Politics Undermines Anti-Militancy Efforts In Bangladesh
Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia has raised questions about the government’s anti-militancy efforts. In a press statement earlier this week, the former Prime Minister and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson told reporters that, “The sudden rise of militancy in the present sensitive times and the lack of transparency in the anti-militancy drives have raised questions and created doubts in the public mind,” and suggested that “militancy rises whenever Awami League comes to the state power.”
There are several problems with the opposition leaders perspective, beginning with the suggestion that there has been a “sudden rise” in militancy. In fact, extremist militancy has plagued Bangladesh for decades, first coming to global attention when Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants detonated hundreds of bombs across the country in 2005 when the BNP was in power. Khaleda Zia has also added fuel to the fire by invoking religion in her quest to return to power, such as last summer when she prayed for Allah to “remove this government from power,” and “show that Allah’s justice runs in this world,” and in 2013 when she urged her supporters to join Islamist extremist group Hefazat-e-Islam in protests demanding far-reaching Islamization of the government and society. If militancy has risen under Awami League rule, Khaleda Zia would do well to reflect on whether her party’s political strategy had anything to do with it.
Moreover, just as the Awami League’s hyperbolic characterization of the BNP as a “terrorist party” works against the credibility of its claims to only target militants in anti-extremist operations, Khaleda Zia’s suggestion that there is some Awami League conspiracy behind religious militancy undermines the credibility of her point about the need for transparency in law and order operations. International human rights groups have expressed concern about arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings during the current Awami League government. But the same human rights groups along with the US State Department also expressed concern about similar abuses under the previous BNP government.
Instead of trying to capitalize on the threat of extremist militancy for political gain, Bangladesh’s political parties need to recognize that the most effective way to earn strong and sustainable support from voters is to provide workable solutions for the challenges facing the country. Peddling in conspiracy theories and forming alliances with Islamist groups as part of short-term strategies to attack their opponents only undermines their own efforts and credibility, and further destabilizes the country creating the space for extremism to and militancy to take root.