DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
The deadly July 1 attack in Gulshan, the hub of Dhaka’s elite and the affluent young, indicates the country has become a real hub of jihadi terror. The subsequent confirmation by the Bangladeshi authorities that all the seven gunmen were its tiols, who had been to elite schools and university, presents a disturbing picture. The admission is sufficient evidence of the fact that Islamist radicalism is taking roots and attracting different categories of people in the over-populous tion. That the attackers belonged to upper middle class families and were part of the same so-called secular elite who throng upscale eateries like Holey Artisan Bakery goes to suggest that jihadi terror has crossed the so-called class barrier and has succeeded in attracting the rich and the well educated as well.
The terrorists killed their 20 hostages in a most brutal manner—hacking them rather than shooting them dead—to generate as much terror as possible and then posting photographs of their slaughtered victims on websites run by the Islamic State. They had earlier killed two policemen who had arrived at the scene soon after they stormed the eatery. In fact, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the worst-ever terror attack in Bangladesh, trying to suggest the gunmen—six of whom were shot dead by the police and one captured—were its cadres. Whether or not they actually belonged to the IS is not important. What is important is the fact that youth from affluent backgrounds are attracted to jihadi outfits, whether home-grown or otherwise. It seems the IS has now adopted a strategy of running franchisees by letting any jihadi outfit anywhere to use its me in claiming responsibility after any major attack.
Dhaka is at pains to deny the attackers belonged to the Islamic State, saying they were all ‘home-grown terrorists’ owing allegiance to groups like the Jama'at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an outfit whose aim is to convert secular Bangladesh to a Caliphate. Bangladeshi authorities have added that these ‘home-grown terrorists’ could now be trying to forge linkages with the Islamic State and other global jihadi forces. If Dhaka continues to be on a denial mode, it could cost the tion dear because it has actually been a hub of radical Islamist forces for long now. There are any number of local jihadi groups with loose links to the al Qaeda and other terror networks like the Ansar al Islam, for instance. The jihadi plot has certainly thickened in Bangladesh with machete-wielding attackers killing liberal bloggers, university professors, foreign aid workers, minority Hindus and so on since 2013. This could actually be the result of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasi’s tough action against the crimils and radicals who were involved in war-crimes during the country’s liberation struggle.
Sheikh Hasi has been tough no doubt and appears bent on shielding her country from the Islamist radicals, but her government and party has actually failed to crackdown on the jihadi outfits like Ansar, Hefazat-e-Islam and Hizb ut-Tahrir. In fact, the Hizb ut-Tahrir chief, a university professor under house arrest, is said to be regularly drawing his salary. The failure to crack most cases involving killing of liberals who push for a secular Bangladesh has certainly emboldened the Islamist radicals. Worst, Sheikh Hasi’s party and government sought to politicise the issue by blaming main rival, the Bangladesh tiolist Party (BNP), and its political ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, for trying to radicalize the country rather than working to a plan to identity the jihadi forces and prevent the Islamist State from expanding to the volatile tion.
In fact, the 2013 Shahbag protests in Bangladesh, where the movers and shakers were local liberals, the intelligentsia, and the country’s largely secular common people, had shaken the radicals and jihadi forces. The Shahbag protestors were demanding tough punishment against all those indicted by the law for their role in war crimes during the country’s liberation struggle. The grit demonstrated by Sheikh Hasi led to capital punishment being meted out to several people, including top Jamaat leader Motiur Rahman Nizami. The radicals, already agitated, perhaps could not bear it any more. In fact, the July 1 attack in Dhaka was waiting to happen, and was clearly a failure on the part of the security establishment in Bangladesh to anticipate that the jihadis could scale-up their attack or retaliation. The attack can also be seen as an attempt at triggering a regime-change in Dhaka.
For India, it is a cause for real alarm because it is clear now, we have the Islamic State active on our backyard. India must further boost its counter-terror efforts and try to build a global coalition to identify the tions fincing or backing groups like the IS and choke their source of funds. New Delhi needs to push hard for the immediate adoption of the long-pending Comprehensive Convention on Intertiol Terrorism (CCIT). This would help make accountable states which support terrorists, provide them safe heaven and fince them. Well, at the recent G20 meet, Russian president Vladimir Putin had apparently presented a list of 40 countries which directly back groups like the IS.
In fact, India needs also to generate public opinion against terrorism by a close interface with the civil society. The silver lining is the fact that Indian Muslims are practitioners of liberal Islam. Therefore, it is important for the government and the media to recognise liberal Muslim voices and give such voices due weight and importance. Take the case of Assam—35 per cent of the population in the State are Muslim. But, they largely practice moderate Islam in the sense that they are not inclined to the radical Wahabi influence of some parts of the Arab world.
Long-term strategies are necessary like including peace education in the syllabus of undergraduate programmes to prepare the youth to understand and contribute their bit in the global war against the mece called terrorism. While New Delhi has to think on these lines, it has to first work closely with Dhaka in drawing up a concrete plan to tackle the jihadi upsurge and deny the terrorists space to manoeuvre.