Lest We Forget The Real Mafias of Bangladesh


Published on February 27, 2021
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Barrister Shah Ali Farhad:

When Awami League won a landslide election led by Sheikh Hasina on 29 December 2008, it was bad bad news for some very crooked and powerful people:

1. The convicted killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib, whose appeals in the Supreme Court were intentionally stalled by the then BNP-Jamaat Government from 2001-06. Remember that between 1975- 1996 and 2001-06, these killers had amassed huge resources, diplomatic, criminal and even international connections. They knew that Sheikh Hasina and Awami League would not stop till they were all were brought to book. As would transpire in the coming years, they were absolutely right.

2. The terrorist networks with connections to, among others, Pakistan, Myanmar, the Mid-East and Afghanistan, like Harkat-Ul-Jihad, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh etc. They knew that Sheikh Hasina’s government was going to come after them with fire and brimstone. They weren’t wrong. Twelve years down the line, their apprehensions stand vindicated. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s zero-tolerance policy against terrorism has seen their infrastructure destroyed, their cells eradicated, their funding cut and their international patrons outmanoeuvred.

3. The separatist groups from India, viz. from the northeastern states, enjoyed safe havens and other forms of state sponsorship in Bangladesh during not only 2001-06 but during all non-Awami League governments in Bangladesh. They knew well their days would be numbered if Sheikh Hasina returned to power in Dhaka. They hit the bullseye, to be honest. Within a few years, their hideouts were raided, safe havens destroyed, arms caches seized and noted separatist leaders handed over to the Indian authorities. As Shashi Tharoor rightly commented:

“...Under less friendly regimes, Bangladesh had been a haven for assorted terrorist and militant groups who used to wreak havoc in India and find refuge in Bangladesh. Hasina’s government has not just denied these groups shelter but actively intercepted them, arrested some of their leaders and even handed wanted terrorists over to the Indian government...if bombs are not going off in Assam these days, it is because of her Government’s actions against the terrorists who used to set them off...” (19 May 2015).

4. The parallel government within Khaleda Zia’s BNP-Jamaat regime, led by Tareque Rahman and his cronies who not only made the infamous Hawa Bhaban their personal treasury but blurred the lines between state, government and organised crime. His axis of evil included outfits like HuJi, JMB, and even Dubai-based Dawood Ibrahim on the one hand, and crooked elements within the state security and intelligence apparatus on the other. Remember, that this was a time when even Al Qaeda No. 2 Zawahiri could come to and leave Bangladesh as they willed (‘Deadly Cargo’, Time, 21 May 2004).

5. Last but not least, Jamaat E Islami and its so-called student wing, Islami Chatro Shibir. Awami League had specifically pledged in their 2008 manifesto that they would form a special tribunal for trying the war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 War of Liberation. For Jamaat, it would be a zero-sum game if their past caught up with them. Apart from the role of their senior leaders, Jamaat itself was involved in the heinous crimes of 1971 as an organisation like the Nazi Party.

Naturally, these actors and groups were ready to take care of Sheikh Hasina and her Govt in any way they could. No red lines existed in their evil pursuit. So, when the ‘mutiny’ at BDR Pilkhana HQ took place on 25-26 Feb 2008, many of us realised that it HAD started. What was surprising was the speed at which the first blow came. Barely 40 days had passed since Sheikh Hasina was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for the second time in her life.

I still believe that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s measured response on those two fateful days averted a full-fledged civil conflict involving the armed forces in Bangladesh. Because the real actors were not visible. They wanted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to fall, no matter the price in blood.

Nowadays, we are discussing the progress we made in our first fifty years of independence. But remember, we have that luxury because 12 years back, on this date and the next, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina passed one of the most difficult tests of her life.

Writer: Special Assistant to Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina