Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Exactly eleven years back, in the eyes of the international community, Bangladesh was seen as a poor, corruption-plagued struggling nation. Ruling elites were busy in rampant loot of public wealth while the former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s son was behaving like a rowdy mafia king, who had formed a band of culprits and criminals not only to help him in robbing-off hundreds of millions of dollars through numerous forms of crimes and corruption but also in treating the people of this country as slaves of his desire. Thanks to the popular masses of the country for giving a landslide victory to Bangladesh Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina during the 2008-general election. Should it not happen, pro-Islamist and anti-Semitic Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its political darling Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh (JIB) would already have turned this country into another Afghanistan – if not even worst!
Rise of radical Islam, anti-Semitism and jihadist forces
Founder of BNP, Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman was a notoriously radical Muslim with extreme anti-Semitic mindset. Few of his top allies were Yaseer Arafat, Saddam Hussain and Muammar Al Gaddafi. From the list of his allies, it can be easily understood, Zia was an anti-West and fully Islamist individual, who was having the dream of turning Bangladesh into an Islamic republic.
Following the death of Zia, his wife Khaleda Zia came to power twice – in 1991 and 2001 – and during each of her tenures, she had shown Bangladesh the ugliest example of state-patronized corruption, nepotism and of course appeasing of radical Islam. Members of her family became filthily wealthy through corruption, while her own younger brother Maj (Retired) Sayeed Iskander established a business company with Khaleda’s sons and made tons of money not only through corruption but also by taking hundreds of millions of Taka from the banks. During those two tenures of BNP, Sayeed Iskander and Tarique Rahman emerged as the mightiest figures in Bangladesh. They were making money by receiving bribes and kickbacks from each of the purchase contracts, while they did not hesitate in taking part in some extremely nasty business – such as dealing in drugs and money laundering.
BNP’s political darling Jamaat e Islami was engaged in implementing their blueprint of transforming Bangladesh into another Pakistan. Some of the influential BNP leaders such as Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a known agent of Pakistani spy agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) was also playing key-role in pushing Bangladesh towards radical Islam and the pro-Pakistan bloc.
BNP betrayed with their foreign allies
For years, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party was having China as its best friend. But, soon after it came to power for the second term in 2001, BNP tried to back-stab China by letting Taiwan open its economic office in Bangladesh, which clearly went against Beijing. Furthermore, Khaleda Zia had no problem in letting the Islamist forces hold rallies and processions in various cities and towns in the country – chant anti-America and anti-Israel slogan and most disturbingly – burn American and Israeli flags in broad-daylight. Law enforcing agencies did not interrupt such notoriety of those Islamists as they too knew, the hearts of the ruling elites were filled with anti-US and anti-Semitic poison.
At the request of Yaseer Arafat, BNP’s founding father Maj Gen Zia had sent hundreds of Bangladeshis to ‘Palestine’ to take part in the war against the Jewish State – kill Jews and Christians. It is even learnt that Arafat was receiving donations from Zia’s government for Palestine Liberation Organization.
BNP’s affection towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah
In 2003, the then BNP government named a bridge after the notorious jihadist group Hezbollah. The bridge is located in the southern part of Bangladesh, spanning the Batakhali River in an area known as Cox’s Bazaar. Justifying naming of the bridge, Salauddin Ahmed, state minister for communication told French news agency AFP, “I named the bridge Hezbollah because of our love for the Lebanese resistance group”.
“Hezbollah is the only group which is fighting Israel and the bridge is named after the group as a mark of honour,” he added.
The United States has identified Hezbollah as a terrorist group, meaning, BNP has a track record of not only of appeasing terrorists and militants but also of encouraging such notoriety.
Khaleda Zia serving imprisonment while her son is a fugitive
After postponement and obstruction of trials into a number of corruption cases, in 2018, a court in Dhaka sentenced Khaleda Zia and her son with rigorous imprisonment in just one corruption case, while several cases already are under trial. Her son, Tarique Rahman faces conviction in a number of criminal cases as well. Although Khaleda was sent to prison on February 18, 2018, directly from the trial court, her son Tarique Rahman remains as an absconder. It was learnt from media reports that Tarique Rahman, his wife and daughter had sought political asylum in the United Kingdom and surrendered their Bangladeshi passport. Sitting in London, Tarique has been plotting and coordinating terrorist activities in Bangladesh. He played key-role behind series of arson attacks, the murder of innocent people, rape of Hindus and Buddhists, vandalizing of public and private properties during January-April, 2014. During the subsequent years, Tarique had hands behinds several terrorist activities, including plots of assassinating Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and abducting her only son, Sajeeb Wajed Joy.
Despite such extreme notoriety of Tarique Rahman, British authorities neither had initiated any investigation into his activities nor had ever warned him of consequences of using British soil for terror-plotting.
A journey of hope under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina
Ever since Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister in 2009, she had dedicated rescuing Bangladesh’s economy from mere bankruptcy. She also had focused on combating radical Islam and militancy, which was extremely essential for saving the country from becoming a rogue nation. After ten years, Bangladesh now has emerged into one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Massive infrastructural development works have been continuing, while by 2030, Bangladesh economy is all set to emerge as the strongest economy in South Asia. Sheikh Hasina has also ensured the rule of law and by showing zero tolerance towards militancy and terrorism. Although she is yet to attain success in combating corruption and the culture of nepotism.
During the past few years, although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has effectively succeeded in combating the rise of radical Islam, she is yet to succeed in pulling out from the decades-old culture of anti-Semitism and Israel bashing. But political analysts say, within next one year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also may shift from the culture of anti-Semitism and Israel bashing and even may open the door of economic and technological cooperation with the Jewish State.
President Xi Jinping sees the best ally in Sheikh Hasina
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is one of the most prominent partners in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) program. While several countries that have earlier agreed to Belt and Road Initiative projects had suspended, scaled back or terminated it, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina remains firm on her commitment being a part in BRI, despite repeated oppositions from a number of nations, including India. In this case, Sheikh Hasina’s message to those opponent countries is loud and clear – she will do anything which is beneficial for Bangladesh.
Announced in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (also known as One Belt One Road or OBOR, aims to strengthen participating country’s connectivity with the world. Once implemented, this project will help Bangladeshi exporters and importers in finding a much convenient way of reaching the target countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa and beyond.
The BRI is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. ‘Belt’ refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation, called the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’, whereas ‘road; refers to the sea routes or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Immediate benefit for Bangladesh from BRI
To support the BRI, Beijing has injected massive amounts of capital into Chinese public financial institutions, such as the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) and the Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM). These banks enjoy very low borrowing costs as their bonds are treated like Chinese government debt with very low interest rates and they have access to lending from the People’s Bank of China’s (PBOC), allowing them to lend cheaply to Chinese companies working on BRI projects.
This easy financing enables China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to offer highly competitive bids for projects against foreign companies that might be more financially constrained. For instance, in 2015 Japanese construction companies lost out to their Chinese counterparts in a bid to build a high-speed rail project in Indonesia.
That means Bangladesh will be able to undertake massive infrastructural development project by availing the special benefit of getting a much softer loan in comparing to the World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc.
Critics and opponents of BRI say dependence of Chinese funding for implementing massive infrastructural projects might help Beijing in significantly gaining political and other gains. Others say it would actually place China into a much stronger position.
But, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is not willing to buy such arguments for just one particular reason – to her, Bangladesh is the priority and for the best interest of her country, Sheikh Hasina will always do the right thing defying all criticism or opposition.
India opposes Bangladesh joining BRI
Ever since President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative project, India has been opposing to it thinking the implementation of this project would actually place China into a further height and Indian influence in South Asia would be greatly curtailed. Delhi has been making frantic bids in convincing Dhaka in getting it excluded from BRI. But, considering the national interest, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is totally unwilling to pay any heed to any such persuasion or effort. She is known as the individual of high-integrity and once she promises anything, she would stand firm on her commitment under any adversity. According to my own judgment, China will find its best partner in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina once the BRI is implemented.
What Bangladesh can expect from China
As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina remains committed in the BRI initiatives, it is the responsibility of China not only to help the Bangladeshi counterpart in smoothly implementing the infrastructural projects but also encourage Chinese investors and entrepreneurs in giving priority to Bangladesh while either relocating their industrial projects from China or making investments in newer projects. Chinese readymade garment ma manufacturers already have found Bangladesh as the most suitable country for relocation or newer investment, which is helping Bangladesh’s export of textile products increase significantly. Similarly, China should consider investment in hi-tech industries in Bangladesh. There should also be scope for the Bangladeshi exporters and importers in much smoothly transacting business deals.
Bangladesh definitely expects wholehearted cooperation and support from the Chinese leadership, especially President Xi Jinping.
Why Sheikh Hasina is an important figure in Asia
After Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already emerged as the important politician and statesman. Moreover, she also is gradually becoming a prominent voice in the Muslim world.
Diplomatic analysts say, Sheikh Hasina now needs to reshuffle the decade-old policy of Bangladesh on the Israel-Palestine issue and immediately lift travel ban on Israel and open the window of economic, agricultural, technological and defence cooperation. It also is high-time for the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to further strengthen relations with President Donald Trump as well as the European nations. This will place Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s image into a newer height.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter @Salah_Shoaib