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Destabilizing Forces Active In Bangladesh – Analysis

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By Rajeev Sharma

Some developments during the last couple of months are clear indications that destabilizing forces have been operating with vengeance in Bangladesh to overthrow the democratically elected Awami League (AL) led Government. The so-called Islamic nationalist forces in the country have embarked upon a meticulously worked out plan to create large scale lawlessness and anarchy with the objective of subverting the ongoing trial of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the anti-liberation forces/Pak collaborators of 1971. These forces represented by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) advocate a strong Islamic nationalist identity for the country with a pronounced pro-Pak tilt, painting India in a negative light. Their main objective is to raise the bogey of Islam as a tool to capture state power.

Bangladesh
Bangladesh

Recently, Bangladesh army disclosed that it had foiled a plot by more than a dozen “religiously fanatic” officers to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. “We have unearthed a heinous conspiracy to overthrow the democratic government through the army”, Army spokesman Brig Gen Masud Razzaq said in a statement on January 19. “The attempt has been thwarted with the wholehearted efforts of army soldiers,” the statement said, adding that the plot had been fomented by Bangladeshi expatriates in touch with ‘religiously fanatic’ army officers. Giving details about the failed coup, which was unearthed in December last, Gen Razzaq said an officer of the rank of Major who was now on the run circulated emails to different serving officers detailing a plan to overthrow the Government on January 9-10. The Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), banned in Bangladesh in 2009 was directly involved in the attempt to overthrow the Government, the statement added. The plot involved up to 16 Islamist officers, raising fears about the prevalence of hardliners in the upper ranks of the country’s 140,000 strong Army.

The banned radical outfit HuT that enjoys covert patronage of BNP/JEI clique recently published and circulated a huge number of pamphlets in Dhaka in May 2011, throwing an open challenge to the Government by announcing its decision to hold rallies and processions in Dhaka and across the country in support of its demand for introduction of ‘khelafat’ (caliphate) in the country. Posters visible at different strategic points and locations in Dhaka and its outskirts contained various calls including call for establishment of ‘khelafat’ by overthrowing the democratically elected AL led Government. Saving the country’s independence and sovereignty, its natural gas and oil and creating powerful defence forces, free of the influence of the United States, the UK and India were among other demands on these pamphlets and posters. These also termed Sheikh Hasina as an agent of anti – Islamic forces including India and the US.

Leaders and activists of HuT have been very active in various ways. Around 350 HuT leaders and workers including its Chief Coordinator Professor Mohiuddin Ahmed of Dhaka University, senior leaders Golam Mawla, Kazi Morshedul Haque and Mahmudul Bari were arrested on October 20, 2009 when the organization was banned. But activities of the radical organization continue unabated even now. HuT activists are openly carrying out subversive and anti-democratic activities in support of their demand for introduction of Islamic rule in the country. HuT is an international Islamic militant group originally set up in Jerusalem in 1953 to fight for a separate Palestinian homeland. It started its activities in Bangladesh in 2000.

Incidentally, within one and a half month of its second term, the Government headed by Sheikh Hasina had to encounter a violent challenge in the form of mutiny by the country’s border guarding troops BDR on February 25, 2009. The Government acted swiftly and managed to persuade the rebel BDR troops to surrender and lay down arms. But in the process, it could not avoid anger of a section of Army officers who even sought to bring pressure on the then Army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed to take a strong position vis-à-vis Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as she had initially announced amnesty to mutinying troops who had killed many senior Army officers.

The BNP-JEI Alliance sought to exploit the situation fully to its advantage and left no stone unturned to instigate the Army officers for a violent show-down with the Government. Thanks to the astuteness displayed by Gen Moeen and his highly professional and disciplined band of soldiers who remained strongly supportive of the democratically elected Government, failing which there would have been another upheaval in the country on the pattern of August 15, 1975 when the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was brutally assassinated and that could have swept Sheikh Hasina away. The BDR mutiny was the first of a series of attempts initiated to overthrow the duly elected Sheikh Hasina led Government. Within the army only unscrupulous elements have showed eagerness to join the mullahs and mercenaries to subvert democracy and grab state power. There are still important sections within the army who do not wish to get involved in politics.

On the occasion of first anniversary of the BDR mutiny, the HuT circulated leaflets in cantonment areas appealing to the army personnel to take up arms and rise in revolt to overthrow the Sheikh Hasina led Government and establish Allah’s rule. These leaflets accused Hasina of having staged the BDR mutiny to kill Army officers. The objective was to arouse camaraderie among army personnel and whip up their passion for revenge. After being banned in Bangladesh, the UK chapter of HuT has been providing funds through many covert channels to sustain activities of its Bangladesh counterpart. HuT militants are being secretly organized to join hands with JEI and its student organ Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) to destabilize the country.

Soon after the foiled mutiny, significant number of pro-BNP/JEI entities in civil society, media, political groups and pro-Pakistan lobbies launched propaganda against India saying that BDR mutiny was planned and executed by India in complicity with AL to weaken Bangladesh Army and lower its resistance to Indian aggression. This malicious propaganda was also spread among some influential members of Bangladeshi Diaspora.

In its attempts to create anarchy and lawlessness in the country, the BNP-JEI clique is working on a plan to utilize the HuT and Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants as their assets on the ground. The HuT and JMB militants have a very active grassroots level network due to the covert support and patronage received from the BNP-JEI Alliance when it ruled the country. The network of these two radical groups are now so powerful that although the security forces have seized huge stockpiles of explosive materials, broken numerous terrorist cells and apprehended thousands of militants, there has not been any let up in their activities.

Of late, there are media reports of unrest in the readymade garment industry as well. Recently, three garment workers were killed and more than 30 injured in Tongi industrial area in police firing following outbreak of violent labour unrest there. This unrest, caused due to non-payment of back wages, is being fuelled by some well identified quarters bent on fomenting trouble and fishing in troubled waters. The BNP/JEI Alliance accused the AL Government of conspiring to destroy the garment industry to give advantage to a ‘foreign country’ (meaning India) in exporting readymade garments. Efforts are also being made to misguide the people and instigate them against the diplomatic offensive launched by the Government to settle outstanding disputes with Myanmar and India.

The Government’s proposed education policy and the Women Empowerment policy have also come in for scathing criticism from these so-called Islamic nationalist lobbies demanding introduction of Islamic education system and establishment of Islamic values in the society. The daily Star in its issue of January 29 last reported that twelve ‘Islamic’ minded parties announced their vehement opposition to the ongoing war crimes trial. These parties have even threatened to try ‘Indian agents’ if their demand for stopping the trial were not met. Nothing could get more audacious, reactionary and outrageous than this. How dare this group, hideous in its intentions, belittle and oppose the war crimes trial that may provide a small amount of solace to the gaping wounds the dear and near ones of these victims continue to bear. The other demands these people are making — one of them is to scrap the women’s development policy — are ominous expressions of fanaticism and distortion of religion that directly contradict the spirit of Bangladesh’s constitution and Liberation War.

Recent arrest in Bangladesh of the mafia don Dawood Ibrahim’s nephew Daud Merchant @ Abdul Rauf and his associate Zahid Sheikh has led to disclosure of plans of the don in collusion with ISI and the Pakistan based international terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to destabilize not merely the AL Govt in Bangladesh; the plan is to target India as well.

All these incidents are linked to each other and are integral to the plot aimed at destabilizing the AL Government with an ulterior motive. The AL Government is viewed as an enemy of the ‘two nation’ theory propounded by Pakistan and therefore, to the so-called Islamic nationalist forces, it is an anathema. These forces are now seeking help from the mafia and radical Islamic groups to overthrow the democratically elected Sheikh Hasina led Government.

(The views expressed are author’s own)

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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