BANGLADESH: UNFINISHED REVOLUTION OR A NEW AGENDA?
A number of incidents in the wake of the Sheikh Hasina–led Awami League regime’s recent court-directed death sentences to the Jamaat-e-Islam and other orthodox Islamist groups who had aided Pakistan more than four decades ago in its violent effort to deny Bangladesh independence indicate that the ‘jihadis’ have been invigorated. These ‘jihadis’ were involved recently in highly visible and brutal murders and have reportedly claimed their allegiance to ISIS.
Prior to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh in June 2015, the Indian media reported the existence of an alleged nexus between the terror groups Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JuMB) and the Islamic State (IS). They reported that the formation of such a nexus had alarmed the intelligence agencies in India. The JuM-B, which wants to establish a Bangladeshi caliphate, has been active in India for quite some time.14
Expansion of the JuM-B network within India’s Bangladeshbordering state, West Bengal, was noted following an explosion in a house in the town of Burdwan in October 2014. India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) had reportedly advised the Home Ministry to entrust the investigations to the National Investigations Agency (NIA) in view of ‘prima facie’ evidence that the explosions reveal a larger ‘trans-regional terror network’ involving JuM-B, the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Al Jihad, a new outfit with bases in Pakistan. Quoting a senior IB official, the article stated, ‘The JuM-B, IM, and Al Jihad are now part of a fraternal terror network that seeks to unsettle South Asia, specially India and Bangladesh.’15
Another news item, from the PTI in November 2015, quoted an article in the ISIS online magazine, Dabiq: ‘The soldiers of the Khilafah in Bengal pledged their allegiance to the Khalifah Ibrahim (Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi), unified their ranks, nominated a regional leader, gathered behind him and dissolved their former factions.’ The article says that the militants have ‘performed the necessary military preparations, and hastened to answer the order from the Islamic State leadership, by targeting the crusaders and their allies wherever they may be found.’16 The regional leader’s name was not disclosed.
These activities indicate that following the rise of ISIS, the socalled jihadis, who remain ensconced within Bangladesh with funding and support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the London-based Bangladeshi al-Qaeda-linked elements, have begun to flex their muscles.
Richard L. Benkin, a human rights activist who has been fighting to stop the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh, points out in an article in American Thinker, a California-based daily Internet publication, that ‘after the initial allied operation in Afghanistan, Bangladesh became a haven for many fleeing al-Qaeda forces, who almost stole the country’s aborted 2007 election.’ He adds, ‘While posturing as “moderate,” Bangladesh has had Islamists in its governing coalition, named roads and bridges after terrorist organizations, and persecuted journalists and authors with impunity.’17 The support these ‘jihadis’ receive from a section of Bangladeshis who remain rooted in their belief that Bangladesh should be an Islamic nation in order to prevent a ‘Hindu’ India from gaining control also eased the task.
The bordering Indian state, West Bengal, was governed by a communist party for more than 25 years. Under the pretext of being a secular outfit, this group of peddlers of a foreign ideology allowed all kinds of illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling and forged currency trafficking, to flourish across the soft Indian border. In return, these Indian communists received large donations for their party coffers, which helped them stay in power for more than two decades. But the process corrupted law and order, bureaucracy, party-dominated local administrators and all other instruments that the Government of India depends on to secure the land and maintain the rule of law. One result is that the Bangladeshi ‘jihadis’ have been able to set up active cells within West Bengal.
Despite these gnawing problems, however, it should be noted that the Bangladesh army, which works closely with its Indian counterpart in dealing with terrorism, is strong, and there is no indication that the ‘jihadis’ have made any serious dent in Bangladesh’s security apparatus.
Moreover, Bangladesh is not surrounded by restive Islamic nations. Its north, west and east are surrounded by India, which prevents the ‘jihadis’ from bringing in fighters from across the borders. South of Bangladesh is the Bay of Bengal, where the Indian Navy has a strong presence.
PAKISTAN: LAND OF A STRONG MILITARY AND HOME-GROWN TERRORISTS
There have been many analyses in the international media in recent months suggesting that Pakistan is a fertile ground for the growth of ISIS. However, none of those analysts tackled the main issues: the role the powerful Pakistani military will play during such growth of ISIS or whether there are any indications that the Pakistani military is becoming increasingly pro-ISIS.
Analysts do not address these vital questions because it is inconceivable at this point to assume that with the organisational power it possesses, the Pakistani military will simply roll over and allow ISIS to take control in Pakistan. As pointed out earlier here, the reason ISIS could capture territories in Mesopotamia and establish its caliphate was because the West dismantled the well-organised Iraqi military and weakened the Syrian regime by backing the anti-Damascus protestors and al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked terrorists alike.
Is there any reason to believe that Pakistan, which is very much in the future scheme of things for China and Russia, two other major powers beside India in the region, will be allowed to disenfranchise its military to make it a part of the ISIS caliphate? The answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’.
On the other hand, unless a sea-change in attitude occurs inside Pakistan’s power structure, home-grown extremists there will continue to pose a terrorist threat to both Kabul and New Delhi. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services may even provide all possible support to the pro-ISIS militants within India in setting up their terrorist cells. At this juncture, that remains a distinct possibility.
Pakistan harbours, and perhaps nurtures, at least two dozen terrorist groups to serve its hostile interests against both India and Afghanistan. It is likely that it will find ISIS cells cropping up inside, particularly in FATA and Baluchistan, adjacent to the Afghanistan borders. These ISIS cells may emerge out of various existing terrorist cells that Islamabad allowed to function because of its stated intent to target Afghanistan and India.
There are reasons why such ISIS cells could emerge close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders. More than a year ago, NBC News reported on a ‘secret’ memo penned by the Government of Balochistan, suggesting that ‘ISIS has Pakistan in its cross-hairs, warning that the group aims to stir up sectarian unrest by dispatching the local militant group Lashkare- Jhangvi (LeJ) on offensives against Pakistan’s minority Shiite Muslim community, further destabilizing a country already battling Taliban and al Qaeda elements.’18
Another article, which appeared in July 2014, by the director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad, Muhammad Amir Rana, states that a map released by ISIS shows countries for expansion marked in black across North Africa, into mainland Spain, across the Middle East and into the Muslim countries of the central and South Asian region. It depicts exactly the states that are or once were under Muslim control. Interestingly, the ISIS map shows both Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of the Islamic caliphate state’s Khurasan province.
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates believe that the movement for the establishment of the Islamic state of Khurasan will emerge from the region comprising the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan and the Malakand region of Pakistan. Rana also points out that ISIS considers Khurasan the base camp of international jihad, from where it will expand the Islamic State boundaries into other non-Muslim lands. Mullah Fazlullah of Swat (head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) was inspired by the notion and considered himself the founder of the Khurasan movement, Rana states.19
Significantly, a November 2015 poll released by the Pew Research Center – an outfit based in Washington, D.C., which conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research – found that a majority in Pakistan offered no definite opinion on ISIS. In that poll, conducted in 11 countries with significant Muslim populations, people from Nigeria to Jordan to Indonesia overwhelmingly expressed negative views of ISIS but only 28 per cent in Pakistan had an unfavourable view of ISIS and a majority of Pakistanis (62 per cent) had no opinion on the extremist group.20
When everything is taken into consideration, what these reports and the poll suggest is that some within Pakistan will support what ISIS stands for and that could make Pakistan a fertile ground for recruitment of ISIS fighters in the future. But the reports do not constitute tell-tale signs that ISIS will be able to gain a significant level of power within Pakistan.
Notes and References
1. R. Jagannathan. ‘Mini-ISIS in West Bengal: New Jihad Strategy Is to Hold Territory and Recruit Globally.’ First Post, 30 October 2014.
2. Daily Mail. ‘Indian Intelligence Agencies Warn Bangladesh Mujahideen May Have Links to Islamic State.’ 30 May 2015.
3. PTI. ‘Rapid Increase of ISIS Activities in Maldives, Bangladesh.’ 30 September 2015.
4. Colleen Walsh. ‘The Rise of ISIS: A Q&A on the Partitioning of Iraq, and What’s Likely Next.’ Harvard Gazette, 6 August 2014. <https:// www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/news/in-news/rise-isis
5. Sruthijith K. K. ‘GMR Maldives Spat: Maldives’ Decision Against GMR Part of Political Strategy That Pits Orthodoxy Against India.’ ET Bureau, 9 December 2012.
6. Jason Burke. ‘Paradise Jihadis: Maldives Sees Surge in Young Muslims Leaving for Syria.’ Guardian, 26 February 2015.
7. Oliver Wright. ‘Islamic State: The Maldives–A Recruiting Paradise for Jihadists.’ Independent (UK), 13 September 2014.
8. Kate Clark and Borhan Osman. ‘First Wave of IS Attacks? Claim and Denial Over the Jalalabad Bombs.’ Afghan Analysts Network, 22 April 2015.
9. CBS News. ‘ISIS Kidnaps Dozens in Afghanistan, Official Says.’ 24 February 2015.
10. Nick Paton Walsh. ‘Afghanistan’s Changing of the Guard: ISIS Recruits in Taliban Territory.’ CNN, 6 April 2015.
11. Michelle Tan. ‘ISIS Recruiting in Afghanistan, Pakistan.’ Army Times, 15 January 2015.
12. Kristina Wong. ‘Pentagon Acknowledges ISIS Spread to Afghanistan Amid US Troop Drawdown.’ Hill, 12 February 2015.
13. TASS. ‘Moscow Warns IS Terrorists May Open Second Front in Afghanistan.’ 10 December 2015.
14. Abhishek Bhalla. ‘India, Bangladesh Share Information to Combat Terrorism.’ India Today, 29 May 2015.
15. bdnews24.com. ‘Burdwan Blast Exposes JMB “Hit Squad”.’ 9 October 2014.
16. PTI. ‘ISIS Appoints Regional Leader in Bangladesh; Threatens More Attacks.’ 23 November 2015.
17. Richard L. Benkin. ‘Is ISIS in South Asia?’ American Thinker, 11 November 2015.
18. Mujeeb Ahmed. ‘ISIS Has Master Plan for Pakistan, Secret Memo Warns.’ NBC News, 10 November 2014.
19. Muhammad Amir Rana. ‘What ISIS and the “Caliphate” Mean for Pakistan.’ Dawn, 3 July 2014.
20. Jacob Poushter. ‘ISIS in Pakistan: In Nations with Significant Muslim Populations, Much Disdain for ISIS.’ Pew Research Center, 17 November 2015.