Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

Bangladesh series of lethal assaults that have

Bangladesh has generally been heralded as a stable,
democratic Muslim state that has made great strides in economic and human
development. However the recuperation of democracy in 1990, it carried out
three largely free and fair general elections in 1991, 1996, and 2001. Since
1999, attacks by Islamist militants have been increasing. Recent years have
seen a deepening crisis in governance with continued politicization of civil
society, deterioration of judicial independence and respect for human rights.

On November 29, 2005, some ten people, including two police
officers, were killed in suicide bombings in the towns of Chittagong and
Gazipur, Bangladesh. In the Gazipur incident, the suicide bomber, dressed as a
lawyer, had entered the office of the local bar association. These two attacks
came as part of a spate of bombings in November that had cost the lives of two
lower court judges and two court employees. The attacks on the judiciary were
the apogee of a series of lethal assaults that have taken place in Bangladesh
in the past several years. Almost all can be traced to a range of Islamist
organizations that have been operating with impunity. For example, Islamist militants
are alleged to be responsible for the February 2005 assassination of S.A.M.S.
Kibria, a former foreign secretary and foreign minister. They also were
implicated in the death of a prominent opposition politician, Ivy Rehman, and
an aborted attempt in August 2004 on the life of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the
parliamentary opposition leader.

Powerful numbers of Indian observers and policymakers have
taken a markedly different position with equal vigor they have sounded the
alarm about the activities of radical Islamists in Bangladesh. They also have
accused Bangladesh of exacerbating tensions in India’s Northeast by turning a
blind eye to growing illegal immigration into India and by cooperating with
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI-D) in nefarious designs
against India. Bangladesh, which lacked a tradition of militant Islamism, has
indeed moved in that direction in recent years, as Eliza Griswold showed in her
New York Times Magazine article (January 23, 2005). The rise of Islamist militant
groups in Bangladesh and their possible ties to Pakistan should be of concern
to U.S. policymakers. East come to see Bangladesh as a possible haven,
especially as they face U.S. pressure in Pakistan and Afghanistan. India, too,
has concerns about the involvement of Bangladesh in its troubles in the
Northeast, which could create an opportunity for Pakistani involvement.

 

The Background of Islam in Bangladesh: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh share an intertwined colonial
history. India and Pakistan emerged from the British Empire as independent
states in 1947. As the principal inheritor of the British Empire in South Asia,

India started its independent history as a secular,
democratic state, constitutionally committed to the principles of civic nationalism.
West and East Pakistan, more than a thousand miles apart, reflecting the
demographic concentration of Muslims in British India. Subsequently, India’s
military intervention in the civil war enabled East Pakistan to secede and
establish itself as the state of Bangladesh. Islam had not come to the eastern
parts of India and present-day Bangladesh as a conquering force. Some of the
worst examples of communal carnage took place on the eve of the British
departure from the subcontinent and the partition of the state of Bengal in
1947. t swept through
undivided Bengal, and especially Calcutta, after Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the
founder of Pakistan, declared “Direct Action Day ” in August 1946. They
believed the practice of Islam in East Pakistan had become tainted through its
association with Hinduism. 1948 that Urdu would be the country national
language. The fragile unity of the state was compromised as significant numbers
of the Bengali-speaking populace resented the imposition of Urdu in East
Pakistan. Moreover East Pakistan was independent in 1971, now Bangladesh.

 

The transformation of Islam: During the political upheaval of
1971, elements of East Pakistan’s society, most notably the members of the
Jamaat-I-Islami, chose not to support the independence movement. As a result of
their role in the civil war, immediately after Bangladesh’s independence they
were largely marginalized. In addition, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of
Bangladesh, had a pro-Indian bent and sought to forge a secular, democratic republic.
Their ability to reassert themselves came about as a consequence of the Awami
League’s governance. Sheikh Mujib and the Awami League had faced a monumental
task of reconstruction following the creation of Bangladesh. However, some
segments of Bangladeshi society, though disaffected from Pakistan, had viewed
Sheikh Mujib’s pro-India policies with considerable distrust. After a brief interregnum, in
November 1975 General Ziaur Rahman, the chief of staff of the Bangladesh army,
seized power. Finally, he started the erosion of the constitutional commitment
to secularism with a series of amendments that gave primacy to Islam. In 1988
Ershad amended the constitution and declared Islam the state religion. In late
1990 Ershad was overthrown as a result of a mass popular uprising. Since then
Bangladesh has moved fitfully toward civilian rule.

 

The Growth of Islamist Groups: In the past several years a number of militant
Islamic groups have emerged in Bangladesh. In part they arose as a result of
the general transformation of Bangladesh’s political and social milieu. Even
when military rule ended in Bangladesh and civilian and, at least nominally,
democratic rule was restored, the emerging political culture supplanted
previous notions of cultural pluralism and tolerance. Under military rule
Bangladesh did enjoy a modicum of political stability and modest economic
growth. Despite the military’s return to the barracks and the restoration of
democracy in 1990, these problems contributed to institutional decay. Bangladesh
saw a phenomenal growth in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The most
disturbing feature of the Bangladeshi polity, however, is the state of the two
principal political parties, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP). Despite their ideological and political differences,
the parties are outgrowths of the personalities of these two leaders