By Jai Kumar Verma*
The global community is legitimately worried about the rising influence of what appears to be one of the world’s most impactful terrorist outfits- the Islamic State (IS). The influence of IS is increasing rapidly in the region, with Afghanistan, Pakistan having become the main bastions of this terrorist outfit in South Asia. While Indian Muslims, who have been moderate in their views are least likely to be ensnared by radical passions, but misguidance of the Muslim youth in the name of religion by the IS has been witnessed, nevertheless.
Having arrived on the western flank of South Asia almost a year ago, the IS is now trying to make inroads into the other parts of this volatile region, with Bangladesh appearing to be its recent catch. The influence of IS is accelerating rapidly in Bangladesh, which as a country is composed of 160 million Muslims, with majority of them belonging to the Sunni sect. While Bangladeshi Muslims are certainly less fundamentalists than their Pakistani counterparts, but several Islamic terrorist organisations including Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) have either joined IS or are ready to accept its allegiance.
Not a long ago, the United States had claimed that IS is looking to penetrate into Bangladesh and is intensifying its presence in the country through various means and measures. Bangladesh, which has the third largest Muslim population in the world, had dismissed the information and proclaimed that few terror incidents here and there do not indicate strong presence of IS.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed who has been ruling the country for more than 7 years now, rejected these claims and observed that all the allegations about the presence of IS are nothing but a part of a smear campaign which has been launched against her by those in the opposition. Nonetheless, it is important to note that despite these dismissals by the government of Bangladesh, the IS had taken the responsibility of several terrorist attacks, including murder of an Italian aid worker, attack on a Japanese agriculturist, murder of a few bloggers and the attack on a large gathering of Shias, as its doings.
Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) which was established in 2007 as a unit of al-Qaida changed its allegiance to IS and Muhammad Aminul Islam Baig, an important IS operative who has recruited more than 25 Bangladeshis for IS, was arrested in Dhaka in May 2015.
JMB, ABT and a few other terrorist outfits aspire to establish an Islamic State based on the Sharia law. There are reports that JMB is running training camps and owe their loyalty to IS, indicating that the influence of the terror outfit is widening rapidly in Bangladesh. JMB has the capacity of carrying out terrorist activities and it may again indulge in terrorist activities on the behest of IS if not stopped at this stage itself.
IS which uses social sights vigorously for recruitment and propagation of Islamic extremism, has put jihadist literature and training manuals on the internet to pollute the minds of young Bangladeshis. The radical ideology, the desire of establishing the Islamic Caliphate, its strong financial status, powerful network and brutal acts have managed to sway educated, semi-literate and deprived Muslim youths towards this terror outfit alike.
Large numbers of Bangladeshis are working in the Middle East and people of Bangladeshi origin are residing in the United Kingdom, France, Australia and several other developed countries. There are reports that few of these people of Bangladeshi origin have joined the IS and have gone to Syria to join its ranks. People of Bangladeshi origin settled in European countries also allure Bangladeshis to join IS.
In the view of increasing fundamentalism in Bangladesh, the prevailing acute animosity among various political rivals, rampant corruption, polarization of security personnel, apathy towards law and order, weak judicial system, presence of several terror outfits and their splinter groups, Bangladesh looks like an ideal country for the IS to take its fight to. The execution of a few Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leaders for their offenses committed during the 1971 war of independence has also united extremists against the present regime, making it all the more possible that their vendetta becomes a medium for the IS and its sympathizers to penetrate further into the country.
A newly constituted terrorist outfit, Jund al-Tawheed wal Khilafah (JTK) that has launched a recruitment drive in Bangladesh, has announced that it will help in establishing the Islamic Caliphate in the South Asian region, with Bangladesh being integral to that territorial expanse.
The formation of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is also significant as it will enhance the terrorist activities in the region, especially in Bangladesh. Ansar al Islam Bangladesh which is an associate of al-Qaeda has also threatened to carry out terrorist activities.
In the view of above, Bangladesh must accept the reality and should adopt measures to counter increasing influence of IS before it becomes late. IS has already issued its expansion plan for the South Asian region and while the plan excludes Bangladesh, according to the analysts however, it is only a deception and that Bangladesh is a perfect country where IS can find for itself a secure ground.
Sheikh Hasina has launched a de-radicalization campaign under which the security agencies have closed training camps run by terrorist outfits, arrested the probable extremists and prohibited access of foreign terrorists to them by putting them under detention. The administration has also removed IS page and IS literature from internet, including Facebook and You Tube. These mechanisms of defense should also be supplemented by proactive measures such as those that can enable the Bangladesh security agencies to counter the malicious propaganda of the IS with active advocacy for de-radicalization. After all, in the time and age for soft power, biting the bullet would not do much.
The government should chalk out a detailed plan to counter the terrorist organisations, especially the IS. The IS is an international terrorist outfit hence, Bangladesh should seek help from other countries especially neighbouring countries, including India. Signing a counter terrorism initiative with United States in 2013 is a good beginning.
The security forces should also be strengthened and should be equipped with latest electronic gadgets. The capability and accessibility of intelligence organisations should also be enhanced so that they can provide prior and actionable intelligence.
The plan should include mass awareness drives, prompt investigation and early punishment to real culprits. The counter terrorism plan should also incorporate the rehabilitation of reformed misguided youths. Bangladesh is progressing well economically and the government should strive to maintain and even enhance its growth and expand employment opportunities so that they can keep its youth from getting misdirected and exploited at the hands of a terror outfit that has been barbarous to say the least.
*Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. He can be contacted at: [email protected]