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Threat from home-made Islamic terrorism of Bangladesh

Sankar Ray

Assets of Islamic terrorist outfits in Bangladesh zooms in on towards US $ 100 billion by the year-end, based on the average annual growth of 9 per cent against less- than- 6 p.c. growth of national economy. This assumption takes into account the estimate worked out by Dr Abul Barkat, professor of economics, University of Dhaka in his latest book Bangladeshey Moulobaad: Jongibaader Rajnoitik Orthonitir Andor Bahir in Bengali (Fundamentalism in Bangladesh: External and Internal Dimensions of the Political Economy of Militancy’). He has built up a solid database in his on-going research over three decades. His quantitative analysis estimates total assets of those outfits in 2016 at Tk 6551.39 billion (approximately $80 billion) which is more than 200 p.c. of the size of national budget of Bangladesh which was termed by Hiranmay Karlekar as ‘next Afghanistan. But he points out that these religious extremists comprise a very small minority in Bangladesh. In fact, those who adhere to political Islam’ and endorse terroristic campaign the world over are hardly 7 p.c.  of 1.3 billion Muslims the world over, Barkat states. The overwhelming majority of Islamic clergy has the same view.

The burgeoning growth of financial power that has built by a powerful subterranean economy inspires these obscurantists and their mission. The prime movers are rent-seekers who have already let loose a phenomenal criminalization. They are instrumental in having instituted criminalization of politics and economics to control market, election, muscle power, fundamentalist groups, and terrorists, according to Barkat. They cash in on black money, corruption, illegal export-import, number of slum, distress of older people, NGO’s, killing group, speed money, land encroachment, unemployment rate, religious business, private education, madrassas, seminaries hospitals and clinics, the Dhaka economist asserts. Paul Cochran, a Beirut-stationed journalist who interviewed Barkat, Muniruzzaman, president, Bangladeshi Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies, Dhaka, and others stated in a paper, The Funding Methods of Bangladeshi Terrorist Groups (2009) that these organizations ‘are resurgent with financing coming from numerous sources, most notably non-governmental organizations.” Legislations to curb illicit financing are in vain. Which is why they money-launder an estimated (conservatively) Tk 40 billion ($ 1= Tk 79) a year, reportedly linked to several mega-corrupt transactions worth Tk 2500 billion and illegal land grab (including huge wetlands) of about five million acres. These ‘fundamentalist ‘operatives generate an average yearly profit, estimated (by Barkat) Tk 31. 62 billion of which are 9.4 p.c from educational institutions, 27.8 p.c. from banks, insurance-financial firms, 8 p.c. from real estate business, 19.4 p.c. from farmers association, trust, foundation; 7.4 p.c. from mass media and 10 p.c. from medical and health organisations.

Little wonder, almost 75 p.c. of foreign funds amounting to Tk 2500 billion that came to Bangladesh between 1975-2016 went to the coffer of about 200,000 criminal rent seekers. The venomous saplings of Islamic terrorism started growing after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sk Mujibur Rahman on 16 August,1975.  It was the turning point in the destructive sense as liberal Islam succumbed to political Islam through anti-people militarism.

Barkat notes that although the evolution of Islam in Bengal was liberal, committed to social liberation under the enlightening concept of ‘Sufism’, it was invaded by militarism, inequality and discrimination after mid-August,1975. Islamic extremism in a blood-thirsty form germinated in Bangladesh more than a decade before the birth of Al-Qaeda. Thus, external inspiration to militant Islam in Bangladesh is not the whole truth.

Barkat and other prominent Bangladeshi economists such as Munirujjaman suggest that the ‘economy within economy’ caters to the global design of neo-liberal finance capital and snap fingers at ‘US imperialism. Barkat refers to what is known as ‘Rotten Apple Theory in support of his assertion on how agents of neo-liberalism are at work to infringe and incarcerate the primary strategic resources through a freethinking conceptual framework. Neo-liberal finance capital eyes land, water, energy and minerals as well as space resources, leaving no nerve unstrained not only to achieve but absolute ownership, command and control as well. And the need for linkage of over one hundred  extremist Islamic groups of Bangladesh to the ISIS-Islamic states, Al-Qaeda, Taliban etc comes there. It is well-known that drug lords, arms dealers and international network of money launderers promote them.
Jamaat-e-Islam in Bangladesh, according to top intelligence officials, receive funds from the Qatar Charitable Society, Revival of Islamic Heritage Society of Kuwait, Institute of Islamic Political Thought and Muslim Aid of UK, Islamic Council of North America and  Rabeta-al-Alam-al-Islami of Saudi Arabia. 

Jamaat banks more on internal financial resources than overseas assets, but leading institutions generating funds are closely connected with organisations and individuals based in West Asia and Gulf. The establishment of financial institutions provides it an opportunity to launder money from offshore and also siphon off unaudited funds to other Islamic groups controlled by it. Funding to the militant outfits from abroad is mainly through Jamaat-controlled Islamic financial institutions. Ahle Hadis Andolan Bangladesh chief Prof. Asadullah al Galib was one of the main conduits for receiving and distributing funds from abroad to other such radical groups. Some of these groups also received funds directly. Jamaat runs several publishing houses, newspapers and also a think-tank, Center for Strategic and Peace Studies (CSPS). ‘Naya Diganta’, a Jamaat-dictated was established in 2005 under Diganta Media Corporation with a corpus of Tk one billion and is among the largest circulated dailies in Bangladesh with a print run of around 1,25,000 copies. Diganta Television is its associate. But Diganta TV has been recently taken off the air by a government order. The Daily Sangram, Jamaat mouthpiece, is one of the oldest and among the largest circulated vernacular dailies in the country. Adhunik Prokashoni and  Shatabdi Prokashoni  are managed and owned by Jamaat.

The Association of Muslim Welfare Agencies of Bangladesh, a Jamaat set-up controls over 350 NGOs operating in the rural areas apparently with an avowed objective of uplift of the rural poor through various social welfare activities such as digging up well in areas adversely affected due to water scarcity and providing unemployed youth with interest-free loan to generate self-employment. But they also propagate and preach Islam, targeting devout Muslims in the mosque premises after Friday prayers talk of an Islamic renaissance in Bangladesh.

The ultra-Islamic organizations work in border areas too. The   Bangladesh Arthaneeti Samiti (Bangladesh Economic Association) organised several seminars on the menace of parallel economy – a variant of crony capitalism – and cautioned the national government about this repeatedly. Their tentacles are spread across the border. How worrisome this is for India can be illustrated by a single example. There are 130-some seminaries (or madrassas) in Kolkata and in and around Krishnagar (sadar headquarters of Nadia district, West Bengal, clinging to Bangladesh) has crossed 460. And these ostentatiously educational institutions have powerful financial channels.

May 07, 2018


Sankar Ray sankar.ray@gmail.com

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