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Bangladesh Islamists float political party with government nod

Indo-Asian News Service

Dhaka, September 29, 2008

Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Leaders of the banned Islamist outfit Harkatul Jihad al Islami (HuJI) in Bangladesh have floated the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) ahead of the December elections with permission from the caretaker government, which said it had found the group had no terror links.


Tracing back their origin to the 1980s war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, the HuJI leaders say they formed a 15-member convening committee in May as the caretaker administration gave them the go-ahead after a probe found nothing that could link them to any subversive campaign.


Kazi Azizul Huq, an adviser of the newborn organisation, told The Daily Star: "The intelligence agencies gathered that we have no relations to any terrorist networks.


"The government however set some conditions. Those include ones that say the party must run as per the country's constitution, and not resort to violence to implement Shariah law."


HuJI is banned at home, is listed in the US as a terrorist outfit and has been named frequently by Indian authorities for its alleged involvement in a number of terror attacks in Indian cities.


To gain acceptance as a political party, HuJI has gone out of the way to woo non-Muslims and even an American who thinks launching a political party would help separate the body from terrorism.


Last Friday, HuJI, donning the IDP label, held an Iftar party at the city's Diploma Engineers Institution that was attended by party leaders and guests including Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of Blitz weekly, Human Rights Forum general secretary Sanjeeb Choudhury and Chitta Francis, a representative of the Christian community.


HuJI official Azizul Huq said Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and Richard L. Benkin, an American citizen, helped in efforts to portray IDP in a positive light across the globe.


In an e-mail to a Daily Star correspondent, Benkin said: "Mr. Huq is correct. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and I continuously try to bridge the gulf between religious communities throughout the world and always look for opportunities to promote a positive image of Bangladesh worldwide.


"The newly formed Islamic Democratic Party opens the door for Muslims to separate themselves before the entire world from radicals and terrorists while at the same time affirming their strength in the Muslim faith."


Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Naim Ahmed told the newspaper that they allowed IDP to arrange the function as it was a religious one. He added that police would go in for a closer examination before giving the organisation permission to arrange political programmes.


Sheikh Abdus Salam, one of the Huji founders, heads the IDP's convening committee.


Sources close to IDP said the outfit's ultimate objective is to establish Shariah law in Bangladesh.


But Azizul Huq said: "Our goal is to run the country as per the Charter of Medina that gives equal rights to all citizens irrespective of religion and ethnicity."


He said that the IDP wants to introduce Shariah law only for the Muslims. Other religious and ethnic minorities may follow the existing law of the land and norms of their communities.


"We don't want to impose anything on anyone. We'll put the Islamic laws into practice only if the people grant us an electoral mandate to amend the constitution," Azizul Huq said.


He said the government had suggested that the IDP take measures to convince the international community that their move to launch the outfit had no relations with extremism.


Many HuJI/IDP leaders have served jail terms for terror links and activities.


The party has already applied for registration with the Election Commission.


Azizul Huq said: "We are preparing for registration on meeting the conditions specified in the application form. At the same time, we are working to have organisational structures for district and upazila levels."


The HuJi men who are now with the IDP claim they had nothing to do with blasts and other acts of violence attributed to the Huji in general. Rather, it was a splinter group led by Mufti Hannan and Abdur Rouf that was responsible for the attacks.

Source: Hindustan Times, New Delhi