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Ignoring Bangladesh Can Spell Disaster

Paper No. 5882                                   Dated 27-Feb-2015

By Bhaskar Roy

The anti-government agitation that was started by the opposition, led by the BNP on January 6 appears to be metamorphosing into a terror campaign. Over one hundred innocent people have died. Terrorists have entered the fray, ably engineered by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) Bangladesh, which is the BNP’s main strength on the streets.

Pakistan’s hand in this has been exposed with the detention and expulsion of a diplomat from the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka, for funding and colluding with terrorist groups.

India somehow remains silent, at least publicly. If Bangladesh becomes a powerhouse of terrorists, led by the JEI and fermented by Pakistan through its intelligence agency, otherwise known as the deep state, India will suffer greatly. Pakistan’s agenda to extract revenge against India for the 1971 war is still very much alive and active.

The BNP’s agitation is rooted against the January 5, 2014 elections which the ruling Awami League conducted without a caretaker government. The caretaker government elections were agreed to by all parties including Awami League in 1996. The experience under the BNP-JEI led government in 2006 did not work neutrally to start with. People who ran the caretaker government were selected with BNP-JEI bias. Elections were finally held in December 2008.

The BNP and its allies boycotted the 2013 elections, leading to Awami League and its coalition partners being elected unopposed. To this extent, the election was flawed. The powerful western countries also supported BNP’s demand for fresh elections which the government did not accede to.

Two things must be noted here. The 1996 election rule was not written in stone. Many amendments have been introduced in the electoral laws including bringing back a secular mode. The constitution was amended accordingly.

Next, Prime Minister Sk. Hasina invited the opposition to take part in the election period government so that they could ensure no fraud was committed by the ruling coalition.

The 2008 elections showed that people rejected the BNP and the JEI roundly, with the Awami League winning an unprecedented 230 seats out of 300. The BNP and JEI lost due to unbridled corruption, political assassinations, and encouragement and support to terrorists to further their agenda.

The JEI was debarred from 2013 elections as they refused to conform to the amended electoral laws and the constitution. They refused to discard their religious political party constitution. Their position was also anti-women.

Political agitations in Bangladesh have hardly ever been peaceful. People are sensitive about political issues, and are emotional in this context. This country of rivers, cyclones and greenery have produced both poets and patriots. When agitations, however, take the form of terror, using petrol bombs, IEDs, and extremist Islamic literature for motivation, it becomes a different ball game altogether.

In the recent turmoil, most people died of burns from petrol bomb attacks as the agitators were trying to bring transportation to a standstill. The rising social indicators are being hurt. More than one billion US dollars have been lost. The garment sector, Bangladesh’s biggest foreign exchange earner and employer has suffered the most. So has education.

An attaché from the Pakistani High Commission, Mohammad Mazar Khan, was arrested by Bangladeshi security agencies in January, from Dhaka, while meeting some of his local agents. Information released by the Bangladeshi authorities to the media said Mazar Khan was an officer of Pakistan’s ISI. He was involved in terror financing and forgery and distribution of Indian currency, along with other colleagues from the high commission. His main contacts and collaborators included the JEI, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT) and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). The Bangladesh government inexplicably soft-treated the issue. Pakistan was asked to withdraw Mazar Khan instead of declaring him persona-non-grata (PNG) and expelling him.

According to information in the Bangla media, the terrorists involved with Mazar Khan were also linked with terrorist acts and bomb-blasts in Burdwan, across the border in India. These elements have built up a network in India. The ISI network in Pakistan High Commission, remains and their activities continue.

A militant training camp was discovered, from where (apart from arms, ammunition and bomb making material), Al Qaida and Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) literature and terror videos were recovered. The training camp was camouflaged as a poultry farm in Banshkhali, Chittagong, a stronghold of the JEI. Many terrorists belonging to different groups have been arrested from other parts of the country.

The view of some experts including in India that the ISIS has very little purchase in South Asia is a dangerous misperception. ISIS has already found takers in Pakistan, and Bangladeshi terrorists are not too far behind, as evidence shows.

There are more than one hundred recorded Islamic terrorist groups in Bangladesh. Many are banned, but they continue to flourish underground. Money from the Gulf and Middle East NGOs still come in by various means, including camouflaged bank transfers. The Islamic Bank of Bangladesh, formed after the assassination of Sk. Mujibur Rahman in 1975, and started as a Saudi initiative, was the biggest culprit in money laundering for terrorist organizations including Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Bangladeshi banks, especially the state’s Bank of Bangladesh (BOB), have received training from Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on checking money laundering. Movements and terrorism require money to survive. And they seem to be getting more than adequate support.

To stabilize Bangladesh and help it on its way to development and women’s  empowerment, a herculean effort is required. The liberation of Bangladesh is still being questioned not only by the fifth column inside the country but from the outside as well. There has been a concentrated effort to overturn 1971.

The situation in the country would not have come to this impasse if the west did not play its political games to project parties and groups like the JEI as moderate Islamists. The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) I and II, set up to judicially try and punish those responsible for crimes against humanity during the liberation war have been roundly criticized by western countries.

The European Union (EU) has abolished the death penalty, and impresses upon Bangladesh to do the same. They must understand that the two are not comparable in any manner. It is the same with other developing countries. Yet the world’s only super power, the US, perhaps conducts the largest number of executions.

How is it that the two sons of opposition leader Ms. Khaleda Zia got bail and could travel and remain abroad on medical grounds, despite their serious crimes? Is it because of heavy weight first world countries favoring them and putting pressure on Sk. Hasina’s government? Using the development assistance to interfere wrongly in the legal affairs of a small country is nothing but condemnable. 

Many attempts have been made on the life of Sk. Hasina. In a grenade attack on 21 August 2004, twenty four members of her party were killed and she was seriously injured. According to court depositions, the then ruling party, the BNP, was involved at the highest level. Intelligence agencies were used. This case and others are still dragging on in the courts in Bangladesh for more reasons than one.

Under BNP-JEI rule, Bangladesh government became a terrorist exporting country, India being the main target.

The BNP and the JEI are concerned that they stand to be nationally and internationally condemned and their future challenged, if these cases are brought to a proper conclusion. The street movements and terrorism to oust the Awami League from power is a survival issue for the opposition.

In a welcome step the US and the EU have been persuading Khaleda Zia to disassociate with the JEI. Can she do it? And is the JEI going to be designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, since they do not qualify any longer as a political party in Bangladesh.

India must begin to act to help consolidate the Bangladeshi government. It is good that Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishanker will visit Bangladesh soon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi can visit Bangladesh only when some pending agreement can be signed – the Teesta water agreement which has been agreed to by both governments and waiting to be signed. The other is the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) signed in 1974, ratified by Bangladesh but waiting ratification by India. The NDA government in India with a huge majority in parliament is willing to do it, though the BJP opposed both these agreements when the UPA government was in power.

It would not be wise to depend on the promises made by West Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Bannerjee on these two agreements, when she visited Bangladesh recently. She left some questions on Teesta water sharing agreement and is going to do some political bargaining with the central government. The Bangladesh government made it clear they are not going to move from the agreed text of the Teesta interim agreement.

There is a lot of work to be done in Bangladesh to prevent it from forces inimical to internationally accepted rule of law. If Bangladesh goes down the west will not remain unaffected. The UK, where the JEI has acquired an influential niche for itself, should pay special attention.   

(The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst.  He can be reached at e-mail grouchohart@yahoo.com)                  

 

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