Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

Bangladesh reinventing itself

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

When Bangladesh’s neighbours woke up to the news of another aborted coup last month, the fragility of its democracy was vividly evident. In 1971, erstwhile East Pakistan had emerged as an independent, secular, democratic nation — Bangladesh. The transition had cost between 300,000 to 5 million Bangladeshi lives, by various estimates. Bangladeshi radicals had collaborated with the Pakistani army to enact a genocide that barely found adequate coverage in the West’s humanitarian reporting.

Military coups, thereafter, have been routine — the first one in 1975 killing its founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The drift away from secular culture started in 1977, when General Ziaur Rehman, then president, substituted the word “secularity” in the constitution with “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah …”.

Later, another President, General Ershad made Islam the state religion. When the Bangladesh Nationalist Party came to power from 2001 to 2007 with the Jamaat-e-Islami as its partner, the jihadi establishment flourished and displayed its organisational strength by conducting 500 synchronised blasts in less than an hour’s span in all but one district of Bangladesh.

The radicalisation spiral was stalled when a civilian caretaker government came to power in 2007. Maulana Abdur Rahman, Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) supremo and six top leaders of the jihadi establishment were hanged in accordance with a Supreme Court verdict.

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