Bangladesh has been in a state of chaos following the one-sided ballot in 2014, a US Congressional sub-committee was told on Thursday.
Witnesses to the sub-committee hearing underlined the urgent need for resolving political tensions through a dialogue between the rival political camps.
"Though the country has long been divided along political lines, the most recent parliamentary elections in 2014 have led to violent protests with the senseless deaths of numerous innocents on both sides of the political line," the sub-committee chair, Matt Salmon, said in his opening remarks.
The sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific under the US House of Representative’s foreign relations committee held the hearing on 'Bangladesh's Fracture: Political and Religious Extremism', in Washington.
“Political deadlock between the ruling Awami League and BNP opposition is threatening economic and social progress and opening the door for Islamist extremists to gain more recruits and increase their influence in the country,” Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at Heritage Foundation, said in her testimony before the sub-committee.
She recommended that Washington should work with like-minded democratic countries to foster a dialogue between the Awami League and the BNP camps to reduce political tensions.
The researcher also advocated that a civil society dialogue on the future of Bangladeshi politics and democracy, involving the younger generation, should be encouraged.
In his deliberations, Professor Ali Riaz of Illinois State University, blamed the international community for missing the opportunity to remain engaged after the controversial elections in January 2014 that led to the subsequent political tensions.
“The relative calm of 2014 was a wasted opportunity not only for the ruling party but also for the
international community in ensuring that democratic norms are upheld,” he observed.
Ali Riaz added that the international community cannot continue to have a ’Business-as-Usual’ approach while the country is slowly descending into a situation which has strong potential for engendering a prolonged conflict.
He suggested that steps be to ensure a ‘fairly acquired democratic mandate’ for governance.
In the current context, he also recommended stopping erosion of fundamental rights, restoration of democratic space and adherence to freedom of assembly, movement and speech.
Ali Riaz cautioned that the ruling party’s “victory” in the city polls boycotted by the BNP might lead to routing of the opposition and creation of a de facto one-party state.
“The opposition views this as the further erosion of government’s tenuous legitimacy due to its over dependence on force,” he said pointing to the possibility of eruptions of violence again.
Lisa Curtis said the opposition protests and violent street clashes had led to a widespread government crackdown and reports of human rights violations by the Bangladeshi authorities. She also referred to enforced disappearance of BNP leader Salahuddin Ahmed.
Ali Riaz recommended that unaccountable and excessive use of the state’s coercive power including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance be brought to an end. “All parties, including the opposition parties, [should] unequivocally renounce violence as a means to achieve political goals,” he insisted.
The hearing was aimed at better understanding the convoluted political situation in Bangladesh and investigating “how the United States can advocate for a democratic regime in Bangladesh that is stable and intolerant of violent Islamic extremism.”
Jay Kansara Director, director at Government Relations, Hindu American Foundation, Steven D. Fleischli, president US-Bangladesh Trade and Relations Association, and Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, also took part in the hearing.