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January 7: A day of existential war between secularist and ultra-Islamist forces in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh flag
Bangladesh flag

As voters go into casting their ballot on January 7, 2024, while the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), an American federal institution in an article said: “Political crisis in Bangladesh won’t end on January 7, 2024 – the Election Day, as opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and other allies of BNP shall continue to wage a campaign of protests and strikes after the polls in hopes of proving Awami League (AL) government illegitimate. It further said, amid Bangladesh’s geopolitical ascent, India, China and the United States will be watching closely to see the future consequences of the domestic political turmoil”, the International Crisis Group is a report said, “These US moves have galvanized the opposition, which since mid-2022 has staged numerous large demonstrations in Dhaka and other cities – the first in around a decade.

“Despite government efforts to thwart them, major rallies in December 2022, July 2023 and October 2023 attracted hundreds of thousands of supporters. The latest of these gatherings, on 28 October 2023, ended prematurely when police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and stun grenades following sporadic clashes. Amid the street battles, BNP supporters allegedly killed a police officer; the government responded by arresting most of the party’s senior members and remanding them in prison”.

Reason behind such scare-crow forecasts by the US institutions is the Biden administration’s desire to topple Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her secularist Awami League government from power and install ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in power and turn the country into a neo-Taliban state. For this reason, international media outlets are already seeing the January 7 general election as – “tug-of-war” of Islamic fundamentalism and democracy.

Meanwhile, Tarique Rahman, acting chairman of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who faces two-life terms on terrorism charges – one for attempting to assassinate Sheikh Hasina on August 21, 2004 and another for his involvement in sending 10-trucks loaded weapons, ammunition and explosives to United Liberation Front of Assom (ULFA) has already instructed his party activists to launch massive assault on anyone trying to go to polling station for casting votes, and he reportedly has flagged January 7 as “Day of Jihad to take-back Bangladesh from Awami League”. It may be mentioned here that BNP has been termed as Tier-III terrorist organization by US courts on a number of occasions.

According to a local vernacular media report, BNP-inclined insurgency and terrorist groups in the country’s Chittagong Hill Tract areas have already warned local voters asking them to refrain from going to polling and cast votes. Anyone violating this instruction shall be penalized BDT 10,000 by these dangerous groups.

It may be mentioned here that, Biden administration has been openly meddling into Bangladesh’s domestic affairs including January 7 general elections, which even American media sees as “bullying”.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Sadanand Dhume said, “Biden’s administration, aiming to distinguish itself from the Trump era, has sought to penalize Sheikh Hasina’s government for human rights abuses and suppressing opposition through “mass arrests”. However, the prime minister has “thumbed her nose” at these efforts”.

Dhume wrote, “Sheikh Hasina skillfully countered American pressure by building alliances with Russia, China and, most significantly, India, which sees the prime minister as a stabilizing force in a “volatile region”, and he

hypothesizes that from the Indian viewpoint, despite Sheikh Hasina’s “shortcomings”, stating an alternative government led by the BNP poses greater risks. The BNP, historically allied with the Jamaat-e-Islami, has been linked to attacks on Bangladesh’s Hindu minority and provided shelter to separatist and terrorist groups targeting India.

January 7 may turn into a crucial day for Bangladesh – the third-largest Muslim country in the world, at a time ultra-Islamist and jihadist forces are openly showing fangs, generating extreme wariness among the people in the country and the region, as an Islamist takeover of Bangladesh would turn it into another neo-Taliban state. Such fear is gradually getting intensified, as in recent years the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is termed as a “Tier-III terrorist organization” by a number of US courts, and its ideological allies – such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and pro-Caliphate Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) – are getting exposed sympathy of the Biden administration.

The Biden administration’s recent actions may have severe consequences for Bangladesh, potentially turning it into a neo-Taliban state. Following the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, many Afghans who had supported and collaborated with US forces were left in a vulnerable position, targeted by extremist groups. Now Biden is making a similar mistake in Bangladesh, a South Asian country, by seemingly supporting Islamist forces with a long history of anti-American, antisemitic, and anti-Western sentiments, where these Islamist bigots were on record for setting fire to American flags and chanted slogans such as “Death to America” and “We shall become Taliban, Bangla [Bangladesh] will be Afghan”.

It may be mentioned here that, during the 2001-2006 rule of the coalition government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), there were several incidents in Bangladesh where American flags were burnt by protesters. These protests were often triggered by various factors, such as political developments, international events, and public sentiment.

The Biden administration’s disturbing diplomacy has raised concerns about the long-standing relationship between the United States and Bangladesh, potentially jeopardizing the 51-year history of cooperation between the two nations. Since the US recognized the newly independent Bangladesh in 1971 after its victory over Pakistani occupation forces, the relationship had been marked by cordial cooperation and significant development partnership. However, this positive trajectory now seems to be taking a troubling turn due to President Joe Biden’s disastrous diplomatic approach. In recent years, the Biden administration has claimed to uphold democracy but has shown hostility towards Bangladesh’s ruling secularist Awami League government, while seemingly collaborating with the ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its jihadist allies, including Jamaat-e-Islami. This approach is dangerously pushing Bangladesh towards a future reminiscent of a neo-Taliban state or even a caliphate.

Of further concern is the active support for Islamist groups, including BNP, JeI, and Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI), by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and officials at the State Department. The US ambassador in Dhaka, Peter D. Haas, has been observed associating with individuals who burn American flags and even threatening Bangladeshi media outlets with visa-related consequences to coerce them into promoting the agenda of these Islamist forces. By supporting the BNP, the Biden administration may inadvertently bolster an organization with an agenda that contradicts American values and foreign policy objectives. The BNP’s aim is to establish Sharia Law in Bangladesh with the backing of Islamist allies, potentially transforming the nation into an antisemitic caliphate, mirroring the Afghan model. Such a development could significantly undermine US interests in the region as well the rise of ultra-Islamist forces in the country would potentially pose serious security threats to neighboring India, Myanmar and beyond.

Meanwhile, BNP has called for general strike on January 6 and 7 with the goal of obstructing the general election and forcing Sheikh Hasina to resign and hand over power to ultra-Islamist thugs. Members of Bangladesh Army Forces have already been deployed throughout the country on January 3 to maintain law and order and prevent any subversive or terrorist acts of BNP and its allies. Situation is genuinely tense as BNP, Jamaat and other Islamist and jihadist forces would engage full-forces to create absolute lawlessness and enforce a reign of terror. In the meantime, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who was sentenced to six months jail on January 1 and granted bail for one month is on play contacting his foreign connections such as Hillary Clinton and PR agencies to launch massive political pressure and media assault targeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The United States has said that it will continue to follow the further developments of the sentencing of Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus by a Dhaka labor court.

Yunus, who back in 2007 tried to come to power by excluding Awami League with the direct support from Hillary Clinton has again become politically ambitious. He too has joined hands with BNP and other ultra-Islamist forces to actualize his ambition.

With such disturbing and alarming realities – January 7 shall stand as extremely crucial to Bangladesh’s very sovereignty and even existence as the Biden administration is desperate in planting its mercenaries in power in Dhaka. Nations in the Global South needs to stay extra vigil and continue to extend their fullest support towards Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Awami League in holding a free and fair election with due festivity on January 7 and continue in power for the sake of Bangladesh’s national interest as well as interest of the region and beyond.

Author’s bio: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, and Editor, Blitz, a newspaper publishing from Bangladesh since 2003. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers. Follow him on X @Salah_Shoaib

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