LIKE everything else, the al-Qaeda chief Zawahiri's so-called call for “intifada” in Bangladesh is now a subject of political controversy. The ruling party would like us to believe that it is a sure sign of the close links between BNP-Jamaat alliance and the global terror organisation, and the opposition would have us believe that the whole thing is made up to further harass the opposition.
The tragedy is that people will believe on the basis of their political tilt and not on the basis of facts. Thus the political divide will widen further and we will see one more issue over which there will be mutual mudslinging. And, in the meantime, the truth will get further and further buried under accusations and counter- accusations.
What triggered the al-Qaeda chief to make the 'call' that he did? What had really happened in Bangladesh that necessitated equating us to situations elsewhere where such calls were made? The other relevant question is what use will the extremists in Bangladesh put this message to? What will be the fallout of this call inside our country?
Let us examine how Zawahiri's message is organised. Its narrative is much too familiar to those of us old enough to remember the Pakistani days when everything we did or demanded -- our rights for freedom, language, culture, autonomy and economic well being -- were seen through the single prism of "Islam khatrey mey hai"( Islam is in danger). According to the then rulers of Pakistan everything we did was to weaken the "Muslim Ummah", and nothing else. There was absolutely no merit in anything we demanded or said. We were driven by the single purpose of implementing "India's writ" of weakening the Ummah.
Zawahiri sees our world in the same light as the Pakistanis did in the fifties, sixties and in 1971, and waged a genocide to prevent our dream from coming into reality. His message questions our Liberation War, our right to demand, fight for and finally establish an independent state. Of the 1971 Independence struggle he says: "Their purpose was not independence from Pakistan, stopping aggression against the people of Bangladesh or getting rid of military rule in Pakistan." The real purpose was "to weaken the Muslim Ummah in the subcontinent." Bangladesh, he said, was being turned into "a subjugated surrogate of India."
We have heard all this before. As a freedom fighter I remember hearing Pakistani propaganda over the radio while living in our makeshift camps, calling upon "Muslims of East Pakistan" to resists the Indian "conspiracy" to break up Pakistan and "weaken the Muslim Ummah." There was no recognition of the aspiration of our people for independence. There was never any mention of the atrocities, the burning and looting of our homes and of the random killings of the ordinary people, including women and children. Forty three years later we hear again that our Liberation War was nothing but to "weaken the Muslim Ummah" and whatever is happening in Bangladesh is to make us a “surrogate” of India. The sad part is that there will be some among us who will be willing to swallow this.
Obviously, we are gravely concerned by Zawahiri's call. But what concerns us more is how we, as a state with all our security apparatus and as a people (with all our political rivalries), react to it.
The Daily Star published, last Wednesday, a chronology of postings of Zawahiri's message which was published on several blogs and web sites. On November 30 last year, a Pakistani blog Dawahilallah, run by Balakat Media, first uploaded it, the link of which was sent to Tangail-based youth Rasel, (who is on their email network) who is now in custody for uploading and distributing this message in his own blog, “Islamer Alo.” On January 6, 2014 this same message was uploaded on a US-based web site specialising on jihad related postings called “Jihadology.” On February 4 Dawahilallah uploaded the same message again, this time with a title “Bangladesh Genocide behind a Wall of Silence.” On February 8, Rasel posted this on his site “Islamer Alo” with an amended title “Silent genocide in Bangladesh.” Finally, on February 15 the news broke about this posting on various sites and the media headlined it on the following day.
Why did this message, posted on November 30, 2013 in a Pakistani web site and then reposted on a US site a month and a half later, uploaded on Rasel's site further three weeks later, waken the Bangladeshi authorities up to this dangerous message against our security only on the 15th of this month, a good three months later.
What were our security agencies doing? We are given to understand that there are specialised bodies whose sole job is to monitor web sites that work against the security and economic interest of our country. Where were they? We know for a fact that many national web sites are regularly monitored. Personal phones of many Bangladeshis are constantly tapped and their conversations recorded, and occasionally leaked to the obliging media to publicise. Three months, even by our standards, is a long time for our security agencies to do their job. We seem to be more apt on spying on our own people then on those who are posing genuine threats to our security. As taxpayers, whose money is being generously spent in the name of security, we have a right to know. We think that the government should hold an inquiry and come clean on how this fiasco occurred, and some heads should role for this grievous lapse. We recall the security lapses in the BDR incident. We do not know if efficiency measures followed from it.
On how we should react as a people, the early signs are extremely disturbing. The political divide is fatally dividing the public response to what we consider to be a matter that should occupy centre-stage of public attention and discourse. But look how our two main political parties are handling it. On February 18 former state minister for law and current food minister, Qamrul Islam, said Tarique Rahman, Khaleda Zia's son, was al-Qaeda's agent in Bangladesh, who he held responsible for the rise of extremism in the country. He also said al-Qaeda's Bangladeshi versions are Jamaat and Shibir.
Not to be left behind, Khaleda Zia, in her press comment on the same day, said that Zawahiri's message was false and is a concoction of the ruling party, and that “the government is carrying on a Goebbel's style propaganda” and the person responsible for it was Sheikh Hasina's son, Joy. So we have the two 'culprits' from the two sides, and it does not need a lot of imagination to think what sort of 'informed public discourse' we are likely to have from them on this vital issue of possible security threat.
Both the above statements clearly show that AL and BNP either do not know what al-Qaeda is or are so obsessed with destroying each other that they do not care if al-Qaeda makes an inroad into our politics as long as it hurts the 'other.' Otherwise, how can they be playing with a terrorist organisation that has absorbed almost the total attention of global powers since the infamous 9/11 in the US. When the whole world is trying its best to keep this terrorist organisation at bay, we are playing into its hands by our immaturity, shortsightedness and the mutual hatred of the two parties.
What we need is a unified response against extremism and not mutual recrimination. We have played enough blame-game with other issues. Against al-Qaeda we must build a national consensus. There cannot be any compromise with extremism, as Pakistanis are learning at a great cost to themselves.
The writer is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.