Muslim majority nation Bangladesh faced a serious law and order problem from the radical Islamic group, Hefazat-e-Islam, and leftist organisations, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit there. Several persons died in confrontations with the security forces and many have been arrested. This reveals the vulnerable underbelly of a country run by a government committed to secular values. Pakistan, which is an unabashed Islamic state, is presently facing a serious law and order threat from the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which is led by ‘cleric’ Saad Rizvi, presently under arrest. A campaign undertaken by the group seeking expulsion of the French Ambassador has now expanded to demanding its leader’s release and has created conditions where steps are having to be taken by the government not unsimilar to the kind adopted in India’s J&K not so long ago. These include suspension of social media and large scale deployment of troops.
All of this indicates the continuing threat posed by fundamentalist groups to the basic structure of these nations. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, is resolved to take these groups head on, but a single misstep could destroy the balance of power in a country where the military is not averse to dabbling in politics. On the other hand, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has, from the start of his tenure, played footsie with the fundamentalists, something that his predecessors from the Muslim League and PPP never did, despite their many shortcomings. All the years the Pakistan Army made use of the Islamists it did not ever provide them the legitimacy that Imran has in his short term.
This resurgence of fundamentalism, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has posed a serious economic problem, threatens to create a catastrophic situation, particularly in Pakistan. There have been liberal cultural traditions from well before the provinces of Pakistan became a ‘separate nation’ based on religion. These have survived the many travails that country has been through – but the gradual deculturalisation of an underclass in the foreign-funded madrassas has created an existential threat to this sub-continental society. The resort to violence and disregard for ‘democratic’ norms has left Pakistan’s civil society aghast. There is concern and questions are being asked, but the answers sadly are quite unpalatable. The cynical use of Islamism to feed terrorism in India and Afghanistan was bound to rebound on Pakistan one day. Bangladesh has been aware of the threat posed by such groups, because they were also associated with residual loyalty towards Pakistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, is waking up to it now. What turn events take in the future remains to be seen, but India should be taking careful note.