|Pranab Mukherjee with members of the Indian community in Bangladesh at an event in Dhaka on Monday. (PTI)
Dhaka, March 5: Already in the throes of a political tailspin that has made it near-impossible for citizens to continue with life-as-usual, Bangladesh today geared up for more with its government saying it was considering a ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami whose attacks following the death sentences on its leaders mimicked the violence of 1971.
Foreign minister Dipu Moni said the attacks by cadres of the Jamaat and its student wing, the Islamic Chhatra Shibir, since last Thursday’s death sentence on Delwar Hossein Sayedee were “targeted at communities, people and places who were the targets of the attackers in 1971”.
Bangladesh’s main Opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, too condemned the recent attacks on minorities but did not hold the Jamaat responsible for the violence. The Jamaat was an electoral ally of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
On Sunday, Zia had held Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League-led government responsible for the escalating violence, in which more than 70 have been killed in various parts of the country.
The BNP had sponsored a bandh called for today. On Sunday and Monday, the Jamaat had called for a hartal.
Zia had said the government orchestrated “planned attacks aimed to divert the people’s democratic movement and destroy the country’s communal harmony”.
She also said the government was responsible for the “genocide”, a word that in Bangladesh usually refers to the killings of liberation warriors by vigilante groups in support of the Pakistani army in 1971.
“I call upon the administration and law enforcers to prevent such attacks on minorities with an iron fist,” she said in a statement today.
Violence was reported from Sirajgunj, Satkhira and Noakhali today but Dhaka was largely peaceful. Yesterday, a train had been set ablaze in Dhaka’s Kamlapur station.
Moni, the foreign minister, said the pattern of the attacks was disconcerting. In at least two places, the attackers uprooted or damaged railway lines running to and from Dhaka, attacked a power station and blocked trunk routes. The attacks on infrastructure threatened to disrupt the country’s lifelines.
There were also attacks on the police. In one instance, 17 policemen in a settlement near Chittagong were locked in a building. The attackers poured fuel in and around the building and set it on fire, but local people came to the rescue of the policemen.
In the town of Bogra, six police posts were simultaneously attacked. A specific community was targeted and their places of worship were burnt.
It is this pattern of attacks that looks “warlike” to the Hasina Wajed administration.
Moni said the government had acknowledged that there was a demand from “Projonmo Chottor” (New Generation Square) — as Shahbag is often referred to — to ban the Jamaat and its affiliates. She said the election commission, too, would have to decide how to tackle outfits that “use terror tactics”. Bangladesh is due for an election by December.
Moni said “there can always be discussions” with Zia’s party, which has demanded a caretaker administration to oversee the polls, “but the people have rejected the caretaker government formula and the BNP leader herself had said this”.
If the BNP boycotts the polls — as the Awami League did in 2007 — the electoral process could get discredited. But the Hasina government cannot immediately negotiate with the BNP, an ally of the Jamaat, at a time the popular upsurge in Shahbag has deeply polarised the country.