The government should change its present strategy to contain violent extremism and political threats, says Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group.
In a report released on Sunday, the non-profit organisation suggested that the government should be reconciled with the opposition, should make political compromises, end the repressive use of law enforcement agencies and stop targeting opponents and silencing critics.
“The government needs to recognise that it is in its interest to change course, lest it fail to either contain violent extremism or counter political threats,” said the think-tank that seeks to prevent or resolve deadly conflicts.
Heavy-handed measures are denting the government's legitimacy, according to the report titled “Political conflict, extremism and criminal justice in Bangladesh”.
“As the Awami League government's political rivalry with the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) reaches new heights, so has its repression.”
The group says political conflicts between the AL and the BNP have resulted in more violence and a brutal state response.
“The government's excesses against political opponents and critics include enforced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killings.”
A permissive legal environment in Bangladesh is creating opportunities for extremist outfits to regroup and that was reflected in the killings of secular bloggers and foreigners and attacks on religious minorities last year, says the organisation.
“The government's reaction to rising extremism, including arrest and prosecution of several suspects without due process and transparency, is fuelling alienation that these groups can further exploit.
“Reconciling with the opposition and hence stabilising the state requires both political compromises and an end to the repressive use of law enforcement agencies,” the group says.
Politicising the police and using elite forces, particularly the Rapid Action Battalion, to silence political dissent, are laying the seeds of future violence, according to the report that further gives critical views about the International Crimes Tribunal and the judiciary.
“By concentrating on targeting the opposition, the police are failing to curb criminality.”
The prisons are overburdened with opposition leaders and activists, the think-tank says in the report.
The BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami marked the anniversary of the disputed 2014 elections with indiscriminately violent strikes and traffic blockades, which were dealt brutally by the state, it observes.
“The BNP now appears less willing to resort to violence to unseat the government; its decision to re-enter the political mainstream gives the government an opportunity it should exploit by urgently resuming dialogue with the opposition.”
Accepting legitimate avenues of participation and dissent would help regain some lost legitimacy and the trust of citizens in the state's provision of both justice and security, according to the report.
The international community can help promote political reconciliation, in the US and EU case, by pressurising Dhaka to respect civil and political rights, and in New Delhi's by using close ties to urge the ruling Awami League to allow the opposition legitimate political expression and participation, the group says.
“There is no time to lose,” it said, adding that if the mainstream dissent is suppressed, more and more government opponents may come to view violence as their only recourse.
The group recommends that to respect the constitutional right to free speech and dissent, the government of Bangladesh should withdraw all cases against journalists, human rights groups and other civil society actors, which are on “vague and dubious grounds” such as expressing views deemed “derogatory” of public officials or against the “public interest”. The government should also end press closures and raids on media offices.
The think-tank also recommends the withdrawal of the 2014 National Broadcast Policy and removal of restrictions on online expression imposed in the Information and Communication Technology Act.
To push for a broader political reform agenda, it says the international community link some development assistance like the restoration of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) in the US market to demonstrable improvements in human rights, free speech and association and fair trial.