The unprecedented hostage crisis followed by a bomb blast and shooting during Eid prayer raises questions about the presence of ISIS and the deeper crisis gripping over the polity of neighbouring Bangladesh
Dr Satish Kumar
Brutal and ghastly selective butchering at Bakery in Dhaka, narrates a gloomy picture of Bangladesh polity. People of other nationalities were singled out and killed. The main target groups were Christians and Hindus. The second disturbing trend was all the attackers were identified with an elite background. Their sketchy understanding of Islam converted them into deadly venom that is how their sermon to Bengalis Muslim was not to deviate from citadels of Islam. Out of 160 million Bangladeshes almost all are Sunni Muslims, including a demographic bulge under the age of 25. This makes it valuable as a recruiting ground for the Islamic State. Bangladesh third largest Muslim majority country, is a viable alternative to violent extremism in a troubled region of the world.
That brings a number of other factors into notice. How did a country, at least in the last few years trying consistently to move on the defined path of economic modernisation and shed of its dogmatic tag which tormented its identity for almost three decades since its birth. The statement of US ambassador illuminates more. While Ambassador Mozena has rightfully described Bangladesh as a moderate and tolerant country, there have admittedly been instances of extremist violence. There are many reasons which could be seen written on the walls.
Internal Political Feud
Bangladesh is systematically polarised. The scars of liberation movement have bounced back. Pakistan nefarious design spoiled the political trajectory of Bangladesh.The February 2013 protests in Dhaka brought hundreds of thousands of young Bangladeshis out into the streets of the capital, seeking punitive action for alleged war crimes committed by some members of the Jamaat-e-Islaam during the Liberation War of 1971, when the country secured independence from Pakistan. The “Shahbag protests,” as they came to be known because the protestors would congregate at the Shahbag intersection in Dhaka. When Bangladesh split from Pakistan in 1971, it endured a brutal reprisal from the Pakistani army. It is estimated that almost 1-3 million people were killed and 2,00,000 to 5,00,000 women were raped in a coordinated military crackdown that also led to assassinations of intellectuals. In encouraging and arranging these killings, the Pakistan Army found willing collaborators in the form of a minority of Bengalis who did not wish to secede from Pakistan, some of whom became part of the few collaborators. Were ever brought to justice for their part in these crimes against humanity and against humanitarian law? To the consternation of many Bangladeshis who had lived through the Liberation period, the BNP included JEI as its coalition partner in the 2001-2006 government. When the Awami League won the general election in 2009, its leadership initiated the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh to deal with unfinished business arising from the 1971 Liberation War. On February 28, 2013, the Tribunal sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, vice president of the JEI, to death for his involvement in the 1971 murders and war crimes. On September 17, 2013, the Bangladesh Supreme Court found Abdul Qader Molla, assistant secretary-general of the JeI, guilty of murders and other war crimes and ordered his execution, converting his previous life sentence to a death sentence.
Finance of Islamic Network
The terror outfits in Bangladesh are promoted through financial tunnel. During the liberation war religion based politics was debarred. But the founding father Mujibur Rahman declared amnesty to all war criminals in 1974. That was a serious blunder. Taking advantage of it, the JeI who fled during the crisis came back to Bangladesh once Mujibur was killed. Ziaur Rahaman, the next leader opened the Pandora box, banished the idea of secularism from Bangladesh. Later on, H M Ershad declared Islam as a state religion. That was the beginning of radical islam in Bangladesh. When Khaleda Zia became President, the action plan of radicalisation started with full swing.
Of all the major political parties in Bangladesh, the BNP and the JeI have the strongest business lobbies. Nearly ten per cent of its total annual net profit of $278 million goes to radical outfits. The rough calculation is that this ten percent can sustain six lakh political activities for any turmoil. Since the support base of the Jammat is increasing, its business activities will also increase. Its economic speed is much faster than the national growth of Bangladesh economy. National growth is approximately six per cent whereas the Jammat growth is 9 per cent. Islamic Bank of Bangladesh Ltd (IBBL) is the treasure of funds. The IBBL has been involved in illegal activities for a long time. In 2006, the Bank of Bangladesh the country’s top regulatory institution for the financial sector, had slapped a heavy penalty on the IBBL under the purview of the Money Laundering Act. Jammat has fourteen other banks. The IBBL is connected to the Muslim world, especially gulf countries. Jammat is running a parallel economic system in Bangladesh. It can pump money to youngsters and steer them into radicalisation.
Threat to India
The seven states of North-East India are Bangladesh’s closest neighbours. Trade and commerce are being proactively promoted and there are ongoing talks about communication links between Bangladesh via Tripura to Kolkata. With terror gaining ground in Bangladesh there is a danger that those routes may also be used as transit points for arms and terrorist outfits of different hues.
In fact, terrorist factions in several South Asian nations have already pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. IS’s plans to deepen its global presence were made quite clear a year ago when pro-IS groups released a map detailing a five-year expansion plan. The JeI has been connected to al-Qaeda and IS. It has sizeable numbers in Bangladesh Parliament. This party has historically played important roles in coalition-building in Bangladesh’s 300-seat parliament. That is why it is not easier for Sheikh Hasina to deter the expanding terror groups in Bangladesh. But its expansion is equally fatal for India in particular and South Asia in general.
(The writer is Associate Prof, Head Centre for International Relations, Central University Jharkhand, Ranchi)