By Mahua Venkatesh
New Delhi, Nov 27 | In terrorism hit South Asia, Bangladesh has emerged as a bright star, despite disturbing recent signs of a growing footprint of radical Islam in the strategically located nation which bridges the subcontinent with Southeast Asia.
In the recently released Global Terrorism Index by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the country ranked 33rd out of a total of 163 countries. Though in 2019, Bangladesh was placed 30th and a year earlier grabbed the 25th position, it appears to have stemmed the tide of Islamic terrorism that was threatening the nation of over 161 million in the first decade of the 21st century.
The country has not witnessed a major terror strike since the horrific Holey Artisan Bakery incident in 2016. The gruesome Holey Artisan Bakery terror attack in 2016, carried out by the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen group, left 29 dead including an Indian student.
The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) noted that international concern over the Holey Artisan Bakery attacks prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to take stringent action. Until then, Dhaka had escaped global scrutiny though the think tank pointed out that evidences suggest presence of Islamist terrorist groups since the late 1980s .
In the early 1990s, the Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) was established with funds from Al-Qaeda. HuJI-B had strong links with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and at the peak of its operations in 2004, the group claimed that up to 15,000 members had been recruited from Madrassas (Islamic religious schools) in Bangladesh and Pakistan, the EFSAS said.
Besides the indigenous Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), too came into fore. The Pakistan headquartered Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent (AQIS) founded in 2014 had a strong presence in Bangladesh as well.
“South Asia remains the region most impacted by terrorism in 2019, despite the improvements in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. This is the second year in a row that South Asia has recorded more deaths from terrorism than any other region,” the Global Terrorism Index report said, adding that Sri Lanka recorded an increase in 2019, with the Easter Sunday bombings.
Bangladesh takes action after the Holey Artisan Bakery attacks
Despite the lurking threat of terrorism, the government led by Sheikh Hasina has generally succeeded so far in its counterterrorism drive.
“Bangladesh had witnessed a number of terror strikes in the last decade. However, the Sheikh Hasina government has managed to rein in the terror groups by strong police action while encouraging a secular atmosphere in the country,” Jayanta Roy Chowdhury, senior journalist, who has been closely working on various Bangladesh think tanks said.
Roy Chowdhury however also noted that the Islamist groups have managed to make “some headway” by forcing changes in their school curriculum. “Though the Islamist groups have managed to make some headway, violence and attacks on minority groups have reduced considerably,” he said.
A peaceful Bangladesh is a boon for India
Bangladesh is strategically located in Asia with roads and cultural linkages with both eastern and north-eastern India on one hand and Myanmar and South-East Asia on the other. “Considering its strategic location and the fact that it borders India, any links of Islamist terrorism or fundamentalism will impact its neighbours. A peaceful and tranquil Bangladesh is a great help to India as she seeks to reposition in the global map,” Roy Chowdhury noted.
Unsurprisingly, India has lauded Bangladesh’s aggressive drive against militant Islam. “We are all witnessing how, making terror and violence weapons of politics and diplomacy destroys a society and a nation. The world is also watching where the supporters of terror and violence are currently placed and in what state they are, while Bangladesh is scaling new heights,” Modi said earlier this year during the launch of the birth centenary celebrations of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh.
(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)