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Analysts: Bangladesh Needs to Be Vigilant About Hardliners in Army

  • Anjana Pasricha

Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq (R) talks about what he said was a coup attempt by retired and serving officers late last month, which intelligence sources said was driven by a campaign to introduce Sharia law throughout the majority Muslim countr

Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq (R) talks about what he said was a coup attempt by retired and serving officers late last month, which intelligence sources said was driven by a campaign to introduce Sharia law throughout the majority Muslim countr

A day after the army in Bangladesh said it had foiled a coup attempt, analysts say the Muslim-majority country needs to stay vigilant about the presence of hardliners within the military.

The army says that the plot to overthrow Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was led by around 16 serving and former military officers with "extreme religious views" who wanted to introduce Islamic law in the country.

Dhaka University professor, Imtiaz Ahmed, says reports of grievances in some elements of the military had been around in recent weeks. He says there is not much information available as yet, but praises the army's handling of the "coup attempt."

"It will take some more time to understand what happened, but it was met very professionally," he said. "There was no noise, it was low profile."

Political analysts say the alleged conspiracy was apparently mounted by mid ranking officers and may not represent a serious threat to the elected government.

But questions are being raised whether the plot had support from hardline Islamists.

Since taking power after a landslide victory in 2009, Sheikh Hasina has angered Islamic groups, including the country's most prominent religious party, the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami.

Last year, her government faced protests after it made changes to make the country's constitution more secular, although Islam was retained as the state religion. She has banned Islamic militant groups. Several senior leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islmai have been put on trial for war crimes during the 1971 struggle that led to the country's independence from Pakistan.

Sukh Deo Muni is an analyst at the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore.

"There are hardliners within the army, the influence of the Islamists has not been dominant, but it has always been present," said Muni. "No doubt some of the religious parties, Jamaat-e-Islami particularly, are under pressure, so the possibility of they using their army connections to upset the government cannot be ruled out at all."

This is not the first time Sheikh Hasina's government has confronted unrest in the military. Soon after she took office, a revolt in the paramilitary forces swept through several towns and killed 70 people including 51 army officers.

In recent months, she has warned that extreme groups are conspiring against her government, and asked people to be vigilant.

Bangladesh has a history of violent coups and democracy was restored after a long spell of military rule in 1991. More recently, an army-backed interim government ruled the country for two years until the end of 2008.

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