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Bangladesh: The Way Backward

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By Fazal M. Kamal *

The news that there is increasing lawlessness in Bangladesh---including abductions, murders and the persistence of so-called crossfire deaths in police actions, just as predicted months earlier---isn’t the worst to come out recently from that unfortunate country. What’s been of greater anxiety and worry for the people has been the news that the police administration has decided to form anti-kidnapping units.

This decision piles on still more agony on the shoulders of the nation as it wonders if now it has to deal with yet one more offshoot of the purported law enforcing agency; wondering if there will be yet more oppression, repression and yet more opportunities of extortion---and perhaps yet more “crossfire” incidents. This foreboding of the citizens isn’t without logic: in spite of the existence of many different units of the police force, solving crimes and bringing the perpetrators to justice have been way below any acceptable level.

A recent media report quotes an official of Narayanganj (a river port next to the capital Dhaka) citizens’ committee as lamenting, “The government is not only indifferent to the gravity of the situation, but is also patronizing criminals in some cases that has led to the gradual rise in the incidents of killing and kidnap here.” He also reported that more than 20 children, including his own school-going son, were killed or found dead in the past one year in the district besides other incidents of murder. The New Age story also said that he alleged the police did not complete the investigation in any of these cases apparently fearing that the findings might embarrass the government.

Comments like this ought to be more than sufficient to force any administration to have already initiated efforts to demonstrate its sincerity and seriousness on this issue to the people. But apparently, not for the extant rulers who, as has been documented more than adequately, continued in power via an election that had no sliver of credibility in it. Or as Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch observed, “These were the bloodiest elections since independence, and unless concrete steps are taken to address what happened, the situation in Bangladesh is likely to worsen…It is important that the leaders of the main political parties not only make public statements denouncing this senseless violence, but also take measures to censure party members found responsible for the violence.”

In a recently published report on terrorism the United States Department of State observed, “Bangladesh’s foreign and domestic policies are heavily influenced by the region’s major powers, particularly India. In past years, the India-Bangladesh relationship has provided openings for transnational threats, but the current government has demonstrated its interest in regional cooperation on counterterrorism.” In view of the horrendous stuff that has been transpiring in that country it’s definitely worth scrutinizing if the big neighbor’s influence on Bangladesh’s policies has been sagacious and deserves the kudos that the State Department appraisal seemingly bestows on it.

There are clear causes for examining this apparently overwhelming influence because, aside from attempting to annihilate the political opposition, other significant elements of the government’s decisions and policies have been runaway criminality, persistent prevarication, unbridled avarice, appeasement to unhealthy forces, encouragement to lawlessness by ruling clique honchos and, worst of all, the enhanced political motivation (with consequent radical compromise of professionalism) of the those very arms of the state which are expected to uphold the law and, equally importantly, provide security to the people.

Here is a sampling of what’s been taking place there, as reported by an independent human rights organization: “According to information gathered by Odhikar, in April 2014, 25 persons were killed and 592 injured in political violence. 40 incidents were recorded of internal violence in the Awami League during this period. In addition to this, eight were killed and 396 were injured in internal conflicts of the Awami League. Criminalization of politics, intra-party clashes, extortion, [aggressive] tender bids, attacks in educational institutions and incidents of illegally acquiring residential halls in the universities by Chhatra League and Jubo League [government affiliated front organizations] activists continue, after the Awami League reassumed power through a controversial Parliamentary Election on January 5, 2014.”

One more sampling: Another report says, “Frequent arrest of citizens without warrant by law enforcers, including police in plain clothes, has caused worries among the citizens as criminals identifying themselves as law enforcers nowadays abduct people for ransom or political reasons. The new tactics adopted by criminals have forced the police authorities to ask their personnel not to conduct operations without uniform although miscreants could easily buy police uniforms and some other equipment under the nose of the administration.” The report goes on to quote a senior lawyer as stating, “Arrest without warrant is a common practice although the police must follow the Code of Criminal Procedure as well as the High Court directives in this regard….We are now living in a society where everyone fears for his life, where anyone could be abducted or become a victim of forced disappearance.”

It’s therefore little wonder that against this backdrop Nisha Biswal, the US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, while briefing a Congressional hearing said that the United States would keep pressing Bangladesh to resolve intense feuding but acknowledged that “we haven’t seen a tremendous amount of movement.” More significantly, she went on to express her apprehension that “We believe that all of the gains that Bangladesh has made in its economy, in its development trajectory, that all of those gains are fragile and unsustainable in the long term if it does not have political stability. And political stability is not possible without some greater degree of political inclusion.”

As more corpses are being discovered---with almost clockwork regularity---across the country there are definitely and evidently increasing cause for the near-panic that people in some areas of Bangladesh are now experiencing. The primary reason for these murders and kidnappings is obvious: money. The corrupt practices that have provided unexpected largess to persons having appropriate connections with ruling coterie kahunas (thus enjoying both protection and incentive) has now become a humongous abomination for the beneficiaries. Just as relevant is the fact that those who haven’t succeeded so long in taking advantage of the circumstances are also fervidly eager to correct the situation for themselves.

If the administration and its gravy train passengers aren’t going to decipher the proverbial writing on the wall this downward spiral won’t stop. And the writing on the wall clearly declares that to bring an end to the slide an inclusive political process---as opposed to the existing exclusive dispensation verging on absolutism---can ultimately promote and consolidate the nation’s progress, ensure safety and security to the citizens, and engender a modicum of sanity and fairness among those who are supposed to uphold the laws of the country.

Amid all this mayhem and mischief apparently there’s also room for jokes, albeit this being a stomach-churning one: A government leader, whose political adversaries’ bodies were discovered after they were mysteriously killed and who has brazenly benefited from his position in the administration, recently suggested the “construction of an evil and violence free society.”


* The writer has been a media professional, in print and online newspapers as editor and commentator, and in public affairs, for over forty years.


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