Saturday, February 26, 2011

Al-Shams (Bangladesh)

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 indicate 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 paramilitay, Al-Badr, was a close ally of the occupation army, and Al-Shams wanted to compete for that status.

Naming and Inspirations

Al-Shams is an Arabic word meaning 'The Sun'. Al Shams and Al-Badr were Pakistani armed groups formed by the Pakistan Army to fight out and resist Mukti Bahini and support the army in its campaigns in the former East Pakistan.


On 25 March 1971, after Operation Searchlight, the exiled leadership of what is now Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan and armed struggle against the Pakistani Army began. This struggle was spearheaded by elements of Mukti Bahini with strong support from India. As most of the locals were in support of Mukti Bahini, the Pakistani Army, composed largely of elements from Punjab, found itself and its cause pretty much alienated from the local populace.
In order to counter this situation, the Pakistan Army accepted help from Islamic fundamentalist parties including Jama´at E Islami, proclaiming Jihad against Indians, to seek unity among the population for the two wings of Pakistan, in the name of religion. The so called Jihad was between Muslim Forces (basically the Pakistani Army) and Non-Muslim forces and their supporters (Indians and Mukti Bahini). To recruit the local populace into fighting the independence movement, two sister organizations Al Badr (literally meaning The Moon, but also has a reference to the famous Battle of Badr) and Al Shams were formed.

Effectiveness of Al Shams

The organizations failed to attract then East Pakistani population in the name of religion and Jihad and only a handful supporters joined the movement. The organization worked as the local guides for Pakistan Army supporting the troops providing logistics and information. However, as it failed to penetrate the general public which supported independence from Pakistan, its operational capabilities and efficiency remained low.
It was claimed by the Bengali side to be involved in homicide of intelligentsia, rape and torture of women and children and other war crimes, however, Al Shams and its parent organization Jama´at E Islami claimed it to be a victim of the same by the Mukti Bahini fighters

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