Influential lawmakers in the United States, United Kingdom and European Union nations have been continuously misled by the lobbyists working on behalf of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), an Islamist organization with a past record of terrorist activities, while its acting chairman Tarique Rahman is a convicted terrorist. Unfortunately, being totally unaware of such misdeeds and terrorist background of BNP and Tarique Rahman, majority of those western lawmakers are exerting their influence in favor of this poisonous front in returning to power in Bangladesh by unseating the secularist Awami League.
On May 24, 2023, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a press release announcing a new visas policy that allows the United States to restrict the issuance of visa for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be complicit in undermining the general elections in Bangladesh due to be held in January 2024. Following the announcement, there has been a surge in propaganda in Bangladesh, promulgated by the political opposition in Bangladesh – the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ideological ally, Jamaat-e-Islami – citing that the visa restriction is “a result of their efforts” and is aimed at censuring the incumbent government of Bangladesh, although according to the visa policy, every individual – including opposition party members – fall under potential restriction should they jeopardize the electoral process in Bangladesh. Notably, the Jamaat-e-Islami has historically been stirring profoundly concerning anti-US sentiments in Bangladesh, and both the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami have been repeatedly denounced by the US Congress for its ties to Islamic militancy, oppression of religious minorities (Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and others),, and as a threat to the democratic process in Bangladesh.
Moreover, the BNP has been exploiting the new visa policy in furthering its political agenda. It should be kindly noted that most of the Bangladeshi voters, who hail from rural areas and have limited literacy, are unable to obtain information about the new visa policy from reliable sources but depend on the mouthpieces of the main political organs as the primary source of their information. The BNP has dubbed the new visa policy as a ‘US sanction against the Bangladesh government’ and is holding it akin to the US sanctions against Russia. This has generated a wave of misinformation among the general population which risks swaying popular opinion, jeopardizing a fair democratic election in Bangladesh. Such misinformation has also encouraged BNP leaders to use highly provocative and inflammatory language, including death threats to the incumbent Prime Minister.
Furthermore, the BNP and its political ally Jamaat-e-Islami have repeatedly threatened to remove the incumbent government through means of force, which seriously threatens democracy in Bangladesh.
In the US House Resolution 160 and 1156, and in a resolution adopted by the European Parliament, the Bangladesh government was asked to “deny, disrupt, and dismantle the ability of Jamaat-e-Islami and its affiliates to continue posing an immediate and ongoing threat to secular democracy and regional stability”, and it was observed that “religious minorities were targeted by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Islami Chhatra Shibir, following the 2014 general elections [which the BNP boycotted and was keen on disrupting]” Both parliaments urged the BNP to delink with Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat-e-Islami), but with the general elections approaching, the BNP high command has instructed to strengthen its ties with the militant Jamaat-e-Islami.
It should further be noted that the BNP-Jamaat government named a bridge in Bangladesh in honor of Hezbollah – a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.
As a long-standing ally of the US, I feel concerned that any undue capitalization of the new visa policy of the US by militancy groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami and the BNP will seriously jeopardize secular democracy, revivify militancy, and threaten free expression in Bangladesh. As the Jamaat-e-Islami is a global militancy platform with outposts in many countries, its rise to power can seriously threaten regional and global stability.
The US and Bangladesh have been strong allies for 51 years, and the US has stood beside Bangladesh in combating militancy, and the two countries have extensively cooperated in counterterrorism and safeguarding regional and global security as two democratic institutions. While the people of Bangladesh look forward to a free and fair general election in 2024, the general population, who uphold secularism as a fundamental tenet of Bangladesh’s Liberation, do not want the return of militancy in Bangladesh. In the 2013 Shahbagh Protests, the youth of Bangladesh ubiquitously took to the streets calling for a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and other extremist and theocratic political parties in Bangladesh. While the US and the EU have since urged the BNP to unequivocally decry the Jamaat-e-Islami, far from doing that, the BNP has been working on resuscitating the Jamaat-e-Islami ahead of the general elections, which has reinstated a fear of violence through means of political showdown in Bangladesh. It is suspected that the BNP, fearful of the US visa embargo, will use the Jamaat-e-Islami to proliferate political violence, aiming to remove the government by force. It should be noted that the Jamaat-e-Islami is not a registered political party with the Bangladesh Election Commission and will try to disrupt the electoral process in Bangladesh, while the BNP – detached from the Jamaat-e-Islami in theory – cannot be held accountable under the new visa policy for any actions of the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Bangladesh has been moving towards secularization of the state. The country whose reputation was tainted by the Islamists during the BNP-Jamaat administration from 2001-2006 has now taken decisive steps in eradicating militancy under the new administration.
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