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How deep is the economic reach of Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh

By Amitava Mukherjee

Bangladesh is now at the crossroads. The war crimes tribunals, set up to punish those who had committed crimes against humanity during Bangladesh’s liberation war of 1971, have already sent to gallows three leading lights of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) — Abdul Quader Mollah, Mohammed Qamruzzaman and Ali Ahsan Mujahid — while death penalties have been awarded to Motiur Rahman Nizami, the chief of the JeI in Bangladesh. However, the Jamaat’s enormous financial clout has created a dangerous situation for the Awami League-led government.

While the election commission barred the Jamaat from the polls on Bangladesh Supreme Court orders in 2013, several front-ranking Awami League leaders are now demanding its outright ban. But Jamaat has so much financial clout that any attempt to uproot it altogether at this moment may lead to social unrest.

According to Abul Barkat, a professor of economics at the Dhaka University, the Jamaat-e-Islami has created a ‘state within a state’ and an ‘economy within an economy’ in Bangladesh. Barkat’s study paints a frightening picture. The JeI is now almost everywhere in Bangladeshi society like large financial institutions, household-level micro-credit organizations, madrasas, mass media, information technology, big trading houses, and non governmental organizations.

Barkat has calculated that Jamaat’s net annual profits from such ventures amounts to about $278 million and the largest chunk – 27.5 percent – of this comes from banks, insurances, and leasing companies. The NGOs contribute 18.7 percent, 10.5 percent comes from trade and commerce, 10.1 percent from pharmaceutical industries and healthcare institutions, 9.4 percent from the education sector, 8.8 percent from real estate business, 7.3 percent from transport, and 7.7 percent from the media and information technology business.

Bangladesh Culture Minister Asaduzzaman Nur has recently alluded to Islamic fundamentalists’ involvement behind a collection of huge funds from mosques and Bangladeshi establishments in London. But the fundamentalists perhaps do not need such collections as nearly 10 percent of Jamaat’s annual profit in Bangladesh goes towards funding the party’s political activities. It has also been calculated that this 10 percent can sustain nearly 600,000 cadres. As the Jamaat controlled economy is showing a higher growth rate – 9 percent per annum – than the mainstream’s growth figure of 6 percent, the fundamentalist bloc can remain assured of a continuous flow of money.

Abul Barkat has calculated that from 1975 to 2012, the Jamaat has earned a profit of $11 billion.

Jamaat’s principal financial arm in the country is the Islami Bank of Bangladesh Ltd. (IBBL), an organization which was once penalized for money laundering by the Bank of Bangladesh, the country’s apex regulatory institution for the financial sector.

Mir Quasem Ali, a Jamaat central executive committee member now awarded the death sentence, was once the IBBL director. The beneficiary of IBBL’s alleged illegal acts was no doubt the Jamaat-e-Islami. It is interesting to note that the IBBL was founded in 1975 at the initiative of Fuad Abdullah Al Khatib, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Bangladesh.

The JeI’s penetration into the political economy of Bangladesh is astounding. Apart from the IBBL, Jamaat is in control of 14 other banks which are working mostly in the country’s rural sector. In addition, the IBBL is now widely linked with other powerful financial institutions of the Islamic world. Notable among them is the Al Razee Bank of Saudi Arabia.

The IBBL has now become one of the three largest banks in South Asia, with 60 percent of its shares held by Saudi individuals and institutions. Among the rest Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar have prominence. Moreover, Jamaat has its presence in the insurance sector also and has entered into a collaboration agreement with the Far Eastern Islamic Insurance Corporation.

If information from across the border is to be believed, the Jamaat has already started taking steps to safeguard its financial interests in the event of a crackdown by the Bangladesh government and line-up the next generation of leaders if Matiur Rahaman Nizami and Mir Quasem Ali are really hung. For over 40 years, Mir Quasem was Saudi Arabia’s ‘money man’ in Bangladesh and it is quite probable that pressures will be mounted by the Islamic world of West Asia and the Middle East to stop his execution. He had taken refuge in Saudi Arabia after the birth of Bangladesh. After coming back in 1974 he immediately got a job in the IBBL and soon became its director.

Mir Quasem Ali is a crucial man in the Jamaat chain of commands that extends up to the Middle East and West Asia. He happened to be the chief of the Islamic Bank Foundation (IBF) too, an affiliate of the IBBL. The IBF acts as the custodian of Jamaat’s money accruing from various projects and foreign donations. Mir Quasem was also the country director of a Saudi Arabia-based NGO named Rabeta-al-alam-al-Islami. Rabeta, along with other NGOs like the Kuwait Relief Fund and the Al-Nahiyan Trust of Saudi Arabia, used to run many projects in Bangladesh.

Economics professor Abul Barkat has calculated that the Islamic fundamentalism controlled economy in Bangladesh amounts to 8.62 percent of the nation’s developmental budget and 1.54 percent of the national exports earning.

In such a situation, the JeI-led Islamic fundamentalist bloc is a reality in Bangladesh and mere hangings of some Jamaat bigwigs may not be enough to wipe it out. (IANS)

(Amitava Mukherjee is a senior journalist and commentator)

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Irrespective of who wins at the ballot, Bangladesh’s Hindu minority is persecuted by the losing side, as if it was their fault.

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed

 By:  Tania Bhattacharya           

 

Tania Bhattacharya
Tania Bhattacharya

Twenty-first of February is an important annual date for the peoples of both, Bangladesh, and West Bengal. On that day in nineteen fifty two, students of East Pakistan’s institutions of knowledge like Dhaka Medical College, had been mercilessly struck down, after they were fired upon by the soldiers of West Pakistan. Their crime? Bangla, the indigenous mother-tongue of all Bengalis, irrespective of religion and location, had been the prime focus of East Pakistan’s ‘Language Movement’. The seat of power, despite the East’s relatively larger demographic, had been, for all means and purposes, firmly lodged in the West, separated from the Eastern wing, by thousands of miles of territory belonging to the state of independent India. West Pakistan wielded absolute power over Pakistan’s army, its internal security, administration and the judicial system. Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki, and Sindhi, were the most recognized and respected lingua franca. Bengali was deemed by the West, to be a ‘Pagan’ language, the tongue of millions of ‘kaffirs’ that worshipped a plenitude of deities.

 

 

indo-bangla
Ansal-al-Islam supporters demand the death of Atheist bloggers.

The Bengalis, a people deeply protective of their cultural heritage, cutting across religious lines, took offense, and thus commenced the movement for the restoration of Bangla, as the legitimate representative of the East Bengalis. What followed, is well known, to South Asian History, enthusiasts. Exploiting the opportunity that had presented itself, and asphyxiated by more than ten million Bengali refugees who had migrated to eastern India in wake of ‘Operation Searchlight’ imposed by West Pakistan on its eastern wing, India had invaded the latter in the early December of 1971. The shortest war of modern history, had ended a fortnight later, with the emergence of an independent homeland, for all Bengali speaking peoples: Bangladesh.

Assam
An Indian publication reporting the Nellie Massacre of Assam.

Bangladesh turns forty-seven on the twenty sixth of March this year. Over the last nearly five decades, much water has flown under the bridge. Significantly, it has taken along with it, a bulk of the initial bonhomie and camaraderie, that Bangladesh and India shared with one another. From trustworthy allies, the two neighbours, have now entered a phase of grudging respect, but that too is often found in suspended animation, once anti-Indian regimes come to power in the other country. There are a number of reasons why India and Bangladesh have experienced a souring of relations over time, and much to the ordinary Indian’s chagrin, not all of the blame can be laid at our eastern neighbour’s door.

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The 1971 surrender of West Pakistan.

BANGLADESHI CONCERNS

 

  1. A) WHAT’S IN A PICTURE? EVERYTHING!

Any patriotic Indian, often ruminates fondly over a well circulated photo that emerged in the December of 1971. It was taken during the capitulation of the West Pakistan army to India. The photo is held up by Indian nationalists, like a trophy and proudly referred to as the ultimate symbol of India’s crushing of Pakistan. This historic photo in question, has a sombre Lt. Gen. J.S. Arora, looking on, as a visibly demoralized Gen. A.A.K. Niazi of Pakistan signs the document of surrender. A sea of khaki and army green dot the backdrop of the image. Smiling soldiers of the Indian Defence Forces, can be seen interspersed between high ranking members of the Pakistan Army. However, remarkably, missing from the image, is the presence of the very people, who had had to sacrifice their life, their limb, and their precious dignity, to make their own independence happen.

Indira Gandhi
Bongobondhu Sheikh Mujib with Indira Gandhi. The two shared a close friendship.

As time has passed, millions of Bangladeshis have taken stock of the historic footage that seemed to signal their freedom day, and yet, they have asked: “Where are our people?” Yes, indeed. It is a photograph that, once the euphoria had died down, was bound to reveal its troubling nature. It may have been the defining moment for our own military men, but for the patriots within our newly born neighbour, this image is one of being slighted; of being overlooked, and insulted. Indians should have realized awhile back, that parading the said photo, was not a wise thing to do. The newly liberated nation, did not and to this day, cannot claim the image as their own, due to the complete absence of any East Bengali presence.

 

  1. B) WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK!
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Bangladeshi atheists and freethinkers protest the murder of their own.

In 1996, Bangladesh and India had signed a treaty over the sharing of river waters. The agreement – known as the Ganges Treaty – had promised to equally divide the volume of river waters shared by the two nations. Waters of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna mega-basin, constitute the globe’s second largest hydraulic region, with a high population density inhabiting its banks. Simply put, the so-called division of water, is neither fair, and nor useful, to Bangladeshis. Through the Farakka Barrage, India, with its advanced systems of harvesting trans-boundary water, virtually controls the upstream flow of currents, which it then utilises without a care for the consequences being experienced by the people that live around the downstream currents of the barrage. As a result, Bangladesh has become a victim of environmental degradation which is a direct consequence of India’s water harvesting policy and techniques. Flora and Fauna, especially a variety of edible fish, important to our eastern neighbour, have either drastically lessened, or come close to extinction, due to callous and selfish, Indian interests over river-water sharing.

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A troublesome photo.

INDIAN CONCERNS

 

  1. A) THREE IS A CROWD!
assam

Illegal immigration into Assam from Bangladesh has created Distrust and concern among the locals.

A fundamental problem that posited itself even before the Liberation War in East Pakistan was over, and should have been a dark indicator of what was to come, was the deluge of refugees that had escaped the porous Indo-Pak border at its eastern end, and come to stay in India, as hopeful citizens. Even though Bangladesh is itself a witness to a refugee apocalypse in the form of the Rohingyas, they do not seem to be able to join the dots between their own problem, and that of India’s, for which their homegrown, poverty-stricken population is responsible. The Indian state which has borne the brunt of our refugee crisis, has been the north-easterly one of Assam. Bordering Bangladesh, this volatile Indian region has had to absorb the vast majority of illegals that continually transgress into our territories, by paying a small bribe to the jawans of the BSF (Border Security Forces), and obtaining false ration and identity cards. Bangladesh has chosen to delude itself by claiming time and again, that the alleged social scenario is an impossibility, accusing India instead, of tainting Indo-Bangla ties with our calumnies against them. In a heart-breaking tragedy that unfolded in the Nellie town of Assam in 1983, thousands of Muslims were slain by the local Assamese, over fear of the former’s illegal alien status.

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Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal do not see eye to eye over river water issues.

It must be acknowledged, that though a sizeable proportion of the deaths were of Indian Muslims who were unfortunately caught in the crosshairs; the remaining victims were indeed of Bangladeshi descent. The crisis could have been averted, if a national population census board had been specifically set up for the beleaguered Assam state, decades previously. But illegals from Bangladesh have been known to wade deeper into Indian territory, in hopes of a better life, and confirmed sources have located many such uprooted families living in the shanty dwellings of even megalopolises like Mumbai, which lie on the far-off western shores of India. If left unchecked, the Bangladeshi Illegal Aliens crisis, may snowball into a far greater threat than it is today. Given the pull of money, such individuals and indeed, families, may be willing to join insurgency operations that are threatening the fabric of unity that holds this country together.

 

SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY!

India
India’s friendship with Bangladesh goes a long way and begins decisively in 1971 with the end of the East Pakistan Crisis.

India’s pliant and contiguous ‘ally’, on her East, may have begun by solemnly swearing to secularism, but with the passage of time, she has metamorphosed into a caricature of her own founding principles of equality. Her one-time bete noir, Pakistan, is now edging closer to her and she seems to be egging it on. When elections approach, her largest minority, the Hindu one, pass their days in fear, wary of the poll results. Irrespective of who wins at the ballot, Bangladesh’s Hindu minority is persecuted by the losing side, as if it was their fault. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, a certain section of East Pakistan, described as being the Razakars – once active in th