Bangladesh remains stunned by the worst and the most devastating terror attack in Dhaka on July 1, 2016. On that day, a group of radicals took hostages inside a bakery in one of Dhaka’s upmarket localities, Gulshan, killing 29 and injuring many. Apparently, the country was caught off guard as it had been blissfully ignoring umpteen number of wake-up calls to the establishment to take preventive actions. These alerts came in the form of systematic exterminations of liberals, bloggers, LGBT activists, and members of the minority community. Evidence suggests that this process of elimination has been going on steadfastly since 2013. The intelligence machinery was in deep slumber, indifferent to the writings on the walls that something big was in the offing.
The political establishment in Bangladesh refuses to acknowledge that these terror incidents were the handiwork of the Islamic State (IS). This is Prime Minister Hasina's considered opinion and, possibly, she adheres to this viewpoint to show the world that IS has not penetrated into Bangladesh.
I want to point out to madame prime minister that debating over who has carried out the attacks will serve only academic interest. The fact remains the Islamic terrorists are alive and kicking right under the nose of the government. They may not be the Arabs fighting in Syria or in Iraq, but they are surely inspired by the IS, if not sponsored by them. This fact must be accepted. Sooner the better. This will help the state to deal with the ugly head of terror now threatening Bangladesh.
Another disturbing factor of the terror attacks is that the youth involved in the killings were from affluent families and were educated in elite educational institutions. This is indeed worrisome. It proves beyond doubt that the society has been deeply penetrated by the IS ideology and that's a dangerous trend. With madrassas mushrooming in Bangladesh, products of good English schools, if radicalised, increase the threat manifold. Youth needs to be contained and to rein them in, the progressives, liberals, and intelligentsia must be brought on board. Unless the society collaborates with the state machinery to curb adverse public opinion, it will be an uphill task to contain the spiralling growth of terrorism .
Bangladesh has a large number of Afghanistan war veterans who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They have already indoctrinated many and have also been providing military training to a number of young recruits to spread terror. One such robust outfit is Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh( JMB). Its presence, though officially banned, remains a potential threat to the country. The situation looks very bleak as the radical ideology takes hold and it is getting increasingly easier to obtain training in the tradecraft of terrorism.
It is also pertinent to point out that during the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) during 2001-2006, the Islamic fanatics got a boost because of the government support. Both these anti-India and pro-Pakistan parties systematically encouraged extremist elements who have been targeting the progressives to usher in an Islamic regime. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) abetted and aided such forces to whip anti-India propaganda. A number of Islamic NGOs flourished with a huge sum of funding from sympathetic donors. These were invested in health, insurance, and allied sectors strengthening the Jamaat economy. Professor Abul Barkat, the noted economist from Bangladesh, points out that the annual net profit of economic fundamentalism in Bangladesh would be around 200 million US Dollars.
Thankfully, with Sheikh Hasina's advent to power in 2009, we saw these anti-India forces receiving some setback. Hasina's resolve to fight terror, particularly, her bold move to try and hang Islamic fundamentalists who collaborated with Pakistan during the liberation struggle of Bangladesh had, however, polarised the country between the jihadis and the forward thinking. Cornered by persistent state action against terrorism, JMB and its affiliates secretly consolidated its position without giving any whiff to the intelligence agencies. This could count as a clear case of intelligence failure; with an unambiguous anti-terror agenda pursued by the government, how could the terrorists strike and achieve something of such monstrous proportions?
Further, the counter-terror architecture of the government looks primitive and skeletal. To deal with terror attacks led by the IS, and other dangerously radicalised elements at the helm, the counter-terror apparatus must work as a well-oiled machine. Bangladesh must more proactively collaborate with India and other friendly countries. Similarly, intelligence set-up needs to be of a top order and aided by sophisticated technology to reinforce human intelligence. Western countries handling IS terror can lend cooperation in this regard. Also, a sharp and constant focus has to be there on the activities of the Pakistan High Commission at Dhaka in case any nefarious ISI plans to foment terror on the Bangladesh soil.
Judging by history, Bangladesh has always been highly politicised, including its military establishment. After the complete annihilation of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family, Bangladesh has witnessed several bloody coups and counter-coups. Hasina, Bangabandhu's daughter and a friend of India, is now leading the country. Without Hasina, India will be in a helpless state. It will then be forced to fight the fanatics and anti-India forces who might revert to their old policy of sheltering Indian militants and constantly pinprick India's security interests.
In sum, India's help to Bangladesh should be substantial in nature. They need to jointly fight terror, as well as secure the safety of religious minorities. Such help needs to be demonstrative and largely visible, as it would signal to the world that India and Bangladesh are steadfastly united to combat terror, irrespective of whether such terror is inspired by the IS or coming from home-grown radicals.