Thursday, February 24, 2005

BANGLADESH: Political Terrorism threatens Democracy

This time, before committing FBI for investigation, the US wants a clear commitment from the Bangladesh government to the effect that it sincerely wants to solve the January 27 Habiganj carnage. It has also made it clear that the responsibility of the investigation will rest on the government and that the FBI will act within the laws of the country. Though the opposition parties have welcomed international investigation thinking that it would be better compared to domestic one, they are also apprehensive that the government might use their credibility to confuse the common people and also to undermine the credibility of the internationally reputed agencies by restricting their activities.

Bangladesh: Political Terrorism threatens Democracy
Anand Kumar

Can an opposition party organize attack on its own rally that leaves its chief seriously injured and impaired of hearing to get the sympathy of people, especially when the chief of the party happens to be its biggest vote catcher? No sensible person would believe this. But this is what Bangladesh government has offered as explanation for the attack on Sheikh Hasina rally that took place on the last August 21. It further asks from the opposition that how none of the bombs lobbed at Sheikh Hasina managed to kill her. Thus probably in the eyes of ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its coalition partners Sheikh Hasina committed a crime by surviving the murderous attack in which she was nearly assassinated. But another senior leader of the Awami League Shah AMS Kibria did not prove as lucky and succumbed to his injuries sustained in the grenade attack that took place on January 27 this year.

Kibria who was the former finance minister of Bangladesh was killed along with four other Awami League (AL) activists in a grenade attack on an AL rally at Boidder Bazar in Habiganj. The incident was quite similar to the attack that has taken place on Sheikh Hasina's rally in Dhaka that had claimed 23 lives. Both the attacks had taken place at a public rally where the speakers and participants were Awami League workers. In these incidents the attackers used deadly hand-grenades when rallies were over and the speakers were planning to leave.

A bomb squad of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) after inspecting the spot in Habiganj found that grenades used in the incident were of the same Arges brand that were hurled at AL chief Sheikh Hasina's rally in Dhaka on August 21 and at Shahjalal shrine in Sylhet in May last year, injuring British envoy to Bangladesh.

There was hardly any police force present during the Kibria’s rally. The explanation provided by the police is that it was not informed. But how would a police force not know about a rally when the whole city is aware of the programme. But, then the right wing ruling coalition has been using this type of explanation to wash its hands off from the events of political terrorism taking place in Bangladesh.

Instead of investigating the cases properly police is playing a partisan role. In fact corrupt officials are being brought back even from their retirement so that they can do what government wants. In the latest incident, Habiganj Superintendent of Police (SP) AMM Fakhrul Islam Khan and Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Sadar Police Station Inam Ahmed Chowdhury were suspended. But a section in Bangladesh feels that these officials were suspended at the behest of a certain clique of ruling coalition leaders because they were moving on right track. Probably the government did not want their proper investigation to embarrass them. The government had also formed a five-man probe body on January 30 to probe the Kibria murder. But, the probe so far has not yielded anything significant. It’s hardly surprising that today no one has any faith in the investigation of Bangladesh police.

Due to this bias in police force, opposition parties in Bangladesh including Awami League have demanded probe by the international agencies like Interpol, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Scotland Yard. Though the government has agreed for involvement of international agencies in last couple of cases, local law enforcement agencies play a major role in these investigations. With the help of local agencies, the government has managed to influence their outcomes.

The government had sought FBI assistance when the grenade attacks took place on Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka. Scotland Yard participated when bombs exploded in Shah Jalal shrine in which the British envoy was injured. But in all these cases investigative agencies were provided limited access to evidence and witnesses. Their role was limited to providing forensic expertise.

This time the government has requested these agencies to become a part of the investigating team. It wants their wider involvement. But it has already done enough to spoil most of the available evidence. The site of attack in Habiganj has been left unprotected. With this kind of manipulation by the local law enforcing agencies, it is impossible for international agencies to reach any conclusion.

Though, the US has so far not rejected the request of Bangladesh for the participation of FBI in the investigations, a stalemate exists over the terms of reference. The US position regarding clear terms of reference for FBI was explained by Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca to Bangladesh Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan over telephone. She also mentioned that inaccessibility to evidence had rendered ineffective the FBI's help in the August 21 grenade attack investigation. She lamented that investigation in Habiganj incident has already been 'greatly undermined' as the crime scene was contaminated due to inadequate protection.

This time, before committing FBI for investigation, the US wants a clear commitment from the Bangladesh government to the effect that it sincerely wants to solve the January 27 Habiganj carnage. It has also made it clear that the responsibility of the investigation will rest on the government and that the FBI will act within the laws of the country.

Though the opposition parties have welcomed international investigation thinking that it would be better compared to domestic one, they are also apprehensive that the government might use their credibility to confuse the common people and also to undermine the credibility of the internationally reputed agencies by restricting their activities.

Opposition believes that these incidents are taking place with impunity because government is soft towards extremists and fundamentalists. In the rightwing coalition that came to power in Bangladesh in October 2001 there are three Islamic parties. Some of them openly avow their allegiance to Taliban and want to bring Taliban type rule even in Bangladesh. Though the long term goal of Islamic forces in Bangladesh is establishment of Taliban style rule in the country, in the short term they want to transform the character of democracy.

This coalition has failed to deliver. It knows that people are angry with it. Hence instead of wanting to face the opposition leaders in elections it wants to eliminate them. Sheikh Hasina has accused that Kibria was killed to make a smooth way for the prime minister's political secretary to win the general election.

The failure of the law enforcement agencies to perform their duties properly, has created an environment of impunity in Bangladesh leading to recurrence of such attacks. Recently, alleged suicide bomb squads have threatened to kill Leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina and blow up her Sudha Sadan residence for bringing her son, Joy, into politics. Islamic bigots have issued threats against Dr Kamal Hossain because of his plea in court against the ban on Ahmadiyya publications.

The BNP is accusing Awami League that the party itself organized the grenade attack on Kibria to get the SAARC summit cancelled. Its student wing accused Awami League and India of killing Kibria. Ghulam Azam, former Ameer (chief) of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, blamed Indian secret service Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for the grenade attacks on Awami League rallies in Dhaka and Habiganj. He also said that the Indian government refused to join the 13th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit to gratify the wishes of AL and its chief Sheikh Hasina. Besides, two other senior ministers of the government -- Moudud Ahmed and Mirza Abbas -- said in television interviews that Awami League was involved in the grenade attack and it was planned to create a political issue. When the government high-ups make such statements the people engaged in investigation are bound to make effort to establish the views of their bosses.

The international community has not been able to fully understand the gravity of situation in Bangladesh. Though they have expressed their concern after every such incident, they have not been able to exert sufficient pressure, which can force the Bangladesh government to bring the culprits to book. The political violence in Bangladesh taking place at regular interval is weakening democracy. The democracy in Bangladesh is fighting for survival.