Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country, has long enjoyed a reputation of being a stable democracy with remarkable achievements in economic growth and human development. Its people, who belong to various classes, creeds, and religions, have coexisted peacefully for centuries, setting an example of religious harmony for the world.
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However, this harmony has been threatened by the emergence of Islamist extremism since 1999. These militants have launched attacks on various targets, including political opponents, intellectuals, journalists, judges, religious minorities, and the Ahmadiyya community. Although the government has managed to reduce the frequency and intensity of terrorist incidents since 2016, the Islamist threat remains. These groups continue to recruit new members and carry out low-intensity attacks, while plotting for more devastating acts of violence.
Resurgence of Terrorism in Bangladesh
Unlike most of the Indian Subcontinent; Bangladesh had to go through the struggle of independence twice. Once in 1947 and then in 1971. Bangabandhu was assassinated along with his family by some army members on August 15, 1975. His assassination occurred at a time when he was fully engaged in nation-building and was taking the country forward at a time when Bangladesh was struggling from the ruinous effects of a cycle, of war and famine.
After the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, in 1975, the country plunged into a period of political turmoil and violence. Bangladesh’s leaders failed to establish and nurture political institutions that could respond to the needs and aspirations of the people. Instead, they exploited and distorted the institutions to serve their own interests and agendas. Two military rulers, Ziaur Rahman (1975- 1981) and Ershad Ali (1985-1991) dominated the political scene for most of the post-Mujib era. They treated the institutions as instruments to achieve their political objectives, rather than as checks and balances to ensure accountability and democracy. They amended the constitution to legalize their coups, protect themselves from prosecution, and promote their Islamic identity to secure domestic and international legitimacy. Zia and Ershad’s proclivity for promoting Islamist ideals provided the scope for anti-liberation factions to return to Bangladesh’s seat of power. These factions had historic ties with pan-Islamic extremist extremism (that was advocated via the execution of terrorism); ideals that clashed with Bengali secularism.
Al-Qaeda Sympathizer BNP
The BNP, Bangladesh’s main opposition party, has a history of links with notorious terrorist groups and individuals. The party has been accused of collaborating with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, two of the most dangerous global extremist organizations. Moreover, the BNP has also maintained ties with regional militant groups that threaten the stability of South Asia, such as the ULFA, which seeks to secede from India’s Assam state. The BNP’s association with Paresh Baruah, a notorious rebel leader who masterminded several attacks against India, is another cause for concern.
The country’s development has been marred by Islamic movements such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Nezam-e-Islam, which have been active throughout the political and social turmoil. The influx of petrodollars from the Gulf states and the impact of the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s created favorable conditions for the recruitment of Islamist extremists. As a result, radical groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islam (HUJI) and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) emerged and posed serious threats to the security and stability of the country. Aided overtly and covertly by the then-ruling government: Bangladesh Nationalist Party, HUJI and JMB activities grew exponentially in strength and influence.
In a shocking revelation, it has been exposed that Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, the former home minister in the last BNP-led government, assured Mufti Abdul Hannan, the key figure behind the Islamist militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (Huji). Chowdhury reportedly guaranteed Hannan’s safety within the country, even allowing him to freely move around Dhaka. Furthermore, Hannan submitted a mercy petition to the then prime minister, Khaleda Zia; home minister, and several other ministers, receiving positive responses. There were assurances of his release, and some BNP leaders reportedly suggested withdrawing cases against the Huji leader.
Currently, four to five major terrorist groups are active in Bangladesh with varying degrees of influence and strength:
- Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB)
- Al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)
- Ansarallah Bangla Team (ABT)
- Ansar al-Islam (AI)
- Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (Activity and Presence Unconfirmed)
BNP’s Connection with Extremist Group: KEY POINTS
With BNP’s past track record of having connections with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, as well as regional terrorist outfits such as United Liberation Front of Assom (ULFA) and anti-India insurgency kingpins such as Paresh Baruah, this ultra-Islamist as part of its ongoing ‘India Out’ movement may involve global and regional terrorist groups against India thus posing serious security threats to the region.
Attempts to turn Bangladesh into a neo-Taliban state: Following its(BNP) foiled attempts to turn Bangladesh into a neo-Taliban state several rogue NGOs, media outlets, and controversial Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) at the direct instructions of its acting chairman Tarique Rahman – a convicted terrorist who is seen by the US authorities as “notorious and widely feared” and “symbol of kleptocratic government and violent politics in Bangladesh” – this ultra-Islamist and pro-Pakistan party has recently launched ‘India Out’ movement by xeroxing similar acts in Maldives, clearly with the target of instigating masses towards Islamism, jihadism, anti-Hindu and anti-India sentiment.
Cyber-activists of BNP and anti-India elements: Meanwhile, cyber activists of BNP and anti-India elements are intensifying ‘India Out’ propaganda on social media, while it has also been joined by the Bangladesh representative of Al Jazeera – the Qatari broadcast network which has been extremely hostile towards Sheikh Hasina and her government.
Pinaki as anti-India activist: According to an Indian website, sitting in France as an asylum-seeker, a self-proclaimed cyber activist Pinaki Bhattacharya is anti-Hindu and anti-India extremist. He has been regularly publishing contents defaming Hindu religion. It said, Pinaki became popular amongst radical Muslims and anti-India and anti-Hindu bloc in Bangladesh for his jihadist and anti-India publications. He persuaded Bangladeshi Muslims to wage jihad against the Hindus and join jihadist forces in Jammu and Kashmir in India.
BNP’s Anti-American Sentiment: It is essential to note that BNP and its Islamist partners have a history of harboring anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Western sentiments. These Islamist groups have been on record for setting fire to the American flag and chanting slogans like ‘Death to America’ or “We shall become Taliban, Bangla [Bangladesh] will be Afghanistan”.
It may be mentioned here that, following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on US soil, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did set up a new five-man base in Dhaka, but merely as part of a global policy of establishing a presence in all Muslim countries.
Insurgence of Islamic militants during BNP regime: During the 2001-2006 rule of the BNP-Jamaat Islamist coalition government, Bangladesh’s southern coastal hills and northern borders with India turned lawless and were bristling with Islamic militants armed by gunrunners en route from Cambodia and southern Thailand to Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Central Asia and the Middle East.
Subsequently, southern Bangladesh became a haven for hundreds of jihadis on the lam. They find natural allies in Muslim guerrillas from India hiding out across the border, and in Muslim Rohingyas, tens of thousands of whom fled the ethnic and religious suppression of the Burmese military junta in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Despite Bangladesh’s achievements, the resurgence of terrorism, especially during the BNP regime, has introduced challenges to its stability. With historical connections to extremist groups, the BNP’s alleged association with Al Qaeda and other regional outfits raises concerns. The ongoing ‘India Out’ movement and the involvement of anti-India elements, combined with a history of harboring anti-American sentiments, underscore the complex security landscape that Bangladesh currently navigates. The international community must remain vigilant in addressing these challenges to ensure the continued progress and stability of the nation.