In 1947, Pakistan emerged as an independent state as a consequence of the partition of India. Pakistan was divided into the Punjabi-dominated West and a Bengali-speaking East. The Indian land mass divided the two wings of Pakistan. The Bengali-dominated East Pakistan emerged as the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971 after facing ruthless military repression at the hands of the Pakistani Army. An indigenous nationalist movement, the Mukti Bahini with active Indian assistance helped the people of East Pakistan achieve statehood.
In its infancy, religion had very little role to play in Bangladesh polity, primarily because the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, following the Indian model, had sought to make the state a secular democratic republic. However, even during the turbulent period preceding the birth of Bangladesh, certain sections of the East Pakistani society, especially members of the Jamaat-e-Islami actively supported the Pakistani Army in perpetrating atrocities and were subsequently accused of complicity in the massacres that took place. Hence they were marginalised after the formation of Bangladesh. Before democratic institutions could take roots, Sheikh Mujib was assassinated and his regime overthrown in August 1975. In November 1975, General Ziaur Rehman seized power. Gen. Ziaur Rahman and his followers met in Kurmitola cantonment and drew the blueprint for a nationwide transformation from democratic secularism to nationalism. Gen. Ziaur Rahman was abetted by many intellectuals including newspaper editors, lawyers, barristers, educationists, businessmen, etc., when the Pakistani trained military man had consolidated his power. He sowed the seeds of radicalism by encouraging return of Islamist elements who had collaborated with the Pakistani Army and built ties with the Jamaat. This was done with a view to legitimizing his rule. General Ziaur Rehman was assassinated in May 1981. There was a brief period of civilian rule under a former Supreme Court Judge, Abdul Sattar. He was also overthrown in a military coup in March 1982. General H.M. Ershad took over the reigns of Bangladesh. During his tenure, both society and state continued to be Islamicized. General Ershad amended the constitution and declared Islam the state religion. Bangladesh limped back to civilian rule after the military ruler was ousted as a result of mass popular uprising. However, by this time the "Military-Islamist Complex" had taken roots in Bangladesh. Bangladesh had embarked on a journey to becoming Islamicized or more precisely 'Talibanized'.
The Militant Islamist Groups
In January 2005, a Bangladeshi human rights group had claimed that 31 Islamic militant outfits were operating in the country targetting non-Muslims and seeking to establish a "greater Islamic nation" including parts of some adjacent Indian states.
The Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) is reported to be the youth front of Al Mujahideen, the parent organization that began working in the mid 1990s and which has continued to remain obscure even today. Other organizations, such as Jama'atul Jihad, JMB, Ahle Hadith Andolan Bangladesh (AHAB), Ahle Hadith Jubo Shangha, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI), Hizbut Tawhid, Tawhidi Janata, Islami Jubo Shangha, Islami Shangha, Al Falah A'am Unnayan Shanstha and Shahadat-e al Hiqma are believed to be part of the Al Mujahideen network. JMB was reported to have been formed in 1998 in the Jamalpur district. While the exact origins of this group is not clear, its existence became known on May 20, 2002 with the arrest of eight Islamist militants at Parbatipur in the Dinajpur district along with 25 petrol bombs and documents detailing the outfit's activities. Subsequently, on February 13, 2003, the JMB is reported to have carried out seven bomb explosions in the Chhoto Gurgola area of Dinajpur town in which three persons were wounded. The Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Party of the Mujahideen) aims at establishing the rule of Islam in Bangladesh through an armed struggle. The outfit is opposed to the establishment of democracy and calls for the conduct of government under Islamic law. Thus the JMB's aim is to replace the current state of Bangladesh with an Islamic State. The JMJB follows the ideals of the Taliban militia and propagates a movement based on Jihad.
On March 30, 2007, six top militants of the JMB, including its 'supreme commander' Maulana Abdur Rahman and second-in-command, Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai were executed in different jails in Bangladesh. The other senior leaders of the outfit who were hanged were Majlish-e-Shura (the highest decision-making body) members Abdul Awal, Khaled Saifullah and Ataur Rahman Sunny and suicide squad member Iftekhar Hasan Al-Mamun. All of them had been pronounced guilty by the Supreme Court of involvement in the killing of two judges in Jhalakathi in November 2005.
Prior to the March 30, 2007 execution, JMB was led by a triumvirate consisting of its ‘supreme commander’ Abdur Rahman, a former activist of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Muhammad Asadullah al-Ghalib, an Arabic language lecturer at the Rajshahi University and chief of the Ahle Hadith Andolon Bangladesh (AHAB). Of these, Maulana Rahman was projected as spiritual leader of the organisation while Bangla Bhai functioned as the second-in-command and the outfit’s 'operational chief'. The outfit is known to maintain about 10,000 fulltime and 100,000 part-time cadres.
The Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI) meaning Movement of Islamic Holy War was established in 1992, reportedly with assistance from Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front. It is a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist organization whose activities extend not only within Bangladesh but also in India. On April 30, 1992, several of the HuJI leaders addressed a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka and demanded that Bangladesh be converted into an Islamic State. The HuJI is led by Shawkat Osman alias Sheikh Farid. Imtiaz Quddus is the general secretary of the outfit. HuJI aims to establish Islamic Hukumat (rule) in Bangladesh by waging war and killing progressive intellectuals. It draws inspiration from bin Laden and the erstwhile Taliban regime of Afghanistan. The slogan, Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban, Bangla Hobe Afghanistan (We will all become Taliban and we will turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan) itself speaks volumes about the radicalisation of Bangla society and polity.
With an estimated 2,000 dedicated fighters among 15,000 odd members, HuJI is closely affiliated with Al Qaeda and is a member of Bin Laden’s International Islamic Front.
The coastal area stretching from the port city of Chittagong south through Cox's Bazaar to the Myanmarese border, notorious for piracy, smuggling and arms running, is the principal area of activity of the HuJI.
The madrassas have been a major source of recruits for HuJI. The group reportedly maintains six camps in the hilly areas of Chittagong, where its cadres are trained in the use of weapons. Unconfirmed reports have also indicated that it maintains six training camps near Cox's Bazaar.
The HuJI cadres allegedly also infiltrate frequently into the eastern corridor of India to maintain contacts with terrorist and subversive outfits of the region.
Although there is no authoritative information on the actual cadre strength, most reports mention it to be around 15,000. Several of these recruits were trained in the Kormi and Kasia areas of Bangladesh. Further, many hundred recruits were reportedly trained at various training camps in Afghanistan, primarily during the reign of the Taliban.
The HuJI reportedly receives financial assistance from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan through Muslim Non-Governmental Organisations in Bangladesh, including the Adarsa Kutir, Al Faruk Islamic Foundation and Hataddin.
Since 2002, some of the major terrorist strikes that have been carried out in India (outside Kashmir), have been attributed to HuJI. It is reported to have the backing of some sections of the Bangladesh polity, the army and intelligence agencies and may have been engaged by ISI and other Pakistan based groups to carry out terrorist activities within India.
Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) meaning Awakened Muslim Masses of Bangladesh is an Islamist vigilante outfit that espouses the ideals of the Taliban. It has been reported in the Bangladeshi media that the JMJB is an outgrowth of the Islamist militant outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
When the JMJB first came in the news in April 2004, it was also known by other names like Mujahidin Alliance Council, Islami Jalsha and Muslim Raksha Mujahideen Oikya Parishad.
JMJB does not approve of the prevailing political system in Bangladesh and that it aspires to "build a society based on the Islamic model laid out in Holy Quran-Hadith." Its stated objective is neutralizing the left-wing extremists, especially the cadres of the PBCP and its professed long-term goal is to usher in an ‘Islamic revolution’ in Bangladesh through Jihad.
The JMJB reportedly has a three-tier organisation. The first tier of the outfit consists of activists called Ehsar who are recruited on a full-time basis and act at the behest of the leadership. The second tier, known as Gayeri Ehsar, has over 100,000 part-time activists. The third tier involves those who indirectly co-operate with the JMJB.
The JMJB created strong bases mostly in north-west Bangladesh, in the districts of Rajshahi, Satkhira, Naogaon, Bagerhat, Jessore, Chittagong, Joypurhat, Natore, Rangpur, Bogra, Chittagong, and Khulna. It has allegedly spread its network to most Madrassas (seminaries) and other educational institutions in these districts.
The outfit also established at least 10 camps at Atrai and Raninagar in the Naogaon district, Bagmara in Rajshahi district, and Naldanga and Singra in Natore district. There have been reports of JMJB recruits being given training through recorded speeches of Osama bin Laden and the video footages of warfare training at the Al Qaeda's Farooque camp (now defunct) in Afghanistan.
Some JMJB leaders reportedly stated that the outfit is headquartered in Dhaka. However, media reports indicated all activities of the organisation revolving around Jamalpur.
JMJB cadres during their vigilante operations in 2004 were seen with firearms. They also reportedly wielded swords, other sharp weapons, hammers and hockey sticks. JMJB also had access to crude explosives.
Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) headed by Mofakkar Chowdhury is one of the many Maoist splinter organizations in Bangladesh. It was formed in 1968 after splitting with the Bangladesh Communist Party (BCP). It has been outlawed since the military regime of Zia-ur-Rehman. However, there has been a spurt in the activities of the PBCP since 2002.
Like Maoist groups around the world, the objective of the PBCP is capturing state power through armed struggle. Its draws inspiration from the Chinese revolution. In the opinion of the PBCP, oppression by the people of the then West Pakistani was the principal reason that lead to the liberation war in the territories of the then East Pakistan following which Bangladesh was formed. The PBCP is strongly opposed to the presence of feudal elements in Bangladesh. Ideologically, it is closer to the Marxist-Leninist groups of India and desires to launch a joint movement along with progressive parties in India, particularly the Naxalites of West Bengal. The PBCP is hopeful that China would, at some time in the future, provide significant assistance in realising its goals. The PBCP operates in south-west Bangladesh, bordering the Indian State of West Bengal. Its presence can be noticed in districts such as Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Magura, Meherpur, Narail, Kushtia, Jessore, Jhenidah, Chuadanga and Pirojpur.
PBCP cadres have reportedly been involved in acts of murder, robbery, extortion, land grabbing and abduction for ransom. Like the mafia, they are allegedly involved in settling land disputes in rural areas. In the process of adjudicating disputes, PBCP cadres collect money through their strong-arm tactics from both the parties to a dispute. In its strongholds, the PBCP levies a ‘tax’ on civil contractors who undertake construction works such as laying roads and bridges and constructing culverts and schools. This has resulted in impeding development work in southwest Bangladesh. The PBCP also publishes a journal Purba Bangla, meaning East Bengal.
Islami Chhatra Shibir is the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, which came into existence in 1941.
A person at the time of joining the organisation is considered as Karmi, meaning worker. When a Karmi meets a predefined standard of knowledge, rituals, moral status and leadership quality, he is promoted to a Shathi meaning comrade. When a Shathi is able to meet a higher standard of knowledge, rituals, moral status and leadership quality, he is promoted to a Shadashawa meaning member.
Nurul Islam Bulbul is the Central President of the ICS. Mohammed Nazrul Islam is the Secretary General of the outfit. Other important leaders are: Kamal Ahmed Sikder, A S M Faruq, Muhammad Mujibur Rahman Manju, Muhammad Raisul and A S M Ashraf Mahmud Uzzal. The Executive Council is the highest decision-making body of the outfit.
The group's objectives, inter alia, are to change the existing system of education on the basis of Islamic values, to inspire students to acquire Islamic knowledge and to prepare them to take part in the struggle for establishing Islamic way of life. A very important aim of the outfit is to establish an Islamist regime on the Taliban model in Bangladesh similar to the one that existed in Afghanistan. Consequently, the outfit is opposed to forces of modernization, secularism and democracy. The group is one of the strongest student fronts in the Universities of Chittagong, Dhaka, Rajshahi and Jahangirnagar. It is also emerging as a dominant group in the Khulna and Sylhet Universities. Within the vast madrassa (religious seminary) structure in Bangladesh, this group is reported to be a dominant and uncontested organisation.
The Shibir also been maintaining close links with the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and has been working to support Islamist subversive agenda particularly in areas bordering Bangladesh. It is also reportedly has close links with various terrorist outfits operating in South Asia and Afghanistan.
(to be continued)
 "Abode of War." A land ruled by infidels that might, through war, become the "Abode of Islam," dar-ul-Islam. In the nineteenth century, some Muslims argued that India had become dar-ul-harb because of British rule.
1. South Asian Terrorism Portal www.satp.org