The View From Asia

Countering terror in Bangladesh

Bangladesh exploded onto Singaporeans' radar following this week's news about the arrests, then deportation, of Bangladeshi workers radicalised by militant ideology. In their home town, commentators from the country have raised alarm about the rise in terror attacks in Bangladesh and pointed to solutions. Here are two perspectives from The Daily Star, a leading paper of the country and a member of The Straits Times media partner, the Asia News Network, that appeared earlier this month.

A year of frequent and deadly attacks

Shariful Islam

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Last year was one of the worst in a decade in terms of suspected militant attacks in Bangladesh.

The frequent attacks and busting of militants' dens with their stockpiles of explosives in Mirpur and Chittagong tell how the militants have reorganised. Sophisticated firearms have been discovered.

Suspected militants hacked to death at least five bloggers and publishers and eight others were killed in attacks on religious sects last year.

Bangladesh was also stunned by the killing of two foreign nationals. The police claimed that one of the murders was done by the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh organisation. There were also attacks on Christian priests and those who revered shrines. After each attack, law enforcers make a handful of arrests but the attacks continue.

When countries using state-of-the-art technologies were struggling to combat militants, Bangladesh over the years seemed reluctant to develop a specialised force equipped with modern technology to combat this menace. Its actions were limited to rhetoric and largely on paper, giving the militants the opportunity to spread their network.


On Dec 25, a terrorist blew himself up and injured a few people during Friday prayers in a mosque in the Rajshahi district. - PHOTO: AGENCEFRANCE-PRESSE

The proposal for a National Police Bureau of Counter Terrorism, for example, had been virtually shelved for five years, and a nationwide campaign to create public awareness against radicalism lost steam years ago.

A nationwide socio-political and religious campaign involving imams and teachers initiated by the caretaker government in 2007 to 2008 had fizzled out.

Under the campaign, anti-militancy sermons in mosques and statements at schools, screening plays and documentaries on TV and in public places to educate people about the evils of extremism were considered effective tools to fight terrorism. But the campaign did not continue.

Law enforcers struggle with multiple problems like inefficiency, lack of logistics, infighting and non-sharing of intelligence, said security analysts. Militant outfits had changed their techniques but the law enforcers were still largely dependent on traditional methods.

Security analyst Zia Rahman of the Criminology Department of Dhaka University recommended a change in the curriculum of the madrasah education system, with more positive community activities and a strong social support system, to combat militancy.

"A long-term plan should be taken in engaging experts and involving all stakeholders, and its proper monitoring is needed to combat militancy," he said.

Politics, terror and the stateof denial

Taj Hashmi

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

I believe there is no room for any complacency about terrorism having no place in Bangladesh because it's "not another Pakistan or Afghanistan" or because "Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians fought together to liberate this country".

Terrorism has re-emerged in Bangladesh - this time, with more vigour.

For the first time, Bangladesh experienced a suicide bombing in a mosque.

On Dec 25, a terrorist blew himself up and injured a few people during Friday prayers in a mosque at Bagmara in Rajshahi district. According to media reports, the dead terrorist was a member of the proscribed terrorist group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), purportedly linked with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

However, I am disappointed by the sketchy, scanty and half-hearted coverage of this devastating news.

The state of apathy about the first suicide attack in the country makes it seem like suicide terrorism isn't that different from any other violent crime the country experiences every day.

Unfortunately, it hasn't yet dawned on our leaders and analysts that suicide terrorism may signal the beginning of the end of any semblance of stability, peace and order.

While complacency and the state of denial do not make for effective counter-terrorism, so is the prevalent politics of hate, mistrust and acrimony.

Heightened political polarisation in Bangladesh has further aggravated the situation to the extreme.

Thus, a fractured Bangladesh is least prepared to tackle terrorism. It is not the time to relax and engage in acrimonious politics - as Bangladeshis are doing - just because the police have arrested some JMB terrorists, effectively unearthed some terrorist dens, and confiscated deadly weapons from different parts of the country.

We must not forget that law enforcers are not the only and most effective antidote to terror.

Terrorism is very different from crime, and is not a typical law-and-order problem.

With terrorists re-emerging recently, killing bloggers, writers, foreign nationals and Shi'ite Muslims, and attacking a mosque, with impunity, one wonders how leaders, intellectuals and ordinary people in Bangladesh can afford to waste time and energy in partisan politics.

In less than a year of independence, various factors polarised Bangladeshis, between the supporters and opponents of the ruling Awami League party. However, the country was never as fractured and polarised as it is today, since the controversial parliamentary elections of Jan 5, 2014.

Had this polarisation been only political, due to ideological differences between the followers of the two major political parties - Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party and their allies - there would have been nothing extraordinary or worrisome to take notice of.

Leaders of both groups portray their political rivals - sworn enemies seems to be the right expression - as "liars", "killers" and "anti-liberation" people.

In view of the above, it seems that ending the various "never-ending stories" in Bangladesh is more important than getting united against terrorism.

It is time that Bangladesh learns how to foster a bipartisan political culture from advanced democracies.

A partisan, unaccountable and corrupt political system is at the root of terrorism and anarchy. Long-drawn-out terrorism has the potential to stunt growth and progress, and destroy whatever the country has achieved in the last four decades.


•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a groupingof 22 newspapers. See www.asianews.network for more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Countering terror in Bangladesh'. Print Edition | Subscribe