Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is Bangladesh a security threat to the region?

Are Jihadist from Bangladesh a security threat to Asian region?[1]

Saleem Samad[2]

BACKGROUND
The paper provides an insight of conflict, Islamic terrorism, and social injustices in once a secular Bangladesh. The political Islam has percolated in national politics. In the backdrop of the doctored constitutional provisions for Islamic-nationalization, coupled with political hegemony of the elite Islamic nationalist chauvinist, the Islamic radicalisms dominated national politics and state.

This scenario was never imagined three decades ago, when the country was born through a bloody war of liberation in 1971 on the principles of secularism and democracy. Apparently secularism and human rights have been enshrined in the constitution written in 1972. Subsequently the non-state actor, the sabre-rattling militaries doctored the constitutions and took the dangerous path of Islamisation of the secular state.

Bangladesh was thrice partitioned[3] on the basis of religion – Islam within a span of 66 years. East Bengal or Bangladesh was a historical reality. In 1971 it has been curved out of political boundaries of what was eastern province of Pakistan after a bloody civil war by the nationalists, and of course the secular forces.

In the twentieth century, communal issues increasingly dominated politics. There was hostility and ultimately racial conflicts occurred intermittingly. Racial riots wrecked the traditional secular image of Bengal, on the eve of the second partition of Bengal in 1947.

Between 1946 (East Bengal) and 2001 (Bangladesh), there were scores of incidences of racial violence, which resulted in deaths and deliberately encouraged migration. Peace-loving Hindus and Muslims had little or nothing to do with the riot (Hashim, 1974. pp. 117).

Muslim leaders of Bengal who later dominated and dictated politics, persuaded their anti-secular believes. This phenomenon spilled over into post-liberation Bangladesh.

FROM SECULARISM TO ISLAMISATION
The pro-nationalist politicians and military dictators in Bangladesh have used the religion Islam as a tool to consolidate their power base. This created a yawning space for Islamist radicalist in a nation where secularism has been practiced for centuries among the apparently peasantry society in ancient Bengal[4].

The Maoists extremists, who are politically out of the “red book” demonstrated that radicalism can survive for more than three decades in the western region[5] of Bangladesh. This has given hope to radical Islamists, who are produced in Madrassah[6] in the rural settings. The funds from get-rich-quick Muslims, and also blessings from oil-rich Arabs for the cause of spread of Wahabism[7] have significantly given rise to their numbers.

RADICAL ISLAMIST
Gradually Bangladesh became exporter of foot soldiers for Islamic radicalism in South Asia countries for couple of decades. Later their presence were felt in Central Asia to the Far East. The first batch of hundred’s of mercenaries reached Lebanon in early 1980s, to help create an “Islamic Palestinian” state. The entire batches of mercenaries from Bangladesh were detained, after Israel invaded southern Lebanon.

Separately a second group of mercenaries were recruited by rogue military officers, who were dismissed from Bangladesh Army in mid 1970s. They were also self-proclaimed assassins of Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh in 1975. With collusion with Muslim Brotherhood, the rogue officer founded the Freedom Party in Bangladesh, which envisaged an Islamic nation. They had recruited several hundred educated youths and had sent them to Libya in the 1980s to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state.

During the Afghan war against the Russians by the Mujahideen, hundreds of youths from Bangladesh were recruited and smuggled into Pakistan to join the Islamic militants for jihad. The flights of Jihadist occurred with the full knowledge of the dreaded Pakistan and Bangladesh military intelligence.

“Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on earth, on the brink of being a failed state. And that makes it a perfect target for Al-Qaeda and its ever-expanding network of Islamic extremist organisations. The overwhelming majority of Bangladesh's 130 million are Muslim, which certainly helps. Virtually unnoticed by the world at large, Bangladesh is being dragged into the global war on terrorists by becoming a sanctuary for them,” writes Jane’s Intelligence Report (25 January 2005),

JIHADIST NEXUS
Why Bangladesh security agencies got involved with the Islamic terror network? Former security officers argue that they need information of terror network. But this argument does corroborate with their intelligence gathering methodology and their analysis of the situation.

There is evidence that Bangladesh military intelligence[8] have generated funds from gunrunning, timber smuggling and drug trade in the later years of 1970s.

The money was channelled into purchase of weapons, shelter and rations for the half-hearted Muslim militants to curve an independent state for Rohingya[9].

With tacit approval of United States government, Bangladesh military leader General Ziaur Rahman, a liberation war veteran gave the responsibility to Brigadier General Nurul Islam Shishu for the covert operation.

They presumed that Burma (Myanmar) had an unpopular military government, therefore it would be easy to intimidate them to create a homeland for the Rohingya Muslims. After Burmese authorities unearthed the plot, they expelled the Bangladesh military attaché from Rangoon (Yangon). Soon hell broke out by the Burmese army creating a crisis, which forced thousands of Rohingya’s to flee into Bangladesh territory and sealed the border 1978. The militancy and refugee situation created a diplomatic row and invited international uproar against Burmese junta.

Troops both from Burma and Bangladesh intermittingly fought “undeclared” war in 1978. However, the security agencies continued with the moneymaking business overtly for raising funds for the clandestine operations.

A Saudi daily published an article of an exiled Rohingya leader, which exposed Bangladesh military intelligence’s involvement in the Rohingya operation. Later a prestigious Washington daily published a CIA document, which describes how Bangladesh planned to raise foreign currency from the Rohingya militancy to strengthen the appalling financial condition of the military junta.

The second largest Muslim democracy, Bangladesh is today the site of al-Qaeda-run training camps financed by Middle Eastern charities and organisations, including backing from rogue elements within the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.[10]

A Bangladesh security agency has developed a nexus with Jihadist and militant leaders of troubled states of North East Indian. Indian always blamed ISI for the covert operation in northeast Indian, which both Pakistan and Bangladesh continuously denied.

Hundreds of foot soldiers from Bangladesh were discovered in Acheh province of Indonesia, in Burma, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Tajikistan and Egypt. The Jihadists were exported by Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islam (HuJI) as part of establishment of global terror network.

In an interview with the CNN in December 2001, American “Taliban” fighter, John Walker Lindh, relate that the Al-Qaeda director Ansar (companions of the Prophet) Brigades, to which he had belonged in Afghanistan, were divided along linguistic lines: Bengali, Pakistan (Urdu) and Arabic,” which suggests tat the Bangla-speaking component – Bangladeshi and Rohingya – must be significant.[11]

Most security specialists and researchers have established that 15,000 strong terrorist group HuJI (Movement of Islamic Holy War) has direct links with terror network Al Qaeda. In a statement released by US State Department on May 21, 2002, HuJI is described as a terrorist organization with ties to Islamic militants in Pakistan.[12]

According to a former senior Bangladeshi intelligence executive, Jemaah Islamiya leader Hambali, arrested in Thailand in August 2003, had already taken the decision to shift JI elements to Bangladesh to shield them from counter-terrorist operations in Southeast Asia.

According to US State Department, HuJI headed by Shawkat Osman aka Maulana or Sheikh Farid in Chittagong has at least four militant camps in Bangladesh.

To keep the Burmese government in good humour, Bangladesh shut down the militant’s camps of radical Islamist Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) led by a medical doctor Muhammad Yunus. Those camps were later taken over by radical Islamist.

A journalist working for an English language newspaper in Bangladesh reported that in early 1990s that couple of Bangladesh embassies in the Middle East have reported missing of passports. Later it was transpired that diplomats in Saudi Arabia issued passports to Pakistan militants in the kingdom to enable them to escape to Bangladesh. Other extremists from Pakistan – perhaps also Afghanistan – appear to have been able to enter Bangladesh in the same way during that period (Lintner, 2002).

TIME magazine[13] claim that fighters from Taliban and Al-Qaeda have entered Bangladesh after United States invaded Afghanistan. Videotapes showing al-Qaeda in training that were unearthed by CNN in August include footage from 1990 that feature Rohingya rebels.

These men’s fleeing from troubled Afghanistan were instrumental in raising HuJI in 1992, allegedly with funds from Osama bin Laden. The existence of firm links between the new Bangladeshi militants and Al-Qaeda was proven when Fazlul Rahman, leader of Jihad Movement in Bangladesh (to which HuJI belongs), signed the official declaration of “holy war” against United States on February 23, 1998. Other signatories included bin laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri (leader of the Jihad Group in Egypt), Rifa’I Ahmad Taha aka Abu-Yasir (Egyptian Islamic Group), and Shiekh Mir Hamzah (secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan).[14]

The Indian police in New Delhi arrested two Bangladeshi nationals suspected to the HuJI militant outfit, allegedly sent by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to disrupt Republic Day celebrations in January 2006[15].

CONCLUDE
A culture of violence, especially among the young, is emerging, and many young Islamic militants now are armed. The role of the madrassah in shaping the next generation of Bangladeshis also cannot be underestimated.[16]

The nationalists Islamist chauvinist government has done enough to stump lawlessness unleashed by the Islamic Jihad’s of both home-grown and those believed to be from the terror-network. The recent spate of bomb blasts in August 2005 was a bid to terrorise the opposition political parties and secular activities organised by cultural activists, have brought renewed fear that the process of elimination of opposition has began in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh military intelligence presently has turned into Frankenstein, like in Pakistan and once in the Latin America. The parliamentary sub-committee on defence has failed to bring the dreaded security agency under parliament scrutiny.

The non-descriptive marriage of criminalization of politics and shattered bureaucracy is reined by the military intelligence (DGFI). There are evidences that the dreaded military intelligence has been harbouring fall-out Muslim Jihad’s from Afghanistan and militant leaders from the insurgency troubled northeast Indian. The trade-off for DGFI was their hands on gunrunning and drug trade from the Golden Triangle.

The military security agency has upper hand over Bangladesh state and politics. This leverage was given by General Ziaur Rahman (1977-1981) and later legitimized by General H.M. Ershad (1982-1990) to organize the political parties to ensure their stay in power.

Bangladesh, is a place where crime, politics, and violence all cross paths, making independent journalism in this country of 146 million people a very dangerous profession, observes a mission report of the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in February 2003.

Those journalists reported the rise of radical Islamists and security issues were harassed, intimidated and imprisoned. The government sharply reacted after articles written by Bertil Lintner in Wall Street Journal and Far Eastern Economic Review, Alex Perry of TIME Asia magazine. Both of them have been blacklisted from entering Bangladesh again. The British Channel 4 TV journalists along with their Fixer Saleem Samad were detained, tortured and intimidated. International uproar has secured their release.

It is indeed a losing battle of the proactive secularists entailed with the civil society and the human rights organizations to forge a common platform against Islamist. Suspected Muslim extremists bombed these soft targets, who disapproves secularism. #

[1] Paper presented at Intelligence Summit, 17-20 February 2006, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Virginia, United States and organized by Intelligence & Homeland Security Educational Center (IHEC).
[2] SALEEM SAMAD, is an Ashoka Fellow and Bangladesh based journalist, presently in exile in Canada. He has regularly contributed articles in Time magazine (Asia edition), Daily Times (Pakistan) and Tehelka.com on terrorism, conflict, social justice and democracy in South Asia.
[3] Kabeer, Naila. 1997. A thrice-partitioned history, in Ursala Owen (ed.) INDEX on Censorship 6/1997, pp. 59. London: Index on Censorship.
[4] Bengal - presently split into east and west. Subsequently East Bengal became Bangladesh and West Bengal is a province of neighbouring India.
[5] The western region, bordering India is rife with criminal gangs, outlawed political groups, and drug traffickers.
[6] Koranic schools teaches conservative Islamism in their curriculum, hate against non-Muslims, specially Jewish. The religious schools that educate millions of students in the Muslim world, have been blamed for all sorts of ills since the attacks of September 11, 2001 (Alexander Evans, Understanding Madrassahs, Foreign Affairs Journal, January-February 2006)
[7] Strictly follows Sharia laws, specially force women to wear veil
[8] Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) was formed in 1977 for covert military operations in Burma and North Eastern India states. The dreaded security agency was involved in blackmailing politicians to joining the military dictator General Ziaur Rahman to legitimize his political ambition
[9] Ethnic Muslims are minorities in northwest Burma. However, Burmese authority claims the Rohingya are migrants from neighbouring Chittagong, Bangladesh during the famine in 1943
[10] Blackburn, Chris, 2006. Is Bangladesh new front for America's War Against Terrorism?
http://bangladeshwatchdog.blogspot.com/2005/12/is-bangladesh-new-front-for-americas.html
[11] Transcript of John Walker interview, CNN, December 21, 2001, as quoted in Lintner’s paper (Honolulu, 2002).
[12] Partners of Global Terrorism 2001, the office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, May 21, 2002
[13] Deadly Cargo, Alex Perry, Time Asia, October 14, 2002
[14] see ERRI Daily Intelligence Report, ERRI Risk Assessment Service, June 11, 1998, Vol.4-162, as quoted in Lintner’s research paper (Honolulu, 2002).
[15 http://bangladeshwatchdog.blogspot.com/2006/01/bangladeshi-jihadi-detained-in-india.html
[16] Lintner, Bertil, 2002. Religious Extremism & Nationalism in Bangladesh, paper presented at Religion & Security in South Asia, August 19-22, 2002 organized by Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii