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US-BNP alliance

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Recently, there have a series of protests by Islamists against the Bangladesh government of Sheikh Hasina. These groups have been pressurising PM Hasina to release the Bangladesh Nationalist Party(BNP) leader Begum Khaleda Zia from prison. Her son Tarique Rahman was convicted in 2018 of the 2004 Dhaka grenade attack targetted at Sheikh Hasina’s rally. While Hasina escaped, many of her top leaders were killed.

The BNP has become desperate to gain power. It is trying to reach out to women and minorities, the traditional votebanks of the ruling Awami League (AL). Ironically, it has gone to the extent of defending many Jihadis hunted down by the government. This is not surprising, for the BNP was created as a safety valve by General Ziaur Rahman when he was faced with protests by all sections of the society after his unconstitutional takeover of the country. To deflect attention, he used the shield of Islam and embarked on a policy of Islamisation. 

After Khaleda Zia became Prime Minister, she sought to rehabilitate war criminals like Motiur Rahman Nizami and the Aamir of Jamaat-e-Islami Ghulam Azam. They were treated like royalty in Bangladesh. Khaleda also travelled to Pakistan and much like Zia, she wanted  close relations with Pakistan. No doubt, BNP leaders still feel that the War of Independence should not have been fought. There have been instances when they have said that Pakistan was much better for them. 

The leaders of BNP and Oikya Front, who were defeated by a large number of votes in the 2018 national elections, have  lied continuously about  alleged rigging and  widespread irregularities. But with people voting spontaneously and expressing satisfaction, they could not tolerate their loss and they started blaming the government for their failure. So far they have not been able to present any concrete evidence in support of their claim. Representatives of foreign observer groups ruled the election fair.

Ever since Sheikh Hasina returned to power, Bangladesh has taken a firm stance against terrorism. While the terrorists in the 1980s were returnees of the Afghan Jihad, by now many educated persons had joined the ranks of Jihadi networks like  Jamaat ul-Mujaheddin and Harkat-ul-Jihad. They had been involved in acts like attacks on atheist bloggers, attacks like the simultaneous suicide bombing of courts in Chittagong and Gazipur (2005), Holey Artisan Bakery Attack (2016), South Surma Upazila bombings (2017 ),etc.

BNP’s policy of aligning with Islamist groups backfired against it. With the Supreme Court banning Jamaat as a political party, the government started a crackdown on the organisation. Their leaders were arrested, they were not allowed to conduct rallies. Naturally, they began to use social media in order to disseminate their venomous views.

Islamists began to spread rumours on alleged sacrilege of the Quran by the minorities. In 2021, the Quran was placed in a Durga puja pandal at the deity’s feet and it was said that Hindus had committed blasphemy. Widespread arson and attacks on Hindus followed, reminding us of similar violence carried out by the BNP against the minorities when it came to power in 2001. 

The US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Hass  demanded an explanation of the clashes between BNP and the police. While even Trump had met Bangladeshis opposed to Hasina, this time US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen that the election of 2024 has to be free and fair. 

 In 2021, it designated Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion(RAB) and six of its current and former leaders as complicit in, or engaged in, serious human rights abuses in relation to the country’s war on drugs, effectively freezing all their assets in the US. But US sanctions have not worked before and in any case have brought about sanctioned nations together, creating a formidable anti-US alliance. US did not even invite Bangladesh for the Summit on Democracy.

US has often resented the progress of the country. They feel that with unstable neighbours, India would be bothered about security all the time and will not be able to focus on its development, thereby forcing it to turn to US for support, returning to its status of a vassal as it was in the 1960s. 

Besides, Bangladesh has never been a vassal of US, unlike Pakistan. It has also got more exports to the US than imports from the US. With the assistance of both India and China, it has managed to get a shield from any potential Western intervention. 

Sheikh Hasina’s denouncing the US on the floor of the Parliament and its pointing out to the support to the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman like Rashed Chowdhury, hosting of BNP leaders and giving permission to anti-Hasina protests and the history of US intervention shows that the government is serious about the US-BNP pact. She also reminded the people of US support to Pakistan in the 1971 War and its attempt to stall the final assault on the Pakistanis.  US must not play its devious game in Bangladesh.

Sauro Dasgupta
Department of International Relations
Jadavpur University

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