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     Volume 8 Issue 68 | May 8, 2009 |

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Current Affairs

She did it Again

Why do people laugh when Khaleda says that extremism does not exist in Bangladesh as she has already wiped it out?

Ahmede Hussain

Khaleda Zia

In a speech commemorating Labour Day, Khaleda Zia, former prime minister (2001-2006) and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has said that at present there are no extremists in Bangladesh, and those who used to exist had already been nabbed and punished by her regime which ruled the country for five years. Her comment has come at a time when it has been found by the police that one of the junior ministers of her cabinet was involved in patronising Jamaat-ul--Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a terrorist outfit that has carried out several suicide attacks during Khaleda's tenure. Not only that, the connections of local terror cells with their foreign counterparts have been unearthed by the investigative agencies; a recent ammo haul in the country's lone island district Bhola suggests that operatives belonging to Osama bin Laden's terror network Al Qaeda are active in Bangladesh.

Khaleda Zia has put her foot in her mouth several times before. The first in this long-running tradition came during her last term as the Prime Minister when the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), a terror organisation, started to butcher innocent people, Khaleda's police called JMB member "volunteers, who are helping the police in the fight against Maoist extremists". Khaleda refused to ban the JMB and one of her ministers called the JMB a figment of the media's imagination.

Mufti Hannan

When terrorists lobbed grenades at a meeting of the then opposition Awami League (AL) in downtown Dhaka, Khaleda's ministers tacitly tried to blame it on the AL leadership. After his recent arrest, terror lynchpin Mufti Hannan has told his interrogators that he and his terrorist organisation Harkat-ul-Jihad have been behind the attack which was intended to kill Sheikh Hasina and eliminate the entire AL leadership.

But in her political life Khaleda has remained a master manipulator of religion. Her centre of the right alliance has two partners whose actions titter on the verge of extremism. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which was involved in looting, rape and arson during Bangladesh's War of Independence, is the more 'moderate' of the two, with an aim to establish an Islamic welfare state. Interestingly, some of the leaders of the JMJB and JMB have been involved with the JI at one point or the other in their life and the top JI leaders’ stance on extremism is ambiguous. They have never openly rejected the terrorists; according to newspaper reports some of its student leaders are involved in arms training in the remote hills of Cox's Bazaar and Chittagong. Islami Oikko Jote (IOJ), the BNP's other partner in the Four-party Alliance, is the worst manipulator of religion. Even though the group's presence in national politics is microscopic, its extreme rightist policies sometimes blur the boundary between politics and fanaticism.

With friends like them, it is natural that Khaleda Zia will try to give the terrorists a clean chit, especially at a time when an all-out drive on the extremists is imminent. Whose purpose is she trying to serve? After her party's electoral debacle Khaleda has no other option but follow what the JI and IOJ tell her to do, should the two parties abandon her coalition, Khaleda will have to walk the treacherous road ahead alone. At the same time both the JI and IOJ will become a burden if the trial of war criminals starts and a sincere drive to flush out the terrorists is launched by the government. Faced with such a bleak prospect, Khaleda, it seems, has decided to follow the proverbial offence-is-the-best-defence strategy.

Militancy was allowed to flourish during Khaleda’s regime.

The BNP, like its politics, is now at a crossroads. In the first four months of the Awami League government, the BNP has let go of many burning issues because the party leadership has failed to show brinkmanship. A weak opposition is bad for democracy; an opposition that sympathises with the extremists is dangerous. The BNP has to do some housecleaning before it can earn the trust of the people. Making ludicrous comments on issues of national importance is surely not the way out.


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