By Neena Gopal
Jul 11, 2016
The exodus of the young and impressionable to the Islamic State, the far deadlier strain of a terror state with no borders, is no longer limited to the Arab world. It is now knocking on our doors.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignores Dhaka at his peril. The message that the Dhaka restaurant attack sends out is simple — tears apart the composite culture that has, through centuries, moulded this nation’s multitudinous faiths and streams of thought into the multi-faceted country it is today, and we will have to contend with not one but many Bangladeshis on our hands, a fractured polity at war with itself. The India that its enemies would like it reduced to.
Held together by the idea of India thus far, we could become a country divided, not just between the poor and rich, the haves and have-nots; but between people who believe in the primacy of freedom of thought, of debate, and who trust in society’s secular fabric that gives room to every faith, every political philosophy to grow, as opposed to those who seek the opposite — the imposition of one belief, one stream of thought, one path. From a democracy to a theocracy.
That’s the Dhaka takeaway.
The exodus of the young and impressionable, from the violent ideology of Al Qaeda that was primarily aimed at overthrowing Arab governments and creating an Islamic State in its wake, to the Islamic State, the far deadlier strain of a terror state with no borders, is no longer limited to the Arab world. It is now knocking on our doors.
Despite IS’ many military reverses, it is Al Qaeda’s footprint that has shrunk while IS has grown; its tentacles now reach well beyond the Arab world that it sought to remake, into homes, schools and offices across nations, where an army of the gullible wait to be turned.
Neither Dhaka nor New Delhi will openly admit to the power IS wields. Banning one tele-evangelist radical preacher, Zakir Naik and his insidious Peace TV is a small step, but unlikely to staunch the tide. After all, how many websites can be blocked? IS’ appeal varies from country to country. In the United States and Europe, the urban guerrillas are second and third generation Muslim immigrants, drawn from the ranks of the marginalised, disenchanted and disempowered, united by a sense of victimhood that helps them justify extremism as a means to settle scores, imagined or real.
The Afghan badlands that were the original Al Qaeda nursery of terror, is where Pakistan’s counter-intelligence wing, Inter-Services Intelligence, and its offshoots, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, continue to clandestinely train foreign insurgents, largely from the subcontinent. It is from these terror enclaves that the radicalised are heading home to wreak havoc. The Saudi cities of Jeddah and Medina were breached by suicide bombers — one of the bombers a Pakistani expatriate — and Bangladesh, where Hindu minorities, free-thinking bloggers gays, and independent savants have been picked out, one by one, and eliminated, in the run-up to the restaurant attack. India should factor in the danger posed by copycat strikes that will seem more and more attractive to a new generation of Indian Muslims drawn by that same spiel of righting perceived wrongs through violence.
Already, the trickle of educated Indian Muslims from the coastal cities of Kerala and Karnataka, from Maharashtra and Andhra, as well as in Muslim pockets in Uttar Pradesh, leaving to join IS’ ranks is turning into a flood.
To say Dhaka can never be replicated in India, therefore, may be true only up to a point. Clearly, Bangladesh’s political journey from East Pakistan to the present is vastly different from ours but it’s a difference of degree. Smaller in size, its leaders are personal rivals, embittered enemies pitted against the other. Bangladesh’s polity has been marked by two competing forces, inimical to each other, and actively working from 1947 onwards to destroy the other. That it’s taken on a pro and anti-Pakistan element is of course the impetus that feeds the ugly, unbridgeable divide, complicated further by the murderous ethnic cleansing of moderates that preceded its birth in 1971 and the coups and assassinations that followed. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, who lost their kin in gruesome killings, and blame each other for it, head the ruling party and Opposition respectively. Much like the Congress and BJP here, they have used every opportunity to attack each other, with the restaurant massacre only the latest occasion to air their vitriol.
In an atmosphere already marred by PM Hasina’s war crimes tribunal that has selectively brought to justice — and the gallows — the men who perpetrated the horrific crimes of 1971, and kept the Opposition out of government, senior ministers in Hasina’s government are now openly blaming Khaleda’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and Pakistan’s ISI with which it has strong ties, and its ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, for the restaurant bloodbath.
In fact, despite quickly taking responsibility for the carnage, few believe the Holey Artisan Bakery attack is the sole handiwork of Islamic State. To send out a team of terrorists armed with just pistols, machetes and the “toy gun” in the Kalashnikov family, AK -22, does reinforce suspicions that while IS may be the progenitor behind Bangladesh’s most shocking terror strike, the JI’s student wing, Jamaat Shibir, trained by ISI protégé Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, possibly executed the attack.
Senior officials in Dhaka believe the ISI has everything to gain and nothing to lose by destabilising the India-leaning government in Dhaka. A pro-India Hasina is helping to shut Bangladesh’s porous borders with India, limiting ISI terror groups’ access into India. The climate of fear across our eastern neighbourhood by groups that have borrowed IS tactics to spread panic among minorities, and now foreigners, is aimed at derailing a fast-growing economy, integral to India’s Look East outreach, that is predicated on building strategic and economic links with South-East Asian nations, as a counterbalance to China’s growing footprint in Asia.
What Prime Minister Modi must guard against is simple — allowing right-wing forces to come into play before every electoral contest, that seeks to superimpose the value system of a Hindu state. Any bid to consolidate one votebank at the expense of marginalising another makes our free-wheeling democracy vulnerable to attacks from radicalised Islamic lone wolves, nursing a grudge.
The only people laughing will be the ISI.