Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bombs in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has been hit by a wave of terrorist bombings attributed to Islamic fundamentalist organizations. This is likely to impact upon the security of India given the porous border between the two countries. The rise of religious extremism might affect Burma and Thailand as well. The upsurge in militant Islam took place with the onset of the Khaleda Zia-led administration in 2001. Two Islamist parties, i.e. the Jama'at-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote, are part of the administration. They are represented in the cabinet and have helped to shield fundamentalist activists from police scrutiny. They had previously opposed the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan and had collaborated with the Pakistani armed forces that had killed 1.5 million East Bengalis in 1971.

Bangladesh is a somewhat secular country that takes pride in its Bengali cultural inheritance despite a Muslim majority of 88%. This composite historical heritage is now under siege. The terrorist attacks have been directed at the opposition Awami League, judges, lawyers, journalists, developmentalist NGOs and theaters. In short, the secular intellectual space has been subject to attack. The intent is to transform Bangladesh, an impoverished country of 152 million people crammed into 55,600 square miles, into a rigid Islamic state on the lines of the Taleban. Another objective is to replace the colonial era legal code with the Shari'ah. This explains the repeated attacks on the legal profession.

An attack on an Awami League rally killed 25 people in August, 2004. The former Minister of Finance in the earlier Awami League Government was murdered in January, 2005. There were bomb attacks on Grameen Bank and BRAC, the two largest Bangladeshi NGOs in February, 2005. 459 near simultaneous bomb explosions took place in 63 of Bangladesh's 64 districts on August 17, 2005. Targets included the Prime Minister's office, police headquarters and the Supreme Court. The parallels with Bali, Chechnya, Delhi, London, Madrid and New York in terms of the simultaneous explosions were discernible. Another politician was killed in October, 2005. Two judges were murdered in November, 2005. There was an attempt on the life of a third judge. There were simultaneous bomb blasts on three court houses in November. Another suicide bomb attack took place this week. 30 persons have been killed in the past three weeks due to terrorist attacks.

The foremost terrorist group in Bangladesh is the Jama'at-ul Mujahideen. This has its base in the Dinajpur and Rajshahi districts adjoining India. It is reported to have a full-time cadre of 10,000 and a part-time cadre of 100,000. It is suspected to have 2,000 suicide bombers on stand-by. The organization describes itself as the "soldiers of Allah" who intend to enforce the Shari'ah and fight "the anti-Islam forces that have brought women out of their homes". The group allegedly has training camps in 57 of the country's 64 districts. The presence of Islamist parties in the cabinet has provided a conducive environment for the increase in fundamentalist activity. Whereas there were just 1,500 registered Madrassahs in 1970, there are 8,000 registered Madrassas today. This excludes the tens of thousands of unregistered religious seminaries financed by Islamic charities based in Bahrain, Kuwait, Sa'udi Arabia and the UAE. These factors explain the rise in fundamentalist extremism.

India had previously complained of a steady stream of illicit immigrants from Bangladesh, one that has reportedly changed the demographic composition of Assam and West Bengal since the 1970s. It will now need to take note of increased Islamic extremism in Bangladesh, expedite the ongoing construction of the 2,500 mile fence separating the two countries and control the flow of illicit immigration. The consequences would otherwise be disastrous.


doubtinggaurav said...
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doubtinggaurav said...


my take on this



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