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.
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.
Massive student protests across country that began 29 July over dangerous road conditions continued, triggered by death of two students hit by bus allegedly owned by relative of govt minister in Dhaka; police 5 Aug used tear gas and bullets against protesters in Dhaka, injuring around 100; at least 97 students detained, most subsequently released. Same day, police arrested and allegedly tortured photographer and activist Shahidul Alam for coverage of govt’s response, and charged him with making “false” and “provocative” statements. Bangladesh Chhatra League, student wing of Ruling Awami League (AL) party, reportedly attacked protesters and journalists covering protests; govt claimed student wing of opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) was responsible for violence, denied by BNP. UN called on all parties to prevent violence. Students 9 Aug ended protests but police subsequently detained at least twelve social media activists and announced investigations into around 1,000 Facebook accounts allegedly used to incite violence during protests. Armed men 4 Aug attacked U.S. ambassador’s car; govt 8 Aug demanded U.S. embassy withdraw its criticism posted on Facebook condemning “brutal attacks and violence” against protesters. Court 13 Aug granted imprisoned BNP leader Khaleda Zia bail in defamation case, one of many ongoing criminal cases against her. FM Ali 9-12 Aug visited Myanmar to assess progress in receiving and resettling returning Rohingya refugees, including visit to villages around Maungdaw township in Rakhine state (see Myanmar); both govts agreed to speed up process but without specifying time frame; diplomatic sources in Dhaka reported that progress in resettling returnees is slow, particularly in provision of accommodation in conflict-hit areas.
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.
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.
Bangladesh faces growing political violence in the lead-up to the 2013 elections unless the government takes a more conciliatory approach towards the opposition.
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