of a Death Foretold
League (AL) leader Shah AMS Kibria has become the latest victim
of a spate of bomb blasts that has threatened to destroy the
country's already fragile democratic polity. As the nation
mourns yet another casualty of our long running culture of
political killing and violence, chances are low that, Kibria's
killers will be brought to justice.
of death looms large on our political horizon again. Only
six months after the grisly attack that claimed 21 lives in
the heart of the capital, terror struck in full force on January
27; this time it chose its prey further down north-east.
fateful day, Shah AMS Kibria, the 74-year-old economist-turned
Awami Leaguer, went to attend a rally in Habiganj without
any clue of what was in the offing. He and fellow party members
did not smell a rat even when power went out several times
in an otherwise serene wintery evening.
In a grim
recreation of what happened in the AL-rally in Bangabandhu
Avenue on August 21, a grenade was lobbed when Kibria walked
down to his car. Another grenade soon followed; "The
second grenade was thrown from the primary school ground as
we ran for cover," says Shahiduddin Chowdhury, a witness
to the carnage and former chairman of the local Pourashava.
and profusely bleeding, Kibria was taken first to the nearby
Sadar Hospital, and then driven away to Dhaka by an ambulance,
as the AL-workers could not manage to get a helicopter. The
former finance minister died on his way.
scathing criticism from local and international press, the
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Four Party Alliance
has sought the help of the FBI and Scotland Yard. But the
precedence of the government's non-cooperation with these
international agencies during the investigation into the August
21 massacre has left many sceptical about the BNP's intention
behind the move. In fact, this time the US government wants
the BNP's assurance that "full access to all evidence
and witnesses will be given to the investigation".
both cases, the August 21 and January 27 attacks, the potential
utility of the FBI assistance was greatly undermined when
the crime scene was not properly protected from contamination,"
a US government spokesperson said. "For such assistance
to be useful, we believe it would be important for the government
to establish clear terms of reference and to make other provisions
to ensure that FBI consultants are given full access to all
relevant evidence and witnesses.
such terms of reference had been established prior to the
involvement of foreign consultants of the August 21 attack,
their contribution to the investigation might have been more
meaningful," he continued.
name adds to a long list of 200 people that were so far killed
in 18 bomb blasts across the country in the last eight years.
The first such blast took place on March 6, 1996 when a bomb
ripped through an annual gathering of Udichi in the northern
district of Jessore killing 10 cultural activists. Though
the AL, then at the helm, blamed BNP-backed zealots for the
attack, Sheikh Hasina's government, however, was never serious
in running an independent investigation.
when seven Communist Party workers died in simultaneous-blasts
in downtown Dhaka, the AL-led government was quick to find
the culprits under the shelter of the BNP. The party, as an
opposition, always denied its link to the blasts; and in the
last year of the AL's term, fed some bizarre conspiracy theories,
among them one accusing the government of planting bombs in
public places to win the upcoming elections. This disturbing
trend has repeated itself several times during the last six
that though both the major political parties were not sure
of the nature and motives of the blasts, they blamed each
other only to reap political dividend. "How come the
AL-government did not crack down on these religious outfits
if they really believed the zealots were behind the blasts?"
asks Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, a national security expert.
bombs started to rip through public places more frequently
as the time for 2001's general elections progressed. Actually,
the year had witnessed six such incidents that had claimed
armed with the support of two religious parties, eventually
won the elections and since then it has been following the
path of its predecessor, only the other way round. The party
has been describing the blasts a ploy to damage the country's
image abroad since the first such incident took place during
its term on September 28, 2002 at a cinema hall in Satkhira.
Zia's government walked further down the path of conceit and
deceit when several powerful bombs went into four movie theatres
in Mymensingh. Even before the primary investigation began
the PM herself blamed those "who are making anti-Bangladesh
campaign at home and abroad".
Hasina was the prime target of the PM's tirade as only days
ago the AL-supremo told a European audience in Brussels that
the sympathisers of AL-Qaiada were ruling Bangladesh.
the PM's paranoia has been manifested time and again in the
face of local and foreign claims that the country is becoming
a breeding ground for religious extremists. Her government
banned issues of some international newspapers, including
the <>Wall Street Journal, Time magazine and Far Eastern
Economic Review,<> for making unsavoury comments about
the BNP's reliance on religious parties to cling to power.
of the most publicised denials, the government arrested two
British journalists from Channel Four who came to the country
to make a documentary on the rise of militant Islam in Bangladesh.
Zaiba Naz Malik and Bruno Sorrentino were later released;
but their two Bangladeshi fixers, Selim Samad and Pricilla
Raj, did not get away so easily. Sedition charges were brought
against them; and it was, in fact, a High Court, order that
ensured their release.
the extent to which the BNP, which relies heavily on Jamaat
and Islamic Oikkya Jote (IOJ) for popular support, has been
rejecting the presence of religious extremism here.
contribution to militant Islam dates back to the Soviet occupation
of Afghanistan. During the early eighties, many Bangladeshi
Madrasa-students went to Pakistan to fight for the mujahideens.
When the Afghan-war ended with the fall of Najibullah's government
in Kabul, many came back home and with them have brought religious
bigotry to a country that always prides itself on its Sufi
them is Afghan war veteran Maulana Abdur Rauf, leader of the
Jamiatul Islamia, who was arrested on September 19, 2003,
along with 17 accomplices. Rauf confessed to fighting for
the Talibans. "About 500 Bangladeshis went to Afghanistan
to fight the Jihad and of them 33 died," Rauf told the
police. The militant leader later got bail and his party's
activities, perhaps, are still going on.
the big extremist groups working in the country, Harkat al
Jihad al Islami Bangladesh (HJIB), came under spotlight when
the group was charged with planting two bombs at a meeting
that was to be attended by the then Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina. The mission of HJIB is to establish Islamic rule in
Bangladesh. According to the US State Department the group
has an apparent cadre-strength of more than several thousand
members and it operates and trains in at least six camps inside
Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government has officially banned
governments have never tried to reign in on these extremist
groups. In fact Khaleda Zia and her cabinet have remained
conspicuously inactive when different self-styled vigilante
groups have been butchering innocent people in the name of
Islam. Bangla Bhai, the so-called commander of Jagrata Muslim
Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), has issued several edicts-- à
la Talibans-- calling men to keep beard and forcing women
to wear burka.
reports even suggest that the so-called JMJB is working in
connivance with some bigwigs of the ruling Four-party Alliance.
Though the PM has ordered the arrest of Bangla Bhai, according
to a Daily Star report, "Two police officers tipped off
Bangla Bhai who holed up in an outlying village in Raninagar
where he set up a vigilante camp to launch anti-outlaw drives".
Another grim reminder of the BNP's reliance on religion to
tighten its grip on power. That may explain why we have an
ostrich of a government that systematically turns a blind
eye to the activities of zealots in the country.
however, want to differentiate between the last two blasts
and the others. The terrorists, who were otherwise using bombs
to kill people, have been using grenades since a huge cache
of arms were retrieved in Chittagong. Though the government
vigorously denied it, many believe a large number of grenades
went missing and have subsequently fallen into the hands of
is it possible that all of a sudden the terrorists have started
using the same Arges grenade that were retrieved by the police
a year ago?" Brig Anam asks.
last two blasts, Anam thinks, were unique for a different
reason altogether. "Most of the blasts that took place
before August 21, 2004 were not targeted at any party's leadership,"
says Brig Anam. He believes it is likely that the last two
major blasts, where grenades were used, were carried out by
a different group.
think these two attacks are different because the attackers
chose only grenades unlike the previous attacks," the
security analyst continues.
targets and motives of the killers were different. "In
Jessore, Ramna <>Batamul<> or in all the attacks
where bombs were used, the target was the general public and
the aim was to deter people from holding programmes that the
bigots think were anti-Islamic. Just look at the places where
they planted bombs-- Bangla New Year celebration, cinema halls,
cultural programmes… "
believes that in the August 21 carnage and January 27 blast
the target was only the AL's leadership. One conspiracy theory
is that the attackers may have links to the self-confessed
killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
you never know," Anam says. "The whole situation
is chaotic. The BNP denies the presence of extremists in the
country as this questions its alliance with parties like Jamaat
or IOJ. On the other hand, the AL is using the blasts as a
pretext to undermine the government," the retired army-man
and until both the BNP and AL go beyond their petty political
interests, the ordinary citizens have to live with bomb blasts
and targeted killing of opposition political leaders. This
indifference, coupled with the BNP's sheer arrogance and the
AL's lack of political vision, are leading the country to
an impending disaster.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004