By Bhaskar Roy
Neither the investigations of nor the debates on the December, 2011 foiled coup by a group of religiously misdirected middle level army officers are over. Nor should they be. Reverting to complacency in either case can result in unmitigated disaster for the country in not too distant a future.
Although the founding father of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah had the vision of a liberal, democratic, secular and Islamic Pakistan, it never happened. Mr. Jinnah’s vision had inherent contradictions as seen from the view point of the growing Wahabi Islam promoted by an oil rich Saudi Arabia. Gradually, religion was used in Pakistan as an instrument of politics.
In East Pakistan (Bangladesh since 1971), Islam as practiced was more liberal than that in the western wing. It had historical roots. In several sections of life, Islam and Hinduism, in their basic philosophy had many commonalities. For example, in the Mafrati (Muslim) and Baul (Hindu) devotional songs, the worship of Satya Pir and Satya Narayan or in Lalan fakir’s soul rending songs which transcended religious barriers. But over the decades since 1947, many of these societal values receded in Bangladesh.
Jinnah wanted cordial relations with India. It was a very conscious decision. India was a much larger country. He had full knowledge of India, having been a leading independence leader. And he possessed no religious bigotry. But things changed rapidly.
East Pakistan and West Pakistan started with cultural and linguistic incompatibility. Punjabi arrogance and domination did not sit well with the Bengalis of East Pakistan. And when West Pakistan did away with the fiery Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s claim to Prime Ministership of Pakistan, it pioneered the Bengalis’ fight for freedom. Bangladesh won its independence in 1971 with some assistance from India. But it was basically a movement started, owned and delivered by the people of Bangladesh.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh introduced a secular constitution in 1973. He created a special relationship with India. But little did he know that people close to him were plotting against him. They resented his pro-India tilt and his secular philosophy. These were time servers with Sk. Mujib, and they turned Bangladesh step by step into a country that the Sheikh did not believe in.
There have been comments in the Bangladesh media in connection with the recent coup attempt that this was an act by a few middle level officers driven by their faith, and that top level officers were not involved. Hence, it is not a matter of great concern.
This view may be simplistic and dangerous, glossing over a threat that is yet to be investigated fully. It was a group of young army officers, no one senior that a Lt. Colonel that assassinated Prime Minister Sk. Mujibur Rahman and his extended family in the early hours of August 15, 1975. Most senior army officers were not involved. In fact, the army Chief, Lt. Gen. Khaled Musharraf was also killed subsequently.
As the developments continued, it was evident that senior political leaders were involved. Top Awami League leader Khondokar Mustaq, became President in a hastily formed government. A series of killings continued, both judicial and extra-judicial. Zia-ur-Rehman, who as a major fought in the liberation war, swiftly moved up the ranks through these machinations, became army chief and the President of Bangladesh. He rehabilitated the Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party. The JEI was banned by Sk. Mujibur Rahman because of their collaboration with the Pakistani army in 1971, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The clock was turned back 360 degrees. Pakistan became the No.1 friend – India the No.1 enemy. And the religious extremists owing full allegiance to Pakistan, returned to the political centre stage. During the BNP-JEI rule (2001-2006), it was evident to everyone that the government went out of the way to execute an acrimonious relationship with India. It was the worst period in India-Bangladesh relations. Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh took a very sagacious position. This policy was – be good to Bangladesh and hope they will reciprocate. India’s positivity went to the extent of not retaliating to the abduction and brutal killing of BSF officers by the BDR personnel. India refused to bite the bait.
Two trends of discussions noticed among BNP and JEI leaders and officials were important in the 2001–2006 period. One was to establish a federal relationship with Pakistan. Under this premise, the BNP-JEI government opened up its territory for the ISI to launch terrorist operations in India. The ISI reared and sponsored Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and its ally the HUJI (BD), were the main instruments for this strategy.
At that time, the JEI had claimed that by 2011-12, they hoped to win majority in the parliament and establish Sharia law. To succeed, they not only spread their indoctrination work far and wide, but also began to penetrate the armed forces. JEI Amir Matiur Rahman Nizami is on record having said that 30 percent of the forces were JEI member or supporters.
The second trend was that both the JEI and the BNP concentrated on making the armed forces political. This was basically concentrated on new entrants from soldiers to officers level. Assessment of influence of political parties in the armed forces was JEI 30%, BNP 30%, Awami League 15-20%, others non-political. The only saving grace was the presence of middle to senior levels who were mainly apolitical, but maintained a low profile.
The set-back for the BNP and JEI came with the exposure of their links with and support to terrorist organizations. The country was shaken when the Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) detonated synchronized explosions in August 2005 in 63 out of 64 districts in the country. From there on, the BNP-JEI’s down hill journey started. This government was close to being declared a sponsor of terrorism. The BNP was proved to be the most corrupt government ever in Bangladesh. There was no way that the BNP-JEI combine could win the December 2008 elections. The backlash from the people was too strong.
Returning to the recent coup attempt, the Hizbut Tehrir (HUT) propaganda literature emphasizes the following (i) Khilafat rule in Bangladesh (ii) anti-India propaganda calling for restoration of Islamic rule in the India (iii) to protect Muslims, urging army personnel to topple sheikh Hasina’s government which they perceive to be backed by India and the US, (iv) overseas connections. India comes out as the most prominent target. The targets are almost exactly that of the ISI in Bangladesh and India.
Most intriguing and important is the disclosure by Bangladeshi investigators that like minded terrorist organizations are co-operating with HUT to carry forward terrorist activities, and HUJI was named as one of as the partners. Has HUT, which was banned in Bangladesh only in 2009, made some readjustment in their operations doctrine in Bangladesh?
Compared to other terrorist organizations fighting for Islamic rule and cleansing western and Zionist influence and ideas in Muslim countries, HUT can be considered quite unique. Founded in 1953 in a Palestinian village in Jerusalem by Islamic scholar Taquiddin al-Nabahani, it has spread legally to many countries in the west especially the UK, US and Germany among others. It is also active in several Arab and Central Asian countries and came to Bangladesh in 2000.
HUT’s open stance avows non-violence. But at the same time it does not rule out violence in the long run as central to its goal of Caliphate (Khilafat). It sees the Hamas movement against Israel as basically misconceived, because a poorly armed movement cannot match the might of Israel. HUT would rather wait for a strong Caliphate to defeat Israel.
HUT’s philosophy may sound somewhat simple, but it is realistic. Their political advancement is based on creating a mass opinion among Muslims as a first step. The next or even concurrent step is to penetrate officers in the armed forces, political and social leaders, educated youth and professionals. The final step is to move to establish the Caliphate. With indoctrination of these sections of society who hold power and have influence over the people, success is inevitable. This strategy can be best described as a “creeping coup”.
What intrigues this observer is that while the HUT generally maintains a distance from Islamic terrorist tanzims who immediately attract the wrath of the powers that be, why are they associating with terrorist group like the HUJI, and others in Bangladesh?
The HUT strategy in Bangladesh, as reported in the local media and from briefing given to the media by the security organizations, does not reflect its established principles.
So what is it? Do the HUT’s main leaders find that Bangladesh is ripe to transit to a Caliphate? Or, are there powers inside and outside the country who have convinced them in this direction?
It may be remembered that the HUT leaders in Bangladesh are not Arabs of the Middle East, but Bangladeshis with their native characteristics and idiosyncrasies. The issue is India, Indian influence in Bangladesh, and those in Bangladesh who favour good relations with India, and secularism. It boils down to the premise laid down earlier in this article.
It is reasonable to ask how seriously is this threat being taken in Bangladesh? At a seminar addressed by army Chief, Lt. Gen. Mainul Islam in Dhaka on January 23 on the issue, it was regrettable that there was no representation from the Navy and the Air Force. Are they certain that these two arms of the Bangladeshi armed forces have not been infiltrated? Or, is no importance being given to the development?
The aim is to create chaos in the country in one way or another. Prime Minister Sk. Hasina and her government stand in the way primarily. Next, India is a sensitive issue, and can be used to provoke some people. Putting the two together can divert the people’s focus from main issues and in course, derail the war crimes trial. Importantly, after the coup attempt, internet postings have come up to foil the 1971 war crimes trials. Because, if the trials were to conclude, the top level of JEI and some from the BNP would be eliminated. Pakistan, especially the ISI, would lose their Trojan Horses in Bangladesh. It would be a major defeat for them after 1971.
Certainly, Bangladesh has suffered a series of coups and attempted coups, and still survived to pursue its original goals. The new threat is very different. It aims primarily at a genetic change among the people of Bangladesh. This is neither stated lightly, nor should it be taken lightly. The future of Bangladesh is at stake.