Law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh, especially elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), have so far been outsmarting many of the Islamic extremists. And after almost all of their operations, they have arrested Islamic militants or members of islamic fundamentalist groups and recovered huge cache of arms and ammunitions. Media, both local and international, have published those reports and there were few words about something, which has drawn my apt attention — recovery of huge jihadi books, pamphlets, leaflets, CDs and cassettes. These propaganda materials are reportedly full of hatred against USA, UK, India and so-called nexus of Jews and Christians against Muslims. These materials are not less deadly than those bomb, bomb-making materials and other ammunitions. I guess, the fight goes on and they are not resting. The most nagging question that popped up in my mind is that how far the Government of Bangladesh is really sincere to countering the Islamic militancy in its the information front of the fight? And how far they are capable?
Hardcore Islamist groups have been active in Bangladesh since long and Jasmin Lorch (2011) suggests that such ‘terrorists organisations have been active in Bangladesh since the 1990s’. The much-talked-about group named Jamaatul Mujahein Bangladesh or popularly known as JMB has brought their struggle at the forefront of national agenda when they had orchestrated coordinated bomb attack across the country on August 17, 2005.
I still remember the day when I was covering a reporting assignment in Dhaka Press Club and heard a blast. I rushed to our BDNEWS office just to learn in half an hour that similar bomb blasts took place at many others places across the country. The news was on all the international broadcasting channels- BBC, CNN and what not! The horror began, and also the politics of denial. At every place of blast, there was a leaflet. A leaflet outlining what JMB had wanted to spread: their message. Being a student of propaganda, I find their method quite similar to the attack of 9/11 by Al-Qaeda operatives during a rush hour at the heart of world’s busiest city of New York. Although, JMB’s intention was just to spread their message, there were casualties that could have been much worst. The then government was caught off-guard and country’s intelligence was found outsmarted. This is 2012 and you find law enforcers arresting them till date.
According to newspaper reports, JMB and other Islamic extremist parties and groups recruit mainly from madrasah. And according to Lorch, JMB ‘is said to have trained around 3000 fighters up to 2005’. RAB has arrested 16 islamic militants in 2012 while 85 in 2010 and 78 in 2009. The intention of JMB was to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state. However, their stalwarts were down but the RAB Chief recently told a television channel that the elite force has kept a sharp eye on the Islamic militants and extremists. But are they monitoring the spread of their message?
Soon after taking over office in 2009 (four years after the 2005’s nationwide blasts), the government formed a counter-terrorism committee comprising members from different ministries and departments with the State Minister for Home in the chair. The committee- Committee for Resistance and Correction Militancy- as Lorch opined, could be considered as “a first step towards effectively strengthening coordination among the security agencies in the fight against terrorism”. During a chat recently, an official at the Home Ministry told me that the committee took various innovative initiatives to make people aware about extremism. “Actually we discussed many good things and there were some decisions. Did you see some billboards?” he asked me. I said, “I saw one near Bijoy Swarani, but for a while.” Members of this committee are secretaries of the ministries of Home, Education, Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Religious Affairs, Social Welfare, LGRD & Cooperatives, Ministry of Information, the Inspector General of Police, Chiefs of Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), Ansar and VDP, National Security Intelligence, Rapid Action Battalion, and the Director General of Prime Minister’s Office. Quite a high profile committee, indeed!
While surfing on the net, I found a news story from the Daily Star newspaper, published on April 7, 2010:
“The government’s socio-political campaign to uproot extremism has apparently lost all enthusiasm thanks to leadership problem in the home ministry and reluctance of the ministries and agencies concerned in performing their duties….Home ministry officials say the ministries put little importance on the campaign although the government showed seriousness in combating militancy…The home ministry itself is not as serious as it was before, a senior official told The Daily Star seeking anonymity…..In the last meeting, each of the ministries and authorities was given specific tasks but they failed to deliver. Only the religious affairs ministry arranged some religious gatherings last winter highlighting the impacts of militancy…..The education ministry has been asked to organise teacher-student conventions at district, upazila and union levels on militancy. It was also supposed to take measures to incorporate essays and short stories in textbooks from the session 2010.But no representative from the education ministry attended the last meeting to talk about its activities,” said a deputy secretary of the home ministry. The meeting asked the education ministry to come up with update in the next meeting. The information ministry was tasked with making documentaries, short-films, dramas, advertisements and video clips against militancy and putting those on the media. But no such step was taken. The DGFI was assigned to make an anti-militancy short-film and send it to the home ministry for approval. This film was supposed to be aired in state and private TV channels and released in cinemas across the country. But the ministry has yet to receive the film.”
A year later, another English language daily The Sun is reporting on May 9, 2011:
“The government decided to form a committee to oversee the progress in curbing militancy, eve teasing and use of drug in educational institutions across the country. The decision was taken at the 10th meeting of Jongi Protirodh and Protikar Committee (Militancy Resistance and Correction Committee) with State Minister for Home Shamsul Hoque Tuku in the chair at the conference room of the education ministry.
Emerging from the meeting the state minister told reporters that an education ministry official will head the committee. Before the national anthem teachers will indoctrinate students not to take part in militant activities and help them understand the consequence of it, said Tuku.
Educational institutions will be asked to send reports to the committee on the steps they have taken to curb militancy, eve-teasing and use of drug. Tuku also said the information ministry will broadcast documentary films and drama and publish articles in newspapers to make people aware of the negative aspects of them. Islamic scholars of the country will hold chat show on religious extremism on television, the minister added. Earlier the government asked Imams to deliver speech on the consequence of militancy, eve-teasing and drug use before Khutba on every Friday. We will ask deputy commissioners, superintendent of police and officials of the Islamic Foundation to ensure that the imams are doing so, said the state minister.”
What I understood may be wrong: major responsibility will now be performed by the Education Ministry and another committee has been formed, which increases the risk of making things more bureaucratic.
A situation analysis is now a must. May be a baseline survey research may shed some light on the issue and give some idea about the ground situation. Thereafter, all the good decisions taken by the committee can be streamlined under a programme that will have a smart budget allocation, specific time target (if a pilot programme, it could be implemented for 3 to 5 years), and a dedicated professional team in order to implement the government-approved programmes. End of each year, there can be monitoring and evaluation report by independent body.
Jasmin Lorch. 2011. Bangladesh: Successes in the Fight against Islamist Militancy; Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) (http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?ots591=0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233&lng=en&id=141543)
Rapid Action Battalion website:
The Daily Star newspaper, Bangladesh
The Daily Sun
Photo credit: Daily Star online, http://bangladeshwatchdog1.wordpress.com/, http://markhumphrys.com/islamic.street.html,