New Delhi, Aug. 17: The serial blasts in Bangladesh have again raised questions about the Khaleda Zia-led coalition government’s ability ' even intention ' to deal with rising Islamic fundamentalism.
For India, though, the vital concern is an unstable neighbour with which it shares more than 4,000 km of border that was virtually sealed after the blasts.
Officially, its response was brief. A foreign ministry spokesman said: “We have seen reports relating to the hundreds of explosions all over Bangladesh which have injured dozens of people, some seriously. The scale and coordination of these explosions countrywide raises a number of questions.”
It seems almost a certainty that the blasts in 63 of the country’s 64 district headquarters were not the handiwork of a single outfit.
Zia’s Bangladesh National Party came to power four years ago with a promise to improve deteriorating law and order.
Today, its ability to do so has been called into question in a spectacular manner.
She will now be under growing pressure, within and outside the country, particularly from the Americans, to crack down on fundamentalists, as Pervez Musharraf has been forced to.
Like Musharraf, Zia has banked on this constituency to ride to power, defeating the moderate Awami League of Sheikh Hasina.
Although Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen’s leaflets have been found at the blast spots and suspicion will also fall on Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh ' both banned outfits ' sources in Dhaka and Delhi said neither had the ability to carry out an operation of this scale.
The low-yield explosives also made it clear that the blasts were not aimed at killing people but to send a signal of the ability to do damage on a massive scale.
“Those behind the blasts wanted to tell the government that if they wanted to they could have created massive damage,” a source said.
An Indian official accused Zia and her supporters of encouraging a culture that has had its “logical conclusion” in today’s blasts.
Questions have often been raised about alleged links many in the Jamaat-e-Islami, a part of the coalition, have with fundamentalist groups.
Some BNP ministers have also come under the scanner for allegedly encouraging the entry of illegal arms into the country.
India had refused to participate in the Saarc summit in Dhaka early this year after an Awami League leader was killed. It also had the Americans moving with the FBI coming down to help investigations.
Bangladesh’s donors threatened to stop funds unless Zia took steps to control fundamentalism.
Early this year, she did ban some groups, but within months the government decided to go slow. The serial blasts could yet make a Musharraf out of Zia.