Bangladesh security scenario: ISI activities go unabated

ISI penetrates Bangladesh's social fabric Photograph:( Others )

WION Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Aug 30, 2016, 12.36 PM (IST) Shantanu Mukharji

Before the creation of Bangladesh, the Bengalis were always treated as suspects. Though very much a part of the sovereign state of Pakistan, Bengalis were kept under the watchful eyes of the West Pakistan regime. This nefarious trend continued unabated following the emergence of Bangladesh as a free and independent nation. 

To wean away Bangladesh from the so-called sway of India, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) remained covertly active. Broadly, its aims were: One, to destabilise Bangladesh through coups and counter- coups, ostensibly, to avenge Pakistan's humiliating defeat in 1971. Two, Pakistan always wanted to install a puppet regime in Bangladesh, which was to be friendly to Pakistan, anti-freedom fighters, bereft of intellectuals and progressives, and above all anti-Indian in nature. Lastly, it wanted to see an Islamised military in Bangladesh to woo the fanatics and rightists to achieve the first two goals.   

Let's look back at history: Almost the entire family of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of Bangladesh, was killed in a bloody coup staged on August 15, 1975. There was one coup followed by another; all with immense bloodletting and killings even within the prison. The government was then headed by Khondokar Mushtaq who was a sworn friend and sympathiser of Pakistan with fundamentalist leanings. According to Bangladesh watchers, such as me, the plans for these acts were prepared by the ISI and executed with military precision. 

Surveillance on Hindu minority was very aggressive as they were perceived to be India loyalists. Meanwhile, atrocities on Hindus, including usurping of property, forced conversions, and desecration of places of worship were intensified and it was always alleged that the dye of such acts was cast by the ISI who were pursuing a vindictive agenda. 

Later, with President Ziaur Rahman at the helm, it was suspected that he was more inclined towards Pakistan, though he was believed to have been sheltered in India as a young major in the army, participating in the liberation struggle. His old mates, generally, thought that he was later won over by the ISI for a furtherance of its objectives. His cruel death, engineered in 1981 through yet another bloody military coup, brought an end to his rule. However, by now he had established a well run political party called BNP which was later to be headed by his wife Khaleda Zia (1991- 1996) and again (2001-2006). Those years saw the ISI flourishing in Bangladesh, particularly, in the second spell of Khaleda regime when the fundamentalist, anti-India, and openly pro-Pakistan political party Jamaat e Islami (JeI) remained a partner in the country's governance. 

ISI now had a custom made patron in JeI - BNP combine.

However, there was some setback when Sheikh Hasina assumed power in 2009 and started acting tough with the elements leaning towards the ISI or the Pakistan. Local 'assets' of the ISI were severely dealt with. Yet, desperate not to lose ground, ISI kept up its activities detrimental to Bangladesh's security interests. 

Mohammad Mazhar Khan, an ISI agent, was working as an attach? in the Pakistan High Commission. Early 2015, he was withdrawn for his direct involvement in financing terror and for running a forged currency racket. His currency syndicate included Hizbut Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team and JeI, all connected with anti-India designs. Mazhar also penetrated deep into ex-police and military officers, students and teachers, and officers of the Pakistan International Airlines among others. Such is the reach of the ISI, which intends to harm Bangladesh and India's security interests. 

In an another important case, Farina Arshad, a Pakistani diplomat in Dhaka, was recalled to Islamabad on December 23, 2015, after it was alleged that she has financed a suspected extremist, accused of spying for Pakistan. 

Pakistan had also been openly supporting the war criminals hanged by the Hasina government for collaborating with the occupation forces.

Expressing its solidarity with the war criminals, Pakistani Parliament passed a unanimous resolution on May 10, 2016, condemning the hanging of Motiur Rahman Nizami who was a JeI leader and friend of Pakistan.  

After the most recent terror attacks in Dhaka, Bangladeshi ministers have come on record stating that the ISI is responsible for such acts of violence. To me, their arguments seem plausible and convincing. 

Unless Bangladesh intelligence agencies keep up their human and technological surveillance on the ISI handlers and their agents, ISI will continue to wreak havoc through acts of terror and subversion. 

Maximum vigil, therefore, is the need of the day. 


Shantanu Mukharji

The writer is a retired IPS officer and a Bangladesh watcher. He was also posted in Dhaka to oversee Indian security concerns.