BANGLADESH: Dhaka rebuffs New York Times report

Representative to the UN refutes suggestion that Bangladesh is becoming a Taliban country and allegation that government is in collusion with Bangla Bhai

The Daily Star
Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Dhaka yesterday dismissed a report published in the New York Times (NYT) Magazine headlined 'The Next Islamic Revolution?" as one-sided, baseless and politically motivated.

Bangladesh's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury has already sent a rejoinder to the NYT refuting the allegations in the story, saying it is 'baseless, partial and misleading'.

"We are saddened that the report is one-sided. It would not be unusual for the motive behind this report to be political," said Zahirul Haq, director general of the foreign ministry's external publicity wing.

"Nearly 1,400 foreign journalists visited Bangladesh in the last three years. Reports by only three or four of them have been regrettable," Haq said referring to a portion of the January 23 report that claims, "Foreign journalists in Bangladesh are followed by intelligence agents; people that reporters interview are questioned afterwards."

The report narrates, "It is possible to travel through Bangladesh and observe the increased political and religious repression in everyday life. The global war on terror is aimed at making the rise of regimes like that of the Taliban impossible, but in Bangladesh, the trend could be going the other way."

Referring to such statements Haq said, "The NYT reporter came a long way but failed to portray the real picture of Bangladesh," adding, "To suggest Bangladesh is becoming a Taliban country is humorous at best and is the result of ill-motives."

He termed the report's allusion to government collusion with Bangla Bhai and his organisation -- Jagrata Muslim Janata -- motivated and said, "The first secretary of US Embassy in Dhaka visited the area mentioned in the report and found no consolidated existence of Bangla Bhai following there."

"Bangla Bhai gained the support of the local police -- until the central government, worried that Bangla Bhai's band might be getting out of control, ordered his arrest in late May," reads the report.

The author, Eliza Griswold, a freelance writer, also says in her report, "The Bangladeshi government's arrest warrant doesn't seem to have made much difference, although for now Bangla Bhai refrains from public appearances."

On these points, Haq said the government is determined to tackle these issues and has already arrested 66 operatives of Bangla Bhai.

"The author of the report chose a single village, Bagmara, out of the 70,000 villages here. The situation there does not represent all of Bangladesh," he added.

The report says, "Last Spring, Bangla Bhai, whose followers probably number around 10,000, decided to try an Islamist revolution in several provinces of Bangladesh that border India."

But Haq questioned the very credibility of the report: "Since there is a question mark in the headline, it suggests the author herself is not clear and confident about the subject matter."

"It is not right to judge a country on the basis of one aberration," he added.

The report also says the ruling coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami is "socially conservative and unafraid of violence," and referring to the coalition's incumbency it adds, "Since 2001, a politically aggressive form of Islam has found, for the first time since independence, a strong place at the top of Bangladeshi politics."

The report quotes coalition leader and Islamic Oikya Jote Chairman Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini as saying in an interview that he had not been appointed as a government minister as the West and Bangladesh would see him as an extremist.

The report also cites Indian intelligence documents to suggest that Amini is a member of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (Huji) and says Huji is linked to Al-Qaeda and that there are rumours that Amini is a 'good friend' to the Afghan Talibans.

Refuting such claims Haq said, "This report has saddened us, but it will not be able to tarnish the international image and fame of Bangladesh."

The report also quotes Amnesty International's Bangladesh specialist Govind Acharya as saying Hindus, Ahmadiyyas and tribal peoples are leaving the country feeling less safe, a phenomenon problematic for the identity and the future of this country.

The author alleges that the permissiveness of certain sections of the government and the police allow Bangla Bhai and 'other groups' to continue repression of the minorities and communists.

But Haq rejected all these claims saying, "The people of Bangladesh are committed to democracy and Bangladesh has achieved great progress in social indicators highly appreciated in the international forum." He added that Bangladesh's active participation in that forum means its image would not be damaged so easily.