Pakistan’s first two militant Islamist groups, Al-Badar and Al-Shams – by Nadeem F. Paracha

Violent ghosts

Ever since 2009, the secular Awami League government in Bangladesh has been moving the country’s law enforcing institutions and courts against various members of the Bangladeshi Jamat-i-Islami and other (mostly Deobandi and Salafi) rightist groups. The League accuses their members of taking part in the genocide that took place against Bengali nationalists in 1971.

Thousands of men, women and children were said to have been slaughtered and disgraced in what was then East Pakistan. Pakistanis have mostly kept quiet about its army’s violent role in what the world at large proclaimed was a systematic genocide by West Pakistani military against the Bengali-speaking majority in the former East Pakistan. Pakistan’s textbooks too are silent about the bloody episode that eventually heralded the full impact of the Bangladeshi liberation war, ripping away East Pakistan from the western wing.

Even though, over the years some Pakistani intellectuals and historians have begun to sincerely investigate the army’s role in the bloodshed, there’s another aspect of this unfortunate chunk of hidden history that is still to be pulled out and debated. This chunk has to do with certain groups of civilians who were part of the violence. This was also perhaps the first case in which the military establishment had used religion to explain away something that was overwhelmingly an atrocity committed against an oppressed people. Uniformed men who went about bludgeoning so-called Bengali ‘traitors’ (including women and children) claimed they were doing so to defend Islam and Pakistan.

The military was not alone. It also had active civilian backers. First in line in this respect was the Jamat-i-Islami (JI). Though the JI was kept at bay by the secular Ayub Khan dictatorship throughout the 1960s in West Pakistan, it suddenly gained rapid favour from the short-lived regime of General Yahya Khan. He began proceedings by patronising the Jamat (and a few pro-establishment parties) to help him neutralise the momentous rise of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and the secular nationalist groups in East Pakistan, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In spite of the backing the JI and some other right-wing parties received from the Yahya dictatorship, they were routed by progressive and secular parties in both East and West Pakistan during the 1970 general election. Unwilling to hand over power to the majority party (the Bengali-dominated Awami League), Yahya’s army went to war with not only the incensed Bengali nationalists (backed by India), but also against innocent and unarmed Bengali civilians.

This action also generated the first ever case of a Pakistani state institution molding an Islamist civilian militant unit, something that would become (albeit clandestine) policy of certain intelligence agencies in Pakistan during and after the Afghan civil war in the 1980s, with the backing of the CIA. Before all the vicious sectarian and Islamist groups that began cropping up during the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s, there were Al-Badar and Al-Shams.

Author Tarek Fatah in his explosive book, Chasing a Mirage, Hussain Haqqani in Between Mosque & Military and Jahangir Satti in The Ruling Enemy, all discuss in some detail these groups that were said to have been formed by the military intelligence to help the Yahya dictatorship tackle Bengali nationalists. Fatah and Satti maintain that both Al-Badar and Al-Shams were formed by General Rao Farman Ali – whom Satti describes as a ‘fanatic who was good at exploiting religious sentiments.’

The two groups were made up of militants from the Jamat-i-Islami and its student-wing, the IJT. Rao also recruited some youth who were sympathetic to the pro-establishment, Pakistan Muslim League. According to Haqqani, after a list was drawn containing a number of left-wing Bengali intellectuals, journalists, student leaders and politicians who were to be eliminated, Al-Badar and Shams went to work in March, 1971.

History outside of Pakistani textbooks accuses these groups of working like death squads — killing, looting and disgracing Bengalis whom they accused of being ‘anti-Islam’. Al-Badar was made up of educated JI and IJT recruits, while Shams was sewed together by using non-Bengali madressa students, Muslim League sympathisers and members of the Nizam-i-Islam party.

Many of those who took part in the atrocities managed to escape justice because they slipped out of East Pakistan after the military suffered defeat at the hands of Bengali nationalists and the Indian army. However, a number of former Badar and Shams members who stayed behind lost their lives in revenge killings by Bengali radicals.

Many Shams and Badar members who escaped quit their respective political parties and decided to lead low-profile lives, while others continued being part of the Jamat. However, in 2009, the Bangladesh government reopened cases of treason and genocide against the Bangladeshi amir of the Jamat-i-Islami, Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, who is alleged to have led Al-Badar’s notorious campaign against Bengali intellectuals, politicians and civilians in 1971.

Interestingly the Jamat-i-Islami in Pakistan, many of whose members and youth played a leading role in Badar and Shams activities, has avoided any talk of this aspect of its past. But whenever some Jamat members have decided to tackle this question, they say the party only ‘played a role in trying to save Pakistan and its Islamic character’ because — according to the Jamat — ‘Bengalis were being manipulated by Hindus (India),’ as opposed to being blatantly oppressed and discriminated against by their former West Pakistani compatriots.

And so convenience hides all that is ungainly in the past.

Source: Dawn

19 responses to “Pakistan’s first two militant Islamist groups, Al-Badar and Al-Shams – by Nadeem F. Paracha”

  1. The Original Sin

    The government must form a commission to probe into the war crimes of 1971

    Ahmede Hussain

    During Bangladesh’s liberation war three million people died, one-third of the country’s population was displaced, 200,000 women were raped and hundreds and thousands were maimed. The occupying Pakistani army, which started the butchering in the name of Operation Searchlight on the gory night of March 25, 1971, took help from its local collaborators by forming several paramilitary groups such as the Peace Committee, Razakar, Al Badr and Al Shams. Formed by members of Jamaat-e-Islam, Nezam-e-Islam Party and the Muslim League, these groups unleashed a reign of terror during the Muktijudho by picking up innocent Bangladeshis and handing them over to the Pakistani army or forcing women into sexual slavery in the camps of the Pakistanis. Memories are still fresh and the copies of newspapers printed during that time are littered with evidence of war crimes. Hundreds of mass graves have been discovered in which the bodies of innocent civilians were dumped by the collaborators of the Pakistani army.

    The trial of these killers and rapists started soon after independence, some of these vile people were arrested, most of the leaders of Jamaat, Nezam-e-Islam and Muslim League, which were banned, were either on the run or had fled the country. A Razakar (collaborator) was executed for killing.

    The process was stopped in 1975 when a string of bloody coups witnessed the murder of the country’s founding fathers. A known supporter of the Pakistani army was made the Prime Minister, the killers and rapists were set free, and infamous Razakars, Al Badrs and Al Shams members like Khan A Sabur, Golam Azam, Matiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mojahed, were allowed to form political parties again in 1978. These notorious criminals have been allowed to spread their tentacles by the subsequent governments, the most shameless example has been in 2001 when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, founded by a valiant freedom fighter Major General Ziaur Rahman, formed an electoral alliance with the Jamaat, a party that actively opposed Bangladesh’s independence. The alliance, after it won the elections, has made two known collaborators of the Pakistani army, ministers. Nizami, who headed the Al Badr paramilitary in 1971, which killed teachers, writers, doctors and journalists on December 14, 1971, has become a minister of Bangladesh, the birth of which he was opposed to less than four decades ago.

    Jamaat or the Razakars-Al Badr-Al Shams have never apologised for the war crimes its members have commited or the criminal activities it has been involved in as a political entity in 1971. On the contrary, the party and its leaders have always held the view that no war crime has ever taken place in 1971. A few months ago the Acting Secretary General of the party has told journalists that there were no war criminals in the country and another stooge of the party Shah Hannan has called Bangladesh’s war of independence a mere civil war. A freedom fighter has been assaulted this month at a programme organised by the Jamaat supporters. These people had the audacity to set up a fake ‘Muktijudho Parishad’ that claims to be for the welfare of the Muktijudhos which did not stop the organisers from humiliating a freedom fighter who had demanded that war criminals be punished.

    The necessity for the trial of the killers and rapists of 1971 has always been the demand of the people of this country. It has especially gained momentum since the current caretaker government assumed power on January 11 last year and has declared to reform the country’s politics. Hordes of suspected corrupt people have been arrested, most of whom have thought themselves beyond the reach of law. Crimes committed years ago have been unearthed and have had light shed upon them. The Chief Adviser, the Chief of the Army and the Chief Election Commissioner have voiced their opposition to the war crimes, calling the participation of the war criminals uncalled for. In the electoral laws that the current government has proposed it is stipulated that no war criminal will be able to run for the office. Yet the government has so far shied away from forming a tribunal or fact-finding committee to probe into the war crimes. In fact, the outcome of the next general election will be flawed if the killers and rapists of 1971 are allowed to participate in it, and if, like the previous general elections, some of them make it to the parliament.

    It is indeed a shame on our conscience as a nation that the deaths of so many martyrs who have laid down their lives for the liberation of our country have not been avenged, and that we, as a nation, have collectively failed to enforce justice on the rapists who have perpetrated one of the worst war crimes in human history. This government, as it has taken so many steps to clean our politics of unscrupulous elements, must also start the process of trying the war criminals by forming a commission to probe into the war crimes. The government has sought the help of the UN in this regard, we know, but it has so far taken very few measures to find out the criminals and bring them to justice so that in the next election they will not be able to take part. Every contestant who wants to run for government office must disclose details like what he or she did or where he or she lived in 1971.

    It is understandable that the goal of the caretaker government is to hold a free and fair election and hand over power to the elected representatives of the people. We know that the government is only a few months away from holding the elections, but it is also true that the government cannot deny its responsibility of trying a war crime tribunal as it is long overdue and there is a growing demand for it. This government has done many things that its predecessors could not; trying the war criminals is the only issue in which it is following the footsteps of the previous regimes. It is the expectation of the people that before it leaves, the government will form a war crime commission with a sitting high court judge at its helm to glean into the war crimes committed in 1971. This commission will refer the cases to the war crime tribunal that will be formed later on.

    One reason why we have not been able to establish the rule of law is because we have not been able to punish those who have committed acts of murder, rape and arson during the very birth of our nation. This is our original sin, the sin that is still stalking us. It is the responsibility of this government to help us atone for that sin.

  2. Razakar (Bengali: রাজাকার) was the name given to a paramilitary force organized by the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

    The word razakar, originating from Persian, literally means “volunteer”. The Razakar force was composed of mostly pro-Pakistani Bengalis and Urdu-speaking migrants living in erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Initially, the force was under the command of local pro-Pakistani committees, but through the East Pakistan Razakar Ordinance (promulgated by General Tikka Khan on 1 June 1971) and a Ministry of Defence ordinance (promulgated 7 September 1971), Razakars were recognized as members of the Pakistan Army. Razakars were allegedly associated with many of the atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army during the 9-month war (see 1971 Bangladesh atrocities).

    These Pakistani offsprings were organized into Brigades of around 3-4000 volunteers , mainly armed with Light Infantry weapons provided by the Pakistani Army. Each Razakar Brigade was attached as an auxiliary to two Pakistani Regular Army Brigades, and their main function was to arrest and detain nationalist Bengali suspects. Usually such suspects were often tortured to death in custody. The Razakars were trained in the conventional army fashion by the Pakistan Army.

    Following the liberation of East Pakistan as the independent country of Bangladesh, most of the leading Razakars, allegedly including Ghulam Azam, fled to Pakistan (previously West Pakistan). Ghulam Azam maintains that he went to Pakistan to participate in the Annual General Meeting of his organization, the Jamaat-e-Islami, but he was forced to remain overseas until General Ziaur Rahman allowed him to return to Bangladesh. Many of the lower ranking Razakars who remained in Bangladesh were killed in the course of reprisals immediately after the end of fighting while as many as 36,000 were imprisoned. Of the latter many were later freed mainly because of pressure from US and China who backed Pakistan in the war, and because Pakistan was holding 200,000 Bengali speaking military and civilian personnel who were stranded in West Pakistan during the war.

    After the restoration of democracy in 1992, an unofficial and self-proclaimed “People’s Court” (Bengali: গণআদালত Gônoadalot) “sentenced” Ghulam Azam and his ten accomplices to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, as the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party was already a part of the ruling alliance in Bangladesh, the “verdict” was ignored. Moreover, the then Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government re-granted Bangladeshi nationality to Ghulam Azam, as it had been taken from him after the war. Subdued during the rule of Awami League from 1996-2001, Jamaat-e-Islami returned in full force after the next election in October 2001 in which a four party alliance led by BNP won a landslide victory. The new leader of Jamaat after Ghulam Azam’s retirement, Motiur Rahman Nizami, a Razakar and among the ten people tried by the Gônoadalot, became an influential minister in the government.

    The word রাজাকার razakar today carries the meaning “traitor” in common Bangladeshi Bengali parlance, similar to the usage of the word Quisling after the Second World War.

    reference : wikpedia

  3. Little Background of Al-Badar and Al-Shams

    The Al-Badr
    The Al-Badr was the paramilitary wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) that earned infamy for its collaboration with the Pakistan Army against the Bengali nationalist movement in the Bangladesh Liberation War. The group is blamed for organising the mass killings of Bengali civilians, religious and ethnic minorities. The group is identified as one of the leading perpetrators of the 1971 killing of Bengali intellectuals. The present chief of the Jamaat, Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami headed the Al-Badr organisation as the all-Pakistan Commander in Chief during the war. The group was banned by the independent government of Bangladesh, but most of its members had fled the country during and after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, which led to Bangladesh’s independence.

    On 25 March 1971, after beginning the Bangladesh Liberation War, Pakistani military forces required military support from Bengali supporters who still wanted to live with Pakistan, or did not like Indian interaction in the movement; as well as the non-Bengali muhajirs in order to abolish the independence fighters of Bangladesh, the Mukti Bahini, Hemayet Bahini and Kaderiya Bahini. The Al Badar were formed to detect these independence fighters and to have guides as well as co-fighters who were familiar with the local terrain.

    The force was composed of madrasa students-teachers, Bengali supporters of Muslim League and Jamaat E Islami, and muhajirs coming from non-Bengali part of India.

    There were three type of Paramilitary forces Pakistan formed,

    1. Razakars: refuges who came from other parts of India during separation of India and Pakistan, and setteled in East PAkistan.
    2. Al-Badar: Bengali Muslim Students from Colleges, universities and madrasah, who were loyal to Jamat-e-islami.
    3. Al-Shams: Bengali Madrasah Students, teachers & supporters of islamic parties other than Jamat-E-Islami (these smaller parties included Nejam-e-Islami and various factions of Muslim League).

    Al-Badar was very organized para military force among those three forces, they had their own hirarchy of organization & reporting system.

    The Al-Shams
    The Al-Shams was a paramilitary wing of several Islamist parties in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), that with the Pakistan Army and the Al-Badr, is held responsible for conducting a mass killing campaign against Bengali nationalists, civilians, religious and ethnic minorities in the Bangladesh Liberation War. The group was banned by the independent government of Bangladesh, but most of its members had fled the country during and after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, which led to Bangladesh’s independence.

    Very little is known about the structure and composition of the group. Newspaper coverage from that period indicates that it was an organ of the razakar para-military force. Jamaat-e-Islami was the largest Islamic party in Pakistan at that time. It seems that other Islamic factions, including Nezam-e-Islami and Muslim League, established the Al-Shams (meaning “the Sun”), as a response to Jamaat-e-Islami’s strong influence on the military junta. Jamaat’s paramilitary, Al-Badr, was a close ally of the occupation army, and Al-Shams wanted to compete for that status.

    The Al Badar were assigned a variety of combat and non-combat tasks including:

    · Taking part in the operations
    · Spying against Muktibahini
    · Interrogation
    · Working as the guides of the regular army
    · Assassination
    · Detecting and killing Mukti Bahni Soildiers
    · Providing supply line to front army

  4. First militant organisation of Pakistan was that which tried to overthrow government of Liaquat Ali Khan.
    Second militant group was Mukti Bahni.
    Both of the militant groups were organised by secular and liberal politicians.

  5. Its very strange Nadeem Paracha… Jamaat islami is considered anti Pakistan here and anti bangladeshi there… despite the fact… it fought for pakistan.. and you people now criticize jamaat for warcrimes.. at least you shall have one opinion regardign jamaat…

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  7. Thanks for that sensible critique. Me & my brother were preparing to do some research about that. We acquired a good book on that matter from our library and most books exactly where not as influensive as your details. Im quite glad to see such information which I was searching for a long time. Regrets Wakacje

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  9. Its pretty confusing for people (especially students) of today to rely on any form of information, except for those about Thermodynamics and Metallurgy. Its bewildering.

    In Pakistan, Jamaat I Islami literally spews immense hatred over Gen Yahya, Gen Ayub AND Gen Zia, may they all rest in peace, ameen. And every single General that has come after Gen Zia. They simply hate anyone who comes into power and its not them. period.

    But regarding the article, I have been reading very less about Al Badr and As Shams and I guess more about the military strategies altogether. My maternal uncle was a POW for two years in the Dhaka jail, and he says (and I believe) that the moment their battalion set foot on Bangladesh, they were immediately taken away their arms and imprisoned. My grandparents didn’t hear from him till after 18 months, they had actually held a funeral honoring him.

    Anyway, can someone actually verify this information for me? It really is disturbing. A very long time ago, I was watching a documentary regarding the Bangladesh Liberation, and it had some really really horrific scenes in it where infants were hit hard against palm trees and beheaded. I still get goosebumps and lumps in my throat when I recall those images. I had to close my eyes. 🙁

    I am not a fan of JI nor JUI for that matter, but am a devout supporter of the Armed forces. All is fair in war, is what everyone is preached. Neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh have enjoyed the beauty of the Islamic environment, they are just countries that can enjoy religious freedom literally without questioning.

    May Allah Guide us to the rightest of paths. Ameen.

  10. @Muslim

    You have provided a link from Jasaarat; which is from JI. In the very first comment the Dr Fayyaz has DENIED ANY RELATIONSHIP WITH AL BADR>

    Now if Al Badr had NOTHING to do with the whole JI facade, why were their mass protests in Pakistan when the three JI Bangal were hanged?

    Its always best to give people a benefit of the doubt, but to out rightly denying the truth, that is criminal.