The nexus between the militant JMB leaders and Khaleda Zia government

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Published on April 02, 2006


   The final round of the game of charade is being played rather well in Bangladesh.  The grand finale will be acted out soon in which Siddiqul Islam aka Bangla Bhai will be arrested by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) possibly in presence of live TV camera.  Bangladesh has finally come of age in this fast world of Internet and live TV, isn�t it true?  

   The whole thing about the rise of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh seems to be choreographed by the four-party alliance government of Khaleda Zia.  Lest we forget, some MPs and local leaders belonging to BNP and Jamaat from Bogra, Atrai, Naogaon, Rajshahi, etc., were instrumental in reviving the Jamaa�tul Mujahideen Bangladesh JMB goons with blessings of BNP and Jamaat high command in Dhaka.  The idea was to crush the militant communist goons by the name �Sorbohara� in western part of Bangladesh by JMB goons who created a reign of terror in rural areas of that area. 

   On May 6, 2004, I read in Dhaka�s newspaper for the first time that a �Mullah Omar� like figure by the name Azizur Rahman aka Bangla Bhai who is dispensing justice in the northwestern districts of Bangladesh.  Later, we learnt that Bangla Bhai�s real name is Siddiqul Islam.  In the summer of 2004, I also saw a photograph that showed two bearded Islamists sitting on the floor underneath a big photograph of Khaleda Zia hung by the wall.  The newspaper that printed the photo identified the men as Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, Siddiqul Islam.  A picture is worth thousand words.  We knew the allegiance of these two militants right away.

  When Bangla Bhai�s men were wreaking havoc in western districts of Bangladesh during the summer months of 2004 we also read in the newspaper that some powerful ministers of Khaleda Zia were brazenly telling the media that Bangla Bhai is a figment of imagination of the press.  What balderdash!  The two Jamaati ministers, who are adorning Khaleda Zia�s cabinet, also uttered some harsh words against the press for publishing Bangla Bhai�s high profile activities.  The lawmakers in Dhaka were oblivious to what was happening in western districts.  Things went so badly that the U.S. government and European Union became alarmed by the extra-judicial killing and torture perpetrated by JMB goons.  However, that hardly ruffled feathers among BNP and Jamaat leaderships.  In 2004, most cabinet members of Khaleda Zia were tightlipped about JMB goons; they openly questioned the veracity of news that was published by the newspapers.  One of them openly ridiculed the press while asserting that Bangla Bhai is the creation of the media. 

   During 2004 and 2005, a lot has happened throughout Bangladesh vis-�-vis political assassination and incidence of grenade lobbing in opposition political rally.  But then, all hell broke loose on August 17, 2005, when more than 400 homemade bombs were blasted in every nook and cranny of Bangladesh in a coordinated fashion.  Even though these explosives were crudely made, the impact from these bombings shook the foundation of Bangladesh civil society.  Clearly, Khaleda Zia�s government was in disarray in the aftermath of this spate of bombings.  The Bush Administration that had waged a unilateral war against global terrorism initially did not pay much attention to what was happening in the tiny land as far as jihadi activities were concerned.  After the Islamists did their blitzkrieg on August 17, 2005, Washington was very much perturbed.  Suddenly, Bangladesh was in the radar screen of the Bush Administration.  Some high profile visit from Washington to Dhaka had ensued because of the mega bombings allover Bangladesh.  The Bush Administration took the cue from the English newspapers published from Dhaka.  They pointblank asked Khaleda Zia to arrest the masterminds of these bombings.

   We saw in later part of 2005 a sea change of attitude in Khaleda Zia Administration.  Before the U.S. took a grim view of the development in Bangladesh, the Khaleda Zia Administration was busily propagating the idea that a foreign nation was involved in the massive bombing allover Bangladesh.  To legitimize the administration�s view that a foreign power was at the root of all the problem, Mrs. Khaleda Zia appointed a one-Justice commission chaired by Justice Zoinul Abedin who did a quick investigation of the grenade blasting incident that took place on August 17, 2004 in broad daylight outside Awami League�s headquarter located on Bangabandhu Avenue.  His conclusion was that local hoodlums in collaboration with a foreign country�s counterintelligence had staged the bloody incident in which more than two dozens people were killed including one prominent female Awami leader.  The police destroyed the key evidences by hurriedly burying the dead and not protecting the crime scene.  The FBI, Scotland Yard, and Interpol came to Dhaka to investigate the high-profile crime but they could not sink their teeth because of the mismanagement by the Bangladesh police.  That however did not deter our erudite Justice, Zoinul Abedin, who simply rubberstamped the conclusion of Khaleda Zia Administration.

   Most observers including this writer have been saying for a long time that many of the bombings in Bangladesh had been the handiwork of homegrown Islamists.  However, our assertions were falling into the deaf ears of Khaleda Zia government.  And there is a reason for it.  The Islamists such as members of JMB had connection to the four-part alliance government.  I will cite only one example to make my case.  Under the pressure from civil society, Khaleda Zia ordered the arrest of Bangla Bhai sometime in the monsoon months in 2004.  While this was going on, the Bangla Bhai men had rallied in the streets of Rajshahi in an open motorcade.  The police super was present in the rally as the JMB goons brought their panoply of colorful motorcycle, trucks, and buses to streets of Rajshahi.  The goons were given protection by the law and order department of the Bangladesh government.  Who did block the arrest warrant for Bangla Bhai and his lieutenants in Dhaka?  Obviously, Khaleda Zia and his powerful ministers were behind this vile game.  They said one thing, however, did the quite opposite.

   Why did Khaleda Zia Administration bent on arresting the JMB leadership now?  There must be a reason or two.  The next national parliamentary election is looming and Khaleda Zia knows it well that there is a perception out there that her administration was behind the emergence of JMB as a political force.  The second reason is the persistent pressure from Washington.  Mr. Bush�s emissary, Assistant Secretary Rocca, visited Bangladesh not too long ago and she demanded an all out effort by the Bangladesh government to capture Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Siddiqul Islam aka Bangla Bhai.  When Washington talks, Khaleda Zia listens.  Thus, came the high profile arrest of JMB chief. 

   Isn�t it surprising to know from the media that Shaikh Abdur Rahman and his entourage had been living in a house for over a month in a densely populated city in northeastern part of Bangladesh?  The government of Khaleda Zia knew the whereabouts of JMB supremo all along, but her administration decided not to do anything about him.  Had she arrested the Shaikh earlier, there would have been a chaos in her administration.  The Jamaat wing of her administration would have been very dissatisfied with the arrest of JMB leadership.  But now, the political equation in Bangladesh was recomputed and the JMB goons were left to fend for themselves.  It is a small wonder that Khaleda Zia�s right hand man, Mannan Bhuiyan, the Secretary General of ruling BNP, does not like the characterization of the high-profile arrest of the Shaikh by the opposition.  Many an observer in Bangladesh holds the view that the arrest of Shaikh Rahman was stage-managed to garner wide publicity especially in the West.  President Bush may utter some kind words as he often does whenever President Pervez Musharraf tells the U.S. president that Pakistani authorities have arrested some al-Qaeda men. 

   The debate on whether Islamist zealots in Bangladesh, who are behind the widespread bombings for the last 5-6 years, were being protected by Khaleda Zia�s government will rage on in the media.  However, if one does a critical evaluation on the situation, the rise in Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh, one would surely find the connection between the Khaleda Zia Administration and the JMB leadership.  The way JMB godfathers behaved in the western districts of Bangladesh in the summer months of 2004, one would be hard pressed to believe that the leadership of JMB knew well that they would receive impunity from the government, which they did until now.  Blame it on the civil society or the Bush Administration, but the fact remains the same � the Islamists are in disarray at this time.  It is a matter of time when Bangla Bhai will be arrested who is now absconding.  Don�t forget for a moment that Khaleda Zia has an election to win late this year and on top of it, she needs the support of the Bush Administration.  The game of go hide and seek in Bangladesh is not done yet.  Only time will tell the extent of the nexus between the Islamists of JMB and the four-part alliance government in Bangladesh.

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