This rapid literature review examines the root causes and dynamics of conflict and (in)stability in Bangladesh. Key findings include:
- Conflict Profile:
- Bangladesh has a violent political culture, and has experienced widespread political violence, especially around elections – this is a feature of its increasingly authoritarian democracy
- Social, ethnic, and religious conflicts have flared when exploited for political purposes, but are mostly latent (BTI, 2018, p.27).
- Economic Profile: Bangladesh is generally heralded as an economic development success story.
- Conflict and (in)stability – causes and actors:
- Social cleavages – Bangladesh has a fairly homogenous population – being majority Bengali; and a majority being Muslim, with a history of harmonious social relations and a strong sense of national identity. The most important schism is on the issue of the role of religion in politics and national identity. There is a tradition of vocal civil society activism.
- Environmental challenges – Bangladesh is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, and most at risk from climate change.
- Economic challenges and governance – To move closer to UMIC status, Bangladesh needs to accelerate growth to seven percent of GDP and above. Economic diversification, moving labour to more productive sectors, creating new sources of growth, and general productivity gains are key areas for improvement
- Political challenges – elections, political violence, and party politics – Rivalry between the two main political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has dominated Bangladeshi politics since 1991. Complex gendered violence also occurs around the election and democratic processes – including psychological, economic, sexual, and physical violence.
- Political settlement – Bangladeshi politics has undergone a significant transformation since its 1971 independence, including periods of prolonged military rule (BTI, 2018).
- Justice and corruption – The realities and perceptions of injustice in the criminal justice system, and human rights violations, are fuelling distrust in the police and judicial system. This includes the lack of implementation of laws, impunity of law enforcement agencies, and corruption. Law and order problems are compounded by corruption.
- The Rohingya crisis – Bangladesh now hosts nearly one million Rohingya refugees. The refugees live in hastily built and severely overcrowded camps, and humanitarian and Bangladesh government aid agencies are severely strained (e.g. with healthcare and education gaps). Extreme overcrowding particularly affects health, vulnerability to environmental shocks, and women and girls. The natural environment is under pressure – especially fragile forest and land resources – and the camps face significant risks from floods and landslides during the monsoon season.
- Extremism – A contemporary phase of violent extremism in Bangladesh occurred from 2013- 2017, and saw the brutal murders of a number of secular bloggers, liberal academics and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) activists. These attacks, and the more widespread threats against religious minorities and secular actors, can be seen as a trend towards the “Islamization of public life”.
- Chittagong Hill Tracts conflict – The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) indigenous community continue to experience widespread discrimination, and violence and abuse. This is portrayed as a law and order problem rather than a political problem (BTI, 2018, p.31).
- The Bangladesh-India border – Border disputes over recent decades have seen cross-border skirmishes and killings between or by the border security agencies (Bhardwaj, 2016). Despite a 2015 agreement between the Bangladeshi and Indian governments, the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) is accused of continuing to violate human rights in the region (Odhikar, 2019).
This paper is based on a rapid literature review, and is thus illustrative of the key issues and is not comprehensive of every issue. There is a lot of literature that explores the many different issues that contribute to conflict, political violence, and (in)stability in Bangladesh across academic, think tank, policy, and practitioner sources.
This query draws on the concepts of “conflict analysis” within international development policy and practitioner literature, and the DFID, FCO & MOD definition of “stability”. This paper understands “conflict analysis” as a structured process of analysis to understand the conflict that focuses on the conflict profile, the actors involved and their perspectives, the causes of conflict, and the dynamics of how these elements interact (Conflict Sensitivity Consortium, 2012; Herbert, 2017). It understands stability as: ‘characterised in terms of political systems which are representative and legitimate, capable of managing conflict and change peacefully, and societies in which human rights and rule of law are respected, basic needs are met, security established and opportunities for social and economic development are open to all’ (DFID, FCO & MOD, 2011, p.5).