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27 January, 2022 11:10:20 AM
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Taliban takeover and terrorism threat in Bangladesh

Particularly, with the dawn of ISIS in Middle East, and their mayhem across the most part of the world, Bangladesh witnessed a sudden surge in number of terrorist attacks from 2014 to 2016 staged by self-motivated margin groups.
Samina Akhter
Taliban takeover and terrorism threat in Bangladesh

Since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan on August 15, it has extensively been reported that the takeover could lead to the resurgence of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh, drawing the historical link between Mujahedeen-led movement in Afghanistan in 1980s and subsequent emergence of Islamist terror groups in the later one. Furthermore, some, on the account of its recent history of terror attacks, have extrapolated, given the unprecedented victory of an overwhelmingly theocratic entity in Afghanistan, a potential uplift to Islamists in Bangladesh. Such ostensible assumptions could easily lead the public opinion to that end. But an extensive account gauging every aspect of ground reality both in Afghanistan and Bangladesh will weaken, if not wipe out, the validity of those assumptions.

Taliban in different trajectory

Born out of cold war as both a containment shoot of USA and a resistance force against the invasion of former Soviet Union, Taliban what they are today appear to be, until recently, a little different from what they were quarter century ago, albeit with some reasonable objections to their initial stance on women rights and government formation. Underwent a long war of attrition, Taliban has not only mustered the means to survive in sustenance, also experienced the complex realities of international political landscape that their previous bunch of leadership had lacked substantially.

Given the diplomatic maneuvers they have demonstrated over the years with both Western and regional stakeholders and their initial approaches to deriving international legitimacy to their regime, Taliban seem to be more keen to have international engagement which, without abandoning the old path they had followed, will certainly be impossible to accrue. Besides the blunders they had made by holding onto the hardline Islamist ideology and by giving sanctuary to trans-national Islamist terrorist groups only resulted in their isolation in international avenue and stigma to their name-treading the same paths means traumatizing more their own existence.

Furthermore, evolving geopolitical reality could compel Taliban to walk along the broader conforming line, given the confluence of common interests among the western and regional players over the Afghanistan stability and counter-terrorism pursuit. Long deprived of having any ally in international platform, Taliban do know better that if things go off the rails, it will be a raison d’etre to be ostracized, even further punished, not just by western allies but by their current partners- China and Russia for whom rectifying Taliban’s old taboos more urgent than for others.

Moreover, prevailing domestic realities of Afghanistan may work as constraining catalysts to their previous pursuit- being overwhelmingly absorbed in executing their hardline ideology and cuddling Pan-Islamic pursuit closer. Taliban have succeeded a near-to-be-collapsed economy with miniature size of around $20bn (16 times smaller than Bangladesh) and an annual budget with 80% reliance on external aid. Adding more, rampant corruption, limited scope of economic mobilization and ongoing pandemic and drought are further enervating Afghan economy. Amid such a crippling economic condition, thrust for theocracy other than concentration on economy will be tantamount to insanity, and an invitation to further instability.

Bangladesh: From hurdles to hardened policies

On its way to economic emancipation, Bangladesh has been facing a host of hurdles, mostly natural disasters and political instability. Half of its history since independence in 1971 has, for the most part, been fraught with political upheavals, natural calamities and pervasive poverty. With strong resilience of its people and policy mechanism on the part of successive governments, it has substantially scored its name out synonymous to flood and poverty. But, apart from political bedlams albeit with relative calmness for last multiple years, Bangladesh has witnessed the menaces of Islamist terrorism, especially since early 2000s.

To be true, emergence of radical Islamist ideology in Bangladesh is intertwined with Taliban's resistance movement against both communism and Soviet occupation in 1980s. Having stimulated by Pan-Islamic impulses that were further fueled by subtly engineered cold war narratives against communism, a number of aspirants from Bangladesh made their way to Afghanistan to fight against heretic communism (?) and its regime. Further indoctrinated and metamorphosed, they had fought along the Taliban fighters but returned to the country with harsh form of Islamist ideals and desire to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic republic governed by Islamic Shariah laws.

Organized under the banner of Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) just after the Afghan war, those Afghan war returnees set off their ugly footsteps into Bangladesh in late 90s and started to manifest their menacing existence in early 2000s. From Ramna Batmul Bombingin 2001 to Holey Artisan Attack in 2016, JMB and other Islamist fringes self-inspired by overseas terror outfits like Al-Qaeda, HUJI or ISIS have orchestrated several terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, inflicting significant damage to country’s secular and tolerant image. Particularly, with the dawn of ISIS in Middle East, and their mayhem across the most part of the world, Bangladesh witnessed a sudden surge in number of terrorist attacks from 2014 to 2016 staged by self-motivated margin groups.

Since beginning, most notably from 2016, has continuously been taking crusading steps against Islamist terrorism, that has resulted insignificant reduction both in the number of terrorist attacks and the pervasiveness of terror outfits. With zero-tolerance policy to terrorism powered by strong political commitment and a comprehensive counter-terrorism mechanism aligned with international and regional counter-terrorism efforts, Bangladesh has enjoyed considerable calmness concerning Islamist terrorism in recent years. Besides, due to extensive antiquity prevalent within the very political principles and policies of extremely right-wing nationalist and Islamic parties, those which allegedly sympathize, if not back, hardline Islamist outfits for their political score, are continuously being backtracked from broader public sphere. The leftover lonely fringes seem too weak to make any notable blow.

But recent developments both at home and abroad should not lead to the complacency over future terrorism threat in Bangladesh. Aforementioned assumptions about the aftermath of Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and prevailing condition in Bangladesh appear to help being little optimistic. But while pandemic is on-stage and continuously taking toll in every domain- politics, economy, mental health, so on- it commands more circumspection concerning prospect of peril. The risk of exploiting pandemic fallouts by inert terrorist groups to their ends still lurks just beneath the surface of serene ground.

The writer is a Dhaka-based human rights activist.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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