Towards the end of June, the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) declared its ‘Code of Conduct’ for Mujahideen in the subcontinent which not only presented its objectives and organisational structure, but also detailed its objectives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is evident that they are endeavouring to increase their organisational reach and credibility.
AQIS has declared its absolute loyalty to the Talibans in Afghanistan and has described it as an ‘Islamic emirate’, claiming that its members were fighting against the American and Afghan governments. In Pakistan, the main targets of al Qaeda are the Americans and then the employees of organisations of non-Muslim countries. Their third target is the ‘oppressive British system’. They are targeting army officers, soldiers, police, members of the intelligence, government officials, and those who uphold secularism. They have said that no matter where the army personnel are, whether on the battlefield or in shelter, they will be attacked.
The targets of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar have been listed together. For India, American and Israeli nationals are the first target, followed by the ‘Indian state’. The reasons behind targeting the Indian state have been enunciated as cooperation with the US, Israel and Russia, oppression of Muslims in Kashmir, ‘genocide against Muslims since partition of the country’, and protecting the ‘secular government and secular movement’ in Bangladesh. They have also accused India of withdrawing water from Bangladesh’s Muslims. The Indian army is also a target as their hands are stained with Kashmiri blood. Those involved in blasphemy in India and Bangladesh are also on the list. In Myanmar, referred to as Arakan in the document, the target is to liberate ‘Islamic Arakan’ from the army there.
According to the publication, AQIS maintains that if the Shias, Ahmediyas, and Ismaili community do not declare war against the Sunnis, then there is no need to carry out any operation against them. At the same time it is said that these communities are not Muslim. If any Christian demeans Islam, they will attack them to ‘save Muslims from the Christians’.
These targets and code of conduct indicate that AQIS has consolidated its primary organisational strength. It also shows a shift of focus to South Asia. It was in this region that they initially emerged. Al Qaeda central leaders are still in Afghanistan and Pakistan and their activities have been stepped up along the borders of these two countries.
The publication also shows a sharp difference from the brutality of the ‘Islamic State’, in the sense that they endeavour to increase their acceptance among the socially and economically deprived sections of society.
Such aspects are a part of their strategy and we need to be aware of these so no one is easily taken in by such strategy. This includes the context of jihad and also their code of conduct.
The document says that jihad is a social issue and that the behaviour of any individual or organisation has an impact on the entire Muslim ummah. That is why they call upon all organisations, not just al Qaeda, to follow this conduct. They say they will not attack the unarmed or the oppressed, but will turn their attention to the ‘enemies of Shariah’ and those who protect ‘non-believers’.
They feel it is wrong to blast bombs in areas where common people gather and where common Muslims can be harmed, such as mosques, at janazas (Muslim funerals), market places and courts. They also speak against exploding bombs at mazars (shrines) and graves.
The publication also speaks against killing the women and children of army personnel in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They say that any military operation that is not understandable by common Muslims and distances them from ‘mujahideen’, must be avoided. Common members have been instructed on many finer points. They have been forbidden to simply call anyone a ‘kafir’ and take action against them. They recommend that well-read Islamic scholars should be consulted in this regard.
Given the present circumstances, it is important to understand the strategies and organisational plans of al Qaeda pertaining to Bangladesh. At the US Congress hearing on Afghanistan and the region on 27 April this year, security expert Seth Jones made certain comments on the spread of IS and al Qaeda in Bangladesh. He said the militant organisation IS had launched attacks in Bangladesh and strengthened their presence there. He said they had noted the rise of al Qaeda in Bangladesh.
He said that Afghanistan was often the focus in discussions on terrorism, but the problem was regional. He said Pakistan was also given attention in this regard, but jihadist activities had stepped up considerably over the past few years in Bangladesh.
Seth Jones pointed to geographical and strategic reasons behind the rise of al Qaeda in Bangladesh. He said there was ample cause for concern regarding international terrorism in Bangladesh.
In an interview published in the 22 February issue of CTC Sentinel, the magazine of the US military academy’s Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC), US general John Nicholson said that AQIS was active in its efforts to destablise Bangladesh. He said, “With our growing relationship with India, we’re concerned about the instability in Bangladesh, and we’ve seen a lot of AQIS interference in Bangladesh.”
Also, though Ansar al Islam was banned in Bangladesh, it still exists and has significant online presence. It claimed that AQIS’ Bangladesh chief was killed in a suicide bomb blast in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in April. It was recently learnt that another Bangladeshi, Saiful Islam Hasan, was killed in 2015 during an US operation in Afghanistan.
The more the activities and plans of such militant organisations are revealed and discussed openly, the easier it will be to tackle the danger. If not, it is apprehended that the danger will simply intensify.
* Ali Reaz is a professor of the politics and government department at Illinois State University, the US. This column, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.