Eating own words
The government has finally eaten its own words by banning Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), an Islamist militant organisation led by Bangla Bhai.
When newspapers started reporting on the activities of Bangla Bhai and JMJB in the northern region about a year ago, the government said it was false. Even the media was blamed for creating such a 'fictitious' character.
The government high-ups, ruling coalition leaders and high police officials had repeatedly denied the existence of Bangla Bhai and JMJB, brushing aside the newspaper stories and interviews of the militant leader.
"We don't know officially about the existence of the JMJB. Only some so-called newspapers are publishing reports on it. We don't have their constitution in our record," State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar said on January 26.
Making the comment to the BBC radio, Babar, on government's inaction to arrest Bangla Bhai, said, "I oppose very strongly that our ministry has failed to take action, because we are still trying. How would we arrest anyone if he is absent physically or not available?"
But yesterday, after the government banned the JMJB, Babar told the same radio, "We are embarrassed, as it is not being possible to arrest Bangla Bhai…..We have put extreme pressure on the police to nab him."
In April last year, newspapers started running stories on the JMJB actions in the name of fighting Sarbaharas (outlaws), but failed to motivate the government or the police to arrest the members of Bangla Bhai's outfit.
The government first denied Bangla Bhai's existence, then said they did not find him.
Even Prime Minister Khaleda Zia herself, while exchanging views with editors in August last year, said there is no existence of Bangla Bhai.
Ruling coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer and Industries Minister Matiur Rahman Nizami on July 22 last year said, "Bangla Bhai was created by some newspapers."
He also accused newspapers of having links with Bangla Bhai. "If they (newspapers) do not have any relations with him (Bangla Bhai) then how do they publish exclusive interview of Bangla Bhai," the Jamaat ameer told a press conference.
"Police have nothing to do if there is no existence of the so-called Bangla Bhai. Whom should they arrest?" said Nizami on June 22 last year while exchanging views with reporters of national dailies at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban.
However, Finance Minister M Saifur Rahman and PM's Political Secretary Harris Chowdhury said the PM had ordered the arrest of Bangla Bhai and his operatives.
Harris Chowdhury on May 30 told the BBC radio that the PM has directed law enforcement agencies to arrest all people with criminal record including Bangla Bhai, with the announcement of Tk 50,000 bounty on the Islamist outfit chief.
But he brushed aside media reports on Bangla Bhai.
On July 22, Social Welfare Minister Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid came up with different explanations. "The prime minister's directive was in this line -- if there is any one who takes law in his own hands, police have to arrest him immediately."
On May 15 last year, a cabinet committee meeting on law and order ordered police to arrest Bangla Bhai and his followers. A week later, the JMJB operatives staged a showdown in Rajshahi and met DC, SP and DIG.
Even the SP (Masud Mia) welcomed the JMJB team and said, "We (police) hail you (JMJB) as you are helping us eliminate the Sarbaharas from Rajshahi. We must co-operate with you in the coming days so that people can rest without fear."
But he told The Daily Star, "There is no one called Bangla Bhai, nor any party called the JMJB. It's the local people who have forged resistance. I have come to know about Bangla Bhai through newspapers."
Rajshahi range's DIG (Deputy Inspector General) of Police Noor Mohammad on June 23 said there is no existence of 'so-called Bangla Bhai' in the region.
Zahirul Haque, director general of the external publicity wing of the foreign ministry, on January 25 this year quoted US Embassy in Dhaka officials about the non-existence of Bangla Bhai. But the US embassy later refuted his comment.