Bangla Terror in West Bengal: Political Opportunism?
C3S Paper No.2070
Chennai Center for China Studies
An explosion in a house in Khagragram, Burdwan district, West Bengal, on October 02 opened the eyes of the Indian central intelligence to a burning fire building up in this region. The explosion was purely accidental, while an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was being made. Two of the bomb makers died, and a third was injured. Two women, wives of the two dead men were arrested. They have begun to talk with significant details.
Till now the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has discovered seven Madrasas which were used for arms training of terrorists. Two hundred bombs were recovered from a public health building in the area. It has been established that these bomb making units, training Madrasas and concerned individuals belong to the Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB), a now banned terrorist organization of Bangladesh.
What has been discovered may only be the proverbial tip of the iceberg because the JMB network appears extended to Assam. The JMB has tied up with the banned Student’s Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the Indian Mujahidin (IM).
The West Bengal government led by Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Bannerjee would have to answer several questions, but principally the following two. Why Ms. Bannerjee and her party colleagues were trying to oppose central investigation agencies like the NIA, lamely arguing this would negatively impact the federal constitution? What is the role of black money of the Sharada Chit Fund Scandal, if any, in this, because intelligence received from the Bangladesh government says Sharada money has gone from India to Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) party in Bangladesh to try to topple the Awami League led government.
In parallel what is the role of the West Bengal ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC) member, Ahmad Hasan Imran, who is also TMC MP of the Rajya Sabha (upper house), in all these developments? Imran is closely associated with the Sharada group and alleged to have channeled Sharada funds to the JEI. Imran was a cofounder of SIMI, but he claims he left the organization in 1984. Imran reportedly migrated to India illegally sometime between 1970 and 1971 when Bengalees in East Pakistan were fighting for independence from Pakistan.
The current developments have deep roots and a long history. Starting from Pakistan sponsored “unrestricted” warfare supporting separatists in North East India (Assam, Nagaland and others), it took the form of anti-liberation warfare led by the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1971. Following the liberation of Bangladesh JEI was banned and several of their leaders including its Amir, Gulam Azam, were expelled and not given citizenship. The horrific atrocities committed by the JEI collaborators of the Pakistani army against the Bengalees, is well known. According to a Pakistani army officer then serving in Dhaka, the Pakistani army raised 50,000 volunteers known as “Razakars” from among the pro-Pakistani JEI elements, many of whom remained to form terrorist organizations like the JMB.
Soon after liberation internal and foreign conspirators colluded to try and reverse “Bangladesh”. The father of the nation Sk. Mujibur Rahman was assassinated by a group of young army officers, in August 1975. Gen. Zia-ur-Reheman killed and manipulated his way through to become president of the nation. He legalized the JEI, and formed his own political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Zia was assassinated in a coup in 1981 to pave the way for army Chief H.M. Ershad to execute his own coup to become president. Zia’s widow Begum Khaleda Zia took over as president of the BNP.
In the meanwhile, the JEI kept growing quietly, expanding its domestic sources of income, receiving donations form foreign Islamic NGOs and worked as a conduit for Pakistan’s influence.
During the Afghan war, the JEI sent an estimated 40,000 workers to fight alongside the Taliban against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. After the war most of them returned, deeply indoctrinated in Wahabism and Jehad.
The JMB and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (HUJI) became the backbone of terrorism in Bangladesh, along with more than one hundred other smaller religious extremist organizations.
The period 2001 to 2006 in Bangladesh saw the peaking of terrorism under the BNP-JEI ruling alliance patronage. It witnessed the worst possible period of India-Bangladesh relationship, with Dhaka at times going out of the way to provoke and insult India in the international fora. There were talks among the ruling alliance leaders to eventually form a confederation type of relationship with Pakistan. Separately, the JEI felt at the rate that they were expanding they would be able to form a majority government in Bangladesh by 2012-13.
In parallel, the Awami League and its leaders especially Sk. Hasina, became the prime target of the terrorists at the behest of some leaders of the ruling alliance. The Awami League was seen as a friend of India. In Pakistan’s perception, as long as Sk. Hasina was alive she would ensure good relations with India and work as an impediment to Islamabad’s influence in Bangladesh. This period also saw the rise of Tarique Reheman, older son of Begum Khaleda Zia, as the main power of the BNP. Several political assassination of Awami League leaders took place during this time. But the most important target was Sk. Hasina. Among the attempts on Sk. Hasina’s life, one that nearly killed her was on August 21, 2004 in Dhaka. There was a grenade attack on the Awami League gathering which was being addressed by Sk. Hasina. Twenty-four leaders and activists of the party were killed including presidium member Ms. Ivy Rehman. Sk. Hasina was seriously injured in her left ear.
The leader of the terrorist group, Mufti Hannan, commander of HUJI, has since been arrested. He has confessed to the crime and implicated several senior BNP leaders including Minister of State for Home Affairs, Lutfozzaman Babar and Tareque Reheman.
Even more interesting is the statement given to the court by the former chief of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), Maj. Gen (retd) Sadik Hossain Rumi. Rumi detailed how Prime Minister Khaleda Zia did not allow him to investigate the incident.
It was Hannan who during interrogation by the Task Force intelligence (TFI) revealed the involvement of Tareque Reheman, and Minister Babar and Abdul Salam Pintu in the attack. Pintu’s brother, Maulana Tajuddin, who was also involved in the conspiracy, was quietly sent out of the country.
JEI Amir Motiur Reheman Nizami and Khaleda had always denied the existence of JMB calling it a creation of the media, till the country-wide bombing on August 17, 2004. Bombs were exploded almost simultaneously in 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts to demonstrate the JMB’s power and reach, and the official patronage they enjoyed. It was only after US President George W. Bush’s warning that six of the seven top leaders of JMB were arrested in March 2006 and executed subsequently for the murder of two judges.
Interrogation of the JMB leaders including its chief, Shaikh Abdur Reheman and his deputy Siddiqul Islam @ Bangla Bhai revealed the deep connection of the organization with Pakistan’s ISI and its terrorist arms like the Laskar-e-Toiba (LET).
Bangladeshi investigators later found that Islamic NGOs like Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS) of Kuwait, Al Harmain Foundation, Benevolence Society run by Osama Bin Laden’s brother and several others from Pakistan, Lybia and Qatar have been funding the JMB, HUJI and other such organizations. Two banks used for channeling these funds were Islami Bank of Bangladesh and Al Arafah Bank.
Ten truckload of arms meant for the ULFA and other North-East Indian insurgents accidentally intercepted in Chittagong in May 2004 was another conspiracy to destabilize India. Directly involved in this effort include Tareque Rehman, Lutfozzaman Babar, Motiur Reheman Nizami, and Pakistan’s ISI. There are reports that international criminal Dawood Ibrahim who lives in Pakistan under ISI’s patronage and protection was also included in consultations.
The above are only representative samples of ruling party sponsored terrorism as secondary warfare. Although the sponsors are not in the government today, they remain active. If they return to power tomorrow the result would be unimaginable.
The sooner one realizes the immensity of this terrorism challenge, the easier it will be to tackle it. Primarily, the JMB and other Bangladeshi groups are targeting Sk. Hasina, the Awami League as a political party, and progressive political parties.
The JEI is under immense pressure. They lost the 2008 elections very badly. Legalistically speaking, the JEI cannot contest elections as it has resisted to abide by the constitution and Election Commission rules. Next, most of their top leaders are in jail, being tried for crimes against humanity during the war of liberation, by two International Crimes Tribunals (ICTs) set up by the government. Some of the leaders like Qader Mollah have been hanged, Gulam Azam died of old age in jail, and the Amir Nizami had recently been sentenced to death. Two BNP leaders are also on trial.
There is a perception that if Sk. Hasina is eliminated the Awami League may break up and can be manipulated. Therefore, the threat to her life is on a continuous scale.
As promised when she was elected prime minister in 2009, Sk. Hasina rooted out Indian insurgents from Bangladesh’s soil. She went after terrorist groups like JMB and HUJI with equal force, but dedicated remnants remained. She, therefore, has the right to demand India to take action to destroy the Bangladeshi terrorists from Indian soil (Nov. 01). JMB’s activities in Bangladesh have also picked up.
The manner in which IEDs were being manufactured in West Bengal for smuggling to Bangladesh suggests a mayhem was planned. At the same time, the JMB has linked up with the IM and others extending to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. With the birth of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, it seems a celebration of global terrorism has commenced. JMB, IM, SIMI and the kind are already active in sending fighters to the IS and the Al Qaeda.
Hence the question arises again. How is it that these bomb making and indoctrination centers flourished in West Bengal in the last three years under the very nose of the state security apparatus? The behaviour of the state police force is highly suspect. And again what is the role of the Sharada group and TMC leaders connected with it?
All this takes us back to the old debate: Why did Mamata Bannerjee back out from signing the Teesta River water sharing deal between India and Bangladesh at the last moment? The JEI and the BNP both opposed the Teesta agreement to embarrass Sk. Hasina and India.
Why were radical Muslims allowed protest marches in West Bengal against the trial and execution of the 1971 war criminals in Bangladesh?
There are too many critical unanswered questions for the security of India and that of friendly neighbour Bangladesh. These must be attended to with haste and the diabolical cross border plans must be unveiled to the public.
(Note: The writer Bhaskar Roy is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail email@example.com )
The late and distinguished B.Raman gave the Modern Tokyo Times the go ahead to publish special analyst work from the Chennai Centre For China Studies.
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