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International Crisis Group Assesses Cost of Political Standoff, Violence in Bangladesh

The International Crisis Group in its Asia Report N°264 , titled ‘Mapping Bangladesh’s Political Crisis,’ released on 9 February 2015, provides an in-depth analysis of the ongoing political turmoil enveloping Bangladesh and its dangerous prospects for the country.

The latest confrontations between Bangladesh’s two main parties mark a new phase in the ongoing deadlock between the ruling Sheikh Hasina Wajid’s Awami League (AL) and Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh National Party (BNP). The crisis has had an adverse impact on the country’s economy by preventing businesses from operating normally and hurting the livelihood of ordinary citizens. While the BNP appears bent on ousting the government through street power, the ruling AL seems determined to neutralize the opposition. While the AL and BNP continue to vie with each other as bitter political rivals, jihadi organizations are likely to gain from the crisis and have turned against both parties in their bid to establish Islamic rule. We have already seen that extremist Islamist groups, which were lying low in the recent past, have resurfaced. The two major parties have failed to adhere to basic standards of multi-party democracy. Even when the AL and the BNP were sitting in parliament, the opposition rarely fully accepted the legitimacy of the government and resorted to strikes and other extra-parliamentary measures, while the ruling party used unconstitutional means to suppress the opposition. The Jamaat-e-Islami is seizing this opportunity to mobilize the most violent elements of its base, which are allegedly responsible for some of the worst attacks in the current clashes, as they were during the election-related violence in 2013 and 2014. This has threatened law and order, the safety and security of religious minorities, and even Bangladesh’s secular political order. Both sides have to demonstrate willingness to negotiate, at lower levels of party hierarchy if needed, to revive democratic norms. The BNP needs to restrain violent party activists and the government should rein in its repressive law enforcement apparatus. But for this to happen, Sheikh Hasina and Khalida Zia will have to realize that a protracted conflict will leave them as ultimate losers. They will have to initiate constructive engagements to diffuse the ongoing crisis. The failure of democracy in Bangladesh will push it towards extremism. The rise of extremism in Bangladesh would have serious security implications for India. With daily violence at the pre-election level, Zia and Hasina should urgently seek ways to end the political crisis which is fast approaching point of no return and could gravely destabilize the country.   If there is no compromise, the government might succeed in temporarily containing the violence through military intervention. Bangladesh has a history of turbulent altercations between the AL and the BNP – with the army (which has always played a political role and is traditionally hostile to the AL) periodically acting as a “circuit breaker” by seizing power. The International Crisis Group in its Asia Report N°264 , titled ‘Mapping Bangladesh’s Political Crisis,’ released on 9 February 2015, provides an in-depth analysis of the ongoing political turmoil enveloping Bangladesh and its dangerous prospects for the country. To read the Executive Summary of the Report click the link,  http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/bangladesh/264-mapping-bangladesh-s-political-crisis.aspx

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