Sunday, February 13, 2005

BANGLADESH: Islamists thrive on Khaleda-Hasina confrontation

+ After winning the 2001 elections, Khaleda Zia included the Jamaat-e-Islami as a partner in her government. During the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, not only did the Jamaat-e-Islami actively oppose the liberation of the country, but also facilitated the brutal killing of thousands of pro-liberation Bengalis. As for its commitment to democracy, one may recall the October 1995 statement of the Pakistani arm of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which declared democracy to be un-Islamic. This party comprises those rebels in the armed forces who had conspired to eliminate the Prime Minister, the President and the Army Chief in order to establish an Islamic rule. Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami is the parent body of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh. +

Islamists thrive on Khaleda-Hasina confrontation
Samuel Baid

The confrontation between the Khaleda Zia Government and the Sheikh Hasina-led Opposition is taking Bangladesh beyond the levels of agitational politics permitted in a democracy. The two ladies once joined hands to dislodge President Ershad Hussain's dictatorial regime, but since then, their mutual relations have been marked by rabid intolerance and jealousy: when Sheikh Hasina comes to power, Khaleda Zia makes it her sole mission to topple her, and vice-versa.

In the process, the values for which lakhs of Bangladeshis laid down their lives in 1971, are being trampled. What worries India, the United States and Europe is the fact that, taking full advantage of the Khaleda-Hasina confrontation, anti-social elements and terrorists have dangerously entrenched themselves in Bangladesh. Frequent bombings at the Opposition's public meetings, targeting Sheikh Hasina and her party colleagues in the Awami League, could well be the work of those who want to crush democracy in Bangladesh to pave the way for an Army takeover followed by the Talibanisation of the country.

Khaleda Zia's second term as Prime Minister has proved to be a boon for anti-democratic obscurantist forces and terrorists who would like to use Bangladesh as a springboard for activities across the globe.

After winning the 2001 elections, Khaleda Zia included the Jamaat-e-Islami as a partner in her government. During the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, not only did the Jamaat-e-Islami actively oppose the liberation of the country, but also facilitated the brutal killing of thousands of pro-liberation Bengalis. As for its commitment to democracy, one may recall the October 1995 statement of the Pakistani arm of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which declared democracy to be un-Islamic. This party comprises those rebels in the armed forces who had conspired to eliminate the Prime Minister, the President and the Army Chief in order to establish an Islamic rule. Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami is the parent body of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, the Jamaat maintains links with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the Bangladesh Army and radical Islamists. Emboldened by these links, the Jamaat is like a tail (with only 17 members in Parliament) which can wag the dog (the Khaleda Zia Government). Begum Khaleda Zia seems to be helpless in tackling the activities of the Jamaat, and stopping the country from Talibanisation.

It remains a mystery how thousands of Al-Qaeda and Taliban members escaped from Afghanistan when United States-led forces began bombing that country in October 2001 as part of its war against terrorism. Pakistan was (and continues to be) the US' most trusted ally in this war. But it is known that Islamabad, with global terrorism as part of its foreign policy, has close links with both Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The kidnapping and murdering of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi revealed that top Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders had indeed been quietly given refuge in Pakistan because the ISI did not snap its relations with them. Pearl's murder exposed the Musharraf Administration's duplicity. It may not be wrong to presume that, so exposed, the ISI then found a safer haven for the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Bangladesh.

Things could have been made easier for the ISI because by then its protégé, the Jamaat-e-Islami, had become a powerful partner in the Khaleda Zia Government. Hundreds of members of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban travelled on ships from Karachi to Chittagong, from where they were taken to secret camps in Cox's Bazaar. Cox's Bazaar is used by Burma's Rohingya rebels as their springboard.

The influx of Taliban and Al-Qaeda men has reinforced militant Islamic groups which already exist in Bangladesh, with direct or indirect links to the Jamaat-e-Islami. These are believed to be 12 such groups. They include the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJAI), which originated from Harkat-ul-Jihad, founded in Pakistan in 1992 with funding from Osama bin Laden.

The HUJAI has 15,000 members who target Bangladeshi Hindus, moderate Muslims, secular intellectuals and journalists. Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JM) is believed to be its youth wing and conducts subversive activities. But some say that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen is the youth wing of Al-Mujahideen, which gets its funds from Saudi Arabia.

There are about 64,000 madrassas in Bangladesh, which will add to the religious militancy in the near future. They are funded by Arab charities. One may recall here the role of Pakistani madrassas in producing terrorists, some of whom were involved in the 9/11 attack on the WTO.

The spreading network of Islamists is threatening the democratic and secular life of Bangladesh at a time when US President George Bush is trying to encourage democracy as a tool against terrorism.

In her role as Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia must take upon herself the responsibility of salvaging Bangladesh's democracy. She must not allow political rivalry to get out of hand.

Her country is fast becoming a cradle for global terrorism. If she doesn't act today, tomorrow could be too late. The world is anxiously watching the developments in Bangladesh. Let it not become the ISI's benami centre of terrorism.