Anatomy of Bangladesh Opposition Hasina Must Act
Recent reports in the Bangladesh media have raised very serious questions on the terrorist arms of the Bangladesh opposition political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI).
It was reported that the new chief or Amir of the terrorist organisation Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) Saidur Raheman and its majlis member Shahid Bin Hafiz, who are currently in police custody revealed the depth and connections of JMB which need to be pursued by the government with the seriousness they deserve.
Saidur Reheman confirmed earlier suspicion that the JMB was really the terrorist wing of the JEI, and their activities were directed by the top level leader of the JEI. The current task of the JMB, as directed by the JEI, was to create chaos across the country to scuttle the upcoming trial of the 1971 war criminals. They had around three thousand bombs in their possession, which would obviously be used in their campaign. Most of the senior leaders of the JEI like current Amir Matiur Rehman Nizami, former Amir Golam Azam, and leaders like Kamruzzaman and ideologue Delwar Hossain Saidee have been indicted for war crimes against the people of Bangladesh and cooperating with Pakistani occupation Army during the 1971 liberation war.
Both Saidur Reheman and Shadid Bin Haziz have confessed they had formed a 25-member suicide squad to carry out terror actions. They had received training from the LTTE in making powerful bombs and hand grenades, and also fabricating suicide bomber vests. The duo also said trainers from abroad had trained their cadres including women cadres in martial arts at a training centre in Bogra. Hafiz, himself, is a karate black belt.
The JMB, according to the confessions of these two leaders, has around 3000 cadres. For a country like Bangladesh where Islamist sympathizers have flourished in the last decade and a half, a cadre strength of this magnitude dedicated to their cause is no small thing.
Eradicating terrorists and their organisations from Bangladesh is not an easy task. Bangladesh researchers have listed around 120 terrorist organisations in the country, controlled and financed by similarly dedicated organisations both inside the country and abroad.
It is difficult to say if all of them are part of one network, but towards similar ideas and objectives, not known to have clashed with one another and enjoy the same patronage. Some are members of more than one such organisation.
Arrested leaders of the JMB and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) have separately confessed that most of their cadres were either members of the JEI or its student wing, the Islamic Chatra Shibir (ICS). Celebrated Bangladeshi economist and sociologist, Dr Abul Barkat, who has conducted deep studies in Bangladesh terrorism, recorded that of the 125 such organisations, most were controlled by either the JEI or the ICS, and by the Islamic Oikyo Jote (IOJ) as well as the Pakistani ISI.
Former Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary, Shafi Sami, stated in 2005 that around 50 thousand terrorists in the country had been trained with financial assistance from the al Qaeda. Some of the organisations linked with al Qaeda identified by Sami included HUJI, JMB, Hizbul Touheed, Saadat-e-Hikme, Saedar-e-Nabuyat all banned organisations now, and the freely active Islami Chatra Shibir.
Foreign NGOs involved in financing the terrorist organisations in Bangladesh includes the International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO) run by Osama bin Laden’s brothers-in-law, the Al-Harmain Trust, revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS) of Kuwait and others. Money is channelled either through hawala transactions, carried by individuals, and the Islamic Bank of Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which ruled the country from 2001 to 2006 in close alliance with the JEI, almost patronised the rise of Islamic terrorism to its highest level in the country.
Why did Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia take the course to retain and project power? It is well known that Begum Zia dismissed the reports on JMB as the creation of the media’s imagination. But the country-wide bombing by the JMB on August 17, 2005 forced her to admit this organisation’s existence. The BNP President’s emotional attachment to Pakistan is well known. But whether she wanted to make Bangladesh a confederate of Pakistan is not clear. But the JEI had such an agenda along with converting Bangladesh into a Sharia ruled state. That agenda still exists very much for the party.
Khaleda Zia nurses a visceral hatred for Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League and in turn, for India. They believe that the Awami League’s power came from India, blindly refusing to see the truth on the ground, that the people of Bangladesh gave them a chance but they betrayed the people. In a democracy, the people are the King makers and they will bring down the King if the King does not save them.
Anger, and hatred make for a deadly concoction which kills the capability to judge. How else can one explain the actions of the widow of a hero of the liberation war sleeping with what was once the enemy? On the other hand, the JEI agenda was derived from cold calculation to emerge as the largest party in parliament by 2011-2012. That is not possible now, but an ideologically driven party can hardly give up its goal.
It is a well known fact that as Prime Minister, Begum Zia more than tolerated terrorists like HUJI and JMB. In terms of character, and in her sartorial and cosmetic tastes, she hardly conforms to the religious and moral dictates of the JEI and the terrorists.
It is not known if Khaleda Zia ever had direct contact with the terrorist leaders. But it is known the JEI leader Delwar Hossain Saidee dissuaded her from executing the top six JMB leaders arrested on March 06, 2006 following intense US pressure. These six were executed by the military backed caretaker government on March 30, 2007.
Khaleda Zia’s elder son, Tareque Rehman Zia, businessman, Senior Joint General Secretary of the BNP, who virtually ran the government from Hawa Bhawan, became an unique “mad” dictator. To him, nothing had any sanctity. He and his henchmen in the BNP like Minister of State for Home, Lutfozzaman Babar, Home Minister Air Marshal (Retd.) Altaf Hossain Choudhury, Minister Amirul Haque and Ruhul Quddus Dulu were among those who acted as Tareque’s conduits to these terrorist organisations. One of the JMB executed leaders, Bangla Bhai, used to call Tareque ‘Mama’ or maternal uncle!
Tareque was discreetly involved with ISI, its front media company ARY, and international underground lord Dawood Ibrahim based in Karachi, in the conspiracy to import ten truck loads of arms through the Chittagong Port for ULFA terrorists in North-East India. Tareque was assisting anti-India operations of Pakistan, and got mixed with one of world’s most wanted criminals.
The Tareque clique was also involved in attempt to assassinate Sheikh Hassina. The intention of recounting the immediate past history of the BNP-JEI alliance is, first, to assess the anatomy of a democratically elected alliance government resorting to terrorism, sabotage and political assassinations to perpetuate their power.
There is a much more serious aspect to the BNP-JEI combine incubating terrorists. These Bangladeshi terrorist organisations backed by the ISI of Pakistan have networked with international terrorist organisations like the alQaeda and Gulf and Saudi NGOs, which even have connection with 9/11 terrorist attack on the US. India, of course, was the primary target of the Tareque clique.
Terrorism tops the threat to the entire international community. Terrorism, founded on the basic distortion of Islamic trust or Islam as a whole threatens not only non-Islamic countries but also Islamic countries which follow liberal and religious inclusive policies. Indonesia and Malaysia are examples. In other Islamic countries, these terrorists are severely challenging elected governments.
In this atmosphere, the JEI of Bangladesh continues to promote terrorism in its political chase. If the JEI sponsored terrorism wins, the world would have to pay, because this variety of terrorism does not remain localised, especially because Bangladeshi terrorism was imported from the international network.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have a huge challenge on their hand, but too many political cases and distraction activities by the main opposition is blurring the focus on terrorism. If the terrorists and their former and current sponsors survive, there will be no time or scope to address the development of the nation.
It is, therefore, imperative for Bangladesh to immediately separate financial corruption cases, and cases under terrorism and political assassination (and attempt to assassinate) cases into two distinct compartments.
Financial corruption cases can drag on. In the developing world and, as a matter of fact in almost all countries, such corruption is endemic. It cannot be said that members of one section indulge in it and not the other. Such cases do not threaten the sovereignty of a country.
But terrorism, mixed with international criminal syndicates and foreign intelligence agencies trying to subvert a government, is a major challenge to the very basic political, economic, social and cultural edifice of a country. This is the challenge that Bangladesh has been facing from 2001, at least.
Sheikh Hasina’s government finally brought to closure the case related to the assassination of Banga Bandhu, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. The other two issues crying for a closure are the trial of the war criminals and the jail killings of the Awami League leaders. Of these two, the war criminal trial demands precedence. It has its connectivity with the BNP-JEI terrorism. This is a fact, and the challenge and threat today is no less than the 1971 war crimes, when terrorism rose to genocide.
The people of Bangladesh and the government must assess the impact of the BNP-JEI politics on the development of the country. Any agreement with India including power purchase of an energy starved Bangladesh is propagandised by the BNP and JEI as a threat to the country’s sovereignty. For these two parties, they would rather go down the hole of under development than have anything to do with India. This is a reflection of Pakistan’s policy towards India, though Islamabad has enlisted international financial support against global anti-terrorism war. The Pakistan formula will be disastrous for Bangladesh.
Leaving India aside from the equation, foreign investors will come in only if they find the country is stable and their investments are safe. Terrorism infested Pakistan today survives on dole from the international community and the USA. Foreign aid is coming to Pakistan to persuade Islamabad to fight terrorism. If the foreign interests leave Pakistan, the country will face ruin. Do the BNP and the JEI propose such a situation for Bangladesh?
Following the Awami League’s return to power, the international community has been upbeat about Bangladesh. Dhaka is poised to grow more than six percent if its power sector is allowed to improve. But if the country is held hostage by BNP-JEI politics with an over shadow of terrorism and religious obscurantism at their command, Bangladesh will go down.
A question to the JEI and the BNP. Have the tainted leadership of the JEI realised that they are getting out of step with the political evolution in the country? Some younger cadres of the JEI and sections of the ICS have begun to oppose the dictatorial ways of the top leaders, and feel that the top leadership with the blood of Bangladeshis on their hands should retire. The post liberation generation appears to be thinking in terms of Bangladesh, and not a handmaiden of Pakistan. All sections of the JEI and the ICS must introspect on this.
The BNP, on the other hand, is a mixed bag without a national ideology. Many leaders have come from left background, liberation background, and opportunists. One could dare say that many of them may not have been aware of Tareque Rehman’s terrorist political agenda. Even if some of them knew, they dared not challenge him. Would they now think of cleansing the party and through internal revolt create a political party worth its salt?
For the Awami League led government, time is of the essence to establish the country of Banga Bandhu’s vision. Justice delayed is justice denied. Similarly, delay kills a project.
There has been a sudden laxity in pursuing anti-national cases to their end. The case of the BDR revolt appears to have been reduced to one of internal frustration, though there is circumstantial evidence to suggest it was a well worked conspiracy from outside.
The last words are thus. You cannot sleep with your enemy even if there is a truce. The enemy harbours revenge. Even if some Awami Leaguers were involved in any misdemeanors in cases of terrorism, they must be dealt with according to the law.
The government faces obstruction from embedded pro-BNP and pro-JEI bureaucrats and security officials from carrying out its cleansing programme. But that has to be surmounted if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wants to pursue her Bangladesh vision to a successful conclusion.
By Bhaskar Roy