A zero-tolerance policy has helped Bangladesh contain terrorism and militancy

Bangladesh's zero-tolerance policy against militancy is bearing fruit. So far, eight militant organizations, namely JMB, Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, JMJB, Hizbut Tahrir, Huji-B, ABT, Ansar Al Islam, and Allahr Dal, have been banned by the government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's tough stance has made it possible to virtually dismantle the militant network in Bangladesh.

Kamal Uddin Mazumder Apr 25, 2023
Bangladesh's zero-tolerance policy (Photo: Dhaka Tribune)

The Institute for Economics and Peace, a Sydney, Australia-based organization that studies terrorism, published a report on April 10, 2023. According to the report, Bangladesh ranks much better than Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and even the United States and the United Kingdom in the Global Terrorism Index. The index is created by analyzing a country's annual number of terrorist incidents, hostages, and casualties. According to their index, Afghanistan is the number one country for terrorism. Pakistan's position is 6, India's position is 13, the United States' position is 30, the United Kingdom's position is 42, and Bangladesh's position is 43.

 According to the data, Bangladesh was ranked 40th in 2022, 43rd in 2023, and 22nd in 2016. In other words, since 2016, Bangladesh has continuously improved its position in the fight against terrorism. However, other South Asian countries, as well as the United States, were always far behind Bangladesh. That’s why the report is very positive for Bangladesh's outlook against the global scourge.

Terrorism and militancy are important issues in the history of international relations. Earlier terrorist activities were limited to certain regions of the world. But since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been an exponential growth in terrorism and militant activities worldwide. Using science and technology, terrorist and militant organizations have spread their webs around the world. Today, terrorism has taken a transnational and intercontinental form.

In Bangladesh, after Sheikh Hasina's government came to power in 2009, it took various steps against the rising militancy and extremism necessary amendments were made to the relevant laws against terrorism to make them more stringent. During the coalition government in 2009–2013, a series of attacks on bloggers, writers, publishers, Hindu-Christian-Buddhist priests, university teachers, human rights activists, followers of dissident Islamic ideologies, law enforcement officers, and foreigners undermined the anti-militancy efforts in the country and challenged Sheikh Hasina's government.

Holey Artisan Bakery attack

No doubt, the militant attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka on July 1, 2016, which left 29 people—mostly foreigners—dead, dealt a big blow to the image of Bangladesh. Many international agencies decided to shut their offices in Bangladesh, and a large number of foreigners left the country following the attack, posing a great challenge to the government in maintaining foreign relations and keeping the pace of development activities. The government, however, handled the issue so effectively in the subsequent years that Bangladesh is often cited as a role model for other countries in combating terrorism and militancy.

As different steps helped Bangladesh to regain the confidence of the international community, the international agencies revised their decision of closing their offices in Dhaka while the foreigners who had left Dhaka came back. At present, a large number of foreigners are working in the country, and travelling freely to different parts of the country. Bangladesh's law enforcement agencies are now sharing their experiences and tactics for combating terrorism with various countries. A good number of countries have sent their anti-militant officers to Bangladesh to gain the practical knowledge and training that Bangladeshi law enforcers displayed during their various anti-militant operations across the country.

Bangladesh's zero-tolerance policy against militancy is bearing fruit. So far, eight militant organizations, namely JMB, Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, JMJB, Hizbut Tahrir, Huji-B, ABT, Ansar Al Islam, and Allahr Dal, have been banned by the government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's tough stance has made it possible to virtually dismantle the militant network in Bangladesh.

Security forces, especially the Bangladesh Police and RAB and their intelligence units, have also played a leading role in countering militancy. The government formed the Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU) as a specialized unit only to combat militantcy and terrorism. The Anti-Terrorism Unit of Police, Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime of DMP, Cyber Crime, Investigation Center, and Lawful Interception Unit of Police Headquarters were strengthened and their activities coordinated with the single goal of eliminating militancy.

This success has brightened the image of the country at the international level. The members of parliament of Germany's Hesse province have praised Sheikh Hasina's government for fighting terrorism and militancy. At a meeting organized by the World Anti-Terrorism Organization, speakers said that Hasina's government's zero-tolerance policy in countering terrorism can be an exemplar for other countries. The United Nations has reportedly advised some countries affected by terrorist attacks to follow Bangladesh.

A religious but not fanatical people

The people of Bangladesh are religious but not fanatical. If they were bigots, they would not have freed the country from Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh is a peaceful country with a diverse population of different religions, castes, and ethnic groups. The constitution of the country guarantees the right of every citizen to follow his own religious rites and practices in a free and independent environment. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Chakma, Marma, and Santal people of all races and religions have been living together in harmony.

While it is true that terrorism and militancy in Bangladesh cannot be fully eradicated, it has been possible to contain them with some strict handling. The Hasina government's policies, the concerted efforts of law enforcement agencies, and the awareness and responsibility of the people meant that the radical and extremist groups have not been able to consolidate their position in Bangladesh.

The anti-militancy mentality of the people makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to suppress militancy. There is no other precedent in the world where political organizations, civil society, businessmen, professional organizations, and people from all walks of life are united in building mass resistance against militancy and radical sectarianism to supplement the efforts of the law and order forces.

Sustainable democracy and development require sustainable peace, and sustainable peace requires sustainable security. Behind all the democratic, political, and socio-economic development of Bangladesh is the country's uncompromising security system.  According to the World Economic League Table, Bangladesh will be the 25th largest economy in the world in 2035. In order to continue this progress, it realises that it is necessary to build a country free from terrorism and militancy. 

(The author is a security and strategic affairs analyst in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Views are personal. He can be reached at kamalmazumderju@gmail.com)

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