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Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh: The enemy within?

  • Geopolitics
  • 9 Months ago
  • 4 min read
Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh: The enemy within?

Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh: The enemy within?

Shantanu Mukharji
Shantanu Mukharji - Adviser NatStrat, former National Security Advisor in Mauritius, retired IPS officer

The Bangladesh-based Islamic fundamentalist outfit, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), notorious for its religious intolerance, bigotry and hatred, is again in the spotlight for its revived political activities. Although not known for any electoral activity, it continues to wreak discord and communal tension through inciting inter-faith disharmony.

A visible revival of activities by the Jamaat was noticed at a massive rally it held in Dhaka on June 10 which drew a huge crowd. The rally was accorded formal permission by the local authorities –a move which surprised many. Some hold the view that there is a tacit understanding between the Awami League (AL)-led government and the JeI, perhaps indicating a political compromise ahead of elections which are due early next year. Some Bangladesh-watchers do not rule out the possibility of US pressure on the government to allow Jamaat to hold such a rally, and that too with government’s express approval. This is indeed unexpected, but experts are also reading it alongside the recent US sanctions on visas to Bangladeshis seeking to visit the US. Either way, the Jamaat stands to gain at least tactically for the time being by securing permission and holding a “successful” rally.

This development is unwelcome to the progressive and forward-thinking section in Bangladesh, who apprehend any revival of the Jamaat will see a deterioration in the communal atmosphere, especially because of the outfit’s tainted reputation for its collaboration with Pakistani occupation forces in 1970-71 and for its systematic participation in carrying out killings of intellectuals, Hindus and freedom fighters in run up to the liberation struggle.

Hence their apprehensions are not totally unfounded. In this context, it is also pertinent to point out that in the past, during the Khaleda Zia led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) regime (1991-1996 and 2001-2006), it had a robust political partnership with the Jamaat-e-Islami. Two of the JeI’s important functionaries were given significant portfolios as ministers in the cabinet and they fully utilized their positions to strengthen JeI’s grassroot cades and also enrich its coffers by ensuring huge funding--either through surreptitious means or by securing heavy funding from Middle Eastern countries as well as several Islamic endowments.

Against this backdrop, the re-surfacing of the Jamaat at this critical political juncture merits close scrutiny. The government may have factored all the pros and cons of permitting the Jamaat rally and decided that this is not harming the communal atmosphere or denting party’s electoral prospects. On the other hand, if this is not the case, the government and the ruling party cannot escape the blame for reviving the Jamaat and eventually possibly pushing the country towards fundamentalism and religious extremism.

Those who believe this was done under US pressure argue it is consistent with the US policy of keeping the Jamaat and its affiliates over ground, so their activities are visible, thus allowing better oversight. Banning them, in this view, would drive them underground. But the large turnout at the Jamaat rally has made the authorities apprehensive.

According to credible intelligence sources, the Jamaat has seen a threefold rise in the number of its activists: the present figure stands at  6.39 lakh while fifteen years ago, it was barely 2.21 lakh.  Also, the number of JeI permanent cadres was 23,863 in 2008 while it has swelled to 73,046 today. These statistics are not only of academic interest; they also indicate the phenomenal growth of this fundamentalist setup in letter and in spirit at a time when there is a global war against rise of fundamentalism and also of Islamic terror.

Further, the same credible intelligence reports also give out the Jamaat’s strategy for the upcoming national election and more importantly, its funding. These figures are processed on the basis of information collected from the party’s top secret classified documents, interrogation of leading Jamaat leaders, and even technology-based interceptions carried out during communication amongst party leaders.  A leading daily of Bangladesh claims to be in possession of such vital information made available from intelligence sources. Also, the documents procured from the Jamaat leaders indicate a sharp rise in recruitment of women cadres, a fact which cannot be ignored.

Significantly, permission for the June 10 Jamaat rally came after 10 years. Many observers felt it defied all logical explanation: despite attempts by many ministers in the government   to defend the government’s decision to allow the rally to take place, this has given a fresh lease of life to the Jamaatis.

Earlier, in the aftermath of getting de-registered as a political party by the Bangladesh Government in 2013, the JeI had tried to stage a comeback by renaming itself first as the Bangladesh Development Party (BDP), and subsequently as Amar Bangladesh Party (ABP). Nonetheless, they were denied recognition as despite the name change, the cadres remained the same, keeping the ideology and tenets of religious fundamentalism intact. However, the party has grown in leaps and bounds in the last fifteen years and is raring to flex its muscles to occupy a political space in pursuit of its communal agenda.  It is also thought to have adopted an effective strategy of increasing its voters in constituencies where it has a strong base. 

In the meantime, authoritative sources reveal that the JeI has been trying to spread its activities abroad by enlisting fresh members and launching a fund-raising drive in order to proliferate its activities overseas. Also, hardcore JeI cadres originating from Bangladesh and settled abroad, are engaged in hectic political lobbying with politicians of significance, in the West, particularly in EU countries.

More specifically, Jamaat-e-Islami’s senior leaders abroad have   canvassed British parliamentarians, and in pursuit of this they are actively collaborating with BNP fugitive Tarique Rahman and other BNP leaders who are  suspected of being associated with some western intelligence and security agencies.

Judging by the  recent events related to the Jamaat, especially in light of the upcoming elections, the Intelligence and Counter Terror bodies in Bangladesh should consider harnessing their resources more vigorously to keep a tab on any possible nexus with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and others trying to promote the Jamaat’s pursuit of a course of action obviously detrimental to the geopolitical and security interests of not only Bangladesh, but  India as well and the immediate neighbourhood. Pakistan’s interests are well known--extending all out support to the Jamaat because of a long   partnership which has existed since the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan’s destructive role in 1971 does not require any elaboration and its open opposition to the trial and subsequent hanging of Jamaat war criminals is in the public domain. But for Sheikh Hasina’s strong resolve and determination, the Jamaat convicts would have had an easy escape.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in power and hopes to remain so in the near future. Hence, any move by the Jamaat to raise its head must be nipped in the bud. Let there be no illusions that the fundamentalists or anti-India forces have slackened. 

At the same time, it is hoped that the recently held Jamaat rally or the intelligence leaked statistics of the Jamaat are not getting the better of progressive and liberal forces. This onerous task lies squarely upon Prime Minister Hasina, her party and Bangladesh’s liberals.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)


     

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