After the emergence of the Shahbagh movement, the issue of banning Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party has been debated around more strongly than ever before. The fact that it as a political party which wholeheartedly supported and assisted the Pakistani occupying forces by organising the genocide, rape, and targeted killing of intellectuals, freedom fighters, and religious minorities by forming armed forces such as al-Badr, al-Shams from volunteers of their party to kill pro-liberation forces maybe sufficient enough reason to call for banning them from participating form of politics.
Ghulam Azam, who became ameer of the East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami before the liberation war, had formed the “Purbo Pakistan Punruddhar Committee (East Pakistan Retrieval Committee)” after Bangladesh gained independence and campaigned against the recognition of Bangladesh from the Islamic nations, continued as ameer of Jamaat after General Zia re-instated Jamaat’s right to take part in politics. Anti-state activities such as this from its ameer could also be reason enough to ban it from politics in a country which it was so strongly against even after liberation.
The fact that no representative from the party has ever publicly repented for its criminal activities in 1971 and attempts to justify such heinous crimes is also another strong reason why it should be banned since no proper trial against the party will give others reason to follow its footsteps whenever such an opportunity may present itself in the future.
Jamaat was banned after the independence of Bangladesh just like the Nazi party was after the Second World War. With a meagre 1.8% popularity (according to the Dhaka Tribune National Opinion Survey, Jan-Feb 2014) it is still the largest Islamist political party of the country. It is often the catch phrase that has been used whenever news about war criminals come up in international media outlets such as Al Jazeera, which has been known to be pro-Muslim Brotherhood, a party that has been banned in Egypt and Saudi Arabia for terrorist activities.
Even with such limited public support, Islami Chhatra Shibir—the student front of Jamaat has always been used to terrorise and attack anyone opposed to its views. Its notoriety got recognised internationally when IHS Jane’s Global Terrorism & Insurgency Attack Index 2013 put Shibir as the third most active non-state armed group in the world after it had repeatedly attempted to create anarchy in the country by committing acts of violence to stop war crime trials.
The key benefactor of Jamaat, BNP has always expressed scepticism in the government’s willingness to ban the party saying that the Awami League will take Jamaat in its alliance if BNP severs ties with it. Its political leaders in talk shows have repeatedly challenged the government to ban it to end the matter.
The Prime Minister, on the other hand, after taking oath after the Jan 5 polls told the media that the issue is sub-judice and legal steps are being taken. She added that the decision can only come from the Supreme Court so that no other party can repel the decision once such an announcement has been made. There is little doubt that the votes that are casted for Jamaat will continue to stay with BNP if they are banned. It is also true that having an individual identity helps BNP from associating itself from acts of violence perpetrated by Jamaat whether the public eye accepts it or not.
It also must be noted that Jamaat, if banned, can always take lessons from AKP and come out with a new name which will help wipe itself from the legacy of war crimes only if the party decides to distance itself from the war criminals.
What happens if the Jamaat is not banned but still barred from participating in elections unless it changes itself from a religion-based communal party to one that allows females and even non-Muslims to head the party? Will it concede?
Whether Jamaat will decide to change from a religion-based communal party and allow females or even non-Muslims to head the party in its party constitution to take part in national polls in the future still will remain a question since it will be against almost everything if not all they stand for.
However, if banned they can always learn from AKP of Turkey and continue to use its existing symbol. This will help the party to alienate itself from all the controversies and legacy that is so deeply intertwined with war crimes and ethnic cleansing. Whether they will choose to consciously do that will however remain a question until the time comes.