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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 48, November 14, 2009

Sheikh Hasina’s Resolve to Foil the Conspiracy of Destabilisation in Bangladesh

Islamic Militants Unite with Anti-Freedom Struggle Forces

Tuesday 17 November 2009, by Amitava Mukherjee

With the trial of the assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman well under way in Bangladesh, violent incidents are taking place there pointing to a worrying and live nexus between Islamic fundamentalism and the anti-freedom struggle forces. Unless tackled immediately with required firmness by the Sheikh Hasina Government, this nexus holds out threatening prospects for not just Bangladesh but India as well.

The murderous attack on Fazle Noor
Taposh, the Awami League parliamentarian and a prosecution lawyer in the Bangabandhu assassination trial, and death threats to the Attorney General of Bangladesh as well as the Indian High Commissioner signify an existing gory and umbilical relationship between Islamic fanaticism and anti-liberation forces, an established fact of the Bangladeshi polity which has again assumed menacing proportions. In fact the Bangladesh Government may give a second thought to its just announced decision that mere allegience to Pakistan during the time of the freedom struggle in 1971 would not make one a war criminal whose trial is now expected to begin soon. Since crimes at the time of the liberation war were mostly committed in cahoot with the Pakistani Army, probings into sheer allegience to Pakistan without any witch-hunting might not be an impractical idea

That a deeprooted conspiracy aiming to dislodge the secular and Left-of-Centre Government of Sheikh Hasina Wazed was put into motion immediately after the Awami League had swept into power in the last election, became amply clear when Zia Ispahani, a representative of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, had visited Dhaka immediately before the BDR mutiny and asked the Bangladesh Government not to proceed with its decision to try the war criminals. Even Ispahani was brash enough to threaten that Bangladesh may have to pay heavily if it does not honour the Pakistani diktat. It may not be coincidental that the two first casualties of the BDR mutiny were Colonel Guljaruddin and Colonel Zahid, the two Army officers responsible for the arrest of Siddiqul Islam alias Banglabhai and Shayakh Abdur Rahman, the two supreme leaders of the Jamaatul Mujahideen, Bangladesh (JMB), a dreaded Islamic terrorist organisation. The two leaders were later hanged.

Civil society in Bangladesh has identified the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as important centres in the chain of command of Islamic terrorism where different strands of religious fanatics have coalesced and made a common front against the Awami League Government. That radical Islam had not totally lost its ground became amply clear when the Jamaat-e-Islami, the fountainhead of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh, managed to secure 4.6 per cent of the total votes polled in the last election, a share which is more than those of the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) and the Workers’ Party, two important components of the Awami League led Front. It is true that the Jamaat’s voting percentage came down heavily from what it had been earlier, but at the same time it managed to win two parliamentary seats and could hold on to its traditional base in the Chittagong area.

It is, however, reassuring that the Bangladesh Government has responded with alacrity to the recent challenge thrown by the Islamic terrorists. For the trials of the war criminals in tribunals it has already amended the International Crime Tribunal Act, 1973 so that it cannot be challenged on the ground of having retrospective effect.
The office for the tribunals, prosecutors and investigation agencies has been identified. Formal investigation into the crimes will start before December 16, the government has announced.

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The recent arrests and confessions by some of the arrested persons, as reported in the press, indicate that the entire nation will have to stay united if the killers of Mujibur Rahman and other wartime criminals are to be punished as the reported confessions have established that the killers have struck deep roots even in some unexpected quarters of the Bangladeshi polity. Particularly noteworthy in this connection is the reported confession of Mehnaz Rashid, the daughter of Khondakar Abdur Rashid, one of the masterminds of Mujib’s assassination. Rashid now carries on a thriving business in Libya while Mehnaz has been arrested for her alleged complicity in the bomb attack on Fazle Noor Taposh.

If Mehnaz is to be believed, then not just Rashid but his wife Jobaida was also a key conspirator in the macabre plot of Mujib murder and Ziaur Rahman, a former President, had rewarded Jobaida with a house in the Gulshan area of Dhaka for her ‘creditable role’ in the Mujib murder plot. Moreover Zia used to pay $ 100 per day to Jobaida for her hotel expenses in Thailand where the lady used to stay with her daughters after leaving Bangladesh in the wake of the Bangabandhu killing, so runs Mehnaz’s confession carried widely in all the major dailies of Bangladesh.

Mehnaz’s presence in Bangladesh at this hour is also highly indicative. She has spent the major part of her life outside Bangladesh. She studied in the US and had a stint in the United Nations. She unsuccessfully contested the last two parlia-mentary elections, used to maintain liasion with the Defence Forces Intelligence and, according to her own statement, was asked by the previous caretaker government to organise the Freedom Party, particularly to forge a tie between it and the National Democratic Alliance for materialising the minus two formula of the government which meant banishment of both Hasina Wazed and Khaleda from active politics.

This arouses the suspicion that there is more beneath the surface in Bangladesh than what meets the eye. Fazle Noor Taposh is no ordinary person. He is the son of Sheikh Moni, Mujib’s nephew, who was slain on the same day with his illustrious uncle. A significant section of the political elites in Bangladesh is viewing this attack as only the continuation of a process aiming to wipe out a certain political chapter of Bangladesh by violent means. Similar attempts were made in 2004 when Mufti Hannan, the founder of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islam in Bangladesh, had tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Sheikh Hasina Wazed by placing a bomb beneath the stage from where she was to address a meeting in Kotalipara.

The ongoing Bangabandhu murder trial and the proposed ones of war time criminals have made Bangladesh stand face to face with a political watershed. The anti-liberation forces, united under the aegis of several Islamic terrorist organisations as well as the Jamaat-e-Islami, have reasons to view the trials as a challenge to their existence. Consequently they are now on a warpath with the Jamaatul Mujahideen, Bangladesh and the Freedom Party giving the lead. The JMB and the HuJI, both banned, are the most feared and well-organised among all the radical Islamic organisations.

Developments in the recent past point out that in spite the execution of its two most important leaders, the JMB still retains much of its firepower as arrests of its cadres are leading to recoveries of grenades and bomb-making materials. It has 8096 enlisted members. Two thousand of them form its suicide squad out of whom 39 belong to the core elite group. The JMB has certainly regrouped and it is highly active in 33 districts of Bangladesh under its district commanders called Nayaks. It has recently held meetings in districts like Rajshahi, Rangpur, Pabna, Sherpore and Natore.

The Bangladesh Government’s admission that it held talks with different foreign envoys in Dhaka in the context of the trials of Bangabandhu’s assasins and the war criminals indicates that it apprehends intervention by some foreign powers or violent reprisals by militants who enjoy international backing. The Freedom Party, whose former Organising Secretary has been arrested in the wake of the attack on Fazle Noor Taposh, could once enlist active support of some senior Libyan military functionaries for carrying out subversive activities in Bangladesh. It is now an open secret that the HuJI in Bangladesh was founded through the direct funding and active support of Osama bin Laden.

The list of arrests after Hasina Wazed took over in Dhaka suggests that she is determined to strike at the government functionaries-Islamic militants nexus which was carefully built up during the previous regime of Khaleda Zia. This list includes Kamrul Huq Swapan, the brother of Major Sharful Huq Dalim, one of the principal assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Decks have also been cleared for detention of Lutfozzaman Babar, the State Minister of Home when Khaleda Zia was the Prime Minister.

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