Years of deadlock between the two main political parties, the Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, have caused governance breakdowns, narrowed political debate, eroded the rule of law and widened social divisions. The continued threat of jihadist violence exacerbates these problems. Meanwhile, Bangladesh struggles to accommodate the presence of an estimated one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, whose return appears unlikely any time soon. Crisis Group aims to reduce conflict risks, including the spread of militancy, arising from political stagnation; to promote inclusive and accountable democratic institutions; and to urge adequate assistance for the refugees until conditions allow for safe return.
Bangladesh is hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees who have little hope of going home any time soon. The government should move to improve camp living conditions, in particular by lifting the education ban and fighting crime. Donors should support such steps.
Security forces continued to arrest alleged members of banned militant groups, while relations with India fed domestic tensions, and govt maintained hardline stance toward Rohingya refugees. In anti-militancy operations, police arrested three alleged Harakatul Jihad Bangladesh and four suspected Ansar-al-Islam (also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team) in Dhaka early Oct, and seven more in Narayanjang and Pabna districts 12 Oct; security forces arrested two alleged Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh militants. Following arrest of Hindu man in Bhola Island 19 Oct on charges of inciting religious hatred in social media post, thousands protested demanding his execution; police fired on demonstrators, killing four and injuring dozens, claiming crowd threw rocks at them. Bangladesh and India 5 Oct signed seven bilateral agreements during PM Hasina’s visit to New Delhi, including allowing India to use Chittagong and Mongla ports and withdraw water from Feni river; Hasina also raised concerns over situation of Bengalis in Indian state Assam, after Indian govt in Aug excluded almost 2mn people from National Register of citizens. Sec Gen of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) called for Hasina to resign for “anti-state” agreements; police 12 Oct arrested 100 BNP leaders and activists protesting agreements. Border guards 17 Oct killed Indian soldier following disagreement over three Indian fishermen detained for allegedly entering Bangladeshi waters. Court 30 Oct jailed in absentia for three years BNP vice chair Giasudddin Quader Chowdhury for statements “conducive to public mischief” and “criminal conspiracy”, over 2018 speech where he said Hasina’s fate would be “worse” than her father, former President Mujib, assassinated in 1975. Hardline stance against Rohingya refugees from Myanmar continued; security forces 2 Oct arrested 45 Rohingyas for intruding into Bangladesh, first arrest of Rohingyas for infiltration, and 12 Oct killed refugee during alleged gunfight, accusing him of drug-trafficking; foreign ministry 15 Oct provided list of 50,000 refugees to Myanmar’s ambassador for verification and repatriation. Myanmar official 3 Oct confirmed govt rejected Chinese proposal to facilitate “go and see” visit for Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state ahead of potential repatriation.
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.
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.
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