Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dhaka siege: Serious Implications but it's not a Lost Game yet

Things in Bangladesh are getting more complex than they appear on the face value.
The Dhaka siege of July 1-2, 2016 was one of the deadliest attacks in Bangladesh. The fighter in the video, who spoke in both Bengali and English, said Bangladesh must know that it was now part of a bigger battlefield to establish the cross-border "caliphate". 
Post Dhaka siege, terrorist group Islamic State has warned of repeated attacks in Bangladesh and beyond until rule by sharia, Islamic law, is established.
"What you witnessed in Bangladesh was a glimpse. This will repeat, repeat and repeat until you lose and we win and the sharia is established throughout the world," said a man identified as Bangladeshi fighter Abu Issa al-Bengali, in the video monitored by SITE intelligence site, reports said.
Bangladesh has rejected the Islamic State's claim of responsibility for the July 1 attack and blamed it on a domestic terrorist group.
But technically speaking all terrorism would be home grown. There is an attempt on the part of Dhaka to downplay international connection.

 It would be prudent to say that the Bangladesh government - and that certainly involves
country's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina - is trying to push the line that its all home grown - few misguided individuals. And who misguided them - Zakir Naik...with his base in India! Why?
This can be a calculated game and even supported by a section of Indian intelligentsia. In fact, a Kolkata based expert --- traditionally known for sympathising with Bangladeshi cause - for whatever reasons also plunged into the game and tried to push the Dhaka line.
On the contrary reports from Dhaka spoke about the sophistication of the attack on the Holey Artisan bakery cafe. This pointed to a heightened guidance from international militant groups. The indication is towards IS and Alqaeda-in-Indian sub-continent.
Indian agencies earlier had reported about the growing influence of radical Islam in Bangladesh wherein some known groups including Ahle Hadith Andolon and  Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh have been financing terror activities in that country. There have been also inputs about these groups tapping contacts in parts of north east India and eastern India including Assam and West Bengal. They have tried to pump in funds from across the border.   

India need not panic but it should be worried. More important agenda before Indian security agencies should be how India and other South East Asian countries can work together to stem the rot in the system. So far Pakistan and beyond - Afghanistan- was hit such Islamic agenda. But now it has come to the neighbourhood.
Once there was a film: "Hasina Maan jaegi"
Talk to military and intelligence officials in central government and also in some key northeastern states; there is a general consensus on the fact that there has to be some amount of military action on the ground. 
The problem is with the absence of political will. Sheikh Hasina too has been lacking it. She has been trying to be a genuine friend of India but her administration somehow lacked the final killer instinct.

This is precisely where the world has gone wrong in dealing with the “War” on terror. Unfortunately this concept includes northeastern states and countries like Bangladesh and even Sheikh Hasina is no exception. Therefore, talk in New Delhi's security room includes title of a onetime popular Hindi film : "Hasina Maan Jaegi". Hasina will agree to go further in fighting the terror menace.
In fact, there have been reports with Indian agencies that by mid 2015 a large number of Muslims in Bangladesh have pledged support to “the Khilāfah”.
These should not be “overlooked” keeping in mind that there had always been a section of Islamic extremists in Bangladesh. This implies there is a grave security threat at hand in India and northeastern states. Porous borders and a very  complex socio-political background Tripura, Assam and West Bengal might therefore turn out “most vulnerable hubs” for ISIS activities. 
Even in West Bengal, there are reports to suggest, that the terror elements ostensibly supported by IS or AQIS had drawn out plans to attack Indian temple priests.
There are inputs that Hindu temple priests of Birbhum and Mushidabad could have been targeted on the pattern some Buddhist monks and Hindu priests were attacked in Bangladesh not long ago.

 Bangladesh-based groups like Ahle Hadith Andolon,  Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) of Bangladesh have been keen to turn Bangladesh into a possible "seedbed and activity centre" for their global activities. Strategic experts in north east endorse the official agencies version. "Sheikh Hasina government despite all its good intentions and largely secular mindset, is pathetically incompetent to grasp, and certainly control the situation. Her government is also not ready to accept that ISIS has already made foray into her land," says Manas Paul, an Agartala based longtime Bangladesh watcher.

Interestingly, Paul questions Hasina's much appreciated July 2 speech where she had raised the question: "yeh kemon Musalman".  
The question that has been posed by Bangladesh PM -- "What kind of Muslims are they who killed during the holy month of Ramdan ?" - is a “misplaced question”, says Manas Paul. “It is during Ramdan fight against non believers / infidels is considered most appropriate”. Importantly, he says adding there are also “religious sanctions” for these.
“Right from the 'Battle of Badr' ( March 13, 624) history stands testimony that some very specific and very important battles and killings launched and committed by the Muslims did take place during the month of Ramadan,” he maintains. In Indian context also he puts it that: Direct Action Day - The great Calcutta Killings (August 16, 1946 ) was launched during Ramadan. The Muslim league statement was straight and clear on that: "Muslims must remember that it was in Ramzam that the Quran was revealed. It was in Ramzam that permission for Jehad was granted. It was in Ramzam that the Battle of Badr , the first open conflict between Islam and Heathenism ( i.e Idolatry which equates Hinduism)was fought and won by 313 Muslims; and again it was again in Ramzan that 10,000 under the Holy Prophet conquered Meccaand established the kingdom of Heaven and the Commonwealth of Islam was established in Arabia. Muslim League is fortunate that it is starting its action in this holy month".

So sinners of July 1-2 Dhaka siege did not commit the sin? Would Indian Muslims now endorse killings of non-believers in this season when Iftar becomes a fashion statement politically and socially and for ages common Hindus and Muslims have been celebrating the month long solemn occasion with all its gaiety?                                                         

But troubled waters in the neighbourhood vis-à-vis northeast India is a matter of concern and would put Narendra Modi government under pressure. A Pathankot type attack in eastern India would only give additional arsenals to Modi's detractors. 

However, this is nothing new in strict sense of the term. Manipur is actually in a web of insurgency over the decades. There are number of groups owing allegiance to Islamic ideologies.
In May 1993, more than 90 persons, including women and children, were killed in a series of clashes between the Meiteis and Pangals (Manipuri Muslims), in Thoubal and Imphal districts. Over the years Pangals  (Muslims) in Manipur have organised themselves with “tacit support” from various Islamic groups from Assam and also bigger sponsors like ISI of Pakistan. Importantly, there came logistic support from Bangladesh. Several Islamic fundamentalism-inspired Manipuri groups thus became reality. They include People’s United Liberation Front (PULF), Islamic Minority Army, All Manipur Minority Islamic Samaj, North Eastern Muslim Front, Muslim Liberation Army, North Eastern Minority Revolutionary Army, Islamic Revolutionary Front (IRF) and United Islamic Liberation Army (UILA).

Similarly, Assam has had its share of Islamic insurgency. The ISI and elements in Bangladeshi intelligence Directorate General of Forces Intelligence have always cooperated with ULFA and other groups and ensured protection and logistics in Bangladesh. The operational links between Jamat radicals and northeast militancy has been also economical and thus drug route did run effectively.
In my book “The Talking Guns: North East India” published in 2008, I did write how: “Bangladeshi soil has been used by most northeastern outfits to keep nexus with ISI and to use the land to set up hideouts once crackdown is launched this side.”

 Friendliness towards New Delhi from Dhaka is only a post-Sheikh Hasina phenomenon since 2008-09. In 1996, when Bangladesh celebrated 25 years of its independence, while a smiling Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma read out a goodwill message going out of the way in Bangla, there was no official ‘Thank You’ from Dhaka.

It is true groups like People’s Liberation of Army (PLA) of Manipur revived its political wing called the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) in 1989 and also set up a government-in-exile in Sylhet district. Another Meitei outfit UNLF, unlike its present status and image, basically started as a non-violent movement. But in 1968 some radical cadres led by Oinam Sudhir Kumar baptised with ‘revolutionary approach’ floated ‘Revolutionary Government of Manipur (RGM)’ with its base also at Sylhet.
For Mizo insurgents too Bangladesh has been a favourite hideout. Former militant leader Zoramthanga, who later became Mizoram Chief Minister, once described that the MNF camp in Bangaldesh was one of the “best underground camps in the northeast”.

But it's not a lost game.

The significant improvement in bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh since the last decade is matter to be emulated and carried forward. Hasina deserves all the credit and support. I have spoken on this in a previous blog too.

India can offer strategic help and also depute a team of security specialists in India --- retired cops and intelligence officials to Bangladesh government and root out the radical elements. It would require political will and zeal of a committed soldier.
India has been doing good diplomacy so far. But Dhaka siege happened and international links cannot be dismissed.
Thus India needs to be pro-active – at least this is expected from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Even Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has said that Modi is ambitious diplomatically and wants to achieve some milestones to be left as legacy. An improved relation with Bangladesh with no hard steps against terror would carry little meaning. (ends)

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