Vol. 5 Num 90 Tue. August 24, 2004  
Front Page

It was an attempt to kill our democracy

Once again assassination stalks our politics. Because of terrorists our democracy stands threatened, our freedom jeopardised and Bangladesh as we know it on the verge of destruction.

Not since the vile and brutal murder of Bangabandhu along with most of his family in August 1975, the killings of Tajuddin and other leaders in jail in November '75 and the killing of Ziaur Rahman in May '81 did Bangladesh face such a threat as it did last Saturday. Let it be said without even an iota of ambiguity that the attempt on Sheikh Hasina's life was in fact an attempt to destabilise Bangladesh in a very fundamental way and thereby destroy it as a democratic state.

The search to find the would-be killers of Hasina, therefore, should be considered not just an attempt to catch some assassins or professional killers but a quest to preserve whatever Bangladesh has gained as a democracy, as a liberal society and as a nation of tolerance and diversity. Those who threw those grenades at her were actually throwing them at us -- at our love for politics of diversity and dissent.

We vehemently condemn this attempt on Hasina's life and express our relief that she escaped unhurt. Our heartfelt condolences for those who lost their lives and sincere sympathy to the bereaved families of the deceased. We are deeply saddened by the terrible plight that has befallen Ivy Rahman, a woman who has dedicated her life to Awami League politics, especially in the area of emancipation of women. We also pray for the early recovery of AL leaders hurt in the incident.

We are repulsed by this act of terrorism and express our supreme hatred for those who perpetrated it and renew our determination to fight it at every level of our life. In whatever form or couched in whatever ideological or fanatical verbiage it may come, terrorism is an anathema to everything we stand for and everything that Bangladesh was created to represent. Today, therefore, we must build up the biggest, the strongest, the most widespread resistance against all forms of terrorism and extremism that is, regrettably but undeniably, creeping into our midst.

Now the question is how terrorism penetrated so deeply into our lives. In the last five years, including the last two of AL government, a total of 140 people were killed in terrorist bomb blasts. Of them, 40 were AL leaders and activists. The attack on the AL meetings in Narayanganj, Bagherhat, Sunamganj, Gazipur, Khulna and Natore speak of a planned attack on the AL workers and leaders that has been going on for some time. Practically nothing has been known about these incidents. The bomb attack at Ramna Batamul, CPB meeting, Udichi function and later in cinema halls in Mymensingh have all remained unearthed. In the last instance, instead of going after the terrorists the present government went after university professors and accused them of treason and put them into prison. The story behind the bomb at Hasina's own meeting while she was the prime minister did not see the light of day.

More recently, the farce of an investigation that we saw in handling the biggest ever arms haul in Chittagong port leaves little doubt in anybody's mind that Khaleda Zia's government is really not serious about going after the criminals as long as its own members are not the target of terrorism. The advanced and sophisticated arms and recovery of a huge quantity of them would have set any serious government into launching the most extensive and urgent investigation. This paper even suggested that the government involve Interpol or other relevant international agencies as arms smuggling on such a scale is an international affair and no single country, especially like ours, has the capability of conducting an effective investigation into such cases. Until today, no serious attempt has been made and we have heard practically nothing about it.

The government must answer the question as to how it is possible that none of the terrorist incidents that occurred during its tenure have ever been unearthed and terrorists arrested? In fact we in the media have encountered incomprehensible apathy in the law enforcement agencies about getting to the bottom of such events.

Obvious links are being suggested between the attempt on Hasina's life and activities of killers of Bangabandhu, many of whom have not yet been brought to justice. Although known to be outside the country, they could easily be active in fomenting chaos and instability in general and masterminding attacks on the AL in particular. Here the fact that the convicted killers of Bangabandhu have not been meted out their verdict and that their last appeal could not be brought to court for the last three years due to some technicality, cannot be lost to the public.

This, especially in the background of the fact that neither President Zia during his lifetime, nor Khaleda during her first term as prime minister made any attempt to try Bangabandhu's killers raises legitimate questions in the public mind about the present government's sincerity in ensuring security for Hasina and other AL leaders.

The bottom line is that Saturday's attack on AL's meeting and the death of 18 of its activists are inextricably linked with the singular failure of the government in tackling criminals associated with terrorist and related criminal activities. The inability of all our intelligence agencies in predicting and thereby preventing acts like the grenade attack on AL meeting reinforces public doubt about the government's seriousness about the whole terrorism issue.

Just a few months earlier the daylight attack on Ahsanullah Master in Gazipur, the recent attack on the Mayor of Sylhet (belonging to AL) and the death of an activist there and several similar attacks on the AL have all occurred one after another without any success of our intelligence agencies in preventing them. The grenade attack on the British high commissioner to Bangladesh is another shameful chapter of our intelligence failure.

For far too long Khaleda's government has remained indifferent to the prevalence of terrorism in Bangladesh. In fact her government can be accused of having nurtured it in some cases. The rise of so-called Bangla Bhai and its patronisation by ruling party stalwarts was directly responsible for the failure of the police to nab him. For that to happen even after a direct order from the prime minister should awakened Khaleda to how far the influence of extremist groups penetrated her government. The Ahmadiyya issue is another instance where the government's nurturing of the extremists and lack of timely action has created a Frankenstein which now poses a threat from within.

The prime minister must realise that her own power to stem the tide of terrorism has been greatly compromised by her coalition partners' attitude towards this issue. Narrow political vision and extreme mutual hatred between our two major political parties have created an opening for the extremists to make inroads into our politics as never before. Time is now for all democratic forces to unite against terrorism and create a massive political movement to defeat the forces of terrorism. For the survival of democracy and dissent we must unite and destroy terrorism now.