Friday, September 09, 2016

Bangladesh's two begums must end their personal battle and combat Islamist violence

Sheikh Hasina is locked in a no-quarter-given battle against her rival Bangladesh National Party President, Khaleda Zia

The Islamic State-inspired attack in an upmarket eatery in Dhaka that has taken the lives of 20 hostages, two policemen, and six terrorists, should be a watershed in the fight against Islamist radicalism in Bangladesh. 
But whether or not it is depends vitally on the dynamics of domestic politics, where the increasingly authoritarian Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina is locked in a no-quarter-given battle against her rival Bangladesh National Party President Khaleda Zia. 

 Khaleda Zia must join with Hasina to combat the spread of Islamist terror in Bangladesh

India and the international community need to make it absolutely clear to the two Begums that their battle, which has allowed Islamism to flourish in their country, is now providing space for the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) to spread their roots and become an existential threat to Bangladesh. 
India, and indeed the world, cannot afford to sit by idly while this happens. 
Given Bangladesh’s location, happenings there have a vital bearing on our security, and we need to confront this emerging challenge with determination, sophistication and a cool head. 
Islamism is not a new factor in Bangladesh. It has deep roots going back to the years that led to the partition of the country in the 1930s. As such, Islamist groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islami Okiya Jote, Khelafat Majlis, and a clutch of other organisations have been active for years, but their context has been largely local, even though some have advocated a global Islamic Caliphate.
There is, of course, another sinister element, Pakistan’s ISI, which has funded and used several of these groups to launch attacks against India. 
Pakistani proxies like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba are active in Bangladesh, again with a view of using it as a springboard to attack India. Even violent outfits like Harkat-ul Jihad Islami and Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) have functioned in a local context. These groups have been involved in attacks on writers, poets, bloggers and free thinkers since the attack on Shamshur Rehman in 1999. 

In 2016 we have seen an increase in such assaults in the killings of Nazimuddin Samad, Rezaul Siddique, and Xulhaz Mannan, as well as in the targeting of Hindu temples and priests. 
However, and importantly, the context has changed in recent years with international Islamist groups like Al Qaeda, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and now the Islamic State, which earlier found South Asia a difficult prospect, establishing a foothold in the country. 
The recruitment efforts of both AQIS and the Islamic State have benefited from poaching from local jihadi outfits. But most importantly, they have gained from the inability of the government to effectively deal with the jihadists. 
In many instances, the people attacked by them have been thrown into jail and charged with blasphemy. 

Perhaps the most difficult task confronting India and the international community is to persuade the mainstream political forces to moderate their competition to prevent radical forces from gaining ground. 
Islamism has been encouraged by South Asian dictators to consolidate their power. Zia-ul Haq in Pakistan and Zia-ur-Rehman in Bangladesh moved simultaneously in 1977 to Islamise their respective states. 
Subsequently another dictator, HM Ershad, declared Islam to be the state religion of Bangladesh in 1988. 
In both Pakistan and Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) played a key role in supporting their moves. 
In Bangladesh, Zia lifted the ban on the outfit which had supported Pakistani repression of Bangladesh in 1971. Today, the Jamaat-e-Islami remains one of the least understood, but most pernicious vehicles of Islamism in both countries. 
The alliance of the BNP with the JeI makes any effort to deal with Islamism in Bangladesh difficult. 

While there is no need for alarm, we in India need to step up surveillance and ensure that we can separate the hard-core motivators and trainers from the gullible and na├»ve youths who stray into the process and are then brainwashed. 

n July 2015, Mail Today reported on the manner in which the authorities in Hyderabad detected 20 young individuals in the process of being radicalised through a mixture of the internet and their social networks. 
Instead of arresting them, the authorities counselled them and now maintain a watch on them. The process is not easy and requires specially-trained personnel which are in short supply. 
It is easy to slam suspects in jail and use third-degree methods, a process that surely results in hardening the radicals into fully-fledged militants and terrorists. 
The experience of Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood (the ideological progenitor of JeI) has revealed that simple repression is not enough to deal with the situation.  
At the diplomatic level, concerted international pressure needs to be put on the two Begums to get their act together. 
Bangladesh needs to be assisted in putting in place a deradicalisation strategy, along with better quality counter-terrorism procedures. 
The situation must be dealt with subtlety and care, rather than blundering into another ‘global war against terrorism’ which actually catalysed the formation of the Islamic State.
Mail Today July 3, 2016

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