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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)



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The Rise of Radical Islam in Bangladesh - Kalyan K Mitra

 
 

 

1.

The government and the media in India have not paid sufficient attention to the threat arising out of growing Islamist radicalism in neighbouring Bangladesh. Islamist fundamentalist forces have subverted the rule of law in Bangladesh through political and religious violence during last several years. So many lives have been lost on account of religious extremist attacks that during her recent visit to the country, the US Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca, had to call for religious tolerance in Bangladesh. Unless sustained pressure is put on Bangladesh by India and all other countries who are at the receiving end of Islamist terror, Bangladesh may not survive for long as a plural democratic country upholding the values of religious and ethnic tolerance. If Bangladesh falls victim to Saudi financed Pakistan backed radical Islam, then multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic India, especially its vulnerable North-East will suffer crushing blows, fulfilling the prophesy of the late Chinese Prime Minister Zhou-en Lai who had remarked soon after Bangladesh became independent that India had lifted a stone that would one day fall on its own feet.

2.
Since 1992 Islamist Terrorist Organisations have steadily mushroomed in Bangladesh and Islamic fundamentalism has acquired pernicious level in Bangladesh today as evidenced by the simultaneous bomb blasts on 17th August, 2005 in 63 (out of 64) districts of the country. Although fundamentalist parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Oikyo jote are now part of the ruling political coalition over which Khaleda Zia presides, the process of Islamization of politics in Bangladesh actually began during the post-Muzib military rule of Zia-ur-Rahman (1975-1981) and L.M. Ershad (1982-1990), both of whom used political Islam to legitimize their Army rule. Khaleda Zia’s government brought the Islamic political groups to the forefront of Bangladesh politics despite the fact that Jamaat-e-Islami had opposed the liberation war and had sided with Pakistan Army during 1971. Another Islamic group, Al Harmain Islamic Foundation (a Saudi charity) which has links with Al Qaeda, came into prominence in 1997 in 38 districts. The activities of this group had to be closed by Khaleda’s Government under US pressure in 2004. The Islamic Oikyo Jote and the Harkat-ul Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI) Bangaldesh have been threatening to Talibanise Bangladesh. The HUJI has links with Al Qaeda and has allegedly provided shelter to Taliban members who fled Afghanistan. The annual report of the US State Department in 2002 noted that HUJI had become a member of Bin Laden’s International Islamic Front.
3.
Recently, two other radical outfits, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen. Bangladesh (JUMB) and its sister organization, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) have acquired prominence. Both JUMB & JMJB are emerging as Bangladeshi Taliban and these are active in Western and South Western Bangladesh where they reportedly collect taxes and force men and women to wear Muslim cap and burqa respectively. Their followers have carried out some gruesome killings and bomb explosions. The supply base of all these organizations are thousands of Deobandi madrasas in Bangladesh many of which receive funds from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Although the number of registered madrasas is around 8000 today, the unregistered madrasas are believed to be more than 50,000 in number. Rising Islamic Fundamentalism in Bangladesh is fuelled by Pakistan’s ISI. The recent spurt of arrests – of JUMB supremo Sheikh Abdul Rehman and his protégé, Bangla Bhai, have taken place under strong international pressure, especially, US ultimatum that Bangladesh may be listed as a terrorist financing country. Interrogation has revealed that these outfits plan to turn Bangladesh into a Talibanised Islamic country.
4.
The Harkat-ul-Islami (which was banned on October 17, 2005) have links with Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HUM) and the HUJI – two terrorist organizations committed to an Islamic state in Jammu & Kashmir. It has now come to light during investigation that HUJI terrorists had planned the Delhi blasts in 2005 and are connected with the recent blasts in Varanasi. Several Bangladeshis working for HUJI are learnt to have been trained in a camp near Karachi in Pakistan. The mastermind of the Varanasi blasts, Waliullah, went to Bangladesh in June 2004 and he was assigned the task of recruiting potential terrorists from UP who were sent to Bangladesh and Pakistan for training. There are also reports that Maqbool Hussain, the main accused in last years Ayodhya temple attack, hatched the conspiracy in Bangladesh. Growing Islamisation of Bangladesh is a serious threat not only to India but to regional peace and it may prove to be a major road block in the global war on Islamist terror. Till recently, Dhaka had even refused to admit that Jamiat-ul-Mujaheedin Bangladesh or Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh had a well-planned terror network for turning Bangladesh into a Taliban like Islamic country. The interrogation of JUM chief Sheikh Abdur Rahman (who was described by the Bangladesh Government as “media creation” not so long ago) and his protégé Bangla Bhai has revealed that the serial bombings in 63 districts in August last year as well as attacks on NGO’s and secular progressive academics and writers were the handiwork of these groups. Although some of their leaders have been nabbed, there are still thousands of full time activists including sizable number of well-trained, motivated suicide bombers who are at large. Given the financial and logistic support provided by S.Arabia & Pakistan, it may take a very long time to withstand the challenge of Islamist fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh.
5.
Not surprisingly, Bangladesh continues to blame India for all the ills plaguing the country – including Islamist terror network. Khaleda Zia said in a public rally on March 8, 2006 that the arrests of Bangla Bhai and others would help expose the “domestic” and “foreign links” of the terrorists hinting at opposition Awami League party and India, respectively. Bangladesh continues to be a big cause of security concern for India. The growing religious fundamentalism and terrorism is an alarming phenomenon for India because Khaleda Zia’s government has allowed Bangladesh to be used as a launching pad for ISI sponsored anti-India terrorist activities. It is imperative for India to compel Dhaka to immediately address India’s concerns regarding ISI assisted 200 or so terrorist training camps for fomenting violence in India. A number of North East rebel groups and their leaders have been operating from Bangladesh. Dhaka has refused to extradite Anup Chetia and Paresh Barua, among others. Although the Bangladesh links in the recent Delhi and Varanasi bomb blasts have been reportedly brought to the Bangladesh PM’s notice, it is unfortunate that Indian government did not consider it necessary to include the word ‘terror’ in the Joint Press Release and thereby allowed Khaleda to return to Dhaka on a denial mode and placate her Islamist political allies during the election year.
6.
India accorded a state visit to Khaleda who avoided setting foot in this country after 1991 and decided to come a few months before a change of regime in Dhaka, only for obvious pre-poll strategy. The visit yielded really nothing as far as India is concerned. Khaleda’s government has consistently worked against India’s interest during the last four years and refused to address India’s genuine security concerns. Even during her visit, she listed Bangladesh’s complaints, namely, non-tariff barriers, lack of facilities on Bangabandha-petropole corridor, need for coordinated patrolling along the land and reverine border, teesta water sharing and fencing by India within 150 yards of the Indo-Bangla border.
7.
India has to carefully proceed in keeping Bangladesh engaged in talks without making any compromise as far as its vital security interests are concerned. Unless Bangladesh takes a reasonable stand in the proposed trilateral gas project with Myanmar, Tata’s plan to invest massively in Bangladesh and agrees to dismantle the numerous ISI backed training camps for militants from India’s North East, India should not take any step to allow unilateral concessions and permit duty free access to exports from Bangladesh to correct trade imbalance as suggested in some quarters. Bangladesh has rebuffed New Delhi’s efforts to obtain gas supply from Bangladesh and secure transit and transhipment facilities for accessing North-East states. Delhi should also put pressure on Bangladesh to remove the roadblocks hindering Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline which Khaleda has put on hold for political reasons. However, avenues of trade concession may continue to be explored during Joint Economic Commission Meetings. India should not remain silent on the issue of continued maltreatment of religious and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh. In short, India should not delink its engagement with Bangladesh from the latter’s domestic politics. Otherwise, the ruling government in Bangladesh will continue to remain hostage to growing Islamic radicalim in politics. Bangladesh is concerned about the proposed interlinking of river water issue. Though India has no immediate plans to implement the project, India should ensure that nothing is done unilaterally to permit Khaleda to derive political mileage during the last few months of her tenure without addressing India’s genuine concerns about growing Islamisation of Bangladesh, uncontrolled illegal migration, support to North East terrorist groups and fomenting Islamist terrorist acts in India.
8.
As mentioned in the joint press release issued on the state visit of Khaleda Zia (20-22 March 2006), the Revised Trade Agreement should eventually provide a framework for expansion of bilateral trade. All efforts should be made to ensure that the meetings of bilateral institutional mechanisms such as The Joint Economic Commission, The Joint Rivers Commission and the Home Secretary level talks are held more frequently and the result of such interactions are monitored by the political leadership. Till today no mutually satisfactory solution could be found on the vexing question of Regional Economic Cooperation among Myanmar, Bangladesh and India despite Track II initiatives in exploring sub-regional cooperation among these three countries and China. India and Bangladesh have significant convergence of interests in taking full advantage of the shared opportunities and complementarities resulting from historical, geographical, political, economic and cultural proximity. The most important challenge, however, is how to tackle the fall out of growing Islamic extremism next door which has serious potential for destabilizing not only India’s North East region and the state of West Bengal but the rest of India as well. Unless this challenge is squarely met, the vision of a Prosperous South Asia which is dependent upon greater connectivity and dismantling of barriers that restrict the movement of people, goods and investment within and across the region, will remain an unrealized dream and meaningful sub-regional cooperation in India’s East can not be achieved.
9.

As regards illegal migration from Bangladesh into West Bengal and the North Eastern region of India, in May 1991, India and Bangladesh, in a joint communiqué, had expressed their determination to stop illegal migration through mutual cooperation. Bengladesh had agreed to take back illegal migrants after verification if they were caught while crossing the border. However, the complex verification process has made deportation a virtually impossible task. The migrants, in turn, have become important determinant of vote bank politics in India by acquiring identity documents with the help of unscrupulous politicians and local officials. Unfortunately enough, the Indian government seems to be hesitant to even publicise the extent and spread of illegal infiltration from Bengladesh although a figure (15 Million) was given in the Godbole Working Group report on Border management some years ago which was also accepted by the Group of Ministers subsequently. According to Godbole, a fomer Home Secretary, the number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh today should be nearly 20 Million. On 21st February, 2006, the ruling UPA government declined to furnish any estimate of illegal influx of Bangladeshis in Assam and West Bengal in response to a question in Parliament. Presumably, the reluctance was the result of polical expediency before forthcoming elections in these two states.

10.

The three major terrorist outfits behind most of the terrorist attacks in different parts of India, namely Lashkar-e-Tayeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami do the planning, financing, arming and training of the terror attacks but the actual implementation of the plans are often entrusted to relatively unknown youths, a large majority of whom come from the ever growing vast diaspora of Bangladeshi migrants. These young men have been ideologically motivated by radical Islamists at home. Many of them have anti-India mindset and they are recruited and made to work for money, religious beliefs or both. It is much easier for them to cross the India-Bangladesh border and escape after committing acts of terrorism or merge amongst the Bangladeshi migrants in India. The Indian authorities have failed to keep a watch on their movements and activities. It is time we seriously consider issuing National Identity Cards – an idea that was considered some years ago but shelved by the government for vote bank reasons and political advantage.

11.
Despite the grim scenario depicted by the present writer, Bangladesh is not inevitably doomed to become another Talibanized country like Afghanistan. But there is a serious danger of its becoming so and in the process, a global exporter of terrorism. As mentioned by Hiranmay Karlekar in his well-researched book published recently, the radical Islamist thrust in the country’s politics in the recent past spearheaded by parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and the Islami Oikyo Jote is primarily dependent on violence and terror to silence the secular liberal groups and political parties. Their mass base is still quite small. The Jamaat won 17 seats in 2001 election but received only 4.28 per cent of the total votes polled. The Islami Oikyo Jote won 2 seats with only 0.68 per cent of the votes poled. Several other Islamist parties fared much worse. Nevertheless, all these groups will depend on support from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to impose their version of an Islamic society on the people and push their political agenda by unleashing terror. They will, however, face resistance from various liberal groups, intellectuals, writers, artists, NGO’s and the Awami League and its front organizations. Their combined effort may still be able to withstand the onslaught of radical Islam provided they receive the support of the international community.

 

Kalyan K Mitra


The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

 
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