Dialogue  October - December 2005 , Volume 7  No. 2

Bangladesh-a Problem State

E.N. Rammohan

On 17 August 2005 there were 459 explosions in 63 of the 64 districts in Bangladesh. All explosions occurred within a span of 30 minutes. It is obvious that the explosions were synchronised. Two civilians were killed in the bomb blasts. There were 28 blasts in Dacca, all directed at Government establishments. The Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JUMB) claimed responsibility for the blasts through leaflets left at the site of the explosions. Leaflets in Bangla and Arabic said-“We are the soldiers of Allah. We have taken up arms for the implementation of Allah’s law. It is time to implement Islamic law in Bangladesh. There is no future with man made law.”1 
    The serial incidents were not a surprise for Bangladesh watchers, particularly for those who had been warning the Government of India that Bangladesh was increasingly becoming an Islamist state. What was a surprise for the security experts was the synchronising of 459 explosions across 63 of the 64 districts of Bangladesh. This is a grim portend of the developments in this country.  
    The euphoria generated by the liberation war of 1971 was misplaced. The Islamisation of Bangladesh after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman has its origins in the beginning of the 20
th century. It was the leaders of Muslim Bengal, not of the western part of the subcontinent who led the movement for the separation of Muslims from the Hindus. The desire was originally articulated by Urdu speaking westernised politically conservative Bengali Muslims. The formation of the Muslim League in December1906 in Dacca was at the initiative of Nawab Salimullah of that city.2  
    The Liberation war of 1971 is all but forgotten by the people of Bangladesh. So is the role played by the Indian Army. Sadly they have even forgotten their own heroes of that war and the lakhs of people who were killed by the Pakistan Army and the Razakhars. They have even forgotten the thousands of young girls raped and killed by the Pakistan Army in that war. The Jamiat-e-Islami (JEI) of Bangladesh who sided with the Pakistan Army in killing and raping Bangladeshi men and women have now 17 seats with two ministers in the national government. Among the most notorious of the Jamiat’s leaders was Abdul Khader Molla, who became known as the butcher of Mirpur in 1971. He fled to Pakistan when Bangladesh was liberated. Today he is back as the Publicity Secretary of the JEI. Another leading collaborator was Ghulam Azam, who reportedly exhorted the Pakistani Army to rid the country of anti Pakistani Bengali Muslims. He fled to Britain after the liberation, but returned in 1978, after which he was protected by every successive government, including that of Sheikh Hasina from 1996 to 2001. In 1991, Gholam Azam became the Amir of the JEI Bangladesh. It is pure fiction that the Bangladeshis hate Pakistan. Many have a nostalgic attachment to Pakistan and a mistrust of India. They now hate India. Their main aim is to drive out the remaining Hindus and Buddhists in Bangladesh and then occupy the northeastern states of India and the Arakhan State of Myanmar.

Illegal Migration

The security threat from Bangladesh is much greater than that of Pakistan. Its threat is four fold. The first threat is the continual migration from Bangladesh into India. This is the only country in the world that pushes its citizens at gunpoint across its borders. The problem of illegal migration at least into Assam was created by the British East India Company, who first brought the Bengali Muslim peasant from East Bengal to the Brahmaputra valley in the beginning of the 19th century. Within thirty years, the Bengali Muslim migrants had settled in four districts of Assam clearing forest lands and cultivating waste lands and multiplied so fast that the Census Commissioner C.S.Mullen wrote prophetically in his Census report of 1931-“Whither there is vacant land, thither goes the Mymensinghia. Without fuss, without tumult, without undue trouble a population amounting to about half a million has transplanted itself from Bengal to Assam during the last twenty five years. A time will come when Sibsagar district will remain the only district that the Assamese can call their own.” The Government realising the gravity of the situation introduced the line system that designated the area in each district that could be settled by the immigrant Bengali Muslim. However, the fourth Sir. Sadullah Ministry-1944-45 de-reserved grazing reserves in Kamrup, Darrang and Nowgong districts for settling East Bengali peasants, ostensibly for increasing paddy production. Lord Wavell described the settlements as – “Grow more Muslims, rather than grow more food.”  
    After the partition very few Bengali Muslims migrated to East Pakistan from Assam and West Bengal. However the migration of Bengali Hindus from East Pakistan to Assam, Tripura and West Bengal was in lakhs. Very soon the pressures on land in East Pakistan led to almost all the Bengali Muslims who had migrated from Assam, West Bengal and Tripura to remigrate to these three states. In Assam, when there were no more vacant lands to settle, the hardy Bengali Muslim peasants began to colonise, the chars and chapories (sandbanks) on the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. It was only the hardy Bengali Muslim peasant who could live on the chars and chapories. During the annual floods they sit out the rising waters in boats and resettle on firm ground when the chars and chapories reappear after the water recedes. By 1960 most of the chapories in the Brahmaputra in Goalpara, Kamrup, Darrang and Nowgong districts were occupied by immigrant Muslim peasants. It was in 1991 that the objectives of the Bangladesh government in this regard was reflected in an article in Holiday, October 1991, titled Lebensraum for Bangladesh written by a leading intellectual Sadiq Khan. To quote-“The question of lebensraum or living space for Bangladesh has not yet been raised as a moot issue. All projections indicate that by the next decade Bangladesh will face a serious crisis of lebensraum. No possible performance of population planning, actual or hypothetical alters that prediction. A natural overflow of population pressure is therefore very much on the cards and will not be restrained by barbed wire or border patrol measures. The natural trend of population overflow from Bangladesh is towards the sparsely populated lands of the southeast in the Arakhans and the northeast of the seven sisters side of the Indian subcontinent.”
3 The old objective of the Muslim League to get Assam included in East Pakistan was obviously very much on the minds of the leadership in Bangladesh.  
    In the first twenty years after partition, it was the venality of the petty bureaucrats that helped the illegal migrant both Hindu and Muslim from East Pakistan to get settled on land in Assam. In West Bengal and Tripura, no attempt was made to prevent illegal migration. It was the Director of the Intelligence Bureau, B.N. Mallick who first pointed out the dangers of unrestricted illegal migration of Bengali Muslims into Assam and West Bengal to the Government of India. The Government of India set up a Pakistan Infiltration Post scheme in Assam and Task Forces in West Bengal and Tripura to detect illegal migrants from East Pakistan. The scheme was established in Assam and did some good work initially. In West Bengal and Tripura, the scheme never took off. By the early seventies, the politicians discovered that the illegal Muslim immigrants was an infallible vote bank The early seventies was also the period when the concept of committed bureaucracy became firmly established. In Assam, there had been considerable detection and deportation of illegal Muslim and Hindu immigrants throughout the sixties. All this gradually petered off as compliant bureaucrats humbly acquiesced with the political leadership in the seventies. By the mid seventies, the political leadership in Assam was proclaiming that there were no foreigners in Assam. In West Bengal, the political leadership and their pliant bureaucrats were claiming openly that there was no difference between the proletariat of Bangladesh and West Bengal! 
    In 1971, when Bangladesh was liberated, Mrs. Gandhi committed a conscious blunder when she agreed with the President of Bangladesh that he would not take back any of the citizens of East Pakistan who had migrated to India before 25 March 1971, the date of creation of the Government of Bangladesh in exile in India. At one stroke, Mrs. Gandhi had accepted several lakhs of people of East Pakistan who had illegally migrated to India and who had not been detected. This act was clearly in violation of the Citizenship Act of India. The Government of India were in a fix, when a foreigners agitation was started in Assam in 1979 demanding detection and deportation of Bengali Muslims and Hindus who had migrated into Assam and had been taken on the electoral roll. This issue started when the sitting member of the Mangaldoi constituency died and a by-election was ordered. There were representations to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Ahom Jatiyatibadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) that a large number of illegal migrants had settled in Mangaldoi constituency and were likely to be included in the voters list. After a preliminary inquiry, the CEC announced that the election in Mangaldoi could be held only after the electoral rolls were revised. More than 35,000 applications were filed about illegal migrations in the constituency. At this time the Janata government in Delhi was toppled by giving bait to Chaudhary Charan Singh to become a lame duck Prime Minister. The Congress sitting in the back seat ran the new government. The Muslim lobby persuaded the Congress to pressurise the CEC not to revise the electoral rolls of the Mangaldoi constituency. The CEC humbly recanted and said that the revision of electoral rolls in the Mangaldoi constituency could not be done and the by-election would be held on the 1976 electoral rolls. The reaction from Assam was electric. Realising that the Centre was discriminating against Assam, the AASU and the AJYCP formed the Gana Sangram Parishad and started the foreigners’ agitation. This was an agitation, unique of its kind and on the lines of the civil disobedience movement of 1942 and was to leave its indelible mark on the Assamese people and the history of India. It culminateed in the brutal election of 1983, that was forced on the Assamese people and which ended in a bloodbath with more than 3000 people killed in police firings and ethnic clashes in the Brahmaputra valley. In 1985 an accord was signed with the AASU and the Gana Sangram Parishad, where the AASU leaders agreed to 1971 being made the cut off year for regularising the citizenship of illegal migrants from the erstwhile East Pakistan. The Government of India must have given a huge sigh of relief when the AASU leaders agreed to this. The government promptly amended the Citizenship Act inserting a clause of the Assam accord as the basis for making 1971 as the cut-off year for determining the citizenship of illegal immigrants from East Pakistan. The blunder committed in 1971 was regularised in 1985. The AASU leaders should never have agreed to 1971 being made the cut-off year. They should have insisted that the people of East Pakistan who had illegally migrated into India after 1951 could be given work permits and allowed to stay in India but not allowed to become citizens. This would not have given them voting rights. Also, the issue of further illegal migrants getting voting rights by compliant bureaucrats at the instance of their political masters would have been avoided as the option of work permits was there. The basic issue of the vote bank could thus have been avoided.  
    Today the illegal Muslim immigrant is clearly a vote bank of several political parties both national and regional. There is also a Muslim lobby in India that pressurises the Governments in power to see that illegal Muslim immigrants are given citizenship. I give an example of this. In early 1998, as the Director General of the Border Security Force. I attended a meeting in the Raj Bhavan chaired by the Prime Minister. The subject of the meeting was the enfranchisement of the descendents of Bengali Muslims who had immigrated after 25 March 1971. This was clearly illegal. The Prime Minister addressed the meeting and stated that Muslim leaders had insisted that these descendents should be enfranchised for the coming election else there would be communal riots in Assam. I found the Chief Secretary Assam concurring with this and finding that the Director Intelligence Bureau not saying anything, I spoke out that there would be no communal riots in Assam on this issue as it was plainly illegal. My vehement response led to a discussion and the Prime Minister finally agreed that the descendents of post 1971 illegal immigrants from Bangladesh could not be enfranchised. The bluff of the Muslim lobby had been called. There were no communal riots on this decision.
    The Bangladesh government denies that there is illegal migration from their country into India at every joint meeting between the two countries. When Bangladeshi Muslims are detected and cases are registered, investigated and the accused convicted, the government of India sends the details of the convicted Bangladesh persons for consular access to the government of Bangladesh who in turn sit on the cases for long periods and finally reply that the persons concerned are not their citizens. This left no alternative for our government but to forcibly push these convicted Bangladesh citizens across the border. The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) are alive to this and more often than not they detect the persons pushed across and force them at gunpoint back into India. Incidentally there is also a regular traffic of Bangladesh citizens being smuggled into Pakistan by organised gangs. The touts engaged for this, bribe the border guards and slip into West Bengal with their human cargo. They are taken by train to the Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu borders. Near the border, the touts point out the Border Security Force (BSF) border out post (BOP) and tell their wards to surrender to the post saying that they have come from Pakistan. The policy at that time was that if any Bangladeshi was seen near the border, it was to be presumed that they had come in from Pakistan and they should be pushed back. Most of the Bangladesh persons, pushed back would be caught by the Pakistan Rangers and again pushed into India. The hapless Bangladesh nationals were pushed back and forth like shuttlecocks. I had stopped this procedure when I took over as the Director General of the BSF in December 1998. All Bangladesh nationals detected near the Pakistan borders, whether they had come in from Pakistan or were brought by touts to be sent into Pakistan were escorted by the BSF to the Bangladesh border and pushed into Bangladesh. These hapless individuals when detected by the BDR would be mercilessly pushed into India. At one meeting with our counterparts, when I was told ritually that there was no illegal migration from Bangladesh into India, I narrated this story. I also added that very often the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) across the Jammu border kept a handful of Bangladesh immigrants in their border posts to be used as scouts when pushing in terrorists. The poor Bangladesh nationals were sent ahead of their infiltrating parties. The BSF ambushes would open fire at the slightest noise ahead of them. The hapless Bangladesh nationals would be killed, while the infiltrating group behind would safely retreat to their launching pads. There was a prolonged silence after my narration. I completed the coup de grace by saying that there was a human side to the whole business of illegal immigration and the Bangladesh government should look into all these aspects before denying that there was no illegal migration at all.
    To ensure that their vote bank was not disturbed, the party in power at the centre enacted the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act (IMDT) in 1983 to be operational only in Assam, keeping the Foreigners Act in abeyance in the state. This was an illegal and unconstitutional Act. There cannot be two acts for the same offence. The Foreigners Act would be applicable for detection of foreigners all over India except in Assam, where it would be kept in abeyance and a new act the IMDT act would apply. To add insult to injury, in the IMDT act, the onus of proving that the accused was an Indian or a foreigner was on the prosecution! In the Foreigners Act it was for the suspect to prove that he was an Indian. It was only in 2005 after 22 years of an illegal and unconstitutional act being on the statute books that the Supreme Court repealed the act. The damage done during the intervening period was immense as can be seen from the figures in the two tables below.

Muslims as a percentage of population in
Assam, West Bengal and Bihar.4

                                                                  1991                                  2001                                               

Dhubri                                    70.4                                   74.3
Goalpara                                50.2                                   53.6
Hailakandi                              54.8                                   57.6
Karimganj                              49.2                                   52,3
Cachar                                   34.5                                   30.1
Barpeta                                  56.1                                   59.4
Nowgong                               47.2                                   51.0
Morigaon                               46.0                                   47.6
Darrang                                  32.0                                   35.6
South 24 Parganas                  29.4                                   33.2
North 24 Parganas                  24.2                                   24.2
Nadia                                     24.9                                   25.0
Murshidabad                          61.4                                   63.7
Malda                                    47.5                                   49.7
Calcutta                                 17.7                                   20.3
Dinajpur                                 38.9                                   38.4
Jalpaiguri                                10.0                                   10.8
Cooch Bihar                           23.4                                   24.2
Kishanganj                              65.8                                   67.6
Araria                                     40.5                                   41.2
Purnea                                    34.5                                   36.7
Katihar                                   39.9                                   42.5

Percentage Growth of Muslim Population in Assam and
West Bengal-1991-20015

                                                              Muslims                             Non Muslims

                    Dhubri                                    29.5                                         7.1
                    Goalpara                                31.7                                       14.4 
                    Hailakandi                              27.2                                       13.3
                    Karimganj                              29.4                                       14.5
                    Cachar                                   24.6                                       16.0
                    Barpeta                                  25.8                                       10.0
                    Nowgong                               32.1                                       11.3
                    Morigaon                               27.2                                       16.3
                    Darrang                                  28.9                                         9.8
                    South 24 Parganas                 34.2                                       11.5
                    North 24 Parganas                 23.0                                       22.6
                    Nadia                                     21.9                                       18.8
                    Murshidabad                          28.4                                       16.4
                    Malda                                    30.7                                       19.4
                    Calcutta                                 19.0                                         0.7
                    Dinajpur                                 31.9                                       22.7
                    Jalpaiguri                                31.3                                       20.4
                    Cooch Bihar                           18.5                                       12.8

    The figures in the first table reveal that even by 1991 the Bengali Muslim had become a majority in several districts of Assam and Bengal The figures of the second table clearly reveals that illegal migration of the Bengali Muslim from Bangladesh is still continuing.

Bangladesh, a Sanctuary for Insurgent Groups of the Northeast States

East Pakistan gave sanctuary to the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) in 1955. Later they also gave sanctuary to the Mizo National Front in 1966. In both these instances it was the Inter Services Intelligence of the Pakistan Army who organised the assistance to the two insurgent groups and it was the Pakistan Army who trained the cadres of the two groups in weapons and guerilla warfare. In 1971 when Bangladesh was liberated, the MNF managed to escape into the Arakhan area of Burma. The Naga underground leaders were captured by the India Army in Dacca. The Bangladesh President Sheikh Mujibur Rehman did not give sanctuary to the FGN and the MNF. After his assassination in 1975, the Army Generals who took over reversed his policy and Islamised the country. They also allowed the MNF to return and they soon set up camps again in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), this time with the assistance of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the Bangladesh equivalent of the ISI.  
    It was in 1990 that the Bangladesh government was involved in aiding and abetting the insurgent groups of the Northeast. The first group to seek the help of Bangladesh was the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). The ULFA, The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) and the Peoples Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA) were all training their cadres with the Kachin Liberation Army of Burma. Their leader, Bransen withdrew support to the three groups in 1990-91. Anticipating this, the ULFA leaders sent a group of ten cadres to Bangladesh in 1990. They were taken to the Pakistan embassy and there the ISI welcomed them and with the DGFI’s help got them Bangladesh passports and took them to Peshawar, where they were trained by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami. Esconced in safe houses given to them by the DGFI in Dacca, the ULFA soon got the NSCN and the PLA to join them. After this there was no looking back. Soon the leaders of the ULFA, the NSCN (IM) and the PLA were having discussions with the officers of the ISI and the DGFI in Cox’s Bazaar about purchasing arms from the clandestine arms bazaar of Thailand, getting them by coastal steamers, landing them at Cox’s Bazaar and then taking the arms overland into Nagaland and Assam through Burma and Manipur. The first consignment of AK rifles and RPD 7.62 light machine guns were collected by the ULFA leaders at Cox’s Bazaar in the early winter of 1992 and carried overland on foot by NSCN (IM) cadres. While trekking down ten of their cadres deserted and surrendered at Parva located at the southern tip of Mizoram to the BSF who took them to Massimpur. Their interrogation revealed for the first time the developments of 1990 to 1992 that finally culminated in the first consignment of arms. This was landed at Cox’s Bazaar, brought overland to Bandarban in the CHT, where the NSCN (IM) established a transit camp and taken by a group of 240 cadres who had marched from their camp at Benin in Tamenglong district in Manipur south through Churachandpur district into Burma, followed the Tiddim road, turned west and skirting Parva, the southern tip of Mizoram and the trijunction of Mizoram, Burma and Bangladesh reached Bandarban. The group marched back by the same route. This was probably the largest consignment of weapons that the NSCN (IM) procured, since their formation. The whole transaction was overseen by the DGFI. Subsequently the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) joined the ULFA and the NSCN (IM) in Bangladesh. The group brought at least two more consignments of arms by the same route in 1993 and 1994. The weapons brought were AK rifles, RPD 7.62 light machine guns, RPG-7 rocket launchers and Chinese grenades. The ULFA and the NDFB transported their share of weapons from the Benin camp of the NSCN (IM) by road to Assam and then to their camps in Bhutan. In 1995, the army after liaison with the Burmese Army laid a joint ambush when a combined group of the ULFA, NSCN (IM) and NDFB were returning from Bandarban after collecting arms of probably the fourth consignment obtained through the ISI and the DGFI. All three groups suffered casualties, a large number of weapons were seized and a number of cadres arrested. After this mishap, the three groups changed the route and brought the weapons from Bandarban, marching north skirting Kagrachari and slipping into Mizoram between Amchurimukh and Tuipuibari BOPs of the BSF, then north along the Lankhai valley, traversing Mizoram, crossing into Churachandpur district of Manipur at Tipaimukh and then north to Benin in Tamenglong district. Later the NSCN (IM) established a camp in Aizawl, Mizoram and further consignments were received near Amchurimukh on the Aizawl-Phuldengsi road and taken in vehicles via Silchar, Jiribam and Tamenglong to Benin. 
On a number of occasions, arms brought for the Northeast insurgent groups were seized by the local police when being unloaded at Cox’s Bazaar. On each such occasion and on the intervention of the insurgent leaders, the DGFI got the weapons released. The last such seizure was of ten truckloads of weapons seized by the local police in 2004, after they were unloaded. Since the local press recorded the matter, the government did not release the weapons to the insurgent group for whom it was meant. A leading Bangladesh citizen close to the party in power owned the ship that brought the weapons.  
    A number of small insurgent groups were also given sanctuary by the DGFI in the CHT and in the hills to the north of Tripura. These include the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF). Smaller groups like the Dima Halem Daoga (DHD) of the North Cachar Hills and the United Peoples Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) of the Karbi Anglong district were given shelter in the CHT. Two groups from Mehgalaya, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) and the Achik National Volunteer Council were allowed to have safe houses in Sylhet district by the DGFI. Most of these small insurgent groups had linkages with the NSCN (IM) and weapons and training was given by their cadres.
    The most interesting part of this whole transaction was the attitude of the Bangladesh government when given specific locations of these insurgent camps during coordination meetings. They would flatly deny that there were any such camps. The Intelligence agencies, the state governments concerned and the BSF had detailed information of the location of the camps from insurgents who had been trained there and captured when they returned to India. A few weeks later when insurgents in these camps were captured they would tell us during interrogation that the local BDR officers had come to their camps and asked them to slightly shift their camps. The answer was not to take it up with Bangladesh, but to reinforce our borders and seal them effectively. And this is were the government has been dragging its feet.

The Terrorist threat and the Al Qaeda Connection

The Pakistan ISI has always used Bangladesh as a route for infiltrating and exfiltrating insurgents moving in and out of Kashmir. Cadres of the main insurgent groups operating in Kashmir have always used this route. Masood Azhar, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam’s theoretician travelled to Kashmir via Bangladesh to organnise the Harkat-ulAnsar there. He was arrested by the army near Kapran a town in south Kashmir and later released in exchange for the passengers of the Indian Airlines plane hijacked in 2000. In August 1999, the Assam Police arrested four persons on suspicion from Guwahati. On interrogation they confessed that they were Muhammad Faisullah Hussaini of Hyderabad, Sind, Pakistan, Muhammad Javed Wakhar of Karachi, Maulana Hafiz Wakhar of Kupwara, Kashmir, and Qari Salim Muhammad of Muzaffarnagar, U.P. They had arrived in Dacca via Karachi and met ISI officials there and crossed over into India through the Karimganj border. They had kept a consignment of explosives in a mosque in Bangladesh for collection later to be used for bombing targets in India. This consignment was brought in by a clever operation using a decoy. The recovery consisted of 34 kilograms of RDX, 9 timer devices and 30 detonators. After further interrogation, the group revealed that that the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI), Bangladesh had recruited and sent a number of young immigrant Muslims from Assam to Pakistan via Bangladesh. Based on this information, the Assam Police was able to arrest a number of young Bengali Muslims who had been trained in Pakistan. They also arrested Muhammad Muslimudeen, the Chief Organiser of the HUJI Bangladesh in India. They found that the Naib Amir of the HUJI in India, Muhammad Fakhruddin was an immigrant Bengali Muslim form Goalpara in Assam and was now based in Pakistan.6  
    The DGFI had nurtured and backed several fundamentalist groups in the immigrant Bengali Muslim belts in Assam. These are the Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA), Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), Islamic Liberation Army of Assam, United Muslim Liberation Front of Assam (UMFLA), Muslim Volunteer Force (MVF) and the Adam Sena. These organisations are in the vanguard of the movement for lebensraum for Bangladesh. The next insurgency in Assam will be by these Muslim organisations for the merger of Assam with Bangladesh.
    Bangladesh is clearly emerging as a new hub of pro-jehadi bin Laden terrorism. The situation in Bangladesh is similar to the one in Indonesia before the Bali bombings. The publication on 10 December 2003 of a report on Bangladesh by the Canadian Intelligence Security Service states that the Government of Bangladesh was not doing enough to prevent the country for becoming a haven for Islamic terrorists. According to this report in February 2003 Islamic militants attacked a cultural concert in a northern Bangladesh town and then police recovered bomb making materials from radicals who claimed to be members of the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JUM) and the Shahadat-al-Hikma (SAH). In 1998 a group called the Bangladesh Jihad came to notice, when one of its members signed the fatwa issued by bin Laden calling for a jihad against the United States and Israel. The annual report of the patterns of global terrorism of the US State Department in 2002 contained a report of the activities of the Bangladesh HUJI that had become a member of bin Laden’s International Islamic Front. HUJI Bangladesh has an estimated strength of 15,000 headed by Shaukat Osman @ Sheikh Farid of Chittagong. They refer to themselves as the Bangladesh Taliban.
    Bangladesh has undergone a fundamental political and social transformation over the past three decades. A new brand of nationalism with an Islamic flavour has steadily replaced secular Bengali nationalism. Local journalists and non-government organisations have located several training camps in the country mainly in the lawless south-east bordering Myanmar.
8 Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had quietly started the process of Islamisation. Gen. Ziaur Rehman, though himself a freedom fighter and had taken refuge in India in 1971,accelerated the process. He lifted the ban on the fundamentalist and communal parties and de-secularised the Constitution in 1977 under pressure from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries. Gen. Ershad declared Islam as the state religion in 1988. These two decisions reactivated the Jamiat-e-Islami (JEI) and other communal forces in the country. The boosting of political Islam was boosted by a steady flow of petro dollars from Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries. Leading to the mushrooming of mosques and madrassas in every nook and corner of the country.9  
    Beginning in 1984, the JEI in coordination with its Pakistani counterpart and the ISI recruited more than 5,000 Madrassa alumni as mujahideen and sent them in batches to Pakistan and Afghanistan to participate in the jihad against the Soviets. When they returned, they formed the vanguard of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh. They organised a host of terrorist groups in the country with the aim of establishing a Talibanised state in Bangladesh. This has been substantiated by an interview by the CNN with John Walker Lindh, the US Taliban fighter, captured by the US forces in 2001 in Afghanistan. He mentioned that the Al Qaeda brigades to whom he belonged were divided into Arabic, Pashtun and Bengali groups. The Bengali groups consisted mostly of Rohingyas, but also included Bangladeshi Muslims.
    It is therefore not correct to say that Islamic fundamentalism was given a fillip by Begum Khaleda Zia after she came to power in 2001. The process initiated in 1977 gradually gained momentum. During the Prime Ministership of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who was secular and well disposed to India, the process did not lose momentum. Regrettably her writ seldom ran beyond the four walls of her office. It was however during Khaleda Zia’s reign, that the fundamentalist parties received open support from the party in power. The JEI and the Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ) are her coalition partners in government.
    The HUJI Bangladesh was formed in 1992-with ideological guidance and financial support from Osama bin Laden. Other terrorist groups that surfaced during this period are the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JUM), Shahadat al Hokum (SAH) and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB). An umbrella group called the Bangladesh Islamic Manch was set up in 2002 with representation from the MULTA of Assam and the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) based in Ukhia near Cox’s Bazaar. All these terrorist organisations drew its cadres from the 1, 462, 500 strong alumni of the 6,500 Madrassas run by the JEI. The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the subsequent post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan by the US have further fuelled Islamic militancy. The JEI, IOJ and the Khilafat Andolan declared the US as an enemy of Islam. A 2000 survey by the US based Pew research centre concluded that 58% of Bangladeshi Muslims believed that suicide bombings were justified in Islam. The countrywide Hindu cleansing operations in 2001 jointly conducted by the BNP and the JEI workers subjected the minority Hindu community to a wave of centrally planned and directed murder, loot, extortion, arson and gang rape that triggered a massive
11 exodus of Hindus to India in 2004  
    In 1941, the census of the region that is now Bangladesh showed a Hindu population of 11.8 million, while some 5,88,000 were Buddhists and Christians. In 1991, the figure for Hindus is 12.5 million. By normal standards of growth the Hindus should have been 32.5 million. A comparative study of the census data shows that during this period, while the Muslims registered a 219.5% increase, the Hindu community increased by a mere 4.5%. There has obviously been a massive migration of Hindus to India.
    Since 1992, Islamic terrorist organisations have mushroomed in the country. Currently in different phases of development, they operate under different names, but their common goal is to establish a Talibanised trans-national Islamic state comprising Bangladesh, Assam, Tripura, Muslim majority districts of West Bengal and the Rohingya Muslim inhabited areas of the Arakhan Hills. Inclusion of the JEI in the Khaleda Zia government led to infiltration of the administration, Police and the Armed Forces by the Islamists. Organised in the late seventies by the JEI with state support, the Rohingya Solidarity organisation (RSO) provides arms training to Arakhanese Muslim youth in camps in Ukhia, near Cox’s Bazaar. Lately, international media have reported the presence of Al Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan in these camps. HUJI cadres participated in the post 2001 election Hindu cleansing operations and attacks on Awami League cadres. Large-scale desecration of temples and mass rape of Hindu women occurred.
    The JUM first emerged in 2003. Since then police have arrested JUM cadres with incriminating documents arms ammunition and bomb making materials in Dinajpur, Bogra, Chapai, Nababganj and Jopypurhat districts. In one case a small case of enriched uranium was seized at the Indo-Bangladesh border from JUM cadres.
    The SAH was formed on 8 February 2003 in Rajshahi. It was reportedly funded by the Pakistan based Dawood Ibrahim. The SAH convenor Kowser Hussain Siddique claimed that it was a political party with 10,000 commandos and 25,000 fighters working for Islamic revolution in the country. According to him, Moudood Ahmed, Minister for Law and Justice had helped the SAH.  
    The JMJB was founded in Dacca in 1998. With an estimated 10,000 strong cadre it has extended its terror network to fifty of the country’s sixty-four districts. It operates openly supported by the police. Siddique Rehman is the operation commander and Abdur Rehman the Amir of the JMJB. The Hizbul Tauhid (HT) is active in Barisal district. It is engaged in propagation of Islamic revolution focused on the Koran and Shariat.
    Three years after the unprecedented mayhem under the BNP-JEI dispensation, atrocities against the religious and ethnic minorities have continued unabated. Besides countless cases of dacoity, 226 serious cases of minority bashing were reported in the first half of 2004. These included murder (20), rape (22), kidnapping (17) and forcible occupation of houses and other immovable property (167). The figures are given as an indication. The incidents of this nature have only intensified since then. In the past five years 56 people have been killed in bomb attacks on the Udichi musical concert, Bengali New Year’s day in Dacca, Awami district office in Narayanganj, Awami League rallies at Sonamganj, Sylhet and Dacca, cinema halls in Mymensingh and Sylhet, a church at Gopalganj, and the revered Sufi shrine of Shah Jalal at Sylhet. None of the cases have been properly investigated, obviously under government directions. A good number of JUM, SAH and JMJB cadres were arrested with clinching evidence of possession of firearms, but were all discharged by the courts. The three major incidents of this nature were the grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina’s rally, where 22 people were killed, the attack where the British High Commissioner was injured and the attack when the former Finance Minister of the Awami League was killed.
    The grenades used in the attack on the Awami League meeting in which S.A.M.S.Kibria, a former Finance Minister was killed and in the attack on a similar rally in Dacca in which Sheikh Hasina narrowly escaped were of the ARGES-84 MODEL used by Taliban fighters against US forces in Afghanistan and now manufactured only in Pakistan. The link between the ISI and the DGFI is clearly revealed from this.
13 On the night of 1-2 April 2004, police seized illegal arms from a government owned jetty in the Anwara coast of Chittagong that was the single largest seizure of arms in Bangladesh. The weapons seized were- 
1.   7.62 mm T-56-I-SMG 690.
2.   7.62 MMt-56-smg 600
3.   40 MM Rocket Launcher T-69 150
4.   40 mm Rockets. 850.
5.   9 mm Semi Automatic Sniper Rifle 400
8.   Grenade Launcher 2000
9.   T-82 Hand Grenade 25,020
10.   7.62 mm cartridges 7,39,680
11.   7.62 Pistol ammunition 4,00.000
There is no further information for whom these arms were intended, though the suspicion is on the ULFA.14 The reaction of the Bangladesh government to such attacks and seizures is farcical. An inquiry was conducted by a judge of the Bangladesh high court on the grenade attack. He concluded that the attack was engineered by a neighbouring country, meaning India! In the case of the JMJB and the JUM, the government denied their existence for several months and then finally banned them!  
    In the background of all these activities of a cocoon of terror in Bangladesh and the condemnation of a top US official, Admiral William Fallon, head of the US military’s Pacific Command on an official visit to Dacca that the US military had enough evidence that Bangladesh was home to numerous terrorist groups and was a base for terrorist attacks abroad, the government of India chose to stop construction of the border fencing in Tripura on the zero line because the Bangladesh government objected to this. The fencing is normally constructed 100 to 150 metres behind the zero line. In many parts of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura, villages exist right upto the zero line. In such places there is no choice but to construct the fencing right on the zero line. Actually, the villages or towns must be re-sited 100 metres behind and the fencing constructed there. Incidentally, over 198 kilometres of the international border in Jammu, the BSF has constructed fencing and a bund right on the zero line. There was a lot of firing and the BSF suffered casualties. The same provision of constructing a fence 100 metres behind the zero line exists on the Indo Pak border too. If we could do this on the Jammu border why have we given in to the Bangladesh government?
    The following steps should be undertaken with regard to Bangladesh. All illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, post 25 March 1971, must be identified and their names deleted from the electoral roll. They can be given work permits, pending repatriation to Bangladesh. It is their votes that lead political parties to enfranchise them. The work of fencing the border should be restarted immediately. The government should either re-site the villages and towns located upto the zero line and construct the fencing100 metres behind the zero line or construct the fencing right on the zero line as the BSF has done on the Jammu border. All the commodities being smuggled into Bangladesh can be exported with preferable duties so that the Bangladesh government is economically benefited. We may do everything possible to encourage trade with Bangladesh, but the noxious racket in smuggling should be killed once and for all.


The situation in Bangladesh will steadily deteriorate. The Islamists have infiltrated the police and the civil services. The secular group among the Muslims are a hopeless minority. The conflict within Islam between the Sufis and the Wahabis has pervaded Bangladesh too, with the Tabliqi Jamaat (TJ), the JUI. and HUJI dictating the brand of Islam that should prevail in the country. If not checked in time Bangladesh may well turn into a rague state.  
    The future scenario in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura and the rest of the Northeast with respect to Bangladesh is grim. As each election passes by in Assam, the threat of political domination by the immigrant Bengali Muslim looms larger. It is certain that severe communal rioting will occur along the faultlines between the Assamese and the Bengali Muslims. The infamous election of 1983 was a forerunner for this prognosis. The sequel to this rioting will be the eruption of a Bengali Muslim insurrection by Islamist groups like the MULTA, MULFA, HUJI and other fundamentalists. When such an insurgency breaks out it will be difficult for the police or the Armed Forces to operate because it will be an insurgency to get a homeland for the Bengali Muslims in the Northeast. The Bengali Muslim population will give total support and Bangladesh will aid the insurgents with the ordnance required. There will be no hearts and minds to win. If we do succeed in securing an area, it will be difficult to hold it, as the population will be totally against us.

1.   The Daily Star. Dacca. August 18, 2005.
2.   The Internal Political Dynamics of Bangladesh. I.P.Khosla.Agni-Forum for Strategic Studies Vol.-7 
3.   The Question of lebensraum. Holiday. Dacca. 18 October 1991
4.   The Silent Demographic Invasion. Arun Shourie. Indian Express 8,9 October 2004.
5.   Ibid.
6.   ISI Activities in Assam. Statement laid on the table of the Assam Legislative Assembly, item-12, dated 
           6 April 2000 by the Chief Minister of Assam.
7.   Bangladesh and Jihadi Terrorism an Update. B.Raman. Agni. Vol-7. No. 2. September-December 
8.   Bangladesh Terror, the Growing Spectre of Radical Islam, Bibuti Bhuahan Nandy. Statesman 7 
           September 2004.
9.    Ibid.
10.   Transcript of John Walker Lindh interview. CNN. July 4 2002.
11.   Bangladesh Terror, the growing spectre of growing Islam. Bhibuti Bhushan Nandy. Statesman, 8 
           September 2004
12.   Terrorist Menace. Bhibuti Bhushan Nandy. Statesman, 15 July 2004.
13.   A’ moderate’ Bombing. Jeremy Seabrook. Statesman-20 August 2005.
14.   Demonised Other. Imtiaz Ahmed. Statesman. March-22,2005

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati