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Bangladesh Beyond The Threshold Of Disorder

By Taj Hashmi

07 October, 2015

While Bangladesh is fast moving toward an untracked territory – possibly to the kingdom of disorder and insecurity after the unresolved killing of two foreign nationals – politicians are busy playing a no-holds-barred blame game against each other. The latest vitriol against BNP chief and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is a highlight of the game. Awami League’s Mahbubul Alam Hanif publicly asserted Mrs Zia might have a link with the recent killing of an Italian citizen in the capital.

This is not for the first time that Khaleda Zia is being portrayed as a promoter of terror and violence. Days after 9/11 and days before the Parliamentary Elections in October 2001, coloured posters with photos of Khaleda Zia and Osama bin Laden together appeared on Dhaka city walls, obviously to “prove” that the BNP was in league with al Qaeda. As the impunity for gross defamatory assertions is shocking, so is people’s indifference to such acts. Vicious name-calling of each other, and the lack of mutual trust and respect among politicians are symptoms of dysfunctional governance in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, sensible Bangladeshis and the world at large worry about the mindless killings of bloggers; suspects and innocent people by law-enforcers; and of late, the killings of foreign nationals in the country. While further unresolved murders of foreign nationals would be catastrophic to the country politically and economically, one wonders as to how politicians can still afford to play the blame game!

It’s not the time to adopt the ostrich policy to deny the reality, i.e. something has gone grossly wrong in the realm of law and order in the country. The proverbial wolf seems to have shown up, while no body seems to know how to drive the predator away. The country is really going through one of its worst times, treading into a dark tunnel of uncertainty. Interestingly, on the one hand, some leaders are telling the world for more than two decades now that thanks to the BNP-Jamaat manoeuvring, Bangladesh is infested with al Qaeda and its ilk; on the other, the same leaders are now assuring everyone there is no al Qaeda or ISIS in Bangladesh. Very puzzling indeed!

We know ambiguity is vile. You can’t go to two different directions at the same time. Although ambiguity gives short-lived legitimacy to rulers, but as the old saying goes, “… you cannot fool all the people all the time”. This is so true in this age of information. Bangladeshi leaders must learn three things: a) offence is not always the best defence; b) it’s a sign of weakness; and c) offensive rhetoric has a short shelf life.

In the backdrop of the recent killings in Bangladesh, it’s too early to determine if Islamist terrorists, or criminals/political thugs have been behind these reprehensible attacks. Widespread political violence and terrorism don’t ensure good governance. Both legitimate governments and illegitimate administrations depend on some semblance of the law and order. Some of the worst dictators in history – Saddam Hussein and Hafiz Assad, for example – survived for decades, and some colonial administration lasted for multiple centuries, only through establishing the rule of law for the hoi polloi.

Here in Bangladesh, some people are above the law, while others are subject to its rigour, or to the whims of law-enforcers and outlaws in league with those supposed to enforce the law. While order brings security, disorder promotes insecurity among people. Sections of insecure/aggrieved people resort to violent crimes and even terrorism. Post Saddam Iraq and war-torn Afghanistan and Syria are glaring examples in this regard.

Whether one calls it a democracy or something else, Bangladesh today doesn’t ensure the rule of law. In the backdrop of violent attacks and killing of innocent unarmed people by sections of law-enforcers (a la “crossfire”), influential people, and criminals, nobody needs al Qaeda or ISIS to further destabilize the country. A dysfunctional state itself is the best breeding ground for terrorism. And a dysfunctional state has multiple dimensions. Mass youth unemployment (the state of proverbial "Youth Bulge"), and discrimination against certain groups through blatant favouritism and nepotism, and rampant corruption are the hallmarks of a dysfunctional/fractured state.

In dysfunctional states “unknown criminals” kidnap and kill opposition politicians, journalists, and academics with impunity; law-enforcers kidnap and make people disappear through some “black magic”; ruling elites engage themselves in desperate cry wolf and vitriolic blame game against the main opposition; hire military, police and bureaucrats from particular districts, as Saddam Hussein preferred people from Tikrit – his home district – to other Iraqis. However, history has taught us again and again, strong government alone does not ensure stability; and demonizing the opposition doesn’t pay off in the long run.

The people in power must realize economic growth alone without the overall development of the country in the true sense of the expression does not work as antidote to terror and anarchy. The harsh reality of Bangladesh is that most people are poor and marginalized, despite the rise in per capita income, and despite all the flyovers and bypasses in Dhaka. More than 75 per cent of the population earn less than $2 per day, i.e. they live below the poverty line, while 31 per cent, earning less than dollar-a-day, live below the extreme poverty line. This is, however, a contentious issue in Bangladesh.

As corruption is a taboo in Bangladesh (most corrupt people would assert: “Others do it, we don’t”), so is the myth of development. The beneficiaries of “growth and development” aren’t going to agree publicly that the majority of Bangladeshis are still quite poor and marginalized.

Last but not least, it’s time to address the real issues in Bangladesh. Unless the sharply polarized people stop questioning each other’s patriotism, and stop their leaders from playing the blame game against each other, the bogey of terrorism would haunt the polity for decades. We know mutual hatred, fear and mistrust takes a country nowhere, but beyond the threshold of disorder, to disaster.

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.



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