The High Court’s order cancelling the registration of the Jamaat-e-Islami has left the party with not many options. Specially if the Supreme Court turns down its appeal against the High Court order.
The Jamaat will also have to get an immediate stay order to stop the Election Commission from implementing the High Court verdict — or else the Jamaat stands effectively debarred from contesting all elections including the one coming up for the parliament later this year or early next.
At its hour of peril, the Jamaat actually finds itself totally isolated — bereft of friends and left to face its usual foes.
Pakistan, to maintain whose unity the Jamaat fought and earned its share of notoriety by perpetrating horrible atrocities against its own people, has washed its hands off the Islamist party. Its foreign office has said: “Jamaat and what happens to it in Bangladesh is the internal matter of Bangladesh”.
That in a way is a subtle admission of the atrocities that were committed in 1971 Liberation War, which the current Pakistani government is unwilling to get stained with. So leaving Jamaat to its fate works for Mian Nawaz Sharif perfectly. He is himself uncomfortable with the Pakistan army which brought down his government in 1999 and would not like to get entangled with 1971 war crimes because that is bad publicity for Pakistan, when it seeks to project itself as a key ally of the West in the war against terror.
Sharif may still not consider putting out a public apology to Bangladesh for the horrendous atrocities of 1971 because that may upset the army once again which he cannot afford. But why stand up for Jamaat! Not the least because it is hardly popular in Bangladesh and never stands a chance of coming to power on its own. Why add to Pakistan’s own unpopularity, which is expectedly profound in Bangladesh by standing up for Jamaat! Sharif is smart enough to see through that.
Now to Jamaat’s domestic allies. BNP and its top leaders may cry foul of Bangladesh’s justice system as being undermined by the ruling Awami League — whipping that up serves its campaign against the ruling alliance.
But the BNP has no great reason to come out in support of Jamaat and defend its case for registration.
Since Bangladesh returned to democracy from military rule in 1991, the BNP has needed the Jamaat to win elections because of the decisive vote bank the Jamaat enjoyed. But the Jamaat’s controversial wartime baggage has been becoming a huge liability for the BNP as it jockeys for power in a country which has upturned ruling governments every term since 1991. What happens if the Jamaat fails to contest if its registration is not restored? Will a Jamaat voter vote Awami League! Perhaps never. The Jamaat voter, like all hardline Islamists in Bangladesh, will have no choice but to vote for BNP in an electoral contest.
So the BNP is not expected to make much noise on the Jamaat losing its registration except for the general critique of the ‘justice system under a government using it’ — that would expectedly be one of the many issues the BNP would raise in its litany of complaints against the ruling party. But much like having to support ‘on principle’ the war crimes trial (though calling it a farce to undermine the government), the BNP is not expected to go to town in a big way on the Jamaat losing its registration. In private, many BNP leaders, specially the freedom fighters in their ranks, are happy this has happened. The BNP is now free to fight the Awami League on its own terms, without having to carry a controversial ally who has failed to find a place in the heart of the nation. Quite literally.
What about other Islamist groups who would normally be seen as blood brothers of Jamaat! Many of them including the Hifazat-e-Islam would love to see what has happened, because it frees the limited political space for hardline Islamist politics that Jamaat represented. With the Jamaat out of the scene, if that happens, the space for hardline political Islam is left vacant for others to jump in and capitalise on. In fact, some of these groups like the Hifazat may actually cash in on the Jamaat’s desire to keep that brand of politics alive in Bangladesh for obvious reasons by getting access to its considerable financial resources – at least until these groups have been able to carve out a space for themselves.
In fact, the war crimes trials have exposed Jamaat to the new generation, Bangladesh’s GenNext. The media coverage of the trials have brought to this generation the sordid history of one of the most brutal repression campaign that gave birth to Bangladesh. A hard earned freedom any proud Bangladeshi will like to defend with every drop of his blood. Jamaat’s role in that war — being on the wrong side of history — will never enable it to find a place, as they say, in the heart of the nation. Even those who want to pursue hardline Islamist politics would like to do so without the 1971 baggage of Jamaat. That includes the younger generation of Jamaat leaders who want a party — perhaps a new one — which does not carry the foul odour of 1971 war crimes with them.
And for the Awami League and its allies, the de-registration of Jamaat gives them a chance to whip up secular nationalist passions that had subsided after the Shahbagh platform was forcibly packed off by the government. Because revival of these passions seems to be the only way to beat the anti-incumbency trends that became evident in the five recent city corporation polls.
So Jamaat now finds itself on the floor, alone and friendless. Will that force the party to go underground and become a terror group, as many in the US and other western intelligence have long feared? That’s a question only time can answer.
Syed Bashir is a bdnews24.com columnist.BDnews24.com