Clash of Civilizations in the Subcontinent
In 2016 in a Café in Dhaka, the jihadis lined up the diners, carried out identification parade, those who could recite the Kalma were spared, those with burqas were also spared, the rest were killed. A 19-year old Indian girl, Tanushree Jain was also killed. In all, 29 were killed of which 20 were foreigners, mostly Italians, Koreans and Japanese. Recently in Kashmir, in a government school in Sri Nagar, the jihadis lined up the staff, identified them in a similar way, killed the Sikh lady principal Supinder Kaur and a Hindu teacher Deepak Chand, the Muslims were spared. The parallel between Kashmir and Bangladesh does not end here.
Two parallel exoduses of Hindus, one in Kashmir and other in Bangladesh; are they linked? In Bangladesh, more than dozen Hindus lost their lives, at least 15 temples destroyed, at least 160 Durga Puja pandals vandalized, at least two dozen rapes and at least 160 houses were ransacked and looted.
In the recent past, there was also an exodus within West Bengal. In Bangladesh, 22 out of 64 districts, witnessed simultaneous violence against Hindus, i.e. which included Rangpur in the North, Comilla in the East, Fenny, Noakhali, Chhittagong and Cox’s Bazar in the South and Southeast. The trigger – a facebook comment or a cartoon or a leaf out of ‘the book’!
Is it love for the faith or apprehension about the life of the faith, which is increasingly over the centuries becoming difficult to reconcile with the geopolitical flux.
The slogan “…… khatre mein” (…… faith in danger), has mobilized Islamists over centuries, from London to Male, from Madrid to Manila, from Denmark to Dhaka, from Tehran to Delhi, from Mogadishu to Multan, from Istanbul to Islamabad, and from Kabul to Kuala Lumpur.
During this Dushehra period, a 37 year old man, Espen Anderson, who had recently converted to Islam, killed five fellow Norwegians with bow and arrow in a shopping complex in Norway. Four of the targets that he picked up for jihadi archery treatment, were women. Anderson had been on the watch of the Norwegian security due to his rapid and rabid radicalization. Coinciding with this attack was the attack on a British MP Sir David Amess in Essex in England, while he was meeting his constituency members in a church. The assailant stabbed him multiple times. He was identified as Ali Harbi Ali – a 25-year old British Muslim of Somali heritage. He too like Espen Anderson, was under watch of the British security agencies because of his jihadi proclivities.
The jihadi attacks discussed so far suggest a pattern, that, there is a global jihad and sub-continental jihad. The jihad all over the Indian subcontinent is part of the same project, because for jihadis in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, boundaries are blasphemous to the concept of Islam, Ummah and Caliphate. In the Indian context, for the jihadis the boundaries are blasphemous, while for the patriots it is sacred. This is what is ‘clash of civilizations’.
Just as in Kashmir, the exodus of Hindus from Bangladesh and even East Pakistan has been an endemic feature. Just eight years ago in February 2013, there was a similar attack throughout Bangladesh on Hindus. More than 50 temples were destroyed, and 1500 houses of Hindus burnt. The trigger was the pronouncement of death sentence of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi by the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh. He was tried for crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. In that he as a member of JeI, was accused of genocide, mass murder, rape of Hindus and arson of their properties. Both these attacks, in 2013 and 2021 on Hindus, were perpetrated by Islamic Chatra Shivir (ICS), the student wing of JeI, which has its stronghold in the areas of Chhittagong and Cox’s Bazar. Just as in the recent case, the attacks were in every nook and corner of the country, i.e. Khulna in the west, Rangpoore in the North, Dhaka in the center, Barishal in the south-centeral Bangladesh, Sylhet in the East, Chhittagong and Cox’s Bazar in southeast. The JeI in Bangladesh has close links with Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The JeI is the progenitor of all the radical groups in the sub-continent. The JeI Pakistan, JeI India, and JeI Bangladesh are brothers in arms as they have the same mother in Deoband in India. Pakistan’s ISI had embarked on the radicalization of Afghanistan through the aegis of the JeI. In fact, the jihadization of Bangladesh began with the return of the 3000 Bangladeshi jihadis from Afghanistan in early 90s. They had the experience of fighting against the Soviet troops.
The targeting of Hindus, because of political and geopolitical events by Islamists is not only confined to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but India as well. In 2017, there were widespread riots in the Basirhat area in southeastern portion of West Bengal, located in close proximity to Indo-Bangladesh border. The ostensible reason was a facebook post, by a 17-year old boy, which the Islamists found blasphemous. The real reason was Modi’s visit to Israel, and subsequently to US, wherein Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of Kashmiri militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen was designated as a ‘global terrorist’. These riots subsequently spread to Nandigram, Dhulagarh and Kalichak. These riots caused exodus of Hindus from many affected pockets.
The high point in the link between jihad in India and Bangladesh was in the year 2008 and 2009. In November 2008, there was an attack in Mumbai (26/11), three months later, there was a massive revolt in the Bangladesh Rifles, in which more than 57 army officers lost their lives, including the Director General and his deputy. Both the events were planned and orchestrated by Pakistan’s ISI. The objective of both these attacks was, political, to perpetuate a regime in India and dislodge a freshly installed regime in Bangladesh by assassinating the prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Both these attacks were facilitated by the political class in the two countries. In Bangladesh, it was the BNP, which electoral partner was the JeI. It may be recalled that Sheikh Hasina in her election manifesto had declared in all sincerity to try the JeI stalwarts for their crimes and mass-murders during the Liberation War. She did hang the ex-JeI leader and Khaleda Zia’s minister, Abdul Qadir Mollah, for war crimes. In 2014, Motiur Rahman Nizami, former minister for Agriculture and Industry was convicted and later executed for rape and mass murder of fellow citizens. Nizami was also tried for smuggling of 10 truck loads of weapons comprising 5000 small arms, 27000 grenades, 840 rocket launchers, 300 rockets and lacs of ammunition. Had it not been intercepted in Chhittagong, there would have been bloodbath in India and Bangladesh. Both Mollah and Nizami were part of the infamous al-Badr Brigade of the JeI. Another Al-Badr Brigade is also increasingly in news in Kashmir.
The JeI, Jamait-e-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) are both known for their Deoband and Islamic State connection. Another jihadi group in Bangladesh, Ansar-ul-Islam, has links with the Al-Qaeda. In 2005, the JMB carried out 500 bomb blasts in 63 out of 64 districts simultaneously. Sheikh Hasina came down heavily on these groups, and consequently they found political patronage in West Bengal, something which is getting stronger by the day.
The main issue that confronts Islamic countries is to differentiate between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. If a country like Pakistan or Bangladesh does not allow questioning of Islamic faith or finds any kind of reform as repugnant to Islam, then automatically it becomes a partner of the fundamentalists and jihadis in crimes against people of other faith or minorities. If the state becomes a partner of the Sunni fundamentalists, for political exigencies, then who will protect the other citizens, even if they belong to Shia and Ahmadiya communities.
The most glaring example is the case of Tehreek-e-Labaik in Pakistan (TLP). This radical Barelavi organization was used by the Pak Army to install Imran Khan. Today, the same Imran Khan is using the TLP to neutralize the Army. The TLP was used to blockade the capital Islamabad during the run-up to the elections. A Pakistani Major General was caught on camera distributing cash to the protestors in 2015. The TLP was subsequently banned, nevertheless, it has now issued ultimatum to the Imran government to release 350 activists in various jails of Pakistan. More than 10,000 TLP supporters are camped along the road from Lahore to Islamabad and are demanding the release of their party chief Rizvi. Besides, they are also demanding the expulsion of the French Ambassador because of the ‘blasphemous’ cartoons published in a French publication. It’s a typical case, wherein a Islamic State is at odds with Islam. Also a typical case, wherein the dispensation in a Islamic State is using radicals for political exigencies. There is every indication that the Imran government in a pre-planned move will respond to the ultimatum.
If faith was supreme, then why did East Pakistan become Bangladesh? The Bangladeshis must realize that if the Punjabis and Pathans of Pakistan did not have fraternal sentiments for them, the Arabs or the Turks are least likely to have it, and least of all, the Chinese. By the way, Turkey withdrew its ambassador when Nizami was hanged.
Islamic States in our sub-continental context in military terms serve as ‘firm bases’ or ‘citadels’ against non-Islamic states. Will China eventually be pitted against the Islamic States? Will Islam and Ummah weigh heavy on China or will China consume Islam, are some of the questions that need to be pondered upon. The present bonhomie between China and Pakistan, and China and Taliban may not be an enduring story. This will be the most interesting clash of civilizations. The Islamic countries in our sub-continent are attracted towards China, because of its anti-West and anti-India position in the present geopolitical setup. The Islamists construe China’s anti-India position, as anti-Hindu, while China sees India as its most formidable regional competitor.
By RSN SINGH
(The writer is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW)