Secularism Hit With Machetes: The Why and What of the Dhaka Terror Attack
NEW DELHI: Islamic State, ironically, has become a simplistic euphemism for all terror attacks seeking to disguise and hide the complexities behind specific incidents of violence. So from Lone Wolves emerging from a highly disturbed social order laced with an irresponsible absence of gun control to the terrible attack in Bangladesh.
The horrific attack in Bangladesh is a case in point. Local experts had almost immediately pointed to this being the handiwork of Bangladeshi extremist groups and not necessarily of IS that seems to be rushing to claim violence--wherever it happens--- to assure its cadres probably that it is still alive and kicking hard. Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has now confirmed local involvement by stating categorically that this massacre of 20 innocent persons was not by the Islamic State but a homegrown banned organisation Jamaat-ul Mujahideen.
The 7 terrorists were local Bangladeshis, of whom five had been on the police scanner earlier. JMB was founded in 1998 in Bangladesh, carried out bomb attacks and violence, was banned in 2005 but while it went underground, it kept up the violence. Its targets were government, secularists and the minorities, and reports from Dhaka confirm that its cadres had regrouped earlier this year to carry out the series of machete attacks on specific individuals from these groups. In the Dhaka terror attack now, the foreigners were hacked to death by machetes as well indicating a local modus operandi.
This group was opposed to secularism and wanted Bangladesh to be a religious state run on Sharia laws.It is close to the Taliban in ideology. The new wave of violence starting with targeted assassinations, follows a crackdown by the Sheikh Hasina government against JMB leaders,including its top man Maulana Abdur Rahman who was executed by hanging for killing two judges and a series of bombings across the country in 2005. Five other leaders were executed by the government over the last year.
However, as is being pointed out in Dhaka the government was unable to follow up on these executions by sealing the activities of the group, that returned to violence with the machete attacks and now, as the Home Minister there said, this terror attack. Poor policing, overstretched resources, bad intelligence are some of the reasons being noted in the Bangladesh media as reasons for the poor state response.
JMB is reported to have received financial assistance from individual donors from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf countries.
Pakistan and Bangladesh are both paying the price for the politics that led to their birth, the first by encouraging extremism and the second by trying to fight it.
Secular traditions of what was then East Pakistan were sought to be repressed by despots in Pakistan shortly after independence, with the ‘freedom’ in 1971 leaving a new country torn between the conservative forces that had taken hold, and the secular aspirations within. This struggle, also reflected at levels in the virulent personalised feud between Sheikh Hasina (daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who ‘liberated’ Bangladesh from the Pakistani yoke with the mandate to run a secular government) and Khaleda Zia (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) under whose terms in office the conservative forces and the JMB got a boost and a virtual heads up to push fundamentalist ideology forward.
This struggle has become more intense and more bloody with time. The crackdown by the Sheikh Hasina government on JMB and those who had worked with the Pakistan Army against Bangladesh during the war of liberation, has clearly led to a consolidation of the extremist forces. This has been evident for a while now in the growing number of attacks and secularists and minorities with the terror attack in a posh, and supposedly secure, part of Dhaka unnerving all those fighting for a secular order in Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina had told this writer earlier that her fight was with extremism, and she would not allow Bangladesh to be converted into a theocratic state. She has remained steadfast on this, despite several attempts on her life. In fact even as we were speaking with her, news of a terror blast in Dhaka came in, with the Awami League leader who was in the Opposition then bitter about Khaleda Zia’s support for the fundamentalist forces.
The Awami League, ridden with corruption like most South Asian political parties, seems to be losing the battle given the spike in violence in Bangladesh. An increasingly insecure Prime Minister is now also cracking down on the independent media, a sign always of a government in decline. The very fact that armed terrorists were able to move about undetected in Dhaka, and that too in a secure area, makes a mockery of the government claim that it is in control. Besides the scale and sophistication of the attack points to a flourishing JMB, despite the ban order, raising questions as to why its activity has not been monitored and detected, and why preventive action was not taken.
The enthusiasm visible in Bangladesh over what seemed to be a new beginning when the Awami League returned to power this time around, seems to have dissipated into a big question mark over its future. And as Khaleda Zia who at best is the more liberal face of the radical forces in Bangladesh has indicated, she is waiting out of the wings, to take over. As are the extremists and the terrorists, as Sheikh Hasina currently with all the inadequacies of her government, is only the buffer between a secular and a religious theocratic Bangladesh.
(Tomorrow: Any Lessons for India?)