The United States government’s history of supporting Islamist radicals for immediate tactical gains have caused long-term threats in the Islamic world many times. From backing the Islamic brotherhood in Egypt’s Arab-spring to supporting the Pakistani military while they played both sides with the Taliban, the US has repeatedly found itself floundering in its efforts to fight asymmetric campaigns. The recent events and their recent actions in Bangladesh have given rise to questions about the US’s stance towards Islamist radicalism, and its impact on international relations.
The recent human rights report by the US State Department regarding Bangladesh has sparked concerns as it seems to support the Islamist outfit Jamaat-e-Islami, despite their history of hate campaigns and attacks against minority groups such as the Ahmadiyyas. The report, which is part of the regime change operations in Bangladesh, seeks to project Jamaat-e-Islami as a victim of harassment by law enforcement authorities, while ignoring the hate campaign the party is running. This raises questions about whether the US is once again backing Islamist radicals for its own strategic interests, a pattern that has been observed in other countries in the past.
US and Islamist radicals: A troubling history
The US has a long history of supporting Islamist radicals in other countries for its own strategic interests. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used Islamist radicals to bring down Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh regime when it threatened to nationalise Iran’s oil industry. Similarly, the CIA used Islamist radicals backed by Pakistan to torpedo Afghanistan’s Saur revolution that was making progress in terms of women’s emancipation and the end of clan-based feudalism. Moreover, the US also backed the Pakistani military in its attacks against India and the suppression of the 1971 Bengali uprising.
In Iraq, the US brought down Saddam Hussein using a fake scare about weapons of mass destruction. However, this created a vacuum that led to the rise of Islamic State or ISIS, which is heavily influenced by extremist ideology. The US-sponsored Arab spring ended Hosni Mubarak’s police state in Egypt but propelled the Islamic brotherhood to power. The US’s attempt to keep the Taliban out of Afghanistan with a parachuted liberal like Ashraf Ghani also failed, as Pakistan’s military-backed both NATO forces and the Taliban.
In Libya, the US provided support to Islamist militants who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, leading to the country’s descent into chaos and violence. Similarly, the US provided assistance to Syrian rebels, some of whom had ties to extremist Islamist groups, in an effort to topple Bashar al-Assad’s government. These actions have had lasting and devastating consequences, highlighting the dangers of using Islamist radicals as a tool for achieving geopolitical goals.
In Bangladesh, there are concerns that the US is repeating its ‘historical mistake’ of backing Islamist radicals for its own strategic interests. During the 1/11 Minus Two saga, Pranab Mukherjee, the former President of India, argued that Islamic radicals in Bangladesh had to be fought by “home-grown secular forces” rather than propped-up Bengali generals or US marines. Mukherjee’s argument prevailed, and Bangladesh saw a free and fair poll that brought the Awami League to power. Under the Awami rule, the country has made significant progress in tackling extremism and radicalism. The government has taken measures to counter violent extremism, and security forces have successfully apprehended and neutralised many extremist terrorist groups. Additionally, the Awami League has implemented policies to promote religious tolerance and pluralism, as well as economic development, which has reduced the appeal of extremist ideologies.
However, the US seems to be reverting to its old tactics of regime change using a mix of “civil society” figures, Trojan horses in the national power structure, and media assets. The US’s current strategy in Bangladesh seems to follow the Euromaidan model that worked in Ukraine in 2013, despite the fact that regional peculiarities must be taken into account.
The latest US human rights report appears to be part of the regime change operations in Bangladesh, seeking to boost the radical outfit Jamaat-e-Islami, which has, not long ago, unleashed a hate campaign against the Ahmadiyyas. The report also ignores the issues raised by the Ahmadiyya community with US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Peter Haas regarding the fundamentalist pro-Pakistan party’s boycott Ahmadiyya campaign and their efforts to declare the community as “un-Islamic.”
US deep state and its dangerous pattern!
The US deep state rarely conjures up new innovative operational plans, instead preferring to stick to an accepted template. The term “deep state” refers to a group of influential bureaucrats, intelligence officials, and other stakeholders who operate behind the scenes to shape government policies and decisions. In the case of Bangladesh, the US deep state appears to be using the same playbook that was used during the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine in 2013. This template involves supporting opposition groups that are seen as more aligned with US interests, creating political instability, and ultimately forcing regime change. Many of the same individuals who were involved in the Euromaidan operation are now involved in the regime change operations in Bangladesh.
However, there are significant differences between Ukraine and Bangladesh that may make it more difficult for the US deep state to achieve its objectives. Bangladesh has made significant progress in recent years in terms of economic development, poverty reduction, and social stability. For example, Bangladesh’s GDP growth rate was 5.2% in 2020, despite the global pandemic. Moreover, Bangladesh has successfully tackled extremism and radicalism, with terrorism-related incidents falling from 1,076 in 2015 to 120 in 2019. These achievements have helped to strengthen the legitimacy of the ruling government and may make it more difficult for the US deep state to create the conditions necessary for regime change.
The trouble with US approach
The US has a history of using Islamist radicals for its strategic interests, but this often leads to long-term threats. The 1953 CIA-backed coup in Iran that overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and the subsequent support of the Shah of Iran sowed the seeds of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The US’s support for Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s also created a breeding ground for extremism that eventually led to the rise of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Similarly, the US’s intervention in Iraq and its support for Sunni in Iraq in the 2000s paved the way for the rise of the ISIS.
The US policy establishment’s approach of using Islamist radicals for tactical gains has been criticised for ignoring the long-term threats it poses. In Bangladesh, the US’s latest human rights report has been criticised for projecting Jamaat-e-Islami, a fundamentalist political party, as a victim of harassment by law enforcement authorities while ignoring the hate campaign the party is running against the Ahmadiyyas, a religious minority. The report has also been criticised for not addressing the serious human rights violations committed by the party during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971, including rape, murder, and genocide. The US’s approach to Bangladesh has been criticised for being too focused on tactical gains and ignoring long-term threats to human rights and democracy.
To conclude, as the US deep state and policy establishment continue to follow a tired template for regime change in the country, it appears that they are once again turning to support Islamist radicals. The latest US human rights report seeks to boost the radical outfit Jamaat-e-Islami, even as it unleashes a hate campaign against the minority Ahmadiyyas. While the US’s strategy may work in some countries, it is not always effective and may have unforeseen consequences. The US should consider regional peculiarities and the long-term impact of its actions when determining its policies towards other countries. However, Bangladesh’s past experiences with US intervention show that home-grown secular forces are the best solution for fighting radical Islamists. It remains to be seen whether the US will take heed of these lessons and change its approach.