The US State Department’s latest human rights report has validated my long-held position – that regardless of all its posturing, Washington’s principal allies in Muslim-majority countries are the foot soldiers of fundamentalist outfits.
From overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1950s to using hardcore Islamists to fight the Afghan Jihad to backing the most regressive regimes of Saudi Arabia, the US has always found radical forces as ready-to-use material for regime change operations to defeat progressive forces in the Islamic world.
For Washington during the Cold War, Arab or Persian nationalists like Gamal Nasser, Saddam Hussein or Mossadegh were the principal enemy. On occasions, the script has gone wrong for Washington when volcanic events like the Islamic revolution unfolded in Iran in 1979 or when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996.
Those like us who covered the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War closely and the events that followed find a continuity in US policy – first in backing the bloodthirsty Pakistan army and followed by Washington’s covert backing to the brutal 1975 coup. For the Nixon-Kissinger duo, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – the founding father of the nation – was a “Soviet-Indian proxy”. So Washington’s dislike for Arab nationalists like Nasser easily translated into distrust of a Bangalee nationalist like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
I am thus not a wee bit surprised by the latest US State Department report on human rights situation in Bangladesh that pulls up on the Hasina government for action against Jamaat-e-Islami.
“Opposition activists faced criminal charges. Leaders and members of Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist political party in the country, could not exercise their constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly because of harassment by law enforcement,” said the US state department report.
It criticises the Bangladesh government headed by Awami League for deregistering Jamaat as a political party which prohibits them from seeking office in the name of Jamaat-e-Islami. Interestingly, Jamaat’s registration was scrapped finally in 2018, following a high court order that declared illegal the party’s registration with the Election Commission, a demand that had resonated across Bangladesh during the popular movement for war crimes trial back in 2013.
Ironically, the US report said: “The fundamental constitutional rights of speech and assembly of its leaders and members were denied.”
Let’s get our history right.
Jamaat sided with the Pakistan army during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and their supporters joined the Pakistani soldiers in perpetrating horrible atrocities against Bangalees.
Several of their top leaders have been found guilty for murder, rape, forcible conversions of minorities and arson, and some have walked the gallows after verdicts sentenced by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal.
In the wake of the recent report, many in Bangladesh are stunned by the US defence of the Jamaat whose declared objective was to create a Pakistan-style Islamic republic by undermining the spirit of Bangladesh’s secular democratic polity. But I am not.
Back in 2013, with its key ally BNP boycotting the election alongside its senior leaders facing war crimes trial, Jamaat violently agitated on a host of issues by taking radical positions and dozens of innocent people have died in their firebombing of passenger buses and trains, let alone a series of ruthless attacks on police forces and grisly elimination of political rivals. The US knows that cannot happen without the violent Jamaat cadre and their cohorts in like-minded radical groups.
This US defence of Jamaat in the State Department report proves a striking continuity in American policy of backing pro-Pakistan forces in Bangladesh. The US always had problems with passionate nationalists like Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or Gamal Nasser. Regressive regimes like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan have always fitted Washington’s bill by being too willing to play by Western strategic interests.
So, Joe Biden has to swallow his threat to turn Saudi Arabia into a pariah state and reach out to the House of Saud despite the brutal killing of dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Will he dare to sanction the Saudi officers involved in the brutal assassination of Khashoggi?
No. But ironically, Dhaka will be held to account for “denial of rights” of the Islamist radicals who want to create a Taliban type regressive state in Bangladesh.
A report by The Daily Star exposes how Jamaat’s former money man Mir Quasem Ali schemed to foil the war crimes trial with a $25 million deal with one of the most influential US lobby firms, Cassidy & Associates, for engaging with the US government and the Bangladesh government “to protect his interest”.
Sukharanjan Dasgupta is a veteran columnist and author of “Midnight Massacre” on the 1975 Bangladesh coup. As chief correspondent of Anandabazar Patrika, he reported on the Liberation War by gathering information from freedom fighters in Bangladesh.
Source: The Daily Star