Pakistan portraying Indo-Bangladesh offensives on radical Islamic militancy as “state sponsored terrorism”

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

In a recently published research report conducted by Abdullah Khan, the Managing Director of Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), counterterrorism and counter-militancy initiatives of Bangladesh and India are portrayed as “state sponsored terrorism”. It said Islamic State (ISIS) is “provoked by the governments of India and Bangladesh which are known for their ‘state-sponsored terrorism’ against the Muslim communities”. The report claims, “Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are under a new threat of the deadly terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS), also called Daesh, resulting from a major shift from the Middle East.”

According to the PICSS report, ‘Wilayat-e-Hind’ (WeH) is the new chapter of Daesh which is quickly attracting the educated youth in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, and promoting its radical Islamic and antisemitic ideology.

The study titled “Prospects of Daesh’s Expansion in South Asia” says that an unorganised presence of WeH militants has been identified in parts of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other countries of the South Asian region. The WeH operates as an Indian chapter of the ISIS which was formally announced in 2016.

It highlights that the Indian citizens, especially from Kerala State, find ISIS more attractive than any other radical Islamic militancy group and at least 54 people from Kerala have announced to join the ISIS during the past three years.

“Those who have joined the Wilayat-e-Hind are well-educated and most of them are engineers, doctors and MBA degree holders. Indian citizens are mostly joining Khorasan chapter of Daesh than the core group in Syria or Iraq. However, the possible launching route of Indian ISIS members to Afghanistan is not clear yet,” the study reads.

Criticizing the counter-militancy initiatives of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Abdullah Khan told Pakistan Today, “…… the WeH Bangladesh chapter was another surprise addition where the so-called secular regime of Prime Minister Hasina was targeting religious Muslim groups under a witch-hunt drive.”

Here, Pakistani research group falsely portrays notorious radical Islamic militancy groups such as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), Ansar Al Islam (AAI), Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) and the student front of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JIB) as “Muslim groups” with the ulterior motive of misleading the global and in particular Western counterterrorism bodies.

The report said, “The ongoing targeting of scholars linked to Jamat-e-Islami and other religious right-wing outfits has provoked educated youth to take up arms. On November 7, 2015, Dr Sajit Debnath, aka Muhammad Saifullah Ozaki [from Bangladesh], gave a lecture to the audience at the Asia Pacific Conference at Ritsumeikan University. The topic of the lecture was Womenomics in Business. But this was one of the last public appearances of Dr Sajit before he disappeared along with his family in December 2015. Dr Sajit is a PhD and was considered an expert on the Islamic finance and economic theory. Later, he announced to join the ISIS.”

Abdullah Khan said that Daesh has successfully replaced Al-Qaeda as global champion of terror and it uses the concept of Khilafah [Caliphate] to inspire Muslim youth [in waging war against non-Muslims – particularly Jews, Hindus and Christians] from around the globe.

“The concept of Khilafah [Caliphate] is the next level of the concept of global Jihad or ultimate goal of global Jihad. The conquering of most parts of Iraq and Syria helped IS get a global attraction. Some Pakistani and Afghan Taliban commanders and commanders of some smaller groups got in contact with ISIS,” he said.

According to Khan, Abdur Rauf Khadim, an Afghan Taliban Commander from southern Afghanistan and former Guantanamo detainee, Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost, were the first to join ISIS and propagate for the ISIS.

Abdullah Khan also sheds light over Khurasan chapter’s different approach to recruit militants.

“In this part of the world, ISIS focused on making allies. Except for Afghan Taliban, the ISIs is pursuing a policy of cooperation instead of confrontation with other militant groups of the region. It found an ally in the form of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Aalami (LeJ-A),” he said, adding that Daesh was part of the five-member alliance formed against Pakistan in Paktia in 2016, including TTP, JuA, LI, LeJ-A.

“Differences have developed with Lashkar-e-Islam as they are fighting at some places, but cooperation with other groups continues. He said that ISIS Khorasan militants have developed an arch along Pakistani border to target the local areas and are interested in waging a war from the Afghan soil.

“The arch was developed by creating bases of ISIS militants in Badakhshan, Nuristan, Kuner and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan,” he added.

Khan argued that the ISIS terrorists had resorted to guerrilla-style attacks and they are capable of penetrating high-security zone of the Afghan capital.

“The quality of attacks and ability of ISIS militants to inflict heavy losses on the enemy is improving.  More militants from Syria and Iraq are joining Khorasan chapter which will further enhance operational capabilities of the group,” he stated.

Asked about the ideological aspects of ISIS terrorists, Abdullah Khan reacted that the group professes extremist views of Islam and mostly people from Deobandi and Salafi (Ahle-e-Hadith) schools of thought have joined the group in the region.

Romance between ISIS and Hefazat e Islam:

Hefazat e Islam (HeI), an Islamist group formed in 2010 under the leadership of Ahmad Shafi, the chief of Hathazari Madrassa in Bangladesh. This group comprises thousands of madrassa teachers and students. It may be recalled here, there are over ninety thousand Qaomi [Koranic] madrassas in Bangladesh. This group clearly confronts democracy, empowerment of women, secular institutions and individuals and demands enactment Sharia rule. HeI has connections with various Islamist groups including Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh (JIB), Khelafat Andolan, Khelafat Majlist and Islami Oikya Jote [Islamist Unity Front]. It also enjoys direct support from Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jatiyo Party.

In 2013 Hefajat-e-Islam was reformed after the allegation that some of the protesters in the Shahbagh protests demanding trial of the war criminals, were involved in publishing of content offensive to Muslims on blogs, including the depiction of the Prophet of Islam as a pornographic character. They arranged a rally towards capital city Dhaka, demanding enaction of capital punishment of the “atheist bloggers” involved in the Shahbag movement and a blasphemy law.

The 13 points of the Islamist group includes:

  1. Restore the phrase “Complete faith and trust in the Almighty Allah” in the constitution,
  2. Pass a law in parliament keeping a provision of the capital punishment of death sentence to prevent defaming Islam,
  3. Taking measures for stringent punishment of self-declared atheists and bloggers, who led the Shahbagh movement, and “anti-Islamists” who made derogatory remarks against Muhammad. Also taking steps to stop the spread of “propaganda”,
  4. Stopping infiltration of all “alien-culture”, including “shamelessness” in the name of individual’s freedom of expression, anti-social activities, adultery, free mixing of males and females and candle-lighting. Stopping harassment of women, open fornication and adultery, sexual harassment, all forms of violence against women and an end to the tradition of dowry,
  5. Make Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels canceling the women policy and anti-religion education policy,
  6. Officially declare Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslim,
  7. Stopping erection of sculptures at intersections, schools, colleges and universities across the country,
  8. Lifting restrictions on prayersfor ulema in all mosques across the country, including Baitul Mukarram  National Mosque in Bangladesh,
  9. Stopping Anti-Islamiccontent in media,
  10. Halt to anti-Islam activities by NGOs across the country, including in the Chittagong Hill Tracts; Hefazat fears a “foreign conspiracy” to separate Chittagong Hill Tracts from Bangladesh and “make it a Christian state”,
  11. Stop attacks and extrajudicial killing of ulema,
  12. Stopping harassment of teachers and students of Qawmi madrassas [Koranic schools]  and Ulema,
  13. Freedom for all arrested ulemaand madrassa students and withdrawal of all cases filed against them, compensation for the victims, and bringing the assailants to justice.

In my opinion, the above mentioned 13-point demands pressed by HeI was clearly destined as transforming a secular Bangladesh into another caliphate.

According to BBC Bangla Service, “The government of Sheikh Hasina has sought to treat Hefazat softly, and preferred to engage in negotiation.”

Commenting on Hefazat e Islam, English newspaper the Dhaka Tribune, “The radical group also scored a victory when PM Hasina recognised top Qawmi madrasa degree Dawrah-e-Hadith as equivalent to post-graduate degrees, attracting protests from many secular-leaning organisations and individuals.”

In a report titled ‘Bangladesh’s radical Muslims uniting behind Hefazat-e-Islam’, the Guardian quoting a leader of the organization wrote, “Hefazat had previously kept a low profile.”It represents poor people, with little education, mainly country folk, who have always been despised by the urban middle classes. There is nothing transnational or terrorist about the movement, but it may become more radical if it is sidelined,” says Farhad Mazhar, a political commentator. Hefazat enjoys the support of millions of believers, thanks to the control it exerts over the vast majority of Qur’anic schools in Bangladesh. “Our schools train the best imams. About a quarter of them then leave for the Gulf States, the United Kingdom or the United States, and they support us financially,” says Habib Ullah, the movement’s deputy-general-secretary.”

It may be mentioned here that the members of HeI support radical Islamic militancy groups such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah etc, while many are affiliated with these groups.

Radical Islamic teachers entering the West:

From the above statement of the deputy-general-secretary of HeI it is evidently proved that the members of this antisemitic radical Islamic group are entering the Western nations including the United Kingdom and the United States. This certainly is disturbing news as these radical teachers can preach radical Islam in the West and also radicalize local Muslims and provoke them towards militancy.

Threats posed by radical Islam in Bangladesh:

One of the key principles of the creation of Bangladesh was secularism. But the spirit of secularism was daunted when military dictator Hussein Muhammed Ershad made a constitutional amendment thus giving Islam the status of state religion. This was the continuation of his predecessor General Ziaur Rahman who began the process of Islamization of the country.

Ever since creation of Bangladesh, all of the successive government had followed a policy of appeasing radical Islam considering the vote bank. Moreover, Bangladesh has been a diehard supporter of the Palestinian jihad against the State of Israel. Criticizing Palestinians and leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat is considered as a punishable crime under country’s blasphemy law. For this “crime”, I had been wrong convicted with 9-year’s rigorous imprisonment in 2014 by a court in Bangladesh and had to serve the entire period before walking out of the prison on July 29, 2018. Pending the appeal against this wrong conviction, when my bail petition was moved with the Appellate Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court, the then Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha exhibited all out eagerness in cancelling the bail, which was granted by a High Court Division. Later it was proved; Justice Sinha is a puppet of the antisemitic and radical Islamic group named Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh (JIB).

Bangladesh’s romance with the Palestinian jihadists and Hamas are such strong that it had no hesitation in ignoring a House Resolution (HR-64) passed by 409 votes by the United States Congress in my defence in 2007.

In Bangladesh, a country of 170 million people, parties like Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) or its political darling Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh (JIB) are violently inclined towards Hamas and the Palestinian jihadists. The only hope is Bangladesh Awami League and its leader Sheikh Hasina. But here again, both Awami League and Sheikh Hasina too are upholding the same sentiment as BNP and JIB when it comes to the issue of supporting Hamas and the Palestinian jihadists. To prove itself as a truly secularist force, Awami League leadership needs to immediate reshuffle its Middle East policy and abandon the wrong practice of supporting Hamas and the Palestinian jihadists. It also needs to lift the existing travel ban on Israel and establish economic and diplomatic relations with the Jewish State. To effectively face the challenges posed by radical Islam, Bangladesh needs Israel as its friend and ally.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz.