By Shankar Roychowdhury
Aug 02, 2016
Dhaka’s Gulshan is a combination of New
Delhi’s Connaught Place and Diplomatic Enclave. On the evening of July 1, group
of seven young men sporting checked Arab “Kaffiyeh” and armed with assorted
weapons, including an AK-22, a low-cost, locally manufactured, sub-calibre
“lookalike” of the iconic AK-47, stormed into the Holey Artisan Bakery. They
barricaded themselves inside with hostages, including an Indian girl, selected
after testing their knowledge of the sacred Kalma. All efforts at
negotiation by the police were futile and finally the eliminated in an urban
assault by Bangladeshi special forces which used BTR-80 armoured personnel
carriers as battering rams to breach the restaurant’s walls.
When the smoke and dust finally cleared,
the body count at the café was 29 dead — including six terrorists, 20 hostages
and two policemen. Four of the dead terrorists were identified by the
Bangladesh police counter-terrorist unit as Akash, Bikash, Don and Badhon,
typical Bangla “nom des guerre” reminiscent of the violent Naxal era of
Kishanji in the forests of neighbouring West Bengal. It was a scene of mindless
barbarism by radicalised and ideologically unbalanced “lone wolves,” now sadly
all too familiar in several cities across the globe.
The Islamic State never formally claimed
responsibility for the Gulshan attack, which media reports suggested were
carried out by cadres of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) that was
already on the radar of the Indian intelligence agencies over the Khagragarh
bomb blasts in West Bengal’s Burdwan district in October 2014.
The ripples from the Gulshan attack will
undoubtedly impact India as well, particularly West Bengal. Any major
metropolis, with a dense population, crowded traffic and industrial suburbs
with festering slums, smog, industrial suburbs and police forces, generally
overworked, undermanned and inadequately equipped, is the ideal urban jungle,
where problems of law and order are imposed on social and political unrest. In
eastern India, the megapolis of Kolkata, located not too far from the
Bangladesh border and with a substantial floating population of visitors from
that country on business or pleasure, fits this profile admirably.
Bangladeshi criminals on the run from the
police in their country have been known to exploit the densely populated
concrete canyons of Kolkata as hideouts after illegally infiltrating across the
porous India-Bangladesh border. This heightens the possibility of JMB members
trying to seek sanctuary in West Bengal.
The security of India’s international
borders is the task of the Government of India, but in practice this must be an
integrated working arrangement between the Central and state governments, each
having its own role to play, with the state police and intelligence agencies giving
backup support to Central forces and agencies in the first tier of integrated
border management. Management of the West Bengal-Bangladesh border follows the
same organisational format, though in the overall perception at the national
level, the threat levels across India’s eastern borders with Bangladesh are a
relatively lower priority in contrast with the western and northern ones
adjoining Pakistan and China.
This is not surprising as India has fought
four wars with Pakistan since 1947. The focus briefly shifted eastwards during
the Bangladesh operations in 1971, but the priorities were pulled back towards
the western border after Russian intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 and then,
much later, after America intensified its operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan
The liberalism brought to Bangladesh by
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, after the victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war, was
deliberately eroded after his assassination by a series of military regimes
that took over and was replaced by an ultra-radicalised Wahhabi Islam, with
major financial incentives for propagation of jihad provided by Islamic
charities based in Saudi Arabia.
A network of mosques and madrasas have been
built with Saudi funds in India too, and also, disturbingly, in the Terai belt
on the sensitive India-Nepal border, where semi-literate religious clerics,
“barefoot teachers,” impart Islamic diktats. These may also be bases for
infiltration and espionage from Nepal into the Indian heartland.
The Gulshan attack in Dhaka by radicalised
terrorists is a warning that India can ignore only at its own peril. The spread
of Wahhabi Islam in Bangladesh is a danger signal to the entire subcontinent,
and calls for a major politico-military “hearts and minds” effort by Sheikh
Hasina and all secular elements in Bangladesh. India must continue to fully
back Sheikh Hasina and her government.
Things are fluid in Bangladesh, and New
Delhi must constantly review and recalibrate its policy options there, while
factoring in the impact of its own internal socio-political issues in parts of
India. All varieties of radical religious sentiments are equally unacceptable
in the secular Indian milieu. Aberrations like violence over caste,
beef-eating, and cow slaughter have the potential to metamorphose into
full-blown national security crises if they are allowed to ferment unattended,
supplementing other tensions in the Kashmir Valley organised by anti-national
outfits like the Hurriyat and fomented by their Pakistani paymasters.
Puritanical opposition to so-called
“symbols of Western decadence” like Holey Artisan Café reveals a medieval
ultra-puritanical mindset that has no place in any liberal modern society.
Shankar Roychowdhury is a former
Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament