Bangladesh’s diplomatic missions in Pakistan are facing serious security threats after its war crimes court gave out stern sentences to leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Khalida Zia-led Bangladesh National Party (BNP) for mass murder and rape during their 1971 independence struggle against Pakistan. Analysts say militant groups affiliated with Al Qaeda could target Bangladeshi interest in Pakistan, especially in Karachi.
Police and security officials in Karachi say that law enforcement agencies have received letters from the federal home ministry to beef up the security of Bangladesh high commission in Islamabad and their deputy high commission in Karachi. Dhaka’s diplomatic officials in Islamabad had told the Pakistani foreign office (FO) in a letter that unidentified people had threatened to attack the two buildings, they say.
“We have increased the security of the diplomatic missions of Bangladesh and the residences of their staffers,” a senior police official said. The missions were closed down for several days in the beginning of November.
In Bangladesh, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a domestic crimes court set up in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects involved in the mass murder in 1971, had indicted several political leaders since 2012, said Rezwan Islam, a Bangladeshi political analyst currently based in Canberra. They included nine leaders of the JI – the largest Islamist party in the country that opposed the independence of Bangladesh during the war and helped Pakistan Army – two of the BNP, one from the ruling Awami league, one from the opposition Jatiyo party and several leaders from the defunct Muslim League. So far, 28 people – some of them not politicians – have either received a verdict or are on trial.
Zawahiri has called on the Muslims of Bangladesh to wage a Jihad
Dubbing the tribunals ‘fake courts’, JI Pakisan has strongly condemned the death sentences given to the JI Bangladesh leadership, especially its chief Motiur Rehman Nizami. Nizami led the JI’s student organization, Islamic Chhatro Shango (ICS), in 1971, which, Bangladeshi politicians and court say, was involved in war crimes at that time.
Following a call by the JI Pakistan chief Sirajul Haq, protest demonstration were organized across the country against the verdicts of Bangladeh’s ICT. They asked the Pakistani government to present before the international community a tripartite agreement that was signed between Pakistan, Bangladesh and India following the 1971 War. “According to the agreement, signed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then Pakistani prime minister, Indira Gandhi, then Indian prime minister, and Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, then Bangladesh president, and endorsed by several states including the United Kingdom and the United States, the three countries had agreed to release all prisoners of war and not to punish anyone for their role in the war,” said a JI leader in Karachi. He criticized the Pakistani government for keeping a “criminal silence” over the convictions of “patriotic Pakistanis who had sided with the Pakistani army in the 1971 war”.
Chaudhary Nisar, federal home minister, has also expressed concern over the death penalty given to Nizami. “Though what happens in Bangladesh is that country’s internal matter, Pakistan cannot remain divorced from references to 1971 and its aftermath,” he said. Last year, Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution expressing concern over the execution of Abdul Quader Molla, another JI central leader, who, according to the text of the resolution, was punished for “supporting Pakistan in 1971”.
After Nisar’s statement, Pakistan’s acting high commissioner in Dhaka was summoned by the Bangladesh foreign ministry and conveyed a strong protest over the minister’s remarks on the ongoing war crimes trials.
Political analysts say there were fears that JI Pakistan, and especially its sister organizations Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) and Shabab-e-Milli, would carry out violent protest outside the Bangladesh diplomatic missions. But the protests were largely peaceful.
But analysts and security officials who monitor the global Jihadi network see it differently. They say local militant groups affiliated with Al Qaeda could target Bangladeshi interests in Pakistan, especially in Karachi. “There are several Al Qaeda cells operating in the city and there are reports that a number of members of JI, especially from the IJT, have joined them,” said a Karachi-based police officer. “These groups could target Bangladeshi diplomatic missions.”
Al Qaeda has been struggling recently to set up a network in Bangladesh. In an audio tape released in February, Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has called on the Muslims of Bangladesh to wage a Jihad to protect Islam. “My Muslim brothers in Bangladesh, I invite you to confront this crusader onslaught against Islam, which is being orchestrated by the leading criminals in the subcontinent and the West against Islam, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) and the Islamic creed, so that they may turn you into slaves of a despotic and disbelieving system,” he said in the message titled “Bangladesh: A Massacre Behind a Wall of Silence”.
An Islamabad-based analyst who monitors video messages by global Jihadi groups said Zawahiri offered accounts of Bangladesh’s freedom from Pakistan in the video message in a way similar to the one presented by the JI.