by Alan Simons
Bangladesh, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, is a unitary parliamentary republic with an elected parliament. Sheikh Hasina, seen below, is the current prime minister of 169 million people. Islam is the largest religion in the country, making up of some 89% of the total population, of which the majority are Sunni. The native Bengalis form the country’s largest ethnic group, along with indigenous peoples in northern and southeastern districts. Geographically, the country is dominated by the fertile Bengal delta, the world’s largest delta. Bangladesh has a rich heritage of ancient civilization spanning 4,000 years.
The country is a Next Eleven emerging economy. It has achieved significant strides in human and social development since gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971, including progress in gender equality, universal primary education, food production, health, and population control. However, it continues to face numerous economic, social and environmental challenges, including political instability, corruption, poverty, global warming and terrorism.
All things taking into consideration, this densely overpopulated delta country, vulnerable to devastating cyclones, including a high risk of flooding in large areas of the country, soil degradation and erosion, ground water contaminated by naturally occurring arsenic, and poisoning of fish by use of commercial pesticides, has already become a feeding ground for terrorist cells, provocateurs and demagogues, all of whom would dearly love to wet their lungis just at the thought of seeing a home-grown Caliphate rise within their country’s borders.
The South Asian Terrorism Portal (Satp) lists at least five Bangladeshi terrorist and extreme groups of concern. I will conclude with a sixth.
Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS): Its objectives are to struggle for changing the existing system of education on the basis of Islamic values, to inspire students to acquire Islamic knowledge and to prepare them to take part in the struggle for establishing Islamic way of life. A significant aim of the outfit is to establish an Afghanistan-Taliban type Islamist regime in Bangladesh. Consequently, the outfit is opposed to forces of modernization, secularism and democracy. As one of the largest Islamist student organisations in South Asia, the ICS maintains a close relationship with various Islamist fundamentalist organisations of different countries. The outfit is also reported to be maintaining close links with the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s external intelligence agency. With the help of the latter, it is reportedly working to support Islamist subversive agenda in many regions in India, particularly in areas bordering Bangladesh. The ISI is also reportedly providing substantial amount of funds to the ICS. Other Islamic countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, have provided a major proportion of its financial resources.
Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B): HuJI-B aims to establish Islamic Hukumat (rule) in Bangladesh by waging war and killing progressive intellectuals. It draws inspiration from bin Laden and the erstwhile Taliban regime of Afghanistan. At one point of time, the groups issued a slogan, Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban, Bangla Hobe Afghanistan (We will all become Taliban and we will turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan). HuJI-B recruits are indoctrinated in the mould of radical Islam. The HuJI-B reportedly receives financial assistance from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan through Muslim Non-Governmental Organisations in Bangladesh, including the Adarsa Kutir, Al Faruk Islamic Foundation and Hataddin. It is also suspected to be generously financed by the ISI of Pakistan.
Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB): The JMJB follows the ideals of the Taliban militia and propagates a movement based on Jihad. Its chief has been quoted as stating that “our model includes many leaders and scholars of Islam. But we will take as much (ideology) from the Taliban as we need.” The professed long-term goal of the outfit is to usher in an ‘Islamic revolution’ in Bangladesh through Jihad. The JMJB activists are reported to have carried out over 100 vigilante operations in different regions, including murders and attacks on people who they believe have committed crimes. Apart from these activities, the JMJB cadres have also been accused of extorting protection money from traders and forcing people to follow a certain variant of Islam. Its cadres reportedly compelled local youths to keep beards, wear clothes up to the ankle, and the women to wear a veil. They were also involved in attempts to discontinue the playing of music in hotels and restaurants.
Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB): The Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Party of the Mujahideen) aims at establishing the rule of Islam in Bangladesh through an armed struggle. The outfit is opposed to the establishment of democracy and calls for the conduct of government under Islamic law. Espousing a radical variant of Islam, the outfit is opposed to cultural functions, cinema halls, shrines and NGOs. One of the objectives of JMB is to free Muslims of the influence of ‘anti-Islam forces’ and practices that brought women out of their houses. The JMB has reportedly received funds from individual donors in countries like Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Libya. Several international NGOs such as the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage and Doulatul Kuwait, UAE-based Al Fuzaira, Khairul Ansar Al Khairia, Bahrain-based Doulatul Bahrain and the Saudi Arabia-based Al Haramaine Islamic Institute have provided, over the years, a generous amount of funding to the outfit.
Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP): The PBCP has a revolutionary agenda of capturing state power through armed struggle. Its draws inspiration from the Chinese revolution. The PBCP is strongly opposed to the presence of feudal elements in Bangladesh. Ideologically, it closer to the Marxist-Leninist groups of India and wishes to launch a joint movement along with progressive parties in India, particularly the Naxalites of West Bengal. The PBCP entertains the hope that China would, at some time in the future, provide significant assistance in realising its goals. PBCP cadres have reportedly been involved in acts of murder, robbery, extortion, land grabbing and abduction for ransom.
Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT): Hizb ut-Tahrir (The Party of Liberation) is an international Islamist political party founded in Jerusalem in 1953. According to Dhaka’s The Daily Star, the party started its activities in Bangladesh in 2000 and was banned nine years later in 2009. I have been writing about this nasty bunch of misfits for the past eight years, drawing attention to the activities of one of the most blatant antisemitic and Islamic radical organisations allowed to flourish in many democratic nations. Last year, Surinder Kumar Sharma, of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses stated in an article in Global Ecco: “While the world’s attention is fixed on the activities of the dangerous and ruthless Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or simply ISIL), there is another militant organization worthy of serious attention. Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT), or the Party of Liberation, is a radical Islamist group that, like ISIS, calls for the uniting of the Ummah and the return of the Caliphate.” He adds, “Given the fact that HuT already has a wide reach and is successfully inducting and radicalizing educated youth, the outfit has the potential to stage coups and uprisings against governments and regimes that it considers un-Islamic or aligned with anti-Muslim powers. HuT may well prove dangerous because it has immense influence on people, especially in the way that it legitimizes the cause to establish a Caliphate. While the world’s focus currently is on ISIS, it would be a grave folly to ignore the growing influence of HuT and its global agenda.”
Although banned in Bangladesh, HuT still flourishes. Earlier this year, a number of its members were arrested by the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) and Dhaka University expelled students for their involvement with the organization. In 2014, HuT demanded that senior members of the Bangladeshi military help them to establish a Caliphate in the country, a demand which was not particularly appreciated by the government.
During 2015 international media reported that, “A publisher of secular books has been hacked to death in the Bangladeshi capital… In a separate attack in Dhaka, police said two other writers and a publisher were stabbed and shot at a publishing house.” Late last year it was also reported: “Fears of Islamist violence have been growing in Bangladesh after at least four atheist bloggers were murdered in the country this year. The attacks have been linked by police to domestic Islamist extremists, while Islamic State has claimed responsibility for three other attacks.”
Malala Yousafzai the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate said, “I say I am stronger than fear.” I hope the ordinary Bangladeshi is strong enough not to succumb to the fear of the terrorist.
Partial content and sources in this report attributed to CIA The World Factbook; Wikipedia; South Asia Terrorism Portal and The Guardian. Photo credits: Bangladesh PM’s Office; clickittefaq; firstpost.
OVER SEVENTY YEARS LATER – “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” | “The more things change, the more they stay the same”