During the 2001-2006 rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) coalition rule, global counterterrorism experts and journalists were seeing the country as cocoon of terror or fertile ground for terrorist outfits such as Al Qaeda while Alex Perry gave bone-chilling description of how at the invitation of BNP leaders, a group of Al Qaeda members led by Osama bin-Laden’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri visited Bangladesh, stayed for months and held secret meetings with several key-figures of BNP and JeI.
Few years later, on August 21, 2004, then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s son Tarique Rahman, who is seen by the US administration as “notorious and widely feared son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia” and “a symbol of kleptocratic government and violent politics in Bangladesh” attempted to assassinate Sheikh Hasina and key figures of Awami League through grenade attacks with the direct collaboration of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), an affiliate of Al Qaeda while in April 2004 his attempt of sending 10-trucks loaded weapons, ammunition and explosives to the United Liberation Front of Assom (ULFA) was busted.
In an exclusive interview with India Today, Major General Gaganjit Singh, the retired deputy director general of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) said the arms supply was done through the alliance between the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat.
Maj Gen Singh’s revelation came hot on the heels of a recent interview by ULFA leader Anup Chetia (Golap Barua) where the latter said the arms were meant not only for ULFA, but other rebels too. It was ULFA Commander-in-Chief Paresh Barua who was the mastermind of the whole plot to secure the weapons for intensifying the separatist movement in Assam, Singh said.
“But he was operating in close coordination with DGFI and some NSI officials who had close links with Tarique Rahman (current acting chairman of BNP) and his cronies in what was then referred to as Hawa Bhaban (political office of BNP),” disclosed Maj Gen Singh.
The arms were being supplied by taking advantage of the BNP-Jamaat alliance to use Bangladesh as a sanctuary, Singh revealed. “The police had no idea this was meant for ULFA and other rebels because the matter was kept totally secret. As the police swung into action to seize the weapons, the media also rushed in. The whole thing blew up on the face of the BNP government”, said Singh.
Born in Karachi to the country’s first military dictator Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman, and Khaleda Zia, Tarique now runs the BNP from London, though he is leading a fugitive life, as convicted in the August 21 grenade attack, and in a litany of money laundering-related cases, perpetrated in that regime.
When Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina came to power through a landslide victory in December 2008 general election, for Prime Minister Hasina the biggest and riskiest challenge was to fight the menace of terrorism in Bangladesh and ensure domestic and regional peace.
Meanwhile, agents of jihadism continue their vicious attempts of eliminating Sheikh Hasina, while there have been 19 attempts of coup d’état or attempts on her life. Despite such repeated threats on her life, Sheikh Hasina did not hesitate in launching a massive drive against terrorism with an iron hand. During these drives, dozens of terrorist hideouts – mostly operated by Al Qaeda, Pakistani spy agency Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and other terrorist and insurgency groups were totally dismantled.
It may be mentioned here that, in the complex landscape of South Asia, where geopolitical tensions often loom large, Bangladesh stands out as a key player committed to ensuring regional peace. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has emerged as a resolute leader, steering the country through the challenges posed by terrorism and violent extremism. With a comprehensive and multifaceted approach, she has not only safeguarded the internal security of Bangladesh but has also contributed significantly to fostering stability in the broader region.
Bangladesh has faced its fair share of challenges, with terrorism and violent extremism threatening the nation’s stability. The rise of extremist ideologies and the radicalisation of segments of the population posed serious risks to the peace and harmony of the country. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inherited a challenging situation when she assumed office in 2009 but wasted no time in implementing a robust strategy to combat these threats.
One of the cornerstones of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s approach has been a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism and violent extremism. Under her leadership, Bangladesh has undertaken significant efforts to identify and eliminate terrorist networks operating within its borders. The government has strengthened intelligence agencies, improved information-sharing mechanisms, and enhanced collaboration with international partners to track and apprehend terrorists.
Sheikh Hasina’s administration has implemented a series of comprehensive counterterrorism measures to address the root causes of extremism. Initiatives such as community engagement programs, educational reforms, and socio-economic development projects have been instrumental in creating an environment less conducive to radicalisation. By addressing the underlying issues that contribute to the appeal of extremist ideologies, Bangladesh has made significant strides in reducing the recruitment pool for terrorist organisations.
Recognising the transnational nature of terrorism, Sheikh Hasina has actively pursued regional cooperation to counter the shared threat. Bangladesh has collaborated with neighboring countries, including India, in intelligence sharing and joint operations against terrorist groups. By fostering regional partnerships, Sheikh Hasina has not only bolstered the security of Bangladesh but has also contributed to the overall stability of South Asia.
In the age of technology, the internet has become a powerful tool for the dissemination of extremist ideologies. Sheikh Hasina’s government has implemented stringent measures to counter online radicalisation, monitoring social media platforms and taking action against individuals and organisations spreading hate and violence. By staying ahead of the curve in the digital realm, Bangladesh has effectively curtailed the online influence of terrorist groups.
While stringent measures are crucial for combating terrorism, Sheikh Hasina has also emphasised the importance of rehabilitation and reintegration programs for individuals who have been radicalised. Recognising that not all extremists are irredeemable, the government has implemented initiatives to rehabilitate former radicals and reintegrate them into mainstream society. This approach not only addresses the root causes of radicalisation but also promotes a more inclusive and tolerant society.
Now following her consecutive fourth-term victory during the January 7 general election, Sheikh Hasina has had ever bigger challenges posed by the conglomerate of jihadists and terrorists in Bangladesh. Immediately after the election, ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party has launched “India Out” movement with the dangerous agenda of giving instigation to anti-India and even anti-Hindu sentiment amongst the Muslim populace – clearly with the ulterior motive of turning Bangladesh into a pseudo-Pakistan or worse – a neo-Taliban state.
Considering these alarming fact, international community needs to understand the gravity of threats posed by BNP and its Islamist-terrorist allies and extend fullest support towards Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as her resolute leadership in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism has not only made Bangladesh a safer place but has also contributed significantly to regional peace and stability.
Through a combination of strong counter-terrorism policies, efforts to address the root causes of extremism, international collaboration, and a commitment to securing borders, Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated that a proactive and comprehensive approach is essential in tackling the complex challenge of terrorism. As the world grapples with ongoing security concerns, Sheikh Hasina’s model of leadership stands as a testament to the positive impact that determined and strategic efforts can have in ensuring a more secure and peaceful future for nations and regions alike.
(Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a multi-award-winning journalist, writer, research-scholar, and Editor, Blitz, a newspaper published from Bangladesh since 2003. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers)