Bangladesh: A new wave of terrorism by Islamists rocks the nation

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Published on February 13, 2007

Terrorism linked to Islamic fundamentalism had been rising in Bangladesh (a nation of about 145 million) since mid 1990s. A section of terrorists who are using violence to propagate their brand of Islamism in the impoverished nation want to establish Sha�ria-based judiciary. These Islamists have ushered in a new arsenal in the country, which is suicide bombing on Tuesday, November 29, 2005. The members of the violent Islamic group had hit court houses in two cities, namely, Chittagong and Gazipur (formerly known as Joydebpur but changed the name to show Islamic demeanor of Bangladesh since August 1975) killing at least 9 people and injuring nearly 100 people. This new wave of attack against judiciary of Bangladesh is a symbolic one. The Islamists favoring Sha�ria law for the nation do not believe in secular laws. To show their disdain for manmade law they are now targeting Bangladesh�s court system. This is theirs unique way of thumbing nose to judiciary of this nation. Ordinary people will be scarred to visit the courthouses lest they are injured by the bomb. Islamists are very clever; they know that their brand of scare tactic works rather well in this overpopulated nation. This scribe had forewarned the intelligentsia and politicians of Bangladesh by writing a slue of articles but all the suggestion on how to combat the growing menace fell on the deaf ear. I was labeled an alarmist by a handful of writers while the government of Khaleda Zia was not happy knowing that I supported the seminal articles written by Mr. Bertil Lintner, Mr. Alex Perry, and Ms. Eliza Griswold. These are not puny journalists as one may think in Bangladesh. Mr. Lintner wrote for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Mr. Perry wrote for the Times while Ms. Griswold published her article on growth of Islamic fundamentalism in New York Times. By early 2000 it was clear that Bangladesh society was heading for more violence led by Islamists. In the early phase, the jihadists blew up cultural programs and their wrath fell on communists and secularists. Under that backdrop, Mr. Lintner, Mr. Perry, and Ms. Griswold wrote their articles that sensed an impending evil for Bangladesh under the hands of Islamic extremists. But guess what the reactions were? The government of Khaleda Zia banned the articles written by these respected journalists. Mrs. Zia and her lieutenants were all upset while they proclaimed that these articles are marring the good image of Bangladesh as moderate Muslim majority nation. The Khaleda Administration went so far as asking expatriate groups in the West to campaign against these articles written by the �foreigners� that are so critical of her government. It has not eluded Lintner, Perry, and Griswold that Khaleda Zia shook hand with Jamaat to win the election in October 2001. Therefore, her government was looking the other way when Islamic goons were blasting grenades, bombs, and whatnot to create instability in the nation. The Khaleda Zia administration was not the only critique of Mr. Lintner, Mr. Perry, and Ms. Griswold. The leading newspaper editors of Dhaka also became suddenly very patriotic as they hurled epithets to the �foreign� reporters calling them reactionaries, sensationalists, and their work � examples of yellow journalism. The late Enayetullah Khan of �New Age� pooh-poohed the �foreign� reporters calling their findings figment of imagination. How wrong was the editor of �New Age?� It took late Enayetullah Khan at least three years before he called spade a spade. He realized that he was wrong all along. From his death bed he had the courage and fortitude to fire the warning shot against the fundamentalists who are bent on creating anarchy in Bangladesh.

Lately, a handful of lawmakers belonging to the ruling party are threatening to spill the beans; these politicians are saying that the government of Khaleda Zia is protecting the Islamists because they belong to the party Jamaat-i-Islami, which is a leading coalition partner of BNP. One of the dissident BNP lawmakers was disciplined and booted out of the party by Khaleda Zia for breaking party discipline.

In May 2004 when �Bangla Bhai� menace came into the fore, quite a few parliament members from the western districts of Bangladesh belonging to the ruling BNP gave protection to the extremist leader while the police became silent spectators doing nothing but aiding and abetting the leaders and members of Jagrata Muslim Janata of Bangladesh (JMJB) who were torturing and killing minority Hindus and others who protested the scare tactics of Islamic goons. The charade became a public affair when in the town of Rajshahi the �Bangla Bhai� men paraded the street in motorcade with the assi tance of Deputy Inspector General, Superintendent, and officer-in-charge of that city. The entire police force was in fact backing up the Islamic terrorists while Khaleda Zia, the premier, was thinking what to do with Bangla Bhai. Finally, she was forced to issue an arrest warrant for the extremist leader under pressure from newspaper reports and donor countries. However, by then, �Bangla Bhai� and his lieutenants went underground. The same police that protected the leader and followers of JMJB in Rajshahi told the newsmen that the terrorists and their leader have probably gone to neighboring West Bengal. I am not making this up. Anyone could visit the archive of on-line newspapers and read the details of police statement. In summary, the police and Khaleda Zia Administration have backed �Bangla Bhai� and his men in the summer months of 2004. Only after details of torture and killings were publicized in newspaper, and the political pressure exerted by donor nations became too unbearable did Khaleda Zia Administration made the volte-face and started to initiate a massive manhunt to arrest �Bangla Bhai� and his men. It has been over a year since police were crisscrossing Bangladesh in search of the terrorist leaders but the man has simply vanished into the thin air.

The spate of bombing is on the rise in Bangladesh for at least six years. The blasting of grenades reached a catastrophic proportion on August 21, 2004, when dozens of military-grade hand grenades were lobbed on Sheikh Hasina and her lieutenants as Awami League organized an outdoor rally. The leader was miraculously saved but she lost a few of her trusted party leaders. A year later on August 17, 2005, the Islamists blasted over 500 bombs over a period of one hour in every administrative district. The firepower of these homemade bombs was very low; consequently only 2 deaths resulted from the blasts. But the event was a highly �successful� one. The Islamists proved the point that they are well organized to blast hundred of bombs or hand grenades synchronously. That event alone scared the hell out of all the newspaper editors and intelligentsia of Bangladesh. The blast was a watershed in the annals of Bangladesh history. It was only after 8-17 blasts that the nation shook and shivered knowing fully well that Islamists are united to unleash their firepower.

As these menacing acts were acting out in various parts of Bangladesh the government of Khaleda Zia took her case to the people. This time the plea was as follows: these bombings were done by the intelligence department of a neighboring nation. To give credence to her cock-and-bull story she asked a lone Justice to look into the incident of August 21, 2004, bombing of public meeting that took place in Bongobandhu Avenue. A Justice by the name Joynul Abedin went as far as saying that a foreign government with the assistance of local hoodlums engineered the blasts. The government of Khaleda Zia knew who were behind the blasts because their proverbial thumb impressions were left allover the crime scene. A few knowledgeable people inside Bangladesh even hinted the involvement of military. But to refute all the claims Mrs. Zia had to invent this conspiracy theory to malign Bangladesh�s next-door neighbor.

The event of 8-17 marathon blasts changed the perception of Bangladeshi people vis-�-vis who is behind the crime. The Islamists now make no bones about who is the mastermind behind the blasts. They took full credit for the blasts. Therefore, the battle line is being drawn. The Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, is now on a fix. How to handle the matter without creating a rift with her coalition member, Jamaat, who many in Bangladesh think is the party behind the grenade and homemade bomb blasts. It remains to be seen how these episodes of bomb blasts against judges, and courthouse play out in Bangladesh. The ordinary citizens are simply fed up with the spate of blasts. There may be many surprises waiting to happen when the next parliamentary election takes place in the country. The ruling party may have to pay a price for being so cozy with the Islamists. Bangladesh�s history is replete with surprise; the time between now and the next parliamentary election is eon away and many events may unfold. Therefore, stay tuned. Oh, one more thing. Bangladesh�s politics is full of caprice; therefore, one never knows what is in store for this unpredictable nation.


Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from Ithaca, New York.