................BANGLADESH & JIHADI TERRORISM --An Update
The Begum Khaleda Zia Government of Bangladesh (BD), which has been in power in Dacca since 2001, looks upon the fundamentalist and jihadi elements as its objective allies. Though her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is by no means a fundamentalist party, she wants to use these elements to keep India destabilised externally and to weaken the opposition Awami League and its allies internally. She has shown no desire or inclination to act against either the anti-India elements from our North-East or the jihadi terrorist elements which pose a threat not only to their own country and India, but also to the South-East Asian region and the world as a whole. It has given a free hand to its military-intelligence establishment, which continues to collude with the ISI.
Till now, the international community has not paid as much attention as it deserves to the signs of BD emerging as a new hub of pro-bin Laden jihadi terrorism. The situation in BD is similar to the one in Indonesia before the Bali explosion of October,2002. The Khaleda Zia Government, like the Megawati Sukarnoputri Government in Indonesia before October 2002, refuses to acknowledge the growing activities of the jihadi terrorist elements from its territory and has been avoiding any strong action against them while continuing to pay lip-service to BD's support to the so-called war against international terrorism. Like Pakistan, BD too is lacking in sincerity in its implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 against terrorism. Unless the international community pressurises her to start acting against the jihadi and other terrorist elements operating from BD territory, this region and the world are in for another nasty surprise similar to the Bali explosion.
Concerns over the likelihood of Bangladesh emerging as a major hub of jihadi terrorism in Asia to the east of India have once again come to the fore following the publication on December 10, 2003, of an edited version of a report on Bangladesh prepared by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and an advisory issued by the US State Department to its citizens and officials posted in or visiting that country.
2. The CSIS report prepared in July last, edited portions of which were obtained by a media organisation called the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, said that the Government of Bangladesh was not doing enough to prevent the country from becoming a haven for Islamic terrorists in South Asia and expressed its concern over the activities of extremists suspected to be connected to Al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden. It said that the Government of Bangladesh was unwilling to crack down on terrorism and referred to the likelihood of dangers to Canadian aid agencies in Bangladesh.
3. It also said that there have been a number of serious terrorist attacks on cultural groups and recreational facilities in Bangladesh, but the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been routinely blaming the opposition party for such criminal activities, rather than finding out the real perpetrators of violence.
4. According to the CSIS report, in February,2 003, Islamic militants attacked a cultural concert in a northern Bangladesh town and the police recovered bomb-making materials from radicals who claimed to be members of the militant organizations Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh and Shahdat ul Hiqma. In 1998, a group called Bangladesh Jihad came to notice when one of its members signed a fatwa issued by bin Laden calling for a jihad against the US and Israel, it added.
5.In a statement issued on December 11, 2003, the Bangladesh Foreign Office strongly denied the contents of the CSIS report. It said: "The contents of the report are far from the reality on the ground. The Government remains firmly committed to combating terrorism. Some quarters are bent on tarnishing the peaceful image of Bangladesh."
6.In a separate statement issued at Ottawa the same day, the Bangladesh's High Commissioner in Ottawa, Mohsin Ali Khan, denied that his country had become a terrorist haven and asserted that his Government was very "conscious of its responsibility to protect its citizens. We condemn terrorism in any country, in any form, in any place. Bangladesh is against any terrorist attack and it will not allow its soil to be used by any terrorist group."
7.Coinciding with the publication of extracts from the CSIS report, the US State Department issued an advisory on Bangladesh in which it said that it had received information about possible threats to its Embassy in Dhaka and warned Americans in Bangladesh to be vigilant, particularly in places frequented by foreigners.It added that it had recently received information regarding several possible threats against the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka and other U.S. interests in Bangladesh and cautioned that American citizens in Bangladesh should remain vigilant, particularly in public places frequented by foreigners, including but not limited to hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, and places of worship. They should also avoid demonstrations and large crowds, the statement said. The advisory did not give any other details. According to the "Bangladesh Observer", a similar advisory was issued by the Australian Government too to its citizens in Bangladesh.
8.The advisory assumed significance in the light of the stand taken by the US Embassy in Dacca in the past that it did not have any corroboration of the reports carried by the "Time" magazine, the "Jane's Intelligence Review" of London and other sections of the media about the shifting of some sections of Al Qaeda from Pakistan to Bangladesh following the US military action in Afghanistan post 9/11 and its operations against Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
9. In fact, the annual report on the Patterns of Global Terrorism during 1992 submitted by the Counter-Terrorism Division of the US State Department to the Congress in May, 2003, did not refer to any pro-bin Laden jihadi terrorist activities in Bangladesh territory on the lines of what has been appearing in the US media. However, it did contain, as in its reports of the previous years, an account of the activities of the Bangladesh branch of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al- Islami (HUJI), which is a member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF). The State Department refers to it as HUJI(B), to distinguish it from the HUJI of Pakistan headed by Qari Saifullah Akhtar.
10. Its comments on the activities of HUJI (B) said: "The mission of HUJI-B, led by Shauqat Osman, is to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh. HUJI-B has connections to the Pakistani militant groups Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI) and Harak ul-Mujahidin (HUM), who advocate similar objectives in Pakistan and Kashmir.HUJI-B was accused of stabbing a senior Bangladeshi journalist in November 2000 for making a documentary on the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh. HUJI-B was suspected in the July 2000 assassination attempt of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. HUJI-B has an estimated cadre strength of more than several thousand members. Operates and trains members in Bangladesh, where it maintains at least six camps. Funding of the HUJI-B comes primarily from madrassas in Bangladesh. The group also has ties to militants in Pakistan that may provide another funding source."
11. Commenting on the publication of extracts from the CSIS report and the rejection of its contents by the Bangladesh Government, the "Bangladesh Observer" said on December 12, 2003: " True to its character, the alliance government has promptly rejected the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report that Bangladesh may emerge as a ‘haven for Islamic terrorists’. Mere rejection of the report is customary, it has to be substantial. Apparently, the CSIS report is based on a number of serious attacks by ‘radicals’ on the cultural groups in Bangladesh. It also refers to reported hints of some Islamic groups’ collusion with Al-Qaida. Right at the moment the Canadian intelligence report has been published, the US and Australian Governments have warned their citizens of possible danger during their movement and stay in Bangladesh. Whether this is a coincidence or something else is not known. But the public announcement through which the US Government keeps its visiting citizens alert fears potential attacks by international terrorists against US interests in Bangladesh."
12. It added: "It is too early to say if there is any truth or not in the CSIS report. But the powerful bomb blasts at the Udichi function in Jessore, at Bangla New Year’s function at Ramna Botomool and at the Communist Party meeting at Paltan are an unmistakable indication of the choice of targets. It is a fact that none of these bombing incidents has been conclusively investigated. People do not know who were the masterminds behind all such attacks. Then there were more recent attacks on cinema halls in Mymensingh. Again, investigation has not led either to unearthing the cause of the attack or nabbing the perpetrators. Whether all this is a case of intelligence failure or anything else no one knows.
13."Then there are time-to-time huge and sophisticated arms, ammunition and explosive hauls. A few organised militant Islamic groups’ clashes with the police in different places over the attempt to capture Ahmadiya sect’s mosques or to smuggle in arms and explosives in some places are allowed to pass rather quietly. If those alarming incidents were seriously followed through, no one possibly could accuse the Government of non-action against terrorists. Sure enough, we have passed the phase when crying hoarse that some quarters are busy tarnishing our non-secular image abroad would be of any use. If the process continues, we will soon be facing a credibility crisis. We must be alive to the sensitive issue of terrorism because its global connotation is far stronger than we can appreciate.
14."The Government however has so far firmly dealt with the fanatics bent on capturing the Ahmadiya mosques at Nakhalpara and at Sarishabari, Jamalpur. However the threat remains as long as the ultimatum for declaring the Ahmadiyas as non-Muslims is there. The Government must not sit on such sensitive issues. It must open a viable channel of negotiations with the aggressive party and convince them of the merit of peaceful co-existence of different communities. Similarly, violent incidents like the bomb blasts have to be thoroughly probed into both for clarity and punishment of the criminals. If the masterminds behind such incidents can be brought to book, we will know whether the threat is a mere perceived one or more than that. Maybe, we will be able to dismiss, rather factually, that there is no possibility of the rise of ‘Islamic terrorists’ here. We do not like to be painted as a nation dominated by fundamentalists. Let the Government come clean on this issue and stand by its claim", it concluded. ( http://www.bangladeshobserveronline.com//
15. Earlier, in an article under the title "Is religious extremism on the rise in Bangladesh?" published by the "Jane's Intelligence Review" of May 2002, Bertil Lintner, the well-known columnist on South-East Asia, had drawn attention to the worrying developments in Bangladesh. He referred to the activities of organisations such as HUJI, the so-called Jihad movement, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), the JEI's students' wing, the Islami Olkyo Jote (IOJ), which like the JEI, is a member of the present ruling coalition, and two organisations of Rohingya Muslim refugees from the Arakan area of Myanmar called the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) and the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation and to the proliferation of madrasas in Bangladesh and said:, inter alia:."Extremist influence is growing, especially in the countryside. A foreign diplomat in Dhaka said: "In the 1960s and 1970s, it was the leftists who were seen as incorruptible purists. Today, the role model for many young men in rural areas is the dedicated Islamic cleric with his skull cap, flowing robes and beard." As Indonesia has shown, an economic collapse or political crisis can give rise to militants for whom religious fundamentalism equals national pride, and a way out of misrule, disorder and corrupt worldly politics."
16. His article gave the following details of the HUJI and the Jihad movement: "Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) - Bangladesh's main militant outfit. Set up in 1992, it now has an estimated strength of 15,000 and is headed by Shawkat Osman aka Maulana or Sheikh Farid in Chittagong. Its members are recruited mainly from students of the country's madrassahs, and until last year they called themselves 'Bangladeshi Taliban'. The group is believed to have extensive contacts with Muslim groups in the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam. Osama bin Laden's February 23, 1998 fatwa urging jihad against the USA was co-signed by two Egyptian clerics, one from Pakistan, and Fazlul Rahman, "leader of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh". This is not believed to be a separate organisation but a common name for several Islamic groups in Bangladesh, of which HUJI is considered the biggest and most important."
17.In an article on Al Qaeda activities in Bangladesh written by its correspondent in New Delhi Alex Perry, the "Time" magazine of October 15, 2002, quoted sources in the HUJI and the Bangladesh military as saying that in July 1992 about 150 armed men belonging to the Taliban and Al Qaeda had been transported to Bangladesh from Afghanistan and Pakistan by a ship called"MV Mecca" and that 50 others had similarly been transported during 2001.
18. The "Transnational Threats Update, Volume 1 • Number 9 dated June 2003 of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies of Washington, DC (http://www.csis.org/tnt4 ) stated as follows: "The current security climate in Bangladesh may allow terrorist groups to organize an attack using a radiological dispersal device. Concerns over this possibility are plausible given that radioactive substances have proven accessible to terror groups operating within the country. A package of “semi-processed explosive-grade” uranium weighing 225 grams was recently seized from smugglers at the Patnitola border of Bangladesh. The material came with a user’s manual that illustrated how to build an explosive device tipped with nuclear materials. More importantly, authorities have alleged confessions from two members of the Shahadad-ul-Hikma terrorist group who were arrested on suspicion of transporting the package. This case has increased concerns because there have been multiple nuclear smuggling incidents intercepted by Bangladeshi authorities. Adding to this unease are strong links found between the shipments, implying the smuggling operation is highly organized. Experts have assessed that the most recent consignment matches a previous shipment confiscated in the same northwest border region. They were both from the same location, made in Russia, and marked from Kazakhstan in 1988. The sheer number of militant Islamist training camps operating in the region compounds the problem of accessible nuclear materials. The estimated number of camps varies from at least 15, according to members of the epistemic community, to 156, reported by Indian intelligence. According to India, among the fundamentalist organizations present in Bangladesh are the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), the Achijk National Volunteer Council, the Chakma National Liberation Front (CNLF) and the Dima Halam Daoga."
19. In a subsequent assessment, in which he advocated a more activist US policy in Bangladesh, Joseph J. Schatz of the "Congressional Quarterly," who had traveled to Bangladesh, stated as follows: "While disputed by the new BNP-led Government, there are several alleged links between Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network and groups operating on Bangladeshi soil. In the aftermath of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, for which the U.S. Government blamed bin Laden, a worldwide sting operation was launched, which saw the Indian Government arrest Bangladeshi nationals for plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Calcutta. A Bangladeshi religious radical, Fazlul Rahman, signed bin Laden’s 1998 decree calling for the murder of Americans around the world. Western intelligence officials subsequently linked Rahman to terrorist cells operating out of southern Bangladesh. These groups allegedly have links to al Qaeda and in some cases Afghanistan’s former ruling militia, the Taliban. According to analysts and Bangladeshi authorities, the Bangladeshi extremist Islamic group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami allegedly received financial backing from bin Laden and sent members to train in Afghanistan.This terrorist group styles itself the “Bangladeshi Taliban” and allegedly aims to institute an extremist, Taliban-type government in Bangladesh. The group, which is estimated to include approximately 15,000 militants, operates out of the Chittagong Hills in southern Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi authorities implicated the group in the January 1999 attempted murder of prominent Bangladeshi poet Shamsur Rahman. According to the authorities, the group planned to assassinate up to 28 Bangladeshi intellectuals as part of their campaign against “enemies of Islam." In addition, during President Bill Clinton’s March 2000 trip to Bangladesh, his planned visit to the village of Joypurawas was canceled due to terrorist threats from al Qaeda, according to U.S. intelligence sources. The Zia Government denies that extremism and terrorism are problems in Bangladesh, and instead focuses attention on the nation’s democratic and secular values. But although the extent of al Qaeda’s influence in Bangladesh does not yet appear to be great, its alleged existence is significant because it flies in the face of the nation’s tradition of religious moderation and tolerance, and its lack of a strong Islamic fundamentalist following. It should be of direct concern to the U.S. Government, which has a tradition of very good relations with Bangladesh."
20. On December 7, 2002, a series of near-simultaneous bomb blasts at four Bangladeshi cinema halls packed with families celebrating the end of the Ramadan Muslim fasting month killed 15 people and wounded nearly 300. The targeted cinema halls were located in and around the normally quiet tourist town of Mymenshingh, about 120 kms to the north of Dhaka.
21. The Bangladesh Home Minister, Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the attacks could have been the work of the Al Qaeda network or some other terrorist group, but he subsequently denied saying this. A local police officer was quoted as saying : "We are not sure whether the bombs were planted earlier or exploded by suicide bombers." He added that no foreigners were among the dead. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her Ministers blamed those trying to malign Bangladesh from abroad for the explosions.
22. Earlier, in September, 2002, bombs wounded 30 people at a circus show and in a cinema hall in southwestern Satkhira. At least 22 people were killed and more than 100 injured in an explosion at a local office of the then ruling Awami League in June 2001. At least nine people were killed and 50 injured in a bomb blast during an open-air concert in 2000.
23. Three of the incidents since 2000 were directed at places providing entertainment to the people, thereby giving rise to the suspicion that the explosions might have been the handiwork of the HUJI (B). Like its Pakistani parent organisation, the HUJI of Bangladesh has a strong Wahabi and Taliban influence and has been carrying on a campaign against music, dancing, films, TV etc as anti-Islam and against the Indian cultural influence in Bangladesh, which it projects as the Hindu cultural influence. Its slogan is: "Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban. Bangla Hobe Afghanistan' We all will become Taliban and Bangla will become Afghanistan). Its involvement, along with that of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), a member of the ruling coalition in Dhaka, was strongly suspected in a series of violent incidents directed at the Hindu and Christian minorities after the present Government came to power in October, 2001.
24. Before 1998, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the HUJI of Pakistan constituted a single organisation called the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA), which was active in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in India. It also provided training and arms assistance to the Rohingya Muslims of Arakan in Myanmar, the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines and the Chechens. In the 1990s, the HUA had set up training camps in Bangladesh for training local recruits as well as recruits from India, Arakan, and southern Philippines.
25. After the involvement of the HUA in the kidnapping of some American and other Western tourists in J&K under the name Al Faran in 1995, the US State Department designated it as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation under a 1996 law in October,1997. Thereafter, the HUA dissolved itself and started operating in Pakistan again as two organisations with their original names of HUM and HUJI. The HUA in Bangladesh did not dissolve itself. Instead, it simply changed its name as HUJI and started functioning as the branch of the HUJI of Pakistan.
26. Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the present head of the HUJI of Pakistan, was involved in the 1995 attempt by a group of Pakistani Army officers led by Maj. Gen. Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi, who was the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) station in the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi in the late 1980s,to stage a coup and proclaim Islamic rule in Pakistan. The plot was discovered in time by the then Benazir Bhutto Government and Abbasi and other officers involved were arrested, court-martialed and sentenced to imprisonment. Abbasi, who used to be close to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military dictator, was released from imprisonment last year and was active in carrying on a campaign against the USA amongst retired military officers since Operation Enduring Freedom started in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. It was not known whether he had completed his sentence or whether he was released on parole or given remission of his sentence.
27. Qari Saifullah, who was also detained by the Pakistani authorities during the investigation of the plot, was released after some time and was not prosecuted. No reasons were given for not prosecuting him. He crossed over into Afghanistan after 1998, joined bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) and emerged as an important adviser of Mulla Omer, the Amir of the Taliban, and bin Laden. The HUJI was reported to have contributed the largest number of jihadis for the IIF's fight against the Americans in Afghanistan, followed by the HUM, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM). Many jihadis from South-East Asia fought in Afghanistan under the banner of the HUJI, which suffered the largest number of casualties in the American air strikes.
28.. Since the beginning of 2002, the survivors of the IIF re-entered Pakistan from Afghanistan and those who had joined them from S. E. Asia were shifted to Bangladesh. Even though the Pakistani authorities initially blamed the JEM and subsequently a splinter group of the HUM called the HUM (Al Alami, meaning International) for the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, in January, 2002, and his subsequent brutal murder, sections of the Pakistani media had been reporting that it was the HUJI, which had organised his kidnapping and murder.
29. HUJI (B) was suspected in the attack on the Indian security personnel guarding the American Centre in Kolkata on January, 22, 2002. The "News", the prestigious daily of Pakistan, had reported that during his interrogation, Omar Sheikh, who has since been convicted for his involvement in the kidnapping of Pearl, had told the Karachi Police that he had also organised the attacks on the Legislative Assembly of J&K in Srinagar on October 1, 2001, on the Indian Parliament House on December 13, 2001, and on the security personnel outside the American Centre in Kolkata. This was, however, denied by the Pakistani authorities, who forced the owner of the paper to sack the Editor, who subsequently fled to the US.
30. On January 15, 2002, Musharraf, under US pressure, banned the LET and the JEM, but not the HUM and the HUJI. Officials of Pakistan's Ministry of the Interior had stated that another order banning them would follow, but this did not happen. Recently, Musharraf has banned the HUM, but not the HUJI.The HUJI of Pakistan too, like its Bangladeshi branch, carries on a campaign against music, dancing, films and TV, but has not resorted to violence to enforce its ban on them.
31.After the arrest and interrogation of a South African citizen of Indian origin Ahmed Sadeq Ahmed,a Pakistani citizen Mohammad Sajed and two Bangladeshis- Maulana Nazrul Islam and Sardar Bokhtiar-- in 1999, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Bangladesh (BD) Police had described them as members of bin Laden's organisation and gave the following details of the HUJI (B) as gathered by them during the interrogation:
* Bin Laden had sanctioned taka 20 million (US $ 0.40 million) for recruiting and training cadres and organising terrorist and subversive activities in Bangladesh. He had handed over the money to Mohammad Sajed, who is the coordinator of the pro-bin Laden militants working in Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.
* Mohammad Sajed told the investigators that he had handed over the money to Sardar Bokhtiar.
* Bokhtiar confessed to having received this amount and said that he had distributed it to 421 madrasas which were helping the HUJI in recruiting and training its cadres.
* Maulana Nazrul Islam, who was arrested in Sirajganj district, is said to be the Amir of the HUJI in BD.
32.These claims of the CID were strongly refuted by the JEI of BD and its counterpart in South Africa. Despite this, the US Secret Service took them seriously enough to advise President Clinton to cancel a visit to a village outside Dacca during his visit to BD in March,2000.The BD authorities also blamed the HUJI for two alleged attempts to kill Sheikh Hasina in July 2000, when explosive devices were recovered at or near the places to be visited by her during a routine security check.
33.Since the beginning of 2001, there were many violent incidents in which the involvement of the Islamic extremist elements was suspected by the BD Police. The more important of these incidents were:
* On January 20, 2001, six persons were killed and 50 others injured in two separate bomb blasts in Dhaka. Home Minister Mohammad Nasism held the JEI and its affiliates responsible for the attack. Water Resources Minister Abdur Razzak accused Pakistan's ISI of having instigated the incidents.
* On February 6, 2001, seven persons were killed and 100 injured in a clash between Islamic fundamentalists and the security forces at Brahanbaria, bordering the Indian State of Tripura. These incidents were a sequel to the arrests of two top leaders of the IOJ for having threatened two judges who had banned the issue of fatwas by clerics and killed a police constable.
* On April 14, 2001, a bomb exploded at an open-air concert in Dacca, killing at least nine people and wounding nearly 50. The concert was part of celebrations marking the Bengali new year. Sheikh Hasina blamed the blasts on "forces who opposed Bangladesh's independence (from Pakistan) and want to destroy Bengali culture". The JEI had been campaigning against the celebration of the Bengali new year on the ground that it was unIslamic.
34.Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been targeted by these groups as 'un-Islamic'. Hundreds of NGOs working to raise living standards and the lot of women in one of the world's poorest nations have been accused of destroying Islamic culture.
ORIGIN OF FUNDAMENTALISM
35. None of the leaders of Bangladesh---neither the late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman nor Sheikh Hasina nor Begum Zia, the present Prime Minister, nor any of the military dictators--- can escape responsibility for the growth of religious fundamentalism and the jihadi virus in their country.
36.Ever since Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996, independent analysts and women's rights organisations in Bangladesh had been drawing attention to her inability or to the difficulties faced by her in reversing the process of Islamisation of the society and the administrative and security infrastructure under the two military dictatorships which followed the assassination of her father in 1975 and to counter the increasing activities of Islamic fundamentalist organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) of the pre-1971 vintage, the Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ- the Islamic United Front)) and the followers of HUJI. They were also drawing attention to the spread of the fundamentalist virus in the BD diaspora, particularly in the UK.
37.Chakma human rights groups had been highlighting the nexus between the JEI and the Bangladesh Army and documenting instances of their joint attacks on and destruction of Buddhist places of worship and Buddha statues in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in the 1990s.
38.In a paper on the "State of Minorities in Bangladesh: From Secular to Islamic Hegemony", Saleem Samad, an analyst of the BD scene, points out how the trend towards the Islamisation of the civil society and the State apparatus in Bangladesh started even under the late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first President of Bangladesh.
39.According to him, Shiekh Mujibur Rahman revived the Islamic Academy (which was banned in 1972) and upgraded it to a Foundation in March 1975 and frequently attended Islamic gatherings. He also banned the sale and consumption of liquor, though production of liquor continued, and betting in horse-race. He sought membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in February 1974, attended the OIC conference at Lahore the same year, established diplomatic ties with Pakistan after granting unconditional pardon of the occupational forces of Pakistan involved in war crimes on innocent people, especially women, and allowed their subsequent safe repatriation, and secured the founder membership of the Islamic Development Bank in 1975.
40.Towards the end of his rule, Mujib made frequent references to Islam in his speeches and public utterances by using terms and idioms which were peculiar mainly to the Islam-oriented Bangladeshi - like Allah (the Almighty God),Insha Allah (God willing), Bismillah (in the name of God), Tawaba (Penitence) and Imam (religious leader). He even dropped his symbolic valedictory expression Joy Bangla (Glory to Bengal) and ended his speeches with Khuda Hafez (May God protect you), the traditional Indo-Islamic phrase for bidding farewell. In his later day speeches, he also highlighted his efforts to establish cordial relations with the Muslim countries in the Middle East.
41.According to Mr.Saleem Samad, the process of using Islam for leadership legitimisation purposes gathered momentum during the military regimes of General Zia-ur Rahman (1975-1981) and General H.M. Ershad (1982-1990). During the regime of Zia, the Constitution was amended to delete secularism as one of the four state principles and insert "Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim" (in the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful). The principle of secularism was replaced by the words, "Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all action."
42."Islamiyat" was introduced as compulsory from classes I to VIII in schools with the option for minority students to take similar religious courses of their own.
43. Between 1982 and 1990, Ershad made systematic efforts to continue the policy of Zia, rehabilitating anti-liberation elements and the parallel Islamisation culminating in the Eighth amendment to the Constitution declaring "Islam" as a state religion. Earlier, the short-lived Government of Mustaque Ahmed (August 1975 - November 1975), brought to power at the behest of young military officers, had declared the People's Republic of Bangladesh as the" Islamic Republic of Bangladesh" over the state radio.
44. Samad points out that the subsequent regimes of Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina, which came to power through popular mandate through a free and fair election process under two consecutive neutral governments (in 1991 and 1996), too continued the Islamic policies of the previous governments. They did not try to reverse the Islamisation measures taken by Ershad. The Constitution of Bangladesh, even under the pre-2001 Awami League Government , remained an Islamic one.
44. In mid -1993, the then Khaleda Zia Government, under pressure from Islamic fundamentalist elements, asked the commercial banks to disallow the withdrawal of substantial cash money by Hindu account holders and to stop the disbursement of business loans to Hindus living in the districts adjoining the India-Bangladesh border.
45. None of these Governments took action to restore to the Hindus their properties seized by the Ayub Government in 1965 under the Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order under the "Defence of Pakistan Rules Ordinance" which has since been replaced by the Vested Property Act.
46. In a study titled "Resistance to Fundamentalism in Bangladesh and Britain", an organisation called Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF) has pointed out as follows:
47. "In 1971,there was widespread collaboration (with the Pakistani rulers) by government officers at local and national level. Unable to visualise a Bengali victory, they wished to protect their jobs and sided with the rulers who they expected to be the victors.
48."More ideologically based was the enthusiastic collaboration of the Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and its student wing who formed the active service units of the Al-Badr to defend Pakistan and wipe out Bengali intellectuals. These 'razakars' (collaborators) are held responsible for perpetrating thousands of rapes and massacres in the name of Islam and for guiding the Pakistani army to the resistance bases.
49. "In the middle of the war, the Pakistani rulers established national and regional 'Peace Committees' whose task, in their own words, was to 'seek out miscreants and Indian agents and to assist the armed forces in destroying them'. A leading member of the national Peace Committee was Professor Golam Azam who repeatedly exhorted the razakars to rid the country of anti-Pakistani dissidents.
50 "After the Liberation, there was an expectation of war crimes trials. A Collaborators' Ordinance was passed, but it was used patchily and apparently more as an excuse to pay off old scores than to put on trial the leading collaborators and murderers although their identity was very well known. The civil servants who had collaborated were very soon rehabilitated to serve the new government and in 1973, in a changing political climate, a General Pardon was declared (for collaborators other than murderers and rapists). The extent of this politically motivated rehabilitation was demonstrated by the appointment of a former regional Peace Committee chairman as the President of Bangladesh.
51. "Most of the leading collaborators went abroad to work against Bangladesh in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the West. A leading figure among them was Golam Azam who along with other former collaborators played a key role in the expansion of Jamaat-e-Islami and its establishment in Britain. In 1978,Golam Azam returned to Bangladesh, ostensibly to visit his sick mother. Despite his having no citizenship and being widely held to have been a major collaborator, he has lived there ever since with the protection of successive governments and his own 'Islamic Guards'.
52. "In 1991, Golam Azam was declared the Amir (leader) of the Jamaat, now an active and increasingly successful political party working to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh. Their argument in Bangladesh, as in Egypt and Algeria, is that democracy is un-Islamic because laws can only come from Islam. Nationalism is also regarded as un-Islamic and Bangladesh 's whole existence and secession from Pakistan is therefore disapproved of. Jamaat is believed to have political links with Iran and financial support from Saudi Arabia. The student wing of Jamaat has gained control of the campus of the Chittagong University, through a combination of ideology and guns, and has near control over other campuses. Fights and shootings take place very frequently in the universities, many students and teachers have been killed and teaching and examinations disrupted or suspended.
53."The Jamaat's activities have been tolerated and encouraged to a greater or lesser extent by successive ruling regimes and governments in Bangladesh who have relied on their support. Islamisation has come a long way in Bangladesh with Islam now the official religion and agitation led by the Jamaat for an Islamic Republic.
54."The Islamic movement has prospered for a number of reasons. Many people have a nostalgic attachment to Pakistan and a mistrust of India. In the depth of the economic and social problems of Bangladesh, and disillusionment with both the capitalist and communist nations which are seen as having failed to support the country, the promise of a renaissance through internationalist Islam seems attractive not only to the very religious rural poor but also to educated young people who can see no other positive future. The extent of corruption and the general lack of confidence in the government and bureaucracy makes the concept of a 'pure' corruption-free society ruled by Islam an appealing option to many people." End of citation)
55.Alarmed by the return and rehabilitation of Golam Azam, the secular forces in Bangladesh started a number of movements to identify the collaborators of Pakistan and the Al Badr in the 1971 massacres and to have them tried. In a report released in March, 1994, a People's Enquiry Commission, consisting of prominent personalities, identified, in addition to Golam Azam, eight others as the collaborators of the Al Badr in the massacres--Abbas Ali Khan, Maulana Matiur Rehman Nizami, Mohammed Kamruzzaman, Maulana Dilawar Hussain Sayeedi, Maulana Abdul Mannan, Abdul Kader Molla and Abdul Alim.
56. Abbas Ali Khan held the No.2 position in the Jamaat and members of the Razakar force (who were given short courses in military training) were, under his leadership, given powers equal to those of the regular armed forces, and they allegedly carried out widespread killings, rapes and looting in villages.
57.Maulana Matiur Rehman Nizami, who was the pre-1971 Secretary- General of the JEI, used to exhort them to "carry out [their] national duty to eliminate those who are engaged in war against Pakistan and Islam," and to finish off Awami League supporters. After one such meeting, Al-Badr forces, in cooperation with the Razakars, surrounded the village of Brishlika and burnt it to the ground. He took over as the Amir of the JEI in December,2000, and has not suffered any penal consequences. On the contrary, he became an important political ally of Begum Khaleda Zia.
58. Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, as the Assistant Secretary-General of the JEI, was in charge of recruiting members for and organising the Al-Badr in Mymensingh.
59.A member of the Jamaat-e-Islami's Majlis-e -Shoora, Maulana Dilawar Hussain Sayeedi, took active part in the organisation of the Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams forces. He was also accused of involvement along with Pakistani army troops in the killing of sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) Faizur Rahman,father of Humayun Ahmad, a renowned writer and professor of chemistry at the University of Dacca.
60.Maulana Abdul Mannan, the president of the Jamiat-e-Mudarresin, an organisation of teachers of madrassas and the owner of the daily "Dainik Inquilab," the country's second-highest circulated newspaper, was one of the key collaborators of the Yahya regime during 1971. A Minister under General Ziaur Rahman after 1976 and subsequently in President H M Ershad's cabinet, Mannan was also associated with the killing of intellectuals, including eminent physician Alim Chowdhury.
61.Abdul Kader Molla, the publicity secretary of the JEI, was known as a 'butcher' in the Dacca suburb of Mirpur, mainly populated by non-Bengali Muslim migrants in 1971. An eyewitness to Molla's criminal activities in 1971 told the commission that Razakar men, under the command of Kader Molla, brutally murdered the poet Meherunnessa .
62. According to the commission's report, Abdul Alim himself carried out executions of Bengalis by lining them up and shooting them dead.
63. Despite their involvement in the massacres carried out by the JEI of united Pakistan and its Al Badr, many of these personalities of the JEI are today in the forefront of the fundamentalist, pro-Pakistan and anti-India forces in BD and privileged allies of the BNP. They are also the objective allies of the HUJI and other pro-bin Laden elements in BD.
64.A Special Rapporteur (SR) of the UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva, who visited Bangladesh from May 15 to 24, 2000, reported to the Commission as follows: "The 1972 Constitution (articles 39 and 41) guarantees freedom of religion and conscience and their manifestations, while defining certain limits e.g. in the interest of the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. The principle of non-discrimination is also guaranteed. The Constitution accords a special role to Islam, which is defined as the state religion; the Amendment of 1977 defines the Muslim faith as one of the nation's guiding principles. The sharia does not constitute the basis of the country's legislation.
65 "Most of the officials with whom the SR met stated that the Government was in favour of secularism. Non-governmental representatives and independent experts said that state policies generally respected freedom of religion and belief, in the strictest sense of those terms, and also respected their manifestations, within the framework of the limitations provided by the law. However, religious communities - more particularly minorities and ethnic groups, but also Muslims - encounter serious problems. These problems arise in two main contexts: (a) relations between the state and religious communities (e.g. restricted access for non-Muslims to public-sector employment) and between the state and ethnic communities (e.g. the delays in the implementation of the peace accord concerning the CHT); and (b) relations between the state and non-ethnic communities, particularly extremist religious parties.
66."There is a real and effective threat of religious extremism, stemming largely from such religious parties as Jamat-e-Islami, which are very active in their efforts to train Muslims by infiltrating mosques and madrasas and engaging in political action. This extremism is notably responsible for the climate of insecurity among non-Muslim minorities, as well as among the Ahmadi Muslim minority community, among ethnic groups and among women, regardless of their religious confession.
67."There have been looting and destruction of (Buddhist) temples, as well as harassment of Buddhist monks and other Buddhists by Muslim extremist groups; Buddhists have suffered discrimination with respect to public sector jobs.
68."There is discrimination against Christians with respect to access to public sector employment, including access to police and army jobs; there are stereotypes representing Christians as anti-Muslim (because of the Crusades); there is an absence of any real interchange between the Christian and Muslim communities, especially in urban environments. The authorities do not, in practice, recruit Christian teachers, even though there are enough Christian students to justify such recruitment; extremist Muslim groups often oppose the use of bells and loudspeakers for hymns in places of worship; there is a strong current of anti-Christian activism and the police largely remain passive when incidents occur; legal decisions in favour of the Catholic Church, concerning the use of their property, have not been applied because extremist Muslims have opposed their application on a variety of grounds.
69."There is no interference by the authorities in the religious activities of Hindus; there is a feeling of insecurity, however, due partly to the Vested Property Act; Hindu women are often victims of harassment and rape carried out by criminal elements of society. " (end of citation)
70.The electoral support enjoyed by the JEI in BD is more than that of its counterpart in Pakistan, but still not substantial. However, it has built up considerable street power and has important allies in the IOJ and the HUJI. It has carefully retained and nursed the nexus which it had built up with the military and intelligence establishment before 1991, but available evidence does not permit a quantification of the support enjoyed by it in the establishment .
71. During the 1980s, many cadres of the JEI had participated in the fight against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan and, in the process, established a networking relationship with different Afghan Mujahideen groups, with Pakistani jihadi organisations and with the HUJI . They had also played an active role in assisting and training the Rohingya Muslims of the Arakan State of Myanmar. The BD military-intelligence establishment had allowed the HUM of Pakistan to run training camps for Rohingya Muslims in BD territory. Since the HUJI of Pakistan is a member of bin Laden's IIF, its BD branch is also influenced by the ideology and the modus operandi of the IIF.
72. Support for the creation of independent Muslim States in southern Philippines and the Arakan region of Myanmar is an important objective of not only the Pakistani jihadi organisations, which are members of the IIF, but also of Islamic fundamentalist parties of Pakistan, which constitute the six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which came to power on its own in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) after the elections of October, 2002, and is a member of the ruling coalition in Balochistan. In fact, this subject figured in the MMA's election manifesto.The Pakistani jihadi parties, which are members of the IIF, seek the creation of an Islamic caliphate in South Asia consisting of Pakistan, BD, and the "to be liberated Muslim homelands" of India, including Jammu & Kashmir. For achieving these purposes, a strong and increasing presence in BD becomes important for them.
IMPACT ON INDIA'S NATIONAL SECURITY
73.What constitutes BD today has always been an area of great concern to India's national security since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Between 1956 and 1971, the ISI trained and armed the Naga and Mizo insurgents of India's North-East in camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of the then East Pakistan. The headquarters of the so-called Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Mizo National Front (MNF) of Laldenga were located in the CHT.
74. During the 1971 war, R.N.Kao, the then head of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), India's external intelligence agency, sent a secret commando force to the CHT to destroy the training camps of the NFG and the MNF and capture their leaders. While the force was able to destroy the anti-India training infrastructure in the East Pakistan territory, the leaders and cadres of the NFG and the MNF evaded capture and managed to escape into Myanmar.
75. After Bangladesh was born, the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Government ensured that the BD territory did not again become the sanctuary for the insurgent/terrorist elements of India's North-East. After the assassination of Mujib in August 1975 and during the military regimes that followed till 1991, the use of the BD territory for training the insurgents of not only Nagaland and Mizoram, but also of Tripura, Manipur, Assam and other regions of the North-East was resumed. The intelligence establishments of BD and Pakistan acted in tandem in assisting the insurgents/terrorists of the North-East.
76. India's security concerns have also been aggravated by the large-scale illegal migration of Muslims from BD into the adjoining Indian territory, which threatens to change the demographic composition of these areas. India is likely to face a cross-border jihadi terrorism situation in the North-East too similar to the situation which it faces on its Western borders with Pakistan if it does not act against the influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. While no accurate estimate of the influx is available, many reports put the influx from Bangladesh at over 20 million.
77. At almost every annual conference of the Directors-General of Police from different States, they have projected the failure of different Governments to act against this influx as posing a major threat to our internal security, particularly in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Unfortunately, no Government has been able to act against it because the so-called secular parties and organisations and large sections of the so-called liberal media have mis-projected any action against illegal migration from BD as anti-Muslim. The secular parties, particularly the Marxists, also look upon these illegal migrants as useful additions to their vote banks.
78. One of the important lessons learnt by the USA and West Europe post-9/11 is the need for effective immigration control, particularly over the migrants from the Islamic world. This influx is exploited by pan-Islamic jihadi organisations and trans-national crime groups to spread terror and crime. It is the realisation that there cannot be effective internal security without effective action against illegal migrants, which has been responsible for the strong action taken by the John Howard Government in Australia and by the Bush administration in the USA. The procedures for the compulsory registration in the USA of migrants from "countries of concern", all of them Muslim, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been justified on grounds of national security. Despite the Bush Administration's strong backing for the Pervez Musharraf regime in Islamabad, it has rejected its request for exempting the Pakistanis from this requirement. Its Attorney-General has rightly taken the stand that where national security is concerned no relaxation can be allowed for any reason, political or otherwise. Large sections of the political and public opinion in the USA have backed the stand of the Government. Unfortunately, in India, the need for strong action against illegal migrants from BD continues to be overlooked by different Governments for political reasons, thereby undermining our national security. With the growth of jihadi terrorism in BD, this problem is likely to assume even more serious proportions than hitherto.
79. The previous Government of Sheikh Hasina was at least sincere in wanting to put an end to the use of BD territory by anti-India elements, whether Islamic or ethnic, but she was unable to do anything in this regard due to the interest of the military-intelligence establishment in keeping the anti-India elements alive and active against India. It is often not realised that there are as many terrorist training camps in BD territory as in Pakistan, if not more, and that more Indian fugitives wanted for their involvement in acts of terrorism in Indian territory have been given shelter in BD (85) than in Pakistan(20).
80. The Begum Khaleda Zia Government, which has been in power in Dacca since 2001, looks upon the fundamentalist and jihadi elements as its objective allies. Though the BNP is by no means a fundamentalist party, she wants to use these elements to keep India destabilised externally and to weaken the Awami League and its allies internally. She has shown no desire or inclination to act against either the anti-India elements from our North-East or the jihadi terrorist elements which pose a threat not only to their own country and India, but also to the South-East Asian region and the world as a whole. It has given a free hand to its military-intelligence establishment, which continues to collude with the ISI.
81. Till now, the international community has not paid as much attention as it deserves to the signs of BD emerging as a new hub of pro-bin Laden jihadi terrorism. The situation in BD is similar to the one in Indonesia before the Bali explosion of October,2002. The Khaleda Zia Government, like the Megawati Sukarnoputri Government in Indonesia before October 2002, refuses to acknowledge the growing activities of the jihadi terrorist elements from its territory and has been avoiding any strong action against them while continuing to pay lip-service to BD's support to the so-called war against international terrorism. Like Pakistan, BD too is lacking in sincerity in its implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 against terrorism. Unless the international community pressurises her to start acting against the jihadi and other terrorist elements operating from BD territory, this region and the world are in for another nasty surprise similar to the Bali explosion.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: email@example.com )
We are most grateful to the distinguished writer for this account and present it to the whole world on this page for raising awareness.