Monthly Coupon

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy

The Life and Triumph of a Colossus:
Sheikh Mujib Re-visited*

Gowher Rizvi

The liberation of Bangladesh was by any standards a triumph in human history. It is the story of unarmed civilians – women and men, girls and boys, young and old – who stood up against the most brutal and lethally armed Pakistani military and won their freedom against all odds. It was for the first in the history of the post-colonial world that the people of a country had successfully waged a liberation war to create an independent state of their own. The creation of Bangladesh was also a triumph of the democratic spirit and resolve of the people who were prepared to make supreme sacrifices in order to create a homeland in which they could speak their language, embrace their culture, and live in dignity - free from religious bigotry and alien exploitation. And yet that proud history of the people of Bangladesh has been lost in the quagmire of opportunism and revisionist history where even the status and the role of the founder of the country have been contested. It is therefore hardly surprising that after more than three decades of independence there is neither an objective study of the history of Bangladesh nor a biography of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bangbandhu, who not only successfully led his people to freedom but also instilled in them a pride in their Bangali identity, stirred an irresistible national consciousness and the vision for a socially just, secular and democratic society.

Ambassador Sayyid A. Karim’s recently published book, Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy, is an important contribution towards putting in perspective our history and the role of the founding father. The author acknowledges that writing an objective biography of a man larger than life is not easy, and in a society where myths and realities intermingle, and where scribes for hire have done much to distort facts, the task of disentangling the truth from fiction could not have been easy. Nevertheless despite the author’s modesty, this is a landmark publication and will long be celebrated as a triumph of scholarship, judicious and even-handed use of evidence, and a compelling narrative that is marked by peaks of human endeavors and sacrifices, and equally deep troughs of depraved and sacrilegious actions that have sullied the blood of the martyrs. The central thrust of this study is unambiguous – there would have been no Bangladesh without Sheikh Mujib.

Mujib was neither a deep thinker, nor an academic theoretician; still less, he was not an ideologue. He was an instinctive and an intuitive leader, a person who felt deeply and empathized with the sufferings of his people, and was most single minded in his pursuit of his goal of justice for his people. He believed with all his being in the wisdom and the genius of the people and it was that belief that instilled in him a belief and commitment in democracy that remained integral to his every action. Growing up rural Bengal he had experienced from a very early life both the romance and beauty of the countryside and also the poverty, deprivation and the exploitation of the peasants. His childhood experience in Gopalganj had also instilled in him a non-sectarian and secular outlook. He could not fail to understand that the poor Muslim and Hindu peasants suffered equally from the pangs of hunger, deprivation and humiliation; and the Hindu landlord was no less exploitative of the Hindu peasants than he was of the Muslims.

It was therefore not surprising that when Mujib joined the Pakistan movement of the Muslim League, he was less concerned with the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims but rather viewed the movement as a way to break out of the stranglehold of exploitative relationship between the landlords and the peasants and a way of bringing prosperity to the people. However campaigning for the Muslim League in the 1946 elections was politically his most formative experience. He came in contact with Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who became his life long political mentor and instilled in him a finer understanding of democratic institutions and processes. And no less importantly Mujib also discovered during the campaign his own instinctive empathy for the people and a belief in the wisdom of the so-called ‘ordinary people’. Democracy became an article of faith – a faith that he kept until his death.

In later life when ever he was asked about his strengths and weaknesses, he invariably replied: ‘My strength is my love for the people; and my weakness is that I love them too much.” These words were not empty rhetoric but were his deeply held creed, an article of faith that he carried to his grave. Even in his last year when he received repeated intelligence of plots to assassinate him, including an unambiguous warning from Mrs. Gandhi, he dismissed the warnings. "My people are my children – I love them and they love me." Never in his life, not even as the prime minister did Mujib seek to protect himself behind a security wall and remained the most accessible leader ever.

Mujib’s disillusionment with Pakistan came predictably and swiftly. It became obvious that not only had the Bangalis merely transposed one set of exploitative rulers with another but also under the new dispensation they would be denied the right to their language and culture, and their right to choose a government through a democratic process. And when Mr. Jinnah declared: ‘let me make it very clear to you that the state language is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who is trying to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan.’ The gauntlet had been thrown at the Bangalis and Mujib’s struggle was defined. He would not only have to liberate the Bangalis from exploitation of the Punjabis but also have to restore democratic governance and safeguard the autonomy of the provinces so that the people could protect their language and culture. It was a struggle for democracy, for social justice and for a way of life.

The new rulers of Pakistan had plenty of reasons to fear democracy and the popular will. In the first place the rulers of Pakistan were mostly migrants from India who lacked both a constituency of their own and a party organization in their new country. And second, in any democratically elected government the people of East Pakistan, who constituted the majority of Pakistan’s population, would dominate government. This ruled out both a popular election and democratic governance. The unrepresentative and unpopular politicians combined forces with the Punjabi-dominated civil-military bureaucracy to prevent a general election. The military intervened in 1958, just months before the general election was scheduled. It was therefore not a coincidence that Pakistan could not frame its constitution for nearly 10 years and then only to abrogate it within two years; it was not circumstances that prevented Pakistan from holding its first election for almost two decades; nor was it surprising that in the first ever general election that the people of Bangladesh should assert their popular sovereignty. And that election produced precisely the results they had feared most – a Bangali majority. The real tragedy is that in trying to resist the will of the people and prevent the inevitable triumph of democracy, the Pakistani rulers lost half of the country and unleashed savage brutalities of the kind until then only associated with the holocaust in Europe; and six decades after independence they continue to be haunted by the ghosts of military dictatorship.

To go back to our story, the military rulers of Pakistan were remarkably successful in co-opting most of the leaders in West Pakistan and also many of the Bangalis. However two leaders – Suhrawardy and Mujib who enjoyed a strong popular base– could neither be bought out nor intimidated. Suhrawardy had a mass following in both wings of Pakistan and was widely respected and admired by politicians of all the parties for his political acumen, parliamentary skills and a capacity for building democratic consensus. At first Ayub tried to bar him from politics through trumped up charges; and when that failed to stick, he locked him up in prison. Suhrawardy’s premature death (in Beirut in circumstances that have not been explained and which points to Ayub’s involvement) brought intense relief to Ayub. He now had only Mujib to reckon with. Mujib had inherited Suhrawardy’s mantle, but unlike his mentor, he had come to the conclusion that the salvation on the Bangalis lay in securing the maximum autonomy for the provinces so as to minimize the interference of the Punjabi dominated civil-military federal bureaucracy. Between 1958 and 1969, Sheikh Mujib spent more time inside Pakistani jails on trumped up charges than outside. But whenever he was bailed out by the order of the courts, he used the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of Bangladesh to mobilize the people in support of his demand for autonomy. Such was his organizing talent that every village in Bangladesh flew the flag of Awami League and his emergence as Bangabandhu was never in doubt again.

The rise of Mujib invariably perturbed Ayub and every means was deployed to put an end to Mujib – both politically and physically. It was this determination that drove the military to implicate Mujib in the most bizarre Agartala conspiracy case. Mr. Karim has provided some unique insights as to what happened. A mid-level Bangali officer in the Pakistan Navy, Lt. Commander Muazzam Hussain, discontented with discriminatory treatment of the Bengalis in the armed forces had planned an armed uprising; and sought to establish contact with Mujib on a number of occasions between 1964 and 1966. Mujib, who was a democrat to the core and deeply distrusted the involvement of the military – Bangali or Pakistani – in politics; and he roundly snubbed the conspirators. The conspirators then tried to secure the help of Mr. Ghaffar Chowdhury, an eminent journalist, a stalwart of the language movement and a close friend of Sheikh Mujib, to act as an intermediary between them and Mujib. Mujib’s response, according to Ghaffar, was unequivocal and one of outrage:
‘I know him [Muazzam]. I also know all about his proposal. He has recently been hobnobbing with Manik Chowdhury. I have told Manik not to have anything to do with this madness. I would advise you not to get involved in it. Our struggle is for the establishment of democracy and the realization of autonomy for the people of Bangladesh. I have always fought against the Pakistani military junta. It is not the purpose of my movement to replace it with a Bengali military junta.’ (Pp141 -42)

Indeed Mujib had long cherished an autonomous or independent Bangladesh but his route was through electoral politics and the mobilization of the people. He had no time for the military, even if they were Bangali, interfering in politics. But ironically the paranoid military rulers had been thinking of what Mujib had refused to contemplate. In 1966 the Muazzam’s conspiracy was discovered and all those involved were arrested and put on trial. Even though there was not an iota of evidence to suggest Mujib’s involvement in the conspiracy, the military rulers nevertheless saw in it a heaven sent opportunity to implicate Mujib. By depicting Mujib as an Indian agent, the military had hoped to discredit Mujib and then execute him for treason. Mujib was named as the primary accused. The farcical trial that followed demonstrated the hollowness of the case and thereby provoked a huge outburst of public support, so much so that there was a real possibility that demonstrators would storm the cantonment (where Mujib was being held) and free him. The trial was abandoned and Mujib came out as the triumphant hero of his people.

However, as Karim points out, there was a sting in the tail. Although Mujib had no role in the conspiracy for which he was implicated –he had in fact tried to dampen the efforts of the rebellious naval officers - but Mujib had in fact undertaken a daring journey to India. In a journey reminiscent of another great Bangali, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – who had escaped from house arrest and made a daring journey that took him first to Afghanistan and thence to Germany and Japan to mobilize support for India’s struggle against British rule – Mujib had also made a clandestine visit to India. The escapade was fraught with danger and considerable hardships. The purpose of Mujib’s visit to India was to enlist the Indian governments help to set up a radio transmitter to counter the propaganda of the Pakistan radio. Nothing appears to have come out of that visit. The Pakistan intelligence had no inkling of Mujib’s visit to India when they conveniently implicated him in the Agartala conspiracy case!

The events that followed the collapse of the Agartala conspiracy case was like a Greek tragedy. The end could be foreseen but faced with obstinate determination of the Pakistani civil-military bureaucracy, and the ruthless manipulation of the ambitious Bhutto, the tragedy could not be prevented. Faced with a popular uprising that could not be contained by force, Ayub abdicated. But he left the way he came – by breaching the constitution. Instead of handing over the power to the Speaker of the National Assembly, he handed it to the military. His successor, Yahya Khan, was not only a drunk and a bluff but also hopelessly incompetent. He allowed elections but without any desire to transfer the power to the representatives of the people. He unleashed the most savage genocide in which more than a million innocent civilians were killed but failed to prevent the inevitable. The rest is history and is well known.

Karim’s book, however, sheds unflattering light on the role of Ziaur Rahman. Zia was a major in the Pakistan army in 1971 and posted in Chittagong. According to the author he not only remained loyal to the Pakistan regime to the end; but appears to have been indifferent to the Bangali cause. When Captain Rafiqul Islam of East Pakistan Rifles, who under instructions from the local Awami League leader, had started rounding up the Pakistani soldiers, apparently Zia tried to dissuade him by ordering Rafiq to ‘stop [his]r men from taking action’. Zia’s tale of ignominy continued:
‘While Rafique was boldly confronting Pakistani troops, Zia was on his way to the port to unload arms and ammunition from M.V. Swat and bring them to the cantonment. ‘While Zia was loyally doing his duty, Pakistan troops suddenly attacked the Bengali soldiers of the East Bengal Regimental Center’ – taken by surprise most of them were massacred in their bed around midnight including the Commanding Officer M.R. Chowdhury’.

Even when Pakistan army had unleashed its attack on the Bangali soldiers, Zia was apparently at work in the jetty supervising the unloading of the weapons. It was only after he was warned by Capt Khalikuzzaman, that Zia’s own life was in danger that he was stirred into action. But here too he dithered. Rather than taking a stand in Chittagong port and fighting out the Pakistan forces, as suggested by Rafique, Zia decided to move out of the barracks with his troops and fled to Kalurghat across the river. Not only he flee himself but he also ordered the EPR troops to follow him and thus left Rafique to fight the Pakistani’s alone. ‘An opportunity to inflict a crushing defeat on Pakistani troops clinging on their strong points in Chittagong was thus lost.’ (202)

Sadly Zia’s story of does not get any better even after fleeing from Chittagong. On March 26, after the Pakistan army launched its attack on Dhaka, Moinul Alam communicated a message purportedly from Sheikh Mujib to the Awami League leaders in Chittagong:

‘Message to the people of the Bangladesh and to the people of the world. Rajarbagh police camp and Pelham EPR suddenly attacked by Pak arm at 2400 hours. Thousands of people killed. Fierce fighting going on. Appeal to the world for help in freedom struggle. Resist by all means. May Allah with you. Joi Bangla.’

The message was broadcast over Radio Pakistan in Kalurghat and read by M.A. Hannan, the local leader of the Awami League and became the call for the war of liberation. However, on March 27, Zia arrived with his troops in Kalurghat, he went on the air as the self-styled ‘President of Bangladesh’ and called ‘on the people to fight the Pakistan’. However, he was dissuaded from styling himself as the president by the local Awami League leaders as that would give the appearance of a ‘military coup’; and in a second speech Zia corrected himself and spoke ‘on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’. This episode, innocuous on its own, nevertheless showed that Zia was seething with ambitions and his radio speech in Kalurghat was an ominous indication of things to come. It is not surprising that fours year later in 1975 the would-be-assassins of Sheikh Mujib should seek him out as their leader. Zia gave his blessings to the conspirators but to preserve his deniability he forbade them from contacting him again. As in 1971, so also in 1975, Zia would run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

Karim has offered some insightful explanations as to Mujib’s motives in launching single party BAKSAL (Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League) to replace the multiparty democracy in Bangladesh. No authoritative account of what motivated Mujib to turn his back on multi-party parliamentary democracy in favor of a single party presidential government is available as yet. Dr. Kamal Hossain, who as the minister for parliamentary affairs, had drafted Bangldesh’s first constitution was abroad on sabbatical and was out of the loop; Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed had left the cabinet and leading a private life; nor does it seem that Mujib had taken any of his cabinet colleagues or close associates into confidence; and it seems even Begum Mujib was taken unaware by her husband’s move. Karim has tried to piece the story from numerous sources and provides by far the most convincing explanation of Sheikh Mujib’s strategy. According to the author, Mujib had watched for some time how the various political parties and groups representing narrow interests were tearing apart the fabric of the society. It was also during this time that Mujib had come into contact with the Tanzanian President Nyerere at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) and developed a deep friendship and admiration for Nyerere. Mujib was impressed by the Tanzanian model of a single party system and immensely admired Julius Nyerere – his simplicity, devotion to his people, and breadth of vision. Nyerere had replaced the colonial system of administration with a system which he felt would be more in consonance with African tradition. He had introduced a single-party system but as a committed democrat, Nyerere wanted to work his single party government within a democratic framework. Within the one party system he tried to introduce a unique form of election – rival candidates from the same party would be allowed to contest in each constituency. This would facilitate national reconstruction without the divisions inherent in a multi-party system.

Behind Mujib’s decision to create a single party democracy, it may be surmised, was a perceptive analysis of the country’s political situation. Mujib was too shrewd a politician not to realize that the Awami League was fast losing its credibility. His hard won image and charisma might have suffered a bit but on the whole it was still strong and he was the undisputed father of the nation. The introduction of the presidential system with full executive authority in his hands had a dual purpose. First, he would no longer be dependent on the parliamentary members of his party (many of whom had allowed personal interests to cloud their public duty) to push through legislations, particularly the much needed land redistribution program. Second, the direct election of the president meant that he could de-link himself from the liabilities of the party. His popularity would ensure his won election but e would no longer have to carry the other members of his party on his shoulder and then be dragged behind because of their opposition to his reforms. To many in his party this was a betrayal; to Mujib this was the only means to instill responsibility and a sense of public duty among the politicians.

In creating a one party system, Mujib’s motives were complex and have not been fully understood. Mujib was not seeking more power. The general election in 1973 had routed the opposition parties and the opposition had failed to forge a united front against him. The Awami League had already been the de facto single party in the country and by banning the political parties Mujib was not trying to wipe out other parties. In fact far from it. With the creation of BAKSAL, Mujib was offering an olive branch which would have enabled the opposition parties to find a place in the parliament without loss of face. The purpose was to create a genuine national unity government under the umbrella of one party.

Mujib described the changes as the ‘second revolution’. His ultimate objective was the transformation of the society itself – a second revolution and unlike the first (a national revolution), it would be a social revolution and it would be a revolution from above. The administration would be decentralized and the judicial system simplified cooperatives to improve the lot of the villagers, presidential form would replace the parliamentary – signify a break from the past. The country must become self-reliant. “A man who lives by begging has no honor”, Mujib declared in Parliament just before the amendment was voted. “I don’t want to be the leader of a beggar nation. That is why want my country to be self-sufficient.” [p.348] On Jan 25 1975 Fourth Amendment was adopted by Parliament; and on Feb 24 the formation of BAKSAL was announced in which NAP & Communist Party joined; and Bhashani backed it without joining. And on March 26 he announced sweeping reforms: 61 districts with politically appointed governors aided by an Administrative Council comprised of peoples representatives. The Army, Bangladesh Rifles, Rakhi Bahini and the Police in the districts were placed under the control of the governor; courts set up in the thanas, compulsory cooperative societies would be formed in every village but would not disturb the ownership of the land but the produce would be shared. The famine of 1974 had shaken Mujib badly and had spurred him into drastic action. But in acting to protect the poor and the disadvantaged, Mujib had alienated too many interest groups. On August 15, a fortnight before the new scheme would come into effect, the assassins struck brutally massacring the Father of the Nation, the Bangabandhu and almost his entire extended family. It was ironic that Mujib was killed not during the period when bureaucratic mismanagement had caused popular hardship, but precisely when he was attempting to introduce reforms that would shift the political power to the rural areas. Nor was Mujib killed by an uprising of the starved and the disadvantaged but by those who were the beneficiaries of the regime but were now alienated. To the millions of his people, Mujib remained the Bangabandhu and the father of the nation.

A quarter of century has passed since Bangabandhu death. Yet strangely enough, no one has written a scholarly or comprehensive biography of Mujib. Ambassador Karim makes a serious attempt to provide a balanced and judicious study of the founder and father of Bangladesh. But it is by no means a definitive book or a comprehensive biography of Sheikh Mujib. It is probably the best single volume study of the emergence of Bangladesh and the first three years of the independence. Karim writes with simplicity and elegance that is rare and makes the book an irresistible reading. While the author’s admiration for Bangabandhu is manifest, the book is not an uncritical study and certainly not a hagiography. It is both a scholarly, well researched and judiciously balanced study; and it is also a story that is well told. But Karim is not a professional historian and he did not always subject some of his sources to independent and external scrutiny. For example he all too easily accepted Anthony Masceranhas’ claim that Sheikh Mujib had confided to him about preserving ‘some link with Pakistan’; or that he changed his mind after a telephone conversation with Mrs. Gandhi. (pp. 260-61). There is no external evidence to corroborate Masceranhas’s claims; and it is now well known that his book The Legacy of Blood was funded by the military rulers. Similarly the author cites Altaf Gauhar for many of his information. Gauhar it must be remembered was the brain behind Ayub’s dictatorial regime; and when Gauhar wrote the book, he was less concerned about historical accuracy and more about preserving his own legacy.

Nevertheless this book is a fascinating analysis of the creation of Bangladesh and the role of Bangabandhu in the making of the country. Ambassador Karim provides a vivid account of the rise of the Bangali consciousness, a history of unfulfilled dreams of the people who had voted to join Pakistan in order to escape from exploitation and indignity, a saga of their subjugation and humiliation in the hands of their fellow Muslims and military rulers in Pakistan, and a story of missed opportunities, of promises not kept, betrayal of trust, denial of culture and language, and the destruction of democratic rights. But it is also the story of a visionary who inspired his people to rise to great heights, a leader whose love for his people never wavered, a man of magnanimity who gave up everything in the cause of his people, and one who remained defiant in the face of numerous threats of death in captivity; and even when the assassins sprayed him with bullets he literally did not turn his back nor did he forsake the intense love of his people.

Ambassador Karim has pieced the history together the history of Bangladesh with painstaking accuracy and narrated a story that is a must read for any one interested in the history of the creation of Bangladesh. Above all Karim has successfully disentangled history from propaganda, facts from fiction and put on record the triumph and tragedy of the maker of Bangladesh. Albert Einstein had once said of Gandhi: ‘Future generations will scarce believe that such a one as this, in flesh and blood, walked upon this earth.’

Thirty years after the assassination of Bangabandhu many of us look back and ask the same question: did that colossus ever walk the soils of Bangladesh?

* Sayyid A. Karim, Sheikh Mujib. Triumph and Tragedy (The University Press Ltd., Dhak, 2005), pp. xvi, 407. Taka 500

Writer is Harvard University Kennedy School of Government

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Political Islam and Bangalee nationalism compete in Bangladesh

March 14, 2006, 8:19 a.m.
A Muslim Democracy in Peril
Bangladesh could use some more attention from Bush and the West
By Maneeza Hossain

President Bush's recent trip to South Asia omitted a crucial nation — Bangladesh. This was a missed opportunity in the administration's mission to bring democracy to the Muslim world. As high as the stakes are in Iraq and Palestine, where recent elections affected a total population of about 30 million, they are equally high in Bangladesh, a fledgling Muslim democracy of 150 million now in the crosshairs of Islamist forces. If Bangladesh becomes a failed state, it would be the first instance ever of a democracy being defeated by radical Islamism.

Bangladeshis are due at the ballot box in January 2007, in a defining election. Although Bangladesh has a checkered history of transfer of power, democratic practice has fared well over the last 15 years. Today however, two converging trends give rise to serious concerns about its future: political corruption and the rise of Islamist radicalism.

Corruption has been the mainstay of political life in Bangladesh, and it may be getting worse. Confidence in the political system has been on the wane. Accusations of planned electoral fraud, and bickering among the main political parties about who is more corrupt — with the occasional recurrent threat of boycott — have depleted Bangladeshis' confidence in democracy as a means to achieve sound and representative governance.

On the other hand, a refurbished Islamist discourse, fusing the political and the religious, offers itself as an alternative. Rather than being the solution it promises to be, it may instead usher in the slide of Bangladesh into a Taliban-like theocracy. Already, the Islamist influence has resulted in violence: within the last year, Bangladesh has suffered a number of increasingly brazen terrorist attacks, culminating late last year in the nation's first suicide bombings.

The popularity of a politicized Islam in Bangladesh should not be surprising. Bangladeshi identity has been forged of two main components, sometimes in harmony, at other times in competition: Islam and Bengali nationalism. However, the character of this new swing of the pendulum, in favor of Islam, is new to Bangladesh. It is being driven by international militant Islamist organizations as part of a larger global struggle.

The attractiveness of radical ideologies to many in Bangladesh reflects the failure of the two main political parties to offer a genuine democratic partnership and economic growth. The rise of Islamism is not a reflection of ignorance but a result of disenchantment with the hollow discourse of democracy adopted by the political class against a background of corruption and economic disparity. Islamist endeavors, on the other hand, are seen as untainted by corruption, and bolstered by contributions from the outside. Orphans are enrolled in madrasas, and constituencies are provided with funds from the Middle East to build mosques and hospitals. Islamism in its many forms gains further roots.

The position of the two main political parties with respect to these developments is inadequate at best. Instead of confirming the established Bangladeshi practice of a healthy separation between state and mosque, both parties have accommodated the rising Islamist trend. Their efforts to court Islamism and gain the support of its sympathizers have elevated the prominence of religious rhetoric in political discourse. Alarmingly, those who stand against the Islamists are branded as anti-Muslim, a label that carries a heavy political cost. Even the constitution is being labeled "Christian" by some. Both main parties, the BNP and the Awami League, are guilty of complacency and accommodation. It is, however, the ruling BNP that has formed an alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islam, the principal above-the-surface Islamist party.

If Bangladesh is to survive as a democracy, and if South Asia and the rest of the world are to be spared another failed Islamist state, where radical activists would find refuge, this pandering to radical Islamism must end. Cosmetic steps such as the arrests this week of notorious radical extremists need to be followed by much more aggressive actions. In the long term, only by strengthening democratic institutions can we hope to reverse the trend towards radicalism. More immediately, Bangladeshis have to believe that the results of the 2007 elections are not a forgone conclusion, and that their votes matter.

The Bangladeshi political class must end its complacency towards radicalism. With the help of the international community, Bangladesh should make the 2007 elections a straight success, by insuring fairness in voting — a step that can be achieved by accepting the demand for transparent ballot-boxes — eliminating electoral fraud, and controlling violence.

It is time to look at Bangladesh as more than a battlefield between India and Pakistan — two countries which Bush did include in his recent visit to South Asia. Bangladesh has all the elements necessary to succeed as a secular Muslim democracy; but it also has enough poverty, frustration, and disillusionment to make a state-failure a real possibility. The West would do well to help ensure that elections in Bangladesh are fair and open. The alternative is dire, both for Bangladesh and for the world.

*Maneeza Hossain is manager of Democracy Programs at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bangladesh worrying international community

Threat of Bangladesh
By Chris Blackburn
March 13, 2006

Recent developments in Bangladesh have been of increasing concern to India -- and for good reason. The meteoric rise of militant Islamism in Bangladesh has been gradually biting into the secular identity of the world’s second largest Muslim democracy and has been spilling into neighbouring countries. It is understandable, therefore, why India is looking closely into Bangladeshi connections to the recent bombings in Varanasi.

The rise in militancy and the decline of law and order in Bangladesh have been mainly attributed to the Islamist parties which form part of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s coalition government. Khaleda Zia is the chairperson of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which is the largest party in the coalition. During the general elections in 2001, BNP was unable to get a parliamentary majority; this led to a pact with the main Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami, which belongs to a radical movement with parties operating in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Jamaat is widely known for its violent and subversive past. Jamaat was firmly against the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 and wanted Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) to remain part of Pakistan.

During the War of Independence in 1971, Jamaat set up the notorious al-Badr, a paramilitary group that has been implicated in war crimes. The al-Badr cadre worked closely with Pakistani forces to fight the Mukti Bahini (liberation fighters) and helped round up and murder leading intelligentsia. These actions helped to ostracise the Jamaat from Bangladesh politics. Many of its leaders had to go into exile, but over the years it has slowly managed to claw its way back into positions of power.

BNP members are becoming increasingly unhappy with their arrangement with the Islamist parties; some MP’s are even revolting against the alliance. Abu Hena, a former Bangladesh National Party MP, was expelled from the BNP because he could no longer tolerate the subversion and tactics of his own ruling party. He believed that his colleagues had made a Faustian bargain with the patrons of the militants, saying, “The leaders who worked to have me expelled from the party are in favour of the militants…Militancy started to spread through the country soon after Jamaat-i-Islami had come to power, riding on the BNP." The courageous MP also went on to say, “Jamaat leaders know it well that the militants are forwarding their agenda. So they do not object to the militant activities.”

Abu Hena was not the only BNP MP to speak out. Ashraf Hossain, a BNP whip, and Oli Ahmed, BNP's standing committee member and former minister, made public statements naming Jamaat-i-Islami as being involved in the militancy in Bangladesh. Syed Najibul Bashar Maizbhandari, BNP International Affairs Secretary, resigned from the BNP in protest of the government's failure to act against Jamaat for its involvement with terrorists. In October, Alamgir Kabir, State Minister for Housing and Public Works told BNP members, "I have no link with militancy, but Post and Telecommunications Minister Aminul Haque has maintained relationship with the militants." These stories of dissent by leading BNP figures show how corrosive Bangladeshi politics have become.

The sad factor is that the diplomatic community has turned a blind eye to these facts and still maintains that Jamaat-i-Islami is a reformist democratic party. Students and academics need to learn the truth about Islamist groups if future leaders are to be able to make well-informed policy decisions. They must be taught about their subversive nature and their ties to militancy.
Bangladesh’s counter-terrorism units backed up by intelligence agencies have recently arrested two of the countries leading Islamist terrorists in their hideouts. Sheikh Abdur Rahman, the chief of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and the notorious Bangla Bhai, the chief of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), were captured in spectacular fashion. These two militant leaders have been blamed for causing the August 17th bombings, in which 500 bombs were exploded almost simultaneously throughout the country, causing widespread panic and fear. They are also blamed for a series of suicide bombings in November. The horrific bomb attacks on journalists, opposition leaders, universities, law courts and other civic institutions will hopefully cease as a result of the arrests.

The infiltration of terrorists into India from groups based in Bangladesh will also hopefully cease as a result of these key arrests. Indian intelligence and police authorities have been arresting militants from Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, two terror groups that have been entering India from Bangladesh. They also believe that elements of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are behind these activities. US government analysts have recently said that Bangladesh has no links to international terrorists; however, they’re categorically wrong in their assessments. The fact that Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HUJI), a member of Bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF), has a Bangladesh branch is also alarming as it shows that western intelligence agencies have shown relatively no interest in developments within Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has made a step which has dumbfounded many external analysts as the recent efficiency of the Bangladeshi government in dealing with Islamist terrorists has raised certain questions and probably helped answer a few. Why have two militant leaders, which the government always stressed were ‘made-up’ products of the media and the opposition, been arrested within days of each other? The recent South Asia tour of President Bush to India and Pakistan has probably spurred the BNP government into action. The increasing number of links between militants and the Jamaat has also played a part. The question is can the government stop and arrest the foreign backers of these terror groups and will it act against high-profile leaders?

The Islamist parties in Bangladesh are driven by a radical ideology which is inspired by the late Maulana Al-Mawdudi, a leader of contemporary Islamism. Mawdudi has called for a world Islamic revolution by the use of Jihad and his Jamaat-i-Islami “Islamic Party” is to be the vanguard of this movement. It should not come as a surprise to political and counter-terrorism analysts that Islamist parties that want to abolish democracy, through the sword if needs be, are being linked to militancy and on throughout South Asia.

The Jamaat has research institutes in the United Kingdom and the United States. Details of some of these organizations can be found in my article Bangladesh: The New Al-Qaeda Haven, which documents the major institutions involved in the spread of radical Islamism in Bangladesh.

It must be noted that Al-Qaeda leaders such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, Yasir al-Jazeeri, Ahsan Aziz, and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi were all captured in the homes of Jamaat leaders in Pakistan. Dr Alexis Debat, a former advisor to the French Ministry of Defence and senior terrorism consultant for ABC News, has stated that he was taken to a safe house in Peshawar, Pakistan which was used by in Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and was operated by the Jamaat.

The literature of Jamaat calls for the subversion of democracies with the intent of their eventual overthrow. The Jamaat’s use of the democratic process is seen to be a means to an end. They use it to gain legitimacy and control over important civic institutions. During the recent raid which captured Sheikh Abdur Rahman, the chief of JMB, books and literature containing the works of Golam Azam, the former leader of Jamaat in Bangladesh, and Mawdudi where found in his possession. The raid also unearthed blank checkbooks of Saidur Rahman, a former Jamaat-i-Islami leader. The checkbooks were issued by the Islami Bank Bangladesh (IBBL), which is affiliated with the Jamaat and is believed to be involved in financing the militants. Delwar Hossain Saidee, a prominent Jamaat MP, is on the Shariah board of the bank; he is also believed to have been in regular phone contact with Dr. Asadullah Galib, the leader of the militant group Ahle Hadith Andolan, Bangladesh (AHAB)

This is not the first time Jamaat has been linked to intimidation and murder. In August 2003, JMB militants were seized in the home of Montezar Rahman, a Jamaat leader in Joypurhat. This was the first indication that Jamaat was once again becoming involved in militancy and subversion in Bangladesh. Their historical distain of Bangladeshi culture and customs has shown that they are unfit to be part of the political process.

The Jamaat’s student wing Islami Chatra Shibir (ICS) is currently involved in the militancy, with many of its cadre being linked to the JMB and bomb attacks. It has also been implicated in the murders of faculty members within Bangladeshi universities. Rajshahi University (RU) is currently under intense pressure from ICS. Jamaat’s student wing is trying to stop the arrest of their President Mahbubul Alam Salehi, who is believed to have helped plan the murder of Prof. Taher Ahmed. Selim Uddin, a former ICS president, made note of the political importance of any revelation of ICS involvement in intimidation and the murder: “The implication of Salehi will undermine Jamaat-Shibir and the ruling alliance. He is part of the alliance and this issue may accelerate the fall of the ruling coalition.” Last month, the feared Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested Shohag Khan, the ICS President of Patharghata Upazila unit, and Marfat Ullah, his general secretary, for their links to the JMB terrorist organisation.

The Jamaat have also been intimidating journalists who try to report on Jamaat’s activities. Shumi Khan, Shamaresh Boiddya and Jubayer Siddiqui have all received death threats for their brave reporting on the Jamaat.

The Jamaat’s links to militancy and subversion are numerous and it is up to the Bangladesh government to show that it is sincerely committed to routing out and arresting the financiers and planners behind the militancy. The BNP Government and Bangladeshi authorities must now show that they are willing to confront the radical anti-democratic ideology of Mawdudi that drives the militancy. They must confront it even if it means they will probably have to forfeit power in the next elections in 2007, because how could the BNP form an alliance with a party which seeks to undermine democracy, the rule of law and the spirit of liberation? #

Friday, March 10, 2006

US say capture of Islamic vigilante kingpin 'significant'

Bangladesh bomber arrests said only the beginning
08 Mar 2006 02:14:12 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

WASHINGTON, March 7 (Reuters) - Bangladesh's capture of two top Islamic militants in one week brought relief at home and praise from the United States, but experts say the South Asian country needs to do more to guard against radical Islam.

Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai, leader of the outlawed Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh was caught on Monday, four days after the head of the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen head, Shayek Abdur Rahman, surrendered to authorities.

The two men were the most wanted fugitives in Bangladesh, the world's third most-populous Muslim country, and their groups are blamed for hundreds of bombings since last year.

"It was a significant and important capture," said a U.S. official of the first arrest, speaking anonymously as required by the official's government agency.

"The capabilities of (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen) appear to be more lower level, although they have demonstrated their willingness to use violence," the official added.

A second U.S. official involved in counter-terrorism said "Bangladeshi extremists don't appear to have joined the global jihad, but the possibility remains a cause for concern."

Terrorism in Bangladesh hovers below the U.S. radar, analysts say, noting that President George W.Bush did not mention the country during his trip to India and Pakistan.

But experts on South Asia warn against playing down the problem or viewing the two high-profile arrests as sufficient to win Bangladesh's struggle to maintain secular politics.

South Asia expert Hussain Haqqani of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said: "The real problem in Bangladesh is that the government has never fully acknowledged the extent of the Islamic militant problem in the country.

"Because of this, we do not know whether the arrests are just the tip of the iceberg or they are really a fatal blow to the movement," he said.

In Dhaka, the main opposition Awami league has often accused the government of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia of allowing militants to operate in the shadow of its parliamentary partners in the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

The government's need for a coalition partner dampened debate on links between mainstream Islamic groups and shadowy offshoots such as the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, said Haqqani.

"We do not know how many others there are and how many religious political groups in the country have militant wings who just use other names," he said.

Some of these groups reject accommodation with a democratic system and have adopted radical Islam under the influence of oil-rich Middle Eastern states which fund them, wrote expatriate Bangladeshi lawyer Maneeza Hossain in a study published by the conservative Hudson Institute last month.

Hossain's report, "The Rising Tide of Islamism in Bangladesh," says the country's porous borders and the growing role of the main port city of Chittagong in the arms trade makes radical Islam a regional if not global security issue that requires more attention from the United States.

"Without a steady eye in Washington on Bangladesh it makes it the perfect incubator because nobody is there to see it," said Hossain in a telephone interview.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Bangladesh:Next epi-center for Islamic terrorism

International Intelligence Summit 2006 Report: Bangladesh

by Chris Blackburn

Executive Summary
Bangladesh is perhaps becoming the most important country in the War on Terror today; the unravelling situation will have a profound effect on South Asia and beyond.

The infiltration of al-Qaeda and the suspected involvement of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) shows that the United States and its allies must face tough questions if they are to succeed in rolling back radical Islamism. Bangladesh is seen as an important keystone for Islamists as they believe they can implement their totalitarian designs on the country with relative impunity.
In 2003 Islamic militants operating in Bangladesh were found with nuclear materials. Intelligence reports state that they were going to be used in a dirty bomb attack.

Bangladesh at worst could become a dangerous failed state but it is more likely to become the catalyst for an escalation in tension between India and Pakistan. An outcome which will increase militant Islamism throughout South Asia and it will also effect Muslim communities throughout the world.

Talking Points
- In 2003 militants in Bangladesh were found with 255 grams of uranium oxide which was to be used in a dirty bomb attack.
- Assassination and intimidation of opposition leaders, mainly the Awami League. Death threats to journalists from leading Islamists.
- 500 bombs explode simultaneously throughout the country on 17th August 2005.
- Indian intelligence believe 172 militant camps are operating in Bangladesh
Middle Eastern charities with suspected involvement with al-Qaeda operating in Bangladesh.
- Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) involvement in militancy.

Bangladesh was formed after the War of Independence in 1971, the country formerly known as East Pakistan decided that it no longer wanted to be run by the Pakistani dictatorship of Yahya Khan that was gradually trying to dilute the Bengali culture and wanted to impose radical Islam on the country. The Pakistani forces had an ally in the radical Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) which wanted to remain part of Pakistan and wanted to become part of the greater Islamic project once the main Pakistani branch of the JI took greater power. The JI was actively involved in assassinating leading intelligentsia in Bangladesh during the liberation war and many of its leaders were implicated in horrific war crimes. The JI is active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and in western countries which have Muslim populations from South Asia. Jamaat-i-Islami is a dangerous force because it has meticulously studied the rise to power of communist and fascist regimes and tries to emulate their tactics and strategies.

Islamism has always been a factor in Bangladesh but it has never gathered great public support; analysts have said that without financing from Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it would be finished as a political entity and would hasten the demise of radical Islamism. However after the War of Liberation and the retreat of the Jamaat from political life; Bangladesh gradually became an exporter of foot soldiers for Islamic radicalism in South Asian countries. Later their presence was felt in Central Asia and the Far East. The first batch of Bangladeshi mercenaries, bent on radical Islamist thought, reached Lebanon in early 1980s, to help create an “Islamic Palestinian” state. Israeli forces detained batches of mercenaries from Bangladesh, 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 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh in 1975. With collusion with the 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 train them so they could work to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state on their return.

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

Bangladesh has always appeared as a secular and moderate Muslim nation however there have always been elements that have tilted towards radical Islamism, they have often been funded by external influences from Pakistan and the Gulf states. The majority of the population in Bangladesh has rejected their radical thought and goals, but have often been defenseless to combat their rise because of economic investment from Middle Eastern states which helps to keep their fragile economy running. However intelligence reports and studies now believe that Islamist groups in Bangladesh are now self sufficient, they are believed to have taken over banking and financial institutes. However their financial underwriters are mainly Middle Eastern.

Islamists vs. Democracy
Islamists in Bangladesh do not believe in democracy, they think that Allah is the only sovereign. They believe that people should not be seen as the sovereign and should not be allowed to develop or implement laws. Islamists use democracy as a way of surviving and being able to propagate their views, their end game is the destruction of democracy and the implantation of a totalitarian state based on Shariah law. The JI was formed through the teachings and literature of Maulana al-Mawdudi, a Pakistani leader and founder of contemporary political Islam. He believed that for the Islamist movement to survive and to accomplish their goals they would have to work with the non-Islamic system until they became powerful enough to challenge these system and eventually other throw it. The JI would have to use different tactics depending on the situation. Mawdudi did not believe in the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine that subversion and terrorism were the only tactics because they often caused the state to crack down on their activities.

In the 1950’s the Muslim Brotherhood and the JI formed partnerships, the MB also started to evolve its tactics as they were finding it difficult to operate when the security agencies in the Middle East were openly oppressing them. Said Ramadan, a major figure in the Muslim Brotherhood went to Karachi in 1950’s to establish ties with Mawdudi and the JI. These partnerships continue today, they are encapsulated in the form of the Institute for Islamic Political Thought (II-PT) Islamic Foundation UK, Markfield Institute of Higher Education, International Board of Educational Research and Resources, International Institute for Islamic Thought and the International Islamic Universities (IIU’s).

The Jamaat-i-Islami is a coalition partner in the Bangladeshi government. They want Bangladesh to eventually become an Islamic theocracy. JI have advocated that Jihad is a ‘continuous revolution’ and should be used with the aim of conquering non-Islamic governments. The Jamaat-i-Islami concept of Jihad is three pronged:

1) Jihad through the sword, which involves terrorism and finally open warfare.
2) Dawah, teaching the goals of Islamism to Muslims and non-Muslims.
3) Islamic Finance, the spread and control of Islamic banking and economics. Islamic financing is also used to help fund the other two tactics of Jihad through the sword and dawah.

(Source: and

These three tactics and their implementation differ according to the security situation in the States in which they are operating. However JI literature states that they should all be used simultaneously.

There have been reports that terrorists operating in Bangladesh have ties to the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote. Recent arrests have shown that those involved in militancy are directly linked to these Islamist parties. This is not a surprise considering the subversive nature of these groups and their reliance on the goals and strategy of Maulana al-Mawdudi.

A Faustian Bargain?
Khaleda Zia, the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the leader of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) had to make a coalition with Islamic parties because she did not have a large enough share of the vote in the general parliamentary elections in 2001. This bargaining led to radical Islamist groups, who do not believe in democracy or the Bangladeshi way of life, gaining political control in important government and civic institutions. The BNP’s pact has been the reason why Khaleda Zia had been reluctant to clamp down on the rise of radical Islamists in Bangladesh. Reports that militants have been or are currently active in JI politics have also made in harder for the government to mount serious counter-terrorism efforts against them.

International Islamic Front and Al-Qaeda
The emergence of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), Harkat-ul-jihad Islami (HUJI) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Bangladesh shows that the International Islamic Front sees the second largest Muslim democracy as an easy target and sanctuary for their activities. Indian intelligence and police agencies believe that they are being helped by sections within Bangladeshi intelligence agencies and from Pakistani ISI.

Hundreds of foot soldiers from Bangladesh have been 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.

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.

TIME magazine 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 Osama 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).

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

Islamist International: Manipulation?
There have been reports that Middle Eastern charities and western based Islamic charities have been financing and promoting Islamist militancy in Bangladesh. Some of these charities such as al-Haramain and the International Islamic Relief Agency, Al-Rabita Trust and Muslim Aid have been linked to militancy in other areas such as Pakistan, Africa, Middle East and South East Asia. These organisations have strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-i-Islami.

Bangladesh’s largest Islamic bank Islami Bank Bangladesh (IBBL), which is connected to the JI, is linked to Middle Eastern banks and charities; some of these charities have been working directly with radical Islamists.

Free Fair Elections
The government of Khaleda Zia must implement reform proposals of the Awami League and from recommendations of its donors. The diplomatic community has found it difficult to try to stop the rise in militancy and the lack of law and order because Bangladeshi is still a representative democracy. This has made it harder for the diplomatic community to act on certain issues relating to the deteriorating situation in Bangladesh.

Analysts, journalists and academics have long been warning that Bangladesh is rapidly evolving into a failed state. It’s function as a safe haven and training ground for radical Islamists poses a direct threat to India and also has repercussions beyond the region. The added worry that Pakistani intelligence is manipulating subversive and terrorist groups in Bangladesh with the aim of destabilising India looks like a continuation in its proxy war, a decrease in activity in Kashmir looks like Bangladesh has become the new avenue for the continuation of hostilities. This will increase the likelihood of direct conflict between India and Pakistan should a major terrorist attack on India be attributed to the new nexus in Bangladesh. In 2003 terrorists operating in Bangladesh were found with 255 grams of uraninium oxide, they were planning to use it for a dirty bomb, however the targets were not disclosed.

Bangladeshi radicals see India as the main target and also the main obstacle to their goal of creating an Islamic theocracy in Bangladesh. The ramifications of a terrorist attack on India, with Bangladeshi connections, are endless they include nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, the violent removal of General Pervez Musharraf and leading to radical Islamists gaining power. These will all effect US and coalition efforts to stabilise the region and move forward in defeating radical Islamism.

Indian intelligence and others have been documenting the rise of al-Qaeda linked Jihadi groups and also local groups within Bangladesh. There has been speculation that Bangladeshi authorities have been involved with the training and logistical support of the terrorists. However there is no concrete evidence to support this claim. It must be noted that several high ranking members of Bangladesh’s intelligence services have links to radical Islamists, some were members of the JI student wing.

Islamist organisation which are based in the US and Europe are also believed to be manipulating the situation to their advantage. Islamist organisations with ties to the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood see Bangladesh as an easy target and believe it will help in their goals of removing democracy and provide a much needed victory for the Islamist movement. Intelligence reports have stated that Middle Eastern charities are also providing support to militant groups in Bangladesh.

There have also been reports that international cooperation to target the rise in militancy is being seriously undermined because the US is helping to fund and train military and intelligence services in Bangladesh; because it is widely believed that key figures in these institutions are sympathetic to the aims of Jihadi groups. It is also believed that the Jamaat-i-Islami and other Islamic charities have made an impact into the work of Bangladesh’s United Nations peace keeping operations in Kuwait. The JI are believed to have tried to Islamise military personnel who have always maintained a secular approach to their operations, there are also reports that Bangladeshi forces are also being systematically exposed to anti-Indian propaganda. Intelligence has reported that the introduction of silhouette targets depicting Sikhs are used in target practise etc. This worrying development and should be looked at more closely as the United States and donor countries maybe financing and training intelligence operatives that are actively working against the democracy and engaging in virulent anti-Indian activities. #

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

From Secular Polity to Islamic Hegemony of the Nationalists Chauvinist


In the backdrop of the doctored constitutional provisions of secularism, political hegemony of the elite nationalists, proclamation of Islam as a state religion, rise of Islamic fanatics, export of Jihadi terrorists coupled with the attitude of the mainstream nationalists political parties, the paper*provides an insight of the situation of the minorities, ethnicity and their fundamental rights in Bangladesh.

It is evident from the series of amendment of the Constitution from a secular to Islamic trend portrays the hegemony of the majoritarian, the Islamic nationalist chauvinist of course, over the marginalized communities.

The u-turn from secular politics to political Islam has further deepened the racial problems of the Bangla speaking Muslims, Hindus, and other religious and national minorities.

It is indeed a losing battle of the proactive secularists entailed with the civil society and the human rights organizations. Possibly due to inability to forge a common platform. Let it be informed that the civil society is divided in thin lines and even partisan, this unable to make a dent in the society.

The only hope is the strong civil society among the rural population, specially the peasant society, particularly – women, who are apparently modest in observing religion and not strict Muslims as of the rural elites.

After the end of military hegemony in state politics in 1991, the consecutive elections to parliament, municipalities/City Corporations[1] and Union Parishad[2] have anchored confidence in the electoral system of the voter’s regime. The rural women, mostly beneficiaries of women’s empowerment initiatives, engaged by scores of social development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become soft target of the Islamist. Despite intimidation to abide by strict Muslim codes of hijab[3] and abandonment of interest-based micro-credit, the rural women have balloted for pro-secular and pro-democracy leaders. Which instead became a major threat to the existence of the Islamist in rural areas. Massive turn out of women in comparison to any Muslim or third-world countries in polling centres provides light in the end of the tunnel for achieving secularism, democracy and rule of law.

The research paper exposes the mindset of the majoritarian Bangalee Muslim nationalist population in Bangladesh. The political parties, politicians and military dictators in Bangladesh to consolidate their power base, have always used religion as a tool. The picture drawn in this paper may, nevertheless will raise eyebrows among many, especially with the policy makers.
Bangladesh or East Bengal[4] is a historical reality. In 1971 it has been curved out of political boundaries of what was East Pakistan after a bloody civil war by the nationalists, and of course the secular forces. The reign of terror unleashed in 1971, and the consequent persecution of the Bangalee masses in the name of defending Islam and the Islamic bond between the two provinces of Pakistan had already made the future of Islam as a basis of state-policy uncertain in the new state brought into being by the secular forces in the teeth of the fiercest opposition by the obscurantist elements.[5]

In reality the first partition of Bengal took place in 1905 under British rule and resulted in the amalgamation of East Bengal and Assam into a separate Muslim-dominated province. It was justified by the imperial powers on grounds of both administrative convenience and the separate interests of Bengal's Muslim from those of its Hindus, but it has also been interpreted as another example of British divide-and-rule tactics in India. The British scholars and historians, and those trained by them divided the ancient history of Indian sub-continent into Buddhist era, Hindu era and Muslim era. It was opposed by a combination of high-caste Bangalee Hindus whose landed property interests in East Bengal were directly undermined by the partition as well as of a common Bangla language, literature, history, tradition and way of life.[6]

Historically Bengal spearheaded racial politics, which ultimately led to birth of a theocratic Pakistan. Muslim League was born in 1906 at Dhaka by Muslim elites and landlords to promote loyalty to the British and "to protect and advance the political rights of the Muslims of India and respectfully represent their needs and aspirations to the Government.”[7]

The Muslim nationalist leaders from Bengal proposed the controversial two nations theory[8], separate homeland for Indian Muslims. All India Muslim League adopted the Lahore Resolution[9], 1940 that the Muslims are majority in the "North-Western and Eastern Zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states" shall be "autonomous and sovereign."[10]

Instead only one Muslim nation – Pakistan was born as a conspiracy of the British imperialist with the Muslim politicians. Thus Pakistan born in August 1947 from the concept of the leaders from Bengal has torn the Bangla-speaking communities apart. Broadly on the basis of religion – Muslim and Hindus.

But after the collapse of the Khilafat Movement[11], Hindu-Muslim antagonism was revived once again. Throughout their rule, the British consciously exploited Hindu-Muslim antagonisms in a divide-and-rule strategy. At first the British favoured the Hindus, distrusting the Muslim from whom they had seized the power.[12] But the nationalism took hold among the Hindu middle classes in the late 19th Century, the British tried to win the support of well-to-do Muslims by offering them more government jobs and educational opportunities. This strategy culminated in the 1905 partition of Bengal, creating the new predominantly Muslim province of East Bengal with Dhaka as its Capital. The partition exacerbated Hindu - Muslim tension since 1905.

Racial conflicts beginning in the twentieth century have become a reality in the region for the last sixty years of British Raj. Since politics came to be increasingly dominated by communal issues. There were racial tensions, hostility and ultimately violence. Since the countries were to be dominated on the basis of demographic supremacy of one nation or another, the people fearing hostility started to migrate.[13]

The mass racial-migration by the Urdu and Bangla speaking Muslim Indians to a promised homeland were never socially integrated into Pakistan. Neither did the migrants accept the customs, tradition and rituals of what was west and eastern province of Pakistan. The political recourse of the people of East Bengal has been tormented from the birth pangs of once Pakistan and then Bangladesh. Similarly, large population of Hindus abandoned their hearths & homes and left for neighbouring states of India due to lack of insecurity in East Bengal under Pakistan.

The two-nation theory, which created Pakistan, the homeland of the Muslim communities was born with strings of religion and racism. The inter migration was productive for some but for the poor who were the overwhelming majority on both sides, it turned out to be a disaster.

Political elites and bureaucrats described Bangla, as a language of the Hindus. Therefore, the state language of Pakistan was made Urdu, which was violently protested in 1952 by the Bangalee nationalists who favoured the state language of East Pakistan should be Bangla and not Urdu. However, the short-lived 1956 constitution acknowledged two official languages Bangla and Urdu separately for two-unit Pakistan. The 1952 language riot eventually sowed seeds of Bangalee nationalism, which culminated in the independence of Bangladesh.

Political scientist Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed maintains that the divisive nature in the organisation of linguistic unity need hardly be stressed, except for the fact that language, if politicised, could produce racism as well.[14] Despite a sentimental issue of the majority of people of Bangladesh, he further elaborates that once language is used to organize unity for political purpose, as in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in South Asia, and that again, in the light of the experience of the West, it ceases to be secular category.

The landslide victory in the 1970 election by Awami League in eastern province decided the fate the Bangalee nationalism. General Yayha Khan refused to hand over powers to majoritarian Awami League led by Shiekh Mujibur Rahman.

Bangalees, a non-martial race were thus coerced into guerrilla war in 1971. After nine months of armed struggle with marauding Pakistan troops, Bangladesh was independent from military junta of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This war brought the zeal of Bangalee nationalism, but the leaders were apparently Muslims. Remnants of Islamic nationalism of Pakistan.

In 1971 reign of terror during the conflict took a new turn as the entire population was considered seditious by the Pakistanis and the hostility went beyond communities and became a national issue. Thus disaster engulfed the entire people. The war caused exodus of nearly 10 million people. The Pakistan army particularly targeted Hindus. After the nationalist forces won the war they took revenge on the non-Bangalee migrants, armed militias for their loyalty to Pakistan army and their participation in eliminating Bangalee nationalists, apparently secular.
The new state of Bangladesh emerged as a secular polity with a constitutional embargo on religion in politics.

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

Unfortunately secularism began to decline within a few years of the birth of Bangladesh[15].

The first Constitution passed on November 4, 1972, abolished: (a) all kinds of communalism; (b) political recognition of religion by the state; (c) exploitation of religion for political purpose; and (d) discrimination on religious ground (Article 2 of the Bangladesh Constitution). The preamble of the Constitution emphasised secularism as one of the fundamental principles of state policy. It is obvious that Islam, or for that matter, any other religion, as an individual belief system was not interfered with, but its political use and or abuse was barred (Hussain, 1997, pp. 82).

Other religions are, however, recognised under Article 41 of the Constitution, which gives citizens the right to practise and promote religious beliefs. Further provisions of Article 41 guarantee in individual's right to refuse to practise a religion, or to be compelled to be educated in a religion other than their own.

Between 1946 (East Bengal) and 2001 (Bangladesh), there were scores of incidences of racial violence, which resulted in deaths and directly encouraged migration. Racial riots wrecked the traditional secular image of Bengal, on the eve of the second partition of Bengal in 1947. The racial violence is often blamed to the British colonialists, which tore the silence in otherwise quite Bengal. Abul Hashim[16] wrote in his book In Retrospection (pp 117) that peace-loving Hindus and Muslims had little or nothing to do with the riot. Trauma of racialism till bears in the mind of many, mostly political activists and thousands of families who fled into East Pakistan. Similar is the case of the Hindus migrating into India.

Since early 1970s, religion plays a significant role in the state system of today's Bangladesh.[17] General Ziaur Rahman (1975-81) rehabilitated the religion-based parties in politics, the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh soon began to advocate political Islam. To compete with the Islamist, the nationalist parties have rewritten their political strategy and adopted Islamic culture in mainstream politics, which irked the secularist and the de facto independent press.

Prof Syed Anwar Hussain says that the Islamic content in Bangladesh politics has been on the increase for some time past should sound normal to many because this happens in a country where the majority of inhabitants are Muslims.

The first government that took power in the new state of Bangladesh contained a dichotomy. On the other hand, Bangladesh appeared on the map of the Muslim world as the second largest state with a preponderant Muslim population. Rather paradoxically for other members of the Muslim `Ummah', it was a secular polity. Such a secular orientation was as much a matter of ideological mooring of the ruling elite in 1972, as it was of historical inevitability (Hussain, 1997, pp. 83).

Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, first President and founder of Bangladesh who was popularly recognised as Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal) revived Islamic Academy (which was banned in 1972) and upgraded to as Islamic Foundation (in March 1975) and increasingly attended Islamic gatherings. The recognition of Organization of Islamic Conference membership (February 1974), sudden decision to participate at OIC in Lahore, Pakistan (1974), diplomatic ties with Pakistan, unconditional pardon of the occupational forces of Pakistan short-listed for war crimes during the war of Bangladesh independence and their subsequent safe repatriation, securing the founder membership of Islamic Development Bank (1975), were interpreted by political critics that Mujib stood at a confused crossroads.

Several pro-Islamic measures were adopted, which undermines secularism in Mujib era. The post independence Bangladesh banned sale and production of alcohol, horse race gambling and import of playing cards.

Two social scientists and political analyst Dr. Talukder Maniruzzaman and Dr. Syed Anwar Hussain have similar views in separate articles explaining that Mujib had significantly shifted from secular practices towards sentiment of the majority.

Dr. Maniruzzaman made an observation[18]: “Towards the end of his rule, Mujib made frequent references to Islam in his speeches and public utterances by using terms and idioms, which were peculiar mainly to the Islam-oriented Bangladeshi - like Allah (the Almighty God), Insha Allah (God willing), Bismillah (in the name of God), Tawaba (Penitence) and Imam (religious leader). As days passed on Shiekh Mujib even dropped his symbolic valedictory expression Joy Bangla (Glory to Bengal) and ended his speeches with Khuda Hafez (May God protect you), the traditional Indo-Islamic phrase for bidding farewell. In his later day speeches, he also highlighted his efforts to establish cordial relations with the Muslim countries in the Middle East.”

After the bloody birth of Bangladesh, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, was officially celebrated at the expenses of the state in 1972. Thus Eid-e-Miladunnabi (Muhammad’s birthday) was the first religious event and a national holiday. The birthday is widely contested by Islamic historians and Muslim theologists.

The state-run media Bangladesh Betar (radio) and Bangladesh Television (BTV) sacked the directors, dubbing them as Communists (otherwise meaning anti-Islam) and soon the programmes began with recitation of Koran.

Possibly Mujib was the first head of state, who conceded to the intimidation of the Muslim zealots in 1974. The Islamic bigots demanded death to a young poet Daud Haider for publication of a poem in pro-socialist Dainik Sangbad, which supposedly maligns Prophet Muhammad having several wives. The young poet was forced to go exile and never returned to Bangladesh.

Thus Bangladesh polity during 1972-1975 was a peculiar dichotomy. It was certainly secular as the constitutional provision making Bangladesh untampered. At the same it was turning towards a pseudo-religious stewardship of Mujib himself. However, whatever religious ebullience could be seen, these were rhetoric, and not reality (Hussain, 1997, pp. 86).

The process of using Islam for leadership legitimating purposes gathered momentum during the military regimes of General Ziaur Rahman (1975-1981) and General H.M. Ershad (1982-1990). During the regime of Zia, the Constitution was doctored, scraped secularism from the four state principles and insertion of Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (in the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful). The principle of secularism was replaced by the words, "Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all action."

In a subtler approach Ziaur Rahman regime, the school curricula by state-owned Textbook Curriculum Board came under increasing pressure from different quarters to Islamise the textbooks. "Islamiyat" was introduced as compulsory from classes I to VIII with options for minority students to take similar religious courses of their own.

Between 1982 and 1990, Ershad made systematic efforts to continue the policy of Zia, rehabilitating anti-liberation elements and the parallel Islamisation culminating in the disputable Eighth amendment to the Constitution declaring "Islam" as a state religion. Earlier short-lived government of Mustaque Ahmed (August 1975 - November 1975) brought to power at a behest of young military officers, declared Peoples Republic of Bangladesh as "Islamic Republic of Bangladesh" over the state radio, which fetched coveted diplomatic recognition of Saudi Arabia, Libya and China.

Political scientist Amena Mohsin argues that there was no room for accommodating the minorities within this new state discourse. After an amendment to the Constitution declaring Islam as state religion. The ethnic minorities found themselves to be minorities both in the ethnic and religious sense.

With the rise of Hindu extremism and religious strife’s in India, Bangladesh politicians found it convenient to counter it with their own brand of religious politics, which has made the Hindus very insecure (Chowdhury, 1998, pp. 214). This has been observed from the trend in the pseudo-Islamic political culture introduced by all mainstream political parties. Some radical and left politicians shifted from their traditional progressive doctrine and turned champion of political Islam. Reactive intellectuals and politicians advocate these views.

The Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami an ally of BNP attempted to move "blasphemy" law in the parliament in 1994 to victimise religious minorities – specially the Ahmadiyya Muslims sect and pro-secular sections for alleged trading of insults against Prophet Mohammed and Holy Koran. The blasphemy law was a copy of the law introduced in Pakistan.

The theory of political Islam came from Syed Abul Ala Maududi, a Pakistan born founder of Jamaat-e-Islami. The concept opposed secularism and were arguably wanted Islam to reclaim its former glory, a century after the British had defeated India's Muslim rulers.[19]

Maududi believed in the sovereignty of God over the state in Pakistan, which was a departure from secular democracy. After his death Pakistan military ruler General Ziaul Haque adopted Maududi’s doctrine and established Sharia law. Which cracked the otherwise secular fabric of Pakistan.

Jamaat-e-Islami advocates political Islam and implementation of Sharia law. Dominant nationalists have favoured the doctrine of political Islam, like BNP and Jatiya Party. This concept has radicalized the political base of the majoritarian Muslim population, which believes Bangladesh is a “moderate Muslim country”, which apparently describes a modern Bangladesh. The secular groups have rejected the moderate Muslim nation theory. The secularist argues it is yet another step towards Islamisation of Bangladesh.

The Islamist parties and Muslim zealots in Bangladesh believe Islam over the democratic institutions. It is direct contradiction to constitution and state polity. They advocate Sharia law to dominate state laws, which have been contested is Islamic theologists and experts on Koranic laws.
In September 1965, a war broke out between Pakistan and India. Pakistan authority declared the Hindus enemies.

The proclamation of independence and formation of the Provincial Government of Bangladesh took place at Mujibnagar on April 10, 1971 and the order named Laws of Continuance Enforcement Order, 1971 was promulgated on the same day purporting to keep in force all the Pakistani laws which were in force in the then East Pakistan on or before March 25, 1971. In other words, Ordinance No. I of 1969, which does not fit with the spirit of proclamation of independence of Bangladesh, automatically remained ineffective in the new state. Bangladesh was not a successor state of Pakistan[20]. On the contrary, Bangladesh established itself by waging a war of independence against Pakistan.

Research shows that the Vested Property Act, a continuation of the Enemy Property Order, which makes Hindu held property insecure because ownership has to be proven at various sorts and levels, is used extensively to appropriate property (Chowdhury, 1998, pp. 214).

The Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order under dreaded "Defence of Pakistan Rules Ordinance" was promulgated in 1965. All the large establishments including industries, trading centres, landed properties belonged to the Hindu community who were bracketed as abandoned were nationalized. The law says that the properties of Indian nationals residing in Pakistan or Pakistan citizens residing in India will be identified as "enemies of Pakistan".

In political terms the properties were confiscated by the state because they were Hindus. However properties of Christians and Buddhists were not seized by the government. Properties belonged to Indian Muslims residing in Pakistan or exchanged properties illegally with fleeing Hindus to India were not listed as abandoned or enemies of Pakistan. The discrimination was deliberate and obvious to deprive the Hindus who have made an exodus to India or elsewhere. There were hundreds of India Muslims who migrated to East Pakistan and never bothered to take domicile certificate, therefore they were not registered as Pakistani citizen where not declared as enemies.

Those so-called enemy properties seized were later gifted to "tabedars" (stooges) of the government. The autocratic government and beneficiaries were locked in "client and patron relationship" for decades.[21] Though most of them formerly belonged to Muslim League, and later the turn-coats joined Awami League, BNP and Jatiya Party, according to two in-depth studies titled "Impact of Vested Property Act on Rural Bangladesh: An Exploratory Study" - 1995 and "Vested Property Act: Towards a Feasible Solution" - 1997 by Dr. Abul Barkat et al.

After the war of liberation, the Hindu and of course the freedom loving people thought that the discriminatory law will be scrapped in matter of time in the war-torn Bangladesh and return the properties to the just owners. Surprisingly two new laws were adopted in the parliament which was tabled by a senior politicians and Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs who was a Hindu.

Despite a popular mandate, Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the first President of Bangladesh to advocate of a secular nation and a true homeland of the Muslim, Hindu and Christian Bangalee’s, he surprised many by keeping the hated law with an amendment. In 1974 two laws were adopted, "The Enemy Property (Continuance and Emergency Provisions) [Repeal] Act" and the other one was "The Vested and Non-Resident Property (Administration) Act". Since 23 March 1974 the controversial Enemy Property Order seized to exercise.

There was no strong protest, criticism, or disagreement against new wine in old bottle formula, which deliberately discriminate the Hindus. The new law enacted in 1974 also holds rights to properties, either abandoned or left behind by Pakistani and Indian owners. Nevertheless, many of the properties the Pakistani's who petitioned the court for redress, got back their properties in 1980s. There are several instances that the Pakistan citizens obtaining false citizenship documents, bought a section of government officials and won the litigation. Later all the properties were sold at a fetching price to influential persons who would able to retain the ownership legally. Such case of a Hindu property is rare in the history of Bangladesh.

General Ziaur Rahman in 1976 amended the Vested Property law and rested the ownership right to the government as administrator and controller of the abandoned properties. The same year, the second law has been scrapped. The government issues notices in favour of the vested properties by a judgement of the Appellate Division, Supreme Court of Bangladesh. The law is itself illegal as it does have a locus standi and it is contradictory, describes Dr. Abul Barkat.

The Bangladesh parliament was told that on 4 July 1991 that there were a total of 827,705.28 acres of land listed as vested property.[22].

Several months after the riot (1990-1992), in mid -1993, the popularly elected government of Bangladesh Nationalists Party issued two orders, which were interpreted as government policy of persecution of the religious minorities. The Home Ministry asked the commercial banks to control withdrawal of substantial cash money against account holders of Hindu community. The commercial banks were asked to stop disbursement of business loans to Hindu community in the districts adjoining the India-Bangladesh border.

The same government of Begum Khaleda Zia in 1993 initiated a survey of vested properties, human rights organisations treat these as alibi to persecute religious minorities, especially the Hindu community (State of Human Rights, 1993). Corrupt government officials at district level were listing properties whose owners are alive and still living in Bangladesh.

It is evident from practices and customs evoked by the state machinery and the government which has turned into unwritten laws, that the religious minorities could not be given sensitive positions, like head of state, chief of armed forces, governor of Bangladesh Bank, Ambassador in a Bangladesh Mission, secretary in the ministry of Defence, Home, Foreign Affairs and Finance. Minorities are deliberately discriminated in recruitment in civil and military jobs, business and trade, bank loans and credit.[23] The mainstream political parties equally failed to demonstrate that their leader could be from among the minority community. It is rare to find a religious minority at the helms of affairs in Bangladesh.

Nation, for them thus constituted a culturally homogenous population. In this formulation the political elites chose the dominant/majority community as a model of nation, while the minority/weaker communities were expected to assimilate themselves with the 'mainstream' i.e. the dominant majority community (Mohsin, 1997, pp. 2).
According to Bangladesh government 1991 census, the religious and ethnic minorities stood at 12.6 per cent. The Hindus are 10.5% (12.5 million), Christian (0.3%), Buddhist (0.6%) and other religious minorities (0.3%) in Bangladesh. Hindus, mostly Bangla speaking is the biggest religious minority community and they are scattered all over the country. Similarly Christians are also scattered all over the country, except for the Buddhist population, which largely concentrate in Chittagong, Chittagong Hill Tracts and Patuakhali.

The vanishing minority population is understood from researching the census documents published the government. Fifty years ago in 1941, 28.3 per cent of the total population was minorities. The population of Hindu was 11.88 millions, while 588 thousand was other religious and ethnic minorities (Buddhist, Christian and animist). Evaluation of government statistics of 50 years, from 1941 to 1991, indicates a large drop in the figure for minorities. A comparative picture shows that the number of the Muslim majority increased 219.5 per cent while the Hindu community increased by 4.5 per cent.

If normal increase rate prevailed, the number of the Hindu community in this country would have been 32.5 million, but the Hindu population in Bangladesh stood at 12.5 million in 1991 Census.[24] Therefore the missing population is 20 million.
Afsan Chowdhury, a historian and social justice activist describe low intensity violence against religious and ethnic minorities as silent disaster. He writes that the independence of Bangladesh has not bought much peace for Hindus who numbered about 10 million in Bangladesh.

The Hindus are experiencing low intensity violence situation as their life, property and peace have all been made to feel insecure by the lack of security and existing state policies and public action which are forcing them to exit to another land.

Hell broke loose upon the Hindus during the post-2001 election. The election, which swept Begum Khaleda Zia led four-party coalition of Islamic nationalists and Islamist parties. A series of attacks were deliberately targeted against the Hindus blaming them for voting for opposition Awami League. Most of the repression occurred in the southwest caused wide scale exodus to neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal.

Subrata Chowdhury, human rights activist claimed that an average 570 Hindus are migrating into neighbouring Bangla-speaking states of India since Care-Taker Government took charge of the country in 2001.[25]

Chowdhury joint secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council urged the government to repatriate 5 million Hindu refugees languishing in India.

Newspaper, rights groups and civil society decried, as the government continuously denied any violence against Hindus or any religious minorities. Well, the government ultimately had to succumb to international pressure and specially after a High Court ruled that a probe be initiated and victims get justice.

Hindus were the victims of violence as an echo of the Babri mosque demolition incident but the incidents were sporadic despite political patronage. This illustrates how low intensity violence against the minorities can push millions into a state of silent disaster (Chowdhury, 1998, pp. 214).

Apart from the threat perception of the Hindus, the Christian community came under attack several times. In 1991-1992 during the Gulf War, supporters of Saddam Hossain, the authoritarian leader of Iraq, Muslim fanatics in Bangladesh attacked foreigners and Christian community, as if responsible for attacking Iraq during the Gulf War. Several churches were attacked, they demonstrated in sensitive places in Dhaka and elsewhere. Panicked and bewildered Christian community petitioned General Ershad and later met Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to express their grievances. However, the racial tension defused after Bangladesh troops joined the United Nations for peacekeeping in the Gulf.

The second group in slow exodus are Santals from the Barind area of Rajshahi region for oppression and uprooting them from their ancestral lands.

An exclusive monthly magazine "Shorgomarta" in Bangla for the Christian community regularly carries incidence of attacks, looting, property grabbing and prejudicial writings. Also couple of books have been published in both English and Bangla on the atrocities, persecution and hegemony upon the Christian communities, especially among the converts in the ethnic minorities.

The "ethnic" problem of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is another example of the minorities being marginalized and forced to take up position of confrontation. The Kaptai Hydro Electric Project, which benefited the plain land majority but it, swamped the lands of the ethnic communities destroying their very foundation of living and livelihood. It showed how callous state power could be when it handled problems of the indigenous people (Chowdhury, 1998, pp. 215).
Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), a regional political party of ethnic Mongoloid in Chittagong Hill Tracts which ended two decades of bush war demanding autonomy for the ethnic communities in Chittagong Hill Tracts in their publications often refers to the rule of the "Bangalee Muslim" state in CHT as "internal colonialism".

Government administrative and law enforcing agencies remain mysteriously silent in rural Bangladesh and district towns, when complaints were lodged by religious minorities or killings, extortion, rape, arson, forceful eviction from properties, raiding places of worship such as "Mandirs", destruction of idols and other statues, disrupting, religious festivals, "Pujas" or "Melas"[26] since 1993 (State of Human Rights, 1993, pp. 78). The sustained racial tensions were accompanied by death threats, pressure to sell or abandon properties of mostly Hindu community. In most case the victims remained silent in fear of further persecution.

The year 1993 can also be termed as the first year of organised protest from the Hindu community against unabated repression and oppression. During the biggest religious festival of "Durga Puja", the Hindu community demonstrated in anger and protest by hoisting black flags in all religious temples and places of worships. No deity or idols were set up, no decoration was made. The call was given by Hindus performed the Puja without any religious fervour.
Subsequent regimes of Begum Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina, who came to power through popular mandates of free and fair elections under two consecutive neutral governments (in 1991, 1996 and 2001) continued with the policy and dichotomy of previous government which they rejected on political stage. Amena Mohsin writes:[27] Though General Ershad was looked as usurper, and his regime was termed as undemocratic and autocratic by both Khaleda Zia led Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP) and Shiekh Hasina led Awami League, yet none of these parties even after assuming power had been, or it is posited here would be able to retrench the Islamisation measures taken by Ershad.

The Constitution of Bangladesh, despite Awami League in power for five years, remains an Islamic one, argues Dr. A. Mohsin. It is then logical here to assume that democracy is a prerogative of the dominant majority only of the Muslim population.
The u-turn from secular politics to political Islam has further deepened the racial problems of the Bangla speaking Muslims and Hindus.

The situation of minorities in Bangladesh is a human rights issue. Status of minorities all over the world has demonstrated a pattern of discrimination and insecurity. Bangladesh is no exception. However, the example of minorities in Bangladesh has a typical trend (Shaha, 1998, pp. 5). Overall situation of the minorities in Bangladesh will not improve unless total fundamental rights laid down in the state constitution as well as by United Nations Human Rights Declaration are not implemented. With out the political will of the government, it would be difficult to see a society of racial harmony.

As Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed describes, it is rule of the majority, which evolved from Bangalee nationalism, Bangladeshi nationalism and Islamic nationalism by enigmatic national leaders. It is obvious that the dominant factor is enshrined in the state Constitution.

A Hindu rights activist and lawyer Rabindra Ghosh urge that unless the Enemy/Vested Property Acts are abolished and properties returned to rightful owner, the harassment of Hindu citizens of Bangladesh would be a never-ending process.

Religion has been used as a tool by the political parties and politicians in Bangladesh to consolidate their power base. It is time that our elected representatives take cognisance of the fact that Bangladesh is not homogenous state rather it is a multi-national state, this reality ought to be incorporated into the Constitution.

Security specialists at a recently concluded Intelligence Summit[28] conference at Washington DC during 17-20 February 2006 that Bangladesh will become the next epicentre for terrorism, unless Bangladesh authority takes steps to contain the eminent crisis.

The conclusive remarks was made not on the basis of home-grown Islamic vigilante’s recent countrywide bombings, but from credible information of dreaded military intelligence (DGFI) in Bangladesh to use the Jihadist to establish links with the terror-network. Foreign security and intelligence blames Bangladesh for allowing Islamic militants establish training camps in treacherous hill forest terrain near the international border with Burma in the southeastern region.

With abrupt emergence of radical Islam from political Islam, the country has plunged into a national crisis. Bangladesh in the past was exporting terror (Jihadist) for more than a decade to Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Egypt and other Muslim countries.

Therefore it seems a one-way ticket to era of terrorism. With gloomy pictures painted by security specialists and investigative journalists, the religious minorities will not see peace in their life.

Dr. Amena Mohsin urges the society that we must practice a culture of tolerance and respect towards each other. Bangladesh is not a land of the Bangla speaking people alone. The Hindus, Christian, Buddhist, Garos, Malos, Santals and all the other communities have contributed and participated in their own ways towards building up this society. Their contribution and sacrifices during the war of liberation also need to be recorded and acknowledge in our national history (Mohsin, 1997, pp. 104). #

* SALEEM SAMAD, an Ashoka Fellow is a Bangladesh based journalist. Presently in exile in Canada for his articles published in TIME Asia, Indian defunct news portal, Pakistan-based Daily Times, newsweekly Dhaka Courier & political weekly Holiday on conflict, terrorism & Islamic militancy in South Asia, with particular focus on Bangladesh. He has written extensively on the insurgency and conflict resolution in Chittagong Hill Tracts since 1980. email: * efax: 1-703-940-5862

* Paper presented the 6th International Conference on Religious & Ethnic Minority Cleansing and Terrorism in Bangladesh and organized by Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) USA, at New York, on 25 February 2006. The information in this article has largely been quoted from my co-authored book: Shrinking Space: Minority Rights in South Asia, ed. Sumanta Banerjee, published by Vedam Books, New Delhi, 2002:

[1] Municipalities and City Corporations are local government’s for administration of cities and towns.
[2] Union Council, lowest tier of local government for administration of few villages, which makes a union
[3] Hijab: The headscarf worn by Muslim women, sometimes including a veil that covers the face except for the eyes
[4] The first constitution of Pakistan in 1956 had mentioned five provincial governments, East Bengal, Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)
[5] Hussain, Dr. Syed Anwar. 1997, pp 83. Bangladesh Politics: From Secular to Islamic Trend, in Barun De and Ranabir Samaddar (ed.), State, Development and Political Culture: Bangladesh and India. New Delhi: Har Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd.
[6] Kabeer, Naila. 1997,pp 53. A thrice-partitioned history, in Ursala Owen (ed.) INDEX on Censorship 6/1997. London: Index on Censorship.
[7] Source: U.S Library of Congress,
[8] A. K. Fazl-ul-Haq, the then Chief Minister of Bengal, moved the historical resolution at the All India Muslim League conference at Lahore in March 1940. Which is popularly known as Lahore Resolution.
[9] "No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign".
[10] Hashim, Abul. 1974, pp 169. In Retrospection. Dhaka: Subarna Publishers.
[11] Under the leadership of the Ali brothers, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, the Muslims of South Asia launched the historic Khilafat Movement. Gandhi linked the issue of Swaraj with the Khilafat issue to associate Hindus with the movement. The ensuing movement was the first countrywide popular movement against notorious British rule.
[12] Hartmann, Betsy and Boyce, James. 1983, pp 15. A Quiet Violence: View from a Bangladesh Village. London: Zed Press.
[13] Chowdhury, Afsan. 1998, pp 213. Disasters: Issues and Responses, in Philip Gain (ed.) Bangladesh Environment: Facing the 21st Century. Dhaka: Society for Environment and Human Development.
[14] Ahmed, Dr. Imtiaz. 1997, pp 86. Indo-Bangladesh Relations: Trapped in the Nationalist Discourse, in Barun De and Ranabir Samaddar (ed.) State, Development and Political Culture: Bangladesh and India. New Delhi: Har Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd.
[15] Prof. Islam, ibid
[16] Abul Hashim was General Secretary of Bengal Muslim League. He quite his party in protest of division of Bengal. In 1950 he migrated to East Bengal. Hashim was one of the architects of the failed scheme of the United Bengal Movement in early 1947. In 1960, he was appointed the first Director of the 'Islamic Academy'.
[17] Prof. Islam, Sirajul, 2000. State and Religion, Banglapedia, Asiatic Society, Dhaka.
[18] Talukder, Dr. Maniruzzaman. 1990. Bangladesh Politics: Secular and Islamic Trends, in Rafiuddin Ahmed (ed.), Religion, Nationalism and Politics in Bangladesh. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers.
[19] Devichand, Mukul. 10 November 2005, BBC Radio Four's Analysis programme, How Islam got political: Founding fathers, BBC Radio, London.
[20] Gosh Rabindra, 2002. Organiser (Vol. LI, No. 39)
[21] Barkat, Dr. Abul, Dr. Sharif uz Zaman and Dr. K.M. Akbar Hossain. 1997. Vested Property Act: Towards a feasible Solution, presented at a seminar organised by Association of Land Reforms and Development (ALRD).
[22] State of Human Rights 1992. 1993, pp 22. Dhaka: Coordinating Council for Human Rights in Bangladesh.
[23] Shaha, Prof. Dr. S.S, 22 July 1998, p 5. Manabodhikar O' Bangladesh’er Sangkhalogud’er Shamasya, Dainik Ittefaq, Dhaka
[24] State of Human Rights 1994. 1995. Father R.W. Timm, Brother Jarlath D'Souza, et al (ed.). Dhaka: Coordinating Council for Human Rights in Bangladesh.
[25] Interview with Shatahik Thikana, Vol. 17, Issue: 02, 24 February 2006, New York
[26] State of Human Rights 1995. 1996, pp 128. Father Dr. R.W. Timm (ed.). Dhaka: Coordinating Council for Human Rights in Bangladesh.
[27] Mohsin, Dr. Amena. 1997, pp 98. Democracy and the Marginalisation of Minorities: The Bangladesh Case, in Prof. B.K. Jahangir (ed.), The Journal of Social Studies (# 78, October 1997). Dhaka: Centre for Social Studies.