Banned Islamist militant outfit Harkatul Jihad al Islami (Huji), comprised of Afghan war veterans, has started activities across the country to take part in the next parliamentary polls under a new name.
Huji leaders under the banner of Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) gathered for an iftar party in a Rajshahi community centre in Shalbagan on September 8 claiming to be in negotiations with the government for holding political programmes openly.
Even though they claimed that they are not involved in any criminal or anti-state activities, they admitted that their organisation began from Huji. They said they are still in Jihad as before in Afghanistan but the Jihad is for "rebuilding the country by promoting true democracy".
They said two top Huji founders--Mufti Abdus Salam and Rahmatullah alias Shaikh Farid--are president and secretary of the party. They collected the application form for getting IDP registered with the Election Commission for participating in the next general elections. They already formed fully-fledged IDP committees in 42 districts and in all thanas of Dhaka city to that end. They have begun renting offices in districts and forming committees and organising activists in 300 upazilas across the country.
The government so far has made no visible effort to arrest Huji kingpins since banning the outfit in October, 2005.
Several police and intelligence officials said even though Huji has been banned, they have never received any instructions from the government to launch any drive against Huji leaders and activists.
HUJI'S RAJSHAHI TOUR
The IDP launched organisational tours in northern part of the country from September 6. They held meetings in towns and upazilas of Chapainawabganj, Rajshahi and Rangpur.
Local law enforcement agencies were learnt to be ignorant about Huji gatherings, in the name of IDP, even though teams of "Mujaheeds" are touring other parts of the country, sources said.
Chaired by Rajshahi IDP President Maulana Faisal, the meeting in Rajshahi was attended by Afghan war veteran and IDP central Dawat and Tabligi (invitation and campaign) division President Abdul Kuddus and Abul Kalam Azad, an Arakan Mujaheed and president of Natore and northern units of IDP.
Over 300 activists assembled at the meeting while Rajshahi IDP General Secretary Mufti Mustafizur Rahman, Nayeb-e Amir (vice-president) Nazmul Ahmed, Organising Secretary Hussein Ahmed and Aynul Haque and Arifur Rahman were present.
"We are still in a Jihad in the country as we were in the past in Afghanistan against Russia and America. But now we are fighting against evil-education, corruption, and communalism," Abdul Kuddus, who reportedly claimed to have fought in Afghanistan for 17 years against Russian and American forces, said talking to The Daily Star.
"We want to rebuild the country establishing a true democracy and selecting honest and efficient leadership on the lines of the holy Quran. We will take part in the next parliamentary elections. And we believe that we will have a remarkable influence in the political arena within a short time," he told the gathering.
Mahbub Mohsin, commissioner of Rajshahi Metropolitan Police (RMP), told The Daily Star that IDP did not take prior permission for holding such meetings and the police were unaware of the meeting being held.
Sources say that the IDP claims to have had discussions with the government at different levels and that they had convinced the government of their innocence.
The meeting organisers also said they had even informed the government in advance about their countrywide meetings under the banner of IDP.
"We succeeded in convincing the government that nobody of Harkatul Jihad, other than Mufti Abdul Hannan and Mufti Abdur Rouf, was involved in any criminal activities or has any criminal records. That Harkatul Jihad was dissolved in 1998," Hussein Ahmed told The Daily Star.
"The name of IDP was selected in presence of administrative high-ups after the government was convinced, through its intelligence agencies, that our activities do not pose any problems," he said.
He denied having any negotiations with the government for holding meetings across the country.
Around 40,000 Bangladeshis joined the Afghan war and a number of the returnees formed Huji's Bangladesh chapter in the late 80s during the Ershad regime. Returning from the Afghan war, Mufti Abdul Hannan and Mufti Abdur Rouf floated separate organisation Harkatul Mujahideen, claimed Hussein and Huji sources.
Advised by "senior Islamic scholars", Harkatul Mujahideen merged with Huji and the new Huji was officially launched under the leadership of Mufti Abdus Salam in Dhaka in April, 1992.
When Mufti Abdur Rouf criticised Islamic scholars and Abdul Hannan was found engaged in anti-state activities, they were expelled from Huji in 1998, sources claimed.
Huji was dissolved then and the Huji leaders, except Mufti Abdur Rouf and Abdul Hannan, kept on working under a new organisation--Islami Dawati Kafela, Bangladesh.
"Thirty-nine members out of the 41-member Huji shura [governing body] left in course of time. We changed our organisation's name to Islami Gono Andolan until negotiations with the government started," Hussein said.
Huji leaders and activists went into hiding when the Awami League government launched a crack down on them following an attack on late poet Shamsur Rahman and an assassination attempt on Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina.
As the media ran several reports on the activities of Huji, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) came to the limelight by blasting bombs across the country.
After the government launched a crackdown on JMB, Huji leaders succeeded in convincing the government that none of their leaders and activists was involved in any kind of violence or militant activities.
They also told the government that a faction of Huji men led by Mufti Hannan and Abdur Rouf, who were responsible for violence, was expelled from the organisation in 1998.
"The government banned Harkatul Jihad of Mufti Hannan and Abdur Rouf. The original Huji was dissolved in 1998," Hussein claimed.