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Exclusive: Anti-Modi protests in Bangladesh backed by Pakistan, say officials

The protests that have been going on in Bangladesh since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhaka visit have a very strong element of support from Pakistan, according to sources.

Highly placed sources have told India Today TV that the Bangladesh government is looking into the role played by the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka in supporting and funding the agitation and embarrassing the Sheikh Hasina government.

Modi visited Bangladesh from March 26 to 27 to attend the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence and the birth centenary of ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

According to sources, elements from the Jamaat and the BNP had infiltrated the agitation and there is a strong Pakistani angle. Also, the Bangladeshi parliament had tweeted suggesting links between Hefazat-e-Islam and the Pakistan High Commission.

The first indication of Pakistan’s involvement in the agitation during PM Modi’s visit came when the Islamist hardline group Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) called for protests and Bangladesh parliament’s official Twitter wrote, “Pak HC #Dhaka’s #SecretFunding for @HIBofficial @Hefazot to protest against India & its PM @narendramodi. We, #secular & #democratic people of #Bangladesh condemn this attempt by Pak agency #ISI.”

Although the handle deleted the tweet, it had called the act “shameful”. The tweet had said, “#Shame on @GovtofPakistan, protector of #Terrorists around the globe.”

Many believe that the group, Hefazat-e-Islam is a front for the banned Islamist party Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, which calls for a Sharia legal system in the country.

Officials tracking the entire coverage of PM Modi’s visit said that Pakistani elements had their camera crews on the ground to livestream the protests online and that it was a well-coordinated ‘Modi ke khilaf’ programme.

Violence had occurred in the eastern border district of Brahmanbaria, where supporters of fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam came to blows with the police and border troops leading to deaths. Violence also occurred at a mosque in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. Hathajari, Chittagong and Brahmanbaria were the worst affected.

Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, the son of freedom fighters who were assassinated along with Bangabandhu, also tweeted citing a news report, “Recent Violence by the Islamist Radicals in Bangladesh had backing from outlawed terrorist group #JamaateIslami which in the past had strong links with #Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence #ISI”

Many started using the hashtag #BangladeshAgainstTerrorism after the violence.

Hefazat-e-Islam is not directly involved with any political party but is an Islamist, fundamentalist group based on Qawmi madrassas, the religious schools.

Interestingly, Mawlana Ahmed Shafi, the highest leader of HeI, who died in September 2020, had good relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Senior journalist Masud Karim explains, “After the death of Mr. Shafi, the Hefazat came under the control of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami. The current leadership, Junaid Babunagari, Mamunul Haq are also members of Islami alliance headed by BNP-Jamaat.”

Officials both in Delhi and Dhaka believe that with Junaid Babunagari’s elevation and his political aspirations, the links between the Hefazat-e-Islam and Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) could deepen and become more visible in times to come.

Karim adds, “The current leadership of Hefazat are anti-India, particularly against Indian PM Modi because of his party’s policy against Muslims. But originally, Hefazat had no programmes against the Modi visit. After his arrival in Dhaka, some people started violent protest in front of Baitul Mukarram Mosque, the national mosque in Bangladesh after Jumma prayer. The news spread countrywide and the Hefazat joined later.”

Jamaat-e-Islami is a pro-Pakistani political party. Jamaat has always been against Bangladesh independence in 1971. Today, although banned from contesting elections, Jamaat is one of the major allies of the main opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

According to sources, current leaders of Hefazat are linked with not only the BNP-Jamaat alliance, but also have connections in Pakistan.

While HeI worked under the patronage of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, it took a radical turn after Junaid Babu Nagari took over the Islamist, fundamentalist group in November last year after a bitter struggle over who will lead the group.

Junaid Babunagari was born in 1953 in Babunagar village of Fatikchhari Upazila, Chittagong. At the age of 20, he was admitted to Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia of Pakistan. Junaid Babunagari studied there for four years. He was taught by the world’s famous religious leaders of Darul ‘Uloom Karachi.

The involvement of Pakistan-backed elements is emerging with the Bangladesh government filing several cases against the activists of BNP and Jamaat for their involvement in the violence. BNP, however, has denied the charges.

While, the group has clear anti-India motives, the idea is also to radicalise the nation and embarrass the current dispensation of Sheikh Hasina.

Senior journalist and Editor of DBC News in Dhaka, Pranab Saha, said, “After 2013, ruling party Awami League decided to engage Hefazat leader Allama Shafi and Sheikh Hasina succeeded in striking a good working relationship with the late religious leader. They also established the Quami Madrasha Board. However, after the death of Allama Shafi the new leaders are not at all under the control of the government.”

The new form of HeI intends to not only embarrass the Sheikh Hasina government but also debunk any historical narrative that honours Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

In February one of the Hefazat leaders, Mamunul Haque, announced that they will not allow installation of a big statue of Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It has still not happened.

A sculpture of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was also defaced by some miscreants at Kushtia District.

“Now it’s a great challenge for the ruling party to prove that they are not weak. When the country is celebrating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary, at that time Mujib’s murals were defaced. It was to embarrass the Sheikh Hasina government. A message was also sent to India who was responsible for the creation of Bangladesh, with the bloodshed during Narendra Modi’s visit in Bangladesh.”

The purpose of such attacks on statues and murals by HeI is also because they say statues and idols are ‘un-Islamic and anti-Shariat’, but the Awamis argue these are ‘works of sculpture’, many of which exist even in front of mosques elsewhere in Islamic countries from Turkey to Pakistan.

India Today

India Today is a weekly Indian English-language news magazine published by Living Media India Limited. It is the most widely circulated magazine in India, with a readership of close to 8 million. In 2014, India Today launched a new online opinion-orientated site called the DailyO.

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