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Islamist infiltration in Bangladesh Army

By Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

(March 01, Dhaka,Sri Lanka Guardian) Mr. Joy is a naturalized American citizen, who lives there for years with his wife and children. He has been able to establish excellent relations with various important figures in United States andis quite regularly invited by various institutions for giving his thoughtful lecture on Bangladesh issue. He also is considered as a knowledgeable writer on Bangladesh affairs.

Couple of years back, Sajeeb Wajed Joy wrote and article titled ‘Stemming the rise of Islamic Extremism in Bangladesh’ in prestigious Harvard International Review jointly with Carl J. Ciovacco, who graduated from the Kennedy School of Government with a Masters of Public Policy in International Security and Political Economy. His thesis on Al Qaeda's media strategy and was written for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He received his Bachelor of Science in International Relations from West Point and served as an Army officer in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It is well assumed that, Carl J. Ciovacco has substantial knowledge on defense related issues.

At the beginning of this report-type article, Mr. Sajeeb Wajed Joy and Carl J. Ciovacco, commenting on rise of Islamist influence in Bangladesh wrote: “Islamic extremism is also on the rise in Bangladesh because of the growing numbers of Islamists in the military. The Islamists cleverly began growing their numbers within the Army by training for the Army Entrance Exams at madrassas. This madrassa training was necessary because of the relative difficulty associated with passing these exams. The military is attractive because of both its respected status and its high employment opportunities in a country where unemployment ranges from 20 percent to 30 percent for younger males. High demand for military posts has resulted in an entrance exam designed to limit the number of recruits. Before this madrassa Entrance Exam campaign, only 5 percent of military recruits came from madrasses in 2001. By 2006, at the end of the BNP’s reign, madrassas supplied nearly 35 percent of the Army recruits. In a country that has seen four military coup d’etats in its short 37 year history, the astronomical growth of Islamists in the military is troubling to say the least.”

According to this information, Bangladesh Armed Forces is experiencing “astronomical growth of Islamists” and madrassa [Islamic School] supplied nearly 35 percent of the Army recruits.

They further wrote, “The military is attractive because of both its respected status and its high employment opportunities in a country where unemployment ranges from 20 percent to 30 percent for younger males.”

Commenting on funding of madrassas, Mr. sajeeb Wajed joy and Carl J. Ciovacco wrote: “Since madrassas are educational institutions within the country, they are under the purview of the country’s educational ministry. While almost all funding for these institutions comes from private donors in Saudi Arabia, there is no statute against their regulation by proper national authorities.”

They further wrote: “…Relying on Saudi and Kuwaiti funding that dictates rote Koranic memorization is counterproductive for a nation that desires growth, productivity, and a brighter future, because it limits the population’s skill-set.”

On growth of Islamist forces in Bangladesh, they wrote, “Islamists have capitalized on the poverty-stricken nature of Bangladeshis in recent years. They have harnessed the age-old recruiting technique of telling the people that they are destitute and that only complete servitude and support for an Islamic state and a radical interpretation of Islam will solve their problems. Many poor Bangladeshis have fallen prey to this line and have begun to internalize the hope for a better life in an Islamic state. If, however, poverty is reduced and Bangalis see the potential for progress, they will not be as beholden to radical Islam. Simply put, if the economy gets better, the grip of JI [Jamaat-e-Islami] and Islamists will weaken.”

No one possibly will confront the information Mr. Joy and Ciovacco provided in this extremely important piece of scholarly article on the role of madrassas in spreading militant Islam as well funding from several Arab nations to these institutions. They also mentioned in the article that, major segment of ‘donations’ to madrassas are from private donors in the Arab nations, which are mostly not regulated by the Bangladeshi government.

Bangladesh government and its armed forces did not confront or reject any of the information provided by Mr. Sajeed Wajed Joy and his co-writer in this article. People would surely take this as an endorsement of the given facts by Bangladeshi authorities.

International community will consider Bangladesh Army as an institution housing ’35 percent Islamists’ in it. The number is quite alarming. In every five, one in Bangladesh Army is from madrassa education, and according Mr. Joy and Ciovacco, they are Islamists.

Such information will surely go against the interest of Bangladesh Army in particular because; they are enjoying high esteem in United Nations Peace keeping Forces [UNPKF] for years. Anyone can now raise fingers at such recruitment of Bangladesh Army in UNPKF. On the other hand, the international community may even question the justification of taking the risk of letting Islamists within Bangladesh Army mix with fellow forces from other nations in the world.

Sajeeb A. Wajed [popularly known in Bangladesh as Sajeeb Wajed Joy], is a scholar, Information Technology specialist, political analyst and adviser to Sheikh Hasina [Prime Minister of Bangladesh].

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