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Bangladesh's ordeal by fire

Bangladesh's ordeal by fire

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: December 10, 2002
URL: http://www.hindustantimes.com/2002/Dec/10/printedition/101202/detEDI02.shtml

When one drops mud in water, it's not the mud that becomes clean, but the water that becomes muddy. This is the simple lesson that Khaleda Zia may grudgingly be learning after bomb blasts in four cinemas in Mymensingh claimed more than 20 lives and left 100 injured.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party came to power after forming a coalition with Islamic fundamentalist parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami. Since becoming prime minister, Begum Zia has tried to allay fears that her government will not be hijacked by its more extremist elements. Unfortunately, that promise has been belied and the social fabric of Bangladesh is suffering as a result.

It's difficult to understand what to make of Begum Zia's reaction to the Id-ul-Fitr attacks. Her first response was to send in the army to tackle the mayhem - a clear indication that this was something that the government wanted to tackle seriously. But then, by the same evening, the prime minister succumbed to her usual Pavlovian response to

any crisis - she rounded up the 'usual suspects'. Like any other government whose existence rests on the support of extremists, the BNP-led one in Dhaka is also paranoid. It is this sense of paranoia that has made Begum Zia set the police on an arresting spree, putting journalists and opposition politicians behind bars. She also alleged that the blasts were the handiwork of those "trying to malign Bangladesh abroad".

Perhaps, there is still time for damage control if Begum Zia is willing to look at the facts without flinching. Even if she continues to deny the existence of an Al-Qaeda network in Bangladesh - and the interior minister initially hinted (only to deny it later) that the blasts "could" be the work of the terror group - surely the recent rise in Islamic fundamentalism in the country can't be denied. Attacks against minorities and the Jamaat's open bid to turn Bangla-desh into an Islamic State does not portend well. Begum Zia must realise that she came to power by playing with fire. She should now see to it that innocent Bangladeshis are not consumed by it.

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