When Politics Becomes Terrorism

 

Since being voted back to power in January 2014, the country continued its march of progress in almost all sectors of economic and human development under the Awami League government.

In line with the successes achieved in the previous 5 years, the year saw Bangladesh continuing its progress in all major indictors of economic, social and human indicators. Bangladesh has seen unprecedented levels of infrastructure being developed, power being generated and digitization taking place in the last six years as per Awami League’s policies of “Vision 2021” and “Digital Bangladesh” (See Table 1 for a comparison of some indicators between Awami League government and the previous BNP-Jamaat government of 2001-06).

Table 1: Comparison of Some Indicators of Prosperity  

Indices

BNP-Jamaat (2005-06)

Awami League (2014)

Poverty Rate

41.5%

24%

Per Capita Income

USD 625

USD 1200

Minimum Wage

BDT 1,662

BDT 5,300

Remittances

USD 4.8 billion

USD 14.7 billion

Export Earnings

USD 10.05 billion

USD 27.5 billion

Electricity Generation

3,782 MW

11,265 MW

Foreign currency reserves

USD 3.8 billion

USD 22.3 billion

However, rather than approaching the people peacefully and partnering in the country’s development as a responsible political party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) along with its 20-Party Alliance (notably Jamaat E Islami Bangladesh) has once again unleashed their signature tactics of terror in the name of political agitation. The victims of these terrorist acts have been primarily the ordinary people of Bangladesh, who have nothing to do with politics. 

Terrorism By All Definitions

Since January 4th 2015, BNP-Jamaat have been committing acts of terror almost on a daily basis, including: Attacking passenger buses and setting people alight with petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails; attacking the police; torching trucks and other vehicles containing necessary provisions like food; setting alight marine passenger vessels; sabotaging rail networks resulting in the uprooting of trains, killing and hurting passengers. Apart from the obvious human costs, country is suffering immense economic losses as well. Non-quantifiable losses, such as the harm to the education sector are also a major impact of these violent programmes. This type of behavior is by any definition, tantamount to terrorism as opposed to any legitimate and peaceful political movement.     

Unacceptable Costs of Violence

Since the current spate of blockades and strikes called by BNP-Jamaat started from 4th January 2014 till 7th February: 85 people have killed in the ensuing violence. Of them: 51 have been killed directly by BNP-Jamaat arson attacks through petrol bombs or Molotov cocktails. 1320 people have been injured, including those with various degrees of burn injuries; 570 vehicles (including passenger buses, trucks, mini-vans, private cars etc) have been torched and 454 others vandalized. 11 incidents of railway sabotage took place, resulting in derailment of trains, subsequently killing and injuring passengers. At Least 8 marine vessels known as ‘launches’ have come under attack, primarily from arson[1].

Table 2: Violence Statistics from Jan 6 – Feb 8 (2015)[2]

Type of Violence

Number

Killing by Violence

85

Injured by Violence

1320

Killed by Arson

51

Vehicles Vandalized

454

Vehicles Torched

570

Sabotage on Railway

11

Attacks on Marine Vessels

8

 Inhuman Campaign of Arson

One only needs to visit the burn units of country’s hospitals to see the sheer barbarity of these attacks. Stretched beyond capacity, the hospitals are struggling to cope with the daily influx of patients brought in with medium to third degree burn injuries, directly caused by petrol bombs or arson by other means courtesy of BNP-Jamaat activists. 51 people have lost their lives so far. 36 of these unfortunate deceased died being burnt alive, while 15 died after being taken to the hospitals. 207 people have received various degrees of burn injuries and brought to the four burn units in government medical college hospitals in Dhaka, Rajsjahi, Chittagong, Bogra and Rangpur. 107 of these victims are currently under treatment at these units[3] 

Economic Costs of Blockades and Strikes

According to the top trade body of the capital, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DCCI), in each day of the blockade, the economy is bleeding around US$ 770 million. Bangladesh’s top earning garment sector is losing around US$ 51 million per day. Around 2.6 million small traders are facing the brunt of the economic inactivity with around US$ 77 million in daily losses[4]. It is estimated that in the month long blockades and strikes called by BNP-Jamaat, collectively the country’s economy has so far suffered around US$ 10.3 billion in losses[5].      

No doubt as to culprits 

Media reports have been very explicit about the involvement of BNP-Jamaat activists in the current spate of violence in the name of politics. Many activists of BNP and Jamaat’s student wings, Islami Chatro Shibir and Jatiyotabadi Chatrdo Dal, have been arrested while hurling the petrol bombs at buses or trucks. Some have injured themselves, even died, while making such improvised explosive devices. In fact, members of the public have apprehended a number of them, while engaged in such criminal acts, and handed them over to the law enforcement agents.

While some were motivated by BNP-Jamaat leaders to engage in terrorist acts with the lure of party positions, others had financial motives for killing innocent people[6]. It should also be noted that the violence spiked every time Khaleda Zia instructed her party activists to wage and/or intensify the ‘movement’, such as January 5, January 24 and February 5. There has even been a leaked audio being disseminated by the national media that shows the BNP chief of instructing her party leaders to ask activists to intensify their violent movement[7]   

Pattern of Extreme Violence

The pattern of extreme violence demonstrated in recent days by BNP-Jamaat are however nothing new for them. They have been using these tactics of terror throughout 2013, and especially in order to obstruct the 10th Parliamentary Elections held on 5th January 2014. Starting from February 2013, after each and every verdict awarded by the war crimes tribunal, Jamaat declared strikes against such verdicts in direct contempt for the judiciary and state. These strikes were marked by extreme violence that followed a similar pattern as being observed currently. In total, the systematic violence from February 2013 to January 2014, 472 people were killed; thousands were injured; 22 law enforcers were murdered; 25,000 trees were fell; more than 3000 vehicles were burnt and/or vandalized; 278 religious minority households came under attack and 495 temples and idols were burnt and/or vandalized; $15.5 billion losses were suffered by the economy as a result of the violence. 

No Public Support

The fact that BNP-Jamaat clearly had no public support for their 2013/14 movements and the ongoing terrorism in the name of politics is clear from the various public opinion polls that have since been undertaken by independent organizations and media. Right after the January 5 elections in 2014, opinion polls by Democracy International showed that even if BNP participated in the 10th Parliamentary Elections, more than 42% would have voted for Awami League, as opposed to BNP’s 35%[8]. Recent opinion polls by Dhaka Tribune show that 72% people of Bangladesh consider the current government to be successful, and would get 42% of votes compared to BNP’s 34%[9]. In September 2014, polls by Pew Research Center showed that 71% of Bangladeshis are happy with the current government’s economic management of the country[10].

Although BNP is claiming to act on behalf of the people, so far, people from all sections of the society have come out against their particular brand of violent agitation that has claimed so many innocent lives. In the last month or so, protests, human chains, rallies and demonstrations have been organized in Dhaka and elsewhere against BNP-Jamaat’s blockades/strikes and ensuing violence by business persons, activists of cultural and professional bodies, artists, students and their parents, transport workers, members of political parties not aligned with Awami League, wage earners, day labourers, shop-owners, factory workers and so on[11].   

Way Forward

The current government, especially the Prime Minister has showed her willingness to engage with the opposition in the past. It should be remembered that in September 2013, she called Khaleda Zia herself and invited her for a dialogue at Ganabhaban[12]. However, Begum Zia refused and carried on with violent strikes. This time too, in order for any meaningful engagement to take place, there must be a complete halt to violence. This is because a dangerous precedent for the entire country would be set if the government makes any concession in the face of violent acts. That would be bowing down to terrorism.        



[1] See www.albd.org/violence for detailed breakdown and updates 

[2] Figures compiled from leading national newspapers Prothom Alo and the Daily Star (Statistics correct as of February 8, 2015) [http://epaper.prothom-alo.com/view/dhaka/2015-02-09/1]  

[3] Prothom Alo, 8 February, 2015

[4] “How do we make up so much losses”, Daily Samakal, 19th January 2015

[5] “Month of BNP-led violent blockade”, The Observer, 6 February, 2015

[6] “5 Shibir men held with petrol bombs”, banglanews24, February 8, 2015; “Shibir man caught with 130 bombs”, bdnews24, January 21, 2015; “Narayanganj locals catch, beat 3 Shibir arsonists”, bdnews24, January 24, 2015; “Ongoing Arson-violence Culprits; Caught red-handed were Shibir men”, the Daily Star, February 1, 2015; “Bomb attack on police bus”, the Daily Star, January 18, 2015; “Central Jamaat leaders held with crude bombs in city”, BSS, February 4, 2014; “2 JCD men with petrol, bomb beaten up at BUET”, the Daily Star, February 4, 2015; “16 Shibir men held with explosives”, the Daily Star, February 2, 2015; “Arsonist caught red-handed”, Dhaka Tribune, February 2, 2015; “Islami Chatra Shibir activist dead in Chittagong”, bdnews24, January 28, 2015; “BNP leader’s son held with petrol bombs”, Dhaka Tribune, January 27, 2015; “BNP activist held with bomb making materials”, Dhaka Tribune, January 25, 2015; “BNP student leader dies of blast wounds”, bdnews24, January 22, 2015;

[7] “Madam’s orders”, bdnews24, February 2, 2014 [http://bdnews24.com/politics/2015/02/02/madam-s-orders]; “Online activists fuelling violence”, Dhaka Tribune, January 26, 2015  

[8] AL would have won inclusive polls: survey, bdnews24, February 2, 2014

[9] National Opinion Poll, Dhaka Tribune, January 12, 2015

[10] Majority upbeat about economy, Daily Star, September 11, 2014

[11] “People across country protest violence”, Dhaka Tribune, February 9, 2015; “BNP agitation cost Tk 750 bln”, bdnews24.com, February 8, 2015; Transport workers start sit-in near Khaleda’s office”, BSS, February 5, 2015; “Protest rallies, marches against hartal-siege, subversive acts”, BSS, February 3, 2015; “Shop owners take to streets as blockade bites”, the Daily Star, February 3, 2015; Arson victims also take to street for peace”, the Daily Star, February 1, 2015; “Students form human chain near Khaleda house”, bdnews24, January 31, 2015

[12] 9 “Hasina calls Khaleda, invites her to dialogue”, Daily Ittefaq, 26th October, 2013

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