Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Another Head for the Hydra

Since July 3, Bangladesh police forces (including Rapid Action Battalion-RAB) have been dismantling another “offshoot” of the JMB, Islam O Muslim (Islam and Muslim), according to the Daily Star (Source 1, 2, 3) and the New Nation.

Law enforcement has detained the chief organizer, the second-in-command, and a number of full-time members and other associates over the past weekend.

The arrest of the chief organizer led to some valuable information, first was the founding of IOM, evidently it stemmed from a disagreement over financial and other matters with some other “influential JMB leaders.” It has not been reported what, if any, links the IOM has with earlier reported networks Ahle Sunnah al Jamaat or Kalema-e-Jamaat (see The Hydra's Many Heads).

Second were the links to the now-executed leader of JMJB, Bangla Bhai, the IOM chief organizer “actively took part” in the JMJB’s anti-Leftist operations in 2004.

Third was the claim that he fled to India (specifically, West Bengal) after the arrests in 2005 of Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai (the two supremos of JMB/JMJB) who were eventually executed. During his stay in West Bengal (where he married a second time according to the Daily Star) he “played a key role in strengthening the JMB’s wing in India during his two-and-a-half years stay in Murshidabad, Nadia, and Maldah districts.”

Finally, the IOM allegedly planned to “dominate” a number of sub-districts in the north comprising C’nawabganj, Bagmara, and Naogaon.

The other significant arrestee was the “military affairs commander” who “used to go to India frequently” and provided arms to the JMB/IOM. A RAB officially stated that the various leaders, who parted ways after the execution of Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, formed new organizations and were actively recruiting. From his confessions, additional members were picked up.

Notably, the second-in-command was detained, following an intelligence tip-off, at his father-in-law’s house in Belpara Johorpur village of C’nawabganj town. Another Daily Star article revealed that he came into contact with the JMB through another associate, whom later married his sister after he persuaded his mother. His mother and sister are now living “amid poverty and anxiety.”

These arrests continue to suggest that Bangladesh’s security forces have a solid grasp of the JMB threat and are working effectively to neutralize it. That the second-in-command was arrested following a tip-off from a Bangladeshi intelligence agency is also encouraging. Moreover, the wealth of information gained from the chief organizer, particularly the IOM’s plans to expand throughout the northern areas (which were once ample recruiting ground for the JMB/JMJB) presents the Government a rare opportunity to deal with the IOM-JMB branch decisively.

However, in addition to rooting out the remaining IOM cadres and leadership, the local governments must also take steps in ensuring proper governance in their areas. One way to ensure proper governance is for the national government to implement some of the points made by the vice chairmen of the Upazila Parishads, for instance eliminating provisions undermining their authority, and granting them greater autonomy (as reported by the Daily Star). The other way is for all levels of government to eliminate corruption.

The story of the second-in-command continues to bear some light on the JMB’s recruiting. Whether his future brother-in-law was involved in an extremist mosque or madrassa, or was simply a new acquaintance has not been reported. However, the importance of human connections, particularly family ones, are highlighted by this and previous stories. The idea of joining the organization due to another’s influence and the phenomena of entire families sympathizing with a group’s actions are evident. The significance of realities should be explored, not only by the Bangladeshi government but by the civil society, NGOs, and the international community.

Additionally, it seems that the second-in-command’s story is a bit more of the “usual narrative” than the JMB’s detained IT chief. One could not “come out successful in the SSC examinations” while the other attended the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. One worked as a mason in India before returning to Bangladesh, the other worked as an engineer for BUET.

The Bangladeshi government (and society) should take careful note of these stories and devise ways to not only apprehend cadres but also address their men’s grievances or their shared problems.

The recent press reports are discussing the ease with which extremists can flow across the border between India and Bangladesh. While the UK and Bangladesh have agreed, in principle, to share information and work towards effective “border management” any further discussion is pointless without involving India.

In addition to the border, India should be involved for the simple reason that it is clear that the JMB has become a transnational extremist organization. By involving India, Bangladesh could provide information that would help to shut down the JMB’s supply lines and financing.

If Bangladesh aims to keep JMB, or whatever offshoots it spawns, at bay then effective policing of the border should also be a priority. However, it the first priority of the government should be to address the lack of governance and development in these areas; by doing so, it will establish a friendly environment, where the locals trust the government, to police.
As for the spawning, the security forces should explore ways in which to exacerbate the fractures. Are there ways to promote infighting among the groups? Is one group willing to snitch on the other? Better still, is one group willing to abandon an armed struggle? This latter case would need to be approached cautiously to avoid another Islamic Democratic Party fiasco. At the very least, the news that the higher JMB leadership cannot agree on such things as financing and ideological issues is good, the JMB movement may be rotting from the top.

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