Ishraq admits arrested men are his friends
Ishraq Ahmed, a non-resident Bangladeshi accused of involvement in plotting the recent coup attempt foiled by the army, has said he and “other nationalists” are trying to oppose Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's “letting Bangladesh be 'turned into a Bantustan' run by India”.
His remarks came in an article in The Economist's January 28 issue. The British weekly newspaper spoke to Ishraq, who is currently holed up abroad, for its story on the failed plot, which the army said was meant to overthrow the government.
In the report, titled “Politics in Bangladesh; Turbulent house”, Ishraq “concedes that the arrested men are his friends, but denies religious extremism”.
The article read, “He [Ishraq] says he fought 'with great responsibility' for Bangladesh's independence. Now he and other nationalists are merely trying to oppose what they see as a coup-by-stealth by Sheikh Hasina, who is letting Bangladesh be 'turned into a Bantustan' run by India.”
(According to Wikipedia, a Bantustan used to be a territory set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa as part of the policy of apartheid.)
At a rare press briefing in Dhaka on January 19, the army said it had thwarted an attempt to topple the government. It claimed that some religious fanatics, mostly mid-ranking officers and their retired colleagues, were involved in the bid.
“At the instigation of some non-resident Bangladeshis, the schemers wanted to disrupt democracy by creating anarchy in the army, cashing in on religious fervours of others," the force added.
Two retired officers -- Lt Col Ehsan Yusuf and Major Zakir -- have been arrested in connection with the plot and are now being interrogated. Another alleged plotter, a serving major named Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Major Zia, is on the run.
According to a statement read out at the briefing, some “undisciplined and disgruntled officers” had been involved in the attempt to execute the scheme by staying in contact with Major Zia by email and mobile phone. It added that Zia was relentless in his efforts to influence the officers into executing the plan on January 10.
On the same day, Zia called Ishraq and discussed the “developments and execution process of the coup”, the army statement continued. “Zia also told Ishraq to ask local and international media to telecast and publish reports on the coup.”
At the briefing, the army could not provide the whereabouts of Ishraq but said he was possibly living in Hong Kong.
It also said high government officials had already taken measures to locate Ishraq.
The Economist article did not mention the name of the country or the place where Ishraq might be living at this moment.
It carried some of Ishraq's claims regarding the role of Indian intelligence agencies in Bangladesh.
“He [Ishraq] makes many claims. Among the more plausible and specific is that spies from India's Research Analysis Wing (RAW) operate in the country,” it read.
“He claims, too, that for two years RAW has had an office within the headquarters of Bangladeshi Intelligence in Dhaka and a 'direct submarine cable for communications' back to India.
“He claims that Indians conduct electronic surveillance in the country and kidnap suspects from Bangladeshi cities. Indian prodding, he adds, encourages the government to crack down on 'anyone with beards. Any practising Muslim is vilified and portrayed as Taliban'.”
The Economist also spoke to Gowher Rizvi, an adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in the context of Ishraq's claims.
It wrote: “Mr Rizvi denies all this, saying he is 'totally unaware of any Indian presence in Bangladesh'. Yet he accepts that many are uneasy about Bangladesh's rapprochement with India under Sheikh Hasina.
“Bangladesh has also met Indian demands to root out Islamists' training camps, and he concedes that some individuals -- though not Bangladeshis -- are taken over the border for prosecution in India.”