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Hasina must deal with ISI clone

Hasina must deal with ISI clone

Author: Hiranmay Karlekar
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 17, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/150451/Hasina-must-deal-with-ISI-clone.html

If Sheikh Hasina Wajed has to faithfully implement the mandate of a secular, tolerant and corruption-free democracy that the parliamentary election of December 29, 2008, has given her so overwhelmingly, an institution she has to reform drastically is the premier intelligence agency of Bangladesh, the Directorate-General of Forces Intelligence. Set up as Directorate of Forces Intelligence by President Zia-ur Rahman in November 1977, it subsequently became the DGFI. Established as an organisational clone of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate shortly after a visit to Dhaka by then ISI chief, Lt Gen Ghulam Jillani Khan, it is linked almost umbilically to its Pakistani counterpart. Many of its officers have been trained at the ISI's centre in Islamabad.

In many respects, the DGFI is the over-arching secret super authority of Bangladesh as the ISI is of Pakistan. One example will reveal the extent of its influence. According to a report by Zahirul Haq from Dhaka, appearing in Aajkaal, the Bengali daily published from Kolkata, on May 29, 2002, Begum Khaleda Zia had reversed her earlier stand and was prepared to grant Indian goods transit facility through Bangladesh to north-eastern Indian States. The then Director-General of the DGFI, Maj Gen Sadik Hasan Rumi, however, sent a note objecting to it. He cited no reason for it. The facility was not given though that country's Commerce Minister had said Bangladesh would gain a huge amount of foreign exchange and would be able to establish much closer commercial ties with India by granting transit facility.

The DGFI's activities include not only collection of intelligence but interference in politics and intimidation of the media. In an article, "Enemy of the State: Surviving Torture in Bangladesh", published in International Herald Tribune of March 2, 2008, Tasneem Khalil, a member of the staff of Bangladesh's leading English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, who also worked for CNNand Human Rights Watch, talks of the brutal torture he suffered at the DGFI headquarters in Dhaka in May 2007 for being critical of the caretaker Government that had seized power on January 11, 2007. Released after strong intervention by his paper and protests from all corners of the world, he had to seek political asylum in Sweden, from where he wrote the piece.

Situated in a 14-storeyed building at Kachukhet Bazaar in Dhaka, the DGFI is also the hub of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh which now extends its tentacles not only to West Bengal, Bihar, and north-eastern States like Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura, but even to Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Along with the Bangladeshi Army, it was thoroughly infiltrated by Islamist jihadis during the tenure of the four-party Government from 2001 to 2006, when the Jamaat's Amir, Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, was the Industries Minister, and the general secretary, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, was the Social Welfare Minister. With Begum Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which had 193 seats in the 300-member Jatiya Sangsad, as its partner in power, there was no doubt that the Jamaat called the shots in most critical areas.

The depth and extent of the Jamaat's influence on the DGFI can be gauged from the simple fact that Brig Azam Mir was perhaps the most influential Deputy Director-General of the DGFI until his removal on January 19, 2007, following the discovery of his involvement in a series of attacks on Hindi-speaking people in Assam. Brig Azam Mir is a son of Mr Golam Azam, identified as the most notorious war criminal during the liberation war in 1971 and accused of being instrumental to the murder of thousands of men and the rape of thousands of women. Golam Azam, who fled Bangladesh just before its liberation in December 1971, was allowed to return by Zia-ur Rahman in 1978. He became the Amir of the Jamaat, which, banned in the aftermath of the liberation war, was allowed to function again by Zia-ur Rahman in 1979, while Maulana Abbas Ali Khan became the formal, titular Amir. He became Amir in 1991 after his claim to be a Bangladeshi citizen was upheld by the judiciary.

The Jamaat and its students' organisation, Islami Chhatra Shibir (Islamist Students' Camp) have, on their part, been both the ideological fountainhead and the nursery and coordinating centre of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh. Mufti Abdul Hannan, former 'Operations Commander' of the HUJIB, who has recently been sentenced to death by a Bangladeshi court, and Bangla Bhai or Siddiqul Islam, the 'Operations Commander' of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, who was hanged on March 29, 2007, were both alumni of the organisation. So was Mohammad Asadullah Al-Galib, the Amir of the Ahle Hadith Andolan, Bangladesh, and Sheikh Abdur Rahman, head of the Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

A clean-up of the DGFI will reduce the threat of Islamist terrorism not only in South Asia but Bangladesh as well. It will also be a major step in realising the full potential of India-Bangladesh friendship. It is the DGFI which, through organisations like the Jamaat and the HUJIB, runs training camps and sanctuaries for secessionist insurgent groups of north-eastern India like United Liberation Front of Asom, All-Tripura Tiger Force, United National Liberation Front of Manipur, National Liberation Front of Tripura, in Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina had closed most of the camps after becoming Prime Minister in 1996 but had soon to retrace her steps under pressure from the DGFI.

Of course, the DGFI will bitterly resist all attempts to cleanse the organisation. It will lie low for the present and wait for the time when, its bosses perhaps hope, Sheikh Hasina's popularity dips from its present peak and they can begin their machinations to remove her. She must strike now and not make the mistake her generous father did in not taking the stern measures against collaborators that he should have immediately after Bangladesh's liberation in 1971. For, one thing is very certain: Pakistan and the ISI as well as their allies in the DGFI and the Bangladeshi Army, the Jamaat and the Islamist terrorist groups in Bangladesh, will not tolerate Sheikh Hasina for long if she tries to genuinely honour her mandate. And unless she does the latter, Bangladesh will descend into a fundamentalist nightmare at a none-too-distant future.

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