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Some news reports are suggesting that Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party is trying to distance itself from Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh in a follow-up of its call to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to forge a greater national unity against terrorism, militancy and violent extremism.
The call came in the wake of July 1 massacre at Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant by suspected militants who killed 20 diners, including nine Italians and seven Japanese reportedly bragging about their barbaric act that they thought would take them to “Behest (heaven) where they will be entertained with Hur Parees or fairies. In response to Khaleda’s call the prime minister has said a national consensus against terrorism and militancy is already there in the country. However, she has made it clear that there can’t be any unity with those who patronize militants and create an environment that helps them flourish. There is merit in Hasina’s response. But before going into details on her stand, it’s important to get answer to one question: why does Khaleda want an anti-terrorism alliance to be formed with the government?
First, BNP does not accept the Jan. 5 national elections that produced the current parliament in 2014 and brought Hasina to office for the second consecutive term. In the eyes of BNP Hasina’s government is illegal because of what it says the flawed vote, which has been boycotted by BNP-Jamaat-led alliance. So, what has prompted Khaleda to ask Hasina to build the anti-terrorism front that should include BNP? Has BNP finally accepted the fact that Hasina’s government is a legal and constitutional entity? It seems so.
Second, how serious and sincere BNP is in its willingness to part with Jamaat, the party’s longtime trusted ally? Or can BNP really afford to say goodbye to Jamaat?
BNP has a long history of love affairs with Jamaat, which found itself banned soon after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 because of its role in the genocide the occupation Pakistani forces carried out in the name of protecting Islam. Jamaat leaders formed several killer groups like Al-Badr, Razakar and Al-Shams to aid the Pakistanis to kill up to three million innocent civilians, rape 200,000 women and force 10 million people to flee to neighbouring India. It was Gen. Ziaur Rahman, the country’s first military dictator and the founder of BNP, who lifted the ban allowing Jamaat back to politics in Bangladesh. Zia had gone further to restore the snapped citizenship of war criminals like Ghulam Azam. The amicable BNP-Jamaat affairs have continued to flourish since then. Khaleda has went ahead with the pro-Jamaat legacy of her husband. She had disgraced the nation by appointing Jamaat leaders Motiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mujahid (both have been hanged to death for crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 War of Liberation) as ministers in her Cabinet during the 2001-6 term. She has also allowed to make BNP more dependent on Jamaat and there was a time when Nizami was believed to be the unannounced adviser to Khaleda and her son Tarique Rahman, who now lives in London, UK as a virtual fugitive from laws of the land. BNP’s relation with Jamaat is so thick that severing it will mean lots of bleeding for BNP. A breakup with Jamaat will hurt and harm BNP more than anything else. BNP is weighing the profit and loss in its ties with Jamaat. According to sources familiar with Khaleda and Tarique the mainstream BNP feels that it gains nothing from a national unity with ruling Awami League if it has to come through ditching of Jamaat. BNP can do without such eye-wash unity but it can’t survive and live without Jamaat and such other like-minded parties. So why this call for unity?
This is because a section of BNP wants to create a secular liberal image for the party to save the day. The anti-Jamaat move is also directed to the otherwise pro-liberation elements who are still with the party despite their disappointment. Besides, the violent religious extremism is now so hated by the people that BNP needs a breathing space to make Bangladeshis understand that it too is liberal. The pro-unity move is largely a tactical stance than a real one.