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Terror and Bangladesh factor

India needs to remain alert to the possibility of terrorism making its way from Bangladeshi radicals

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 01:57 IST

On the eve of Republic Day, the police said they caught two terrorists with a large amount of explosives. They were said to be members of Bangladesh’s Harkat-ul Jehad-e-Islami. It was not the first time that there was a Bangladesh connection to terrorism in India: one of the accused in the strike on the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, had trained in Bangladesh; and two members of the suicide attack at Ayodhya last July were Bangladeshis.

With each passing day, it seems the terror threat to our cities is coming less from our Western front, and more from the Islamists in Bangladesh, the neighbour with whom India shares a porous — and, some would say, shifting — 4,053-km border.

In some ways, it’s a bigger nightmare for our security agencies. Our cities contain large migrant populations who live outside the law — they don’t have documentation, and have mostly entered India illegally. They can provide infrastructure for Bangladeshi radicals, helping potential terrorists slip under the police radar.

The other disadvantage of trying to detect Bangladeshi radicals is that unlike sharp-featured Kashmiris, they can easily melt into an urban Indian roadside crowd.

There are advantages, however. The police recruit informers — your daily-maid might be one. “One can tap people from various parts of their country, and get intelligence down to the village level,” says a senior policeman. “We’ve got intelligence of camps running in Bangladesh, who recruit from their neighbouring villages.”

Then there’s the larger, longer-term problem these terrorists pose in India. Not only have they been hooking up with insurgents from our Northeast, they are now also actively radicalising Muslims in Assam and West Bengal.

But this perhaps is minor compared to the problem Islamists pose to Bangladesh itself. It’s getting stronger because the fountainhead of extremism, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), is part of the government. It’s growing out of control because, unlike in Pakistan where the army is professional and exerts influence all over the country, the Bangladeshi government is fairly ineffectual when it comes to exercising authority and maintaining law and order. And it isn’t stopping because there isn’t any international pressure on Dhaka, the way there is on Islamabad.

So the JEI confidently pushes ahead, with 17 MPs and two ministers in Begum Khaleda Zia’s Cabinet — the JEI chief Matiur Rahman Nizami is the industry minister. It’s aim is to emerge the single largest party by the 2011 elections; in the meantime it realises that the BNP is unlikely to form a government without it, so it goes ahead with its long-term politico-religious agenda.

Indeed, the JEI is using its power in government to build up its social network parallel to the State’s, and like the Hamas and Hezbollah in West Asia, the JEI will, some day in the future, declare that the State’s social architecture has failed (implying theirs will be the one to replace it). The JEI has the industry and the social welfare ministries, two key portfolios in terms of public impact.

The current Bangladeshi Parliament’s life comes to an end this October, and elections will have to be held within three months. It’s expected that as polls draw closer, there will be a further radicalisation of Islamist parties.

Also, the JEI has strong and longstanding relations with its counterpart in Pakistan. Indeed, there is a strong pro-Pakistan lobby in the Bangladesh army, and their DGFI (directorate general of field intelligence) has strong links with the Pakistan army’s ISI. Thus, the rising Islamism in Bangladesh will be directed in part against India so long as Pakistan desires.

One way to check rising Islamism would be if the two mainstream parties — the BNP and the Awami League — were to together hold them at bay. But their mutual pathological hatred means a consensus is unlikely.

So while a prediction of whether Bangladesh ends up as the next Afghanistan is open to debate, it can be safely said that urban India needs to remain alert to the possibility of terrorism making its way from Bangladeshi radicals.

(With inputs from Aditya Sinha)

First Published: Feb 05, 2006 01:57 IST