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The Myth of Moderate Talibaan or Moderate Jamat Islami in Bangladesh

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Submitted by Anwar (India), Sep 7, 2007 at 11:25

One little scuffle at a university football match was all it took to ignite student riots across Bangladesh, which has been under Emergency Rule since January.

The match at Dhaka University grounds on August 19, 2007 turned violent after a couple of army officers got into an argument with the students for blocking their view of the game. This spiralled into a fight between the students and some teachers on one side and the police and the Army on the other. The spiralling violence forced the authorities to declare a curfew on August 22. Though the curfew was withdrawn on August 25, the detention of two teachers – Dhaka University Social Science Dean Harun-ur-Rashid, and Dr Anwar Choudhury, Secretary of Dhaka University Teachers Union – for three months has kept things simmering.

University teachers, known as Buddhijivis (intellectuals) in Bangladesh, are highly respected by the student fraternity. Back in 1971, when the Pakistani army in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) decided to surrender to the Indian army, one of their last acts was to kill as many Bangladeshi teachers and intellectuals as possible. It was a well-calculated act. Students basically comprised the liberation movement, and encouragement by the intellectuals through speeches and writings fuelled their spirit. The Bangladesh liberation movement, which started in 1952 with the language movement, was also a student -intellectual combine that the politicians later rode on.

Students and teachers have been both the harbingers and vehicles of most major Bangladeshi political movements. The army-backed caretaker–government will have to be very careful not to stir this hornet's nest. Yet the law enforcing authorities handled the Dhaka University incident rather immaturely. If the army and the police had not retaliated with undue force, the matter could have been resolved then. So the question doing the rounds in Dhaka is: was the flare up accidental or was it a planned provocation, an attempt to create a chaotic situation?

The riots have come as a blot on the reputation of the army-backed caretaker government, which was seen as a saviour when national emergency was declared on January 12, 2007 and Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, an economist, took charge. Political activities, including indoor politics, were suspended. The new government pledged to clean up corruption, root out Islamic fundamentalists and terrorism, restore law and order, and hold a free and fair election.

But nothing has gone right since then. All that seems to have been done is to upgrade the ranks of the defence cadre to full general rank and extend the tenure of top officers by two to three years. There are now doubts if the next general election, now scheduled for December 2008, will take place.

The caretaker-government's Advisors, who perform the role of Cabinet Ministers, have very clear links with political parties like the BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and Awami League. Some political leaders and their business associates were arrested, though the evidence presented against some of these leaders is too weak to stand a regular court's scrutiny.

Awami League President and former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was jailed on July 16, 2007 on corruption charges, and is still fighting to get bail. BNP Chairperson, Begum Khaleda Zia, under house arrest on similar charges, was formally arrested and jailed only on September 2.

Initially, the government tried to expel both Hasina and Khaleda Zia from the country, but that did not work. What did, however, emerge from these antics was that Begum Zia had overwhelming support from Pakistan with full underwriting from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Which perhaps explains why Begum Zia reportedly has better amenities in jail than Sheikh Hasina does. This also reveals the Pakistani influence, powered by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in Bangladesh.

Ever since Bangladesh became independent, Saudi foreign policy towards Bangladesh has been drafted in Pakistan's foreign ministry. The first major step was the formation of the Islamic Bank in Bangladesh in 1976, funded by Riyadh. This bank gave the Jamaat its first financial lifeline in independent Bangladesh. The rest is history.

The Western forces, especially the United States and the UK, are playing very calculated roles. It is their influence that ensured that the Jamaat-e-Islami leaders have not been named in any case of corruption or support to terrorism. In their fight against terrorism, the US believes it has to shore up Islamic political parties and groups it considers "moderate", like the Jamaat.

The Washington Beltway analysts have not been able to figure out what happened to their "moderate Taliban" in Afghanistan. Yet the US intelligence establishment and the State Department seem to be in a politico-biological experiment to create a creature called a moderate Jamaat-e-Islami. Obviously they haven't read the story of Frankenstein.

At the moment, the administration in Bangladesh, if there really is one, is in a serious quandary. They tried to break the two major political parties, the Awami League and the BNP, but did not succeed. The army, in consultation with the civilian government, tried to float a new all-encompassing political party. That, too, failed. The People's Democratic Party formed by the Directorate General of Field Intelligence, or DGFI, the replication of Pakistan's ISI, turned out to be a joke.

A President or acting President would have to be placed in Banga Bhavan. But the administration indefinitely extended the term of President Iazzudin Ahmed, whose five-year term expired on September 5. According to a spokesman for the interim administration, Ahmed would have to continue since there is no Parliament to select his successor.

Another formula is also being floated — A National Government with Dr Kamal Hossain as the President. An ex-Awami League leader and a renowned lawyer, Dr Hossain is a former associate of Sheikh.Hasina who fell out with her over her autocratic ways.

But for a National Government to have some credibility, the administration has to include senior and well-known politicians from the BNP and the Awami League as well.

The student protests become a useful tool here, if handled deftly and with finesse. It can be projected as a sign of future instability unless it is firmly controlled. Which in turn means more powers for the army and the police, and reasons for extending the Emergency and curtailing constitutional and political rights.

However, the longer the country remains without a democratic government and free politics, the higher will be the cost.

There cannot be Moderate Al Qaida , Moderate Talibaan , Moderate Terrorist , Moderate Murderer or Moderate Jihadi. We should think deeply and analyse the threat which these evil forces poses to our Modern Free World. Ignoring them will encourage them to grow their strength beyond our control.Its a monster and its best we contain it now. The sooner , The Better.

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