities," says Bashudeb Dhar, the president of the Mahanagar Sarbojonin Puja Committee that oversees the 212 community pujas.

Prominent members of all communities, including Buddhists and Christians, are invited to participate in the festivities. But the committee also reaches out to the general public by offering free meals and organizing community initiatives. The secular nature of Durga puja in Dhaka is a strong and time-tested, says Dhar. "There have been attempts to destroy this secular culture. Our participation in Durgotsav is important to defeat these attempts," says Mohammad 'Montu' Naseem, a prominent businessman. Prominent Muslims serve on the organizing committees of most pujas here. "Pujas are an integral part of our cultural and religious heritage and we must fight all attempts to destroy it," says Awami League leader Abdul Qadir Nissar.

The original Durga idol at the temple, the ten-armed Dasabhuja, was smuggled out to Kolkata in 1947. The replacements were destroyed thrice, the first time by the Pakistani army in March 1971, and then by Islamic hardliners in 1975 and 1990. But none of that managed to shake Dhaka's love for the temple.
 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Shuva Durga Puja

Sarbajanin Durga Puja has been started in Bangladesh and all over the world. Tomorrow Thursday is Saptami. According to The Daily Ittefaq, there are more that 28000 Durga mandaps have been set up in Bangladesh. Among them 214 mandaps are in Dhaka that is 10 more mandaps than last year. 14th Oct is government holiday in Bangladesh for Bijoya Dashami.
 
Happy Durga Puja.

                                                                                          

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

India/Pakistan/Bangladesh: How long should we live in the Past?

 

Dated 18-Aug-2013

Guest Column: By Kazi Anwarul Masud 

The line of control along Jammu & Kashmir is being violated repeatedly. India accuses Pakistan of the violations that is denied by Pakistan.
 
In recent weeks the beheading of an Indian soldier and killing of five Indian soldiers- four from Bihar and one from Maharashtra-resulted in fury of the common people demanding that the killers be punished. Politics waded into these incidents by the confusing statements by the Defense Minister.
 
The first comment that the killers were wearing dresses of Pakistan army was seen by the opposition and the media as exonerating Pakistan and hence a clearer statement was asked for from the Defense Minister. The army chief visited the area nearby( his helicopter could not go to the area of fighting due to inclement weather) and on return reported to the Defense Minister who then gave a statement in Parliament that directly accused Pakistan of these violations. The fight along the LOC continues and the Indian army has been ordered to retaliate. It is difficult to fully understand the reasons behind Pakistan’s intrusion into an otherwise orderly maintained LOC.
 
New Prime Minister Nwaz Sharif has expressed his desire to improve relations with India. South Asian expert Bruce Riedel wrote in The Daily Beast (May 14 2013) of Sharif’s acceptance of unilateral withdrawal from Kargil at the request of then US President and his firing of then army chief General Parvez Musharaf, handpicked by Sharif, who orchestrated a coup and could have hanged Nwaz Sharif but for the intervention of the US and Saudi Arabia. As luck would have it General Musharaf decided to return to Pakistan from exile in London to “save” the country from chaos and corruption. This foolish decision has landed him in prison accused of sedition and overthrowing a democratically elected government. But as Bruce Riedel points out “Since many of the senior commanders in the army today, including Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, are former Musharraf protégés who rose with him to power, the question of what to do with Musharraf now is a dangerous challenge. The courts will decide his fate but the next prime minister’s voice will matter. Deciding how to handle the Musharraf affair is only one of Sharif’s huge challenges”.  Could it be possible that the army, denials by Pakistan notwithstanding, could have carried out the border violations to scuttle a possible resumption of talks with India?
 
Bruce Riedel’s piece in The Daily Beast that preceded the incidents along the LOC spoke of Nwaz Sharif’s relations with the extremists. Riedel wrote “He has long coddled Pakistan’s most dangerous terrorist group, Lashkar e Tayyiba, which carried out the Mumbai massacre in 2008 and which has its headquarters in Sharif’s home city of Lahore. LeT retains very close links with the army and the intelligence service, the ISI. Nonetheless, Sharif has also promised to turn a page in Pakistan’s relations with India.  As an industrialist billionaire, Sharif knows the Pakistani economy desperately needs more trade and investment from its far more vibrant Indian neighbor. Pakistan’s economy is in shambles, and half the people in the country are under 15 with little hope for a decent education or a good job. Sharif is not obsessed with rivalry with India like his generals; his vision of Pakistan is more about building highways and mass transit than an arms race Pakistan cannot win”.
 
Riedel added in another piece “Despite over $25 billion in American economic and military aid since 9/11, the Pakistani authorities cannot be relied on to fight the danger posed by al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, or LeT. Obama recognized that fact when he sent the SEALs to kill bin Laden without telling any Pakistani official that we had found him hiding inside the highly secure Pakistani city of Abbottabad”. Though Kashmir, an insoluble problem,appears to be the main bone of contention ideological differences that led to the creation of Pakistan on the basis of religious differences also accounts for the Indo-Pak rivalry.
 
Another South Asian expert Stephen Cohen writes “Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic state still threatens Indian pluralism, and when it is given muscle by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, it becomes a domestic political problem for India, leaving aside the ambivalence of some Indian Muslims. For Pakistanis, the notion of a perpetual conflict means finding a way to live with a more powerful and still-threatening neighbor, strengthening the one technology that assures Pakistan that India will not seek a military victory—nuclear weapons—while searching for a way to overhaul the economy”. 
 
The creation of Bangladesh and the existence of so many Arab states and European nations amply demonstrate the folly of the British, then colonial power in India, to have agreed to the partition of India on religious ground. Had the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 been implemented by both the Congress and the Muslim League then, perhaps, South Asia, described by Stephen Cohen as the most dangerous area in the world would not have come to pass. The Plan envisaged the creation of a united dominion of India as a loose confederation of provinces as follows:
  1. A united Dominion of India would be given independence.
  2. Muslim-majority provinces would be grouped – Baluchistan, Sind, Punjab and NWFP and would form one group, and Bengal and Assam would form another.
  3. Hindu-majority provinces in central and southern India would form another group.
  4. The Central government would be empowered to run foreign affairs, defense and communications, while the rest of powers and responsibility would belong to the provinces
The plan of May 16, 1946 had envisaged a united India in line with Congress and Muslim League aspirations. But that was where the consensus between the two parties ended since Congress abhorred the idea of having groupings of Muslim majority provinces and that of Hindu majority provinces with the intention of 'balancing' each other at the Central Legislature. The Muslim League could not accept any changes to this plan since the same 'balance' or 'parity' that Congress was loath to accept formed the basis of Muslim demands of 'political safeguards' built into post-British Indian laws so as to prevent absolute rule of Hindus over Muslims( WIKIPEDIA). But then history has been  written differently since 1947.

Many people argue that if the centuries long enmity among European nations could be buried under the sands of time and lead to the formation of the formation of the European Union then why South Asian nations cannot strengthen SAARC into a similar organization. One does not have to be a transnationalist and impose the laws of a nation on the others in the guise of universalization or supra-national authority where the laws passed by the parliament of the member nations would be subordinated. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations would remain undisturbed. The advantage of strong intra-SAARC relations where the leaders can move about without the frills of protocol and can have breakfast in one country and diner in another to discuss and solve the problems would serve the interest of the people of more than a billion. Since economic integration can take many forms one could start with its definition. It has been defined as a kind of arrangement where countries get in agreement to coordinate and manage their fiscal, trade, and monetary policies in order to be mutually benefitted by them.

There are many degrees of economic integration, but the most preferred and popular one is free trade. In economic integration no country pays customs duty within the integrated area, so it results in lower prices both for the distributors and the consumers. The ultimate aim of economic integration is to increase trade across the world. Some of the benefits are obvious. For example it will lead to trade creation. Member countries have (a) wider selection of goods and services not previously available; (b) acquire goods and services at a lower cost after trade barriers due to lowered tariffs or removal of tariffs (c) encourage more trade between member countries the balance of money spent on cheaper goods and services, can be used to buy more products and services. Besides unlike WTO with huge membership (147 countries), it is easier to gain consensus amongst small memberships in regional integration.

Economic integration can also lead to employment opportunities. As economic integration encourage trade liberation and lead to market expansion, more investment into the country and greater diffusion of technology, it create more employment opportunities for people to move from one country to another to find jobs or to earn higher pay. For example, industries requiring mostly unskilled labor tends to shift production to low wage countries within  regional cooperation. But from the point of view of high wage countries it may lead to higher unemployment, as in the case of the US and some countries of Europe still fighting the ill effects of the greatest recession since the Great Depression of the thirties of the 20th century. The blame for this continuing recession in some developed countries is put at the doors of the politicians and the plutocrats whose policies serve the interest of the rich and the powerful.

In the case of the US Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz writes
“After 1980, the poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated, and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs — or rich enough to send their kids to private schools. A result was a widening gap in educational performance — the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier. Of course, there are other forces at play, some of which start even before birth. Children in affluent families get more exposure to reading and less exposure to environmental hazards. Their families can afford enriching experiences like music lessons and summer camp. They get better nutrition and health care, which enhance their learning, directly and indirectly. Americans are coming to realize that their cherished narrative of social and economic mobility is a myth (Equal opportunity our national myth)”. Professor VSR Subramanian who has been an advocate of international dependence model for development for  developing countries holds the view that  no nation can function in isolation in the current world market linked with internet and E-business

The international dependence model draws heavily from the Prebish-Singer thesis that describes the existence of unequal international power imbalances, is the cause of under-development in developing countries. Raul Prebisch and Hans Singer blamed the trade as an engine of under development for poor countries, because they were colonized and became exporter of primary products, whose prices were historically declining. Advocates of this thesis, therefore recommended to keep one's economy closed, follow import substitution policies to strengthen the internal production power,   and national technological development in a phased manner. Consistent with this, and following from its historical experience of colonial rule,  a model of inward-looking policies (import substitution and export pessimism) is what countries like India adopted until 1991. However, towards the end of 1980s, rapid growth of South-eastern Asian economies, demonstrated   the advantages of openness of import and exports balancing and cost effective market domination.

Subsequently India opened its economy and exposed the domestic industry to international competition after a long era of protection. All these infer, says Dr. Subramanium,   that if a nation is open and can integrate with the world economy, then it   can expect to be fast growing and reach a higher growth rate, as happens in the South-east Asian countries and Japan. This provides the leverage of increase in quantity and quality of labor, capital and technology through trade and investment. Hence Dr. Subramaniam advocated the theory of foreign investment attraction for export oriented production with local labor, as a method for reaching a higher economic growth rate among under-developed and developing nations.

With the advent of globalization and Thomas Friedman’s Flat Earth thesis it is impossible to live in isolation. Regional trade cooperation can be of several stages: 1. Preferential Trade Agreement2.Free Trade Area3. Customs Union 4.Common Market 5. Economic Union 6. Political Union. In any cooperative arrangement a country must be prepared to give up a certain degree of its sovereignty. In any case the classical concept of sovereignty, both during the Cold War period and thereafter, has changed considerably. With the Americans believing in the concept of ‘exceptionalism”and its efforts to subordinate international law to the laws of the US sovereignty can only be ensured by the rich and the powerful. In the case of South Asia Pakistan’s refusal to accept that India of 1947 and India of the twenty first century are two different countries and hence to try to emulate George Kennan’s policy of containment of communism that he advocated for the US cannot be replicated either bilaterally or in limiting Indian influence in Afghanistan long thought of by Pakistan military as a place of refuge in case of full fledged war between the two nuclear powers.

Though Bangladesh is the second largest Muslim country in the world after Indonesia we are surrounded by Hindu India with a population of 1.2 billion. With more than 80.5% population of Hindus in India, Hinduism has the largest number of followers in India. The overall population of India is dominant by Hindu Religion and its traditions. The Hindu religion is spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Almost all the states and union territories in India have the larger number of Hindu Population. Then we have Myanmar with a population of 65 million most of who are Buddhists. The persecution of the Muslims in the Rakhine state by the majority Buddhists who flee to Bangladesh for sanctuary amply demonstrates the vulnerability of Muslim Bangladesh. Though one does not expect a conflict based on religion in the sub-continent nor a special relationship between Hindu India and Hindu Nepal because both share the same religion there is little doubt that the emergence of radicals in the sub-continent is due to presumed discrimination or inter-faith conflicts in some countries ignite the sentiments of co-religionists in other countries.

German sociologist Jurgen Habermas observes in his Notes on a post-secular society “worldwide 'resurgence of religion is due to the missionary expansion (a), a fundamentalist radicalisation (b), and the political instrumentalisation of the potential for violence innate in many of the world religions (c).) A first sign of their vibrancy is the fact that orthodox, or at least conservative, groups within the established religious organizations and churches are on the advance everywhere. This holds for Hinduism and Buddhism just as much as it does for the three monotheistic religions”

Exploring further the transformation of secular society into a post-secular one Habermas adds “Pushing the issue closer home, let me remind you that the visibility and vibrancy of foreign religious communities also spur the attention to the familiar churches and congregations. The Muslims next door force the Christian citizens to face up to the practice of a rival faith. And they also give the secular citizens a keener consciousness of the phenomenon of the public presence of religion. The third stimulus for a change of consciousness among the population is the immigration of "guest-workers" and refugees, specifically from countries with traditional cultural backgrounds”. In forging economic cooperation we shall be better off if dissonance between the church and the state becomes an article of faith for the people of SAARC region. We have to believe and practice that religion is a private individual matter that should not intrude into the governance of countries.

Only then, perhaps, billion more people would be able to prosper.
 
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary in Bangladesh.
 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Durga Temple Vandalised in Bhola, Bangladesh

 
 
Idols vandalised at Durga Temple in Bhola
Achinta Majumder, Bhola
 
 
 
 
Idols had been vandalised by fanatic thugs at night at a Sarbajanin Durga Temple in Tajumuddin upazilla of Bhola district. This terrible incident happened at midnight of last Monday at Daserhat Sanbajanin Durga Temple in the village of Aralia under union of Chandpur in Tajumudding upazilla.
 
General Secretary of Daserhat Sarbajanin Puja Celebration Committee Sri Choton Chandra Das told that devotees were at the temple until 2am. When everybody left the fanatic miscreants entered in the temple and vandalised Sri Ganesh idol. Devotees noticed the incident when they came in the temple next day (Tuesday).
 
Higher officers of administration including Upazilla Nirbahi Officer visited temple on Tuesday.
 
Officer in Charge of Tajumuddin thana Mr. Abul Hossain told that police posted for temple safety and investigation is on for the incident.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Two Temples Vandalized in Netrokona Sadar, Bangladesh

Bdnews24.com

 
The desecrations of ‘Sharbojonin Kali Mondir’ at village Betati and ‘Sharbojonin Mondir’ at Jongolboruari village are believed to have taken place sometime during Saturday night, said Netrokona Model Police Station OC SM Mofizul Islam.

A devotee, who came to make offerings at the temple in Betati around Sunday noon, discovered the broken idol.

Netrokona Model Police Station OC SM Mofizul Islam and Nirmol Das, president of the District Pooja Celebration Committee, visited the temple.

At Jongolboruari village the idols of goddess Kali and Mahadeb were found wrecked, said Nirmol Das and Pankaj Saha Roy, secretary of Upazila Pooja Celebration Committee.

The vandal had broken into the temple and beheaded the idols and left the heads lying inside.

OC SM Mofizul said he has heard of the incident in Jongolboruari and is preparing send a police force there.

1,100-year-old Pala dynasty temple unearthed in Dinajpur

 
Dhaka Trubune

 
 
 
Archaeologists from Jahangirnagar University (JU) have excavated an ancient Hindu temple at Belwa village of Ghoraghat upazila in Dinajpur. The massive brick structure has been identified as a Hindu temple from the Pala dynasty.
 
The chief of the project, Professor Syed Mohammad Kamrul, told journalists that the excavated site was under threat of destruction.
 
Swadhin Sen, associate professor of archaeology at JU, said the temple, approximately 1,100-years-old, was a major archaeological discovery in Bangladesh.
 
“Multiple deities were worshiped at the temple at the same time,” said Prof Sen.
 
He added that several fragments of black sandstone sculptures had been identified and documented from the excavation.
 
Among the three carvings that have been identified are the pedestal of the Brahmanic sun god Surya, a fragment of the Gada (mace) depicted in the hand of the Hindu god Vishnu, and a fragment of a Visnupatta (a type of dedicatory plaque used to worship Vishnu).
 
A miniature bronze statue of Hindu god Ganesha has also been found, said Swadhin Sen. “The worship of these three gods – Surya, Vishnu and Ganesha – has been attested by these evidences. This is quite unique in the context of undivided Bengal,” said Swadhin Sen.
 
The excavation has already revealed the massive architectural layout of the temple, which is divided into two parts: the core temple area is rectangular, measuring 21 metres from east to west and 13 metres from north to south. The other part on the western side contains a solid square brick platform measuring 6.8 metres on all sides, which is the garbhagriha, or inner sanctum.
 
The space to the east of the sanctum is the mandap (assembly hall), which contains the remnants of six square brick pillars. A brick wall encloses the space on the south, east and the west. The wall has been severely damaged by locals who have carried away bricks.
 
On the west and south-west is a Sapta Rath projection, which are typical of this period in Bengal, said Dipak Ranjan Das, former professor of Calcutta University and ancient South Asian architecture specialist. The entire structure, excluding the pavements and approach ways measure 41 metres from east to west and 25 metres from north to south.
 
The entrance to the temple is to the east. From the parts excavated until now, the temple was a massive and solidly built structure. A raised solid brick platform stands right behind the entrance, which measures 6.6 metres from east to west and 5.8 metres from north to south. The approach towards the platform is from the northeast and southeast corners.
 
A large area in front of the temple is paved with bricks and has a beaten earthen floor. The exact dimensions of the pavement cannot be measured because of crop cover and the privately owned land is disputed.
 
The construction and finishing of the walls, especially on the outside bears testimony to the workmanship of the skilled builders, said Swadhin Sen.

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 drsubhashkapila.007@gmail.com)
 

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 grouchohard@yahoo.com)