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Dhaka Siege: Blow for Hasina Govt, Spells Trouble for the Region

The Dhaka terror attack spells trouble for the region and calls for Indo-B’desh cooperation on terror.

Updated
World
5 min read
 Dhaka Siege: Blow for Hasina Govt, Spells Trouble for the Region

There is little question that Islamist terror has now made definitive inroads into Bangladesh. Reports that religious militants were active in efforts to establish a presence, in the name of ISIS, in the country, have been making the rounds for months, indeed years. With as many as forty nine people killed so far by Islamists – and they have included bloggers, writers, publishers, Hindus, Christians, secular Muslims and foreigners – not much was left to the imagination about the extent to which the bigots were beginning to claim increasing swathes of territory.

The attack on Friday evening on a Spanish restaurant in Dhaka’s elite diplomatic zone of Gulshan by elements of Islamic State was a clear and macabre indication of how far the militants have come in their determination to undermine the state of Bangladesh. In a twelve-hour tale of unbridled terror, the militants took almost everyone at the Holey Artisan bakery and Café hostage.

Policemen who approached the Café soon after the assault by the militants commenced came under heavy fire from them, leaving two officers dead and many more injured. It was not until forces from the army, navy, police and the elite Rapid Action Battalion stormed the Café, generally frequented by foreigners and affluent Bengalis, early on Saturday that the crisis came to a sordid end.

Also read: 20 Foreigners, Two Cops Killed in Dhaka Terror Attack

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Bangladeshi soldiers come out of an area housing a restaurant popular with foreigners after heavily armed militants attacked it on Friday night and took dozens of hostages, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2 July 2016. (Photo: AP)

Hasina Government’s Denial of ISIS

The terror assault in Dhaka, the first such coordinated attack by Islamic State in the country, renders hollow the government’s repeated denials of the presence of IS or its affiliated bodies in Bangladesh. For months on end, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has denied that Islamist militants have a presence in the country and has instead repeatedly pointed the finger at her political opposition, especially the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of former prime minister Khaleda Zia, as being responsible for the recent killings in the country.

For his part, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has infamously informed the country, and repeatedly that the terror killings which have so far taken place have been isolated incidents. Such assertions have predictably been ridiculed as a sign of an administration in denial. The denial has now been revealed for the unreality it has been by Friday night’s attack on the Spanish restaurant.

The tragedy in Dhaka, which raises memories of similar terrorist assaults in Paris and Brussels, is certainly a signal for what needs to be done now to reinforce security not just in Bangladesh but in the immediate region as a whole.

Given that of late Islamist terror organisations have held out threats of using Bangladesh as a springboard to the establishment of a wider network of terror spanning Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, it becomes an imperative at this point for governments in the region to adopt measures aimed at a rolling back of the Islamist threat.

In recent years, particularly since the general elections of May 2014 in India, Dhaka and Delhi have cooperated in tackling terrorism and in exchanging terrorists who have used their territories to launch attacks in the two countries.

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Snapshot

Terror Strikes Dhaka

  • Attack in Dhaka, a coordinated attack by Islamic State blows holes in Hasina govt’s claims of denying the presence of Islamist militancy.
  • Political opportunism explains why Bangladesh’s govt has been on backfoot, with Hasina blaming Khaleda Zia for ‘secret killings’.
  • With Islamist terror outfits gaining a stronghold in Bangladesh, it is important for its neighbours, India and Pakistan to rise to the occasion.
  • Dhaka on its own would find it difficult to contain terror and would have to take India on board to keep a check on terror activities led by infiltrators.
  • Friday’s tragedy calls for a plan of action by the Bangladesh’s government to instill confidence in people that it has the ability to ward off terror.
Razaul Karim, right, and Hosne Ara Karim, centre, whose son and daughter-in-law were rescued from the restaurant attacked by heavily armed militants, wait for them in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 2, 2016. (Photo: AP)
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Indo-B’desh Cooperation on Islamist Militancy

While handling terrorism on the part of Bangladesh remains a priority of the government, with Sheikh Hasina repeatedly declaring her government’s policy of zero tolerance of terrorism, it is obvious Dhaka cannot on its own contain the problem. Neither will the Indian government, single-handedly, be in a position to ward off threats of Islamist militancy making infiltrations from across the frontier with Bangladesh. That ought to be good reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to coordinate policy, strategy and action against Islamist militancy in the region.

Let there be no room for complacency or doubt here. As much as the Bangladesh authorities might deny it, the fact remains that radical Islam, with its concomitant threat of terror, has now come much closer than what was previously imagined. The process of Islamic militancy certainly went underway in the early 2000s when the BNP under Khaleda Zia governed the country.

Collective Security Measures

In the times of the Awami League-led government led by Sheikh Hasina, however, militancy has scored some major points through its campaign of unabated violence. The inability of the government to follow through on its pledge of zero tolerance and put in place an effective machinery to nab terrorists or keep a tab on their activities has only emboldened the militants.

The terror attack in Dhaka is certainly a test for the government. After all these months of glib claims that all was well in the country and that terrorists had no place in the lives of citizens, Sheikh Hasina and the many security outfits responsible for guaranteeing safety of life for everyone will be under pressure, at home and abroad, to deliver on their promises. The tragedy of Friday is a reality the government cannot take lightly --- if it means to convince the world that it has the ability and the readiness not to allow similar acts of terrorism in future. A terror threat for Bangladesh is indeed a terror threat for other nations in the region. Collective security therefore becomes that much more significant as a proposition.

(The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer, Dhaka, and columnist for the online newspaper bdnews24.com)

Also read:

Hasina’s Ominous Silence as Bangladesh’s Hindu Lambs are Targeted

45 Years of Liberation, Is B’desh Still Insufficiently Imagined?

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