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.
Arrests of alleged members of banned militant groups continued, while govt warned of potentially destabilising effects of Rohingya refugee camps. Arrests by paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police included suspected member of Allahr Dar militant group, which govt formally banned 5 Nov, in Gaibanda district 11 Nov; suspected Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) regional commander in Barisal district 13 Nov; four suspected members of banned Ansar ul-Islam in Dhaka and Satkhira districts; and five suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Dhaka district 16 Nov. Officials alleged two suspected JMB members arrested in Dhaka 30 Oct were on their way to Cox’s Bazar to recruit Rohingya refugees, claimed some refugees had already joined group. U.S. State Department’s country report on terrorism 1 Nov attributed decline of terrorist activity in Bangladesh to govt’s “zero-tolerance” policy, but noted transnational groups continued to spread ideologies, using social media. Islamic State (ISIS)’s media outlet 2 Nov released photographs of Bangladeshi militants pledging allegiance to new ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, reportedly in Egypt’s Sinai. Govt raised Rohingya refugee issue at various international forums, warning of potential for destabilisation and radicalisation. NGO Amnesty International 4 Nov accused Bangladeshi security forces of extra-judicial killings under guise of anti-drugs campaign. In one such example, border guards 15 Nov claimed to have killed alleged Rohingya drug dealer in Cox’s Bazar district; two refugees, also accused of narco-trafficking, killed by border guards in same district 17 Nov. Arrests and sentencing of opposition politicians continued; supreme court 30 Oct rejected banned Jamaat-e-Islami party leader ATM Azharul Islam’s appeal against death sentence by controversial International Crimes Tribunal in 2014 for war crimes committed during 1971 war. Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s secretary general 16 Nov criticised govt’s agreeing to share Feni river waters with India, and accused Indian border forces of continuing to kill Bangladeshis; two days later, Bangladesh’s Border Guards protested killing by India’s Border Security Force of two Bangladeshi nationals allegedly smuggling cows.
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