Khaleda finally acts against Islamist terror
The Bangladesh Prime Minister has scored a significant point at home and abroad by showing a commitment to fight terror.india Updated: May 31, 2006 11:19 IST
Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has scored a significant point at home and abroad by demonstrating a commitment to fight terrorism with the arrest, trial and conviction of some of the most wanted Islamist militants.
The convictions of Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Siddiqul Islam, alias Bangla Bhai, leaders of the outlawed Jamiat-ul-Mujahiden Bangladesh (JMB) on charges of murdering two judges were carried out in a matter of about 10 weeks.
Even in the unlikely event of the convictions being challenged - those convicted have declared that as "soldiers of Islam" they do not acknowledge non-Islamic courts and are willing to die for their cause - the course of justice can be safely said to have been set.
Bangladesh watchers may note with satisfaction the Zia government's current approach as also the role of the police and the judiciary in bringing the killers to book.
Also significant is the public revulsion that came out when the trial was on; the accused were spat upon, indicating a strong social disapproval against extremism.
The Zia government had earned much flak for denying the very presence of the militants all through the period Bangla Bhai had been functioning in and around Bheramara on the country's western flank, extorting funds, terrorising non-Muslims and spreading hatred built on an extreme version of Wahabi Islam.
With veterans of the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan involved, the activities of JMB and other Islamist outfits had attracted the concern of the media at home and in the West.
Bangladesh's donor nations had warned the Zia government that it would cut off development aid if these forces, seen as part of the global terror network, were not arraigned.
Zia's domestic compulsion has been the sympathy, if not outright support, the militants had within the ruling coalition, of which a three-party Islamic Oikya Jote (Islamic unity front) is a part.
Its largest constituent, Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), has 18 members in the National Assembly of whom three are ministers, including JEI's Amir (chief) Matiur Rahman Nizami.
The JEI and the IOJ have denied any links with the militants who have been active since the 2001 victory of the alliance.
Nevertheless, it would be interesting to watch the political repercussions of the conviction of eight militants.
Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party can be expected to show this high on its performance card to the critics and to the donor nations.
The Opposition led by her rival and Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina on the other hand would still go hammer and tongs at the government, reminding that it had acted only after the August 17 nationwide bomb explosions.
Hasina was the target of at least two assassination attempts credited to the Islamists.
For Hasina and her 14-party alliance, the battlelines would be sharper in time for the parliamentary polls due later this year.
It needs watching if Zia will follow up her resolve to fight terrorism by passing an anti-terror law, on the lines of the Homeland Act of the US, that is on the anvil and by amending the banking laws that are weak and outdated, not geared to fighting money laundering done at home and through foreign banks.
The Bangladesh Bank levied a niggardly fine of taka 100,000 ($1,440) on Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd (IBBL), the largest Shariah-based bank that has 169 branches, for its alleged violation of the Money Laundering Prevention Act, 2002.
Such fund flows have occurred with full government knowledge through what can be considered 'legal channels'.