Is US encouraging rise of Bangladesh's Islamist party to counter Sheikh Hasina?

Is US encouraging rise of Bangladesh's Islamist party to counter Sheikh Hasina?


New Delhi, June 14: The next parliament elections are around the corner, expected in January 2024. he hardline Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) after 10 years of hiatus held its first rally in Dhaka, on June 10.

The three-hour-long event was held amid a huge deployment of riot police in armed gear and hundreds of armed officers in plain clothes, at the auditorium in the heart of the capital. Thousands of its members, who were unable to find space in the hall, spilt over in the compound and also occupied half of the streets. There was no law and order situation.

In a sudden move, the capital Dhaka's police chief permitted on certain conditions, which raised eyebrows of the journalists, political observers, civil society and left-leaning parties.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Sunday said that Awami League's policy regarding Jamaat-e-Islami has not "changed our position."

Several political observers argue that the threat of the United States visa policy has given extra mileage in obtaining permission. The US visa policy for Bangladesh says it would clamp down restrictions on officials, governing party leaders and the opposition in defence of democracy. This includes those responsible for voter intimidation, vote rigging, denial of free speech or freedom of assembly, and violence that seeks to undermine free and fair elections.

Moving away from tough repressive measures against the opposition, the district civil officials and police administration in holding elections of the local government or by-elections to the parliament are extra cautious in violating compliance stated by the US State Department on May 3.

Thus, the Islamist party got the desired "verbal permission" on the eve of their rally, after the police cancelled an event of a youth wing of another political party at the same venue.

The JeI rally has brought together the party leaders and members on a three-point demand which includes: elections under a caretaker government; release of their leaders and members in prison; control of the prices of essential grocery items.

JeI leaders claimed that in 14 years of Awami League era, nearly 1.5 lakh legal harassment cases are on their heads, and nearly 14,000 leaders and members are languishing in prisons, including their national ameer (chief) Dr Shafiqur Rahman, nayeb-e-ameer (vice-president) ANM Shamsul Islam and secretary general Mia Golam Porwar.

In their list of demands are to open the JeI's party offices across the country, and permission for political assembly, which they pointed out that has been guaranteed by the Constitution - the Constitution which they do not recognise.

The JeI leaders have offered dialogue with the government on developing a framework for an interim government to hold free, fair, inclusive and credible elections and also ensure a level-playing field for all political parties.

The Islamist calls JeI a political party, but a majority of the people in Bangladesh are aware of the organisation's antecedent - their demonic role during the brutal war of independence.

Fearing streets violence, the police headquarters ceased permission for JeI from February 2013 after the arrests of the party's key leaders including their national ameer Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, assistant secretary general Abdul Quader Molla and assistant secretary general ATM Azharul Islam indicted for war crimes in 1971.

In the 2008 election, Sheikh Hasina led Awami League had returned to power after a landslide victory. Her electoral promise to the nation was the trial of those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in 1971 must face the music of justice.

Bangladesh's International (War) Crimes Tribunal awarded capital punishments to scores of JeI, other Muslim parties and Islamist leaders. The tribunal considering an elderly person gave sentences for imprisonment until death to Ghulam Azam, former JeI chief in 1971, for recruitment, aiding and abetting with the marauding Pakistan military.

The Islamic evangelist leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a key figure with JeI and his Muslim militia were held responsible for the deaths and rape of hundreds of Hindu community and pro-independence compatriots in southern Bangladesh in 1971, says Barrister Tapash Kanti Baul, a prosecutor in the tribunal.

In the first year of Bangladesh's independence, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the liberation war hero passed the world's second secular Constitution after the Muslim majoritarian Turkey.

The Constitution had a blanket ban on religious political parties. The dreaded Jamaat-e-Islami party by default was struck off.

The newly born country has gone through the pains and agony of the bloody liberation war when Pakistan forces committed wanton war crimes and rape as a weapon of war. Their henchmen of the radicalised Muslim party, JeI in the name of Islam had committed genocide and extra-judicial killings of hundreds of intellectuals by a secret death squad Al Badr.

In a landmark judgement the Bangladesh High Court on August 1, 2013, deregistered the Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, thereby banning it from participating in future elections.

The court found several contradictions between the principles of the JeI party's manifesto (available on their website and printed documents) with the Bangladesh Constitution.

The JeI wishes to establish an Islamic Republic [of Bangladesh] instead of a secular country for which it sacrificed in blood in 1971. The Quran & Sunnah will override the state Constitution; implement the strictest Islamic Sharia laws and protect the Hindus and other religious minorities in an Islamic country.

The petitioner of the public interest litigation for the deletion of JeI's registration with the Bangladesh Election Commission (EC) in the High Court, Maulana Ziaul Hasan, fails to understand how the EC will act JeI's plans to participate in the elections after being deregistered.

Hasan, who is also the president of Bangladesh Sommilito Islami Jote (United Islamic Alliance), a like-minded platform against political Islam and an outspoken secularist is obviously worried about the rise of Islamism.

JeI documents claim their founder was controversial Islamic leader Syed Abul A'la Maududi, founder of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. He is responsible to instigate the worst racial riots in 1953 after the partition, which killed 200 Ahmadiyya Muslims after Maududi's disciples heard his 'Fatwa' which mandates the Sunni Muslims in Pakistan to kill the heretics and infidels.

Barrister Tania Amir, a leading human rights lawyer argued in the court on behalf of the PIL against JeI registration that, "The Jamaat in principle does not recognise the powers of the Republic which belongs to the people, nor does it accept the undisputed power of the people's representatives to make laws. The party discriminates against people based on religion and, therefore, should have its registration cancelled long ago."

In December 2018, as the general election was approaching, the Bangladesh Election Commission scrapped its registration in accordance with the higher court's verdict. Thus, JeI was rocking in troubled waters, as they were not eligible to participate in the elections and the party was in jeopardy.

The JeI members hurriedly negotiated with their all-weather ally, the rightist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to be able to contest more than 20 seats, and they drowned.

For the last 12 years, the rhetoric of several top echelons of Awami League and senior Ministers reiterated their party's position to make a law to ban Jamaat-e-Islami which ruthlessly opposed the independence of Bangladesh in being complicit to war crimes committed by Pakistan's occupation military forces.

The policymakers did not hesitate to say that banning JeI is a matter of time. Now it seems those were empty promises.

The change of heart is understood by political analyst Sohrab Hasan. JeI has recently broken away from the BNP alliance. JeI is deemed an alternative to the government if BNP boycotts the upcoming elections, he wrote in the largest circulated newspaper Prothom Alo.

It seems that the same senior Ministers made a U-Turn on their rhetoric against JeI. As Dr Hasan Mahmud, Minister for Information and Broadcasting and also Joint General Secretary of Awami League said on Sunday that Jamaat-e-Islami was not banned. "Any political party can hold rallies. As long as it is not prohibited, they have the right to hold rallies," he explained.

While Law Minister Anisul Huq said on Sunday that Jamaat-e-Islami should "not be termed guilty until the party is convicted."

The judges have given their opinion that JeI should be banned based on sufficient evidence that came in the verdicts delivered by the war crimes tribunal.

The Saturday event has given a message that JeI is not weak and was able to brainwash thousands more youths in radical Islamic ideology.

After the war crimes tribunal indicted the key leadership of JeI, the party was demoralised but survived in a turbulent political climate.

After the tragic assassination of Sheikh Mujib in a military putsch in mid-August 1975, the regime of General Ziaur Rahman (later president) in May 1976 abrogated Clause 38 of the Constitution which bars the formation of a religious party.

Overnight the dreaded JeI resurfaced from the dead and began politicking, but of the tainted history of their engagement against the people of the country, they strategically changed its name to Islamic Democratic League.

The JeI bagged six seats in the 1979 parliament under a military dictator General Rahman. Surprisingly, the six JeI's elected in the constituencies were all bordering the India-Bangladesh.

Fortunately, the people understood and rejected the Islamist party, which could be understood from the subsequent elections. JeI on average received nearly 4 per cent vote, said political scientist Dr Imtiaz Ahmed.

In the 1991 election after the departure of another military junta of General HM Ershad, JeI was elected in 18 seats, which was crucial for Khaleda Zia to form a coalition government. Despite a clear win, Awami League had to be seated on the opposition bench in the parliament as the party failed to muster a majority to form a government.

Awami League's influential general secretary Obaidul Quader, hours after the event said the opposition BNP is behind Jamaat-e-Islami's rally to conspire against the democratic process and jeopardise the forthcoming elections.

Indeed it's rare in the world's political history that a party which opposed the independence of a country had remained resilient and defiantly returned to politics, despite key leaders of the JeI leaders being handed down maximum punishment by the war crimes by a tribunal.

(Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh.)

(The content is being carried under an arrangement with

Courtesy: IANS

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