Ever since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, a country in South Asia, none of the governments has succeeded in ensuring the rule of law or freeing the country from the curse of corruption. Global corruption indexes had never been encouraging when it came to any of the South Asian nations – be it Bangladesh, or India, the largest democracy in the world. Corruption enjoys state-level patronization, while the Panama Papers or Paradise Papers have exposed a disturbing picture of the density of corruption in those countries.

As to Bangladesh, mostly because of corrupt individuals occupying the important positions in the country’s politics or economy, the perception of ensuring the rule of law remain greatly betrayed. Bangladesh stands amongst those rogue nations where courts are under the direct control of the rulers and the executive branch.

For the past few years, each of the ruling parties and forces in Bangladesh, including those military-controlled regimes, although had touted combating terrorism and militancy, the sordid fact is – the state machinery has always been enthusiastically active in making a mockery of such commitments. While perpetrators of heinous crimes such as terrorism and militancy enjoy shelter from the ruling elites, individuals who had committedly confronted terrorism and militancy have been routinely harassed and subjected to judicial intimidations.

Since 2002, signs religious extremism and militancy started showing-up in Bangladesh. Most of those elements had enjoyed patronization and funding from terror-patron nations in the Middle East, in particular. But the matter turned extremely complicated when a militancy group named Jama’atul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) launched countrywide bomb attacks thus rattling the security agencies and the government. A deep sense of frustration was visibly both within the policymakers in Bangladesh as well as its foreign allies, anticipating, the country was heading to becoming another militancy-prone nation like Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Another incident which took place on August 21, 2004, in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city, where the members of JMB went into grenade attack on a political rally organized by Awami League with the heinous agenda of assassinating then leader of the opposition Sheikh Hasina. It should be mentioned here that, Mrs Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the legendary leader and founding father of Bangladesh. To the international community, Mujib enjoys the status similar to that of Mahatma Gandhi of India or Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Following this gruesome grenade attack, a series of conspiracy theories started roaming the Bangladesh society, while Awami League and its allies in the media put the blame on the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Possibly such claims were not entirely without substance as later it was revealed that two of the top officials of Bangladesh’s key intelligence agencies had hands behind this incident. Few months before the August 21 grenade attack, on April 1, 2004, a consignment of weapons was intercepted in the Chittagong port city and later it was revealed that the consignment was destined for India’s northeastern states, where an armed insurgency group named United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) was active demanding separation from the mainland.

Following recovery of this huge arms consignment and against after the August 21 grenade attack, one man – the then junior minister in charge of the Home Affairs ministry, Md. Lutfozzaman Babar took personal initiatives in identifying the culprits. He had successfully got nabbed Mufti Abdul Hannan, the mastermind of the August 21 grenade attack. Mufti had joined the Afghan mujahidin during the Afghan-Soviet war and had drawn the attention of Osama Bin Laden. On his return from the Afghan battlefield, Mufti had established Harkat Ul Jihad al Islami (Huji), a dangerous militancy outfit housing hundreds of ex-Afghan fighters. Being the minister in charge of the Home Ministry, Mr Babar was personally monitoring this case to ensure punishment of the perpetrators of this crime.

In both the cases – the recovery of weapons on April 1, 2004, and the subsequent grenade attack on Awami League’s rally on August 21, 2004, Mr Babar had exhibited utmost sincerity in investigating the cases. He had provided foolproof security to Mrs Hasina in order to ensure her safety and security.

As it has already been stated, two of the top officials of Bangladesh’s intelligence agencies were allegedly involved into the April 1 arms haul and there had again been allegations of their participation in the August 21 grenade attack.

One of the officials is Maj Gen Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury, the director general of Forces Intelligence, who came from madrassa-educational background. The other official is Brig Gen Md. Abdur Rahim, the director general of the National Security Intelligence. Both of these organizations are under the direct command of the Prime Minister. Naturally, even if those officials were involved behind the April 1 arms haul or the assassination plot of August 21, it was impossible for a junior minister like Mr Babar to have the slightest idea of any of such conspiracies or crimes.

But surprisingly, Md. Lutfozzaman Babar was indicted in both the cases – April 1 arms haul case and August 21 grenade attack case and was even handed death penalty by the trial courts in 2014 and 2018 respectively. The investigating agencies could not find any involvement of Mr Babar into any of the incidents, though charge-sheets were pressed against him by the investigating agency – Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Both the investigations were led by a controversial officer of CID – Abdul Kahhar Akand, who had joined Awami League and even sought nomination for contesting in 2008-general election. Years after his retirement, Mr Akand was brought back into CID under a politically charged contract, which is again rare in the history of police administration in Bangladesh.

To most of the officials and members of CID in particular and the police department in general, Mr Akand is known as an opportunity-monger stuntman lacking any morale. He also is accused of massive corruption and money laundering, though he enjoys indemnity possibly because of his “services” to the ruling elites.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has very successfully transformed Bangladesh into one of the fastest growing economies in the world. She has greatly contributed to the empowerment of women. But of course, she does not have similar success in ensuring the rule of law in the country. A nation lacking rule of law would be seen in a negative way by the international community despite any progress in economic or social segments. Hopefully, Mrs Hasina will now take initiatives in salvaging country’s legal system from the extreme controversy.

Jennifer Hicks is the former editorial assistant of The New York Sun.

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