main

Great international concern about situation in Bangladesh

June 20, 2006
World Evangelical Alliance Goodwill Ambassador Johan Candelin,Finland, has
met with the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh H.E. Sheik Hasina in
Dakha. This is an interview that she gave to the world press:

Question and Answers for approval of H.E. Sheikh Hasina MP. Leader of the
Opposition in the Parliament.

Question 1: Your Excellency, How would you describe the situation in
Bangladesh today?

Answer: The 57-year-old Awami League Party that I lead is a progressive
secular democratic party. My father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the
founder of this old political party and also the Father of the Nation,
struggled throughout his entire life and ultimately sacrificed himself to
establish democracy and the fundamental rights of the people of Bangladesh.
After his brutal assassination in 15 August 1975, against surmountable odds
posed by successive military dictatorships, I took up the struggle to
reestablish democracy, and to fulfill my father\'s dream of a prosperous and
peaceful Bangladesh. Finally, in the national elections of 1996, the Awami
League was swept into power by a massive people\'s support.

On forming the government, as Prime Minister, one of my first action was to
begin, in right earnest, entrenching and strengthening the roots of
democracy, and restoring the fundamental rights of the common people. I
believe my open, liberal and fair approach was unfortunately manipulated by
radical and reactionary elements in politics and bureaucracy manifesting in
blatant rigging of voting and results in the national elections of October
2001. The BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance on assuming power, to utter horror,
began the mass massacre of all in the opposition, particularly the minority
- the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, tribal and indigenous people, who all
formed the solid voting bank of the Awami League for its time tested
adherence to secularism. The killings, pillage, rape and destruction that
began in 2001 immediately after the election results continued unabated
till today claiming over 26, 000 lives and more than double the number
injured and maimed for life.

The situation in Bangladesh at present is despicable beyond words. In the
garb of so-called democracy, now in tatters, the tyrannical
BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance government is now openly steamrolling their plan
to rig the upcoming national elections scheduled for early 2007. Having
bolstered the police and other law enforcement agencies with recruits from
among diehards of their respective parties and arming them with modern
repressive weapons and equipments, the government has unleashed them on the
common people daring to protest as entitled to by their constitutional
rights, against the installed mechanism of rigging, unbridled corruption,
spiraling costs of food and essentials, power and water shortages,
lawlessness, and importantly, unabated killings of especially political
opponents.

In fact, the government\'s chosen Chief Advisor of the Caretaker Government
waiting in the wing to takeover; its selected Chief Election Commissioner,
two new Commissioners and recently appointed 450 Election Polling Officers;
its politically selected civil bureaucrats stationed in strategic positions
at all levels; and its very own officers heading the armed forces,
intelligence agencies, and law enforcement forces, the message is clear,
that is, victory must be theirs at all costs. The message carries also
their belief that the people do not need to have rights, that their rights
are assumed by the Alliance, and that the Alliance knows how best to use
those rights for the people\'s good and country. In reality, the people are
not to have a say on anything, their hands and feet are hogtied, and any
attempt by them to resist the situation means merciless acts of repression
and torture in remand.

It seems the tyrannical attitude of the BNP-Jamati-Islami Government to
grasp on to power stems from desire to enjoy undisturbed their ill-gotten
wealth accumulated through corruption, and indeed also for their own
survival in Bangladesh. Surely, the situation in the country is an
unbearable one and beyond words calling for immediate action from the
international community to rescue democracy and to set it aright again on
its natural course. To do so, the international community, in the spirit of
globalize culture, would need to use all influence on the BNP-Jamati-Islami
Alliance to persuade it in following the path of sanity, to accept the
election and electoral reforms placed in the Parliament by me on behalf of
the 14 party opposition alliance, and to monitor the national elections in
great numbers, and from well ahead in time.


Question 2: How many defenders of democracy have been killed during the
last years?

Answer: Soonest results were declared after the rigged national elections
in October 2001, the BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance began celebrating their
manipulated victory by raging an onslaught on the life and property of the
Awami League workers, supporters, and even voters. The killing spree led to
thousands of death accompanied by rape of opposition women and ruthless
pillage of properties. Beginning at grassroots, the massacre scaled upwards
with the killings of Mr. Ahsanullah Master, Member of Parliament and one of
the most popular Awami Leaders, and Mr. SAMS Kibria, Member of Parliament
and former Finance Minister and Executive Directive of ESCAP.

The killing culminated with the grenade attack on me on 21 August 2004
leaving Ivy Rahman, the Awami League\'s Women\'s Secretary and a leading
women leader, dead along with 24 others with over 500 injured and maimed.
To execute their extermination plan, the BNP-Jamati-Islami government
released over 70,000 convicts from jails with the understanding they would
assist in completing the pogrom. Indeed so many were killed that to a
question in the Parliament in October 2003, the State Minister for Home
Affairs, Mr. Lutfozzaman Babar, himself admitted with a sense of pride his
Ministry\'s success in limiting the number of killed to only 9,700. The
figure was of course a grossly reduced one and with the continuation of
killing going on till today the widely accepted figure is over 26,000 dead.

I believe each and every one killed because of their connection with the
Awami League was a defender of democracy. For the Awami league from its
inception has been a committed democratic political party struggling for
democracy, democratic values, ideals and principles in the then Pakistan
and later in Bangladesh. The Awami League has always formed government
through elections. On the other hand, the BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance, began
by usurping power in 1975 with military dictator Major Ziaur Rahman
displacing the civilian President Justice Sayem.

Question 3: What role does the government position of the Islamists play?

Answer: Secularism, in the Bangladesh Constitution, was enshrined as a
cardinal principle reflecting the historical harmonious coexistence of
followers of all faiths and religions from time immemorial in this region.
After the brutal assassination of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu
Sheikh Muibur Rahman and 18 closest members of his family by some
over-ambitious army conspirators, through some cunning maneuvers, Major
General Ziaur Rahman usurped power. One of his first acts was to remove
secularism from the Bangladesh Constitution thereby allowing religious
based parties a role in the politics of the country. The Jamati-Islami
Party, the Islamic Oikyo Jote and a few other Islamic parties emerged in
the political scene. Immediately, these reactionary and radical religious
based parties were welcomed by Major General Ziaur Rahman in his fold, as
alliance partners of his newly formed Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Since then these religious based parties have been playing an important
role as a devoted alliance of BNP.

The objective of the religious parties, especially the Jamati-Islami Party
is to remove traditional secularism and democracy, and instead install a
Shariah government in Bangladesh. Since Jamati-Islami Party lacked popular
appeal, its calculated strategy was to latch on to BNP forming alliance
governments wherein they could resort to mounting propaganda with official
machinery at its disposal. Such is the case of the present Alliance
government where the two prominent Jamati-Islami leaders are holding
cabinet portfolios of Agriculture, and Social Welfare. As Bangladesh is
primarily an agro-based country, the Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Matiur
Rahman Nizami has been using his Ministry in promoting the image and
influence of the Jamati-Islami Party all across the country. Similarly, the
other Cabinet Minister Mr. Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, holding the
portfolio of Social Welfare, have issued permission for over 600 Islamic
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which are creating Madrasahs
teaching radical religious ideas. Their goal is to mobilize more votes for
the 2007 elections to win more seats in the Parliament, and ultimately to
win majority seats in the 2011 elections thus establishing a Shariah
government.

On the other hand, the BNP holds on to Jamati-Islami Party for their votes
and seats, which together with their own make possible formation of
alliance governments. For this alliance of convenience, the BNP bears with
all the nefarious activities of the Jamati-Islami Party followers many of
whom have turned extremists and terrorists for expeditious installation of
Shariah government. Thus, the creation of terrorist chiefs Shaekh Abdur
Rahman and Siddiqul Islam Bangla Bhai and others, earlier protected and
patronized by the Alliance government, but recently arrested for going out
of their control. According to these leaders of the terrorist
organizations, Jamaitul Mujahadin Bangladesh (JMB) and JBMB, they have
suicide squad of 2000, over 20,000 terrorists, and nearly a million
followers. Despite their proud disclosure, the BNP turns a blind eye simply
for their support in the national elections of 2007.


Question 4: You yourself have been targeted many times. Can you tell how?

Answer: In his struggle for Bangladesh\'s independence, my father
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made enemies of those who collaborated
with the then Pakistani military rulers and the occupation army in our
country. These collaborators were small in number believing in one Islamic
Pakistan despite severe economic exploitation and inhuman oppression of
people in our part of the country. After Bangladesh\'s independence, these
traitors grouped in political parties, Islamic in character, like the
Jamati-Islami Party, the Islamic Oikyo Jote and others with the dream of
reuniting Pakistan. In their mischievous endeavor they conspired with some
over-ambitious army personnel and killed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
and eighteen close members of the family on 15 August 1975.

Being abroad at the time, my younger sister Sheikh Rehana and I were saved.
The killers\' sinister plan was to eliminate the entire family to remove all
antagonists. Therefore, they continued pursuing their plan to kill my
sister and me even though we were living abroad. Since security is good in
Europe, made more secure by my father\'s party, the Awami League members
living abroad, their attempts were time and again foiled. Subsequently,
after Major General Ziaur Rahman, one of the proponents of my father\'s
murder who immediately became President of the country, paid the price with
his assassination in 1981, I returned to Bangladesh. In my crusade for the
establishment of democracy in Bangladesh, several attempts were made on my
life with an open daylight volley of gunfire at a public meeting in
Chittagong in 24 June 1988 leaving nine people dead and countless injured.

Later, during 1996-2001 when I was the Prime Minister, at a public meeting
I was to speak in Kotalipara, my home district, in 2000, a 76kg bomb was
discovered planted near the dais by the security personnel. An intensive
investigation led to the arrest of the mastermind, Mufti Hannan, Head of
Harkatul Jihad, a fanatic terrorist organization. However, immediately on
assuming power, the BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance government released Mufti
Hannan. In the year 2005, Mufti Hannan was by accident arrested by Rapid
Action Battalion (RAB). Apprehending death in "crossfire" by RAB, Mufti
Hannan for his protection, blurted out to journalists present during his
arrest, of his close association with the first Home Minister, Mr. Altaf
Hossain, who had advised him on his release from jail in 2001 to lie low
till cases against him were withdrawn making Mufti Hannan a free man. Mr.
Altaf Hossain was supported in his nefarious arrangement by a couple of
Cabinet Ministers and several Alliance MPs. Mufti Hannan is on 128 days
remand but in reality is in protective custody with no sign of movement of
the court cases against him. It confirms the fact that his presence in the
Law Courts may result in his open revelation of the BNP-Jamati-Islami
Alliance\'s hand in the plan to kill me at Kotalipara.

Then occurred the latest assassination attempt on me on 21 August 2004 when
strangely the assassins safely escaped after hurling over a dozen grenades
in the public rally I was addressing, under the nose of police and all
other security agencies. Clearly BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance government
sponsored killers, whose escape was facilitated by law enforcement agents,
under high-level instructions, could not have carried out but such a
massive attack in broad daylight. This audacious attack received worldwide
condemnation. Nevertheless, it has not stopped the killers from their evil
design to assassinate me. Every other day I receive reports of plots and
conspiracies to kill me making my daily life a highly stressed and
oppressive one. They believe if I am out of the political scene then the
main opposition party, the Awami League, would be at disarray, and
disintegrate into small inconsequential non- threatening groups. They
believe in such a scenario the BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance could remain in
power forever.

Question 5: Why is Bangladesh such a violent nation?

Answer: People of all faiths and religions, in harmony and peace, have
inhabited our region in the South Asian sub-continent for over thousand
years. The serene deltaic topography crisscrossed by innumerable rivers and
streams in the region have had a tempering effect on those living here for
generations. Consequently, there evolved a culture, unique in itself,
strong and overwhelming enough to dissolve the barriers of religions and
faiths. Thus, participation and enjoyment of the festivals and festivities
of all faiths and religions, including inter-marriages, were a common
phenomenon. This was the unique Bengali secular culture, stronger than the
influence of any form of extremism, with its rich language and literature
bonding the people and forming the base on which Bangladesh was founded by
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

However, when Major General Ziaur Rahman, on becoming President, removed
secularism from the Bangladesh Constitution and allowed extreme Islamic
parties into the world of politics, he sowed the seed of division and
conflict in the hitherto harmonious society. His shortsighted
self-aggrandizing decision in due course culminated in a clash of
ideologies with his newly formed party BNP aligned with Jamati-Islami and
like-minded parties standing for religion based politics and resultant
extremism, and the Awami League for secularism. It is this clash that has
been giving way to violence from time to time. I believe until fanatic
terrorism and extremism is banished from Bangladesh and secularism allowed
to prevail, violence and conflict will remain the order of the day.

Question 6: How do you see the situation and the rights of the Christian
minority?

Answer: The symptom of extremism became apparent with the return of
Mujahideens from Afghanistan after their war under the Al-Qaida against the
former Soviet Union in the nineties. Bringing their ideas, experience and
training, these returnees began to mobilize themselves into formidable
groups especially with the patronage of the Jamati-Islami Party and
supportive blessings of BNP. Thus, encouraged and inspired by BNP,
Jamati-Islami and other religious parties, these trained militants began
bomb and grenade attacks on secular symbols and on Awami League events all
across the country in the late nineties with the purpose of making the
Awami League government in power look bad in the eyes of the common people.
This was the time when a Christian Church was first bombed during a Sunday
congregation in Gopalganj killing several devotees and injuring countless
others while engrossed in prayers. I believe under the BNP-Jamati-Islami
Alliance government, fanatic extremism have significantly increased, and
this government\'s continuance will further weaken secularism and threaten
followers of all faiths and religions, including the Christian minority in
Bangladesh.

Question 7: You have always protected them. Why?

Answer: As a child I had been imbued with secular ideas by both my parents
who were the product of a secular environment existing in our region in the
Asian sub-continent. In fact, their strong belief ensured secularism a
permanent place in the constitution of the Awami League Party at the time
of its formation. Later, secularism was incorporated as a cardinal
principle of the Bangladesh Constitution. Having been close to my father,
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, during his life long struggle for
democracy, freedom and Bengali nationalism, I also saw his love for
secularism. Moreover, in my academic journey through school, college, and
university, I experienced and relished the secular atmosphere, activities,
and learnt to admire secularism.

Among my many friends then and now are Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and of
other beliefs. I believe all religions preach goodness and peace, and abhor
evil and violence. I believe they are all founded by extraordinary saintly
personalities enlightened by a Supreme Being, and practiced in different
traditions and ways aiming at one goal - eternal salvation. I believe
religion and faith are personal in nature and not to be forcibly imposed on
others. I believe everyone has equal and same rights to follow their own
religions and faiths in any society.

In fact, people of all faith are presently working for me in my village and
city homes as well as offices. Moreover, over 800 children of all faiths
and religions, orphaned or destitute, are cared for, and given free
education by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial Trust established
by my sister, Sheikh Rehana, and myself, in memory of my father in the sole
property left to us at Road No: 32, Dhanmondi RA, in Dhaka. Clearly, with
the philosophy of and belief in secularism imbued in me, I am a committed
secularist, as were my parents and as are the overwhelming populace of
Bangladesh, ready to protect people of all faiths and religions, including
Christians.


Question 8: You have upcoming elections within half a year. What are the
best scenario and the worst scenario that these elections could lead to?

Answer: The results of the national elections scheduled for early January
2007 will determine which path Bangladesh will follow in the decades to
come. As I had mentioned earlier, in Bangladesh there has arisen a deadly
clash of ideologies, secularism versus extremism. Therefore, the national
elections must be held on a level playing field and conducted in a free,
fair and impartial manner. To make it possible, as an immediate start, the
Chief Election Commissioner and the two Election Commissioner must resign
or be removed for their brazen fiasco in preparing a fake voter\'s list
wasting public money worth Taka 100 crores with clear intention to ensure
election victory of the BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance.

A new Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners
acceptable to all political parties and civil society groups must be
appointed. The Election Commission, in a parallel move, must be cleaned of
all ruling Alliance cadres and activists appointed intentionally to
different posts for rigging the elections in the Alliance\'s favor. At the
same time, the Reforms of the Caretaker Government, Election Commission,
Electoral System, Electoral Laws and Rules as proposed by the 14-Party
Opposition and placed by me in the Parliament must be adopted and
implemented without further wastage of time. This would create an ideal
election environment allowing the people to decide their fate and the
country\'s future.

I am confident in such a free and fair environment, in the backdrop of mind
boggling corruption, repressive human rights conditions, rise of extremism
and terrorism, lawlessness, spiraling costs of food and essentials,
scarcity of power and water, my party- the Awami league will sweep the
elections with massive support of the people. It will be then a restart of
the resurgence and strengthening of secularism, renewal of my earlier
efforts for poverty alleviation, rural development, social welfare
measures, strict surveillance and control over prices, relentless war
against corruption, revitalization of the economy, among others, and
importantly, cleaning the country of terrorism and all forms of extremism.
With untiring efforts I would mobilize all available resources, and the
energy of the people, to realize "Sonar Bangla" or "Golden Bengal" as
envisioned by my father and the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh
Mujibur Rahman.

However, if the BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance Government does not accept the
Reforms, steamrolls their rigging blueprint to a one-sided election, and
assumes power, there would pervade enthused vigor of corruption, bad
governance and human rights abuse. Consequence would be dictatorship of the
worst kind, an economic collapse, social and cultural disintegration, and
significantly, under patronage for eliminating secular opposition a speedy
rise of extremism and fanatic terrorism. Obviously, the people of
Bangladesh, comprising 140 million, would never remain suppressed or bear
with such injustice. Thus, a revolt is inevitable leading to a chaotic
civil war heralding disaster for Bangladesh, a dangerous spillover in the
South Asian region, and far flung repercussions around our globalize world.

Question 9: What are, as you see it, the three greatest challenges for
Bangladesh during the next few years?

Answer: Experience of the BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance\'s bad governance from
2001 to 2006 indicates unbridled corruption devouring the entrails of the
economy. It has become a major destructive challenge to be confronted for
total elimination, on an immediate basis. Out of corruption of the last
four and a half years has appeared poverty in a massive scale compounded
with an ever-growing population as the next big challenge. It calls for all
out measures aiming at alleviating poverty through increased available soft
loan micro-credit, speedy rural development, social welfare measures,
education, among others. Added to these two incorrigible maladies was
BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance government\'s patronage, and protection of
extreme elements giving rise to terrorism and fanatic extremism. This is
one challenge that would destroy all traditional and good things that
characterize a secular progressive democratic Bangladesh. Terrorism, I see
is a terrifying phenomenon that must be completely eradicated from the soil
of Bangladesh.

Question 10: What does Bangladesh play in the region in countries like
Pakistan and India?

Answer: Shortly after liberation of Bangladesh, recovering from the brutal
crackdown of the occupation army of military ruled Pakistan, Bangabandhu
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, declared the new nation\'s
foreign policy to be based on "Friendship towards all and malice towards
none". Thus, as a true statesman that he was, he started the healing
process within Bangladesh and with its neighbors in the South Asian
Sub-Continent. With the establishment of mutual recognition and diplomatic
relations, Bangladesh and Pakistan set forth in building a bilateral
relations based on respect, equality, and earlier ties. In a short while,
Bangladesh reached an enviable position of being friendly with all six
other countries in the region, particularly India and Pakistan. In fact,
between the two countries that had fought three savage wars, two over
Kashmir and one over Bangladesh, our newly born nation began to play a
moderating and eventually a mediating role.

During the period 1996 to 2001, when I was Prime Minister of Bangladesh,
both India followed by Pakistan tested nuclear weapons to the horror of the
world. An uneasy dangerous situation prevailed all over the South Asian
Sub-Continent with a terrifying feeling of an all out nuclear war between
the two bitter enemies. At that moment, I took a spontaneous decision to
talk first directly over telephone to both the Prime Ministers of India and
Pakistan expressing my concern over the possibility of total disaster of
our region. Then shortly after, I took a trip to New Delhi and Islamabad,
impressing on both leaders that all would lose in a nuclear exchange, and
that it would be wise to allow preservation to prevail. I believe my timely
and bold decision in meeting them diffused the otherwise volatile suicidal
situation, in easing the tension, in leading to negotiations, and in
peaceful settlement.

I took the relationship of the two countries a step further with the
holding of a Three Nation Business Summit inviting the Prime Minister I.K.
Gujral of India and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan to lead their
respective delegations to Dhaka. During the Summit, I ensured that both the
Prime Ministers had sufficient time and space to be in each other\'s company
and come to friendly terms. It also led to the promotion of business and
trade interests between their countries as well as with Bangladesh.
Therefore, since action speaks louder than words, I was able to prove that
Bangladesh indeed could and in fact should play its unique enviable
moderating role as and when called for between India and Pakistan, as well
as with other nations, if need be, in the South Asian Sub-Continent.


Question 11: What can the international community do to strengthen
democracy and protect the minority?

Answer: In a globalize world, no country is isolated from others. In fact,
what happens in one country has direct or indirect effect in other
countries, near or far. Moreover, this ever-growing closeness is
transforming countries from other ideologies to the path of democracy.

In Bangladesh, Major General Ziaur Rahman cut our democratic journey after
independence in 1971 short with the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh
Mujibur Rahman on 21 August 1975, by introducing military dictatorship. It
continued after his assassination in May 1981 with the dictatorial rule of
Lieutenant General H.M. Irshad till his surrender to people\'s power in
1990. Then from 1991 to 1996 followed the semi-dictatorial rule of Prime
Minister Khaleda Zia in the tradition of her military husband, Major
General Ziaur Rahman. From 1996 to 2001, the Awami League government
returned Bangladesh to pure democracy and freedom after 21 years of
tireless struggle. Unfortunately, the dictatorial BNP Party aligned with
anti-liberation force-the Jamati-Islami Party and others took advantage of
the sudden freedom and conspired with vested interests in electoral
positions, to rig the election and claim power. At present, the result of
their dictatorial oppressive corrupt governance is clear to all at home and
abroad.

In a difficult situation as is now prevailing in Bangladesh, the
international community must use all their influence, even if it means
non-cooperation in aid as well as in trade matters, to press the
dictatorial BNP-Jamati-Islami Alliance into accepting the Reforms of the
14-Party Opposition as a starter, thereby ensuring a free, fair, and
impartial national elections in Bangladesh. Using the same tools, the
influential international community could pressurize the main Alliance
member-the BNP- to divorce itself from their marriage of political
convenience from the Jamati-Islami Party, the Islamic Oikyo Jote and other
religious and extremist groups, for the resurrection of the traditional
secular thoughts and philosophy which only can guarantee the religious and
tribal minorities the air of freedom and peace.