27th September, 2013
At a time when Bangladesh is beset with a deadly conflict between fundamentalist and liberal forces, raising a serious concern over the election-bound country's fate, not only there lies the question of ultimate identity for a nation that once attained sovereignty by placing its linguistic and cultural self above the religious status, but there also looms the danger of terror-linked Islamic fundamentalist movement that has gained immense strength after being nourished for political interest during the past regime of Khaleda Zia.
It vitiated the entire South Asia and posed a great threat to the internal security of India—a book that delves into Bangladesh's socio-political-religious fabric, suggests.
'Bangladesh: Tryst with destiny', authored by Dipanjan Roy Choudhury, a Program Director with New Delhi-based Aspen Institute India, seeks
to explore in this book how a Muslim dominated country that took its birth dismissing the 'two nation theory', and 'demonstrated that religion alone was not sufficient to have national identity,' has the paradox of having a parallel force of fundamentalism that has its root in the region's political history.
It narrates how the religious bigots who had colluded with Pakistani forces in aborting the birth of a sovereign country were reinstated in the mainstream by the late President Gen. Ziaur Rahman and then nurtured by his Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by his wife Khaleda Zia, how fundamental forces spread out building up a Jihadi network having links with organizations like Al Qaeda to set in motion a reverse trend of history by slowly converting Bangladesh into a new regional hub for terrorist operations and how, still a vast section of the Bangladesh's pro-secular population , identifying themselves on cultural and linguistic plank, were acting as a deterrent to militant Islamists taking over the country.
The author, who had earlier worked with Mail Today, Kuwait News Agency and United News of India: and has an avid interest in foreign and strategic affairs, also dealt with the threat of terrorism, already rooted in Bangladesh with the aid of external forces and having its toll on Indian soil.
The author, whose book deals mainly with the happenings during the two terms of Khaleda Zia as Prime Minister from 1990 to 1995 and 2001 to 2006 feels that it is important to have an in-depth discussion on the happenings in Bangladesh with which India shares the longest boundary . It is more important in the background of the fact that India played the most critical role in the emergence of Bangladesh over four decades back 'to defeat a brutal and suppressive regime of West Pakistan paving the way for victory of secular ideology..." he points out.
While summing up the predicament of today's Bangladesh, Roy Choudhury says it is striving hard to maintain its democratic and secular identity despite threats from within and outside.
"It is a functioning democracy whose citizens are conscious of their ethnic identity that had shaped birth of the nation. Bangladesh's emergence as an independent secular state dismissed the 'two nation theory' that had formed the basis for the creation of Pakistan in 1947, and demonstrated that religion alone was not sufficient to have national identity. However, fundamentalist forces supported by groups from within and outside have occupied legitimate political space in the country's history from time to time," he says.
Tracing history, the author points out that after Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, the first ruling Awami League (AL) Government preaching secularism banned all political activities of Jamaat e Islami Party, a fundamentalist organization, on the ground that it had conspired with Pakistan. However, following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1975, the turn of events paved the way for Gen. Ziaur Rehman to come to power as a military ruler.
"In an effort to establish itself as a viable political organization, the BNP then gave amnesty to the Jamaat e Islami and permitted them to revive their political activities... Jamaat leaders, who had fled to Pakistan in the aftermath of the 1971 war, were brought back to Bangladesh by Rehman," the book says.
"But in a subsequent upheaval the BNP itself lost power to a military dictator. The Jamaat nevertheless continued to flourish during the nine years of dictatorial rule that followed. When democracy in the country was supposedly restored in 1990, the BNP narrowly won the election and ruled for one term. But in the next term AL captured power by successfully aligning with Jamaat e Islami. The BNP then recaptured power in 2001 by luring the Islamist group to its camp," the author recollects.
He points out that during Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's first stint at the helm in the first half of the 1990s, 'Jamaat and other fundamentalist outfits were given free rein.' Over the years, Jamaat set up thousands of madrassas in Bangladesh, many of which are known to recruit and train radicals and jihadi fighters. While the Islamist groups in Bangladesh flourished with "vast financial help, Al Qaeda and other international groups established links with them, but their main benefactor still remains Saudi Arabia" as the bulk of the aid money to the fundamentalists in Bangladesh come from that country.
The result ? The author cites the examples of the growing involvement of Bangladeshi nationals in terror attacks across India in the decade of 2000 that " raised concerns over the growing clout of Islamic fundamentalism in the South Asian country and the presence of the extremist anti-India forces in the neighbourhood."
"The terror attacks in Ayodhya, Bangalore, Delhi, Varanasi and Mumbai, were executed among others by Bangladeshi extremists and their growing influence in the Indian sub-continent signals the rise of intolerant forces, which are non-secular and anti-democratic," the book says adding the big bilateral row during Khaleda Zia's time over the Indian insurgents from the north-eastern region taking refuge in Bangladesh, which the BNP Government consistently denied despite irrefutable evidence.
"A growing Islamic fundamentalist movement linked to Al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence agencies are slowly converting Bangladesh into a new regional hub for terrorist operations. The Jihadi movement in Bangladesh under its emir Sheikh Abdul Salam Muhammad is linked to Osama bin Laden. He jointly signed 'Fatwas' in 1998 with Bin Laden calling for Islamic Jihad against USA, Israel and India," the author says.
As the book presents facts, the financial might of these fundamentalist and extremist forces in Bangladesh is immeasurable. "Existence of 54 banks in a failed economy and their modus-operandi reflects one primary objective that is to decontaminate terrorist funds before transmitting them through hawala network. Jamaat runs its own bank named the Bangladesh Islami Bank and it is all set to open the branches Al Falah Islami Bank, Islami Tafaqul Sanchayee Bima, and Jamati Jiban Bima Corporation. This shows the unique Bangladesh formulation of terrorism combining both political violence and economics of violence," it says.
Touching upon the depredation of fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh that ran amok during Khaleda Zia's second term during 2001 and 2006, the author mentions about the murder of the country's former Finance Minister Kibiria, the serial synchronised explosions in 63 of Bangladesh's 64 districts, grenade and bomb explosions across the country that left 30 dead and the murder of two Awami League opposition leaders besides the Jamat's penetration into the higher ranks of the armed forces. The book also mentions about the US listing Harkat ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI) of Bangladesh as a terrorist outfit and the BNP-ally Jamat that supports suicide bombings, political assassinations and harassment of the Hindu minority having set up network with Pakistan's Intelligence agencies, especially the ISI.
As the Bangladeshi fundamentalists force their writ over a vast rural population and demand Sharia law in the country, the author observes that it is in Bangladesh's own interest to prevent the 'Talibanisation of the country. "Talibanisation of Bangladesh and its borders would have a significant impact not only on the security of India, but also on Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. It could also provide assistance to the Islamic jehadis in South East Asian countries," he says.
The author also says how Islamist extremists for long maintaining operational linkages with foreign groups seek to set up an Islamic State encompassing Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and southern Philippines were hiding in Bangladeshi terror camps. "NGOs have also played a major role in the rise of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. Laden funded several such groups in Bangladesh through an organisation called the Servants of Suffering Humanity International, Dhaka."
Dwelling on the intelligence reports received during the tenure of Khaleda Zia, the books says the Bangladeshi illegal immigrant population to India provides a good recruiting ground to the ISI. "They have a sizeable population in Assam, parts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat. The Bangladesh border has also become notorious for smuggling of arms, explosives, drugs and fake currency. The smuggled arms and ammunition are not only used to create terror in India but also exported to other South-East Asian countries."
As the author concludes, Bangladesh "has a history of linguistic nationalism triumphing over religious nationalism" and there is still a strong Bengali culture that Bangladeshi Muslims and Hindus share. "This has acted as a brake against the rising tide of extremism to some extent so far."
"India's policy planning apparatus both civil and military are invariably caught on the back foot. Whether it is Kashmir, Kargil or China we do not anticipate events or trends in the making. Islamic fundamentalist threats are no longer confined to sources from Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have started emanating from Bangladesh as a base too as would be evident from the proliferation of Islamic fundamentalist organisations in Assam," he says.
“With conditions in the country conducive to the spread of Islamic extremism, the Government's relaxed approach to this issue could enhance Bangladesh's attractiveness as a haven for terrorists fleeing counter-terrorism operations elsewhere," the author observes.
--IBNS (Posted on 27-09-2013