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It is the site of a larger battle between forces of moderation and extremism.
The continuing violence in Bangladesh, following the execution of Islamist leader Abdul Quader Mollah, and the political cloud over the general elections scheduled for January 5 are of great consequence for the entire subcontinent.
That Bangladesh is deeply divided on these issues is not in doubt. If many in Bangladesh have welcomed the execution of Mollah, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, as long overdue, radical groups have gone on the rampage. Mollah was convicted by a war crimes tribunal of murdering a family of 11 and aiding the Pakistan army in killing 369 people. The divide in Dhaka has fed into the bitter rivalry between the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Khaleda Zia, that has long undermined political stability in the nation and limited the realisation of its vast economic potential.
The current violence is also about two very different conceptions of Bangladesh — Hasina swears by secularism and ethnic nationalism; Zia is now in the thrall of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which collaborated with the Pakistan army in the genocide against Bengalis in 1971, and other extremist groups that seek to bring the nation under the sway of political Islam. Those who joined the Pakistan army in mass murder should have been brought to justice long ago. The political twists and turns in Bangladesh over the last four decades gave much impunity to those who participated in the genocide. After her massive victory in 2010, Hasina formed a war crimes tribunal to bring the collaborators to justice.
The unfolding developments in Bangladesh are not just internal to the country. They are about a troubled history that binds the subcontinent — the liberation of Bangladesh from the clutches of the Pakistan army by Indian forces in 1971. It is also about the political future of the subcontinent. As extremists took to the streets in Bangladesh, their ideological kin in Pakistan were quick to react. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, now going by the name of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, led the funeral prayers in Multan for Mollah and accused India of being a part of the conspiracy to eliminate "Pakistan lovers" in Bangladesh.