'Fictitious character' becomes real |
The capture of Bangla Bhai at last proved the media were right about the militant's reign of terror despite the government denials about his existence.
The government found the reports on Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai very hard to swallow. It rather took those [reports] as a cooked up scheme against the ruling alliance.
Despite having all the intelligence and law enforcement agencies at its disposal, it opted to gloss over the way things were turning out in the northern region.
Describing the newspaper reports as not grounded on facts, the government said Bangla Bhai is 'a fictitious character', a mere creation of the media.
The government first ate humble pie by banning Bangla Bhai's militant outfit Jagrata Muslim Janata, Bangladesh (JMJB) on February 23 last year.
Below are some of the instances of the ruling alliance bigwigs and high police officials repeatedly denying the existence of Bangla Bhai and JMJB.
Prime Minister (PM) Khaleda Zia herself, while exchanging views with editors in August 2004, said there is no Bangla Bhai.
"It's a propaganda against the government and the country. And it (the propaganda) is aimed at causing a rift within the four-party alliance," she said in parliament on March 15, 2005, pointing the finger at the main opposition Awami League (AL).
But Political Secretary to the PM Harris Chowdhury on May 30, 2004 told BBC Bangla Service that the PM had ordered the law enforcement agencies to arrest all people with criminal records including Bangla Bhai. He said the government has announced a bounty of Tk 50,000 on the banned outfit chief.
He, however, brushed aside the media reports on Bangla Bhai.
The bounty for information leading to the capture of Bangla Bhai was raised to Tk 50 lakh after the August 17 blasts across the country.
Ameer of ruling coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami and Industries Minister Matiur Rahman Nizami on July 22, 2004 said, "Bangla Bhai was created by some newspapers."
Accusing newspapers of having links with Bangla Bhai, he said: "If they (newspapers) do not have any relations with him (Bangla Bhai) then how come they publish exclusive interviews with him."
"Police have nothing to do when there is no existence of so-called Bangla Bhai. Whom should they arrest?" said Nizami on June 22 the same year while speaking at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban with reporters from different national dailies.
The Jamaat ameer on March 13, 2005 said: "They (AL) want to split the four-party alliance through peddling propaganda on the existence of so called militancy. Because they (AL) know it well that if the alliance exists it won't be possible for them to win the next election."
State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar on January 26 last year said there is no official existence of the JMJB.
"We don't know officially about the existence of the JMJB. Only some so-called newspapers are publishing reports on it. We don't have their [JMJB] constitution in our records," he told the BBC radio.
On the government's inaction to capture Bangla Bhai, he said, "I oppose very strongly that our ministry has failed to take action, because we are still trying. How would we arrest someone who is absent physically or not available at all?"
But after banning the JMJB last year, Babar told the same radio, "We are embarrassed, as it is not being possible to arrest Bangla Bhai. We have put extreme pressure on the police to nab him."
On the day the government banned the JMJB last year, Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman dubbed the onset of Islamist militancy across the country as nothing but a 'foul propaganda' by a section of the media.
"Taking advantage of the press freedom, some media outlets have been propagandising fake issues like human rights violation, emergence of fundamentalist forces and repression of minorities," Saifur told a gathering of grassroots leaders of the ruling BNP.
He said, "A section of print and electronic media is carrying out a well-orchestrated propaganda against the government. Such things should be protested."
After the government launched a crackdown on militants in February 2005, Islami Oikya Jote Chairman Fazlul Haque Amini in different public meetings and statements said that 'an evil force' has launched the propaganda of Islamist militants.
Zahirul Haque, director general of the external publicity wing of the foreign ministry, on January 25, 2005 quoted an official of the US Embassy in Dhaka as that saying there is no existence of Bangla Bhai. But the US embassy later refuted the comment.
The then Rajshahi superintendent of police (Masud Mia) welcomed the JMJB team and said, "We (police) hail you (JMJB) as you are helping us eliminate the Sarbaharas from Rajshahi. We must cooperate with you in the coming days so that people can rest without fear."
But he told The Daily Star in May 2004, "There is no one called Bangla Bhai and no party called JMJB. It's the locals who have forged the resistance. I have come to know about Bangla Bhai through newspapers."
DIG (Deputy Inspector General) of Police [Rajshahi range] Noor Mohammad on June 23, 2004 said there is no 'so-called Bangla Bhai' in the region.
Like it was in case of the Bangla Bhai issue, the government has been bashing the media also as spinning stories of power, diesel and fertiliser crises.