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.