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Bangladesh caught into battle between secularist and ultra-Islamist forces

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research scholar, and counterterrorism specialist. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers.

While the tenure of the current 11th parliament in Bangladesh shall end on or before October 9, 2023 and as per constitutional provision, the next general election must be held by January 9, 2024, political scenarios in the country is getting extremely worrisome as ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which currently is headed by Tarique Rahman, a convicted terrorist, who is on run since 2007.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ideological allies such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) as well as other pro-Islamist, pro-jihadist, anti-Hindu and anti-India elements are trying to implement their blueprint of turning the country into a Caliphate or sharia state by undemocratically unseating Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her secularist government. Although the international community are seeing the upcoming 12th national election in the country as a mere democratic process, in reality the actual reality is completely different.

The upcoming general election in the country clearly is a battle between secularist Awami League and its rivals – the nexus of ultra-Islamist and jihadists. Most possibly, Western policymakers are yet to realize this aspect.

On July 11, 2023, when members of the visiting Election Exploratory Mission of the European Union (EU) held a meeting with Bangladesh’s chief legal officer, Attorney General AM Amin Uddin, hundreds of lawyers belonging to Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ideological allies staged protest right outside the office chamber of the Attorney General, holding placards and chanting anti-Sheikh Hasina slogans using loudspeakers.

Following the meeting, when members of the EU delegation were boarding into their vehicles at the Supreme Court premises, those protestors gheraoed and continued chanting slogans thus leaving the delegation members in tremendous fear and wariness. Such thuggish and hooligan-type attempts of the members of the Islamist and jihadist forces right inside the Supreme Court premises had not only tarnished the image of the apex court, it also has clearly indicated the possible fate of Bangladesh, if these hoodlums succeed in returning to power thus turning the country into another neo-Taliban state.

The EU delegation reached Dhaka on a 16-day visit on July 8, 2023 to discuss the election environment and pre-election political situation in Bangladesh. The delegation is holding meetings with different stakeholders.

Based on the report of the visiting EU delegation, the European Commission’s vice president Joseph Borrell will announce the final decision regarding sending election observers in the next general election.

Meanwhile, another important delegation comprising US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya, and US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu arrived in Bangladesh on July 11, 2023.

These visits clearly prove – Bangladesh already has become geopolitically important to the international community due to multiple reasons. Through its impressive economic growth, diplomatic initiatives, and strategic partnerships, the country has transformed itself into a key player in regional and global affairs.

One of the primary drivers of Bangladesh’s geopolitical importance is its remarkable economic growth and development. Over the past decade, the country has experienced a consistent and robust GDP growth rate, establishing itself as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

This economic progress has not only improved the living standards of its citizens but also attracted attention from global powers seeking new investment opportunities and markets for trade. Bangladesh’s expanding economy has positioned it as a potential hub for business and commerce in the region.

Furthermore, Bangladesh’s strategic location between South and Southeast Asia has enhanced its geopolitical significance. With the Bay of Bengal to its south, the country serves as a crucial maritime gateway connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia.

The Chittagong Port, the largest seaport in Bangladesh, has gained prominence as a vital transit point for regional trade and a potential hub for transshipment. The development of transportation infrastructure, such as roads, railways, and ports, has further facilitated connectivity, making Bangladesh a significant player in regional transportation and trade networks.

During the past fifteen years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has actively pursued diplomatic initiatives to strengthen its regional and global standing. The country has successfully engaged in multilateral forums, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Bangladesh has also played an active role in regional organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). By actively participating in these forums, Bangladesh has been able to assert its interests, promote regional cooperation, and establish itself as a reliable and influential partner.

Bangladesh is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority country, with a population of over 160 million Muslims. As a democratic nation, it serves as an example of coexistence between Islam and democracy, demonstrating the compatibility of Islamic values with democratic principles. This makes Bangladesh an important model for other Muslim-majority countries, both Arab and non-Arab, seeking to balance religious identity with democratic governance.

Commenting on the ground realities in Bangladesh, eminent journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan in an article titled ‘Why the world must learn to accept Bangladesh’s imperfect democracy’ wrote in India Narratives:

“Bangladesh’s dilemma is a whole lot more than organizing free, fair and credible elections. It is one of checking the rise of or return to power of elements which have cheerfully given short shrift to history, have never condemned the assassinations of the country’s independence leaders, have indeed come in the way of the rule of law through indemnifying the murders of 1975 in the constitution.

“And let it not be forgotten that the ruling Awami League, warts and all, is under pressure from overseas governments keen on having a good election take place. These governments have not had the time or the inclination to consider the battering Bangladesh’s history has received from those who today are campaigning to see the back of the Sheikh Hasina government”.


Syed Badrul Ahsan further wrote:

“The BNP has sought to supplant Bengali nationalism with the spurious idea of ‘Bangladeshi nationalism’, basing it on politics that has no place for secularism and socialism. In their heyday – and that is the long period of twenty-one years (1975-1996) and five years (2001-2006), the BNP and its fellow travelers practiced what essentially was a denial of history. Since it went out of office in 2006, the BNP has not reviewed or revised its position on the issue, which raises troubling questions about its politics once more.

“The upshot of it all is that despite its vast majority in parliament, the ruling Awami League has never taken any measures to have the constitution go back to its fundamentals, namely, the four original principles of the state; has made no move to decree ‘Bangladeshi nationalism’ a violation of the constitution and a repudiation of history and has not made the point that no political parties in the country, despite their democracy-related political programs, should deviate from the principles enunciated in 1971 and formalized in the 1972 constitution.

It is perhaps one of those rare moments in the history of global democratic politics that a nation, deeply divided between the forces of history and elements denying that history, are engaged in a struggle for power, with both speaking of their determination to promote democracy. That begs the question: How do political parties which have not only been formed by military rulers seizing power through coups d’état but which have arbitrarily gone into brushing history aside intend to ensure democratic growth in a country?

“Bangladesh’s dilemma is a whole lot more than organizing free, fair and credible elections. It is one of checking the rise of or return to power of elements which have cheerfully given short shrift to history, have never condemned the assassinations of the country’s independence leaders, have indeed come in the way of the rule of law through indemnifying the murders of 1975 in the constitution”.
Shall the Western nations, most of whom are time-tested friends and development partners of Bangladesh take the above-mentioned scenarios into their active consideration? Shall they reboot their policy of exerting favor to Islamists and jihadists in Bangladesh thus saving the country from becoming a neo-Taliban state – ruled by Islamists, jihadists and religious bigots?

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research scholar, and counterterrorism specialist. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers.
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