By Tajul Islam
In recent times, the political landscape in Bangladesh has raised concerns on an international scale as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), alleged to be collaborating with extremist Islamist groups including Al Qaeda, launches a movement titled 'India Out.' The BNP, with its ultra-Islamist and pro-Pakistan ideology, is accused of not only attempting to destabilize the South Asian region but also transform Bangladesh into a neo-Taliban state. The potential success of this movement could not only reshape Bangladesh but also have repercussions on neighboring nations like Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Nepal, potentially turning the entire region into a safe haven for jihadist terrorists.
The historical context surrounding the Bangladesh Nationalist Party reveals its long-standing affinity for extremist ideologies and its willingness to collaborate with groups designated as terrorists by the international community. During the tumultuous rule of the BNP-Jamaat coalition government from 2001 to 2006, the party openly expressed its support for Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist group, even going so far as to name a bridge in its honor. This period was marked by the BNP-Jamaat coalition government labeling Israel's actions as "state terrorism" and accusing the United States of sponsoring such actions.
A significant revelation that has sent shockwaves through security circles is the purported presence of Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Bangladesh during 2002. Reports suggest that Zawahiri was not merely present but was accommodated in a high-security property in Dhaka's Gulshan area, a property owned by the Directorate General of Defense Force. Disturbingly, during this period, there were alleged clandestine meetings between Atman al-Zawahiri and high-ranking BNP leaders, including unsettling discussions such as the request for assistance in the assassination of Sheikh Hasina's son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy.
The 2001-2006 rule of the BNP-Jamaat coalition government witnessed the meteoric rise of extremist groups, most notably the Al Qaeda-allied Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI). Reports indicated that fighters from the Taliban and Al Qaeda entered Bangladesh in December 2001, posing an imminent security threat to the region. Despite the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) establishing a base in Dhaka in response to the global policy of having a presence in Muslim countries, lawlessness continued to persist in Bangladesh's southern coastal hills.
The Chittagong Hill Tract areas, following the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, morphed into Asia's oldest jihadist training camps. These camps, complete with interconnected bunkers, lecture halls, telephones, and televisions, became a breeding ground for terrorists and insurgents. The dream of creating a larger Islamic land, extending beyond the territorial limits of Bangladesh, was fueled by extremist forces, posing a long-term and potentially devastating threat to the region, particularly India.
The recent launch of the 'India Out' movement by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, under the direction of its acting chairman Tarique Rahman, raises serious concerns about regional stability. The movement, allegedly supported by jihadist and pro-Caliphate ideological allies, aims to instigate masses towards Islamism, jihadism, and anti-India sentiments. Social media platforms are witnessing a surge in propaganda, with cyber activists intensifying efforts to push the 'India Out' narrative and calling for the boycott of Indian products in Bangladesh.
Given the BNP's historical connections with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, the ongoing 'India Out' movement may involve collaboration with global and regional terrorist groups against India. This poses a severe security threat to the entire region. The movement not only risks instigating locals to join the plot but also provides an opportunity for radical Islamic forces and militant groups to resurge, under the guise of expressing hatred towards India and its non-Muslim population.
The involvement of Al Jazeera, a Qatari broadcast network, in supporting the 'India Out' movement adds an international dimension to the crisis. Al Jazeera's Bangladesh representative has shared an anti-India video, further fueling the propaganda. This raises questions about the role of media outlets in influencing regional stability and exacerbating tensions between nations.
The alleged collaboration between the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and extremist Islamist groups, coupled with the recent 'India Out' movement, demands urgent attention from the international community. The historical connections between BNP and Al Qaeda, coupled with the ongoing efforts to destabilize the region, necessitate a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of extremism. Regional cooperation and diplomatic efforts are crucial to preventing the escalation of tensions and ensuring the security of South Asia. The international community must closely monitor the situation, urging Bangladesh to take decisive actions against extremism while promoting a dialogue for regional peace and stability. Only through a united front can the South Asian region confront and overcome the challenges posed by extremist ideologies and actions.
Author's bio: Tajul Islam, a senior journalist and Special Correspondent of Weekly Blitz writes on a broad-range of issues in local and international media. Follow him on X @tajulraj1