Imploding Bangladesh

DHAKA – Is Bangladesh once again on the verge of a political meltdown? With bomb explosions almost taking the life of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, opposition leader Khaleda Zia charged with murder, and violent protests and arson sweeping the capital, the country seems poised at the edge of a terrifying abyss.

Of course, Bangladesh has long been plagued by volatility. When the country became independent in the early 1970s, following a bloody war of liberation against the Pakistani Army, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously predicted that the new country's economy would be its Achilles heel. But Bangladesh has proved him wrong: the country is being undone not by its economy, but by its dysfunctional politics.

After a difficult start, Bangladesh's economy has developed rapidly, with annual GDP growth averaging roughly 6% over the last two decades. The country's social indicators have improved significantly as well – exceeding even those of its neighbor, India, in important areas. Given a prolonged period of political calm, Bangladesh would likely be on its way to joining the ranks of middle-income countries.

Instead, political instability is jeopardizing social and economic progress. The two major political parties, the ruling Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), are engaged in a deadly duel over the very legitimacy of the government.