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Persecution of Opposition Parties in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy largely influenced by the British parliamentary system. Executive power is in the hands of the prime minister, who is the head of the cabinet, and who must be a member of the 300-seat Jatiya Sangsad (unicameral parliament). She/he recommends the council of ministers to the president. The president is the constitutional head of state and is elected for a 5-year term by the parliament, but plays a largely ceremonial role. The president can act only on the advice of the prime minister, as the presidential power was significantly reduced in accordance with constitutional changes in 1991. All adult citizens (18 years old and over) are eligible to vote, including women and ethnic minorities. Bangladesh experienced a number of military coups after 1971, and several military governments tried to restrict activities of political parties. However, after the return to civil rule in 1990, all political parties have to function openly in the country. There are a number of political organizations in Bangladesh.

Most prominent of them are: the Awami League (a coalition of 8 parties); the Bangladesh Nationalist Party; the Jatiya Party; and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Awami League (AL) generally supports more government interventionist policies and has a very cautious attitude towards liberalization or opening of the national economy to international competition; in fact, in the early 1970s the party had strong pro-socialist elements in its economic policy. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was the ruling party from 1991 until its defeat in the parliamentary election of 1996, is more free-market oriented. The BNP introduced the policy of economic liberalization and privatized some state-owned enterprises. It opened the national economy to international competition in an attempt to attract foreign investors.

For her second tenure, Prime Minister of Bangladesh and leader of the ruling party, Awami League, Sheikh Hasina Wajid won the general elections 2014 in wake of bloodshed due to her dictatorial steps. In this regard, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Begum Khaleda Zia who was leading the alliance of the opposition parties protested against the rigging, deliberately practiced by the Awami League, was placed under virtual house arrest during the election-campaign. Earlier, to keep her in power, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid amended the constitution for holding of elections under a non-party set up and the opposition has accused her of manipulating the electoral process to establish one party state. The opposition alliance led by Khaleda Zia did not file nominations for the polls, sticking to their stance of boycotting the elections over the failure of Hasina Wajid to form a neutral interim government. The country’s largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) was also banned from taking part in the elections, while to address old grievances of her party, Prime Minister Hasina who was in connivance with the judiciary, hurriedly executed her political opponent, Abdul Qadir Mullah-leader of Jl.

Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina has been squeezing the opposition to new limits. In Jan 2018, “Digital Security Act (DSA)” was approved by the cabinet and after the approval of the President, is likely to be enacted. Proposed DSA is a set of punishment to support ultra Nationalism being pursued by AL. Timing of proposed DSA is crucial as journalists and media persons are demanding repealing controversial Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT) – 2006 termed as draconian section. Notably, more than 700 cases under this controversial Section are under trial. Under growing pressure from the world community and USA,  Sheikh Hasina is reported to have inclined to make certain amendments, however, keeping track record of political affairs, such announcement seems a mere political statement.

The DSA is affecting the people’s right to freedom of expression. Moreover, it will impede independent journalism, limit the scope of researchers (particular on the sensitive topic of Liberation War) etc. Sheikh Hasina has been using such draconian and controversial laws against Bangladesh’s Jammat e Islami elements extensively and even executed their leaders for siding with Pakistan. On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina has been using every tactic to keep Mrs Khaleda Zia under pressure. As BNP is currently leading an alliance of around 20 smaller parties, Sheikh Hasina government has unleashed squeezing tactics to cause ruptures in the alliance and forcing desertions/defections within BNP and its allied parties.

It is a fact that since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came into power, India has been employing various tactics to entrap Bangladesh by exploiting her pro-Indian tilt to fulfill its strategic interests. In this context, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid has continuously been pursuing Indian directions by conducting anti-Pakistan campaign. Therefore, after passing of 42 years to the events of 1971, which resulted into the separation of East Pakistan, Abdul Qadir was hanged because of his loyalty to Pakistan. Nonetheless, Indian media and renowned newspapers reported that during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi, India and Bangladesh signed 22 agreements in the fields of defence cooperation, civil nuclear energy, space and cyber security among others, following bilateral talks between Indian Prime Minister Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart. Both the countries also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) through which India would extend a line of credit of $500 million to support Bangladesh’s defence-related procurements. Bangladeshi newspapers have showed un-easiness among the masses in Bangladesh regarding signing of defense deal between India and Bangladesh. Opposition parties have also criticized the defence deal by saying that Hasina Wajid wants Bangladesh to become a colony of India.

It is mentionable that Bangladesh’s ruling party, under Sheikh Hasina Wajid maintains an anti-Pakistan posture with sinister designs of expressing animosity, antagonism and unrestrained emotional flare-up. The aim is to exploit feelings of masses by keeping the “hate Pakistan” agenda alive. This enables Awami League and Hasina Wajid to remain significant in Bangladesh’s power politics despite their failure to deliver the goods. It also helps them to appease their mentors in India. Using abusive language against Pakistan and its armed forces makes Hasina Wajid relevant in Indian politics, while she herself prefers those entities which derive sadistic pleasure by depicting Pakistan in bad light. For the purpose, Awami League and its leader, Prime Minister Hasina are propagating against Islamabad through a well thought-out media plan in order to spread venom against Pakistan, its armed forces and all those Bangladeshi nationals who were loyal to the state during 1971 crisis. As already stated, hasty execution of death penalty to Abdul Qadir Mullah, political ban on religious parties and exclusion of BNP (opposition party) from power sharing, on jingoistic claims, clearly point at Indo-Bangladesh-Awami League blueprint which itself speaks of their deep seated animosity against Pakistan and its armed forces. Old carriage of woeful accusations and planned insinuations are re-animated to maintain emotional incrimination and revamp intriguing blame game.

Historically, sinister role of Indian establishment in dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh needed no proof however, Indian PM Modi’s admittance during his visit to Bangladesh, has confirmed the mischievous Indian role. AL-India nexus has been recently further exposed by Surendra Kumar Sinha, Ex Bangladesh Chief Justice (seen by many as a key ally of Sheikh Hasina and her regime) through his recent memoir “A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy”. Mr. Sinha candidly admits that India is backing Sheikh Hasina’s autocratic government for own interest. His admittance may prove as a whistleblower for many Bangladeshis who have been waiting for gearing up against the draconian government of Sheikh Hasina. Mr. Sinha was put under house arrest and then forced into exile in late 2017.  In his admittance, Mr. Sinha has also revealed that Sheikh Hasina is deliberately supporting/promoting an extremist outfit “Hefazat-e-Islam” led by Moulana Shafito counter Jamaat Islami and other political opponents. “Hefazat-e-Islam” is Bangladesh’s ISIS version. Mr. Sinha even alleges that Sheikh Hasina has a coterie of her military advisers – Major General (retired) Tarique Ahmed Siddique (security adviser), Major General Miah Zainul Abed in (military secretary) and the brigadier generals heading different bureaus of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI).

It may be recalled that Bangladesh has been witnessing increasing activities of extremists and the Bangladeshi government usually blamed Pakistan for fanning extremism. Sheikh Hasina’s coercive approach to opposition parties is unlikely to be supported by any democracy loving country. As the next parliamentary election in the country are scheduled to be held in Jan 2019, opposition parties and alliances are likely to increase their activities and finding a strangulating atmosphere, the country is expected to witness widespread unrest. It is thus advisable for champions of democracy to play their role in revival of real democracy in Bangladesh and persuade Sheikh Hasina to desist from persecution of opposition parties.  If democracy is to take stronger root, it needs a conducive political environment. The country’s institutions must be kept free of political influence.

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South Asia

Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

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Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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Afghan peace options

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President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

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South Asia

Pakistani Fanatics and their Foreign Policy Overtures

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A prudent leader ought to have regard not only for present troubles but also for future ones. They must prepare with every energy because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time. Through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that everyone can see them, there is no longer a remedy. These words are famously attributed to 16th-century Italian Philosopher Machiavelli, advising the ruler about statecraft, in his Magnus Opus, The Prince.

A similar kind of ignorance and obliviousness against which Machiavelli was warning to the ruler of the state was reflected by the government of Imran Khan when protests by a radical religious organization (TLP) shook the country from 11-20 April. Previous to this latest episode, TLP has also staged various sit-in and violent protests by which they effectively froze all life in twin cities as well as in various cities of Punjab.

2017 Faizabad interchange protest was the zenith of its anarchical behavior. In that protest, TLP demanded the resignation of the law minister altering the oath declaration in the election bill 2017. Preceding, the court heard a plea on the stated matter. Justice Qazi Faiz Essa while hearing a plea on the case, remarked; “The ambitious leadership of a fledgling political party [TLP] projected itself as the defender of the Muslim faith. They provoked religious sentiment, stoked the flames of hatred, abused, resorted to violence, and destroyed property worth Rs.163 million.”  Another takeaway from the ruling of the Supreme Court goes like, “Protestors who obstruct people’s right to use roads and damage or destroy property must be proceeded against by the law and held accountable.”

Qazi Faiz Essa’s observation is enough to make a viewpoint on the organization. It is recommended that steps must be taken to curtail the reach of TLP. But allowing its leaders to further myth-spin bogus and inflammatory narratives, catch the attention of masses, effect normalcy in the country, and take hostage federal and provincial capitals many times after that shows sheer incapability on behalf of the state.

Moreover, the recent episode is also another criticism of religiosity interwoven within Pakistani society that has been exploited by opportunists to gain the support of the masses since its birth. TLP, an amalgamation of religio-political narrative, first appeared on the scene when it demanded the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the person who assassinated Governor Punjab Salman Taseer for criticizing blasphemy laws. After the execution of Qadri, Rizvi laid the foundation of Tehreek-E-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) for the purpose to protect the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan under the banner of protecting Honor for Prophet (PBUH). TLP is the political wing of TLYR which emerged as the 5th most popular political group in the electoral race of 2018. These numbers are a barometer to show that the party has gained considerable support among the masses for its narrative

Though the rise of TLP is attributed to fault lines within the domestic political culture of Pakistan and cultural cleavages that exist in the society. The recent protests were the result of its activeness in international affairs relevant to its narrative. The group tried to dictate the foreign relations of Pakistan. In the latest episode, TLP took on the streets again and demanded severing diplomatic ties with France. In the short aftermaths of TLP protests, European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling the review of the GSP+ status of Pakistan for abuse of blasphemy laws and expressed deep concerns over prevailing anti-French sentiments.

To add insult to injury, all of this is happening at a time when Pakistan is looking to create a soft image for herself, seeking an effective role in regional and international organizations for political and economic benefits, lobbying to move out of FATF grey list, and initiating an international campaign to unmask Indian state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, etcetera. Unfortunately, this has seriously jeopardized our pursuit of national interests and can nullify progress.

Disrespect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is an issue sensitive to all Muslims but there is always a better way of doing things. The goal should be to stop disrespect and blasphemy and not forging further cause of hatred. On the other hand, the French president defended the acts as Freedom of Expression – a value so dear to the west – so even if Pakistan sends the French Ambassador back and suffers all the losses, is there any assurance for improvement in a situation regarding blasphemous content? What will be the next step of TLP if this continues? What will be the alternatives for Pakistan after that? Surely, this calls for some reflection on self-proclaimed defenders of religion. Government, on its part, must opt for softer and diplomatic ways in reaching out to France and making them realize the severity of the issue for Muslims.

To sum up, State ought not to be bogged down by religious pressure groups and fanatics like TLP for the reason being that they have not understood long-term national interests. Pledging to Khadim Rizvi on moving the parliament about French ambassador was never a wise act. One should have been vigilant enough to access the Omens. Furthermore, the government must impart this to such groups that they must not test the nerves of the state. It is in the interest of the state as well as government to not let things slip out of hand and go this further hereafter where one more episode similar to this makes international isolation inevitable.

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