The influence of the leaders of Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student body of Jamaat-e-Islami, at Rajshahi University was so big in 2008 that a US embassy team considered them important points of contact.
The team that visited the university on a government vulnerability assessment trip in mid-February that year said Chhatra Shibir had the ability to ensure that like-minded people were hired onto the faculty.
Then charge d’affaires Geeta Pasi wrote to Washington on March 5 the same year about the tour, reveals a cable leaked by whistle blower website WikiLeaks.
“Although Jamaat-e-Islami is the country’s largest Islamic political party and Shibir its main feeder organisation, Embassy Dhaka’s contact with Shibir is limited since they are not overtly active in Dhaka.
“Although they were far less forthcoming than one would hope, the Rajshahi Shibir members appeared to enjoy their engagement with the Embassy team. Post recognises a need to better reach out to this group, many of whom will be in positions to influence Bangladesh’s more Islamic-minded people, and will work on strategies to do so.”
The cable also stated that Chhatra Shibir was scorned by student groups aligned with secular-oriented parties, which had prevented it from organising openly at Dhaka University.
Delawer Hossain, then president of the university chapter of Shibir, was one of the four leaders who the US embassy team had met during the visit.
They described the group as highly organised and intently focused on spreading and deepening the influence of Islam. Their main tasks, they said, were teaching fellow students the Qur’an and the words and deeds of Prophet Muhammad known as “hadith.”
Other Shibir activities at the university include running a library with a selection of Islamic literature; collecting donations; providing assistance to select impoverished and “meritorious” students; and offering English seminars.
Quoting a Rajshahi reporter, the cable said local Chhatra Shibir members at times resorted to violence as well. The reporter also said: “Shibir is so influential on campus it can ensure that a strong legion of like-minded people are hired onto the faculty.”
Jamaat leaders in Rajshahi confirmed that their supporters had dominated the governing board of the university. After insisting that Shibir held no influence in the university, Delawer conceded that he had personally spoken with its top official about “personnel matters.”
The Chhatra Shibir leaders told the US embassy team that the national education system did not provide students a sufficient grounding in morality, ethics and good citizenship, the cable reads.
Mohammad Mijanur Rahman, then education secretary of Chhatra Shibir in Rajshahi, claimed: “We also don’t support the destructive programs of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”
However, Delawer and his colleagues were consistently vague when they were asked to explain their vision of a more Islamic society – at one point they mentioned the abolition of interest charges “but refused to venture much further, careful again, it seemed, to not say anything they believed might offend Americans.”
Most Chhatra Shibir members go on to join Jamaat; indeed, they said supporting an Islamic-based party or otherwise promoting the spread of Islam were foremost among their life goals after graduation.
Though Delawer claimed that Chhatra Shibir seeks a larger role for Islam in national life via “democratic and non-violent means,” the group is largely responsible for gruesome murders and carrying out violent attacks on the opponent student body supporters at RU and other universities, especially Chittagong University – known as another stronghold of Shibir.
A cable sent on February 10, 2010 by then ambassador to Dhaka James F Moriarty mentioned Jamaat Assistant Secretary General Abdur Razzaq acknowledging the killing of RU master’s final year student Faruk Hossain on February 8 by Chhatra Shibir men.
Faruk, a student of mathematics, was killed in an attack at Shah Mukdum Hall and the corpse shoved down a manhole while many others were injured on the campus following a confrontation between the two student groups of Awami League and Jamaat.
Police said Faruk had been hacked in the television room of the dormitory around 2am and dumped into a manhole. His body was recovered the next morning.
Equipped with Chinese axes, hammers, rods, machetes and daggers, the Shibir members entered the hall led by Ahad, hall unit general secretary, and Anis, former hall president, police said.
Terming the murder “inhumane, regrettable, and indefensible,” Razzaq said Jamaat would cooperate fully in any investigation on the incident.
According to Razzaq, the clash had started as a small incident in the early evening at a dorm between four male students, two from Chhatra League and two from Chhatra Shibir.
The confrontation had led over 1,500 Shibir to gather later in the evening. “The Shibir students had reportedly gone on a rampage, killing one Chhatra League member and shoving his corpse down a manhole. Chhatra Shibir activists also allegedly slit the tendons of a number of Chhatra League members.”
Asked whether the government should ban student political groups, Razzaq replied that Jamaat had been prepared to work with the government on a ban, provided the government used proper legal procedures and applied the ban impartially.
Another Jamaat leader Kamaruzzaman in a meeting with Moriarty on December 22, 2005 dismissed arguments that Jamaat’s loose ties to “radical Islamic student group” Shibir “proved” that Jamaat supports violence.
“JIB [Jamaat] does not actively support or control Shibir,” he said, “but merely offers guidance. Moreover, people join groups for many reasons when they are young, reasons they later abandon or renounce.”
He added: “Most of the individuals who have been involved in Shibir did not join Jamaat, but pursued careers as civil servants. The leadership of Jamaat was based on Chhatra Shibir involvement.”
Former Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, who was executed last year for committing war crimes in 1971, was quoted in another cable sent to Washington on January 24, 2006.
He said some members of the banned Islamist outfit Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) had associations with Jamaat, “particularly its student wing Chhatra Shibir.”
The JMB members left by their own admission as they had disagreed with Jamaat’s stance on “adhering to the democratic process,” Molla claimed.
On December 14, 2005 then US charge d’affairs in Dhaka Judith Chammas met with former PMO principal secretary Kamal Siddiqui.
“JMB is filled with former Jamaat-e-Islami members who broke away when the latter aligned with the BNP [in 2001]. Some Jamaat members maintain supportive links to the JMB,” Siddiqui said declining to give names or more specific information.