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.
Tensions between ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladeshi National Party (BNP) increased as Dhaka court 8 Feb convicted BNP leader Khaleda Zia of corruption and sentenced her to five years’ prison, with fears that confrontation with govt could turn violent if Zia is denied bail in March and also barred from contesting next election. Prior to verdict, paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion late Jan-early Feb arrested several senior BNP figures. Authorities 6 Feb banned all rallies on day of verdict and 7 Feb prevented BNP supporters entering capital Dhaka; 9-10 Feb arrested over 300 BNP supporters across country amid largely peaceful protests. Seeking to overturn Zia’s conviction, BNP mid-Feb launched agitation plans including hunger strike and petitions, said it would not contest late 2018 general election unless Zia released and allowed to participate. Zia 20 Feb appealed verdict in high court and petitioned for bail; high court 22 Feb agreed to hear appeal against verdict; decision on bail petition pending. In separate graft case, court 26 Feb extended bail to Zia till 13 March. Govt 12 Feb issued warrants in two other graft cases against Zia. PM Hasina 31 Jan reiterated rejection of BNP demands to hold election under neutral caretaker govt; instead outlined framework for smaller “polls-time” govt (to govern during election period) with similar limited jurisdiction to previous neutral caretaker system, which was abolished in 2011. Chief election commissioner 2 February said national election would not be inclusive without BNP participation. Repatriation of Rohingya refugees, scheduled to start 23 Jan, remained stalled; state Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam 12 Feb said govt had signed deal to involve UN in repatriation process. Govt 29 Jan approved draft new Digital Security Act, which journalists and activists warned could be used to silence dissent, particularly as it retained provision banning online publication or transmission of material that may “prejudice” image of state, “deteriorate” law and order, or offend religious beliefs.
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.
Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a terrorist organisation, remains active and dangerous despite the decimation of its ranks over the last five years.
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 Nikkei Asian Review
Originally published in World Politics Review
The brutal murder of a law student blogger who had criticized Islamist groups in Bangladesh has underlined the growing power and impunity of the country's extremist rump. The death of Nazumuddin Samad, 28, who was hacked and shot to death on April 7, has also highlighted how the rise of religious extremism is affecting the country's image and its efforts to advance economically.
Originally published in The Nikkei Asian Review