The year 2013 began without the hope of better days in the New Year. Yet people welcomed 2013 amid fear of possible political unrest and violence. Political analysts and even many politicians had been warning the government and the major political parties–Awami League and BNP– of the possibility of violence in the streets. They also had urged them to move towards resolving the looming crisis through talks and compromises for the sake of people and the country.
But no one paid much heed to such advice. The year 2013 started to become a string of nightmares for people. Half of 2013 has yet to be passed. Critical times are ahead with the next parliamentary election scheduled at the end of this year. Yet horrific incidents have shaken public confidence and replaced it with the uneasy feeling of more trouble ahead. Let us revisit some of those horrors.
Jamaat-Shibir men unleashed terror in parts of country for around a week from February 28 after a war crimes tribunal sentenced its leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee to death for committing war crimes during the country’s liberation war in 1971. More than 70 people including eight policemen were killed in the clashes between law enforcers and Jamaat-Shibir men. In March and April, Jamaat-Shibir men also unleashed terror in some areas of the country, brutally attacking police. Things did not stop here. Grassroots-level activists of Jamaat-e-Islami have been preparing to unleash again vicious protests in the country sensing the international crimes tribunals may convict their former chief Ghulam Azam and leader Kamaruzzaman of war crimes charges. The war crimes tribunal may deliver verdicts any day in the two cases filed against Ghulam Azam and Kamaruzzaman.
The sudden rise of radical Islamists under the banner of Hefajat-e Islam now appears as another threat to the country’s law and order and stability. They held a long march towards Dhaka on April 6 and subsequently a rally in the capital. A few lakh followers of Hefajat-e-Islam gathered at Shapla Chattar in the capital and gave the government a month’s time to meet their 13-point demands. The law ministry in a careful review found none of the 13 points demands acceptable. Most of the demands run counter to the country’s constitution. And if their demands are met, the country will be taken to the medieval period. So different quarters, particularly women have strongly denounced the Hefajat’s demands. The Islmists then demanded that the government amend the constitution to meet their demands.
And after a month the Hefajat men returned on May 5 to the capital to lay siege to Dhaka. After the siege, they gathered at Shapla Chattar. This time many of them became violent and brutal. They struck terror. Several parts in downtown Dhaka resembled a burned-out, looted zone. The Hefajat men refused to leave the Shapla Chattar until their 13-points demands would be met. That prompted the government to use force to get them to leave the capital. Driven out from the capital, they engaged in fierce clashes with law enforcers in parts of the country the next day. Around 50 people including four law enforcers were killed in the clashes in the two days.
The turn of events has left people even more confused and insecure. The rising animosity between the ruling Awami League and main opposition BNP has continuously opened new windows of opportunity for extremist forces like Jamaat-Shibir and Hefajat to consolidate their strength to strike again and again. The BNP has openly extended their support to the Hefajat movement while the government had also made move to negotiate with them to foil BNP’s effort to take political mileage from the Hefajat’s agitation.
One thing is very clear however, even if all the Islamists forces become united they will not be able to assume state power by wining the electoral battles. Even a rough calculation says that at most their united strength may contribute to a maximum seven or eight percent of the total electorates. But they have made it clear that they are able to create unrest and instability, hampering the country’s economic growth and social advancement. One can consider the situation that prevails in Pakistan. Radical Islamists, many of them who have already turned into militants, have never been able to grab state power by wining the polls. And possibilities of it are very slim. But the Islmists have succeeded in turning Pakistan into a failed state.
The rise of youths early February had flickered hopes against all despair. That was a reaction to corrupt politics. Youths who organised the unprecedented protests at Shahbagh and elsewhere in the country believed that the government had politicised the trial of Jamaat leader Abdul Qauder Mollah and made an underhand deal with Jamaat. However, the spirit of the youths at Gonojagoron Mancha fizzled out due to pervasive political culture. The main opposition BNP has taken a stance against the Gonojagoron Mancha. The government and the ruling AL initially had used the youths in their favour. But the government itself took a stance against Gonojagoron Mancha when the youths started criticising the government. At one stage the law enforcers dismantled the Gonojagoron Mancha from Shahbagh immediately after they forced Hefajat men to leave from Shapla Chattar. Many people believe the rise of fanatic forces–Hefajat-e Islam as an outcome of the Gonojagoron Mancha.
The collapse of Rana Plaza on April 24 reminds people of more dangerous consequences of the country’s corrupt politics. The eight-story Rana Plaza was built defying laws. But no action was taken against the owner of the Plaza, Sohel Rana during the illegal construction, as he is a man of ruling Awami League’s youth’s front. More than 700 people were killed and several hundreds were injured in the collapse. That is still a nightmare for the people. However it has been a glaring example of acute failure of the government to uphold the rule of law. And the failure allowed crooked politicians and government officials to consolidate the rule of individuals. There are numerous buildings like Rana Plaza built defying building codes.
People are living with fear. They do not know for sure what awaits them in the days to come. Whether more faulty buildings will cave in causing more deaths or they will have be subjected to more political street violence in the remaining months of 2013. They do not know how many more nightmares are in store.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.