By Dr. Richard L. Benkin
An alliance between Asian Maoists and Islamists might seem
Al-Qaida and its ilk, after all, won their stripes fighting
communists. Moreover, its fundamental religiosity is diametrically
opposed to the enforced atheism of the leftists.
But evidence reaching Indian intelligence and others confirms
such an alliance. Whether a mere marriage of convenience, or the
basis for a new world order and separate spheres of influence, the
two groups are united in their mutual quest to stamp out free choice
and anyone remotely supportive of U.S. and Western values.
In late 2001, the U.S. military expelled al-Qaida forces from
Afghanistan and destroyed the terror group’s infrastructure and base
of operations. From there, they moved to Pakistan’s tribal belt
where troops loyal to strongman General Pervez Musharaf disrupted
its comfortable network of hiding places. While Osama bin Laden’s
terrorist organization responded in part by de-centralizing, the
group still needed a safe base of operations. But with Afghanistan
crawling with coalition forces, Pakistan no longer a safe haven, and
the U.S. in the Middle East with its eyes, at least, on Islamist
Iran where might that be?
Besides the U.S. presence in the Arab world, other -- tactical
and strategic -- reasons made that area less appealing for their
base of operations. The Middle East is visible, and these terrorists
operate most effectively when democratic forces lose sight of them.
Nor is it remote enough; the flat plains and open desert makes it
difficult for them to hide.
South Asia, on the other hand, had offered them the cover of
mountains, rough terrain, and inaccessible villages. Finally, South
Asia stands at the gateway of Muslim Asia. The Arab street is
sufficiently radicalized and its social institutions thoroughly
corrupted by Islamist ideology. But Muslim Asia -- not counting the
Arab world or Iran -- is not as thoroughly in the Islamist camp and
represents both a challenge and opportunity for the Islamists. It is
also where almost four of every five Muslims live.
The terrorists seem to have found the answer in an unholy
alliance with South Asian ultra-leftists.
As early as 2004, a U.S. official in the Himalayan nation of
Nepal commented, “Al-Qaida's nest in Afghanistan and Pakistan has
been destroyed. The birds are looking for a new home,” and suggested
that Nepal might be that home. The official’s muses were based in
part on a growing state of turmoil in the tiny nation, which he
believed made Nepal an easy mark for the Islamists. The official’s
concern focused on the ongoing war against the constitutional
monarchy waged by Nepalese Maoists, which had claimed over 13,000
Nepal is on a straight line from Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal
belt then through a mountainous Kashmir and across a small section
of the India-China frontier. While the rugged terrain and remoteness
of the areas provided the al-Qaeda operatives with most of the
protection they needed, Indian intelligence claims that they also
received needed help from sympathetic Pakistanis. The Kashmiri
region in question is controlled in large part by one of three major
terror groups all aligned spiritually and politically with al-Qaida.
The Nepal chaos worsened.
On Feb. 1, 2005, King Gyanendra seized absolute power, dissolving
the parliament and sacking the prime minister, claiming the action
was necessary for effectively fighting the Maoist rebels. But his
action ended up diverting government efforts from the rebels to
extensive social unrest in the capital of Katmandu. Following the
seizure, the social unrest intensified with over a year of street
clashes involving a plethora of different groups from human rights
activists to leftists seeking to replace the monarchy with a
communist dictatorship. With continuous street violence and the
government fighting to maintain its power base, border control was
non-existent, and the warnings of that U.S. official seemed
On April 20, 2006, the king ceded the powers he grabbed; but by
early 2006, the Indian intelligence service reported that al-Qaida
terrorists were operating in several Nepalese towns. “Faced with
grave internal crisis,” it reported in the Indian paper Pioneer,
“Nepal provides the kind of environment that suits a terrorist
outfit like the al-Qaeda.”
The result, however, is not an eventual showdown between the
strengthened Maoists and the Islamists, for whom Nepal was only a
way station. Nepal’s population is 89 percent Hindu with most of the
rest Buddhist. This hardly makes that nation a ripe target to become
the next Islamist state. But extending the line that began in
Afghanistan and brought the Islamists to Nepal brings them to a very
ripe target, Bangladesh, the world’s third largest Muslim nation.
Uncomfortably conducive to an Islamist takeover, Bangladesh is a
democracy, and the Islamists intend to use the democratic process to
assume power and then destroy it. National elections are scheduled
for January and while Bangladesh ambassador to the United States,
Shamsher M. Chowdhury, hews the government line that “the Islamists
are weak,” facts predict a far different outcome. Despite some
progress in alleviating poverty, large numbers of Bangladeshis
remain poor with little confidence that either the ruling Bangladesh
National Party or opposition Awami League offer them much hope of
anything better. Infrastructure is inconsistent at best even in the
capital, primitive in many cases; and the nation is always judged
the first or second most corrupt country in the world by every
Current squabbling between the BNP and BAL over the upcoming
elections is eroding popular support for the major parties further.
Day by day, the Islamist option becomes more attractive to voters.
In the 2006 Palestinian Authority elections, voters chose to ignore
Hamas’s hate-platform to grasp what they hoped was a lifeline to
save them from a corrupt and chaotic regime. Bangladeshis might be
ready to do the same -- and even if they are not, al-Qaida’s new
proximity to Bangladeshi more remote polls suggest that the
terrorists might send in their own votes to stuff the ballot box.
Islamist terror bombings rocked the country in late 2005.
Leftists have fomented extensive labor unrest in 2006. May
violence forced the government to deploy the paramilitary Bangladesh
Rifles with well over 100 casualties. Islamists have long coveted
Bangladesh and prepared the ground for a takeover. They appear
willing to abandon Nepal to their erstwhile leftist allies, whom
Indian intelligence fears might ally with Indian leftists in the
northeastern part of that country.
Dr. Richard Benkin is the U.S. correspondent for Dhaka's
Weekly Blitz and specializes in the Islamist threat in South Asia.