New Delhi: A political “storm” is brewing in Bangladesh ahead of next year’s elections with the opposition BNP and its Islamist partner Jamaat-e-Islaami indulging in daily shutdowns and violence, experts here warned and noted that the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have shown a “convergence” in their support for the BNP-Jamaat combine.
Addressing a daylong roundtable on ‘Bangladesh: Prospects of Democratic Consolidation’ at the India International Centre here Thursday, government officials who have dealt with Bangladesh and knowledgeable experts also said that Bangladesh’s sound economic growth, its social and human development indicators -- which are better than India’s, and its democracy are, at the same time, a reassuring factor for India on its eastern border.
Pinak Chakravarty, who retired recently as secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said the daily hartals (shutdowns) by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-Jamaat alliance to push for a caretaker government were hurting the economy and the common man in the nation of 155 million people.
Chakravarty, former Indian envoy to Dhaka, said there is “convergence” between US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in their leaning towards Zia, and consequently the Jamaat, which is riding piggyback on the BNP.
“The US believes that the Jamaat is a moderate Islamic party ... The US argument is flawed ... it only helps the Jamaat gain leverage,” he said. On Thursday, Bangladesh`s Election Commission declared the Jamaaat-e-Islami ineligible for the coming polls in line with a court order.
“The Jamaat has intimate relations with its namesake in Pakistan and is close to Saudi Arabia, and getting funds,” he said, adding that the Islamist party, which advocates that women be in purdah and remain indoors and targets minorities, has lost none of its “obscurantist” ideology.
He said both Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP chief and former prime minister Khaleda Zia are to blame for not fostering faith among people in the institutions of democracy.
He also said that while the “shadow of the army looms in the background”, the “open calls by opposition parties for it to take over are severely undermining democracy”. Bangladesh has seen several coups, including the one on Aug 15, 1975 that saw the assassination of the country’s founder-president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, addressing the roundtable, said Bangladesh, despite being confronted with fundamental forces, has been able to sustain democracy “in the larger liberal sense”.
“India is facing a difficult situation on its western border, but on the eastern border (with Bangladesh) there is a sense of assurance,” Saran, chairperson of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) said at the event organised by thinktank Society for Policy Studies (SPS).