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Meet The Bangla Ba’athists

July 12, 2017

The sixties are called the decade of decolonization. New countries, revolutions, radicals, bigots and spread of radical thoughts. The tumultuous decade also gave birth to a radical generation in Bangladesh.

They were the vanguards in many political movements. Later, their footprints can be traced in many of the upheavals Bangladesh had gone through.

Rare are the books that tell us about them and their organizations.

“JaSoDer Utthan Poton: Asthir Shomoyer Rajniti” by Mohiuddin Ahmed is one of those rare books.The book is special for another reason: it brought to fore for the first time the little known links between the radical lefts and the Ba’aths in Maghreb.

The book enthralled me, left me bemused and made me ponder.

First, I would like to make it clear, throughout this write up the term “radical” denotes the radical left and this piece is not a review of the book in question rather it underscores the links between the Ba’aths and the radicals here and their role in creating political quagmire.

The Ba’athists have their roots in the middle east. Theirs was a pan Arab movement that swept across the countries in the region and resulted in coups and counter-coups. Many of the authoritarian rulers in the region were the Ba’athists and they hold their countries together subduing  and oppressing the rivals. They spared no opportunity to build rapport with likeminded ideological groups of other countries and offered them training and money. For instance, construction of dashing sports complexes in developing world, providing safe refuge to coup plotters, creation of scholarship funds in foreign universities like LSE, publication and dissemination of their political literatures abroad were  done through their money.

The radical lefts of Bengal have long been garnered a lot if interest in the West. When the cry of separation of the united Bengal filled the air of political atmosphere in India they came to the limelight.

Brazen political statements made by unimaginable acts of terror. The list of Bengal’s firebrand radicals is endless: from Khudiram to Bagha Jatin, to Surya Sen, to Subhash Chandra Bose.

Many in the West took a lot of interest in them. Leonard A Gordon wrote a colossal work, “Brothers Against The Raj”, on Subhash Chandra Bose and Sharat Chandra Bose.

Bangladesh has been plagued by the coups and counter-coups since its birth. And the radicals have to take a fair share of the blame.

In Bangladesh very few have the authority and are the repositories of history of radical movement to write about the radicals. Mohiuddin Ahmed who himself was an activist and works in the development field is one of them. In addition, he wrote a book on the radicals. He wrote this book on JaSoD in 2014 and Prothoma published the book. I have not had the opportunity to go through the book. Recently, a critical comment on the social networking site aroused my interest about the book. We exactly do not know how much truth the anecdotes contain. But the writer seems to have consulted the facts with the concerned persons before producing them into his book.

No protest has been heard since its publication.

Radical ideologies, be it left or right, are dangerous when they percolated through the soldiers breaching all the safeguarding mechanisms in the garrison and when the more ambitious soldiers among them try to do something extra constitutional.

Major Jalil, Col Taher and his brother Abu Yusuf’s, the men behind Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, political indoctrination began in the Army. They passed down their military knowledge to their disciples while they were on vacation. Theirs was an independent group outside the mainstream political parties. After the Bangladesh came into being, radicals of other parties joined JaSoD. The names include ASM Abdur Rob, Sirajul Alam Khan, Major Bajlul Huda. It was Fort Bragg trained  and former Special Service Group commando Col Taher who was the group’s most charismatic leader. Hasanul Haq Inu, current minister of Information, Quazi Aaref, Sharif Nurul Alam Ambia, Taher’s brother Anwar Hossain are the other key figures of the party. Unwarranted violence of ruling party’s militia led them to take a violent course of action. The night before the fateful 15 August in 1975 the group carried out a bombing campaign at Dhaka University. One of their activists turned BUET teacher Nikhil Chandar Saha died while making bombs at a secret hideout. The group’s most cynical act was an attempt to hijack the then Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka. It was foiled by the Indian guards and four of the hijackers were shot dead.

The book presents several anecdotes on the group’s links with the assassins of Bnagabandu Sheikh Mojibur Rahman. The most important of them is their ties  with the Gaddafi regime. Exiled killers of Bangabandhu found refuge in Libya and were working under the auspices of Gaddafi’s intelligence officer Colonel Salem. The killers of Bangabandhu contacted the JaSod leadership and invited them to send party cadres to “International Camps”, military training centers for grooming party cadres of likeminded groups.

Abu Yusuf’s Mohammadpur resident was used to hold a discussion between Major Jalil and other JaSod leaders. On several batches hundreds of recruits were sent to Libya to take military trainings.

JaSoD’s mouthpiece Daily Ganokantha, shut down by Mujib regime, resumed publication with generous funding from Libyan Dictator. Over time this relationship grew. Local Libyan embassy started to provide funds to JaSod. Prominent intellectual Ahmed Sofa was tasked with translating Gaddafi’s “Green Book” and received generous amount from the embassy officials. Daily Ganokantho regularly published the translated Green Book.

Even the group’s links can be traced with the assassination of General Zia. It was assumed that General Manzur, then General Officer Commanding of Chittangong, was the plotter of the killing. General Manzur was cousin of JaSod leader Sirajul Alam Khan( author is not certain about this family ties).JaSod was furious against Zia, who rose to power in the political maelstrom created by JaSod and hanged thousands of its activists.

Subsequent military regimes split it into several factions. Islamic radicals were let loose on JaSoD activists in public universities. Still they retained their power in several universities and waged several successful movements against the govt including the restoration of democracy in 1990.

Many Ganokantha intellectuals teamed with Jamaat run publication  syndicates including Mowlana Mannan’s Inquilab. Mannan got lucrative construction contract in Saddam’s Ba’athist Iraq.

Often infighting in the radical lefts and feud between rival groups  led to label others as ” foreign agents”, “foreign operatives”, “CIA”, “ISI”, ” RAW”, “Yes-men of Mao”, “Yes-Men of Lenin”. This is as far the book tells about JaSod.

The radicals were the outspoken critics of Iraq’s war and the” Arab Spring” that upended the Arab  regimes. However the were silent about the brutalities committed by these dictators.

When Poverty stricken Rajshahi  witnessed the rise of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, you could again traced the Ba’athist connection. A Jamaat activist turned Coaching center director became the head of the terror outfits who felt the urge to cleanse the region of the radical lefts.

The two-year long rule of the Caretaker regime spared JaSod. None of their leaders landed in jail.Even a JaSod loyalist became IGP whose daughter was widowed in BDR mutiny, an event that also witnessed the murder of RAB Intel chief Colonel Gulzar. Colonel Gulzar arrested the JMB leadership including Bangla Bhai. Rumors say that the IGP was posted as head of Police in Rajshahi when JMB leader Bangla Bhai was consolidating power.

JaSod can be traced again into political controversy when Justice A B M Khairul Haq dropped the provision of Caretaker Government from the constitution. This order ceased functioning of a safe power transfer mechanism. Rumors say he was a JaSod loyalist.

When the present  govt assumed  power, it revived the Bangabandhu murder trial and hanged most of the convicted killers including the killers living under Gaddafi support.
With their demise, govt sapped umbilical cord between them and their loyalists. However,their supporters are still pretty much active in Bangladesh.

Then came the ISIS.It was reported that former Ba’athists hold sway over the ISIS leadership.

Bangladesh  outright rejected IS presence here.  ISIS mouthpiece Daabiq ran several  features on Bangladeshi jihadist and runs Bangla propaganda programs, showing the importance of Bangladesh in  jihadists’ radar screen. Ba’aths links with the radicals contradicts govt statement.

It is very interesting that former foes now share the govt. Once the radicals took the violent path as a mean to resist an oppressive regime. Now they are muzzling the press with the introduction of draconian laws and bringing spurious charges against the journalists.

In brief, it is evident that in all our political and social upheavals the radicals played a role willingly or unwillingly. And caused lots of havocs in the lives of millions of Bangladeshis. From Public offices to universities to the Army to media outlets, their footprints can be traced. In this country we empowered the radicals who protect their interests like a badger, even at the cost of the majority. These radicals in the end contributed to the creation of an anarchic society.

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