Dhaka fails to curb Islamism
It is not surprising that the needle of suspicion in last Friday’s bomb explosion at Hyderabad’s historic Mecca Masjid points to Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh. According to West Bengal’s Home Secretary, Mr Prasad Ranjan Ray, the State Government had, about two months ago, sent to the Centre a detailed report on the threat posed by HUJIB and had specifically mentioned Hyderabad as a possible target. In the event, the latest outrage underlines the accuracy of the State’s intelligence input as well as the fact that HUJIB continues to function freely despite being formally banned in Bangladesh.
As days pass, Bangladesh’s Caretaker Government’s claim of taking effective action against Islamist terrorists sounds increasingly hollow. The latter are alive and regrouping. The militant cadre of the banned Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh and two other parties, Insaf (Justice) and Allar Dal (God’s Party) are working together in an organisation whose name they change frequently to confuse intelligence agencies. For the same reason, JMB cadre have decided to remain clean-shaven and not wear kurta-pajama, as their trademark beard and attire often gave their affiliation away.
In this context, the bomb explosions at Kamalpur (Dhaka), Chittagong and Sylhet railway stations between 6.45 am and 7.10 am on May 1 merit attention. The one-foot radius aluminium plates found near the sites of the blasts were inscribed with threats to employees of NGOs and followers of the Ahmadiya sect. Issued in the name of Jadid Al Qaeda, these asked the former to quit their jobs by May 10 and the latter to recognise Mohammed as the last and greatest Prophet by the same day, or die.
Whether Jadid Al Qaeda is a name used by the new organisation or not, the latter has already established a well-defined structure. It has a six-member Majlish-e-Shura, the highest decision-making body, and nine chiefs for its nine operational divisions. Shariful Islam’s report in The Daily Star of May 5, 2007, which provides all this information and gives the names and aliases of the Shura members and division chiefs, further states that the organisation has also appointed a military expert well versed in using explosives, firearms and ammunition.
Islamist terrorists are managing to regroup and strike because Bangladesh’s present Caretaker Government has virtually taken no action against the Jama’at-e-Islami Bangladesh and its students front, Islami Chhatra Shibir, which constitute the hub of terrorist activity in Bangladesh, which has also become a staging area for terrorist attacks in India. The Shibir continues to grow rapidly. According to a report by Mamun Al Mostofa with Kamrul Hasan Khan in The Daily Star of May 12, a group of 13 Dhaka University students were awakened at the dead of night of May 4 and made to swear, Quran in hand, that under no circumstance would they denounce their allegiance to the Shibir and would “wage an armed struggle to establish Islamic law in Bangladesh”.
Shibir activists had collected all of them in the second week of April with the promise of accommodation in Dhaka University’s halls of residence - which they desperately sought - and had lodged them in a house in Dhaka’s Kantaban area. For three weeks thereafter, they were compelled to attend daylong classes on militant Islam, on strategies of running clandestine organisational activities, and read the Quran and the Hadith. At night they had to recite what they had learnt during the day.
The 13 students had been told categorically that they would get accommodation in the residential halls only after joining the Shibir following indoctrination. The report, which mentions this, provides a revealing account of the modus operandi of the Shibir, which had become strongly entrenched in Dhaka University’s campus when the Jama’at was a part of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led coalition Government from 2001 to 2006.
Helped by a section of the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), the BNP’s students front, as well as a section of the university administration, it had infiltrated the JCD and come to occupy important positions in it as well as in the residential hall committees. It used these positions to establish its hegemony in Rajshahi, Chittagong, Kushthia, and Sylhet universities. It is now trying to take over the campuses of Dhaka University and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. The report said Shibir activists are operating out of several shops on the Kantaban-Nilkhet Road in Dhaka that they control. These also shelter armed Shibir activists.
The Shibir can do all this because of the huge funds at the disposal of the Jama’at. In his Dr Abdul Gafur Memorial Lecture entitled Bangladeshe Moulabader Arthaniti (Economics of Fundamentalism in Bangladesh), delivered on April 21, 2005, Dr Abul Barkat, Professor of Economics, Dhaka University, had estimated that the various economic ventures controlled by Jama’at yielded a net annual profit of Taka 1,200 crore. These enterprises remain untouched.
There has been no attempt to investigate the sources, mostly foreign, of the funds used to set them up. Nor has there been any investigation into the circumstances leading to the massive proliferation of Islamist NGOs during the five years of BNP-Jama’at rule. On the other hand, large secular and modernist NGOs like the Proshika and PRIP Trust, which had been subjected to vicious attacks during the last BNP-Jama’at regime, remain crippled.
Also, while the Caretaker Government prevents the secular political parties form holding political meeting, the Jama’at continues to put its political message across through the waz mehfils (religious gatherings) it holds without any hindrance. What is shocking, the Caretaker Government, by all indications, has done little to unravel the Jama’at’s links with Islamist terrorists. The need for this can hardly be over-emphasised when almost every militant leader in Bangladesh has been an alumnus either of it or the Shibir, or both.
It is easy to foresee the result. The Jama’at and the Shibir grow in strength while the Caretaker Government demolishes the secular political parties and NGOs through persecution and a policy of divide and rule. If this continues for long, the Jama’at will make massive gains when the next election is held. Given the Jama’at’s pathological hatred for India, New Delhi needs to press upon the Caretaker Government to act against it as well as hold the election without further delay.