Event ReportsPublished on Nov 12, 2014
Bangladesh's journey of democracy did not have a healthy start and it is still struggling with establishing a fully functioning democracy as is seen by the presence of confrontational politics and the dysfunctional parliament, according to former Bangladesh Major General Muniruzzaman.
Bangladesh still struggling to establish fully functional democracy

Bangladesh’s journey of democracy did not have a healthy start and it is still struggling with establishing a fully functioning democracy as is seen by the presence of confrontational politics and the dysfunctional parliament, according to Major General Muniruzzaman, President, Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Sudies (BIPSS).

Chairing the session on "Bangladesh -- A Political Outlook" at the round-table discussion on Indo-Bangladesh relations at Observer Research Foundation on November 12, Maj. Gen. Muniruzzaman said that Bangladesh in this year’s general elections did not witness the development of a healthy parliamentary democracy. The two main parties, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Awami League have never had a functional relationship and because of the breakdown in communication between the two parties the politics in the country have become even more complex and confrontational. While calling this year’s general elections controversial he said the major opposition coalition with twenty other parties boycotted the elections for reasons that are valid. The parliament is hardly representative as a huge number of seats was uncontested.

The Chair mentioned that in the case of one party governance, the party tends to adopt coercive measures and certain trends in Bangladesh suggest that it too is moving in the same direction. Due to a reduction in space for dissent and opposition, a political vacuum has been created which is being rapidly filled by radical elements and terrorist organizations. Bangladesh is gradually becoming a recruiting hub for ISIS fighters and to make matters worse, many local terrorist outfits have become active after the formation of AQIS. While concluding his speech he observed that the political set up has to be conducive for stability and rule of law, but Bangladesh is moving in the opposite direction.

In his presentation, Amir Khosru Mahmud Chaudhury, former Member of Parliament and Minister of Commerce elaborated on the erosion of the institutions. According to him, the opposition did not participate in the elections because the institutions have become highly politicized and it was believed that free and fair elections cannot be conducted in such a situation, especially when the election commission has become a stooge of the ruling party. The state apparatus was used on partisan lines and it not only helped the government to come to power but also disenfranchised the nation. He stated that there is a tyranny by a group of people in Bangladesh and the situation is one of "calm before a storm".

While drawing attention to the economic implications of the current political situation he said that there is a lack of investment in the country. Bangladesh’s growth is less than six percent and the private sector has shied away completely. Some of the worrying trends in Bangladesh include the curtailing of NGO funding, draconian ITC laws and limitations on the freedom of press. This process is leading to a systematic destruction of institutions.

According to Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, despite the democracy deficit and lack of communication between the two main political parties, there was finally a consensus on the care taker government. Another positive development has been the military maintaining a distance from the political crisis highlighting that it has become far more professional. He, however, expressed concerns about the existing political cleavages in Bangladesh, which are not healthy for a polity. From India’s perspective, it will engage with whichever government is in power.

While speaking on terrorism he said that both the BNP and the Awami League have taken steps to make sure the terrorist groups were weeded out. He observed that the problems of unregulated madrasas and a highly politicized bureaucracy have to be dealt with seriously and this is an avenue where cooperation with India is possible.

The discussion in the second session on "Bangladesh -- Security Outlook" was initiated by Mr. Shafqat Munir, Associate Research Fellow, BIPSS. As a specialist on counter-terrorism, he mentioned that Bangladesh has made great strides in operational counter-terrorism and the credit goes to successful counter-terrorism policies. However, he stated that the dormancy in successful terrorist attacks in Bangladesh does not denote the absence of terrorism. Speaking specifically about Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), he highlighted that the terrorist outfit has regrouped, reorganized and reconsolidated itself. The organization is not just in possession of small arms but also has fairly sophisticated cyber capabilities which it uses for communication and spreading its message. Moreover, when put under pressure because of sustained kinetic counter-terrorism operations, JMB will try to find areas of operation across West Bengal.

He also spoke about Harkat-ul-Jiihad-al-Islami (HUJI) which has been a threat to India and Bangladesh. This outfit is not only trying to capitalize on the political vacuum in Bangladesh but also derives its cadres from the Rohingyas in Myanmar. He mentioned that BIPPS is looking closely at the possible conglomeration of JMB and HUJI along with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which will pose a great challenge to the region as a whole.

Another terrorist organization that figured in his speech was Hizbul Tahrir which focuses mainly on urban radicalization. It attracts the young students of private universities in Dhaka and Chittagong. It has been very active particularly in terms of its strategic communication using the internet and targeting the segment that does not usually figure on the counter-terrorism forces’ radar.

The main tasks that lie ahead for Bangladesh’s administration are de-politicization of counter-terrorism, evolving effective counter-terrorism mechanisms and resolving the issues of disaffected labour. In his concluding remark, he said that Bangladesh has to come up with a comprehensive counter-terrorism structure and institutionalize regional cooperation.

The last speaker Mr. R.K. Shukla, a former Special Director General, Sashastra Seema Bal empahasised on the cooperation between the state and the central governments. On speaking about HUJI and JMB, he said that these organizations derive sustenance both from within, i.e. the political instability in Bangladesh and outside, i.e. the terrorist groups in other countries which they have ideological links with. While talking about the cooperation between India and Bangladesh, he spoke of cooperation in terms of intelligence sharing, stopping the flow of money and movement of fake currency and taking clinical action when required. While commenting on the domestic political environment in Bangladesh, Mr. Shukla said that the government must have legitimacy and moral authority. He also observed that developing capacity and cooperation are very important elements in the field of counter-terrorism. To tackle with the issue of terrorism, a dialogue must be opened with the members of the terrorist outfits and their grievances should be looked at. The core group which is highly ideologically motivated is to be dealt with separately. He also noted that there is not much understanding on issues of marine security especially in case of Bangladesh.

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