Book review: Terrorism in eastern South Asia —by Khaled Ahmed
Armed Conflict in South Asia 2008: Growing Violence
Edited by D Suba Chandran & PR Chari
Source: Daily Times
The book deals with the unpleasant side of the significance of South Asia. It has two articles on Pakistan, one on sectarian violence, the other on violence in the Tribal Areas. It has one article on Afghanistan and its luckless population who has been given to understand they have never been conquered, while, looking at their suffering, one would have wished they had been.
There are two articles on India’s internal movements gone haywire and one on Bangladesh’s vulnerability to Islamic terror. Nepal nurses its communist violence and Sri Lanka struggles with its long-gestation ethnic war.
In the northeast of India, a cluster of small states (Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya) have been convulsed with ‘freedom movements’ become violent. Out of the five, the first three are giving trouble still and violence there has actually increased after a ceasefire agreed by the Indian army in 1997.
If Pakistan had been watching, it would have learned that ceasefires with terrorists only give them time to regroup and form bigger armies. Also there are some other lessons that Pakistan and Afghanistan should have learned from India’s experience with terrorism since the 1950s.
One big lesson is not to glamorise the misfortunes of tribal nations gone wrong after suppression. One myth that Pakistanis are guilty of fabricating is that the Pakhtun never give up fighting and have never been conquered. They mouth this obscenity while standing in front of camps where Pakhtun women and children go through history’s worst brutalisation.
Listen to what the article Northeast: Island of Peace and Ocean of Conflict by Bibhu Prasad Routray says: ‘The Naga separatist movement, which had begun before Independence, is based on the premise that Nagas have been historically independent, unconquered by anyone and, therefore, India has no right to subjugate them’ (p.153). The rest of India should be grateful that it has been conquered.
The British had kept the tribes in the northeast as areas under special dispensation, but that arrangement became the trigger for Naga National Council (NNC) in 1947 asking for independence, greatly encouraged by a referendum in 1951 that had 99 percent of the Naga population saying that wanted to be independent under their leader AZ Phizo. New Delhi jibbed and sent in the army. Phizo fled to London never to return. After much fighting, in 1975, the Shillong Accord got the Nagas of NNC to accept the Constitution of India, but the NNC split and formed Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) to continue fighting. Later this too split and the splinters became even more radical.
Insurgency in Assam, the source of much of India’s oil and gas, began in 1979 under United Liberation Front (ULFA) demanding a sovereign socialist Assam that would stop refugees from Bangladesh from coming in and upsetting the population balance in favour of the Bodos in Assam.
After ULFA went terrorist it liaised with the Naga terrorists nextdoor, but the Indian army hit back and the ULFA leaders fled into Bangladesh where they fell under the spell of ISI and DGFI of Bangladesh and ULFA got itself well supplied materially and financially (p.155). (India got RAW to meddle in a similar ‘liberation’ movement in Balochistan as a tit for tat ‘signalling’ to Islamabad.) The Bodos too are struggling since the 1980s for Bodoland in Assam and often become nasty.
Manipur is also convulsed because the centre delayed making Manipur a state in 1947. The terrorist outfits here, including an Islamic one protecting Muslims, pose as liberators and have joined up with the rest of the north-eastern rebels. Manipur is a bad case with 20 such outfits operating. The state of Tripura, not so violent, is a victim of migration from unstable Bangladesh; and Meghalaya would be called peaceful if it wasn’t a conduit for terrorists to-ing and fro-ing into Bangladesh.
It is shocking how like Pakistan Bangladesh is when it comes to Islamic terrorism. Smruti Pattanaik in her paper “Bangladesh: Islamic Militancy and the Rise of religious Right” reveals the pattern in events that flowed from the August 17, 2007 bombings in the country. Terrorism was the work of Banglabhai in the north who wanted to create a Taliban-like state under Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Sheikh Abdur Rehman of Jamiat Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), both erstwhile members of the student wing of Jama’at-e Islami. The Bangladesh National party (BNP) of Begum Zia took the Jamaat-produced radicals under its wing and denied they existed.
JMB’s Rehman visited Pakistan in 1999 to take training in Azad Kashmir. Banglabhai was already said to be a veteran of Afghan jihad wanting to recreate it in Bangladesh. When they began killing people, as in the case of poet Shamsur Rehman in 1995, the BNP denied it vociferously, blaming the killings on India and America. This BNP did despite the fact that Jama’at warriors had rebelled against the Jama’at acceptance of women as leaders. The other spinoff from Afghan jihad was Harkatul Mujahideen Islami (HUJI) which was funded by the Arabs whom the state allowed to have linkages with the two above rising stars of Islamic violence.
The BNP just wouldn’t own up to terrorism in the country till foreign pressure got it to catch and prosecute Banglabhai and Rehman, only to see them condemned to death by a court. Then neither of the two mainstream parties would support the call for their execution. This was somewhat like Pakistan’s parties who don’t want to even acknowledge the reality of Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorism in Pakistan. It was the caretaker government, supported by the army in 2001, that finally executed the two mass killers of Bangladesh.
BNP leader Begum Zia’s son Tariq Rehman was running his own shadow government in Dhaka and gave protection to the killers. Needless to say, the Islamic killers hated Awami League and India with equal fervour. Later some BNP leaders, including a minister Aminul Haq, were put under trial and got long sentences in jail for killing opponents through Islamists.
The money for Islamic terror comes from the Arabs in the Gulf. There are 15 local Islamic NGOs and 34 foreign Islamic NGOs in Bangladesh. They give no one any accounts, receive their money through hundi and are supposed to dispose of 200 crore takas (p.196).
London Muslim terrorists gave JMB £10,000 for killing innocent people back home; and terrorist Rehman got big money from Rabita al-Islam, Kuwait, for doing the same job (p.200). Religious leaders who run these dangerous organisations regularly visit the Middle East for Zakat and collect huge sums which they often embezzle, but their Arab benefactors don’t seem to mind that too much.
Bangladesh has actually completed the transition from being a moderate Islamic state with strong local cultural tinge of tolerance and is now more like Pakistan, strongly Deobandi and Wahhabi in its new intolerant and violent character. Like Pakistan its politicians don’t want to mess with the madrassas and mullahs and risk their lives.
Pitifully, when the people at large were asked who was doing terrorism in a country crawling with 12,000 active killers, the survey showed 80 percent saying it was an unnamed ‘neighbouring country’ (read India); and, just like Pakistan, responded unreliably according to their politically divided civil society credentials.