Dhaka, March 24 : A fierce social media ‘war’ has erupted between pro-Liberation Bangladeshis and the Pakistanis resenting Bangladesh’s much vaunted progress and growing relations with India ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country.
Modi will be the Guest of Honour at the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh Independence on March 26, the day in 1971 when Pakistan’s brutal army started ‘Operation Searchlight’, a genocidal campaign to stamp out the Bengali revolt for Independence.
Islamist radical groups like Hifazat have threatened to block Modi’s entry into Dhaka city from the airport, prompting furious security preparations by Bangladesh security forces. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered tough action against anyone trying to disrupt Modi’s visit .
Modi’s visit is significant because it comes at a time when bilateral relations have peaked, despite occasional hiccups. There is also promise of mutual growth on the horizon with a latest World Bank report suggesting that India and Bangladesh can augment their national incomes by 8 to 10 per cent in a few years if the two neighbours can ensure “seamless transport connectivity”.
The visit also comes at a time when Bangladesh has achieved ‘Developing Nation’ status , up from Least Developed Country (LDC) category . The UN citation announcing that upgrade is a testimony to Bangladesh’s success in national building through practice of moderate Islam, tolerance of other religions, abiding faith in liberal Bengali culture and its syncretic traditions and focus on economic growth and human development.
This is stark contrast to Pakistan’s slide in economy and society with analysts across the world suggesting it has all the bearings of a failed state. And all because of the Pakistani state and its powerful army’s obsession in using terrorism as an instrument of national policy and its lopsided defence spending at the cost of neglect for infrastructure and social sector investments.
The Twitter war has been sparked by some Bangladeshi radicals backing the Hifazat-e-Islam’s announcement to stop ” Modi from entering Dhaka.” Pro-liberation forces who express gratitude to India for its role in Bangladesh’s liberation promptly denounced the Hifazat move as an ‘evil ploy’ by Pakistani intelligence ISI to disrupt not only Modi’s visit but also the celebrations of 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.
They also attacked Hifazat-Khilafat leaders as ‘powerhungry’ and ‘traders of religion’. Some tweets and Facebook posts also showcased Bangladesh’s economic and human development achievements cited in top global publications like ‘Diplomat’ and ‘Wall Street Journal’ and contrasted this with Pakistan’s downslide.
That provoked a strong riposte from Pakistani Twitterati and Facebookers with some presenting absolute cooked up statistics to show Pakistan was ahead of Bangladesh in many respects. Bangladesh’s net warriors shot back immediately asking uncomfortable questions.
“Ask your PM Imran, has he paid up the PMO’s electricity bills” and “30 rupees for an egg, 1,000 rupees for a kilo of ginger, what do you eat Pakistanis, only dry wheat” are some of the shoot-back posts that escalated into direct allegations of Pakistani funding for Bangladesh’s Islamist radicals to disrupt the Modi visit and adversely impact India-Bangladesh relations. Citing a ‘Times of India’ opinion piece, a tweet said: ” India and Bangladesh, Made for Each Other, Destined to Grow Together’.
Bangladesh has a passionate and fiercely secular bloggers community who have never hesitated to attack Islamist radical politics.
In the aftermath of the 1971 War Crimes Trials, that began after PM Hasina assumed power, scores of bloggers like Rajiv Haider were hacked to death by the fundamentalists along with secular publishers and intellectuals like Faisal Ahmed Dipon and Abhijit Roy.
The bloggers were targetted after they demanded death penalty for the Bengali Islamist collaborators of Pakistan army who helped their campaign of massacres and mass rapes, mass conversions of non-Muslims under duress, all well documented in books compiled by Barrister Tureen Afroz, who led the prosecution of the war criminals.
But the attacks have not deterred Bangladesh’s passionate net warriors to uphold their country’s glory and road to recovery after the devastation of the 1971 war and 20 years of debilitating military rule by two Bengali generals Ziaur Rahman and H.M. Ershad, who put back Bangladesh’s “Unfinished revolution” by decades through constitutional changes that made the country an Islamic Republic by undermining the secular values of Bengali linguistic nationalism that made possible our Independence over an ‘ocean of blood’.
What has unnerved Pakistan and his active netizens is the obvious lack of ammunition they have to defend their ‘failed state’ and the matter has been aggravated after PM Hasina’s government raised the pitch for UN recognition of the 1971 genocide and demanded a formal apology from Pakistan.
At a time when Islamabad faces restive ethnic minorities like the Baloch and the Pashtuns, Sindhis and Baltistanis, the Bangladesh example is an uncomfortable foreboding on the wall for Pakistan’s rulers. No wonder, their generals are almost begging India for peace and Imran Khan is confusing Japan as Germany’s neighbours. With the Damocles Sword of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) hanging on Pakistan’s head, their only saving grace appears to be a peace deal in Afghanistan which gives the Taliban a prepoderant position in running the war-ravaged country.
Bangladesh has as much strategic advantage as Pakistan but it is poor — and a very military– approach to pitch national policy just on leveraging strategic advantage , neglecting the hard work to develop economic and social infrastructure for stimulating growth in economy and human development. Bangladesh is all that Pakistan is not. Thankfully, our great leader ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led us to independence and abandon the sinking ship called Pakistan at the right time.
(Ayesha Zaman Shimu is a senior leader of Mohila League, ruling Awami league’s women wing, and a passionate secular blogger. The views expressed are personal.)