of Talibans in Bangladesh in
the Face of Her Historical Burden
It was the last week of November 2001. The September
Eleven tragedy was still fresh in the collective memory of majority of the
Americans. I got a phone call from an associate of a man who carried
enough clout in the Republican Party of USA. He asked me if I
could spare a few moments with his chief. Initially I felt a little
bit apprehensive interacting with somebody whom I hardly knew. Nonetheless,
I decided to utilize the opportunity to be face-to-face with somebody who
had been a familiar figure in U.S. media for quite sometime.
In a cold winter morning I went to the office of this "well
connected" policy analyst. Located in the downtown Washington,
the neatly decorated office was not too far from the Capitol Hill. I
was greeted at the door and the discussion started in no time. We
touched upon such subjects as Islamic fundamentalism and its impact
globally. In course of our discussion, the topics of 1971's Pakistani
army sponsored Genocide in Bangladesh and the role of Islamic fascist war
criminals were covered. The listener appeared to be quite receptive. It
was quite obvious that memories of the painful chapter of Bangladesh
tragedy were making me a bit emotional. The bygone days of a
nation's struggle for freedom from colonial subjugation, being pawn in a
Cold War chess game, Nixon-Kissinger' s wholehearted support for brutal
Yahya junta-lots of surreal sequences rushed through my mind. After a
while, as our discussion was almost over, I got a friendly gesture from
the host. It seemed he could conceive the logical pattern of Islamic
fascism in South Asia as it evolved in occupied Bangladesh of 1971. Thus,
an untold chapter of Islamic terrorism, happened in an obscure Third World
country which was brought to the attention of a sympathetic listener
belonging to a very influential power base of America.
The genesis of Bangladesh may disclose an unnerving saga. Knowingly
or unknowingly, we are carrying a huge burden of history. While US
policy makers were making good use of Islamist card whenever the need was
acute, many Third World nations suffered miserably at the hand of the
blood thirsty Islamic fascists. With historical patronage, a well
groomed "pro-West" Islamic fascists' global entity was gradually
becoming a Frankenstein's monster. That is why, while the rookie
Islamic fascists practiced blood spilling on Bangladeshis in Rayer
Bazar killing field of Dhaka in 1971, the final showdown came upon America
on September 11, 2001 in a big thunderous way.
What happened in Rayer Bazar in 1971? Who were the killers and who
were killed? Weren't the killers pioneers of Islamic fascism of
twentieth century, members of death squads like Al-Badr and Al-Shams and
Jamaat-i-Islami? Weren't those evil forces supported and patronized by
Pakistani military junta of 1971?
The following excerpt from a book on genocide in Bangladesh will take us
back to a different space and time. To the killing field located in
the outskirts of Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in the year 1971.
After the surrender of the Pakistan army on December 16, the
mass graves at Mirpur and Mohammadpur were unearthed to reveal the corpses
of the dead sons and daughters of Bangladesh. Accounts of the discovery
shocked and horrified the entire world.
MASS GRAVES: AN EYEWITTNESS ACCOUNT
Rahman, in her article "Katasurer Baddhabhumi"
(The Mass Grave at Katasur), describes her visit to Rayer Bazar.
I soon came upon two huge bodiesthe noses had been cut off, the ears
too. It seemed as if someone had torn away pieces of flesh
from near their mouths. Their hands and feet were tied. The corpses
had lain there for two days because they hadn't been identified. I cannot
forget the distorted, mutilated faces of those two tall, fair men.
Afterwards the people of that area buried the bodies where they lay.
A few steps ahead, at the foot of a mound of earth, lay a woman's
corpse. The woman's eyes had been tied. The gamchha (towel) with which
her eyes had been tied was still lying there. She was wearing a
black Dhakai sari. On one foot she had on a sock. There was
nothing left of her face. It seemed as if someone had torn and cut
away the flesh so that she would not be recognized. The woman was
fair and slightly plump. One breast had been cut off. The corpse was lying
on its back. I could not stand the sight of that horrible, featureless
face for very long. I could not recognize her. Afterwards she was
identified as Selina Parveen, Editor of Shilalipi. When her relatives
heard the news, they came in the evening and took her body away.
Proceeding a little farther, I came upon a skeleton with a little
flesh still clinging to its legs and to its rib cage. Perhaps crows and
vultures had eaten the flesh. The long hair attached to the skull,
matted with dirt and mud, bore silent witness that this corpse had
once been a woman.
Ahead of me l saw a group of people standing on a raised
portion of land, looking down at something. As I reached them, one of
them reached out a hand and pulled me up beside them.
Looking down at the swamp in front, I saw a horrible
sight. There weren't just one or two corpses there; there were twelve
or thirteen bodies of what had once been twelve or thirteen healthy, strapping
men. They were lying there, one after the other. Next to this group
of bodies lay the corpses of two men; the heart had been torn out
from one of the bodies. This body was that of Dr. Rabbi.
On a nearby stack were the bodies of Yakub Ali, chairman of
the Ramna Union, and Sirajuddin Hossain of the Ittefaq.
Someone next to me said that Munier Chowdhury's body had also been found here.
Kabir Chowdhury had come in the morning and identified the body.
I was there for about an hour. I could not come away. One by one people
kept on coming. Dr. Rabbi's corpse seemed still fresh. His killers
had torn away his heart. They knew that he was a cardiologist, that
is why they had torn out his heart. His eyes had been tied, and he
had fallen down. It seemed as if someone had pushed him into
the ditch. The legs still seemed to belong to a living man.
His face had been scratched and torn by the nails of his killers.
An eye doctor of the caliber of Dr. Aleem Chowdhury will not be produced
in one day; a journalist and writer of the calibre of Shahidullah
Kaiser will not be created in one day either. That such a brutal
killing would be committed on the very day that we got our independence
was something no one would ever have believed.
Field after field, mound after mound, marsh after marsh yielded
corpse after corpse, silent witnesses to the countless numbers who had
been brought here to be killed .
The above gory details are testament to the brutality of Islamic fascists
who terrorized the freedom-loving Bangladeshis for most of the nine months
of 1971. Incredible as it may sound, today, two of the ring leaders
who were directly responsible for committing such heinous crime are
notable ministers of Bangladesh government. And as I said already,
the war criminals do not pose any direct threat to U.S. interest. So,
their presence in Khaleda Zia's cabinet does not seem to be an eyesore to
western democracies. But, deeper assessment of Islamist politics in
South Asian region may portray a disturbing picture. Khalid Duran in
his analytical essay on Islamic terrorist network identified
Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan as a strong patron of the shadowy forces of
Taliban and al-Qaeda. It goes without saying Jamaat-i-Islami parties
of Pakistan and Bangladesh are inter-linked on a historical premise. Also,
the close connection between Jamaat-i-Islami and most other
anti-Western Islamic outfits in Pakistan is an open secret now. As
U.S. led coalition started to eradicate terror network from Afghanistan,
Jamaat-i-Islami joined all other Islamic fundamentalist forces to indulge
in anti-U.S. agitation on the streets. What is good for geese is also good
for gender. The same scenario occurred in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Unlike a good number of army strongmen of Arab countries their South Asian
counterparts were historically pro-Western in nature. While main
power broker army leaders of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria or Turkey were
noticeably secular, army rulers in Pakistan or Bangladesh were
significantly non-secular and tended to be appeasers of Islamists. USA
and many Western countries became the beneficiaries of army rulers such as
General Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan, General Zia-ul Huq of Pakistan or
General Ziaur Rahman and General H.M. Ershad of Bangladesh. It goes
without saying all those rulers came to the echelon of power through a
mischievous way. And most of their power base depended on the
support of Islamists in their respective countries. In most of the
sixties, seventies, and eighties the so-called Muslim fundamentalists were
the good guys in the eyes of West. So, the concept of "good
fundamentalists" evolved during this era.
Jamaat-i-Islami was considered to be the "good
fundamentalists" during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971.
Although this party was directly responsible for killing unarmed civilians
especially Bangladeshi intellectuals, the party played a pivotal role of
enhancing Pak army junta's agenda. The brutal acts of the Bangladeshi
Islamic fascists was nothing short of being privy to a genocide. But
the crime against humanity did not impact the foreign policy direction of
most of the Western nations involved in South Asia's geopolitical
chess game of 1971. In essence, the Jamaatis were slaughtering
Bangladeshi academicians, journalists, artists in droves; but they hardly
posed any threat to U.S. interest in any part of the world. At the time
the murderer fascists did not plan to harm American civilians at home or
abroad. But things have changed dramatically. Today, we are
appalled to see the degree of brutality inflicted upon journalist Daniel
Pearl. In 1971, Bangladesh nation lost scores of "Bangladeshi
Daniel Pearls" at the hands of merciless Islamic fascists. And
the whole world especially the powerful west looked the other way.
On December 16, 1971 Bangladesh became independent as a result of
political, diplomatic and military support from India and the Soviet bloc
countries. It was quite natural the new administration of the new republic
got a cold shoulder from most of the Western countries. So it hardly
mattered to many key players of world scene as the first Bangladesh
administration led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman followed a secular and
democratic path of governance.
Sheikh Mujib made overtures to win friends in the West, but his appeal
resonated like a voice in the wilderness. The country's entanglement
with Indo-Soviet axis made already paranoid West to be distrustful of
Sheikh Mujib administration. Those were the early days of the nascent
republic. In this particular situation, the Saudi Arabia and a few other
Gulf countries, Pakistan and much of the West were cynical of the future
of Bangladesh. The assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with
most of his family members on August 15, 1975, which is widely believed to
be the work of Islamists tied to Pakistani intelligence, cleared the
path to change the status quo for good. This bloody chapter in
Bangladesh history paved the way to bring in the war criminals of
Bangladesh liberation war, the Islamic fascist Jamaatis, into country's
political arena. It is as if Nazis coming to power in post-Second
World War Germany. After 1975, Bangladesh went stage-by-stage in a
perpetual motion of Islamization. To add insult to injury, two army
generals, namely Ziaur Rahman and H.M. Ershad were responsible for
shattering the country's secular fabric.
On 8th March, 2002, Khaled Ahmed wrote a piece titled "Language
and religion in Bangladesh" in The Friday Times of Pakistan. A
quotation from the essay may better explain the role of General Ziaur
Rahman in leading Bangladesh towards Islamization.
"Sheikh Mujib gave Bangladesh a secular constitution in 1972 and
asked the Hindus to come back, promising them restitution of property. His
assassination brought to power the..... general Zia-ur-Rahman who changed
Article 12 of the Constitution in 1977 through proclamation and removed
secularism as one of the guiding principles. He later regularized it
through the 5th Amendment in a parliament dominated by his Bangladesh
National Party (BNP). To reflect the faith of the majority of the country
he put Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim at the beginning of the Constitution and
Sheikh Mujib's ban on religious parties.
General Zia-ur-Rahman was killed after 20 military revolts against him in
a year. ... in the army were overpowered by the repatriates led by General
Ershad who introduced the 8th Amendment through his Jatio Party majority,
naming Islam as the religion of the state. After 20 years of direct and
indirect army rule in Bangladesh, Islamization has taken root, and
religious parties are rapidly spreading their communal message at the
grassroots level. Of the four main parties of Bangladesh, three openly
defend Islamisation, while Awami League has muted the pledge of its return
to secularism. This state of affairs was reversed in 1997 when Awami
came to power again, but its appeal did not last into the new millennium.
Today Bangladesh is well set in its destabilising pattern of pendulum
swings between language and religious nationalisms.
Yes, once again the pendulum swung in favor of Bangladeshi Islamists as
they have won a sizable majority in the nation's last parliamentary
election. They have now the constitutional authority to change
constitution, national anthem, flag and anything someone may think of. As
soon as the result of the election was announced, the first assault came
on religious minorities. The ugly face of Islamic fascism was unmasked as
the BNP-Jamaat coalition cadres went on a rampage to terrorize country's
religious minorities. The minority Hindus were singled out to be a
main obstacle to the rapid Islamization process of the country. As
the campaign of harassing and subjugating Bangladeshi Hindus was carried
on methodically, torture and rape became a common scene. It was déjà
vu all over again! The situation became so much intolerable that many
of the Hindu citizens had no other choice but
to abandon their property altogether. Human rights organizations have been
following the sad saga closely. Recently, a fact sheet on Bangladeshi
minority persecution has been compiled. That was produced to U.S.
Congressman Joseph Crowley, a leading member of Congressional Bangladesh
In the late seventies, a pro-western army ruler, Ziaur Rahman, opened the
door to the Islamic terrorists who went underground en masse to avoid the
revenge of Bangladeshi victims. Ideologically speaking, these
political elements with dangerous mindset were aligned with most
pro-western Islamist groups. Soviet invasion in Afghanistan and the
floodgate of petro-dollars helped proliferate the cause of Islamism in
Bangladesh. During the eventful period of late seventies two
incredible political developments were noticed in Bangladesh society. Number
one was, gradual diminishing of Bangladesh genocide episode from the
collective consciousness of Bangladeshi masses and the number two was,
subtle eclipse of secular values in the society.
Islamists are extraordinarily skillful in the art of deception. They
could be pathological liars to enhance their agenda. A great percentage of
young Bangladeshis who were raised after nineteen seventies do not have
any clue about the crime against humanity committed by Bangladeshi
Islamists. Similarly, today, the Islamist propaganda machinery favoring
the criminals of the September Eleven attack on America is successful in
attaining its goal. USA Today on February 27, 2002 provided a front
page story on Islamic World's view on 9/11 attack. It covered the
result of a Gallup poll where sixty-one percent of the respondents said
Arabs were not involved in the September 11 attacks. The poll also
disclosed the mindset of the majority of the populations in countries like
Kuwait, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon and Turkey. The poll
showed a great majority of the citizens in those countries believed U.S.
led campaign against terrorism was morally unjustified.
Getting back to the story of Islamization in Bangladesh let me resurrect
the sad but violent departure of the first military strongman of
Bangladesh. General Ziaur Rahman's sudden departure from Bangladesh
political scene resulting from a bloody coup left the country's
Islamization process in jeopardy for a while. Enter General Ershad
and his regime took the mantle from the predecessor in no time.
During the period of 1982 to 1991 the country experienced proliferation of
religion-based schools, popularly known as Madrassahs. There was no
control; mushroom growth of Madrassahs in all the nooks and corners of
Bangladesh gave rise to thousands of Islamic zealots of Bangladeshi
variety. They were the epitomes of Bangladeshi Talibans.
Like General Ziaur Rahman, General Hussain Mohammad Ershad became a
darling of the Oil Sheikhs. The pouring of petro-dollars helped
strengthen parties like Jamaat-i-Islami and its student fronts. Chittagong
University, historically a secular dominated educational institution soon
became a Mecca for the Islamic zealots. Although General Ershad kept
a iron grip on power, armed training of the Islamist youth groups were
done in almost broad daylight. According to some reports, financial
backers of such "project" were a few Middle Eastern countries
that included Libya and Iraq as well. During Ershad era, droves of
Bangladeshi holy warriors left their ancestral land to join fighting in
Lebanon and Afghanistan. Yossef Bodansky, Director of Congressional
Task Force on Terrorism & Unconventional Warfare mentioned Bangladeshi
Islamist zealots in one of his essays. I am quoting from Bodansky's
"Beijing's surge for the strait of Malacca" which he wrote a few
That setback did not diminish the promise of Thailand operations. Indeed,
Iran and Pakistan soon transformed Thailand into a safe heaven for
Islamist terrorists for the entire East Asia. Dozens of networks with
members from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Syria are operating in
Bangkok alone. Others are based in tourist resorts in predominantly Muslim
area, primarily Pattaya, Phuket and Hat Yai (northern and southern
Another alarming scenario was presented by Vikram Chobe in his "Osama
Bin Laden: Upholding the Tradition of Jihad" essay. I am giving
a few lines from this pre 9/11 piece.
The Indian Intelligence recently discovered that Bin Laden is generously
donating funds to the Pakistan-based extremist outfit
Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which has contacts with the Dhaka-based Bangladesh
Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami. Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami has been assigned the
task of recruiting Bangladeshi and Indian Muslims to fight in Kashmir
under the command of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The bureau has also discovered
that the Dhaka-based terrorist organization has already recruited 1,000
Muslims who will be trained in the terrorist training camps at Kormi and
Kasia in Bangladesh.
The fallout of the terrorist attack on America is being felt among the
expatriate South Asian community in USA. While a great majority of the
detainees on U.S. mainland are of Arab and Pakistan origin, the presence
of a few Bangladeshis has been authenticated by reliable source. The
American Taliban John Walker Lindh said in an interview that Afghanistan's
Mullah Omar's body guards composed of Bangladeshis also. In a CNN
interview, Walker Lindh said that two important languages spoken in
al-Qaeda power center were Urdu and Bengali. Bangladesh born U.S. Navy
Chaplain, Lt. Abu Hena M. Saiful Islam had joined the Joint Task Force at
Guantanamo Bay more than a month ago.. In a recent interview with an
American news agency, Lt. Islam said his media of communication with the
detainees at Camp X-Ray were Urdu and Bengali. It is quite probable
that there could be a handful of Taliban or al-Qaeda detainees at the camp
who are of Bangladesh descent.
As I was concluding this essay, an important news story in today's
Washington Post (March 15, 2002; pp A3) drew my attention. John
Mintz's "From Veil of Secrecy, Portraits of U.S. Prisoners
Emerge" disclosed national origins of the detainees at Camp X-Ray. I
am quoting a few lines from this revealing write-up.
"….According to Arabic newspapers, U.S. forces in Afghanistan are
holding nationals from several Central Asian Republics, as well as Jordan,
Syria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia and some Kurds
from Iraq, although officials of some of those governments say they know
nothing about such detention."
The October 1 election in Bangladesh gave a breathing space for
Bangladeshi Islamists. Although the conduct of the election was
controversial to some extent, most of the foreign observers found "no
irregularities" paving the way for the Islamic zealots to share state
power with the right of center Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The
former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's stubbornness regarding
non-commitment of gas sale to India alienated the Clinton White House.
The hard fact of life is, for the sake of enhancement of western free
economy, a secular Awami League became less attractive than a Islamic
fundamentalist dominated Bangladesh Nationalist Party. In this
volatile world, religious zealotry and oil politics are intertwined to a
great length. For the time being, the presence of Islamists in
Bangladesh government may not pose any apparent threat to U.S. foreign
policy maneuver. However, any covert patronization of global Islamist
cause might be detrimental to U.S. interest in the long run. It
is about the time American policy makers watch events in Bangladesh more
closely and plan on the future course of bilateral relations based upon
correct assessment on the ground. We don't want the re-play of
post-Soviet Afghan drama in Bangladesh, do we?