Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Of terrorism and the US Ambassador

by Mac Haque

If deterrence is the avowed principle of civil conduct, the US should take the lead in helping Bangladesh eliminate ‘democratic terrorist’ and dismantle their playing field. Stripped off their known source of evil power, the US ambassador will then not have to expend too much energy convincing our politicians to sit together for decent talks. Simply put, the US idea of firing canons to disperse imaginary flies is too hazardous a proposition for Bangladesh to undertake, writes Mac Haque

"Americans no longer fight to keep their shores safe,
Just to keep the jobs going in the arms making work place.
Then they pretend to be gripped by some sort of political reflex,
But all they’re doing is paying dues to the Military Industrial Complex."
Gil-Scott Heron (1949-2011), Working for Peace, 1994

THE word ‘terrorism’ strikes a fear deep into our heart and whenever it is uttered, by responsible officials of the United States government in its heavily unipolar role as a world policeman, the perceived ‘threat’ to us here in Bangladesh does get all the more pronounced.

And so it was on May 17 that a New Age report quoted the US ambassador Dan W Mozena as saying 

‘This [terrorism] is our shared enemy, one which confronts us, all of us around the world who cherish freedom and democracy… Bangladesh is developing a capacity to create a whole of government response to increase the effectiveness in fighting terrorism.’

On the surface, it seems perfectly all right for Bangladesh to go for effective capacity building of its men in uniform, even better if this is paid for by a superpower such as the US. It means our fighting force have first world expertise, weapons, logistics and equipments in place to handle any exigencies that may come along, with or without warning.

Yet, on the flip side, it merits a deeper thought whether ‘terrorism’ as defined by the US at all exists in Bangladesh? Is a first world solution desirable for problems in a third world country like Bangladesh? Culturally, is the Bengali race game to Rambo-esque trigger-happy, heavily-armed members of law enforcement, who, at taxpayers’ expense, can be misused to brutally suppress its people and the same spirit of ‘freedom and democracy’ that the US ‘cherishes’?

Fundamentally, what is ‘terrorism’ that the US defines, understands or even ‘fights’, and what does it imply when it is called a ‘shared problem’?

The answer for now to all of the above is ‘we do not know’!

The definition of ‘terrorism’, a relic of the Bushonian ‘war on terror’, has two all encompassing parameters in US foreign policies, unrolled since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Firstly, the all-powerful ‘invisible enemy’ has been al-Qaeda. Yet, after years of ‘fighting’ them and then the elimination by US Special Forces of its supremo Osama Bin Laden, in Pakistan in May 2011, we are being led to believe that ‘resurgent ghosts’ have the infinite global capacity to hit back.

The US appears for now to be our credible saviour, and have the ‘requisite skills’ to bail us out on terms that suits them. Sure enough, like Hollywood, it will, of course, be the US that will come to save the world ‘at the very last minute’!

Secondly, as the US helps corrupt and foot-licking governments such as Bangladesh build its ‘terrorist fighting capabilities’, it consciously avoids the term Islamic or Muslim as a prefix before the word ‘terrorism’, for good reasons.

It does not like to be perceived as an ‘enemy of Islam’ and for Bangladesh which it branded post 2001 with a ridiculously patronising term ‘moderate Muslim country’, the inference is that it is a ‘maybe’ situation; ideally a hunch.

That done, it creates the perfect opportunity to subtly hammer in the fear psychosis that ‘extremist Muslim maybes’ are lurking excessively close for our comfort. That Islam is Islam and there is simply no space for ‘terrorism’ in the religion has been jettisoned from the popular imagination for now.

The odd lessons from the closing years of the last century tells us, it is the US that creates these ‘terrorist Muslims’ in the first place and then goes out hunting them down. The footprint of such groups is spread out all the way from the occupied West Bank in West Asia to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Eastern Europe, it has been much of the same; however, in Bangladesh while the story ‘may be’ identical, reality checks reveal perceivably sinister agendas of stakeholders that harp upon the US-induced fear psychosis for profits.

For example, if we make a comparison of trans-national or even ‘global terrorist groups’ to those in Bangladesh, the sanest deduction would be; we have none worth the mention that is a threat either to the state or the public. The images or evidence of heavily armed men in outfits like Hezbollah, Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba, etc, has not been seen — not even for once — and all ‘terrorist incidents’ that we get to read about or see on TV are laughable.

We get a fair dose of ‘jihadi’ arrest stories, but what do our law enforcements present as factual evidence? Columns in newspapers are printed laced with lies about ‘captured terrorist camps’ where the arsenal are no more than ‘dummy rifles’, machetes, daggers, knives, batteries, flashlights, and ‘jihadi’ materials and books, etc.

Sometimes ‘bomb making materials’ are noticeable in seizure lists, but then these ‘dangerous materials’ are available anywhere in most grocery, commercial chemicals or hardware shops.

Essentially, ‘terrorism’ in Bangladesh on the US scheme of things is a hoax of unbelievable proportions and has a legacy tag. It is true that there were many Bangladeshi volunteers in the two Afghan conflicts, the first between 1979 and 1989 against the Soviet invasion, and the second against the US invasion in 2001 that is yet ongoing.

However, the actual numbers of Bangladeshi volunteers to both ‘jihads’ have always been grossly exaggerated and there are no records whatsoever of any of them being in active combat, or of anyone being killed in action.

Bengali volunteers to Afghanistan fought no ‘jihad’. They were menial support staff to war efforts and their roles were limited to that of cooks, butlers, toilet cleaners, porters, messengers, etc, no different from poor Bengalis that go to West Asia to earn hard cash.

Therefore, the propaganda of apparently ‘battle hardened Afghan war veterans’ poised to threaten a ‘bloody jihad’ in Bangladesh is used by rogue elements within our own intelligence services to keep the US interested, and its funds for covert activities to flow freely.

The headline screamingjihadis’ of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh is a focal point for our clearer understanding. The precursor to the JMB was Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, formed in 1998 allegedly with government and intelligence services largesse, to create a buffer with the aim of curtailing Naxalite (Maoist) insurgencies in northern Bangladesh.

By 2005 the monster was allowed to grow to an extent that in August the outfit carried out a ‘terrorist attack’ when 500 ‘bombs’ went off simultaneously in 300 locations all across Bangladesh.

However, as far as the synchronicity of the attacks is concerned, it hardly became obvious in the days that followed, that it could have been done without an intelligence agency overseeing of the same.

There were only two fatalities, yet security analysts have always been sceptical about the size, shape and effectiveness of these ‘bombs’. In reality, they were ‘potkas’ or firecrackers, and much more ‘powerful’ explosives go off in the US during 4th of July celebrations!

The background to the rise of the JMB and the ‘bomb attacks’ is sordid, yet interesting. After being in a denial mode of any ‘jihadi threats’ for years since it was installed in power in 2001, the then government of Bangladesh Nationalist Party capitulated to US whims and officially joined in the ‘war on terror’. ‘Jihad’ entered our vocabulary and it was amazing to see the spin doctoring that the media was lasciviously indulging in.

There were several important developments before the BNP’s change of tack and position on the ‘war on terror’. By the end of 2003, top political functionaries of the government and the intelligence services were making frequent trips to the US, and it is possible that a curt ‘get em bombs goin, and jihad slogans up and runnin’ instruction was whispered.

Sure enough, ‘jihad’ phobia drowned out calls and pleas for reason. Enough greenbacks were on offer, and coming from the United States of Arrogance, very few would have the guts to refuse.

Bangladesh apparently needed ‘fighting capabilities’ for this shady, shadowy ‘enemy’ and top line weapons, surveillance and communication devices had to be sourced. That our military does a commendable job in UN peacekeeping missions anywhere in the world was selectively deleted from public memory and pressures also mounted on the BNP government from neighbouring India.

With Jamaat-e-Islami as a coalition partner, things weren’t easy because India wanted a greater role in South Asia in the US-led ‘war on terror’. The greens could not be refused for too long and neither was the greedy BNP government willing to share it with others, so another hoax on massive proportions was perpetrated.

It happened on all fools day of April 2004.

Like pages from a John le Carré novel, phantom ships carrying deadly weapons and explosives that could fill ten trucks floated into the Chittagong Port mysteriously and were discharging their wares, when alarm bells went off. It was to be the biggest haul of sophisticated weapons in the history of Bangladesh, and the array on display was of a like that was never seen before, not even by the thoroughly baffled men in uniform.

Speculations ran rife that the consignment was either smuggled into Bangladesh by Islamic ‘jihadist’ or on the way to Northeast India. Specifically, the name of the insurgent group United Liberation Front of Asom featured as the prime recipient. Both allegations greatly embarrassed the BNP as it exposed ‘cat out of the bag’ that the BNP supported ‘jihadi’ militants and Indian insurgents in combi.

In court, as of today, the latter, i.e. ULFA, is the prime accused, yet it seems improbable that an insurgent group would take such a massive risk in transporting weapons and explosives without being detected. In all possibilities, it was corrupt and rogue elements within the Bangladesh intelligence services that purchased the weapons from the international black market.

The origins of the weapons were a mix of Chinese and European, yet some intelligence reports at the time nailed this as being shipped from Belgium. The US surprisingly made no ‘big noise’ about the haul, nor was it ever considered a likely ‘villain’.

The ultimate beneficiaries of the weapons and explosive were the newly formed US-trained anti-terrorist force, the ‘elite’ Rapid Action Battalion. Pointer: RAB was officially formed just a week before the haul, and were armed to the teeth and ready for action just two weeks after the haul!

The less said about how the RAB was later used in violating citizens’ liberty and human rights, the better, and under Indo-US pressure, the JMB was dismantled by the force, and the ‘jihad leaders’ arrested. However, in the many years, none of JMB’s supposed ‘100,000 heavily armed cadre’ were ever arrested, although occasionally the media does write stories about them ‘regrouping’ and imminent attacks.

The execution of the JMB ‘leaders’ by the military-installed, US-backed caretaker government in 2007 put to rest any further speculation on this ‘jihadi’ outfit. It would have been nice to hear their part of the story had they been produced before the media, a demand they pleaded immediately after their arrest, but one that was succinctly denied to them. 
Concisely, the rise of JMB and their ‘terrorist attacks’ was nothing more than ‘false flag attacks’ in security parlance.

That brings us to the question; what is ‘terrorism’ in the Bangladesh parameter of reality?

‘Terrorism’ in Bangladesh has traditionally been used by all ‘democratic’ parties whenever it vies for power. There are endless small bomb attacks, killing of law enforcers, arson and mayhems where the citizens have to pay the ultimate price in life and limbs, in losses of job opportunities. The list is formidably long.

However, as ‘democratic’ as our parties or leaders may pretend to be, they covertly fund and patronise professional agitators, yet nationwide the number of ‘democratic terrorist’ will not exceed a thousand individuals at the most. If Bangladesh has at all to restore a semblance of decency and propriety, US actions at ‘building fighting capabilities’ should be readdressed in fighting these ‘terrorist’ elements — and not the ones implied in their ‘war on terror’.

Fundamentally, the Islamist or al-Qaeda imitators pose no immediate risk or threat whatsoever because the base of our secular culture rooted in Sufi Islam, and our experience at ‘fighting’ Islamic terrorist and bigots is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, our cultural resistance to bigotry of any form has a history of over 400 years, and one the US may be conveniently or blissfully unaware of, as it malevolently propels stooges to ultimate power to sell killing machines produced by its military-industrial complex.

The real danger to all that is happening in Bangladesh is reflected in issues of recent times.

Propelling Taliban wannabes in the shape of Hefajat have been ascribed to US ‘assets’ working closely to dangerously destabilise Bangladesh and put to test its secular and liberal credentials. If true, this is most regrettable for essentially groups like Hefajat border on the insane fringe, and neither have the popular democratic mandate of the people, nor are they socially or even religiously a remotely acceptable entity.

That Bangladesh can and will use brute force in evicting these unwanted elements as witnessed, from a city square on May 5, is no indicator or success of US ‘capacity building’, but the demonstration of the people’s resolve at zero-tolerance for bigoted adventurisms of any form.

Therefore, the US more than helping Bangladesh develop ‘terrorist fighting capabilities’ should improve upon their own inadequate cultural capacities, and importantly take lessons on Islam as in Bangladesh. It is not exactly the cup of tea dished out by the media and is markedly dissimilar from the Islam of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Pakistan.

If deterrence is the avowed principle of civil conduct, the US should take the lead in helping Bangladesh eliminate ‘democratic terrorist’ and dismantle their playing field. Stripped off their known source of evil power, the US ambassador will then not have to expend too much energy convincing our politicians to sit together for decent talks.

Simply put, the US idea of firing canons to disperse imaginary flies is too hazardous a proposition for Bangladesh to undertake.

New Age Sub Editorial Wednesday, 29th May 2013


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