On the anniversary of August 21 grenade attack — a grueling and chilling plot targeting then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina — BNP’s acting chief Tarique Rahman and the party’s Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir disseminated a wave of what rights activists and political analysts called out as outright denial of Tarqiue’s “direct involvement” with the perpetrators who lobbed grenades in 2004 at an anti-terror rally leading to the deaths of at least 24 AL activists.
“The August 21 grenade attack trial was a staged drama by the government,” BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was quoted as saying while Tarique came up with even more ridiculous claims that “Awami League is trying to mislead people against BNP over the Joj Mia issue,” to cover up his widely exposed collusion with militants who were shielded by the then BNP-Jamaat regime that ruled the country between 2001 and 2006.
It seems Tarique’s decade-old attempt of self-defense was intensified as his speech was circulated by BNP’s social media accounts as well as by party leaders.
Ironically, it was the then BNP-led alliance government that in 2004 hurriedly concluded the investigation into the August 21 grenade attack on an Awami League rally, claiming that it was orchestrated by none other than AL men.
Later, the party again claimed that there was actually no political involvement in the attack and picked up a hapless Joj Mia from his Senbagh house in Noakhali on June 10, 2005, saying he was responsible for the carnage. [The Daily Star]
With that arrest, another cooked up story was produced to misguide the nation and guard the criminals. In custody, the law enforcers reportedly tortured Joj Mia and threatened to make him a victim of a set-up crossfire incident and to kill his mother and sister as well, revealed media reports back then.
All the accused, including Tarique Rahman and former top intelligence officials, were found guilty and handed down punishments for the grenade attack.
Now, decades later, the brazen attempt by Tarique to project himself as innocent, perpetuated by BNP leaders, has emerged as a new staple for discussion, since he has been living in London as a fugitive since 2008.
BNP has also been criticized for its alleged ties to extremist groups and for its opposition to the International Crimes Tribunal, which was established to try those responsible for war crimes committed during Bangladesh's struggle for independence.
Let’s look at some of the notable incidents:
2001 Post-Election Violence: There were countless reports of violence and irregularities during the general elections in 2001, which led to BNP coming to power. The opposition parties, including the Awami League, raised serious allegations of electoral fraud and vote rigging. There were reports of BNP engaging in various forms of manipulation to ensure their victory, including stuffing ballot boxes, intimidating voters, and misusing state resources for electoral gain.
After the election in 2001, BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami activists around the country went on a rampage of looting, rape and killing of religious minorities and opposition party members, especially Awami League activists and secular voices in the country. The BNP-led government did not attempt to stop the violence, rather perpetrators enjoyed the shelter of local police.
2004 Grenade Attack: The grenade attack in Dhaka was a major terrorist attack that took place in Bangladesh on August 21, 2004. The attack targeted an anti-terrorism rally organized by the Awami League, which was then the opposition party. The rally was held at Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka. The attack resulted in a significant loss of life and left numerous people injured.
During the rally, several army grade grenades were detonated, creating chaos and panic among the participants. The attack killed at least 22 people and injured hundreds more. Among those killed was Ivy Rahman, the women's affairs secretary of Awami League, and many more party leaders and members.
The attackers targeted the Awami League leadership, including party President Sheikh Hasina, who narrowly escaped the attack with severe injuries. Later investigations into the attack revealed that it was a well-coordinated and planned act of terrorism. The investigation implicated members of the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), an extremist group with ties to international terrorist networks, and during the trial it was revealed that meetings took place in the presence of Tarique Rahman at his office called Hawa Bhaban.
2001-2006 Political Unrest: The period from 2001 to 2006 was marked by political instability, protests, and widespread violence. The BNP-led government faced criticism for its handling of the political situation and its response to protests by opposition groups on various political, social issues. There were many instances of political violence, clashes between rival political factions, and protests. There were several incidents of political assassinations during this period as well. Opposition leaders and activists were targeted in various acts of violence, which added to the overall atmosphere of instability and unrest.
The ex-finance minister of Bangladesh, renowned economist ASM Kibria, was murdered in his hometown.
A grenade attack on the then British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Anwar Choudhury, killed three people at Hazrat Shahjalal Shrine in Sylhet. About 70 others were injured.
Religious Extremism and Militancy: Bangladesh had faced challenges related to religious extremism and militancy during the BNP-Jamaat rule. There were concerns about the rise of extremist ideologies and militant activities during this time and reports of violence against religious minorities often made news.
On August 17, 2005, around 500 bomb explosions occurred at 300 locations in 63 districts of Bangladesh. Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for the bombings.
The 2001-2006 period saw many security challenges, including incidents of terrorism and extremism, and oppression of religious minorities. Freedom of speech and media independence faced challenges during the BNP-Jamaat rule. Independence of the judiciary collapsed and allegations of undue political influence on legal proceedings became regular practice. Economic and social development were hindered by political instability and governance issues.
The writer is editor of the Australia-based Bangla portal muktamancha.com.