Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for 7 September 2005
Review: 89/05
Jehadi terror in Bangladesh

A series of coordinated blasts of over 400 bombs in 63 out of 64 districts on 17 August 2005 firmly put Bangladesh as another hotbed of terrorism. While the police blamed the Jamaatul Mujahideen, Minister of Industries and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami put the blame on external intelligencies. Later on, former Islamic Foundation Director, Moulana Fariduddin Masud, detained for suspected links to the August 17 blasts reportedly pointed out Nizami’s involvement in the countrywide explosions. It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has the political will to confront the Jamaats and root out the terrorists. The investigation agencies are pointing towards Kuwaiti funds.

Past experiences of the government of Bangladesh, however, do not evoke any confidence. The responses of the government of Bangladesh have been more to do with addressing international concern rather than rooting out the Islamic terrorist groups. Jagrata Muslim Janata led by Bangla Bhai and Jamaatul Mujahideen were banned hours before the meeting of the donors in Washington on 23-24 February 2005. But Bangla Bhai roamed freely after the ban. The government also failed to nab the real culprits for the killing of former Awami League Finance Minister AMS Kibria on 27 January 2005 and attempt to murder the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Anwar Choudhury on 21 May 2004. In fact, the inquiry commission into the attacks on Awami League rally on 21 August 2004 blamed external intelligence agencies. As such high profile cases of terrorism do not lead to prosecution, the perpetrators of the attacks on the NGOs, journalists and liberal thinkers have been roaming scot-free.

From opposing the Bangladesh liberation war by participating in the genocide and mass murder of the intelligentsia, Jammat-e-Islami has come a long way to become a partner of the government since 2001. The root causes of the growth of extremism in the last four years need to be analysed in perspective.

First, international community failed to address violence against religious and ethnic minorities, which furthered religious extremism and provided the sense of impunity to the zealots. The attacks on Hindu minorities in October 2001 were dismissed as post-elections violence. In the first week of February 2005, local “Siddique Bahini” forcibly occupied 12 acres of land, including of a temple and a crematory, of 14 poor Hindu families at Kapalipara village in Patuakhali. On 27 March 2005, the ruling party thugs forcibly occupied about 42 bighas of land of a Hindu family at Chhoto Shanta in Debhata upazila of Satkhira. Torture, rape, humiliation, destruction of temples and idol etc are perpetrated with impunity while taking over land. These atrocities are not surprising considering that while the religious extremists have been assassinating political opponents with bombs, the BNP has been targeting them by using Rapid Action Battalion, with impunity.

Second, the government has been openly siding with extremist elements. In its attempt to appease the fundamentalists, on 8 January 2004 the government banned all publications of the Ahmadiyya community, including the Koran and any translations or interpretations of it. Later on, the High Court temporarily suspended the government ban 21 December 2004. And the repression continues with impunity.

Not surprisingly, on 10 April 2005, International Khatme Nabuat Movement dared to issue a public warning that they would gherao and evict the Ahmadiyyas from their native villages in Satkhira district on 17 April 2005. The government failed to take any measure. On 17 April 2005, as announced, nearly 15,000 fundamentalists equipped with sticks, iron rods and other sharp weapons attacked the Ahmadiyya community, injuring over 50 people, including women and children, and looted at least 10 houses at Sundarban Bazar of Shyamnagar upazila, Satkhira.

Third, the state support to madrasas, which are increasingly being held responsible for fomenting extremism across the world, has increased exponentially during the current BNP-Jamaat rule. It is not only Saudi funds. The government of Bangladesh has been using assistance for education from UN agencies, western donors and other multilateral financial institutions to fund the madrasas. According to Bangladesh Economic Review, from 2001 to 2005, the number of madrasas increased by 22.22 per cent in comparison to the 9.74 per cent growth of the general educational institutions. Teachers in the general schools and colleges increased by 12.27 per cent against 16.52 per cent in the madrasas during the same period. The number of students in general educational institutions rose by 8.64 per cent while the madrasas saw 10.12 per cent rise. These figures relate to about 9,000 government-registered madrasas. There are about 15,000 Qawmi madrasas under the Bangladesh Qawmi Madrasa Education Board which are totally out of government control and have their own curriculum. Thousands of other madrasas are not registered under any organisation. The government has no control over curriculum.

Fourth, fundamentalists control the grip of the current government. Salahuddin Kader Chowdhury, infamous for his role against the Bangladesh liberation war, serves as the Advisor for Parliamentary Affairs to the Prime Minister. Chowdhury’s hold on the government is such that he was also nominated for the post of Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, much to the consternation of national and international community. There are many known fundamentalists who hold important positions in the government.

Fifth and most importantly, there is power vacuum in Bangladesh. Political authorities do not exercise full control over the Army and other security forces and they have to look over their soldiers all the time. There is a strong nexus between the extremists and local authorities, political leaders and Directorate General of Bangladesh Forces’ Intelligence. There have been countless incidents in which Islamic extremists were apprehended, sometimes with arms and explosives, only to be released by the authorities.

The Jammat-e-Islami and other fundamentalist groups remain indispensable in Bangladeshi electoral politics. During the last parliamentary elections in 2001, BNP received 40.97 per cent of the votes against 40.13 per cent received by the Awami League. BNP’s landslide victory was ensured because of the alliance with the fundamentalists. After having become a partner of the government, Islamic fundamentalists have further expanded their support base. Bangladesh may not be next Afghanistan or Pakistan. Howeverm, given the power vacuum, polarisation of the Awami League and BNP, state support to fundamentalists groups and increased indispensability of the Jamaats in electoral politics, Bangladesh might find it difficult to fall off the map of the sources of global terrorism.

© Copy right 2003, Asian Centre for Human Rights, C-3/441-C, Janakpuri, New Delhi-110058, India