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Eighth Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

December 02'



Romeet K WATT


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 S P O T L I G H T 

Bangladesh: Pakistan's alter ego  

Romeet K WATT

Ever since Bangladesh came into being in 1971, many of its 130 million populace have had ‘identity crisis’ of sorts on whether they are Bengalis first or whether their Muslim religion should take primacy in their lives. For centuries, Bengalis have been unified by a culture of tolerance that confronts the common South Asian division between Hindu and Muslim. It is ironical that analogous crisis surfaced in Kashmir - over a period of time - on whether to identify with Kashmiriat – an ethos, and a way of living or should their being Muslims be the important parameter, which should govern their future course of action.


The description of Bangladesh as a country where fundamentalism is flourishing comes as a rude shock to its vast Muslim populace given the fact that the nation itself was born at the end of a civil war against fundamentalism. But there has always been two schools of thought in the country – one that closely identifies with the "spirit of 1971", and the other who still follow the two-nation theory, and relate to the "spirit of 1947." The protagonists of former school of thought are now in opposition, while the latter are an important constituent of the present regime. It is in this context that one needs to examine the facts about the success of fundamentalists in spreading their network in the country. 


Bangladesh, it is factual, is no Afghanistan, or even Pakistan but having spent 15 years under martial rule and, while democracy was restored in 1990, the political scene remains unstable. The animosity between the Awami League, which was voted out of power at end of its term in July 2001, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the largest party in the four-party alliance government, has little to do with ideological differences, and is by and large characterised by the personal animosity between their leaders.


The Jamaat-e-Islami, - which has in the past opposed Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan - now a part of the government is believed to have provided benefaction to the Islamic Jihadis, and is also the main power behind the astonishing increase of unlicensed madrasas in the past decade. Estimates indicate that there are 20,000 to 25,000 such schools (and 190,000 mosques) in Bangladesh, of which a sizable number are singularly dedicated to propagate ultra-fundamentalist ideology, and in many cases providing arms training to the students.


Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), right-wing organisation is another important member of the government headed by Begum Khalida Zia. Pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami has 16 members of parliament, and two powerful Ministers - Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid – in the present dispensation. Both these Islamic fundamentalist parties have a history of links to terror groups. Islamic Oikya Jote is a known sympathiser and supporter of Islamic fundamentalism, now defunct Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Analysts also point out that IOJ is also closely associated with Harkat–ul-Jehadi-Islami (HUJI), an organisation, which has been patronised, analysts confirm, by Bin Laden since 1993.


The presence of two hard-line parties in the government shows that the country is tempted to discard its traditional moderate Bengali image, something which is confirmed by repeated attacks on the members of the minority Hindu community, who are being persecuted by Islamic hardliners linked to elements of the government. The previous Awami League government had introduced some measures to curb the activities of the group and had arrested several of its leaders and cadres. Evidently, the new right wing regime has shaped a more sympathetic perspective for the operation of extremist forces in the country.


HUJI is headed by Showkat Osman a.k.a Sheikh Farid while Imtiaz Quddus is the General Secretary, and has a reported strength of 13,000 cadres. The organisation, intelligence agencies confirm has six to eight arms training camps in the hilly areas of Chittagong. The cadre are derived primarily from students of various madrasas and have close links with terrorist groups, including those in India’s Northeast, such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and closely coordinates its activities with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which provides patronage.


HUJI many believe is an extended arm of Al Qaeda in Bangladesh, and has been involved in various attacks within the country, and analysts confirm the international linkage between the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and HUJI based in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The HUJI has been involved in scores of bombings, including two attempted assassinations of then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in July 2000. HUJI finds natural allies in Muslim guerrillas from India hiding across the border, and in Muslim Rohingyas, thousands of who fled the religious repression of the Burmese stratocracy over the years.


HUJI, analysts point out receives financial assistance from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan through Muslim Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Bangladesh, including Adarsa Kutir, Al Faruk Islamic Foundation and Hataddin. Operational linkages also exist with a number of foreign Islamist organisations and militants. HUJI has also been on the fore-front of recruiting Bangladeshi and Indian Muslims to fight in Jammu and Kashmir under the command of Harkat-ul-   Mujahadeen. Various terrorist groups operating in India’s Northeast continue to find safe retreats and operational bases on Bangladeshi territory for dissident activities against India.


A significant section of the population in the country accept as true that Bangladesh cannot isolate itself from the fundamentalists' agenda, and are in no better position than Pakistan given that the right-wing wing elements have become powerful in their own way by ensuring fair representation for themselves in the given dispensation. Tackling it head-on might activate, analysts point, a violent backlash. Moreover, both the right-wing parties in the coalition are using fronts, some kind of alibis for plausible deniability, should the situation warrant.


In the post 9/11 scenario, Jamaat-e-Islami is strained to project itself as a moderate face, and has, as analysts suggests delegated the militant activities to its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, who have been involved in a series of bomb attacks and killings. On the face of it, Jamaat-e-Islami pledges support to the war against terror, however deep down they are continuing with the programme of aiding and abetting terrorists for Jihad in India, and Afghanistan.


Despite having pledged its support against international terrorism, reports indicate that Bangladesh is yet to curtail some of its covert aid to terrorist groups operating in India. The Directorate of General Forces Intelligence (DGFI), a section of Bangladeshi army, and the ISI are know to maintain close contacts with each other. Pakistan is also believed to be making use of its high commission in Dhaka as a nerve centre for the activities of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.


The Americans are determined to maintain a conciliatory approach, conveniently overlooking allegations that high ranking members of Al Qaeda are hiding in Bangladesh, and surprising as it may sound, strongly backing the Khaleda Zia government. Not that they are not aware of the turbulence prevalent in the country due to the alarming rise of right-wing elements in the society, but then at least one thing is consistent – they are homogeneous in their policy towards Pakistan and Bangladesh, both having pledged "strong support" to the U.S-led "war against terror".


Khaleda Zia, took a leaf out of Musharraf’s book, when in the aftermath of 9/11, she made it known that Bangladesh is solidly behind the Bush administration in fighting global terrorism, and established herself a staunch member of the international coalition against terrorism. Despite growing evidence, otherwise, US continue to overlook the overarching threat that the country might pose in times to come. On the contrary, it is ironical and amusing that President George W. Bush, in a recent letter to the new Bangladesh President, Prof. Iajuddin Ahmed, lauded the country's commitment to combating terrorism.

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