Controversial general elections have plunged Bangladesh into a fresh phase of political uncertainty. The elections, for all practical purposes, was a unilateral exercise with the opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khalidah Zia languishing in jail over ‘corruption’ charges. Prime Minister ShiekhHaseena’s party Awami League has won 287 out of 298 seats which went to polling on Sunday. The opposition alliance managed win on just eight seats. In absence of Khalidah, the opposition alliance united under the banner of National Unity Front was led by country’s leading jurist Kamal Hossain. He was a minister in Bangladesh founder and first Prime Minister ShiekhMujeebur Rahman’s government. The opposition parties have alleged mass rigging in the elections. Around 100 candidates withdrew from the contest on the polling day amid accusations of mass rigging. They alleged ballot-stuffing and vote rigging by the ruling party activists. “We’ve had bad elections in the past but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was. The minimum requirements of a free and fair election are absent,” Hossain said.
He said the alliance would hold a meeting on Monday to decide its next course. “We call upon the Election Commission to declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a nonpartisan government,” Hossain said. The misuse of official machinery and harassment of opposition by way of violent attacks by Awami League activists and police raids were rampant all through election campaign. The country has seen a spike in political violence, mainly targeting the Opposition. At least 18 people have died in the election relation violence. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main constituent of the Opposition JatiyaOikya Front, claims that 9,200 of its activists have been arrested since the election schedule was announced. In a report published on December 22, Human Rights Watch said that “arrests and other repressive measures… have contributed to a climate of fear”. Ever since democracy was restored in 1990-91, election seasons have been tumultuous in Bangladesh.
In the past when the BNP was in power, it had refused to step down after its tenure ended. In 1996, the Awami League led mass movements for elections, while in 2006 a military-backed caretaker government postponed the election, which was finally held in December 2008. Since then, Hasina has held power. However, she has since been accused of turning the country into an authoritarian rule. The Haseena government was criticized by its own people when it passed the Digital Security Bill and the crackdown on student protests in Dhaka some time back. Disqualifying Khalidah Zia and subsequently putting her in jail has furthered the perception of authoritarian rule of ShiekhHaseena. Authoritarian taunt apart, ShiekhHaseena is credited with improving country’s economy during her 10 years of rule. For the Awami League, this should have been an opportunity to break with the history of violence and seek the mandate based on its performance. But its increasing tendency to use force against the Opposition and the violence by its party activists have marred the election process. The opposition wanted the elections to be held under a non-partisan interim government, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unilaterally bulldozed her decision and conducted elections under her handpicked Election Commission. The opposition alliance raised fingers on the neutrality of the Election Commission as well. Four days before the polling the opposition had sought the resignation of the Chief Election Commissioner.
The result is obvious – an opposition-free parliament. Independent observers have expressed serious reservations about the conduct of elections, and the growing uncertainty in the country. The international community – the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth in particular -must play an active role in restoring democracy in Bangladesh.
The muscular policy
Central government’s power-driven Kashmir policy is touching new zenith. After Jamaat-e-Islami, the government banned Yasin Malik-led Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) under ‘anti terror’ law on Friday. The outfit has been declared outlaw for promotion of secessionist activities in Jammu and Kashmir. The JKLF chief Yasin Malik has been arrested and lodged in Jammu’s Kot Balwal jail. Yasin Malik is also likely to face penalty by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and confiscation of foreign exchange recovered from him. The adjudication proceedings against Malik have already begun. The ED, on Friday, imposed a fine of Rs 14.4 lakh on Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani for “illegally possessing foreign exchange of around $10,000”. A Delhi court, last week, allowed ED to quiz Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Shah and others in connection with an alleged funding case. Shah has been in Delhi’s Tihar jail for the past more than a year on charges of being involved in hawala funding. Delhi has gheraoed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as well. He has been summoned by National Investigating Agency (NIA) to appear at its Delhi office in connection with investigations regarding alleged hawala funding in Kashmir. Mirwaiz, however, has refused to attend the Agency’s Delhi office for security reasons, and instead he sought the case to be shifted to Srinagar and offered his full cooperation. Earlier, the government withdrew security of all the Hurriyat leaders including Mirwaiz as a measure to tighten screws around separatist camp. The other known face of the separatist camp Shabir Shah has been in jail for over a year on the allegations of hawala funding. Masarat Alam Bhat, a key leader of Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference has been in jail since 2010. There is a grapevine in political and media circles that the central government might come with some more strict measures against separatist leaders. Banning the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and Jamiat-e-Ahl Hadees is seen as next step New Delhi might go in for.
But would it resolve the problem is a question that needs to be thought over? This is not for the first time that such harsh measures are taken by the government. In early 90s, when militancy first surfaced in Kashmir, almost all the political outfits on the separatist were reeling under ban. Thousands, not just hundreds, of political activists and common people were facing incarceration. This was coupled with a ferocious campaign by government forces against militants. Extrajudicial killings and random arrests were order of the day. Almost 10,000 have gone missing under the custody of the forces. Such measures are still in force, and at times in harsher way. The frequent and fierce use of pellets and bullets against civilians is a common practice. But this has never helped the government anyway nor would it help in future. The policy makers in Delhi need to rethink their Kashmir strategy. They are again and again using the formulas and prescriptions which have already failed, and are bound to fail again. One more reason that the policy makers in Delhi must take into account is the growing world concern over the happenings in Kashmir. India and Pakistan have just returned from the brink of a nuclear clash. International opinion is catching up with the fact that it was Kashmir that pushed the two countries towards the war. It continues to haunt the minds that allowing the issue to remain simmering is dangerous for the world peace. Bombs and tanks shall not bring peace. These will only bring destruction. Before the international community intervenes, New Delhi should take the initiative and shun its muscular approach in Kashmir. Instead of banning and jailing parties and peoples, policy of rapprochement and reconciliation should be given the chance. Government of India should open the channels of dialogue with Kashmir as also with Pakistan. That is the only way forward. Muscular approach has failed in the past it shall fail in future as well.
An exemplary leader
It is not the size of one’s chest that matters. It is the moral standing that defines one’s person. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shown that she could be small only in terms of heading a small country but she is above all in human and moral values. Her response to March 15 terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 Muslims has earned her appreciation from world over. She won the hearts world over for the love, compassion and support to the families of victims. The New Zealand Prime Minister was equally hateful for the attacker and refused to mention him by name saying she would not give him a name, and urged others too to do the same. She said that he should go in the history nameless. Brenton Tarrant, 28, a Narcissistic right-wing Australian terrorist motivated by his anti-Muslim ire carried out the carnage as the Muslims prayed in Christchurch mosques. He live-streamed the horrific massacre on his face book page. Tarrant, described by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison as an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”, expressed admiration for other violent white nationalists and his intention to “create an atmosphere of fear” and to “incite violence” against Muslims.Led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the people New Zealand down under showed showed the world how a tragedy of such huge proportions should be handled, and how governments should react in times of crisis. Jacinda Ardern was praised as the face of New Zealand in the times of grief. Right after the rampage, Ms Ardern led from the front, meeting survivors and the heirs of victims, condoling with them and offering the full support of the state. A day after the attack, when Ardern visited a Christchurch refugee centre to meet community leaders, she earned the respect of the Muslim world when she arrived in a hijab, carrying off the headscarf with natural poise, placed her hand on her heart, a traditional Muslim gesture, and said a simple, “Asalaam alaykum,” (peace be with you) as the grieving crowd murmured, “Wa alaykum asalaam. At a subsequent visit to a local mosque, her composure and empathy while meeting survivors was lauded, as was her insistence that New Zealand would remain a refuge for people of all faiths from across the world.
From taking the responsibility of informing the people herself about the immediate developments on the day that the attack took place, to later talking to the media about the hurdles in the process of returning bodies to victims’ families for burial, Ardern made sure she was there, and not someone else, to inform the people about all the goings-on—reflecting just how deeply involved and up-to-date she is. When Ardern took office in 2017 as an unmarried 37-year-old, she was not only the country’s third female prime minister and the world’s youngest world leader, she was also about to give birth. She became just the second woman, only after Pakistan then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in history to give birth while an elected head of state and the first elected leader ever to take maternity leave. This is the first time that a government head has been so widely praised by so many people from all around the globe for showing the world what true leadership looks like; for giving the world a reason to be hopeful about being led by people whose intelligence and compassion outweigh a desire for petty political points, for setting an example for heads of government all around the world by avoiding caustic rhetoric against political opponents at home and abroad.
Threat of Right Wing Nationalism
At a time when the international community was focusing on the issue of a series of deadly ‘lone wolf’ attacks across the globe by the Islamic State, ignoring the rise of ‘White Nationalism’ against ‘Islamist invaders’, a white man, identified as Brenton Tarrant, in his late 20s carried out the deadliest attack ever witnessed in New Zealand. Tarrant killed 49 Muslim worshippers at two separate mosques – Al-Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque – in Christchurch. New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed that 41 people were killed at Al-Noor Mosque while another seven were killed at Linwood Mosque. One person died at a hospital. 42 people, including a four-year-old child, were reported injured. Several others, including nine Indian citizens, are missing.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted that “this can now only be described as a terrorist attack”. She also noted “it is clear; this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. New Zealand never before in its history had witnessed a terror attack of this scale. Indeed, as per reports, New Zealand’s terror threat level has been lifted to high for the first time in its history, following the attack.
Meanwhile, the lone attacker, Brenton Tarrant, an Australian citizen, in his 74-pages document titled The Great Replacement has disclosed that “New Zealand was not the original choice for attack” and he carried out the attack there because he believed that an incident in New Zealand would bring to attention the truth of the assault on our civilization that nowhere in the world was safe, the invaders were in all of our lands, even in the remotest areas of the world and that there was nowhere left to go that was safe and free from mass immigration.
In an attack similar to Christchurch, six people were killed and another 19 injured in a shooting incident at a mosque in Canadian city of Quebec’s Sainte-Foy neighbourhood on January 29, 2017. A French-Canadian student, Alexandre Bissonnette, was charged for the attack.
Bissonnette, like Tarrant, was ‘fighting’ for ‘White Nationalism’. According to an April 18, 2018, report, in a video of his police interrogation shown in court, Bissonnette is heard telling officers that his three-minute-long attack was set off by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message of welcome to refugees in the wake of President Trump’s entry ban, which was issued two days before his attack at the Sainte-Foy mosque. The report also stated that Bissonnette spent hours in front of his computer screen reading about mass shooters and scouring the Twitter accounts of right-wing commentators, alt-right figures, conspiracy theorists and President Trump.
Bothe the attackers – Tarrant and Bissonnette – had no criminal history and were under no watch list.
Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University (US) and author of Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland, following the Christchurch attack rightly observed as saying, it’s a particular form of hate and hate crimes that blames immigrants and outsiders and people who look different. It’s impossible to see this crime and this mass murder just as a mass shooting. It took place in the context of the global spread of white nationalism.
At least 11 attacks (excluding the one at Christchurch) by white supremacists have been recorded over the past eight years across Europe and the US resulting in at least 124 fatalities. Though not all these attacks directly targeted immigrants they were intended to pressurise Governments to change immigration policies. The most prominent of these included the October 27, 2018, killing of at least 11 people in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, by Robert Bowers; the killing of Labour Party Member of Parliament Jo Cox in Birstall, West Yorkshire, UK, on June 16, 2016; and the worst of these, the July 22, 2011, attack by Anders Behring Breivik, which resulted in the killing of 77 people.
Sadly, countries facing this problem feign ignorance of such developments across the globe, most prominently since the Syrian crisis and the resultant immigration of Muslims into western countries and rising Islamophobia. According to a September 11, 2018, report, the top countries by origin of asylum seekers in the EU since 2014 were Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, all countries with recent or ongoing conflicts. Between 2014 and 2017, a total of more than 919,000 Syrians applied for asylum in the EU.
Colin Clarke, an adjunct political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a senior research fellow at the Soufan Centre, observes
But while we pay a lot of attention to jihadist terrorism, we’ve been very slow and stubborn to realize that right-wing terrorism is very global, too.
The problem of the increasing threat of right wing nationalism has the potential to derail global peace and needs to be addressed with great urgency across the world.
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