Bangladesh Needs Global Help to Fight Terror

The world is beginning to understand that democracy is under siege in a country vital to global interests. It is time for world powers to fully back the democratic government of Bangladesh and support its fight against domestic terror.

bangladesh-islamist-terrorBRUSSELS, Belgium — There is a struggle underway for the soul of Bangladesh. On one side is the democratically elected government and millions of other Bangladeshis who supports a multi-party system, religious tolerance and women’s rights. On the other are Islamic extremists who use murder, rape, arson and vandalism – including against Hindu and Christian minorities – to try to bring down the government and replace it with jihadi fanaticism.

Until now, this clash seemed of little interest to the rest of the world, which only seems to pay attention to Bangladesh when disaster strikes. Thankfully, the world is beginning to understand that democracy is under siege in a country vital to global interests. It is time for the world powers to fully back the democratic government of Bangladesh and support its fight against domestic terror.

The stakes are too high to do otherwise

In many ways Bangladesh has moved forward into the modern era, with economic development at home and engagement abroad. People may think of Bangladesh as poor, underdeveloped and economically significant only as a garment maker, but it offers much promise for value-added economic expansion. It is, for instance, home to a thriving tech start-up sector, thanks to its citizens’ rapid uptake of mobile technology.

Standing against this progress is a jihadi fanatic hydra that has tried to pull the country back ever since it came into existence. They are using every means they can to destabilize the government. They essentially wrecked the parliamentary elections in January by sitting them out.

These tactics are distasteful enough. But one of these groups called Jamaat-e-Islami is more than distasteful. It is dangerous. It is an exceedingly violent Islamic extremist organization. Since last fall, Jamaat violence has been responsible for more than 230 deaths, thousands of injuries and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage. Jamaat and other in-country extremist groups such as Hefazat-e-Islam want more than a change in government. They want to establish a form of Sharia law in Bangladesh that would set back freedom, pluralism and women’s rights.

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Jamaat’s violence has escalated to a level that the world can no longer ignore

In a January 16 resolution in Brussels, the European Parliament urged Bangladesh’s dissenting political parties to “unequivocally distance” themselves from Jamaat and Hefazat. Further, it stated that political parties that “turn to terrorist acts” should be banned.

Bangladesh is a key democratic and pluralistic bulwark against intolerance and theocratic totalitarianism in a volatile part of the world. It has worked with the major powers to fight terrorism. Now, those major powers must come to Bangladesh’s aid.

The European Parliament’s resolution is a good step. The United Nations should now follow with a resolution seconding the substance of the European Parliament’s measure. In addition, the United States and Europe – especially the United Kingdom, with its long history in Bangladesh and deep understanding of the country – should apply diplomatic pressure on the BNP to break with Jamaat.

Tucked under the eastern shoulder of democratic India, Bangladesh is a fulcrum in the region. The fledgling parliamentary government of Burma is to the east. The communist governments of Laos and Vietnam lay beyond. Protestors seek to unseat governments in Thailand. The jury is out on which way many of the players in the region will go. Will they continue toward openness, or, if terrorist groups like Jamaat have their way, regress into anarchy and darkness?

A stable Bangladesh shores up the entire region. The leaders of Bangladesh, and the majority of its people, want the country to continue its impressive economic growth and advancement of modern, democratic values. But they need the world’s help, before Jamaat succeeds in its terrible quest.

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In December 2013, the author visited victims of burned houses and trains in Bangladesh by Jamaat-e-Islami. Read the full article here

Paulo Casaca is the founder and executive director of the South Asia Democratic ForumRead other articles by Paulo.

  • cheesybeef

    Fantastic article. Absolutely correct.

  • M Ali

    Mr. Paulo, Some of your points in your article are not reflective of the truth. You have argued that the current government is democratically elected. There is no way current government in Bangladesh is a democratic government. Only five percent people voted (while government claims 39 percent), no one showed up at the poll. At best, you can say the government is constitutional, and that does not always translate as democratic.

    You also argued about Islamist parties being distasteful and violent. I would suggest that you look in to the history of violence in Bangladesh. Awami League and BNP is more violent by any standard compared to any of the Islamic political parties. Exception of that would have been Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh, which was banned and does not exists anymore.

    What Bangladesh really needs is the outer world to force the undemocratic government out of power and return the democracy. As of now it is one party rule in Bangladesh, just was done by late Mujib (BAKSHAL). There is no freedom of expression in anyway. No one can express their opinion as they are thrown in jail and killed. Newspapers are closed down in moment’s notice, anytime they publish anything against the government. Opposition leaders are killed without any regards to human rights.

    So, before you ask the world to support Bangladeshi government to end terrorism, please look at the reality. The current government is autocratic and tyrannical. No one should support them to stay in power. Because external support would literally mean, end of democracy in Bangladesh. As of now, Bangladesh is headed towards a protracted social conflict situation. The only way to get out it is to establish a democratic government and end the continuous tyrannical regime. Otherwise, it is not impossible that Bangladesh will become involved in another civil war.