Sheikh Haseena should be more reconciliatory than vindictive
sources :The economy of Bangladesh has lately been on an upswing. In fact it has been so for some length of time now, coinciding almost with the downslide in most other parts of the world, including India. Its export earnings have increased substantially and manufacturing has picked up, making a major dent in the gloomy picture of the country. So much so, that those whose job it is to keep the tabs on the economic health of nations have put it alongside Indonesia, Vietnam and a few other countries as the emerging nations of the region.
Some years ago the country had given birth to a unique Bangladeshi institution, the Grameen Bank, a rural phenomenon which caught the imagination of the country’s poor farmers living away from the glitz of the suburban centers. I do indeed feel very happy for the people of the country whose only asset for the most part had been grit and determination. It was their grit and determination that persuaded them to part ways with West Pakistan from which it was separated (as East Pakistan) by the huge Indian landmass.
What apparently broke the East Pakistani camel’s back was the refusal by West Pakistan, then led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who chose to ignore the results of the national elections which had given the Awami Party of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman a majority in the National Assembly. Bhutto’s refusal to let the Sheikh take over as Prime Minister kick-started the Bangladeshi movement which struck the eastern half of the country with great force.
The Mukti Bahini soldiers aided strongly by the Indian Army helped secure the country’s independence from its western half.
What followed was the ghastly murder of the founder of the new nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman by the pro-Pakistan remnants including former military personnel and political forces led by the Jama’at-e-Islami, the latter continuing to be a dominant force even today. Among Sheikh Mujib’s successors so far have figured his only surviving daughter Sheikh Haseena, and at least two former Army Chiefs. Haseena heads the present government with about a year of her tenure to go.
That said, Bangladesh has really never allowed itself to settle down in the real sense of the term. Given the history of bloodshed that marked its birth, a fair assumption would have been for the new nation to dedicate itself to its rebuilding, born out of strife as it was. Unfortunately, the leadership of the country has for the most part been engaged in internecine feuding, settling of scores, as it were.
For instance Sheikh Haseena has spent some four months now tackling Islamists. The best way to fight the Jama’at would be to undercut it subtly, even by seeking a face-to-face confrontation politically. There is no denying the fact that the Jama’at did play a pro-Pakistan, anti-Bangla role during the liberation movement.
It is also an established fact that the Jama’at was in cahoots with the Pakistani military when the battle between the Muktibahini, aided by Indian Army, and the Pakistani Army was joined. The Jama’at supporters did suffer quite a lot subsequently but, truth to tell, it has never disappeared from the scene. It is and has remained a part of the political landscape.
Even after four decades, the wounds of Bangladesh’s liberation war have apparently not healed. The society is still divided on who did what during the confusion of the liberation war; to an extent the collective angst is directed against the Jama’at-e-Islami whose leaders had openly opposed the breaking up of Pakistan.
The Jama’at is also accused of having played an active part in the rope, loot and butchery of fellow citizens. The continuing demonstration at Shahbag have been reminiscent of the Tahrir Square demos in Egypt which led to the collapse of President Hosni Mubarak. The demonstrators of Shahbag have just one demand; punish the traitors of the liberation movement. And we have already had members of the Jama’at-e-Islami on trial before an “international crimes tribunal” appointed by the government.
The Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni says that people have lived with these wounds for 40 years and these need to be healed. Consequently in one of the early pronouncements the tribunal awarded a life sentence to one of the principal accused Abdul Qadar Mullah. The demonstrators would not settle for anything short of death. The agitation has spiraled.
And now you have the counter-attack by the Jama’at-e-Islami which has taken the shape of the long march from Chittagong to Dhaka. As I write, the marchers and their supporters have struck the capital, Dhaka. Hifazat-e-Islam, a newly floated Islamist organization based in Chittagong, is heading the march to Shahbag with great fervor. Not unexpectedly the march has attracted the support of most anti-Awami party factions including that of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by Khalida Zia and the Jatiya Party, led by Gen. H.M. Ershad, both former heads of government. The Hifazat has additionally promised to enforce an indefinite hartal Sunday onwards should the government stop the long march from making its way to the capital. The BNP and Jama’at-led alliance is also planning to announce a more intense action plan on April 10 with the “removal of the Haseena government” its avowed objective.
More ominously, according to a well respected Bangladeshi journalist the police have taken cognizance of a bid to revive the Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami (Huji) under the leadership of a former Jama’at leader, Fariduddin Ahmed, in coordination with a few Afghan jihad veterans. The police have taken into custody Faridiuddin Masud, a leader of Huji and some others including four Pakistani nationals from Dhaka. They are accused of not only preparing to conduct subversive activities but political assassinations as well, if necessary.
While one can imagine the sense of grievance of the average nationalist Bangladeshi when it comes to dealing with elements who they believed had betrayed the liberation movement, it may also be time for the Bangladesh government to find the middle way out of the brewing crisis. This could be achieved by adopting a multi-pronged approach even against “sworn enemies” like the Jama’at-e-Islami, for instance. The Jama’at may yet not have come to terms with the creation of Bangladesh but it does have roots in the country. Instead of seeking death for many of those still on trial, the Haseena Government could take a less vindictive stance. Or, the government could also consider the possibility of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like the one headed by Desmond Tutu in South Africa and try to sort out the problems faced by the country.
We cannot forget that the Bangladesh Army has not hesitated in the past to intervene and takeover. Generals Zia-ur-Rehman and Ershad did not become Presidents for nothing. Bangladesh which has strived so hard for over four decades to maintain its position as a free, democratic nation should not put this achievement at risk. It is hard to imagine the Jama’at changing its spots but Sheikh Haseena could afford to be a little more reconciliatory without, of course, yielding ground to those out to destabilize the young nation.
Sheikh Haseena should be more reconciliatory than vindictive