DHAKA–The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina is blaming the political alliance of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat) for the killings of two foreigners in less than a week in Bangladesh, while shrugging off claims that the Islamic State is responsible for the two murder incidents.
The allegations have brought to fore the political stalemate that Bangladesh still faces following its controversial elections on Jan. 5, 2014. The elections, which saw the present ruling party win again, was not deemed “credible” and “inclusive” by many western nations including the US since the main opposition comprising of BNP, Jamaat and 18 other political parties didn’t participate in the polling.
The Bangladeshi PM had returned to Dhaka on Saturday after attending the UN General Assembly Summit 2015 in New York. While interacting with senior media officials at her residence on Sunday morning, the Bangladeshi PM mentioned that the murders of two foreigners is part of a conspiracy to “tarnish the image” of the government.
Claiming that the murders are “planned and politically motivated,” she said that the murders have taken place at a time when the war crimes trials are taking place.
“I appeal to all citizens not to get too sensitive or carried away by these murders. We will take action and track down the culprits,” she said. She added that the BNP and Jamaat have “definitely abetted these murders in an attempt to overshadow Bangladesh’s achievements.”
The BNP-led alliance was fingered for blame by Hasina as the political alliance of 20 parties, which includes Jamaat, have pressed the government to conduct a political dialogue that will lead to parliamentary elections.
The face off between the government and the opposition parties has a complex and bloody history.
More than 200 people were killed in street clashes across Bangladesh prior to the 2014 elections and immediately after it.
The BNP-led political alliance didn’t take part in the Jan. 5, 2014 elections because its demands for Hasina to step down prior to the elections to ensure a fair election outcome fair poll outcome were ignored. This led to the ruling party’s win. This was a factor that caused many western countries, including the US, to deem the elections as “not credible”.
Soon after the Bangladesh Awami League led-grand alliance of 14 parties regained power in the controversial elections, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared that there will be no parliamentary polls till 2019. This led opposition protesters to take to the streets.
At the start of the year, the BNP-led main opposition parties initiated a blockade of urban hubs. They laid siege to the entry and exit points of major cities in Bangladesh. This spurred the government to bar them from organizing a nationwide “Democracy Killing Day.”
The blockade continued until April. More than 150 people died during clashes between police and opposition activists, arson attacks on vehicles and other incidents. The blockade came to an abrupt end after BNP decided to have its candidates take part in mayoral polls across the country around mid-April.
Despite this, all the BNP-backed candidates pulled out of the city corporation mayoral election battles in the last few hours of polling, claiming “massive vote rigging” by the ruling party candidates.
While blaming the BNP-Jamaat alliance for the killings, the PM also downplayed the possible participation waived of IS or other global Islamic terror groups. “Until now, IS or global terror groups like it have not been able to operate in Bangladesh. Our intelligence agencies are active … we will not allow any such activities in Bangladesh,” she said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the murder of 65-year-old Japanese farmer Kunio Hoshi, a few hours after his murder in Mahiganj village in Rangpur on Saturday.
Witnesses claimed that Hoshi was gunned by three masked assailants while he was on his way to his farm around 10:30 am on Saturday. “He was rushed to our hospital around 10:55 am. He had succumbed to the three bullet injuries on his body by then,” Borkotullah, Director of Rangpur Medical College Hospital (RMCH) told Asia Times on Saturday.
Although four people were brought in for questioning, police are yet to make any headway in the case. “We are still investigating into the murder and cannot say anything at the moment,” said Joynal Abedin, Assistant Superintendent of Police in Rangpur told Asia Times.
IS had also claimed responsibility for the death of Italian charity worker Cesare Tavella at Gulshan diplomatic zone on Sept. 28.
Three assailants were said to have fled the scene of the crime on motorcycles in the Kunio and Tavella killings.
The two incidents have forced Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies to beef up security for foreigners.
During a meeting with diplomatic correspondents in Dhaka on Monday, US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat commended Bangladesh’s efforts in dealing with the latest security concerns. While mentioning that Bangladesh and the US need “joint efforts” to battle terrorism, she added, “We have everything we need to fight the emergence of IS in Bangladesh.”
Several foreign missions including the US have asked their nationals to limit their movements inside Bangladesh.
International relations experts are concerned about the message the murders of Kunio and Tavella will send to the international community, if the culprits aren’t apprehended soon.
“Bangladesh has never seen such a form of targeted killings,” Dr. Delwar Hossain, founding Director of the East Asia Study Center in the University of Dhaka, told Asia Times. “This may not affect the ardent intentions of foreign donors and stakeholders (to help Bangladesh), but some nations may use these incidents to question the credibility of the Bangladesh government.”
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka, Bangladesh-based freelance journalist and the editor of Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.
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