By Taj Hashmi
Awami League (AL) leaders frequently finger point at the “Anti-Liberation People” as the main existential threat to Bangladesh. Purportedly, these people have never accepted Bangladesh as an independent entity; and are in cahoots with Pakistan and other “anti-Bangladesh forces” to undo the hard-earned Liberation. Some AL leaders and intellectuals lump the “Anti-Liberation Forces” together with Islamist extremists or Jongis (militants), and identify the BNP-Jamaat coalition as the mainstay of all “anti-Bangladesh” elements in the country. The BNP-Jamaat people are supposedly engaged in re-uniting Bangladesh with Pakistan, as a step towards establishing a totalitarian Islamist Caliphate in South Asia. A weird conspiracy theory indeed! The BNP-Jamaat people do not shy away from vilifying their rivals as “pro-Indian”, “anti-Islamic” and “anti-Bangladesh”, either.
In view of the above, one may raise the following questions: 1) Are there people really determined to undo the freedom Bangladesh attained in 1971 at a heavy price? 2) Are they – if they exist at all – that powerful to turn Bangladesh into East Pakistan as it was up to March 1971? 3) Is Pakistan interested at all in turning Bangladesh into East Pakistan? 4) And if so, is Pakistan capable of attaining this goal by merely helping the so-called pro-Pakistani elements in Bangladesh? 5) Is not the fear mongering a part of the political culture in many countries, especially Bangladesh, where politicians love to demonise their political opponents – rather enemies – for political mileage? 6) Keeping in view India’s track record of hegemonic behaviour towards its smaller neighbours, is Indophobia among sections of Bangladeshis a figment of the imagination?
We may brood over the question if politicians, who love to spread weird conspiracy theories, ever question themselves: Are the people and the world at large buying our half-baked theories about the existence of “Anti-Liberation Forces” within and outside Bangladesh? This, however, does not stop the conspiracy theoreticians from remaining foolhardily happy. Irrespective of what some Bangladeshis believe about the existence of “Anti-Liberation Forces”, they are as elusive as ghosts and spirits. Meanwhile, thanks to the manipulative politicians in the Awami and BNP-Jamaat camps, their adherents have remained confused, sharply polarized and antagonistic to each other.
Fear mongering is an old art nurtured by empire builders, colonial rulers and post-colonial autocrats, and at times, by democratic regimes as well. America’s foreign, domestic and military policies, for example, are mostly based on fear mongering. American ruling elites have been inventing the boogeyman at least for the last 100 years. During the Cold War, it was communism; and in its aftermath, it is al Qaeda and its ilk, said to have posed the biggest security threat to freedom in America.
Now, we may address the questions if Pakistanis are interested in reuniting Bangladesh with their country; and if they are capable of doing so. There is hardly anybody in Pakistan, who genuinely believes that a re-union of Bangladesh and Pakistan is desirable, or ever possible. Pakistan’s former military dictator Pervaiz Musharraf once told a Bangladeshi leader that not even someone in a mental asylum in Pakistan was interested in re-uniting the two countries; and that if there were “pro-Pakistani elements” in Bangladesh, that was not Pakistan’s problem, at all.
As the portrayal of BNP-Jamaat people as anti-Bangladesh is loathsome, so is the depiction of Khaleda Zia as the “chief of the Jamaat”. Does the Government really mean that the BNP and Jamaat are Jongis and working for Pakistan, and al Qaeda and its ilk? If so, one wonders, why these people are not behind bars, and the AL and its allies have had no qualms with working together with BNP-Jamaat leaders in the recent past! Parties like BNP and Jamaat, who take part in constitutional politics, do not create Jongis or terrorists. The Jongis or terrorists are pre-political anarchists, alienated, and angry outcasts. Neither they create political parties, nor do political parties create them.
Although Bangladeshis should remain vigilant against all anti-Bangladesh elements – within and beyond its borders – they should be extra-vigilant against the hegemonic designs of the next-door neighbour, India, which is potentially a bigger security threat to the country than distant Pakistan. India has been playing dirty games against Bangladesh for the last 40-odd years. It promoted armed insurgents, including the Shanti Bahini, which bled Bangladesh for more than twenty years up to 1996. It is depriving Bangladesh of its due share of river waters, and treating Bangladeshi enclaves in India as Indian territory. Does India want a sovereign Bangladesh as its neighbour, or it barely wants a client state in Bangladesh? It is an important question.
What we learn from history is that hegemony is rule by people’s consent. Rule without people’s consent is autocracy. And unless people accept autocracy as a better option to anarchy, it remains illegitimate, and hence vulnerable to violent overthrow by people. Then again, hegemony of one creates its counter-hegemony. Until the ruling class enjoys mass support by hegemonising mass consciousness with a political ideology, its rule remains unsustainable. This is what happened throughout history. The end of British hegemony led to the ascendancy of Pakistani rule. The Pakistani hegemons started facing the counter-hegemony of Bengalis in less than a year after its ascension to power.
Pakistanis retaliated by demonizing Bengali politicians and intellectuals as “enemies of Islam and Pakistan” and “Indian agents”. “Islam in Danger” was the cry wolf of Pakistani ruling elites up to the emergence of Bangladesh. If history is a guide, then we may assume that Bangladeshi rulers have taken a page or two from the Pakistani rulers’ manual, and hence the prevalence of mutual name calling among politicians and their followers to project their political rivals as “anti-Bangladesh”, “terrorists” and “enemy agents”. As Pakistani rulers’ demonizing the pro-democracy people reflected their state of insecurity vis-à-vis the opposition, their Bangladeshi counterparts seem to be suffering from the same syndrome.
Since “divide-and-rule” policy fetches rich dividends, Bangladeshi politicians also love to demonise their political opponents for some extra political mileage. “We vs. They” is so efficacious in the Machiavellian or totalitarian form of governance that ruling elites must invent the “Jew” even if he is not around. So far so good! Then again, Bangladesh can ill-afford to play the “divide-and-rule” game in perpetuity. We know, the end of the British Raj signalled the ascendancy of Pakistan in East Bengal with mass support, and the erosion of Pakistani hegemony led to the creation of Bangladesh. Pakistani conspiracy theories and demonization of Bengalis backfired. Pakistan’s military crackdown on Bengalis was its last straw.
However, thanks to the perpetual and mutual demonization of each other by the AL and BNP coalitions, the over-polarized Bangladesh polity is fast getting overheated, people becoming partisan, violent, unpredictable and suspicious of each other. The promotion of “We vs. They” in a faction-ridden peasant economy like Bangladesh could be disastrous. The country could get further fractured, and dragged into a long-drawn-out civil war and anarchy.
It is high time leaders guard the freedom and integrity of Bangladesh in unison. The differences between the Awami League and BNP are not ideological, but by-products of conflicts of interests between two politically important families. The so-called differences over “Bengali” and “Bangladeshi” nationalism are as phony as anything. So, leaders must unite to unite the people to safeguard freedom. We find Benjamin Franklin’s premonition quite relevant in this regard: “Let me add, that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
In sum, one could come up with the following suggestions to resolve what seems to be an irresolvable problem between the two major political parties in the country, which has polarized the nation between two doggedly determined sections of people, in the name of defending freedom and integrity of Bangladesh: 1) The leaders of the major political parties must come out of the shell of partisan politics and blame game for the sake of bipartisanism to promote mutual trust, respect and understanding. They must believe trust is the key to peace and progress. 2) The leaders must assert publicly that those who committed crimes against humanity during the Liberation War must be tried in the most transparent way. 3) Then they must agree that those who committed heinous crimes against the nation in 1971 should not be lumped together with Islamist Jongis, unless there are irrevocable evidences against them in this regard. 4) Although there were some anti-Liberation / anti-Bangladesh people in 1971, but those who among them are still alive today and their handful of supporters, either do not believe in re-uniting Bangladesh with Pakistan, or they are simply not capable of doing so four decades after the independence of Bangladesh.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University at Clarksville, Tennessee, USA. His latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage 2014) is forthcoming.