Acute political polarisation in Bangladesh has caused recurrent violent flare-ups, governance breakdowns, and widened social divisions. Furthermore, an increase in jihadist violence is exacerbating Bangladesh’s problems. Years of political deadlock between the two main parties, the Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have facilitated the rise of extremist groups, the narrowing of political debate, and the erosion of the rule of law. Crisis Group aims to reduce conflict risks arising from political stagnation. We work to improve the conditions for inclusive, accountable, and democratic political institutions in order to reduce the spread of militancy and radicalisation.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have struck a deal for the involuntary repatriation of over 2,000 Rohingya refugees. But the agreement is rushed and threatens stability on both sides of the border. Myanmar and Bangladesh should halt the plan and instead work to create conditions conducive to a safe and dignified return.
Violent clashes between supporters of rival parties across country resulted in hundreds injured and some 30 people reported killed in run-up to and on day of vote 30 Dec, with fears that flawed polls could provoke more violence in coming weeks; election also marred by govt clampdown on media, and opposition claims of Election Commission (EC) bias and complicity of security agencies in attacks on their leaders and supporters. EC 8 Dec rejected Bangladesh National Party (BNP) leader and former PM Khaleda Zia’s appeal to stand in parliamentary polls. BNP-led opposition Jatiya Oikya Front (United National Front, UNF) 3 Dec alleged EC bias, citing rejection of 205 of its 900 nominees (EC denied); and 9 Dec alleged almost 2,000 supporters had been arrested on fictitious charges since Nov, accusing police of working on behalf of ruling Awami League (AL). AL 10 Dec accused BNP of attempting to subvert polls with help of Pakistan’s national intelligence agency. Govt 10 Dec arrested news website editor for “publishing anti-state, false and fabricated news” and blocked 58 websites; EU and several Western countries called on govt to ensure democratic and participatory election process. NGO Human Rights Watch 13 Dec reported opposition members and supporters “have been arrested, killed, or even disappeared”. Hundreds reported injured in pre-election violence, including day after campaigning began 10 Dec in several locations including in Sirajganj district (north-central) and cities of Netrokana (north) and Chattogram (south east), afterward spreading to other districts. Senior BNP party leader 17 Dec claimed two activists murdered 16 Dec in Dhaka and Chittagong. Ten people reportedly killed 24 Dec, troops deployed in 46 of 64 districts, navy given security responsibilities in remaining areas amid escalating violence; another two killed in clashes in Chittagong district 26 Dec. At least seventeen civilians and police reported killed in violence on polling day. PM Sheikh Hasina’s ruling coalition won 288 of 300 seats; opposition rejected results citing reports of widespread fraud, calling vote “farcical”, AL rejected allegations.
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from brutal military operations in Myanmar are stuck in Bangladesh, with returns to Myanmar unlikely soon and Bangladeshi goodwill being tested. In Myanmar, international partners must be allowed access to northern Rakhine State. In Bangladesh, donors must help both refugees and their local hosts.
With political polarisation reaching historic highs and local jihadist groups forging links with transnational movements, new forms of militancy threaten security and religious tolerance in Bangladesh. The government should reinforce the capability of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, and build political consensus on tackling the menace.
The mass flight of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State has created a humanitarian catastrophe and serious security risks, including potential cross-border militant attacks. The international community should press the Myanmar government to urgently implement the Annan commission’s proposals, including as regards discrimination, segregation and citizenship.
Political repression is reaching new highs in Bangladesh. The government’s abuse of rule of law institutions for political ends has created an atmosphere of injustice that is increasingly exploited by anti-state extremist groups. The gruesome recent killing of a secular blogger is just another tragic result of these groups' growing power and impunity.
Violence continues to plague the aftermath of Bangladesh’s deeply contested January 2014 elections. The country’s two main post-independence parties must turn back from a political dead end that is doing long-term damage to them both, negotiate a return to democratic rules and work towards a new all-party cabinet to oversee new elections.
These organizations [in Bangladesh] — whether they’re jihadists or student wings of parties like Jamaat-e-Islami — they’re becoming more attractive avenues of opposition.
Originally published in Asia Times
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
Originally published in World Politics Review