Millennium Post

Bangladesh, the new hotspot

There is considerable disquiet in Dhaka political circles over recent reports suggesting that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other US agencies would set up a regional operating centre in Bangladesh. The proposed move comes in the wake of several visits made by US officials.

Such concerns are understandable. US-Bangladesh relations have not been easy over the years. There have been high and low phases. Old timers in Bangladesh cannot forget the blanket support given to Pakistan by US President Richard Nixon during the 1970-1971 liberation war, totally ignoring the genocide of Bengalis. The delay by the US in recognising an independent Bangladesh-led to other Western countries also avoiding any diplomatic contact with the new war-ravaged nation. Bangladesh was described as a ‘basket case’ by Nixon’s chief adviser Henry Kissinger, the man who variously described Indians as ‘very aggressive’ people in the region and ‘bastards’ at that time.

US distrust of a Bangladesh ruled by the Awami League continued to endure. Conservative US circles were not exactly heartbroken over the armed Islamist coup on 15 August 1975, when local troops killed Bangladesh’s founder and ruler Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and nearly all of his family, as part of an international conspiracy. Led by the US, most European countries too, never forgave the league for having engineered the breakup and weakening of their major regional ally, Pakistan. However, alarm bells sounded in the US, when under spells of BNP rule headed by Khaleda Zia, Jamat-E-Islami leaders and fundamentalists dominated politics and sought to ‘Talibanise’ the country. They openly supported the Al Qaeda. And other terror groups during the BNP’s second term in power from 2001 to 2006. Following the 9/11 attacks in the US, Western policymakers had little choice but to come to terms with the Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina, Mujib’s daughter. The critical importance of the international war against Islamist terror acquired top priority.

However, the new understanding did not last long. The US could never quite accept a strongly nationalist leader like Sheikh Hasina. During the caretaker regime’s tenure in Bangladesh, the US and some EU countries floated the new ‘minus 2’ concept – meaning a political set up without either Zia or Sheikh Hasina.  Their new projected messiah was none other than the Nobel laureate father of Microfinance, Mohammed Yunus.

Yunus went along with the idea – inviting his own peril, as it was proved. Bangladeshis were not prepared to accept any new West-dictated political agenda. The Awami league’s bitter spat with Yunus is now history, but the BNP did not welcome him either, as a potential challenger to, or co-sharer of, political power. There was a clear realisation among political parties as well as common people that what the US and other countries were sponsoring was a political takeover, a none too subtle intervention, in a sovereign independent country.

This is why visits by US investigating authorities and experts to Bangladesh in connection with the war on terror naturally arouse interest and speculation. But if there is one area where the interests of the US and the Awami league converge, it is on the urgent need to keep Islamist extremists and fundamentalists firmly under control. Such visits, as part of the sharing of sensitive intelligence and details of regional security planning and strategy, are only to be expected given the current international situation.

Equally, the apprehension among leftist, progressive circles in Bangladesh and India over recent developments can be appreciated. If the US authorities set up a high-power security analysis and monitoring agency in the region, the range and scope of its activities will certainly not remain confined within the geographical limits of Bangladesh only. ‘What is there to prevent such units from closely monitoring developments in India’s sensitive northeast states, West Bengal, Myanmar, or even China?’ as one Indian newspaper asks.

And it is not just Western countries taking an interest in Bangladesh’s regional developments, other countries are not far behind. The fear of their intervention in the internal affairs of the country is not without foundation. It is now common knowledge how Turkey, of all countries, took unusual interest in the trials of war criminals and opponents of Bangladesh freedom struggle. No less a figure than the Turkish President Abdullah Gul wrote to Bangladesh authorities to pardon the leaders of Jamat-e-Islami who had actively sponsored the mass killing of secular Hindus and Muslims, some of them were now old! Not that in international law, for such crimes as committed by the targeted people, there is any statute of limitation that applies. According to reports, Gul feared the outbreak of a ‘civil war’ in Bangladesh over the issue, some months ago.

Recent events at Shahbag square area, where massive crowds have gathered and pressed for the immediate extreme punishment for the pro-Pak war criminals, for over 11 days, have certainly exposed how wrong Gul’s assessment was. It is the Islamic hardliners who are on the run, the BNP is under intense political pressure with not much time left for the general polls. It is another case of fundamentalists dangerously miscalculating their own strength and following in Bangladesh. These developments indicate the firm commitment to their freedom and independence from Pakistan among the overwhelming majority of Bangladeshi people, especially among the new generation of youths. Unlike their counterparts in Pakistan, propped up financially by the West, Bangladeshis have far more faith in their own destiny and political future. The sooner the US and other developed countries understand this, the better for all. (IPA)
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