Vacuum spreads in Dhaka

One of the prime concerns of an able  physician is to ensure that the curative process applied to an ailing patient does not end up being harmful. Bangladesh has been politically ailing for some time now and the grave symptoms of 30 people killed in political clashes that followed former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s term in October 2006 meant the nation being wheeled into the intensive care unit, courtesy the military-backed interim government. Ms Zia’s arrest in Dhaka on Monday on charges of corruption follows the arrest of her arch-rival and another former PM, Sheikh Hasina, on extortion charges in July. In other words, the two key players of mainstream Bangladeshi politics are behind bars. The interim government has been in this sort of spring cleaning mode ever since. The question is with a December 2008 elections tentatively scheduled by the very same spring-cleaners, will there be anyone left to participate in the democratic process when it returns repaired and sparkling?

There is no doubt that it was necessary to clean the stables. The levels of corruption and strong-arm tactics evident from both sides of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-Awami League divide was growing in intensity, making not only Bangladesh reel in anarchy but also destabilising the entire region. It would be premature to state whether the vacuum-cleaning process underway will result in a clean State by December 2008.

But what worries many, both within Bangladesh and around the region including in India, is the political vacuum that is liable to be filled by ‘non-mainstream’ political forces. Ms Zia’s BNP’s alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and the Islami Oikya Jote allowed the Islamicist voices to grow stronger. When seen in the context of the suspected links with organisations like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, the matter of the present political vacuum becomes important. The enforced disengagement of the political classes in Bangladesh should not end up with the entrenchment of forces that could be much more dangerous to the country and the region.

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