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Call off the Bangladesh tour!

December 06, 2004

The Government of India is reported to have advised a short postponement of the departure of the Indian cricket team to Bangladesh to play some matches against the Bangladesh team at Dhaka and Chittagong following the receipt at the Indian high comission in Dhaka of a fax message purported to have been signed by an organisation called Harkat-ul-Jihad warning of dire consequences if the team went ahead with the visit.

A team of officials headed by a police officer of the rank of inspector general of police has been deputed by the Government of India to Dhaka to study, in consultation with the Bangladesh authorities, the security arrangements being made and the ground situation and assess whether it would be advisable for the Indian team to undertake the visit.

The Bangladesh high commission in New Delhi, through a spokesman, has reportedly described the fax message as a hoax and assured that there would be no threat to the security of the Indian team.

It is apparent that the message has been sent by someone not well disposed towards India, who does not want the visit to take place. The tour is taking place at a time when the security situation in Bangladesh has been a cause for concern to the international community due to the unwillingness or inability of the Begum Khaleda Zia government to take effective action against Islamic fundamentalist elements and pro-bin Laden jihadi terrorist groups, which have made Bangladesh a new epicentre of jihadi terrorism ever since the international coalition led by the US dismantled the terrorist infrastructure of Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front in Afghanistan post-9/11.

The fundamentalist and jihadi terrorist elements presently active in Bangladesh territory fall into the following broad groups:

  • The pro-Pakistani fundamentalist political parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote, which are members of Khaleda Zia'as ruling coalition.
  • The pro-bin Laden and pro-Al Qaeda pan-Islamic jihadi terrorist elements belonging to the Bangladesh branch of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. HUJI's headquarters are in Pakistan, but it has an active branch in Bangladesh, which is usually referred to as HUJI (B). Both are members of bin Laden's IIF. Before 9/11, the IIF had made HUJI (B) responsible for the training of jihadi elements (Rohingyas) from the Arakan area of Myanmar in camps in Bangladesh territory. After 9/11, it has also been made responsible for training jihadi elements from southern Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Brunei. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba has been made responsible for assisting the jihadis in Indonesia and Australia. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which has been responsible for assisting the jihadis in the Southern Philippines since the early 1990s, continues to perform that role. The HUJI was strongly suspected of involvement in the post-9/11 terrorist incidents in Pakistan, including in the two attempts to kill President Pervez Musharraf last December. The HUJI (B) has been suspected of involvement in many terrorist incidents in Bangladesh, including in the attempt to kill Sheikh Hasina, the former prime minister, on August 21, 2004. It has also been suspected of involvement in the terrorist incidents in southern Thailand since January 2004.
  • The surviving dregs of the Jemmah Islamiya of southeast Asia, who had escaped to Bangladesh from Pakistan after the battle of Tora Bora in end-2001. Their number is estimated at around 150 to 200.

The Islamic fundamentalist parties and the HUJI (B) are ill-disposed towards India and maintain a high level of anti-India rhetoric. Their animosity towards India could be attributed to their lingering anger over the role played by India in the partition of Pakistan leading to the birth of Bangladesh; the continuing influence of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment over their thinking and activities; and their feelings of solidarity with the terrorist elements in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Khaleda Zia government too is not well-disposed towards India. While this is in a large measure due to her suspicions over the perceived proximity of Sheikh Hasina, her political rival and the former prime minister's Awami League party to India, other factors also come into play such as the influence on her thinking of the Islamic fundamentalist parties and Pakistan.

Bangladesh's military-intelligence establishment has many pro-Pakistan rogue elements over which no effective control could be exercised either by Khaleda Zia or Sheikh Hasina. Because of the increasing activities of fundamentalist and jihadi elements in Bangladesh, which has more madrasas than Pakistan, many of them funded by Wahabbi organisations of Saudi Arabia and Wahabbi-Deobandi organisations of Pakistan, there has been an infiltration of fundamentalist elements into the lower ranks of the security forces too.

In a situation like the one which has arisen following the receipt of the fax message, the most important question to be considered is not whether the message is a hoax or not, but whether, if one presumes the threat to be genuine, the  authorities of Bangladesh would be able to provide effective security to the Indian team. I am doubtful on this count.

There were similar causes for concern in Pakistan before the Indian team went there earlier this year, but one felt confident that General Musharraf would be able to ensure reasonable security to the Indian team. Despite the two attempts on his life in December 2003, he is a man reasonably in charge and one felt confident his orders would be implemented.

One cannot have the same confidence with regard to Khaleda Zia. She does not give the impression of someone in effective control, not only over the fundamentalist and jihadi elements, but even over her own military-intelligence establishment.

By going ahead with the tour in the present atmosphere, we may be putting the Indian team to undue risk.

B Raman

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