Immediately following the arrests of David Coleman Headley, born as Dawood Gilani, and Tawahur Hossain Rana, a Pakistan born Canadian citizen, by the FBI in early November in the USA, the Bangladeshi security and counter-terrorism agencies moved to arrest three Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) activists who were planning to attack the Indian High Commission and the US Embassy in Dhaka.
The connection between the two sets of arrests is evident. Available information till now identified the Headley – Rana duo had targeted the newspaper of Denmark (which allegedly had insulted Islam) and various strategic and civilian targets in India including the National Defence College (NDC) and other Indian and US targets. Both had visited India more than once and they appear to be connected with the LET’s “26/11” Mumbai attack. Their travel tracks between India and Pakistan and their activities and meetings in the two countries are being investigated.
The LET was primarily created by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence to target Kashmir and expanded later to attack other parts of India. The Americans had backed Pakistan through the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s, and the USA was a friend. But the American withdrawal after the war left the Pak-Afghan region in a mess. Pakistan seized the opportunity to turn the Mujahidin into the Taliban. Both the Taliban and the ISI/Pakistani army hosted Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda Islamised the Taliban into following the intolerant Wahabi line.
Washington remained non-interfering and tolerant in the interest of oil and gas transit from Central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan. This created an almost tailor made situation for Pakistan’s “strategic depth in Afghanistan” strategy in case of an India-Pakistan war. The ISI co-opted the Al Qaeda along with the Taliban.
The ISI/Pak army/Taliban/Al Qaeda team makes for a complex issue. But at the root of this potpourri is General and President Zia-ul-Haq’s vision of creating a conservative Islamic society where the intelligence, security forces and the army would be the guardians of his ideology. At the bottom line: the creation of Bangladesh with India’s involvement had to be avenged. While sections in Pakistan’s civil society and press have begun to realize the expectations of a globalized world, the monster created by Zia-ul-Haq’s vision has grown hugely and is threatening to devour the country. Unfortunately, sections in the ISI and the army still remain wedded to the old idea.
The September 11, 2001 (9/11) Al Qaeda terrorist attack in USA changed much of the picture. The Americans are aware and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly made it clear during her Pakistan visit in early November this year, that important sections in the Pak army, the ISI and the establishment are hand in gloves with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The LET, the strongest ISI terrorist front organization headed by Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed, are not permitted to attack American assets inside Pakistan. Although the US has imperative strategic interest in Pakistan, a major attack on the US Embassy in Islamabad may very well precipitate devastating punitive action from the US. Therefore, a conducive country had to be found where the US could be targeted under cover. Bangladesh was tailor made, with an existing base which launched terrorism in India.
A significant number of Bangladeshis had fought as mercenaries in the Afghan-Soviet war. Trained in camps in Pakistan under the ISI, and in Afghanistan under the Taliban, some also fought in Palestine, some in Chechnya. Almost all of them returned to Bangladesh, they returned as emissaries of the ISI/Taliban-Al Qaeda team, and the ISI-LET became the controlling agent.
Since its birth in 1971 in a bloody struggle against Pakistan, Bangladesh underwent a series of upheavals, coups and revolts after the assassination of its founder and President, Sk. Mujibur Rahman, on August 15, 1975. Between August and November 1975 those perceived to be pro-India whether politicians, military officers or intellectuals were massacred. The USA and the West looked at these developments benignly. It was the era of the cold war – US-Pakistan-China axis versus the India-Soviet partnership vibrating discordantly in the region.
Major Zia-ur-Rehman, a Bengali in the Pakistan army, apparently a freedom fighter in Bangladesh’s liberation war against Pakistan in 1971, was the main usurper of the country’s freedom and beneficiary of Sk. Mujib’s assassination. Although he died in another coup in 1981, he formed the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). He brought the anti-liberation and pro-Pakistan group, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and their linked organizations back from political banishment. These people had collaborated with the Pakistani army in Bangladesh, and were responsible for the rape and massacre of thousands of Bangladeshis.
The BNP, during its tenure in government from 1991 to 1996, and 2001 to 2006 in collaboration with the JEI and two other parties, turned Bangladesh into a country run by terrorists and Islamic extremists. The entire Pakistan establishment was their mentor, and the BNP/JEI combine with other obscurantists like the Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ) became the executors.
To start with, the common enemy was India, mainly because of India’s role in the birth of Bangladesh. But they raised the anti-India tirade into a national agenda and a Pakistan sponsored Wahabi Islamic sentiment had to be introduced. History was distorted in text books to suggest that the 1971 war was fought against India.
Capturing power by whatever means in a small developing country through election, is understandable. Even extending the hold by some means through democratic sham would still be somewhat hands off from the international community. But if the powers that be take to terrorism and encouragement of religious extremism that can hurt the international community especially when it is fighting terrorism, makes for another evaluation.
There are three major criminal and anti-national cases in Bangladeshi courts which are likely to come to a conclusion in a few months.
One is the Sk. Mujibur Rahman assassination case in which the main perpetrators of the crime are going to receive their sentences, with the verdict scheduled for November 19. The aftermath may witness some bloodshed from among the ruling Awami League.
The other is the trial of the assassination attempt on Awami League President and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, elder daughter of Sk. Mujibur Rahman, on August 21, 2004 at a party rally. The grenade attack killed 24 Awami League leaders and cadres and injured scores of others. Sk. Hasina was also severely injured. This attack took place at the height of BNP-JEI led four party alliance government.
The under trials include Harkatul-Jihad-al-Islami, Bangladesh, (HUJI-BD) Commander Mufti Hannan who conducted the attack; Harris Choudhury, BNP Chairperson and Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s political advisor; Abdus Salam Pintu, Deputy Minister in the BNP – JEI government and a close friend of Khaleda Zia’s all powerful son Tareque Rehman; Moulana Tajuddin, leader of the Bangladesh chapter of the LET and brother of Pintu; Luftozzaman Babar, Minister of State for Home Affairs in the BNP-JEI government and a close friend of Tareque Rehman and an acolyte of Begum Khaleda Zia, among others.
It is to note that David Headley was in close touch with Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of the Pakistani HUJI and mentor of HUJI-BD. Kashmiri, who is from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), was groomed by the ISI and the Pakistan army for Jihad in Indian Kashmir. But the two sides have fallen out at least, officially.
The third case is that of interdiction (accidentally) of ten truckloads of arms at the Fertilizer Jetty at the Chittagong Port in April 2004. The huge quantity of arms including rocket launchers, were meant for North-East Indian militants, the United Liberation Force of Assam (ULFA). Had this consignment reached its destination, the mayhem in Assam and other areas in that region can be imagined.
The ongoing investigations into this case have already exposed a virtual terrorist organization resting at the heart of the BNP-JEI led government. It was waging a war of terror against India along with collaboration and assistance from the Pakistani government. Almost the entire top leadership was hosted by Dhaka. Other Indian insurgents also had access and residency in Bangladesh.
The conspiracy footsteps go to the highest level of the BNP and JEI involving BNP senior Joint General Secretary Tareque Rehman, and the JEI Amir Motiur Rehman Nizami, who at that time was the Industries Minister and controlled the Chittagong Fertilizer Jetty. Former top intelligence officers from the Director General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the National Security and Intelligence (NSI), including their former heads are in custody today undergoing interrogation. Lutfozzaman Babar, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s political adviser, Harris Choudhury and others were also involved and are being questioned. The scale and reach of this conspiracy suggest that Prime Minister Khaleda could not have been unaware of it.
It is well documented that Tareque Rehman was the godfather of Islamic extremists like Khatme Nabuwat Movement, the Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) and some others. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia openly said in 2004, that there was nothing like the JMB and it was media creation. She was also involved in covering the terrorists.
The most revealing aspect of the investigation directly links with the JEI-HUJI conspiracy today in Bangladesh. The ISI was directly involved in arranging the procurement and delivery of this arms consignment as was Dubai based ISI’s front media company the ARY. The ARY was a money transfer company for the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, according to reports. Finally, was the introduction of ISI controlled underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim in this project. The D-company arrived in Bangladesh.
The basic network of the LET, HUJI and others were laid from the mid-1990s. They were politically important for the BNP and JEI to fight the Awami League and other secular nationalist political parties.
Attacks on the life of Sk. Hasina started in April 2001. The person entrusted for this job from the beginning was HUJI commander, Mufti Hannan, who also led the August 21 attack. Interestingly, the grenades used for the ‘August 21’ attack were Arges grenades made in Pakistan, and part of the Chittagong consignment. Babar has confessed to this, proving they were pilfering from the confiscated consignment. These same grenades were used in the attacks which killed Shah AMS Kibria, and injured British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury, and others.
Those arrested in the planned attacks on the Indian High Commission, the US Embassy and some eminent persons, reveal that the LET and HUJI are working together in Bangladesh. One of the LET handlers arrested is Maulana Tajuddin, brother of BNP Deputy Minister Pintu, who is also in custody. Another is HUJI leader Abdul Majid.
Three Pakistani LET activists have also been arrested, but the detective bureau suspects about 30 have come from Pakistan, and are being protected by their Bangladeshi counterparts. One of those arrested by DB, Madrassa teacher Mufti Harun, confessed to his interrogators that Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, the founder of the Pakistan LET and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, had instructed him over telephone to attack the US Embassy in Dhaka. Hafez Sayeed is an accused in Mumbai terrorist attack “26/11”, but the Pakistani establishment fear to touch him.
The BNP-JEI government allowed several Al Qaeda connected foreign NGOs like the Al Harmain Foundation of Saudi Arabia and the Revival lslamic Heritage Society (RIHS) of Kuwait to set up base in Bangladesh and bring in money to fund jihadists in the country. A research report developed in Bangladesh in 2005 says there were 125 Islamic organizations functioning under NGO cover that were either militant or supported militancy. Their ideological tenets were controlled either by the rigid Moududism, or JEI, or ISI controlled Wahabism.
What is necessary is to recognize urgently that the Islamic militancy or terrorism has networked globally, but the epicentre is still located in Pakistan.
Like its ‘strategic depth’ strategy in Afghanistan, Pakistan believes in waging India-centric low intensity war from Bangladesh. The US has been a more recent inclusion in the Pakistani/ISI perception.
Sk. Hasina, as the elder daughter of Sk. Mujibur Rahman is the living symbol of the breakup of Pakistan with the liberation of Bangladesh. If she is eliminated, part of Pakistan’s insult of 1971 will be avenged.
The bottom line is that the BNP-JEI government not only raped the country financially, not that some others have been innocent, but became a state sponsoring terrorism. Prime Minister Sk. Hasina declared that eradication of terrorism was on the top of the agenda. She lived up to her words. She has also called for a regional approach to counter terrorism. It is time that the international community, in its war against terrorism, co-operate closely with the government of Bangladesh.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent analyst based in New Delhi.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)