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.
Opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) continued to campaign for release of imprisoned leader Khaleda Zia; some BNP officials 4 May suggested party should not contest Dec elections if Zia cannot participate. Zia 5 May instructed her lawyers to inform Supreme Court (SC) of her “serious illness” resulting from her confinement. SC 16 May granted Zia bail in one of eight cases against her, but she remains in jail. Ruling Awami League (AL) party’s mayoral candidate Talukder Abdul Khaleque won Khulna City Corporation election 15 May amid allegations of serious electoral irregularities, in vote seen as bellwether context ahead of Dec national polls. BNP alleged police raided 1,600 members’ homes ahead of polls, arresting over 50; senior police official stated they arrested “listed criminals” to maintain “congenial” environment. Electoral Commission declared polls “peaceful” and “excellent” despite BNP demanding fresh vote at 101 polling centres. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)’s foreign ministers summit in Dhaka early May called for sustainable solution to Rohingya refugee crisis (see Myanmar). Myanmar govt 9 May lodged complaint about construction by Bangladesh border police of security posts within agreed no-construction zone near border line. UN Security Council 9 May issued press statement noting scale of humanitarian crisis, and need for Myanmar to create conditions for return. At its second meeting 18 May, Bangladesh-Myanmar working group on repatriation failed to fix start day for process. U.S. President Trump vowed to continue pressure on Myanmar to find solution to refugee crisis in letter to PM Hasina 3 May. Two Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh militants sentenced to death 8 May over April 2016 killing of university professor; three others given life prison sentences. UN Human Rights Council 14 May recommended govt investigate all alleged state violations including abductions, enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings; adopted draft report with 251 recommendations 17 May. Govt launched anti-narcotics operations during month in which officials claimed over 100 people were killed; families of some victims reported they were detained before police staged shootouts.
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