WALL STREET JOURNAL
By SUMIT GANGULY
November 16, 2007
In September, Arifur Rahman, a cartoonist for a leading Bengali newspaper in
Yet such an impression would be unwarranted --
The irony is that
Instead, the caretaker regime, with the backing of the army, has proven to be no less arbitrary and callous than its predecessors. Headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed, the few checks that once existed on its actions have been effectively removed. An Emergency Powers Ordinance was passed, giving the state the right to set up special courts designed to try anyone under the terms of the state of emergency.
The regime then moved quickly to cripple the two major political parties. First, Ms. Hasina was arrested on extortion charges; then Ms. Zia, on corruption charges. Their families and key political supporters have also been jailed. Even the normally assertive press has been cowed. The caretaker government says national elections will be held at the end of next year, but there are no guarantees.
Meanwhile, the signs of creeping Islamicization in
The potential for an Islamist
government has always been present in
This is partly due to the abject failure of a series of Bangladeshi regimes, both civilian and military, to provide the most basic services such as health care, primary education, housing and sanitation while systematically enriching themselves and their acolytes. These failures enabled religious zealots to make headway into the political arena by promising change.
As they gained power, the two major political parties -- especially the BNP -- started to rely on religious fanatics and their ability to organize street protests and shows of force to bolster their own electoral fortunes. In the last BNP-led regime, Jamaat-i-Islami was part of the ruling coalition. Even the nominally secular Awami League, fearing a loss of electoral support, started to nod and wink toward the activities of these religious fanatics.
Foreign governments played a role, too. In recent years, the mullahs have benefited significantly from both Pakistani and, more importantly, Wahhabi Saudi largesse. Pakistani regimes have sought to make inroads into
Today, the military-backed government under Mr. Ahmed seems powerless to stop these trends. Minorities, especially the steadily dwindling Hindu population, are increasingly under assault from Muslim religious zealots. In January, Muslim zealots set fire to some 10 Hindu residences in the town of
The caretaker government hasn't commented much on these attacks, perhaps because the political influence of the Jamaat remains considerable. Jamaat leaders, for example, are allowed to travel abroad -- while members of other parties are not. Also, while the government has dealt with normal student activists and agitators with a firm hand, it granted considerable leeway to the activists of the Hizbut Tahrir, a radical Islamist organization with transnational links, during the agitation surrounding the recent cartoon controversy.
Bangladesh's relatively small economic impact on the global
economy, its widespread poverty and its lack of any immediate strategic
significance explains the paucity of attention that the United States and most
Western powers have paid to its political future.
Such neglect, however, is exceedingly myopic.
Mr. Ganguly is a professor of political science and the director of research at the Center on American and Global Security at
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