Monthly Coupon

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Despite protests, India, Bangladesh agrees to generate power


IN MAJOR breakthrough India have agreed to help Bangladesh to generate coal-fired power station and pens another deal to generate additional power by private companies.

The state owned Power Development Board (PDB) on Sunday penned an agreement with the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) of India to build a 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power plant at Bagerhat, near the southern coast.

The environmentalists and senior citizens have protested against the construction of coal-fired power plant, which they argue would jeopardize the fragile mangrove forest. It is feared to drown at the time of sea-level rise caused from global warming, environment advocate Rizwana Hasan lamented.

However environmentalists say the proposed site for the power plant is too close to world heritage Sundarbans. They argue that discharge from the power plant, like sulphur dioxide and fly ash, will have disastrous consequences for the fauna and flora of the mangrove swamps.

Environmentalists and senior citizens have protested against construction of the coal-fired plant, which they argue would jeopardize a fragile mangrove forest. It is feared to drown at the time of sea-level rise caused from global warming, lamented environment advocate Rizwana Hasan in a joint statement with senior citizens.

ASM Alamgir Kabir, chairman of PDB, and Arup Roy Choudhury, chairman and managing director of the New Delhi-based company, signed the deal to install two units of the plant with 660 MW generation capacity each.

The PDB chief said the plant would use supercritical pressure technology that offers high efficiency and less coal consumption in order to keep the emission level as low as possible.

Bangladesh energy starved nation of 150 million has gradually developed hundreds of export industries, which has caused hiccups due to acute power shortage. The traditional natural gas based power generation faced setback due to gas shortage.

The country's present power production is slightly more than 5,000 MW against a daily demand of 7,000 MW.

The deal would cost $1.5 billion and it will start supplying electricity to the national grid by 2016. The coal imported from India, Australian Indonesia and South Africa will be shipped to its location more than 12 miles north of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, the plant will be the country's largest power plant.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh and India are working together to draw the contours of the proposed South Asia Power Grid. India and Bangladesh were preparing the draft concept papers for the proposed regional power trading regime.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bangladesh: Coup bid against Sheikh Hasina foiled


In late December last year, a secret letter went from New Delhi to Dhaka. It was delivered directly to Sheikh Hasina, 65, the prime minister of Bangladesh. It warned her that Islamist radicals embedded within the Bangladesh Army were planning a coup. Hasina had reason to fear coups. On the night of August 15, 1975, her father, Bangladesh's first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, her mother and three brothers were massacred by officers of the Bangladesh Army. Hasina and her sister would have been dead as well, but were abroad on a tour of Europe.

Along with the letter, India had worked out a contingency plan to evacuate the prime minister, her cabinet and key figures of her Awami League party in the event of a coup. There was a military plan as well. Indian helicopter gunships would be launched from two airbases in West Bengal and Tripura into Dhaka to provide air cover for the operation. Landing zones and evacuation sites were identified in and around the capital for the air corridor.

All through December, Bangladesh's spy agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), which reports directly to Hasina, quietly went to work. It was headed by Major General Sheikh Mamun Khaled, whom Hasina had personally chosen. They tapped phone communications, smss and emails of suspects in the conspiracy. Social networking sites were monitored. A series of arrests was made from December-end to January.

Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), who is anti-India by conviction and hates Hasina with a rare passion, alleged at a public rally in Chittagong that army officers were becoming victims of "sudden disappearance". The army's media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR), warned Khaleda to refrain from making any statements. The army was worried that public discourse might soon include details of the impending coup.

The coup attempt began innocuously. Posts on a Facebook group, 'Soldiers Forum', instigated soldiers to work against the government. Major Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haq, a graduate of the military academy who was training at the Military Institute of Science and Technology, Dhaka, was identified as the mastermind. He used a mobile phone with a UK number to share details of the conspiracy with 11 other army officers. On his Facebook account, he bragged that "mid-level officers of Bangladesh Army are bringing changes soon". On January 8, the banned fanatical organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) distributed provocative leaflets based on his post.

Major Zia regularly updated his Facebook account with "information" on arrests of army officers by "anti-terrorism agents", including those of India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). His messages spread to blogs and were even picked up by a pro-BNP newspaper, Amar Desh. The DGFI and other security agencies kept the suspected plotters under surveillance. They discovered that the likely date of the coup was January 10 or 11. One by one, the plotters were picked up and are now detained in military headquarters, Dhaka.

On January 19, the army unveiled the plot. In its first ever press conference, held at the Army Officers' Club in Dhaka, ISPR spokesperson Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq took questions, didn't reveal specifics, but talked about the threat to Hasina's "pro-secular and democratically elected government". Brigadier Razzaq claimed between 14 and 16 former and active mid-level radical Muslim officers were behind the conspiracy to topple the government and install an Islamist regime. Two retired officers, Lt Col Ehsan Yousuf and Major Zakir, were arrested on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government and they "admitted their role in the plot". Major General Mohammad Kamruzzaman, commander of the Comilla-based 33rd Infantry Division, was removed from his command and detained in Dhaka. Another brigadier, Tariqul Alam, commander of 71st Brigade of 9th Division, and Major General Shabbir Ahmad, commander of the Rangpur-based 66 Division, are under surveillance. Eleven other officers from Dhaka and other cantonments across the country have been confined in the capital.

Bangladesh Army chief General Mohammad Mainul Islam says the major general and some religious bigots had planned to indoctrinate pious officers. "They had targeted the deeply religious officers, who they felt would be amenable because they were pious, to execute their conspiracy to overthrow the democratically elected government," he says.

On January 21, Hasina said, "I would like to thank the Bangladesh Army. Had they not unearthed the conspiracy in time, a great disaster could have taken place. The army saved the patriotic forces and the country as well by throttling the conspiracy to topple the democratic government." She accused arch-rival Khaleda of plotting to overthrow her government. The BNP dismissed this as well as allegations that self-exiled BNP leader Tarique Rahman, Khaleda's son, was involved in the aborted coup attempt.

The Bangladesh Army says Major Zia, the alleged coup mastermind, evaded arrest. His whereabouts are unknown. Yet, it was the resurfacing of an underground Islamist organisation that caused concern. The Bangladesh Army linked the conspirators to the Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Tahrir, an international Sunni pan-Islamist political organisation, advocates an Islamic Caliphate governed by Shariah law. Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, it has spread to more than 40 countries, and is also active in Pakistan.

The Hasina government had banned the Tahrir in October 2009. Agencies such as the Rapid Action Battalion, National Security Intelligence and Detective Branch repeatedly claimed they had succeeded in containing them. They based these claims on the detention of key figures such as Towfiq Elahi, a teacher of a prominent private university, and Dr Golam Haider Rasul, 45, who practises at Dhaka's United Hospital, besides hundreds of others. Tahrir leader Maulana Mamunur Rashid, principal of a Dhaka madrassa, remains a fugitive.

Nearly 500 Tahrir members were detained mostly for organising rallies and distributing leaflets. Police officers now admit their inability to curb the well-funded organisation merely through arrests. "It's tough because families of the detained activists get money from their global network," says Lt Col Ziaul Ahsan, director of the Intelligence Wing of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion. Most of the detained militants released on bail rejoin the outfit. The outfit has resurfaced more aggressively after its ban.

Besides the men in uniform, the Hizb ut-Tahrir has spread its invisible tentacles among the social elite, government professionals, academics and politicians. "They have a new approach to radicalism, the cuckoo's eggs in the crow's nest (trying to covertly embed themselves in society)," says Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, a political scientist in Dhaka University.

Since their 1975 putsch that killed Mujib, the Father of the Nation, the military in Bangladesh has overthrown the civilian government four times. The army has killed two elected presidents and coerced three other presidents into declaring military-backed emergency. The last coup was in January 2007 and since then, attempts have been made to keep the military in the barracks.

The Supreme Court has been a key force. A landmark judgment by a full bench headed by former chief justice Mohammad Tafazzul Islam on July 28, 2010, declared three military regimes between August 15, 1975, and February 1979 as illegal. The new constitution, adopted by Parliament in November 2011, has restored equality of religions. But as UK-based terror analyst Chris Blackburn says, "The recent coup plot shows that extremism in South Asia has many forms. There has always been a trend within the ranks of the military to push the importance of religion in binding a country together. There are certainly officers who see themselves as guardians of both state and religion. But I still think it is too early right now to speculate on Hizb ut-Tahrir's role in the attempted coup. They are an extremist group."

Hasina has been under threat since she swept to power in early 2009. More than 1,000 paramilitary border guards of Bangladesh Rifles, now renamed Border Guards Bangladesh, revolted against the military's hegemony over their institution. It was symptomatic of the unrest in the armed forces. India helped even then. Sources in the prime minister's office said that as soon as the mutiny broke out, India kept its special forces 50 Parachute Independent Brigade on standby to fly into Dhaka in case of an emergency. New Delhi's support for Hasina is clear. In her third stint as prime minister, Bangladesh has ceased to become a safe haven for militant groups operating in India.

The military has moved in swiftly to initiate a court of inquiry against the rogue officers. The military brass, meanwhile, reassured the president of its secular credentials and their support. "There is no room for religious zealots in the Bangladesh Army," army chief General Islam told a seminar in Dhaka a week after the botched coup. The civilian government can only hope that it is true.

First published in India Today, New Delhi, January 28, 2012
@ Copyright 2011 India Today Group

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bangladesh unveils cyber watchdog to check crimes

Campaign: Free Internet

BANGLADESH IN the wake of last week use of social media by key conspirators botched Islamic coup, the authority unveiled on Friday a new cyber watchdog.

Bangladesh Computer Security Incident Response Team (BD-CSIPT) began its operation with an objective to secure the country's information and communication traffic.

The abortive coup by Islamic radicals planned to overthrow the democratically elected pro-secular government led by Shiekh Hasina. The conspirators used social medial like Facebook and blogs to ventilate their Islamic agenda with their disgruntled collaborators in the army and used smart phones to stay connected.

Maj. Gen. (retd.) Zia Ahmed, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission told state-run BSS news agency that the BD-CSIRT is mainly assigned to identify the sites and persons or institutions who will engage in operating harmful activities against the state, society, political and religious beliefs using the mobile phone, website and different social networking sites.

Apart from monitoring and control of cyber-crimes, it will take punitive measures against the offenders, and in some cases it will take action directly.

The cyber watchdog will also ensure the security of value-added services like e-banking, e-ticketing and similar others, which require strong security system.

Ahmed Swapan, a media activist advocating for privacy rights in a mixed reaction, regarding the objectives of the government’s decision. He said that in the name of cyber surveillance, it would be detrimental and if the authority exercise cyber-censorship, unnecessary interference and harassment of the users.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Politics in Bangladesh: Turbulent house

Rare: Army spokesperson brief the press
The army claims to have thwarted a coup

IT WAS, says Gowher Rizvi, a close adviser to Bangladesh’s prime minister, “very quickly nipped in the bud”. He was talking of a coup plot foiled by the army. The schemers—16 were involved, and some are on the run—included disgruntled mid-ranking officers, retired officers, and others abroad. He claims investigators found a list of prominent people to be assassinated, and another list of generals expected to be “potential partners”.

Bangladesh has faced dozens of coups, failed or not, in its 40 years. But for an army spokesman to give details of one, on January 19th, was unusual. He named the plotters and blamed them for inducing others to revolt (by passing on provocative e-mails and posting on Facebook). The conspirators, he said, shared extreme religious beliefs.

The official view is that dogged opponents of Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s elected regime must now be rooted out, especially from the army. These include Islamists—many supposedly recruited to the army in the early 2000s—and those who oppose ongoing war-crimes trials (over killings during the secession war of 1971).

Mr Rizvi says the government’s legitimacy is assured and reports “absolute calm” in Dhaka, the capital. The army’s discipline looks admirable, he says, encouraged by a popular desire (in contrast to a few years ago) for men in uniform not to meddle in politics.

The equanimity is not shared by all. Many normally garrulous Bangladeshi commentators this week shunned requests to talk. A wide presumption exists that phones are bugged. Speak to one of the men accused of leading the plot, who is in hiding abroad, and a murky picture emerges. Ishraq Ahmed concedes that the arrested men are his friends, but denies religious extremism (indeed, he complains that the authorities have seized his painstakingly collected cellar of wines, Armagnacs and malt whiskies). He says the government “can show no troop movements, no guns, anything” to prove the plot.

Mr Ahmed is a former high-ranking officer from a liberal family. He says he fought “with great responsibility” for Bangladesh’s independence. Now he and other nationalists are merely trying to oppose what they see as a coup-by-stealth by Sheikh Hasina, who is letting Bangladesh be “turned into a Bantustan” run by India.

He makes many claims. Among the more plausible and specific is that spies from India’s Research Analysis Wing (RAW) operate in the country. He claims, too, that for two years RAW has had an office within the headquarters of Bangladeshi Intelligence in Dhaka and a “direct submarine cable for communications” back to India. He claims that Indians conduct electronic surveillance in the country and kidnap suspects from Bangladeshi cities. Indian prodding, he adds, encourages the government to crack down on “anyone with beards. Any practising Muslim is vilified and portrayed as Taliban.”

Mr Rizvi denies all this, saying he is “totally unaware of any Indian presence in Bangladesh”. Yet he accepts that many are uneasy about Bangladesh’s rapprochement with India under Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh has also met Indian demands to root out Islamists’ training camps, and he concedes that some individuals—though not Bangladeshis—are taken over the border for prosecution in India.

Fractiousness will grow ahead of a general election in 2013. Returned to power three years ago, Sheikh Hasina has seen her popularity slump from 81% to 39%, according to an opinion poll published by the Daily Star on January 8th. More telling, 74% say they oppose her constitutional meddling last year, which changed how elections are organised. That may bode ill for stability. Mughal kings struggled to rule the territory over four centuries ago, lamenting that Bengal was “a house of turbulence”. Little has changed.

First published in The Economist magazine, January 28 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Torture Video Sparks India-Bangladesh Tension

Deadly border features outrages by forces on both sides

Tensions have been mounting at the India-Bangladesh border following the discovery of a video showing Indian border guards torturing a Bangladeshi cattle smuggler.

Shot on a mobile phone camera, the video contains graphic (NSFW) footage of several men wearing the uniforms of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) stripping a Bangladeshi man in his 20s completely naked and then tying him to a bamboo pole in a manner resembling a crucifix. The guards then proceed to take turns beating him for several minutes with sticks as the man writhes in the mud screaming loudly for his mother.

The video is believed to have been filmed by the soldiers themselves, apparently intending to circulate it as a warning to smugglers. Eventually someone put the footage up on Youtube, where it quickly sparked a media sensation and outrage in Bangladesh.

The man being tortured in the video has been tracked down. Habibur Rahman, 22, says he passed out after the beating, and woke up abandoned in the middle of a mustard field.

According an account of Habibur’s account which appeared in Banglades’s leading English-language daily The Daily Star, the Indian border guards caught him around 11pm on Dec. 9, 2011, during what would be the last of many illegal border crossings he had done throughout the year to smuggle cattle from India into Bangladesh. Once he was in their custody, he says the guards demanded Rs1,000 (US$20), a torchlight, and a mobile phone.

When Habibur said he did not have any of those things in his possession, the guards began to hit him with punches and kicks. Then they took him back to their camp, and in the crisp, foggy morning that followed, tortured him for over an hour.

Then, just one day after the video was discovered, a Bangladeshi border guard was kidnapped by Indian smugglers after he allegedly crossed into Indian territory and killed one of them. The Bangladeshi guard is now in BSF custody, and is expected to be released shortly.

Conflict between India and Pakistan dominates international and regional headlines, but the India-Bangladesh border has been a deadlier place in recent years.

The majority of those killed are cattle rustlers. Selling cows for slaughter is illegal in India, where they are considered holy, but it is legal to sell smuggled Indian cows in Bangladesh.

One consequence of this is that Indian media refers to those involved as cattle smugglers, while the Bangladeshi media call them cattle traders and ‘businessmen.’

A more tragic consequence has been the deaths of more than 1,000 Bangladeshis and Indians at the hands of India’s frequently trigger-happy border guards over the past decade, according to Human Rights Watch. The BSF itself admits to killing hundreds of people of both nationalities, although they say they fire in self-defense when attacked by smugglers.

Trading cattle between India and Bangladesh is a lucrative and dangerous business, one that tempts thousands of young men like Habibur who live in impoverished conditions near the border.

Villagers can double their monthly incomes in one night, earning as much as $70 per trip. Cows in Bangladesh sell for three to four times as much as they do in India. Simple economics means that even the threat of death or torture will not stop the smugglers.

Neither will the world’s longest barbed wire fence. Over 4,000 km long, construction on the 3m high fence began in 2006, inspired by Israel’s West Bank barrier. BSF outposts have also increased in frequency during that period, but the trafficking of cattle continues.

“Most of the beatings happen on both sides of the border, and it happens because of extortion,” says Mizanur Rahman, the chairperson of Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

An October 2011 expose by Indian investigative magazine Tehelka revealed the mechanics of the trade. There are the ghatiyals, who own the cows and are buying and selling them. Then there are the rakhals, who actually transport the cows across the border. Finally, there are the dalals, or brokers, who arrange the bribing of Indian and Bangladeshi border guards.

Things can go wrong. Bribing the guards may be “bypassed” in order for the smugglers to make a bigger profit. A dishonest dalal might pocket the entire sum given to him instead of bribing the border guards. Or one outpost might be bribed, but the smugglers might encounter guards from another who could open fire.

Rakhals like Habibur get the smallest cut of the profits, but when something goes wrong, they pay the biggest price.

Change in the air?
After sustained pressure from human rights watchdogs and numerous, India agreed in 2011 to bring a halt to the shooting. In July of that year, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced that Indian border guards would no longer shoot Bangladeshi civilians.

“Our stance on border killings is very clear,” says Bangladesh’s NHRC chief Mizanur Rahman.

“In very strong and unqualified terms we have protested the killings. On certain cases we have directly written to the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC India) to investigate. I personally met with [NHRC India Chairperson] Balkrishnan in Delhi and asked him to take this up. And now BSF has said border guards will not use any lethal weapons. So we can claim some credit for this.”

Despite the no-shooting decree, violence on the border remains a problem. Shootings still occur, albeit more rarely, but there has been a spike in reports of stonings, drownings, and beatings.

On the face of it, the video of Habibur being tortured implies that nothing has really changed. But for the first time, eight BSF guards were actually suspended for their role in the beating. Also for the first time, the India-Bangladesh border became headline news in Delhi as well as Dhaka, with the torture video featuring in every major Indian news channel.

The past few months has seen a notable increase in media savvy among South Asia’s security forces, who in previous years have showed scant regard for the opinions of civil society.

The rapprochement that led to the no-shooting decree in July began because of media outrage over the killing of 15 year old Felani Khatun, an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant in India who was shot by BSF guards while climbing the barbed wire fence.

India’s BSF is not the only acronym that human rights groups complain about in the region. Bangladesh’s own Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite force comprised of the best of the country’s army and navy, have allegations of extrajudicial killings to deal with as well.

Since the force was formed in 2004 RAB has acknowledged killing at least 622 people inside Bangladesh with impunity – it claims that most of the deaths are a result of “crossfire.” Human Rights Watch says many of RAB’s victims as well as those who survive RAB custody bear marks of torture. US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks described the force as a “death squad,” which was widely reported in international media.

But in recent months, RAB too has taken tentative steps towards an image makeover. They have had much publicized human rights training provided by the US government recently. And RAB press conferences take place regularly now, highly staged events with somewhat theatrical speeches and confrontational dialogue between the press and RAB officers on one side and apprehended criminals on the other. If this wooing of the media leads to improvements in accountability, then few will complain.

First appeared in Asia Sentinel, Thursday, 26 January 2012

Maher Sattar is a South Asian journalist based in Bangkok. You can follow his work or reach him at or via twitter at

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bangladesh: Failed Coup

Bangladesh has taken firm steps to quell violent Islamist extremist groupings operating on and from its soil, but it is clear that these groups have not abandoned their ideology or their objectives, and that they retain significant capacities, though pressure by intelligence and enforcement agencies has pushed them underground. The introduction of the 15th Amendment Bill of the Constitution on June 30,2011, which gives Islam the status of the 'State Religion', may well expand the spaces for radical Islamist politics in the country, legitimizing extremist formations and radical political parties such as the JeI. These are the very forces that have repeatedly jeopardized stability and development in Bangladesh in the past, and the state will have to remain extraordinarily vigilant if they are not to return to prominence in the proximate future.
HuJI-B: Potent Threat, SAIR, August 1, 2011
HuT's radical ideology, the propagation of hatred against 'infidels' and 'deviants', and the flirtation with violence and terrorism hold significant potential dangers within the far from stable South Asian environment.
HuT: Extremist Spectre, SAIR, October 24, 2011
In nearly three years of almost consistently positive news from Bangladesh, the revelation that a coup plot had been foiled by Dhaka has sent shock waves through the region, and underlined the dangers of residual Islamist extremism within the country.

On January 19, 2012, it was disclosed that the Bangladesh Army had discovered and neutralized a plot by some serving and retired Army officers, at the instigation of some Bangladeshi civilians at home and abroad, capitalizing on the sentiments of the Islamist extremists. The conspiracy was intended to overthrow the Awami League (AL) led civilian Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed.

Revealing the details of the plot, Brigadier General Muhammad Mashud Razzaq, Director of the Personnel Services Directorate, and Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Sazzad Siddique, acting Judge Advocate General of the Army, in a Press briefing on January 19, 2012, circulated a statement saying that “around 14 to 16 mid-level officers were believed to have been involved in the bid”, which came to notice when Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Ehsan Yusuf on December 13, 2011, instigated a serving Major (not named) to join him in executing his plan. The Major revealed the plot through the chain of command. Two retired officers, Ehsan Yusuf and Major Zakir, were arrested. Another plotter, a serving Major, Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Major Zia, is on the run. Meanwhile, a Court of Inquiry was constituted on December 28, 2011, to unearth further information about the plot.

Though it will take time to unravel all the facts, the revelation that at least two plotters have already admitted their links with the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT, ‘Party of Liberation’) has once again brought focus on Islamist fundamentalist groups that continue to maintain their strong presence in the country’s military establishment. Indeed, on January 8, 2012, HuT had circulated provocative leaflets, based on the fugitive Major Zia's internet message, throughout the country. Zia had sent out two e-mails containing imaginary and highly controversial contents, styled “Mid-level Officers of Bangladesh Army are Bringing down Changes Soon (sic)”. The Bangladesh Security Forces (SFs) on January 20, 2012, arrested another five HuT cadres in connection with the failed coup attempt.

This is the second attempt military revolt by hardliners under the Hasina Government since it came to power after the elections of December 2008. On February 25 and 26, 2009, shortly after the Government took charge, members of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), since renamed the Bangladesh Border Guards, staged a mutiny against their commanding officers, killing more than 74 persons, including 52 officers, SF personnel and six civilians, including the Director General of the BDR and his wife. The mutineers, backed by the Islamists, wanted to create a rift between the Hasina Government and the military, in order to overthrow the civilian Government. They failed in the face of an effective and concerted response by the military top brass.

Interestingly, Sajeeb Wazed, an Information Technology specialist, political analyst and advisor to Sheikh Hasina, along with Carl Ciovacco, in an article titled 'Stemming the rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh' published in the Harvard International Review on November 19, 2008, had underlined the ‘astronomical growth’ of Islamists in the military, claiming that madrassas (religious seminaries) supplied nearly 35 percent of Army recruits. Indeed, the seminaries in Bangladesh have emerged as the principal medium for fundamentalists to propagate radical ideologies.

The radicalization process has been rooted in Bangladeshi politics since the bloody coup of August 15, 1975, which killed the country’s founding father, Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Sheikh Hasina’s father). The coup leaders used Islam as an instrument to legitimize and secure their power. Succeeding regimes have collaborated with radical and fundamentalist Islamic political organizations. Indeed, the principal political parties, in their efforts to oust the military from power, maintained tactical relationships with fundamentalist political organizations, giving them unbridled power, which radicalised society and the polity to the core. The AL was guilty of such alliances in the past, though, in its current tenure, it has acted with determination and consistency against Islamist extremist elements in the country.

On April 2009, the AL Government blacklisted 12 extremist organisations – Harkat-ul Jihad Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Shahadat-e-al-Hiqma (SAH), Hizbut Touhid, Islami Samaj, Ulema Anjuman al Baiyinaat, HuT, Islamic Democratic Party, Touhid Trust, Tamir-ud-Deen, Alla’r Dal. Four of these 12 groups, including HuJI, SAH, JMJB and JMB, had already been banned during the earlier Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JeI) coalition regime.

Later, on March 25, 2010, the AL Government set up a special tribunal for the trial of "war criminals" of Liberation War of 1971. Five of the Jamaat's top leaders, including its 'chief' Motiur Rahman Nizami and Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, were jailed in this connection. Subsequently, on January 11, 2012, former JeI 'chief' Gholam Azam was sent to jail by the International Criminal Tribunal (ICT), which, on January 9, 2012, had accepted formal charges against Azam and present 'chief' Nizami for their alleged involvement in war crimes.

Further, on June 27, 2011, 666 members of the 24th Border Guards Battalion were tried before the BDR Tribunal, a military court. All but nine were found guilty and sentenced to terms ranging from four months to seven years in prison.

In June 2011, the Government passed the Constitution (15th Amendment) Bill, 2011, restoring secularism as a ‘fundamental pillar’ of the Bangladesh Constitution.

An extremist backlash was almost inevitable.

Meanwhile, on January 19, 2012, Prime Minister Hasina accused the "desperate" opposition of "plotting" against her Government. Criticizing the BNP, she declared, "They are desperate to spoil the democratic process. They are threatening the Government to protect the war criminals." It is widely reported that the BNP is vehemently opposing the trial of war criminals to support its ally, JeI, and some of its own leaders. Notably, a former BNP Minister Abdul Alim and a BNP lawmaker Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury, have been accused of war crimes.

Though there is no conclusive report of direct BNP involvement in the attempted coup, some developments raise a finger of suspicion. Indeed, Abdul Hye Sikder (a former leader of the cultural wing of BNP) wrote a provocative article in Amar Desh, a vernacular daily, instigating the anti-Government sentiment of the Islamist forces within and outside the Bangladesh Armed forces. Apparently referring to BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia's remarks at a Chittagong rally on January 9, 2012, that 'even army personnel are being abducted', Brigadier Razzaq, while disclosing details of the coup plot, hinted at possible BNP involvement, stating, "Even a large political party sang along imaginary, misleading and propagandist news to bring allegations, which created unexpected and provocative debate among the Army and conscious citizens."

HuT has been gradually gaining grounds in Bangladesh, and is currently regarded as the strongest anti-state organisation in Bangladesh. Another such group, Hizbut Touhid, established in 1994 at Korotia village in the Tangail District, and led by Bayezid Khan Panni alias Selim Panni, who claims himself to be the Imam-uz-Zaman [Leader of the Age], has also extended its base. The Hizbut Touhid, which aspires to establish the ‘world leadership’ of the Imam-uz-Zaman, declares itself against democracy and democratic institutions, which it regards as ‘rules of evil’.

According to SATP data, the SFs have arrested 213 HuT cadres since March 10, 2000, (till January 22, 2012), out of which 96 have been arrested since the Hasina Government came to power in January 2009. 107 Hizbut Touhid cadres have also been arrested by the current Hasina regime. Nevertheless, these groups, in alliance with the JeI, continue to constitute a major threat for the Hasina Government, though the dangers have, in some measure, been minimised by sustained SF action.

These dangers have not, however, seized to exist, and even a group like the JMB, which was decimated in the aftermath of the serial bombings of August 2005, is reported to be exerting visible efforts to engineer a revival. Quoting Abu Talha Mohammad Fahim aka Bashar, a son of detained JMB chief Saidur Rahman, officials of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) disclosed that the reorganisation attempts under the directives of JMB’s acting 'chief' Sohel Mahfuz, were being intensified.

The failed coup is a reminder that Islamist Forces in the country, while they have weakened, have not been entirely contained. Despite the tremendous gains of the past three years, the threat of an Islamist resurgence, of coup attempts, of terrorism and of engineered political violence, will persist as long as these groupings continue to have a base in the country.

First appeared in SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 10, No. 29, January 23, 2012

Ajit Kumar Singh, a Research Fellow with Institute for Conflict Management, India

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bangladesh security agency smash coup conspiracy


BANGLADESH SECURITY agencies have unearthed a conspiracy to overthrow the anti-Islamist government of Shiekh Hasina.

In a rare press conference hurriedly organized by the Bangladesh Army’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) at it’s headquarter in the capital Dhaka on Thursday, said that they do not rule out any possibility of international links and foreign involvement in the foiled coup plot.

The statement read out by Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq claimed that some 14 – 16 former and in-service radical Muslim mid-level officers were involved in the conspiracy to topple a democratic government and install a hardliner Islamist regime.

Brig. Gen. Razzaq said retired Lieutenant Colonel Ehsan Yusuf and Major Zakir were placed under arrest on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government and that they "admitted their role in the plot".

However, the mastermind of the coup Major Syed Mohammad Ziaul Huq (a.k.a. Major Zia) remains a fugitive. The renegade officer has links to banned Islamist terror network Hizb ut-Tahrir, the spokesperson claimed.

The conspiracy came to the surface on Dec. 26 and intelligence and security agencies kept the suspects of the coup plotters under surveillance and found that the fugitive officer maintained contacts with other disgruntled army officers by mobile phones, emails and social media Facebook.

Finally on January 10 – 11, Maj, Zia contacted the collaborators through mobile phones. The renegades wanted to know details of the execution of coup d’état and the suspected mastermind repeatedly urged to execute the plan, which flopped.

The spokesperson did not deny of any foreign country or international network’s involvement in the conspiracy. He said nothing can be dismissed, but quickly said to wait for the inquiry report.

Brig. Gen. Razzaq said after the probe, tough measures would be taken against the renegades. The suspects are being hunted and asked them to surrender.

Hasina’s father, Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the pro-independence hero was assassinated in a military putsch in 1975, when her family members were also killed. Meanwhile, the security of the prime minister has been beefed up.

The news broke at the time when the pro-independence government after 40 years have began the trial of Islamist leaders for crime against humanity during the war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Hours after the army had gone public about a bid to topple the Sheikh Hasina led coalition government, a senior minister Syed Ashraful Islam and general secretary of ruling Awami League said public representatives must continue to call the shots and that the rule of law must be upheld.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ban on bureaucrats rocks bourse in Bangladesh


THOUSANDS OF SMALL investors took to the streets after the bourse dipped once again to 4695.57 points, losing 168.72 points or 3.46 percent, at close of trading on Wednesday.

As the index tumbled inside, on the outside the Dhaka Stock Exchange building protesting retail stocks investors blocked traffic in the Motijheel, commercial hub of the city. Riot police with bullet-proof vest and tear-gas shells stood guard to protect the agitators becoming violent, said senior police officer Krishna Roy.

Share prices dropped sharply on Wednesday even after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman clarified that no decision was taken in Monday's cabinet meeting to stop public servants from investing in the capital market.

Hours after issuing a notification asking the bureaucrats to refrain from making investment in the capital market, the government on Wednesday withdrew the order.

The raucous began over the government’s official notification which bans the bureaucrats from investing in the capital market. The notification says that public servants cannot make any speculative investment or engage in a business that creates a conflict of interest.

Fearing massive fall in share prices following the banning of bureaucrats from investing their money in the capital market, the authorities on Tuesday based on the media report on “banning government employees from investing their money in the capital market”.

At a press briefing Musharraf M Hussain, chief executive officer of the Dhaka Stock Exchange, said they suspended the trading to protect interests of both the capital market and the capital investors.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rights group protest abduction, secret killings in Bangladesh


INTERNATIONAL RIGHTS groups are seeking answers from the Bangladesh authorities for ongoing abductions, disappearances and secret killings.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in their report released last week expressed alarm of increasing numbers of professionals including lawyers, university students, small businessmen and pro-opposition political activists are being abducted by plain clothed armed men from the streets, business offices and homes. Often the victims’ bodies with their hands tied or blindfolded are dumped on lonely roadsides.

Government continuously denied any knowledge of any abductions or disappearances. The failure of the authorities to probe by independent investigators into complaints of abductions, disappearances and secret killings, AHRC laments.

National rights organizations Odhikar, in its annual human rights report found alarming rise of disappearances, deaths in custody and attacks on journalists in 2011. Another rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra, did not hesitate to express similar concern of disappearances and secret killings.

Top ranking officials of law enforcing and security forces instead blamed the “criminal gangs” or the “opposition political parties” for the abductions and secret killings.

An independent newspaper Daily Star in its Tuesday editorial, fears that the government’s denial may breed impunity. In spite of the government's denial, the newspaper writes that some of the cases are plainly indefensible. If deterrent measures are not taken, the government may be condoning a dangerous culture of impunity, completely opposed to the values of democracy and civil liberties.

Bangladesh, as a member of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations and also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has an obligation to protect its own citizens in the country.

The international rights group AHRC advised that the government should halt the law-enforcing agencies arrests of suspects without a warrants, which will generate a believe among general people that the police and other law enforcing agencies does not arrest or abduct in plainclothes.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Analysis - Bangladesh’s War Crimes Trials


IF THE ongoing war crimes trials in Bangladesh are carried out in an objective and transparent manner, the new generation of Bangladeshis will be made aware of the extreme brutalities and distress inflicted on their forefathers by the occupying Pakistani forces and their local collaborators and the heavy cost paid by them during the Liberation war in 1971. The new generation will also then come to know of the gruesome consequences of the abuse of religion to justify heinous crimes. Success in holding trial of war crimes and crimes against humanity will be achieved when exploitation of religion in the country’s power-play is brought to an end, an idea that appears almost Utopian in the present political scenario of the country.

For probing war crimes and crimes against humanity committed forty years ago by the occupation forces of Pakistan and their local collaborators comprising mostly Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) leaders and Muslim Leaguers, the investigators will have to rely mainly on news reports, statements of the accused published in the newspapers of the time, official records and books written by eminent personalities during the period. Citing from the submissions of Nuremberg Tribunal’s Chief Prosecutor Robert H Jackson, Hannan Khan, one of the prosecutors of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) said ‘There is no count in the indictment that cannot be proved by media reports, books and records’.

The JEI mouthpiece ‘Dainik Sangram’ bears ample testimony to the war crimes committed by senior JEI leaders during the liberation war in 1971. The provocative statements of senior JEI leaders published in the ‘Sangram’ had instigated large scale killings, arson, looting and rape in the name of religion. In the so-called civilian government formed by the Pak military junta in East Pakistan in 1971 with Dr A.M. Malik as the Governor, Abbas Ali Khan, former JEI chief (now dead) and Maulana Abul Kalam Mohammad Yusuf, the present JEI Naib-e-Amir were made ministers. According to a report carried in the daily ‘Sangram’ former JEI Amir Golam Azam in his speech at a reception in honour of the JEI ministers at Hotel Empire in Dhaka said, ‘Pakistan is the house of Islam for all Muslims of the world. Therefore, JEI workers and sympathizers do not find any justification for being alive if Pakistan had to disintegrate’.

The present JEI chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, who was the chief of Islami Chhatra Sangha, student wing of JEI in 1971, wrote “Sacred land Pakistan is the home of Allah for establishing His rule” in an article published in the ‘Sangram’. Nizami who subsequently succeeded Golam Azam as JEI chief, labeled the freedom fighters as ‘Khodadrohi’ (rebels against Allah). In the article he also wrote ‘The cowards (freedom fighters) who are against the almighty Allah have attacked the holy land of Allah (Pakistan)’. The daily ‘Sangram’ in its issue of September 15, 1971 quoted Nizami as saying: ‘Every true Muslim should assume the role of dedicated soldier of Islam and kill those who are hatching conspiracy against Pakistan, as conspiracy against Pakistan is conspiracy against Allah’.

Further, ‘Sangram’ archive reveals that Razakar (the term has become synonymous with brutalities and evokes panic in the mind of people even now) was formed by former JEI Secretary General Maulana Abul Kalam Mohammad Yusuf. Al Badr, Al Shams and Razakar which were formed to counter and kill the freedom fighters comprised mostly the JEI and its student organization Islami Chhatra Sangha activists. When these pro-Pak / anti-liberation forces realized that their defeat was imminent they picked up almost all the leading intellectuals and professionals of the erstwhile East Pakistan on December 14, 1971, lined them up and killed them in brush fire with the help of occupying Pak forces. This day is the blackest day in the history of the country and observed as Martyred Intellectuals Day.

Apart from the reports and articles published in the JEI mouthpiece ‘Sangram’, there are plenty of other documents that can serve as evidence of involvement of senior JEI leaders and other anti-liberation/pro-Pak forces in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Much vital information about the role played by these elements are available in ‘Secret Fortnightly Intelligence Reports’ prepared by Home Ministry of the erstwhile East Pakistan Government for the central Martial Law administration. These reports reveal that Golam Azam had urged his followers to crush the liberation war branding freedom fighters as ‘rebels, secessionists and enemies of Islam as well as Pakistan’. One of these fortnightly reports, to be specific, the report covering first half of August, 1971, reveals that at a meeting organized by JEI on August 4, 1971 in Khulna, Golam Azam called upon the people to ‘crush and annihilate the rebels (freedom fighters) in order to establish Islamic rule on the basis of Quran and Sunnah’.

These fortnightly reports disclose that on April 4, 1971, Golam Azam met Gen Tikka Khan and assured him of his party’s full support in protecting territorial integrity of Pakistan at any cost and described the liberation war as ‘naked Indian interference and infiltration’. Azam promised all-out help to the ‘patriotic armed forces’ of Pakistan to foil India’s ‘mischievous intentions’. During the nine month long liberation war, the JEI played an active role in organizing ‘Peace Committee’ for rendering ‘assistance’ to the occupation forces of Pakistan in resisting the activities of the freedom fighters whom Azam described as ‘miscreants’. The role of Peace Committee and its wings – Al Badar, Razakar and Al Shams – in perpetrating inhuman torture and killing of freedom fighters, innocent people and intellectuals in the erstwhile East Pakistan has been well-documented in various studies.

According to fortnightly reports of the East Pakistan government, Azam was directly involved in ordering the systematic genocide. One such report covering the first half of September 1971 mentioned that addressing the workers at a party meeting in Dhaka on September 3, 1971, Golam Azam said, ‘We need to restore normalcy in the country by physically eliminating the rebels and anti-social elements’ (freedom fighters).

All this is crucial evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.

First published in South Asia Analysis GroupPaper no. 4867, January 16, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Islamist rampage in Bangladesh capital protesting jailing of war crimes suspect


Islamists on January 12 in Bangladesh rampage in the capital’s downtown and clashed with riot police protesting imprisonment of the high profile war crimes suspect and also demanded abolition of war crimes trial.

A day after the Jamaat-e-Islami linchpin Ghulam Azam was send behind bars, the activist’s organized series of street protests in the capital and elsewhere in the upcountry. The International Crimes Tribunal, set up to try war crimes suspects has rejected Azam’s bail plea on Wednesday.

Jamaat-e-Islami linchpin Ghulam Azam has been indicted on 62 counts of crimes against humanity during the war of independence of Bangladesh in 1971.

The Islamist activists clashed with riot police in bullet-proof jackets in the city center. The irate activists vandalized a police vehicle, attacked police officers and snatched police weapons.

Police to quell the violence lobbed tear-gas shells and baton charged the activists. Several arrests were made.

Police officer Anwar Hossain told journalists that the situation is under control in the evening and confirmed that the pistol loaded with bullets has not been recovered.

The Islamist party a strategic partner of main opposition has demanded to scrap the war crimes trial, which they say is witch-hunting the opposition leaders who are arch political rivals of the ruling party. The government always denied such accusation of the opposition and explained that it was longstanding electoral promise to try war criminals committed 40 years ago.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bangladesh tribunal reject bail of high profile war crimes suspect, send to prison

Photo: Activists demand trial of war crimes of 1971 war of independence

BANGLADESH HIGH profile crimes suspect has been send to prison on Wednesday after the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in capital Dhaka rejected the bail petition.

Amidst tight security, the prime suspect was driven in a prison van to central prison in old city.

Within hours after the arrest of former Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam from the court premise, the ailing suspect was send to the prison cell of a specialized government hospital for treatment in the afternoon.

Police source could not confirm if Azam had any health-related complaints.

Earlier in the day, Azam who has been indicted on 62 counts appeared before the tribunal in compliance with its order on Monday last for hearing of his bail petition, which was rejected.

His counsel Barrister Abdur Razzaq said in his petition that the bail plea was made solely on compassionate and humanitarian grounds, that his client was almost 90 and suffered from a number of old-age ailments.

The tribunal set Feb.15 for hearing of charges against him for his alleged involvement in crime against humanity during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh in 1971.

The court room was filled to the brim as the Jamaat guru's hearing began amid palpable tension.

Chief prosecutor Ghulam Arieff Tipoo said this man headed the Jamaat-e-Islami, "which mobilized its forces from one corner of the country to another."

Azam has been blamed for being the linchpin for raising Al-Badar, fanatic Islamic militants responsible for kidnap, disappearance and execution of pro-independence professionals and intellectuals, mostly teachers, doctors, journalists and engineers.

The pro-independence government set up the ICT to try crimes against humanity of dreaded Islamic militants from among his party’s youth members, the lead prosecutor said. The militants on the behest of the marauding Pakistan army caused genocide of an estimated 3 millions, rape of 420 thousand women and the atrocities forced 10 million to flee to neighboring India.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bangladesh army takes offence of opposition leader’s remark


THE BANGLADESH armed force has taken serious offence of main opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia’s statement at a public rally in Chittagong in the south.

The military press wing Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) on Tuesday in strongly guarded termed the remarks of the opposition leader regarding army official were ‘provocative, irresponsible, false and unexpected’.

On Monday, Zia said at a rally that the government was eliminating opposition leaders and activists not only through repression but also through abductions and secret killings. "Not only this, even army personnel are being abducted," the former prime minister had alleged.

It also said the nation does not expect such a provocative speech from an opposition leader.

The reaction issued to the press, interprets her remarks as an attempt to tarnish the image of the armed forces in a bid to create anarchy.

The ISPR press release also said the army is run through a specific military law. “Measure is taken as per the law if it is violated,” it added. There is no scope of spreading speculation here, it added.

On the other hand, the prime minister Shiekh Hasina on Tuesday scoffed off opposition leader’s call to step aside and hold an election. She instead urged the opposition leader to join parliament, which her party is boycotting for more than two years.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Monday, January 09, 2012

Bangladesh war crimes court ask top Islamist leader to appear or face arrest


THE INTERNATIONAL Crimes Tribunal (ICT) on Monday asked Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party former chief Golam Azam to appear before the court on January 11 or face arrest.

Justice Nizamul Haque Nasim issued an order after accepting formal charges against Azam who is blamed for crime against humanity during the bloody war of independence of Bangladesh in 1971.

The tribunal judge warned failure to present the suspect, who was formerly chief of Islamist party on the specific date would issue warrant of arrest.

The prosecution submitted formal charges accusing Azam for his involvement on 62 counts including waging war against the people of Bangladesh. He has also been charged for being the henchman of the marauding Pakistan army for recruiting Muslim youths to form the death squad, who kidnapped and executed hundreds pro-independence professionals and intellectuals.

Bangladesh, formerly eastern province of Pakistan remained 2,000 miles away in between India. The nation revolted against Islamic Pakistan against refusal of political and civil liberties and established a secular country.

Defense counsel Abdur Razzaq pleased that the case against Golam Azam be dismissed. The tribunal ruled that the petition was not tenable since there was no provision of hearing the defense or the prosecution before charges was taken into cognizance.

Meanwhile, the prosecution indicted six other suspects who are Sunni Muslims for crime against humanity perpetrated during the 1971 war against Pakistan.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Bangladesh opposition ultimatum for the government to quit


BANGLADESH MAIN opposition on Monday has set March 12 as deadline for the ruling alliance government to quit or they people would pull them down.

Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia at a public rally after the end of her 132 miles road march from the capital Dhaka to Chittagong in the south said that the ruling Awami League government’s time is up.

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party’s objective of the road march was to drum up support for its demand to restore a caretaker government system for holding credible national election. The government, last year scrapped the neutral transition government from the constitution, allowing the elected government to oversee the election to the parliament.

At a cheering crowd, the former prime minister and BNP chief Zia urged prime minister Shiekh Hasina, “Your popularity has come down to zero level. Without resisting our future program, quit power and test your popularity by giving elections under a non-party caretaker government.”

Khaleda twice elected as prime minister insisted that the next general elections must be held under a non-party caretaker authority and said, “It is not possible to hold impartial elections under Awami League and we won’t allow any election without the caretaker government.”

The opposition leader announced a million people march to the capital on March 12 to realize their demand for restoration of care-taker government. The tenure of the present government will end in December of 2013.

Some three thousand vehicles joined the road march, which clogged the main commercial highway from the industrial area in the central to the port city Chittagong. Millions of bus passengers plying between small towns were stranded in the highway, the embedded journalists described.

Praising past three heads of caretaker governments were honest and held a free, fair and credible elections. However, she dubbed the last military backed caretaker government as illegal and unconstitutional.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Bangladesh teacher awarded imprisonment for Facebook status


BANGLADESH FOR the first time has given a verdict on Wednesday to a university teacher for his status wishing death of prime minister Shiekh Hasina.

The High Court sentenced Jahangirnagar University’s fugitive teacher Muhammad Ruhul Amin Khandaker to six months for contempt of court, after the accused failed to appear on court summons.

The court will soon deliver the verdict on the primary case, wishing death to Hasina in social media, which Khandakar wrote on Aug. 13 in the Facebook status.

Bangladesh has 2,251,340 ranking 56th position globally.

Bangladesh, last May was the second South Asian nation after Pakistan to block the popular social media Facebook for blasphemy inviting people to draw images of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

The court ordered the university authority to take steps against the fugitive teacher according to the university rules.

The police chief has been asked to arrest him, Hossain said. The court also ordered the foreign ministry to bring back the teacher from Australia, where he is study leave.

Human rights lawyer Dr Shahdin Malik said Bangladesh does not have specific laws to punish Facebook users. Therefore, it would be difficult to charge a user for security threats or blasphemy.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic terrorism, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile from Canada after return of democracy. He could be reached at

Monday, January 02, 2012

BANGLADESH: Terror Funding Continues Unabated


Under the Prime Ministership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladeshhas undoubtedly cracked down on the jehadi brand of terrorism as well as terror outfits that have been needling India for years. But Dhaka may have to do more tomake these efforts more effective.

Militant organizations such as Jama’tul MujahideenBangladesh (JMB) or Harkat ul Jehad Islam (HUJI) have now been banned but theyhave not been liquidated. Another set of leaders have taken over. Some trainingcamps continue to impart both ideological and arms training. Mere banning ofthe radical groups has not seared the purpose. A top ranking JMB commander Mustafizur Rahman Shaheen who was recently arrested said during interrogation that JMB has not at all been liquidated with its banning, or with execution ofits topmost leaders Abdur Rahman and his deputy Bangla Bhai. He disclosed thatJMB cadres were operating across the country under various banners with the mission to stage Islamic revolution.

The JMB, HUJI and the rest of Islamic terrorist networkin Bangladesh were spawned by the al Qaeda and Taliban jehadis. They were trained by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Pakistan-based major terror outfit Lashkar e Toiba (LeT). None of the umbilical cords has been cut for good. As many as twenty local and foreign NGOs including al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF) have been financing radical Islamic groups JMB and HUJI. In addition, huge funds regularly pour in every month from two Pakistani militant leaders Sajedur Rahman and Hafiz Mohammad Ibrahim. These two Pak militant leaders send money through Hawala channel toJMB chief Maulana Saidur Rahman. This information has been revealed by Maulana Saidur Rahman who was arrested on May 26, 2010.

JMB chief Saidur Rahman also disclosed that the JMB activists learnt operational tactics of hitting multiple targets simultaneously from the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, from whom they also acquired techniques for manufacturing explosive devices and arms. He also said that the JMB follows alQaeda’s ideology and works to expand and strengthen al Qaeda’s base in Bangladesh. Information about location of JMB suicide squad members was disclosed by JMB military wing chief Boma Mizan and Zaved Iqbal @ Mohammad bothof whom were arrested ahead of Saidur Rahman’s arrest.

Saidur Rahman disclosed that bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF) has been offering financial assistance to JMB and HUJIregularly as part of its worldwide endeavour to assist all pro-al Qaedaoutfits. He admitted that huge funds were provided by IIF to JMB when theformer was apprised of the latter’s plan to carry out countrywide synchronized bomb blasts in Bangladesh and deployment of suicide bombers at strategic pointsin August 2005. Saidur Rahnan, who was former Habiganj District JEI Amir, also said that apart from IIF, JMB has also been receiving funds regularly from 20local and foreign organizations including Saudi based World Assembly of MuslimYouth (WAMY), Rabeta-al-alam-al-Islami, Kuwait based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, International Federation of Islamic Organizations, IslamicWorld Committee, Qatar based Charitable Society and UK based Muslim Aid. Healso said that in 2008 the two Pakistan militant leaders Sajedur Rahman andHafiz Mohammad Ibrahim sent US $ 42 million for JMB through hawala channel. 

Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner A K MShahidul Haque said that militant organizations regularly receive funds from expatriate Bangladeshi community settled in the US, Europe and Middle Eastcountries. Money is mostly received through ‘hundi’ from these countries.

The intelligence agencies of the country have found that Jamaat-e-Islami(JEI) even now works as a conduit of foreign funds. Funds are received regularly from Pakistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Libya based NGOs to the JEI accounts in the Islamic Bank of Bangladesh and then handed over to other pro-alQaeda outfits in the country. This enables the party to indulge in money laundering and inciting the militants to take part in violent activities. The party had a plan to resort to serious violence during the last elections and made it clear to its cadres that some parliamentary seats including those of JEI Amir Matiur Rahman Nizami, Delwar Hossen Syeedi and Shahjahan Chowdhury must be won at any cost, including assassination, if so needed. The party had also planned to resist Awami Leagueat any cost as victory of AL in elections would spell disaster and result invirtual decimation of JEI. But this plan did not succeed as the Army-backedinterim dispensation that conducted the elections stood on the way affirming that no electoral malpractices or violence would be countenanced leniently.

Internationally banned Islamic NGOs linked to terror funding were functioning in Bangladesh. These NGOs like the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), Al Harmain Islamic Foundation (AHIF) and Benevolence Society based in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Pakistan were directly linked with financing activities of the Islamic radical groups. Two RIHS officials,one from Sudan and the other from Yemen, were deported in 2006 for having channelized from Bangladesh over US $ 700,000 to local and foreign terrorist organizations. RIHS was forced to close its operations in Bangladesh thereafter.Earlier, Bank accounts of RIHS in Pakistan were sealed for its al Qaeda links. Another Islamic NGO Al Harmain Islamic Foundation had to wind up its operationsin Bangladesh under US pressure as it was suspected to have funded the 9/11 alQaeda attack on Twin Tower.

Even former Finance Minister Saifur Rahman said that anumber of bank accounts in Bangladesh were under investigation for illegal transactions. Activities of the Islamic radicals will continue unabated until the sources of funds and patronage are identified and choked forever.

First published in South Asia Analysis Group, Paper no 4838, January 1, 2012