Vol. 5 Num 923 Sun. December 31, 2006  
Front Page

Grand Alliance Choice for Sylhet-6
AL men refuse to work for 'militant' candidate

Shocked leaders of Sylhet Awami League (AL) refuse to work for AL-led grand alliance nominee in Sylhet-6 constituency Maulana Habibur Rahman, a madrasa principal with the background of working for a 'Taliban-style' rule in Bangladesh.

The crisis within the local AL, sparked by the surprise nomination of Habibur, came on the heels of AL's widely criticised deal with Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish (BKM) led by Shaikhul Hadith Allama Azizul Haq on December 23.

In the deal, both sides agreed, among other points, to recognise fatwa (religious edict) by certified Hakkani alems (educated clerics) and implement government recognition to the degree conferred by traditional qwami madrasa if the AL-led alliance comes to power.

Both Habibur and Azizul are the leaders of banned Islamist militant organisation Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (Huji) in Bangladesh and both have links with international militant groups.

Habibur, locally known as Bulbuli Huzur, himself revealed the link in an interview with a bulletin titled "Islami Biplob" (Islamic revolution), published on August 20, 1998 from Sylhet with the expressed purpose to celebrate "the total victory of Talibans and establishment of an Islamic state in Afghanistan".

The AL leaders and activists of Sylhet-6 (Golapganj and Biyanibazar upazilas) have threatened to quit en masse from the party if Habibur is kept as the nominee of the grand alliance.

"We are building pressure on the top leadership of Awami League to remove Habibur as a nominee for the upcoming election," Biyanibazar upazila AL General Secretary Ataur Rahman Khan told The Daily Star over phone last night.

"We have clearly stated that it will be very difficult for us to support Habibur. He is so controversial that it is not possible to go for the elections with him," he said.

"He is against the Liberation War and against the Awami League. He is against female leadership and acted as a factor behind Awami League's losing election in Sylhet more than once," Ataur said.

"There are allegations of his involvement in several bomb blasts in Sylhet over the past years," he added.

"He prevented the late poet Shamsur Rahman and mother of a martyr Jahanara Imam from entering Sylhet. In 1992-1993, I managed to bring Shamsur Rahman to Biyanibazar, but could not take him to Sylhet because of Habibur Rahman," Ataur said.

Sylhet district AL President ANM Shafiq said, "We did not receive a copy of the party's candidate list this time. The nominations were decided by the top leadership of the party without consultation of the district leadership."

"Habibur Rahman was always against our politics and only the top leaders know how he crept into the grand alliance," Shafiq said.

Golapganj upazila AL President Iqbal Ahmed Chowdhury said, "There is no public acceptance of Habibur's nomination. Habibur boasts about in the area that he has met Mollah Omar and he wants to establish a Taliban-style rule in Bangladesh."

"Awami League is a secular party, but Habibur Rahman is not a secular man at all. Habibur's nomination has not been finalised by the grand alliance yet. But if it is finalised, it will be difficult for the local party activists to work for him," he added.

Meanwhile, AL central Education and Human Resource Affairs Secretary Nurul Islam Nahid, who won the Sylhet-6 seat in 1996, and lost to the four-party candidate in 2001 by a mere 4,000 votes, has also filed nomination paper from the same the seat.

"The people of Sylhet and Bangladesh know Habibur as a radical, communal and militant man who has gone to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban, but I have no comment in regard to his nomination from the grand alliance," said Nahid.

Many other leaders and activists of the AL are dead against Habibur's nomination as the alliance candidate but they are yet to be articulate about it fearing disciplinary action from the party. Still they expect the party high command to change the decision and opt for a party veteran as there is still scope for it until January 3, the last date for nomination paper withdrawal.

"If the party still sticks to the decision of Habibur's nomination, we will at best remain inactive," said many local AL leaders and activists seeking anonymity.

The Huji Bangladesh top brass includes Shaikhul Hadith Allama Azizul Haq, also chief of a faction of Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ) and a former partner of the BNP-led alliance, Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish second-in-command Muhammad Habibur Rahman of Sylhet, Ataur Rahman Khan of Kishoreganj, Sultan Jaok of Chittagong, Abdul Mannan of Faridpur and Habibullah of Noakhali. All of them are involved with different Islamic organisations and madrasas, and one of them, Ataur Rahman Khan, was elected an MP with BNP ticket in 1991 from Kishoreganj-3.

In an interview a few years back, Habibur Rahman disclosed those names, with whom he had travelled to Afghanistan via Pakistan in 1988, visited some Taliban militant camps and also met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The bulletin in its front page ran an interview of Habibur Rahman, in which he gave a detailed account of his visit to Afghanistan in 1988. He said, "An invitation from Harkat-ul Jihad Al Islami made it possible for me to make the fortunate trip to Afghanistan... Those of us who visited the Afghan war-fields during that trip are Shaikhul Hadith, Ataur Rahman Khan, Sultan Jaok, Abdul Mannan, Habibullah, myself and three others."

In Pakistan, leaders of the local chapter of Huji greeted the nine members of the Bangladeshi team and took them to the Huji's Karachi office. Habibur said Huji Pakistan chief Saifullah Akhtar and a Bangladeshi Mujahideen Abdur Rahman Shahid drove them to an Afghan Mohajir (literally, refugee) camp on the Pak-Afghan border. They stayed at the camp and visited some injured Mujahideens and an Islamic cadet college, where the cadets received them with a guard of honour.

Abdur Rahman then drove them to the residence of top Mujahideen leader Abde Rabbir Rasul Saiaf, the narration goes on. The house was defended like a fort with anti-aircraft guns and armed guards.

While still in Pakistan and on their way to Afghanistan, the next day the Bangladeshi team visited a special Mujahideen training camp and met about a dozen Bangladeshi young Mujahideens led by one Abdul Quddus. They watched youths from different countries taking military training on a mountainous terrain. The arms they were being trained to operate included rocket launchers.

That night Habibur Rahman shared his meal of dry cold bread with "a handsome young Arab". He said, "When I inquired about his identity, I was told he was Osama bin Laden, a son of one of the richest Saudi families."

The next day they entered Afghanistan and arrived at a Mujahideen cantonment on a mountaintop. They visited an armoury inside a tunnel. They were informed that some Russian forces were in position nearby and that every one must prepare to fight.

"All of us were given Kalashnikov (AK-47) rifles," he said, adding they stayed the night at the camp, while a Mujahideen team advanced towards the enemy position and engaged in a skirmish. The following day they started their return journey.

In the interview, Habibur asserted, "Only the establishment of a Khilafat (pan-Islamic movement)-based state following the Taliban ideology can change the lot of the nation."

Habibur is also the convener of Sahaba Sainik Parishad and founding principal of Jameya Madania Islamia, a madrasa at Kazir Bazar, Sylhet.

The government banned Huji on October 17, 2005, branding it as a 'self-proclaimed terrorist organisation'.

Habibur Rahman