Monday, March 07, 2005

BANGLADESH: Islamic Militancy - The Likely Reaction to Indian Domination - Part 1

The potential threat of Islamic insurgency in Bangladesh (which have had a recent boost with the capture of some members of a few self-proclaimed militant organizations) have been confirmed by the speed and efficiency by which the government has apprehended these revolutionary or jihadist Islamists without any public disorder or violence. If there had been a dramatic shift in religious sentiment and zealotry as envisaged by the Europeans, Indian foreign ministry and press, as well as internal critics of the government why has there not been any mass upheaval or protest at these arrests? This indicates that many of these revolutionaries were in fact mere paper tigers (free to roam while the circus master turned a blind eye) but with a useful purpose which they appeared to have outlived (good at catching rats but more trouble and aggravation than they are worth) and part of a longer term agenda not of Islamic takeover but of Islamic defense (that these groups could not fulfill such an onerous task probably shows the premature nature of the undertaking and a lack of understanding on the part of the government of their true intent). This I think was the initial idea behind their acceptance (or more accurately an omission to act) but their role has attracted too much adverse criticism and their methods were outside the tolerance of many in the government and on the international scene. It is also likely that the government did not fully appreciate or understand the type of people that led these groups and who in the end appear to have less to do with Islam than with the making and stealing of money and an agenda that was adverse to the interests of the nation (whether by intent or circumstance).



ISLAMIC MILITANCY – THE LIKELY REACTION TO INDIAN DOMINATION - PART 1

MBI Munshi

INTRODUCTION

The belated efforts of the BNP led government to reign in the 'revolutionary' or 'jihadist' Islamists who have reportedly been rampaging around the country bringing havoc and chaos has brought joy (no pun intended) to the faces of the AL, leftist intellectuals, columnists, some political parties and not a few newspaper editors. These revolutionary Islamists have been credited with several bomb attacks at opposition rallies and meetings which resulted in the deaths of two prominent personalities and the physical assaults on a few nondescript writers amongst other things. This move against the revolutionary Islamists, it has been pointed out, was due to the informal meeting of the World Bank that took place on the 23rd and 24th of February 2005, without any representation from the Bangladesh government - as they were not invited. Reports suggest that a few European donors (influenced by anti-Bangladesh propagandists) had raised the alarm of growing Islamic fanaticism within the country and requested this meeting to thrash out ideas on how to encourage better development strategies in face of this increasing intolerance and instability. It was felt that the government was condoning the actions of these groups and were reluctant to bring them in to police custody to face a judicial trial.

It would seem to be implied, from this reading and construction of events, that the government has been for long nurturing and even protecting these groups with the intention of overthrowing themselves and being replaced by a theocratic regime - what else would the term Islamic revolutionary or jihadist imply? At this point of the argument, I must part company with the majority of those who have allowed logic and reason to give way to irrationality and hysteria and here I point directly to writers like Zafar Sobhan of The Daily Star (February 25, 2005) and Hasnat Abdul Hye in the New Age (February 27, 2005) - although the last of these was a brilliantly written piece but I must disagree with its overall conclusions. My assumption is that the present government of Bangladesh would have the greatest to fear from an actual or real revolutionary Islamist movement and it would make no sense for them to give shelter to these groups if they existed. It is clear from newspaper reports that the structure and membership as well as finance of the groups now being rounded up in Bangladesh are no where near as sophisticated as presumed (the arms haul in Chittagong detained in April 2004 was meant for the Maoist insurgents of India and not for any Islamists in Bangladesh – Jane's Intelligence Review (July 2004)) nor are they as ideologically committed to their goals as many had predicted (A leader of a group of such Islamists has several defalcation and misappropriation cases pending against him in Dhaka and even allegedly stole money from several Islamic charities). There then still remain the many questions concerning the true purpose or intent of those now being apprehended, their relationship with outside forces or interests if any and why the government took so long to act against them.

One will not find the answers to these questions from the mouths of those heralding the government's recent actions as such considerations are for them generally irrelevant considering the threat perception of these Islamist groups to the state or society as a whole and therefore possessing little significance in terms of a fear or panic factor. My contention with these commentators is that they are less concerned with these groups being supposed revolutionaries (as many have turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by their revolutionary leftist kin over the several decades since independence) but with the fact that they are Islamic. My own view and opinions on the matter of Islamic insurgency and militancy is far removed from explanations or ideas circulating within Bangladesh and involves a look at events in the neighborhood and although the above questions are not of direct relevance to the subject of this article I do try to find some answers on the evidence available .

AN ISLAMIC INSURGENCY?

My doubts about conspiracy theories exaggerate the potential threat of Islamic insurgency in Bangladesh (which have had a recent boost with the capture of some members of a few self-proclaimed militant organizations) have been confirmed by the speed and efficiency by which the government has apprehended these revolutionary or jihadist Islamists without any public disorder or violence. If there had been a dramatic shift in religious sentiment and zealotry as envisaged by the Europeans, Indian foreign ministry and press, as well as internal critics of the government why has there not been any mass upheaval or protest at these arrests? This indicates that many of these revolutionaries were in fact mere paper tigers (free to roam while the circus master turned a blind eye) but with a useful purpose which they appeared to have outlived (good at catching rats but more trouble and aggravation than they are worth) and part of a longer term agenda not of Islamic takeover but of Islamic defense (that these groups could not fulfill such an onerous task probably shows the premature nature of the undertaking and a lack of understanding on the part of the government of their true intent). This I think was the initial idea behind their acceptance (or more accurately an omission to act) but their role has attracted too much adverse criticism and their methods were outside the tolerance of many in the government and on the international scene. It is also likely that the government did not fully appreciate or understand the type of people that led these groups and who in the end appear to have less to do with Islam than
with the making and stealing of money and an agenda that was adverse to the interests of the nation (whether by intent or circumstance).

Some have hinted at an Indian connection but left unexplained India's motive in recruiting and funding these groups which I presume, if true, would be a very similar ploy to that used by Israel to create disunity amongst its adversaries and opponents in the turbulent politics of that country. The proponents of this view, however, fail to see that such a strategy may eventually backfire as had occurred with Hamas but due to the support of American news networks the Israelis were portrayed as the helpless and innocent victims of terrorism and so were not unduly hurt by this political maneuver when discovered. India, on the other hand, would risk much more in such an adventure and probably as a consequence decide on the eventual abandonment of their ultimate objectives in Bangladesh and the region. However, it appears from the confessional statement of Dr. Muhammad Asadullah Al Ghalib, chief of the Ahle Hadith Andalon Bangladesh that militant trainers came from India's Bihar and Punjab provinces and held meetings with several Islamic parties and trained their followers in using sophisticated arms (The Independent - 3rd March 3, 2005). If we accept the plausibility of this statement we must be a little more than astonished at the shortsightedness of Indian intelligence and our own government's long toleration of these groups under a false assumption and defective assessment of the benefits that have ultimately been derived from such a policy as well as its end results.

The question that I find more intriguing and which is the actual subject of this article is – 'in what circumstances could a real Islamic insurgency appear in Bangladesh and the cause and effect relationship with an Indian foreign policy based on domination and annexation?'.

INDIA'S ROLE IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

For a contextual answer one must look over the border and the statements issued by Indian officials over the course of a few years concerning the perceived Islamization (and more recently Talibanization) of Bangladesh. However, as I do not intend to provide a history lesson I will confine my musings to the most recent examples as they indicate a not so subtle shift in priorities and outlook of the Indian governing elite, that has been consistent for at least the terms of two governments, which have differed sharply in their values and religious doctrines but apparently not in their geo-strategic designs (BJP and Congress).

It cannot be gainsaid that allegations of Islamic extremism (Talibanisation) in Bangladesh are very recent, not extending beyond a few years, which is coterminous in time with India's perception of itself as a regional superpower and pretensions to that end (i.e. 5 years – strangely the earliest reference I can find on the internet of India and its ambitions to acquire superpower status is Dec 28, 2003 - The Week Magazine). Some may point out that these criticisms have been aimed at Bangladesh ever since the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which would be partially true but not to the same extent or depth that we are witnessing now. The implications of what is now being advocated are far more sinister and detrimental to the integrity of Bangladesh as a nation. This seems to have been the purpose of the Indians and the journalists and analysts working on their behalf – to create instability and panic in the country as well as to convey an image to the outside world of intolerance and obscurantism. That this may create a countervailing force inside
Bangladesh does not appear to have been taken seriously by the Indians and the likelihood of their objectives (domination and annexation) in Bangladesh being thwarted by these same forces, has also clearly not been thoroughly considered.

I am here suggesting that there may develop a direct relationship between Indian involvement and pressure on Bangladesh and increased religious awareness and preparedness in the country. In other words, the amount of interference by India in Bangladesh is balanced by the increased hostility to that country which may take on religious overtones principally as a defensive measure. This understanding was politically utilized by both President Ziaur Rahman and H.M Ershad when both made amendments to the constitution of Bangladesh to provide Islam a constitutional safeguard against future challenge. It is possible that this whole exercise surrounding Bangla Bhai and JMJB was used as a propaganda tool by the Indians in order to malign any attempt by Islamists to take on defensive measures and prevent them ever becoming a potent force in the face of Indian aggression – it looks like this plan has finally been shot down with recent revelations about an Indian connection to the Ahle Hadith Andalon Bangladesh, JMJB and the JMJ. In fact, the Indians are now desperately trying to offload the blame on their indigenous Islamist jihadis and probably make this appear an international conspiracy rather than one of their own making.

Some may still question my thesis on the basis of there being no tangible evidence of India's nefarious intentions towards Bangladesh especially in light of their contribution in 1971 but recent incidents in the neighborhood should indicate otherwise. In recent weeks, I have seen newspaper columns on the decision of Ms. Taslima Nasreen to obtain Indian citizenship and her avowed rejection of the 1947 dispensation that saw the creation of Pakistan. She appears to share this view with luminaries such as Salman Rushdie and presumably many literary figures in Bangladesh who claim to uphold the ideals of the Liberation War of 1971. These disturbing sentiments coincide with the findings of a report entitled, 'India's Unconventional War Strategy' which I now quote in part,

"A Bengali, who was a Mukti Bahini activist, Zainal Abedin, has written a revealing book which includes his personal experience in Indian training camps, entitled RAW and Bangladesh. It was the post-fall of Dhaka period which exposed the Indians' true intentions and made Abedin realize that It was evident from the conduct of the Indian Army that they treated Bangladesh as a colony ... It is now evident that India had helped the creation of Bangladesh with the aim that it would be a step forward towards the reunification of India.

Because Mujib returned, Indian forces could not remain in Bangladesh permanently and so it fell on RAW to initiate other fronts to undermine the sovereignty of Bangladesh. RAW has since been seeking to create Indian dominance culturally, ideologically and economically in Bangladesh." (Dr Shireen M Mazari)

Several Indian operated websites have openly called for reunification of India on the pre-1947 demarcations. Taslima Nasreen and a French journalist were recently in Kolkata at a seminar that requested India to intervene militarily in Bangladesh and annex its territory. In light of these facts, how should Bangladesh have responded (if not with immense apprehension and distrust) to the cancellation of the SAARC summit and the speech by the Indian Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran's on "India and its Neighbours" or the article by V. Sudarshan entitled 'With Neighbours Like These"? With India's increase in defense spending Bangladesh should be a little more than wary about the intentions of its big neighbor. This raises the further question, that in the case of unprovoked attack our first line of defense being the armed forces, which the Indians have repeatedly dismissed as not much of a contest, what does Bangladesh have as a second line of defense? I am not as confident as Barrister Harun-ur-Rashid that the AL (or other left leaning political parties) would fight tooth and nail for Bangladesh nor do I doubt would any of the cultural, intellectual and artistic fronts of the party put up much of a show. It would not surprise me if some in the AL turned collaborator in such a scenario. This would not be such an ironic turn of events as many may think.

TO BE CONTINUED ….


Email to Dak Bangla from MBI Munshi who writes from Dhaka