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Part III: Does Hamas-Like Surprise Await Bangladesh?

Why is Al-Queida in Nepal?

Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA 

This is the final of three articles by Dr. Richard L. Benkin on the potential threat of an Islamist takeover in Bangladesh.

In late 2001, the US military expelled Al-Qaeda forces from Afghanistan and destroyed the terror group’s infrastructure and base of operations.  When they fled to Pakistan’s tribal belt, Pakistani forces loyal to strongman General Pervez Musharaf disrupted their comfortable network of hiding places there.  While Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization responded in part by de-centralizing, the group still needed a safe base of operations.  But with Afghanistan crawling with coalition forces, Pakistan no longer a safe haven, and the US in the Middle East with its eyes, at least, on Islamist Iran where might that be?

                                 

As early as 2004, a US embassy official in Kathmandu commented, “Al-Qaeda's nest in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been destroyed. The birds are looking for a new home,” and suggested that Nepal might be that home.  The official’s muses were based in part on a growing state of turmoil in the tiny nation, which he believed made Nepal an easy mark for the Islamists.  When King Gyanendra seized absolute power on February 1, 2005, things got even worse.  He said he took the action in order to defeat Maoist rebels whose violent insurgency had already claimed over 13,000 victims, but his action sparked a year of street clashes involving a plethora of different groups from human rights activists to leftists seeking to replace the monarchy with a communist dictatorship.  With continuous street violence and the government fighting to maintain its power base, border control was non-existent, and the warnings of that US official seemed prophetic.  On April 20, 2006, the king ceded the powers he grabbed; but by early 2006, the Indian intelligence service reported that Al-Qaeda terrorists were operating in several Nepalese towns.  “Faced with grave internal crisis, Nepal provides the kind of environment that suits a terrorist outfit like the Al-Qaeda.”

 

Now what is particularly interesting about Al-Qaeda setting up house in Nepal is the fact that Nepal is 89 percent Hindu and most of the rest of its people are Buddhist.  This hardly qualifies Nepal as the next Islamic republic.  Moreover, Al-Qaeda first made its name fighting communists, and its own fundamental Islam is diametrically opposed to Maoism’s enforced atheism.   Nepal is only a way station; the alliance with the left only a temporary marriage of convenience.  Continuing the line from Afghanistan through the mountains of Pakistan, then terrorist-controlled Kashmir and across the Indian-Chinese frontier into Nepal; leads to Al-Qaeda’s real, Shangri La: the world’s third largest Muslim country, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is uncomfortably conducive to an Islamist takeover.  The country is a democracy, consistent with the wishes and traditions of its people, but the Islamists intend to use the democratic process to assume power and then destroy it.  (This is nothing new.  Adolph Hitler set the example by declaring his totalitarian terror-state after securing power by manipulating Germany’s democracy in 1933.) National elections are scheduled for January and while Bangladesh Ambassador to the United States, Shamsher M. Chowdhury, hews the government line that “the Islamists are weak,” facts predict a far different outcome.

The current government correctly touts figures that demonostrate it has had some success in fighting poverty, but figures also show that the country remains one of the poorest in the world.  More importantly, massive sections of the electorate experience ongoing lives of economic privation.  Infrastructure is inconsistent at best even in the capital, primitive in many cases; and the nation always finds itself judged as the first or second most corrupt country in the world by every international survey.  That same combination of crushing poverty and endemic corruption helped propel Hamas to power through elections in the Palestinian territories.  It has also powered Islamist gains in North Africa (Muslim brotherhood) and elsewhere in the Muslim world.  On top of that, Bangladeshi Islamists have something their counterparts did not. They already are part of the government, and they have become major power brokers in determining whether the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) or its rival Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) will form the next government.  With national elections looming, the BNP’s unwillingness to alienate the Islamists has fueled many government decisions, something that several unnamed and highly placed Bangladeshi officials have admitted privately on several occasions.  Large portions of the population remain unsatisfied with the performance of both major parties, and current BNP-BAL squabbling over the upcoming elections is eroding popular support for the major parties further.  Day by day, the Islamist option becomes more attractive to voters.  The 2006 Palestinian elections provided Al-Qaeda and their allies with a blueprint for a bloodless takeover.  When existing political blocs and the government are tainted with corruption and ineffectiveness, the Islamist brand of religious fundamentalistm seems pristine, as does its rhetoric.  Palestinian voters, for example, chose to ignore Hamas’s anti-peace platform, choosing instead to grasp at what they hoped was a lifeline to save them from a corrupt and chaotic regime.  Of course, their lives are far worse for that choice, and it can only be hoped that Bangladeshis will not repeat their mistake.

But Bangladesh Islamists do not even have to command the largest number of votes.  A  strong showing could give them sufficient power to demand a major portfolio—and given their stated aim of replacing current Bangladeshi law with Sharia (Muslim law), it is not out of the question that they would demand the Law Ministry in exchange for their support.  A Muslim with extensive knowledge of the law, explained the real significance of such a move.  Implementing Sharia, he said, does not require changing the law itself.  It can be done administratively by instructing judges and prosecutors that no specific law can be enforced without first making sure it does not conflict with Sharia.  The Law Minister can do that.  What would that mean for Bangladesh’s religious minorities, all but the most orthodox Muslims, and independent women—even the Prime Minister and opposition leader?

 

Events in May further strengthen suspicions of an Islamist takeover.  The post-violence search by the press, government officials, and the “Bangladeshi street” for conspiracies might be a common knee-jerk reaction there; but there is some substance to what one official called “a vested quarter at home and abroad planned the ransacking of garment industries to create an anarchic situation,” as reported in Weekly Blitz.  Bangladeshis seem afraid to say whom that “vested quarter” with bases both in Bangladesh and abroad might that be.  But only the Islamists (including their allies in the ruling coalition) satisfy the domestic/international criterion and have a history of using violence in Bangladesh to promote their agenda.  They are also the only force—at home and abroad—that benefits from the recent violence.

 

Last year, Bangladesh experienced a wave of terror bombings by Islamists intended to force the nation to implement Sharia (Muslim law) as the law of the land.  Regardless of the rationale or the perpetrators, continued violence works against the sitting government and opens the door for a force that claims to have “the answer” to emerge.  Radical Islam has been posed as the answer openly elsewhere and less openly in Bangladesh.  At first, some people wondered if the recent violence was the beginning of a takeover by a foreign power, through a state of emergency, or by leftists.  With the sudden stop in the violence, it is clear that was not the case.  That drop, preceded by a sudden eruption, follows the same pattern taken by last fall’s terror attacks, which have not been repeated since.   If social unrest and violence erupts periodically from now until the January elections, it would be foolhardy not to look for Islamist hands behind it.  And the violence might allow them to achieve their goals by manipulating voter sentiment

 

An Islamist power grab in Bangladesh, while a distinct possibility, is not inevitable.  The country has been holding elections judged fair by international monitors, and its leaders have made it clear that they see their nation’s interest as lying in cooperation with the United States to defeat radical Islam.  Radical Islam, moreover, is inconsistent with the Bangladeshi people’s traditional faith.  And it should not be forgotten that Bangladesh has substantial religious minorities, especially Hindu.  A takeover by radical Islamists could provoke Indian intervention to save that population, or (open or clandestine) action by China concerned about Islamist support for their counterparts who have been fighting a terror war in China’s western provinces.

 

Perhaps the best chance of preventing foreign Islamists from taking over Bangladesh comes from cooperation with the United States.  Trade concessions, security cooperation, aid and technology all can help improve the lives of ordinary Bangladeshis and turn their daily experience of their government into positive one.  Unfortunately, when Bangladeshi Home Minister Lutfuzzamen Babar visits the US in June, American leaders are more likely to focus on his government’s human rights violations and their policy of appeasing Islamists.  One of their top agenda items will be the admittedly false sedition charges against Blitz editor, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.  Several members of Congress have been following the case for months and have previously expressed their concerns over this attack on press freedom and the brutal mistreatment of this man.  Even though the government has had insufficient evidence to proceed against Choudhury more than two and a half years after charging him with the capital offense; it has squandered the goodwill it was starting to build with the Americans, even getting caught lying to US lawmakers.  The only rationale for such counterproductive decisions is fear of Islamist reaction.

 

The Islamists have made their intentions clear in words and actions.  In country after country and now in Bangladesh, they have not scrupled about sacrificing innocent victims to advance their platform.  History has shown that it is best to take them at their word, something that Bangladeshis experienced first hand last year with their wanton murder of innocents in a string of terrorist bombings.  We know that they have been buying influence over the public through their network of madrassas (schools), key positions at the nation’s universities, major media (print and broadcast), and attaining positions of influence among government workers and the police.  All of it has been building toward an electoral surprise in January that would spell the end of Bangladeshi freedoms.   And if all of that planning and manipulation was not enough, they now have established themselves in Nepal from where they can slowly infiltrate foreigners to stuff the ballot boxes, as we say in the United States, and add their illicit vote count to the Islamists.  In Muslim countries like Azerbaijan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere, Islamist shock troops have been invading to force the populations to accept their twisted interpretation of a great religion.  From Afghanistan to Pakistan to Kashmir to Nepal, they are slithering closer to Bangladesh where they can join their brothers who have been mixing distortions of truth (media and madrassas) with their specialty, terror.  If they make gains in January, expect their terrorist brethren to make their presence felt in Bangladesh with the intention of subverting Bangladeshi democracy.

 

What is Al-Queida doing in Nepal?  Waiting for their chance to pounce on democratic Bangladesh.  Continued appeasement by the BNP and the BAL’s virtual hands-off policy toward them are both helping the Islamists realize their dream of taking the world’s seventh largest country.

Posted on 17 Jun 2006 by Editor
 
 
 
 
 


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