Introduction: Since being voted back to power in January 2014, the country continued its march of progress in almost all sectors of economic and human development under the Bangladesh Awami League government. In line with the successes achieved in the previous 5 years, the year saw Bangladesh continuing its progress in all major indictors of economic, social and human development indicators.
Bangladesh has seen unprecedented levels of infrastructure being developed, power being generated and digitization taking place in the last six years as per Bangladesh Awami League’s policies of “Vision 2021” and “Digital Bangladesh”.
However, rather than approaching the people peacefully and partnering in the country’s development as a responsible political party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) along with its 20-Party Alliance (notably Jamaat E Islami Bangladesh) once again unleashed their signature tactics of terror in the name of political agitation. The victims of these terrorist acts have been primarily the ordinary people of Bangladesh, who have nothing to do with politics. This reign of terror went on continuously for more than three months, namely, from January 2015 to April 2015.
Terrorism By All Definitions: Between January and April 2015, BNP-Jamaat committed acts of terror almost on a daily basis, including: Attacking passenger buses and setting people alight with petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails; attacking the police; torching trucks and other vehicles containing necessary provisions like food; setting alight marine passenger vessels; sabotaging rail networks resulting in the uprooting of trains, killing and hurting passengers. Apart from the obvious human costs, country is suffering immense economic losses as well. Non-quantifiable losses, such as the harm to the education sector are also a major impact of these violent programmes. This type of behavior is by any definition, tantamount to terrorism as opposed to any legitimate and peaceful political movement.
Unacceptable Costs of Violence:During the recent spate of blockades and strikes called by BNP-Jamaat started between January and April 2015: 99 people were killed in the ensuing violence. Of this amount 72 general people being killed directly by BNP-Jamaat’s arson attacks through petrol bombs or Molotov cocktails. At least 1770 people were injured, including those with various degrees of burn injuries. 821 vehicles (including passenger buses, trucks, mini-vans, private cars etc) were torched and 659 others were vandalized. 17 incidents of railway sabotage took place, resulting in derailment of trains, subsequently killing and injuring passengers. At Least 8 marine vessels known as ‘launches’ were attacked, primarily from arson.
Inhuman Campaign of Arson: One only need have visited the burn units of country’s hospitals to see the sheer barbarity of these attacks. Stretched beyond capacity, the hospitals struggled to cope with the daily influx of patients brought in with medium to third degree burn injuries, directly caused by petrol bombs or arson by other means courtesy of BNP-Jamaat activists. 72 people lost their lives during this period either upon being burnt alive or dying after being taken to the hospital. 508 people received various degrees of burn injuries and brought to the four burn units in government medical college hospitals in Dhaka, Rajsjahi, Chittagong, Bogra and Rangpur.
Economic Costs of Blockades and Strikes: BNP-Jamaat blockades ran from 5 January 2015 to 6 April, during which time, according to the top trade body of the capital, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DCCI), the economy bled around US$ 293 million losses per day. Bangladesh’s top earning garment sector is lost around US$ 51 million per day.
Around 2.6 million small traders faced the brunt of the economic inactivity with around US$ 77 million in daily losses3. According to World Bank’s Bangladesh Development Report, political turmoil caused by BNP-Jamaat in the first quarter of 2015 cost Bangladesh one percent of its GDP, or $ 2.2 billion4. The report added that economic growth would have between 6.4 and 6.6 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year, if there were no political turmoil. As for sectors, the most losses were suffered by the service sector with 68% losses, industries with 25% losses and agriculture with 7% losses.
No doubt as to culprits: Media reports have been very explicit about the involvement of BNP-Jamaat activists in the current spate of violence in the name of politics. Many activists of BNP and Jamaat’s student wings, Islami Chatro Shibir and Jatiyotabadi Chatrdo Dal, have been arrested while hurling the petrol bombs at buses or trucks. Some have injured themselves, even died, while making such improvised explosive devices. In fact, members of the public have apprehended a number of them, while engaged in such criminal acts, and handed them over to the law enforcement agents.
While some were motivated by BNP-Jamaat leaders to engage in terrorist acts with the lure of party positions, others had financial motives for killing innocent people6. It should also be noted that the violence spiked every time Khaleda Zia instructed her party activists to wage and/or intensify the ‘movement’, such as January 5, January 24 and February 5. There has even been a leaked audio being disseminated by the national media that shows the BNP chief of instructing her party leaders to ask activists to intensify their violent movement.
Pattern of Extreme Violence: The pattern of extreme violence demonstrated in recent days by BNP-Jamaat are however nothing new for them. They have been using these tactics of terror throughout 2013, and especially in order to obstruct the 10th Parliamentary Elections held on 5th January 2014. Starting from February 2013, after each and every verdict awarded by the war crimes tribunal, Jamaat declared strikes against such verdicts in direct contempt for the judiciary and state. These strikes were marked by extreme violence that followed a similar pattern as being observed currently. In total, the systematic violence from February 2013 to January 2014, 472 people were killed; thousands were injured; 22 law enforcers were murdered; 25,000 trees were fell; more than 3000 vehicles were burnt and/or vandalized; 278 religious minority households came under attack and 495 temples and idols were burnt and/or vandalized; $15.5 billion losses were suffered by the economy as a result of the violence.
No Public Support : The fact that BNP-Jamaat clearly had no public support for their 2013/14 movements and the ongoing terrorism in the name of politics is clear from the various public opinion polls that have since been undertaken by independent organizations and media. Right after the January 5 elections in 2014, opinion polls by Democracy International showed that even if BNP participated in the 10th Parliamentary Elections, more than 42% would have voted for Awami League, as opposed to BNP’s 35%8. Recent opinion polls by Dhaka Tribune show that 72% people of Bangladesh consider the current government to be successful, and would get 42% of votes compared to BNP’s 34%9. In September 2014, polls by Pew Research Center showed that 71% of Bangladeshis are happy with the current government’s economic management of the country.
Although BNP is claiming to act on behalf of the people, so far, people from all sections of the society have come out against their particular brand of violent agitation that has claimed so many innocent lives. In the last month or so, protests, human chains, rallies and demonstrations have been organized in Dhaka and elsewhere against BNP-Jamaat’s blockades/strikes and ensuing violence by business persons, activists of cultural and professional bodies, artists, students and their parents, transport workers, members of political parties not aligned with Awami League, wage earners, day labourers, shop-owners, factory workers and so on.
International Condemnation for Violence : The spate of mindless terrorism unleashed by BNP-Jamaat combine in Bangladesh between January and April 2015 sparked widespread condemnation.
Leaders around the world, heads of different foreign missions based in Dhaka and envoys of regional blocks came down heavily on violence by the 20 party combine, expressed deep shock over the loss of innocent lives and property, and urged the opposition to restrain from violence in the name of announcing peaceful movement. Moreover, an international conflict resolution organisation also called upon BNP to sever ties with Jamaat, a party of terrorists and militants, saying that “Violent Islamist factions are already reviving, threatening the secular, democratic order” .
The current government, especially the Prime Minister has showed her willingness to engage with the opposition in the past. It should be remembered that in September 2013, she called Khaleda Zia herself and invited her for a dialogue at Ganabhaban13. However, Begum Zia refused and carried on with violent strikes. This time too, rather than engage in any democratic political processes they resorted to violence. It would therefore not be an overstatement to say that the BNP-Jamaat clique is now more of a violent extremist group as opposed to a democratic politic one.
.For a complete record of BNP-Jamaat violence between January and April 2015, see: http://albd.org/violence/
.Figures compiled from leading national newspapers (Statistics correct as of August 8, 2015).
.“How do we make up so much losses”, Daily Samakal, 19th January 2015.
.Bangladesh Development Report 2015, World Bank.
.Terror of BNP-Jamaat exposed like daylight, ALBD [https://www.albd.org/index.php/en/updates/news/2241-terror-of-bnp-jamaat- exposed-like-daylight].
.“5 Shibir men held with petrol bombs”, banglanews24, February 8, 2015; “Shibir man caught with 130 bombs”, bdnews24, January 21, 2015; “Narayanganj locals catch, beat 3 Shibir arsonists”, bdnews24, January 24, 2015; “Ongoing Arson-violence Culprits; Caught red-handed were Shibir men”, the Daily Star, February 1, 2015; “Bomb attack on police bus”, the Daily Star, January 18, 2015; “Central Jamaat leaders held with crude bombs in city”, BSS, February 4, 2014; “2 JCD men with petrol, bomb beaten up at BUET”, the Daily Star, February 4, 2015; “16 Shibir men held with explosives”, the Daily Star, February 2, 2015; “Arsonist caught red-handed”, Dhaka Tribune, February 2, 2015; “Islami Chatra Shibir activist dead in Chittagong”, bdnews24, January 28, 2015; “BNP leader’s son held with petrol bombs”, Dhaka Tribune, January 27, 2015; “BNP activist held with bomb making materials”, Dhaka Tribune, January 25, 2015; “BNP student leader dies of blast wounds”, bdnews24, January 22, 2015.
.Madam’s orders”, bdnews24, February 2, 2014 [http://bdnews24.com/politics/2015/02/02/madam-s-orders]; “Online activists fuelling violence”, Dhaka Tribune, January 26, 2015; BNP-Jamaat’s involvement in violence becoming crystal clear, ALBD [https://albd.org/index.php/en/updates/news/2186-bnp-jamaat-s-involvement-in-violence-becoming-crystal-clear].
.AL would have won inclusive polls: survey, bdnews24, February 2, 2014.
.National Opinion Poll, Dhaka Tribune, January 12, 2015.
.Majority upbeat about economy, Daily Star, September 11, 2014.
.“People across country protest violence”, Dhaka Tribune, February 9, 2015; “BNP agitation cost Tk 750 bln”, bdnews24.com, February 8, 2015; Transport workers start sit-in near Khaleda’s office”, BSS, February 5, 2015; “Protest rallies, marches against hartal-siege, subversive acts”, BSS, February 3, 2015; “Shop owners take to streets as blockade bites”, the Daily Star, February 3, 2015; Arson victims also take to street for peace”, the Daily Star, February 1, 2015; “Students form human chain near Khaleda house”, bdnews24, January 31, 2015.
.”World condemns violence by BNP-Jamaat”, ALBD [https://www.albd.org/index.php/en/updates/news/2274-world-condemns- violence-by-bnp-jamaat].
.“Hasina calls Khaleda, invites her to dialogue”, Daily Ittefaq, 26th October, 2013.
Source (c): Bangladesh Awami League.