Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed yesterday termed Jamaat-e-Islami a “terrorist organisation” and appeared to have ruled out possibilities of fresh parliamentary elections in the near future as demanded by some western countries.
Wrapping up his four-day visit to India, the first by a Bangladeshi minister since the January 5 elections in Bangladesh, Tofail said the BNP-led opposition had not backed out from its three key demands.
The three are for Sheikh Hasina's resignation as prime minister, installation of a neutral caretaker government, and a guarantee of victory for the opposition on joining fresh polls, said the senior Awami League (AL) leader.
Talking to mediapersons after meeting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his official residence in the morning, he said Hasina, the AL president, had made all-out efforts for an inclusive election through the opposition's participation.
She even offered an all-party government with the option to freely choose portfolios but that offer was rejected, he said.
On some western countries' insistence for fresh credible elections, Tofail said, “We have just concluded the elections as per the constitution and a new government was elected for five years.
“How is it possible to go for fresh elections anytime soon? In any case, as per the constitution, fresh elections will have to be conducted by the Election Commission under the incumbent government and prime minister.”
Tofail said western countries have denounced the widespread violence in the run-up to and during the elections, boycotted by the BNP-led 18-party opposition.
The countries will “soon reassess their view about Jamaat-e-Islami” and realise that it is a “terror outfit”, he said.
He listed the Hasina-led government's three main tasks: to not tolerate any violence and continue development works, continue the war crimes trials and establish rule of law, and put the violence-hit economic growth momentum back on track.
On the election's validity, Tofail said there was no alternative to the elections.
He accused the opposition of wanting to turn Bangladesh into a “failed state like Pakistan”. But the Hasina-led government did not and will not allow that to happen, he said.
Tofail said the Hasina-led government was determined to fight Jamaat-backed terrorism that had affected India in the past.
“Jamaat…has no registration to contest in elections. Like in 1971, anti-liberation forces led by Jamaat are indulging in violence against secular forces. BNP is now supporting these forces,” he said.
The Hasina-led government, during the 2009-13 tenure, had acted against the terror outfits, including Jamaat, which also supported Indian insurgent groups like United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa), he said.
“Like these five years, the Hasina government will continue to act against these terror groups which are also anti-India,” he added.
Tofail accused Jamaat of being involved in the smuggling of the huge quantity of arms, intended for Ulfa insurgents and later seized at the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd's (CUFL) jetty in Chittagong in 2004.
The then Jamaat chief, Motiur Rahman Nizami, headed the industries ministry under which the jetty operated, he said, adding, “We are determined to act against cross-border terror as in the past.”
Tofail has been in Delhi since January 16 to attend the fifth Saarc Business Leaders Conclave where he met commerce ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) nations.
He also met Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon on Friday and Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma yesterday.
Tofail said Manmohan conveyed to him that his government would take one more initiative to pass a constitutional amendment bill to implement the India-Bangladesh land boundary agreement as “India is committed to it”.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) thwarted the bill's introduction in Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament, twice last year.
The next session of the House is expected in February, the last before the fresh parliamentary polls in India which are likely to be held in March-April.
Tofail said Manmohan also pitched for greater trade between India and Bangladesh and assured him that all efforts would be made to remove the hurdles.
During his meeting with Anand, Tofail thanked India for allowing quota-free and duty-free imports from Bangladesh.
However, Bangladesh was not able to take full advantage of it due to non-tarrif and para-tariff barriers like laboratory testing of products and other local Indian taxes, he said.
Tofail said India withdrew General Sales Tax from all its products, except alcohol and tobacco products, and the same facility should be extended to imports from Bangladesh.
He said India's exports to Bangladesh stood at over $4 billion and Bangladesh too wanted to export products worth $1 billion to India against the $ 500 million at present.
To achieve this, the non-tariff and para-tariff barriers should be lifted, he said.