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Murder and democracy in Bangladesh

MY FATHER, Shah A.M.S. Kibria, was assassinated on Jan. 27. He was 73 years old. In his lifetime he had held various senior positions in Bangladesh and abroad, including finance minister of Bangladesh, undersecretary general of the United Nations and executive secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and foreign secretary of Bangladesh. At the time of his death my father was a leading member of the opposition in Parliament and a regular newspaper and magazine columnist.

On the day of his murder, my father had gone to address a public meeting in his constituency of Habiganj, Sylhet, in the northeast part of Bangladesh. As he was exiting the meeting, grenades exploded; three people, including my cousin Shah Manzur Huda, were instantly killed. My severely injured father died in an ill-equipped ambulance in which he was placed to make the three-hour road journey from Habiganj to Dhaka, the nation's capital. My mother, who was in Dhaka, received news of the attack just half an hour after it occurred. She, along with opposition party leaders, frantically tried to contact the government authorities to request helicopter transport to Dhaka for my father so that he could receive medical treatment. But their requests went unanswered.

As I was reading through my father's columns and other published writings from the past year, I was overwhelmed by an eerie sense of foreboding. I turned to my husband and said, ''He knew it was coming, he wrote of his own death." In article after article, with growing anxiety and dismay, my father pointed to the spiraling decline of the country. He noted the unchecked lawlessness and the growth in the forces of religious extremism and of state-sponsored political violence. In the wake of his assassination, his prescient commentaries haunt us.

On Feb. 4, I stood, along with my family, outside our family home in Dhaka to participate in a silent protest demonstration. Thousands of people -- men and women, young and old, rickshaw pullers and lawyers, and many with no political party affiliations -- joined us. Fellow protesters came up to me and remarked, ''They did not just kill your father, they killed us." I heard from them that my father's killing has come to symbolize their desperate struggle to overcome the powerful and dark forces that threaten the heart and soul of the country.

There is no doubt that the assassination of my father is part of a larger and systematic campaign of terror in Bangladesh, one that seeks to destroy the forces of moderation, democracy, and freedom, and convert Bangladesh into a ''Muslim state." A reign of terror has been unleashed on opposition party leaders, religious minorities, journalists, progressive intellectuals and writers, and women's rights activists.

To the utter amazement of many, both in Bangladesh and abroad, the BNP-Jamaat government in Bangladesh has steadfastly held to the position that all is well in the country. The government has failed to effectively investigate the many grenade and bomb attacks that have occurred over the past four years, thereby providing encouragement to the perpetrators of these attacks. Instead, the primary focus of the Bangladesh government has been on suppressing protest and dissent.

Expatriate Bangalis are being continually warned to avoid tarnishing the country's image abroad. At the very least, the role of the government in the current reign of terror in Bangladesh is one of complicity.

The fact that the current political crisis in Bangladesh has not, thus far, attracted much attention in the United States does not make it any less pressing. I would urge those who are in positions of power and influence in this country to put Bangladesh on their radar screen now, before it is too late. There is still time for a peaceful, diplomacy-centered resolution to the political crisis in Bangladesh, a country that is home to the fourth largest concentration of Muslims in the world.

My mother, brother, and I are asking for an independent international investigation team to be immediately sent to Bangladesh to look into the grenade attack on my father and the circumstances of his death. The killers of my father must be brought to justice. The achievement of this goal will, I believe, be an important step towards restoring political democracy in Bangladesh and of reviving the hopes and dreams of its 141 million citizens.

Nazli Kibria is an associate professor of sociology at Boston University.

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