`India should watch rise of Islamists in B`desh`

The attempt of a military coup in Bangladesh has created ripples in South Asia.

The attempt of a military coup in Bangladesh has created ripples in South Asia. Although the coup was foiled, it did raise questions about the extent of Islamist infiltration of the Bangladeshi Army.

According to the Army, the plot to overthrow Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was laid out by around 16 serving and former military officers with "extreme religious views" who wanted to introduce Islamic law in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has a history of military governments. In fact, the Army held power in the Muslim-majority country for 15 years until 1990. Bangladesh’s current PM Sheikh Hasina took over power from a military-backed caretaker government in 2009. According to officials and analysts, the daughter of Sheikh Mujib has since faced threats from Islamists as well as other radical groups. Hasina last year made some changes to the Constitution in a bid to make it more secular, which infuriated hardliners.

In a brief e-mail interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Dr Smruti S Pattanaik, an expert on Bangladesh, discusses the latest coup plot foiled in the South Asian country and its effect on the stability of the region.

Dr Smruti S Pattanaik is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi.

Kamna: Bangladesh has endured coups and Army mutinies earlier too in its 40 years of independence. How should India read the latest coup attempt by Bangladeshi military officers?

Dr Pattanaik: Islamic fundamentalists/regressive forces have been a threat to Awami League (AL) government since the liberation of the country. Mujib was assassinated for his pursuit of secularism and his perceived closeness to India. The policies post-Mujib are a clear indication of the motives of coup plotters. Similarly, attack on Hasina that took place in 2004, the BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) mutiny and all have been used against the AL. The Islamist forces have strengthened their control over a period of time and grew portent during the last regime of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) - Jamaat-e-Islami coalition.

India wants a secular and a democratic government in Bangladesh. The last regime not only sheltered Indian insurgents but Bangladesh`s soil was used to launch terrorists into India. Things changed during AL regime. Rise of Islamists “with extreme religious views” would have serious security implications.

Kamna: Some reports implicate Hizb ut-Tahrir in the coup plot. What reports are you getting?

Dr Pattanaik: The Hizb ut-Tahrir has been active in Bangladesh since 2000. It has followers among educated urban middle class youth. HuT has strong links with the HuT in UK and other Islamic-minded groups. Its purpose is to bring Khilafat and it is openly campaigning for removal of Hasina`s govt with the help of Army. It has been banned in Bangladesh but remains active and its cadres distribute pamphlets openly and it maintains its website.

Kamna: What do you have to say about the military’s apprehension of the conspirators?

Dr Pattanaik: The military in Bangladesh doesn`t want to takeover power directly. Its involvement in peacekeeping mission under UN is a major international constraint. However, it does not want civilian govt’s interference in its institutional affairs.

Kamna: What more should Sheikh Hasina government do to stop Islamist infiltration of the Army?

Dr Pattanaik: I think Hasina needs to take strong disciplinary action against the conspirators. Purging Islamists who have spread to all strata of the society would be a major challenge. While it is important to create public opinion against military coups, strengthening secularism in long run would help the matter.

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