Bangladesh's War on Terror: Wall Street Journal

Discussion in 'Subcontinent & Central Asia' started by ejazr, Feb 16, 2011.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704409004576145650077725470.html

    Thanks to Dhaka, the subcontinent is better off

    On Monday, top leaders of the United Liberation Front of Assam, the insurgent group that has terrorized the northeast region of India for the two decades, met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as it begins peace talks with New Delhi—talks for which the group itself asked. What prompted ULFA to do so? In large part, because it had lost its base in Bangladesh. It's another sign that counterterrorism operations in that Muslim-majority country are starting to pay off.

    That's a far cry from the situation in Bangladesh five years ago, when Islamic terrorist groups, some linked to major political parties, were running riot. Then, the Bangla Bhai-led Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), a breakaway faction of the Jamat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), set off 50 simultaneous bomb blasts in each of the outlying districts in 2005, assassinated judges and threatened to impose Shariah law. Bangladesh became not only a sanctuary for northeast Indian groups like ULFA, but also a base for Pakistani terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Links between Pakistan and Bangladesh military intelligence agencies were widely known. Their target was India.

    In 2004, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha described relations with Bangladesh as being at the lowest ebb ever, even worse than with Pakistan. The ruling coalition of Bangladesh's then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia had driven the country down the path of fundamentalism and distanced it from India. Despite New Delhi providing Dhaka the map coordinates of insurgent bases, Ms. Zia's government did nothing. Her antipathies toward India here reflect the peculiar nature of Bangladeshi politics: Ms. Zia's family is the political archrival of the family of Sheikh Hasina, whose father Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman founded the Bangladeshi state in 1971 with Indian assistance and whose Awami League party has historically been friendlier with India.

    It took a potential civil war and a near army coup for Bangladesh to change track. After the army-backed caretaker government returned power to newly elected civilians in 2008, the centrist Awami League led by Ms. Hasina, the current prime minister, started a necessary course correction toward moderate Islam and friendly ties with India. As a first step, Ms. Hasina's government targeted militant groups like the JMB, JMJB and the Harkat ul Jehadi Islami Bangladesh. The Rapid Action Battalion, a new counterterror unit trained by the British, was set up in 2004; it currently numbers about 9,000. RAB has successfully broken the back of militancy, though at times it has violated human rights norms.

    Last year, a high court order restored the 1972 constitution reinstating secularism. The original constitution had been swept away in 1979 when President General Zia ur Rehman—Ms. Zia's husband—promulgated an amendment permitting religious political parties. As part of her policy of deradicalization, Ms. Hasina is now slowly banning religious parties like the Islamic Oikya Jote and the Jamaat e Islami (JeI), which have links with terrorist groups.

    The fight against extremist Islam turned an important corner after the May 2010 arrest and conviction of Maulana Said ur Rehman, the chief of the JMB, a militant party that has 400 full-time cadres across the country. The JMB is closely associated with the JeI, whose three top leaders were also arrested last July. A war crimes tribunal is set to try the known Islamist accomplices in Bangladesh—including JeI leaders—of Pakistan military's genocide in 1971, in what was then East Pakistan. Thanks to all these efforts, there has not been a single terrorist attack in that country since 2005.

    Through such efforts, Ms. Hasina has cautiously restored relations with India. Besides affirming her political party's historical ties with India, she openly acknowledges India's role in the creation of Bangladesh in the past. And for the future, she wants to integrate with the rapidly growing Indian economy, and instead distance her country from its tag as an Islamic republic and ally of Pakistan.

    India has reasons to be pleased. Last month, two ULFA commanders were handed over by Bangladesh to Indian authorities. At this month's annual state chief ministers' conference on internal security, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, the politician charged with internal security in India, noted that violence from insurgencies in northeast India has declined dramatically.

    Last December, Indian army veterans who fought alongside Bengali freedom fighters in the 1971 India-Pakistan war that liberated Bangladesh were invited by Army Chief Gen. Abdul Mubeen to jointly commemorate the historic event for the second time since 2007. Ringing throughout the week-long visit was the message that Bangladesh was a country created thanks to India's heroic sacrifice.

    If there's any indication that Bangladesh is starting to do some good for India, consider how Ms. Hasina's overtures are affecting China. Beijing, which has close ties with Bangladesh's military, is worried that Bangladesh may fall outside its sphere of influence. China has the potential to create some trouble here, given allegations that it's responsible for igniting the insurgencies in India's northeast.

    Still, there's no doubt Bangladesh is fast becoming an oasis of stability in an otherwise dangerous neighborhood. This is great news for deradicalizing Muslims worldwide and for the global war on terror. And it's especially good for India's attempts to avoid another attack on its soil.

    Mr. Mehta is a retired major general of the Indian Army and was part of the Indian forces which liberated Bangladesh in 1971.
     
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  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Bangladesh is on the right lines. If it does not sanitise itself from all type of loopy organisations, it will go the Pakistan way.
     
  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    The ULFA talks not because of any change of heart.

    It is just that Bangladesh is no longer a safe sanctuary.

    Instead of pursuing fruitless dialogue with Pakistan (a leopard who cannot change its spots) even if it is the erstwhile land of some of the Ministers and thus they are nostalgic, it is time to shore up one flank rather than having both the flanks open.

    India should concentrate on friendly ties with Bangladesh and also Myanmar so that it cuts off the China factor from one side as also it will open up routes, rail and road, to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. This will ideal for the Indian market as also strategically. it will sanitise the Chinese influence on one side of the Indian Ocean where they have made inroads. It would make it more difficult for China since the only guaranteed protégé she will have would be Pakistan and Pakistan would be too far!

    India should make positive overtures to solve the issues with Bangladesh and Myanmar.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2011

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