By Ashis Biswas
Since the Taliban began ruling Afghanistan from September 7, Bangladesh has adopted a cautious wait-and-watch policy. Its primary concern, like India was to get its citizens out of the strife-torn areas unharmed. As of now Dhaka-based reports say that 23 out of 30-odd Bangladeshis have returned safely through various routes, while a handful has opted to stay back.
In some ways, the attitude of Bangladesh towards the Taliban ‘victory’ has been very similar to India’s. Just as there are worries in India about the fallout of the Taliban resurgence with special reference to Kashmir, Islamist extremists in Bangladesh, politically checked but never checkmated, are jubilant. In India another major concern is the possibility of a fresh revival of Jihadist-sponsored terrorism along with planned sabotage, explosions and mayhem in densely populated urban areas.
In Bangladesh, extremists and their supporters in different political parties may have been defeated in recent elections, but their activities have not ceased. There has occurred according to Dhaka-based observers, a marked increase in the establishment of new sleeping cells and terror modules in recent times. The process reportedly picked up momentum after the Pakistani and Turkish diplomatic missions/embassies became fully operational, according to some reports.
Hefazat-e-Islam activists ran riot for two/three days during Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s visit to mark the Sheikh Mujib birth centenary year. The 50th year of Bangladesh’s Independence was also celebrated. Bangladeshi media mentioned the suspected role played by the Pak intelligence ISI agency behind the sudden eruption of violence and the use of extremist Islamist slogans by the armed mobs.
To its credit, the ruling Awami League government lost no time to crack down hard on hundreds of Hefazat activists who indulged in widespread arson and much destruction of government/public property/installations.
Observers in Dhaka recalled that when the Taliban first came to power after the Russians left, scores of Bangladeshi youths, some of whom had fought against the retreating Soviet army, had returned home. Before going to Afghanistan to participate in the jihad against the Soviets, they had been trained by Pakistanis in special camps. Usually flocking to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party or the Jamat-e-Islami on their return, they shouted slogans such as “Bangla hobe Taliban (Bangladesh will go the Taliban way) “directly threatening not only minuscule religious minorities, but also targeting secular parties like the Awami League.
Not to be caught napping, Bangladesh border guards and security agencies have been put on special alert to check suspicious movements along the long Indo-Bangla border to prevent possible Jihadist movements. A few people have been arrested on both sides of the border by concerned government authorities and there is also official information sharing .
Fairly detailed accounts on the present status and activities of the various tribal /ethnic groups competing for political supremacy/domination within the ruling Taliban authorities have appeared in the Bangladeshi media. A seasoned observer with a long record of stay in Afghanistan says that it is a question of time before a power struggle within the Taliban breaks out into the open. Indian observers including ex Major Gaurav Arya have long warned about the resistance the Taliban might face not only from the Tajik-dominated Northern alliance, but also from the southern and Western Afghan regions. In these parts, many local tribes people are linked by blood and other ties with their neighbours in Iran and elsewhere across the border.
There has occurred some diplomatic tension between Iran and Pakistan, as Tehran protested against the increasingly assertive role played by the Pak army, during the battle in the Panjshir valley. Pakistani politicians and the ISI intelligence agency have also been condemned for their alleged ‘interference’ in Afghanistan, without any visible outcome so far.
In Bangladesh the general perception is that as of now, the Haqqani group headed by hard-line leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, currently regarded as number 3 in the new Council of Taliban leaders, is the most dominant faction within the Taliban. One analyst maintains that there are major tensions between the Haqqanis and the other big major “old” Taliban faction the Quetta Shura, which always dominated Kandahar and adjacent regions. The Haqqanis on the other hand claim to have started their ‘Jihad’ earlier than others as they fought against retreating Soviet troops. The Shura by way of a response boasts of producing leaders like the late Mullah Omar whom many regard as one of the founders of the dreaded organisation.
Among other major factions are the Hekmatyar group once headed by the late Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who had participated in the war against the Soviets, with considerable help from the US and Pakistan. There is also the influential “Monsoor” group. All these armed factions have followed their own traditional agenda in the past. What brought them together was their general agreement that Afghanistan must be ruled/governed under the Shariat-based law.
A Bangladeshi commentator points out that the barely concealed struggle for power will not necessarily unite these groups, which are still following parallel action plans seeking a consolidation of their uncertain position as of now. As such the Taliban Council of leaders is nothing but a common platform, an alliance at best. Its future remains fraught with uncertainties and mutual distrust now that the common enemy, this time the US and NATO powers, have left after conceding defeat, after 20 years. (IPA Service)