Last week the government of Bangladesh announced that it had foiled a potential military coup led by the radical Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir ["Party of Liberation"]. Brigadier General Muhammed Masud Razzaq told a press conference in the capital, Dhaka, that 16 members of the Bangladeshi Army – including retired and active Officers – had conspired to dismiss the government of Sheikha Hasina after she made the country's constitution more secular. He described those involved as "fanatics... with extreme religious beliefs." Two retired officers, Lt. Col. Ehsan Yusuf and Major Zakir, have been arrested, although the main perpetrators are believed to be operating from abroad.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir is an Islamist party whose members seek to revive an Islamic state, or Caliphate. They are deeply opposed to democracy, and believes in adopting violent jihad as the cornerstone of their foreign policy – with the aim of subjugating the entire world to Islam. Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, the movement now operates around the world, with an international leadership in Lebanon directing its activities.
The group is no stranger to controversy. It is banned across the Middle East, as well as in Pakistan, and Germany. Anti-Semitism laws in Germany were used to outlaw the group after incendiary leaflets were published shortly after 9/11 calling for jihad against Israel and the eradication of the Jewish state. When the war in Iraq started in 2003, the group again published a leaflet telling Muslims to fight jihad in Iraq and to "exterminate your rulers if they stand in your way."
Since 2003, when a new leader took over, Hizb-ut-Tahrir has been increasingly aggressive on the world stage. It has sought to re-establish itself on the Arab street by organizing demonstrations in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. More recently, its members have been seen in Egypt's Tahrir Square as well. The most notable sign of its renewed venom has come with the increased emphasis on trying to stage coups in strategic Muslim countries.
In June 2011, the group was also linked to a failed coup attempt in Pakistan during which a brigadier and four other senior officers were arrested. As Pakistan is a nuclear power wedged into one of the world's most dangerous regions, bordering Iran, Afghanistan, China, and India. it is hard to understate the ramifications if that coup had been successful.
The Sunday Times in London reported:
The Sunday Times has obtained the names of a dozen British Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists based in Lahore and Karachi, or commuting between Britain and Pakistan. There are believed to be many more.
Tayyib Muqeem, an English teacher from Stoke-on-Trent, said he had moved to Lahore to convert Pakistanis to the movement.
At Lahore's Superior College, where Muqeem has set up a Hizb-ut-Tahrir student group, he said the organization's aim was to subject Muslim and western countries to Islamic rule under sharia law, "by force" if necessary.
In a caliphate, 'every woman would have to cover up,' and stoning to death for adultery and the chopping off of thieves' hands would be the law, he said.
Muqeem is not an exception. Hizb-ut-Tahrir has recruited scores of diaspora Muslims from the West before radicalizing them and then sending them back to the Muslim world. The Pakistani Institute of Peace Studies notes that:
After Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, HT Britain sent at least 10 senior members to Pakistan to set up HT cells in all major cities of the country. It secretly enlisted some officers of Pakistan Army, who were receiving training at Sandhurst, the elite British military academy. The army officers' links with HT were later discovered by the regime of military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and they were arrested in 2003.
Herein should lie the real point of concern for Western governments. Whereas Hizb-ut-Tahrir was originally founded in the Middle East and predominantly operated in the Levant, It later began expanding into the West after its leaders were expelled from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. It was in the West they found a fertile climate in which to grow and expand.
It is not overstating the case to suggest that Hizb-ut-Tahrir has only been able to destabilise Pakistan and Bangladesh because of its successful recruitment of diaspora communities in the West. A Pakistani newspaper, the Friday Times, describes the group as an "unsolicited gift of the United Kingdom to Pakistan." It goes on to note:
[Hizb-ut-Tahrir] is virulently anti-American, condemns drone attacks and curses the 'Zardari government' for being a 'slave of America,' which may account for its lure in the military circles. It also condemns the Pakistan Army for fighting the Taliban in the Tribal Areas, which must please Al Qaeda, the Taliban and officers who don't want to 'fight their own brethren'.
It is not just the United Kingdom that has indirectly fuelled the growth of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in parts of South Asia. The United States is also culpable. As in Britain, the group operates legally in the United States where it recruited Naveed Butt – the current spokesman for Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Pakistan – when he was studying at the University of Illinois.
In a roundabout way, both the United States and Britain are contributing to the destabilization of the world's most volatile region by allowing Hizb-ut-Tahrir to operate and recruit in the West. The fallout from this might not always be immediately apparent, but allowing the group to project itself back into the Muslim world will unleash terrible consequences if it is successful in grabbing any more power.