In Bangladesh, the looming shadow of Pakistan ceases to die. Despite 50 years of liberated existence and a decade of phenomenal economic and human development, the ghost of Islamic radicalism refuses to go away.
The religious radicalism encouraged by Pakistani military junta to keep its stranglehold on its eastern wing before 1971 was defeated by resurgent militant Bengalee nationalism but it got a fresh lease of life after the 1975 coup and consolidated its grip with enormous patronage from military rulers, Ziaur Rahman and HM Ershad.
The BNP, born in barracks, soon aligned to Pakistan’s principal collaborator the Jamaat-e-Islami to set up the political architecture of Islamist radicalism to counter the Awami League’s Bengalee nationalist ideology.
And whenever the BNP came to power or found itself ousted by the people’s mandate, it found, nurtured and propped up Islamist extremist groups like Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami or HuJI or radical cartels led by the likes of Siddiqul Islam, better known as Bangla Bhai.
Hifazat-e Islam is the latest in the line.
By hitting the streets and crying hoarse for the release of detained Hifazat leaders, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and gang have betrayed their real intent and linkage.
After the BNP and the Jamaat had formed the government in Bangladesh, Shaykh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai’s Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh or JMB, active in Rajshahi and other areas, set out on a mission to create a Talibani Bangladesh.
Newspapers carried reports on their terrorist activities but ironically, the Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, a key member of Khaleda’s cabinet, said, “Bangla Bhai and Shaykh Abdur Rahman don’t exist in reality but were created by the media.”
Undoubtedly, the comment was first approved by Khaleda before it was made.
The Jamaat and some who later joined the BNP were not just Pakistan’s collaborator in the 1971 genocide but also left no stone unturned to protect their successor groups.
A strange continuity can still be discerned from Hifazat’s actions now and of those collaborators of Pakistan in 1971.
They reject democracy, they reject the constitution and the court and justice. They are opposed to female education and the freedom of expression. They issue threats and ultimatums to stop women coming in thousands to work or do business. They take zero interest in the country’s economic development.
Interestingly, this party was in the BNP-led 20-Party Alliance in terms of majority. The BNP never failed to come up with surprises as it all of a sudden formed the Oikya Front, led by Dr Kamal Hossain, before the election on Dec 30, 2018.
Political analysts aired optimism, saying that BNP was coming out from the clutch of Razakars and Al-Badr. But, when their list of candidates was announced, only 19 of the candidates contesting with the BNP’s ‘Paddy Sheaf’ were from the Oikya Front, while 40 represented Islamist parties.
Since the BNP’s inception under the leadership of Zia in 1978, leaders and activists from a wide array of parties such as the Jamaat, Muslim League, and Nezami Party, hooked up with the BNP and they were entrusted with top posts in the cabinets of Zia and his wife Khaleda Zia. To them, the BNP was a platform through which they could continue their political activities overtly.
On May 5, 2013, a 13-point anti-democracy demand was placed from the mass gathering at Shapla Chattar. For an organisation formed only three years back, the throng was massive with no doubt! The leadership of the BNP played an active role in making it a success. On May 3, two days before the gathering, Khaleda from the same venue issued an ultimatum to Sheikh Hasina to comply with their demands. Not even a shred of doubt can be cast on the fact that the BNP-led 20-Party and Hifazat, a platform of supporters of Islamist parties, moved like two wheels of the same car.
Before Khaleda’s 48-hour ultimatum came to an end, the chapter of Hifazat mayhem just set in. All hell was let loose with hundreds of Hifazat activists conducting rampant arson attacks and vandalism throughout the day. With the dusk falling over the city, they came up with an even more audacious move, blurting out that they were to stay in Shapla Chattar for an indefinite period. When then Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam called upon them to vacate the place as early as they could, their leader Mamunul Haque retorted, saying, “After a few moments, the Awami League will be dying to find a path to escape for itself.” That ominous prediction went nowhere.
Law enforcers triumphed over them without almost any effort, driving them out of the spot and avoiding any bloodshed. But, the police and RAB kept one exit point for the participants in the gathering and it was the path connecting Ittefaq, Jurain, Postogola, and Narayanganj. On May 6, some terrorists, identifying themselves as students, took to the street in this area, vandalising vehicles and swooping down on law enforcers.
With their demand, screamed at the top of their lungs at Shapla Chattar, unrealised, the BNP-led 18-Party (the prelude to the 20-Party formed later) enforced a strike on May 8 and 9. Hifazat called for a strike on May 12. The law enforcers drove them out without turning a hair. Two cops who served as inspector general of police later confided in me that this operation was conducted strategically to clear a mob would be taken into account not just by Bangladesh but by other countries as well.
In recent times, a counter-terrorism unit official said, “When I enrolled in a course in the US, law enforcers of different countries devoured every detail that they requested from me about the operation the police and RAB conducted on the night of May 5, 2013.”
However, it was on this fateful night Hifazat leaders’ dream to grab state power seemed so real. Mamunul, whose extramarital relations later exposed at a resort in contrast to all his full-throat preaching against anti-Islamic practices, said while being interrogated by police, “The masterminds of Shapla Chattar gathering didn’t have the faintest level of doubt that they were going to topple the Hasina-government. Even it was finalised who would be heading the country as the president and the prime minister.” The names of Khaleda, her son Tarique Rahman, or Mirza Fakhrul went missing on the list. But, the BNP leaders were daydreaming that religious extremists would catapult them to power. That thought occupied them so much that they swore their allegiance to the strike the Jamaat had called two months back, on Mar 3, to stop the war crimes trial. On that day, then Indian president Pranab Mukherjee flew to Dhaka on a visit. Before his visit, BNP Chairperson Khaleda had shown her interest in meeting with him and the Indian side nodded in affirmation. But, she changed her mind in the eleventh hour, prioritising the Jamaat-enforced strike over her meeting with the president of the neighbouring country. She chose to stay home to comply with the strike called by her ally.
History testifies that Pranab was active in building mass opinion against the genocide carried out by the Pakistani occupation. He also assisted, at different times, the government of Bangladesh under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Syed Nazrul Islam, and Tajuddin Ahmad. On the other hand, the Jamaat was the cohort of the Pakistani Army in ravaging the country through genocide. The strike enforced by such a party weighed much to her and her party BNP.
It was conspicuous that the Jamaat and other cohorts of the 1971-genocide orchestrators upstaged the BNP. No leader of the Jamaat confessed that what they had done in 1971 was wrong. Mamunul’s father, Khelafat Majlis supremo Azizul Haque, prided himself in saying in an interview with Bichitra, “In 1971, we were neutrally on the side of Pakistan.”
In 1971, the butcher Yahya Khan was favoured by not just a superpower like the US, but by evil forces like the Jamaat and Khelafat. Ironically, Mamunul, a crucial leader of Khelafat and Hifazat, has an aversion to the US. His sermon even fired up the blood of madrasa students to become “atomic scientists capable of making such a bomb that can be directed, by pressing a button staying in Bangladesh, towards the White House in the US, and annihilate them”.
It is a fact that the parliament of Pakistan passed a resolution condemning the war crimes trial. On May 30, 1981, the government of Pakistan kept the national flag half-mast mourning the death of Zia. All parties are rooted in the same place.
On Aug 15, 1975, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu was assassinated along with most of his family as per the local and international conspiracy. Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, daughters of Bangabandhu, ended up being the only survivors who were, at that time, out of the country. She couldn’t stop, until May 17, 1981, on the very land the freedom of which owes to the leadership of her father. That day she was greeted by hundreds of thousands of leaders and activists. At the age of only 34, she had to take the leadership role of the party envisioned by his father Bangabandhu. She travelled around the country and the response she received from the people was immense. But, the assassin’s bullet that had found her out of the reach during her father’s murder was pursuing her all the way.
While Mufti Hannan’s HuJI targeted her on one occasion, the Aug 15 assassins on another. Sometimes it was the JMB and sometimes it was an evil force with Khaleda and Tarique in the front that was all set to wipe out her trace from the world. On Aug 21, 2004, grenades were falling like blizzards on a rally of the Awami League on Bangabandhu Avenue, killing 24 leaders and activists of the Awami League and injuring hundreds. Hasina narrowly escaped death but not injury. She was the leader of the opposition at that time. But, Khaleda Zia didn’t even allow any discussion on the attack in parliament.
The terrorist attacks targeted not just Hasina but the people in general as well. The blasts of grenades rattled through the traditional celebrations of the Bangla New Year at Ramna Batamul, the national conference of progressive cultural organisation Udichi in Jashore, and a rally of the Bangladesh Communist Party at Paltan. In several districts, some central leaders of the Awami League were killed mercilessly. Different organisations were named to be involved in the murders. Interestingly, the BNP was proved, in each case, to have provided a safe haven to the terrorists. The party of Zia and Khaleda was an umbrella shielding all the conspirators against Bangladesh.
At the same time, there are religious terrorists whose hate campaign is against the spirit of the Liberation War of Bangladesh. The weapon they wield is fundamentalism. On the eve of the election on Jun 12, 1996, Khaleda at a rally said, “If the Awami League comes to power, Hindu ululation and conches will rattle through the walls of mosques.” While the Hasina government initiated the historic Chittagong Hill Tracts Treaty, Khaleda said, “This treaty will pave the path for a vast region starting from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong to Noakhali and Feni to go to Indian territory.”
That prediction never met reality. But, the religious terrorists and the BNP didn’t give in. They were unstoppable playing the same tune against the country’s Liberation War. It is nothing surprising that they are burning to see the celebrations of Bangabandhu’s birth centenary and the 50th year of the country’s independence. But, they advanced strategically without revealing their ulterior motive. They raised the demand that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi not be allowed to participate in the ceremony. On the other hand, when Modi visited Bangladesh in June 2015, Khaleda along with her party men attended a long meeting with him.
Hifazat claims itself to be a non-political organisation. But, they tried all the methods and tools to foil the celebrations of the 50th anniversary. They organised meetings and gatherings at different places, sparking religious violence. In 1971, we heard the slogan, “Pakistani army kills freedom fighters, Awami League, and Hindus.” The same tune was played by them on the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh. And in this case, the BNP, the Jamaat, HuJI, and Hifazat had the same tune to resonate with.
As the defeated forces of 1971 are resurrecting over and over again, serving the same old purpose to destroy the inclusion and harmony prevalent in the country, trying to push the country to the medieval period, opposing the equality between men and women, attempting to halt the train of progress that earned the country its lower-middle-income status, the progressive force spirited with the Liberation War must counter them. That is the promise we must deliver. And Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has left no stone unturned to navigate the shuttle of development despite all these opposing forces.