By Hiranmay Karlekar
28 July 2016
Any effective strategy to counter terrorism in Bangladesh has to be global in scope. Also, Dhaka must counter the worldwide smear campaign launched by the Jamaat
It is by now clear that the Bangladesh Government's earlier assessment, that terrorism on its soil was “home-grown”, was only partially right. Undoubtedly, most of those carrying out the attacks, as well as the nine killed in a police raid on a militants' hideout in Dhaka on Tuesday, have been Bangladeshis by birth. Of the two outfits active in the country, Ansar-al-Islam — as Ansarullah Bangla Team has been reincarnated — recruits from organisations like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, Ahle Hadith Bangladesh, Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh and madrasas. A Bangladeshi Canadian, who calls himself Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al-Hanif, heads an organisation, which operates in the name of the Islamic State and draws its recruits from the ranks of physicians, engineers, technologists, architects and educated sections in Bangladesh.
The international links of terrorism in Bangladesh become clear on recalling how correctly the Islamic State reported the attack on the Holey Artisan Restaurant as it unfolded on the night of July 1 to July 2, and howmany of the youth, who have disappeared from their homes, have joined its ranks in Syria. The three young men, who are shown in a video reportedly released by the Islamic State, lauding the attack on July 1, and threatening more terror strikes in Bangladesh, are in that country. Besides, Malaysia seems to have become an important staging-cum-indoctrination area for Bangladeshi extremists. Nibras Islam, one of the perpetrators of the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, had studied at the Malaysian campus of Australia's Monash University; so had Tawsif Hossain, a close friend of Nibras, who left home on the same day as him, February 3. His name features in the first information report, filed under Bangladesh's Anti-Terrorism Act, at Dhaka's Shahbag police station on February 9, against Nibras and several others.
Five persons running militant networks in Bangladesh are based in Malaysia, and one in Pakistan. Singapore has sentenced four Bangladeshi workers to two to five years of imprisonment for planning to join the IS and raising money for terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. There are other examples. Any effective strategy to counter terrorism in Bangladesh must, therefore, be not just South and South-East Asian but global in scope. This will require exchange of intelligence, coordinated planning and joint operations with anti-terrorism and national security organisations of countries like India, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan, South-East Asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand as well as the United States.
Simultaneously, Dhaka has to successfully counter the campaign — spearheaded by lobbyist firms lavishly funded by Jamaat's front organisations — to project the procedures of the International Crimes Tribunal, Dhaka, established by the Bangladesh Government, as violative of the principles of fair trial. Spewing human rights platitudes, lawyers retained by the lobbyists, as well as human rights organisations with impaired vision, have also been condemning as travesties of justice the courts' verdicts leading to the execution of several Jamaat and Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders and the sentencing of a couple of others to death or imprisonment, for crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 liberation war.
Not surprisingly, they are seeking to project the spurt in terrorist strikes in Bangladesh as a reaction to the executions and imprisonments, and to get countries like the United States to pressure Dhaka to go slow on the trials and the implementation of the verdicts.
These elements brazenly ignore the fact that the trials are public, open to the media, relatives of the accused and diplomats, and provide the right to appeal to the Supreme Court. Even the more recent international trials held for war crimes in Yugoslavia allowed an appeal only to the tribunal itself. They also ignore the fact that anyone familiar with the progress of the liberation war in 1971, knows that those who have been sentenced had actually committed the crimes they had been charged with.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh has not been very successful in countering such orchestrated propaganda. For this it needs to pull up its Foreign Ministry and several of its key heads of mission who have miserably failed to effectively present its very strong case. The matter should be taken up as urgently and assiduously as its revamped war against terrorism.