Barely a day after India denied reports of ISIS footprint in Bangladesh, terror has assumed a bigger dimension in the neighboring country. In Friday’s overnight bloody hostage drama at an upscale café in Dhaka, what became alarmingly clear was a new modus operandi by terrorists. Instead of machete wielding gaggle of killers striking at targets and fading away, this was a firearms-toting disciplined group, prepared for a long stand-off with security forces and willing to die with guns blazing. After the smoke from Operation Thunder cleared on Saturday afternoon, six terrorists and over 20 hostages including an Indian tourist lay dead, while a lone terrorist was captured alive. Planning an operation of this scale in a high-security diplomatic zone in the capital shows that Islamists in Bangladesh are readying for big time. At stake is the very soul of Bangladesh, which they are trying to capture with a rising tide of violence against minority groups and now targeted strikes. Sheikh Hasi’s government may stoutly espouse the country’s secular constitution, that the Dhaka terrorists ‘had no religion’, but it can longer afford to make light of the looming challenge. To be fair, it has been cracking down on terrorist groups since the last month, rounding up thousands of suspects across the country. But observers have noted the Awami League government’s disinclition to admit that there may be a sinister method to this madness, that something far deadlier than isolated homegrown troublemakers has Bangladesh in its sights. Domestic terror outfits like Jamaat-e-Mujahiddeen Bangladesh or Hefazat-e-Islam may be genuinely aligning with foreign operators to grow stronger, or may make such claims to gain a higher profile. ISIS or Al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar-al-Islam’s involvement in the Dhaka attack may at present be a matter of conjecture, though both foreign outfits have claimed responsibility. But what is clear is that Bangladesh will increasingly figure on the terrorists’ radar because its large and mostly poor population offers tempting scope to recruit disaffected youths as cannon fodder for jihad.
While the Awami League’s opponents, the Bangladesh tiolist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami, are both accused to have nurtured fundamental forces, the fact that they are out of parliament and political process has added a cutting edge to the relentless upsurge in violence. Any more dithering or ostrich-like burying head in the sand by the Sheikh Hasi government will only help the terrorist specter grow far stronger in the coming days. For New Delhi, the prospect of a failed Bangladesh state is a worrying development in its backyard, to add to the failed state of Pakistan on its western borders. The increasing lawlessness and chaos in Bangladesh is more and more likely to spill over across India’s eastern borders, arguably the most porous border in the world. When it comes to influx into Assam and other Northeast states, New Delhi and the Indian mainland as a whole has never taken the problem seriously. Had it been otherwise, the Central government would not have sought to make the detection of Bangladeshi infiltrators impossible through the atrocious (later repealed) IMDT law or tweaked the Foreigner’s laws assiduously to legitimize lakhs of such aliens. For most of India, the only infiltration that matters is that of Pakistan-based terrorists across the LoC into Kashmir. The result is that over 1 crore Bangladeshi citizens have crossed the eastern border with at least 40 lakh making Assam their home and the remaining numbers fanning across India. With voter IDs, Aadhaar cards, ratio cards and many other documents, they are more Indian than many of the indigenous people in this part of the country. In earlier times, militancy in the Northeast found a ready shelter in Bangladesh. If intolerance and fundamentalism gain further ascendancy in Bangladesh, there will be a huge pressure on the border in the coming days. In particular, there may likely be a huge exodus of persecuted Hindus to this country if the violence continues. The sooner New Delhi secures its eastern borders and reforms its policy to deal with refugees, the better.