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Monday, September 29, 2008
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Huji leaders float party with govt nod

US citizen helped it get 'int'l support'

Leaders of the banned Islamist outfit Harkatul Jihad Al Islami (HuJi) Bangladesh have floated Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) with permission from the government.

Mostly Soviet-Afghan War veterans, they claim they formed a 15-member convening committee in May as the caretaker administration gave them the go-ahead after a probe found nothing that could link them to any subversive campaign.

Kazi Azizul Huq, an adviser of the newborn organisation, told The Daily Star, "The intelligence agencies gathered that we have no relations to any terrorist networks.

"The government however set some conditions. Those include ones that say the party must run as per the country's constitution, and not resort to violence to implement Shariah law."

Last Friday, IDP held an Iftar party at the city's Diploma Engineers Institution. It was attended by party leaders and guests including Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of weekly Blitz and a campaigner for Israel, Amar Desh Assistant Editor and Human Rights Forum General Secretary Sanjeeb Choudhury, PK Barua of Bouddha Kristi Prochar Sangha and Chitta Francis, a representative of Christian community.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Naim Ahmed told The Daily Star that they allowed IDP to arrange the function as it was a religious one.

Replying to a query, he said they will definitely go for a closer examination before giving the organisation permission to arrange any political programme.

Sheikh Abdus Salam heads the convening committee. It was under his leadership that a group of Afghan War veterans launched HuJi at a press conference at the National Press Club on April 30, 1992.

Sources close to IDP said the outfit's ultimate objective is to establish Shariah law in the country.

Azizul Huq, on the other hand, said, "Our goal is to run the country as per the Charter of Medina that gives equal rights to all citizens irrespective of religion and ethnicity."

He said they want to introduce Shariah (the body of Islamic religious law) only for the Muslims. Other religious and ethnic minorities may follow the existing law of the land and norms of their communities.

"We don't want to impose anything on anyone. We'll put the Islamic laws into practice only if the people grant us an electoral mandate to amend the constitution," Azizul continued.

"Even those of Muslims who won't want to follow Shariah will have the freedom to follow the existing law."

He said the government had suggested they [IDP] take measures to convince the international community that their move to launch the outfit had no relations with extremism.

The suggestion came in view of the fact persons behind the new party had involvement with HuJi, an outfit that was banned by the government for terrorism in October 2005.

Azizul said Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and Dr Richard L Benkin, an American citizen, helped in efforts to portray IDP in a positive light across the globe especially in the developed countries.

In an e-mail to this correspondent, Dr Benkin confirmed the statement. He said, "Mr. Huq is correct. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and I continuously try to bridge the gulf between religious communities throughout the world and always look for opportunities to promote a positive image of Bangladesh worldwide.

"Mr. Huq and I met for hours one day in Dhaka many months ago and recognised our common belief in God and faith. We also….. 'agreed to disagree' in the spirit of interfaith understanding and democracy.

"The newly formed Islamic Democratic Party opens the door for Muslims to separate themselves before the entire world from radicals and terrorists while at the same time affirming their strength in the Muslim [Islam] faith."

Shoaib, who was arrested at Zia International Airport in November, 2003 and charged with sedition in January, 2004, told The Daily Star, "The government gave permission to launch Islamic Democratic Party and host the Iftar party under the state of emergency. It's a green signal, and it allowed IDP to shed the names of HuJi and Islamic Gono Andolon."

He added, "Since IDP echoes the demand for establishing ties between Dhaka and Jerusalem, and upholds interfaith understanding, it is our responsibility to promote them at international level."

Earlier, speaking at Friday's programme, he said, "Islamic parties are stereotyped as anti-democracy. The emergence of IDP represents new trends in the country's politics as it believes in democracy while being an Islamic party.

"The name of IDP is connected to HuJi, an organisation that is widely criticised. Those who brand IDP as a terrorist organisation run on foreign funds."

He also said, "If Hizb-ut Tahrir, which is banned across the countries and had role in the Bali blasts, and anti-Liberation forces like Jamaat-e-Islami can operate openly, why can't IDP?"

Besides the one in Dhaka, IDP held Iftar parties in Chapainawabganj on September 6, Rajshahi on September 8, and Rangpur on September 15. Another one is scheduled to be held in Natore today.

Meanwhile, sources said IDP will form a full committee through a national convention before the ninth parliamentary election.

It also plans an alliance with other small parties--Islamic, non-Islamic and ethnic--and a token participation in the December 18 election, they added.

The party has already applied for registration with the Election Commission (EC).

Azizul Haque said, "We are preparing for registration on meeting the conditions specified in the application form. At the same time, we are working to have organisational structures for district and upazila levels."

The HuJi men who are now with IDP claim they had nothing to do with the blasts and some other acts of violence attributed to HuJi in general. Rather, it was a splinter group led by Mufti Hannan and Abdur Rouf that was responsible for the attacks.

They said they expelled Hannan from the organisation in 1998. After some time, they formed a political party named Islamic Gono Andolon against the backdrop of HuJi being listed as a terrorist organisation internationally.

During the BNP-led four-party alliance rule, Gono Andolon ran its organisational activities in secret as it tried not to be associated with the militant campaign that was being carried out by Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh at that time.

Gono Andolon was renamed Sacheton Islami Janata on August 19, 2006 following an understanding with the then government that allowed the organisation to work out in the open.

They have been trying to get permission since the caretaker administration took over in January last year, and obtained it six to seven months back, an IDP source said.

A former HuJi cadre said beginning in late eighties and working throughout the nineties, HuJi built up a network across madrasas. It organised arms training for students in hilly forest areas.

On different occasions, he continued, it sent trained youths to Afghanistan to participate in the war there. HuJi operatives were dispatched to Myanmar as well to fight for Rohingya militants against the Myanmarese army.

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