Political violence: Serious threat to human security | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 25, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:14 AM, August 25, 2013

Political violence: Serious threat to human security

Human Security is a post-cold war concept. It emerged in the context of increased incidents of civil wars and demands for basic rights around the world. It is, basically, a confluence of the concepts of security and development with a focus on the human person. This encompasses both 'freedom from want' and 'freedom from fear' dimensions.
Economist Dr. Mahbub-ul-Haq first drew global attention to this concept in UNDP's Human Development Report 1994, which argues that the scope of global security should be expanded from the state to include threats in economic, environmental, personal, political, etc. spheres.
Political security aspect of Human Security is concerned with preserving people's basic human rights in a society. It is under most serious threat during periods of political unrest when governments, political parties, or non-state actors try to repress certain individuals, groups, or ideas. In the past century, more people have died at the hands of their own governments or due to civil strife than have been killed by invading foreign armies.
Any state must create an enabling political and economic environment, which allows citizens to meet their basic needs. Government should also try to prevent security threats from arising or react proportionately when they do arise. One cannot expect the world to be at peace unless citizens have security in their daily lives.
UNDP brought out the pioneering study on human security in Bangladesh. Following their footsteps, SOAS, DFID, Saferworld, BIISS all have conducted research over the past decade. They have identified several sources of threats to human security pertaining to 'freedom from fear' dimension, e.g. state repression, human rights abuses, deterioration of law and order, street agitations, rise of political violence, etc.
Bangladesh Human Security Assessment (2005) identified the political accumulation strategies of patron-client factions as a critical driver of human insecurity. Creation of employment and fair opportunities for the masses are seen as possible solutions. Also, a 'live and let live' compromise between leading political factions is critical for security to be achieved.
Observers say that the threat of Islamist radicalism in Bangladesh is driven largely by competition between mainstream political parties. This has been borne out recently by the sudden emergence of Hefajat-e-Islam. Their unreasonable demands and violent activities have generated insecurity for a cross-section of the society including working women, bloggers, writers, freedom loving people, journalists etc. Even common city dwellers, hawkers, shop owners, office goers all felt the full fury of their actions on May 5 and 6. It seemed that the main opposition political alliance led by BNP had given them support, covertly and overtly, throughout their spectacular rise for exploiting a bigger slice of the electoral pie. Hefajat purposefully recruited unsuspecting boys from madrasas to participate in its programmes. But, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) observed, Hefajat cannot credibly claim that it did not understand the risks associated. They were extremely indifferent to putting children in harm's way in order to achieve their goals.
On the other hand, authoritarian response to any security threat is not a sustainable solution either. Rab or military interventions to resolve factional political conflicts put them under risk of being absorbed into the clientelist political system. This was manifested recently when a Jubo League leader was shot dead in Dhaka. It is alleged that he was murdered due to internal party frictions. Later, the prime suspect of the murder case too was killed in an alleged shootout with Rab under suspicious conditions. This has stirred up debate regarding the role and credibility of that elite force as such incidents have been quite frequent.
Periods of political instability creates poisonous atmosphere wherein dissident individuals or minority communities fear violence and an uncertain future. And Bangladeshis know it all too well. Since November 2012, Jamaat-Shibir cadres have resorted to guerilla style-attacks on law enforcers and to indiscriminately vandalising national installations, which is tantamount to declaring war on the state.
So far, well above 100 people including law enforcers, activists of various parties, and ordinary public have died in political mass-violence unleashed by Jamaat-Shibir in support of some absurd demands. Thousands of people -- political, non-political, law enforcing -- have suffered injuries of various degrees.
Public and private properties have been wrecked; rail lines have been uprooted; train carriages and vehicles have been torched. Hindu and Buddhist establishments, businesses, houses, temples have been looted and set ablaze. The incident at Ramu in Cox's Bazaar last year also had all the hallmarks of a Jamaat-Shibir orchestrated attack. These outrageous instances of violence from a party that opposed the very birth of this county is extremely menacing to the general people; whereas, it should have apologised to the nation and cleansed itself of all anti-liberation elements.
On the other hand, 'hartals' damage the economy, disrupt education, and terrorise pedestrians. We all know of the Bishwajit case, when some activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) stabbed this innocent bystander to death during a programme of BNP, mistaking him for a Shibir activist. Recently, HRW called on all parties to condemn and stop carrying out violent attacks, including on law enforcers.
A research done by BIISS in 2007 revealed that 8% of the respondents had mentioned dysfunctional politics as an important driver of insecurity, which is sure to have increased by now. They also identified proliferation of small arms, and interlinks between organised criminals and political parties, as a grave danger to their security. This apprehension is fairly justified as three people, including two minors, have been killed in factional gunfights of BCL in Chittagong and in Mymensingh during the preceding months. All major parties maintain armed cadre groups as politics here is fraught with unrest, confrontation, rivalry and mistrust.
National and international researches found visible improvements towards poverty alleviation in Bangladesh. But, analysts fear that the progress made in the frontiers of 'freedom from want' could be overshadowed by drastically worsening 'freedom from fear' dimensions in recent years. Political violence in Bangladesh has become a core governance problem having ripple effects. World Bank's World Development Report 2011 highlights the injurious effects of violent conflict on poverty.
A healthy political process is a precondition to ensure human security. Minimum consensus is needed among the political parties for a functional Parliament. Any sort of demonstration needs to be peaceful. The law enforcing agencies should also be kept free of politicisation. Some countries like Thailand, Chile and Latvia have created separate ministry for Human Security. Nevertheless, without mutual political will and consent, nothing of that sort will work in Bangladesh. All the subsets of human security are interlinked, and this fact needs to be considered by politicians and policy makers alike.

The writer is a Research Faculty at the Institute of Governance Studies (IGS), Brac University. He is also the Publisher of Foreign Affairs Insights and Reviews (FAIR), a bimonthly magazine.

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