Democracy, Islamic State and terrorist threats in Bangladesh

The U.S. and U.K. embassies in Bangladesh have restricted their diplomats’ movements and warned visitors to stay on high alert after receiving information that militants may be targeting Westerners.

These advisories came after Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella was shot by gunmen on Monday evening in the capital Dhaka.

An online statement allegedly from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the killing, but it has not yet been independently verified or acknowledged by local police, Reuters reported.

The Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies have been arresting and using live ammunitions against the Islamists whenever they came out in big numbers to demonstrate their rights. Citing them as terror suspects the government of Sheikh Hasina has been using this as a reason to crush opposition ruthlessly. She has curtailed freedom of press and freedom of expression whether it be a public demonstration by the opposition or using foul language against her and her family. Many people believe, her government has convoluted terrorism with suppression of the opposition.

Political stability in Bangladesh is necessary to help thwart al-Qaeda’s efforts to gain influence in the country. Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister, was elected for a second term after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and about 20 other opposition parties boycotted the election in January 2014. Protests that ensued at the one-year anniversary of the election called for fresh multi-party polls and have resulted in at least 120 casualties.

Tensions between the government and Islamic groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the largest Islamist political party in Bangladesh, may also exacerbate the situation. During her first term in office, Prime Minister Hasina established a war crimes tribunal to try political leaders who sided with Pakistani forces during Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence. The tribunal has sentenced several JI leaders to death punishment and two senior JI leaders have already been executed for perpetrating war crimes. While the convictions have garnered support from the country’s young urban population, executions of JI leaders provoked marches and riots among Islamists. There is concern that by blocking political channels Islamist groups will feel increasingly threatened and even relatively moderate or inactive Islamist groups could resort to violence to fight for their cause.

Bangladesh faces increasing challenges in its counterterrorism efforts and its attempts at political progress. Political deadlock between the ruling Awami League and BNP opposition is threatening economic and social progress and opening the door for Islamist extremists to gain more recruits and increase their influence in the country.

The U.S. should therefore encourage Bangladesh to reach political consensus through peaceful dialogue and create a social and economic environment conducive to combating terrorism. Unfortunately, the United States and India have accepted the last election as it suits both their interests. For them, democracy is the CIA’s overthrow of Mossedegh in Iran to install the Shah. Democracy is the overthrow of Afghanistan’s secular government by the Taliban against Russia. Democracy is the Ukrainian coup behind Yats and Poroshenko. Democracy is Pinochet. It is “our bastards,” as Lyndon Johnson said, with regard to the Latin American dictators installed by U.S. foreign policy.

Given this American re-definition of the political vocabulary, when President Obama says that such countries will not suffer coups, violent revolution or terrorism, he means that countries safely within the U.S. diplomatic orbit will be free of destabilization sponsored by the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and Treasury. Countries whose voters democratically elect a government or regime that acts independently (or even simply seeks the power to act independently of U.S. directives) will be destabilized, Syria- style, Ukraine-style or Chile-style under General Pinochet. As Henry Kissinger said, just because a country votes in communists doesn’t mean that we have to accept it. This is the style of the “color revolutions” sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Sheikh Hasina is enjoying a deja vous in the United States for a couple of weeks during the general Assembly sessions in New York. Consolidating all the power in her country with the support of India, she is enjoying an unprecedented situation never happened in the history of Bangladesh. Is Bangladesh going in the right direction? Perhaps President Obama or PM Modi can tell us. Bangladeshis are not running Bangladesh through adult franchise anymore.

The Bangladesh Chronicle

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