Creating disorder in Bangladesh | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 07, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 07, 2015

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Creating disorder in Bangladesh

While attempts are being made to create disorder and insecurity in  Bangladesh by killing foreign nationals – politicians are busy playing a no-holds-barred blame game against each other. The latest vitriol against certain political parties and leaders is a highlight of the game. A prominent ruling party leader publicly asserted Khaleda Zia might have a link with the recent killing of an Italian citizen in the capital. Some other leaders are pointing fingers at their political rivals in a similar manner.

What is shocking is not only the impunity for gross defamatory assertions in Bangladesh, but people's indifference to such acts too. This, however, hasn't happened for the first time. Does one read too much into the episode to overreact? I don't think so. As vicious name-calling at each other is a symptom of dysfunctional relationship – verbal abuse often leads to physical violence – so is the lack of mutual trust and respect counterproductive to good governance and democracy.

Bangladeshis and the world at large worry about the mindless killings of bloggers, criminals, suspects and innocent people by law enforcers, and the latest killings of foreign nationals – one Italian and one Japanese – by unknown assailants in the country. While further unresolved murders of foreign nationals in Bangladesh would cause serious damage to the country politically and economically in the long run, one wonders as to how politicians can still indulge in playing 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 finally shown up, and nobody seems to know how to kill or drive the predator away. The country is going through a crucial time treading into uncertainty. Interestingly, on the one hand, some leaders have been 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 hand, of late the same leaders are assuring everyone about the non-existence of any al-Qaeda or ISIS in the country. Very puzzling indeed!

We know ambiguity does neither identify nor resolve any problem. You can't go in two different directions at the same time. Although unfortunate, the ambivalence about the existence and absence of terrorists in the country is understandable. Then again, people in power can get some political leverage and short-lived legitimacy, even for their authoritarian mode of governance, by demonising their political rivals, but as the old saying goes, “… you cannot fool all the people all the time”. This is especially true in this age of information; now the remotest corner in Bangladesh is connected to the whole world.

I personally don't consider offence as the best defence, or as a sign of strength in the context of present Bangladesh. The vilification-cum-demonisation of political rivals is definitely not a sign of strength, rather of weakness.  It's also an efficacious way of legitimising what is not so legitimate in the eyes of people, at home and abroad. Fortunately, offensive rhetoric has a short shelf-life.

In the backdrop of the recent killings of two foreign nationals, it's too early to surmise, let alone conclude, if Islamist terrorists or criminals/political thugs have been behind these reprehensible attacks. Political violence and/or terrorist attacks don't ensure good governance. Both legitimate governments and administrations depend on some semblance of law and order or overall security of people.

Here in Bangladesh, some people seem to be above the law, while others are subject to its rigour, or even 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.

Bangladesh today doesn't ensure the rule of law in many instances. In the backdrop of violent attacks and killing of innocent unarmed people by sections of law-enforcers (a la “crossfire”), influential people, and criminals, Bangladesh doesn't need external bodies or organisations to destabilise itself. Lack of rule of law is a potential breeding ground of violence.  

While “unknown criminals” kidnap and kill opposition politicians, journalists, and academics with impunity, law enforcers allegedly kidnap and make people disappear through some “black magic”; and ruling elites engaged themselves in desperate cry wolf and vitriolic blame game. 

Our leaders must realise economic growth alone, without the fundamental freedoms and overall development of the country in the true sense does not work as antidote to terror and anarchy. The harsh reality of Bangladesh is that many people are poor and marginalised, despite the rise in per capita income, and despite all the flyovers and bypasses in Dhaka. According to BBS Household Survey, 2010 more than 75 percent of the population earn less than $2 per day and 31 percent, earn less than $1 a day, i.e. they live below the 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 marginalised. 

Last but not least, it's time to address the real issues in Bangladesh. Unless the sharply polarised people stop questioning each other's patriotism, and stop their leaders from playing the blame game against their political opponents, the threat of terrorism would haunt the polity for decades. We know, mutual hatred, fear and mistrust take a country nowhere.  

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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