Dhaka Terror Attack: A Wake-Up Call To The Region

by Ashok Sajjanhar - Jul 7, 2016 01:15 PM +05:30 IST
Dhaka Terror Attack: A Wake-Up Call To The RegionRelatives and friends of the victims of the bloody attack mourn their death during their funeral in Dhaka. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The attack against innocent men and women was launched in the aftermath of several gruesome killings of secular bloggers, both Muslim and Hindu, and non-Muslim priests in the country.

    It is deeply worrisome if youth belonging to well-to-do strata of society and from top educational institutions can be indoctrinated so easily.

    It is reported that some attackers were inspired by extremist orators like Mumbai-based Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, Bengaluru-based IS loyalist Mehdi Masroor Biswas and radical British Islamist Anjem Choudary.

The terror strike in Dhaka at an up-market restaurant in the posh diplomatic enclave over the last weekend has ripped apart the veneer of peace and facade of security in Bangladesh. After its 26/11 moment, life in the capital city will never be the same again.

Bangladesh is no stranger to violence. Isolated attacks against individuals for obvious acts of commission or omission have occurred frequently. The current attack against innocent men and women was launched in the aftermath of several gruesome killings of secular bloggers, both Muslim and Hindu, and non-Muslim priests in the country.

What has sent shockwaves across the country is that all perpetrators of this heinous crime were local Bangladeshi youth, who had studied in reputed schools in the city, were enrolled in prestigious  domestic and foreign universities, and belonged to well-to-do, respectable middle-class families.

Islamic State (IS) immediately claimed responsibility for the assault, although Bangladesh government stated that local outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), with no links to IS, had masterminded this horrific attack. Senior Bangladesh officials accused Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan for being linked to the attack through its ties with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) which has a strong connection with JMB. As was to be expected, this charge was vehemently denied by Pakistan. Investigations are in progress and it will be some days before a clear picture emerges.

While earlier attacks were carried out with knives, machetes and other similar weapons, this time the attackers were fully equipped with firearms, guns, ammunition and sharp weapons. They chose a place frequented by foreigners who, as in 26/11, became the focus of the massacre. They chose a soft target to garner maximum publicity and create fear in the minds of Western nations. They chose non-Muslims and non-Bangladeshis for being mercilessly butchered. An Indian doctor who spoke Bengali well was spared because he was able to convince them that he was a Bangladeshi. Others who could recite verses from the Koran were also let off. The final count of those killed consisted of nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian, one US citizen, two Bangladeshi policemen and six terrorists.

Radicalisation of society

The attack is a wake-up call to Bangladeshi polity and leadership which has so far been living in denial that Islamic radical forces have not infiltrated the body politic of the country. It is deeply worrisome if youth belonging to relatively well-to-do strata of society and from renowned educational institutions can be indoctrinated so easily.

The fact that leaders of  two major parties in the country do not speak with each other does not bode well for democracy or future of the country. It is mortifying that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and leader of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Begum Khaleda Zia are emotionally still living in the aftermath of the 1971 conflict.

I recall that during my tenure in Dhaka in 1993, both leaders were invited to an iftar dinner by a prominent businessman who naively thought that he could engineer a rapprochement between the two. Begum Zia was the prime minister and Sheikh Hasina the leader of opposition. Both begums sat in chairs next to each other but facing different directions. Not a word was exchanged between them the whole evening. Today after a further 23 years, I don’t think that situation has improved in any way. It appears to have further deteriorated on account of 2014 elections, which were boycotted by BNP, and recent verdicts by the war crimes tribunal.

If the tide of radicalisation in the country is to be reversed, both begums will need to work together to fill up crevices in the polity where destabilising elements get breathing space to prosper.

It is reported that some attackers were inspired by extremist orators like Mumbai-based Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, Bengaluru-based IS loyalist Mehdi Masroor Biswas and radical British Islamist Anjem Choudary. India needs to take note that such controversial ideologues command a huge following the world over. It should not come as a surprise that their incendiary speeches have the potential of brainwashing the youth. I was astounded to witness a fiery address by Zakir Naik recently at a well-heeled reputable venue in central Delhi and observe the reverence and veneration he received from the congregated Muslim youth. Their impressionable minds can be indoctrinated to commit perfidious crimes.

The way forward

It is a matter of surprise though, also some relief, that India has not suffered an attack by home-grown extremists of ferocity similar to the one that hit Dhaka recently. It is true that our social fabric is vibrant and resilient. It should not lead us to complacency. We need to devise a multi-pronged strategy to defeat the growing menace of terrorism and radicalism. Police vigilance and action, training, sharper intelligence compilation and analysis etc are of paramount significance.

India’s security forces have notched some visible successes in recent days by smashing IS sleeper cells in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, New Delhi etc. But this is not enough. Education needs to be harnessed to play a critical role by imparting value, moral and ethical teaching as an integral element of all disciplines. Media should discharge its duty with responsibility rather than inflaming passions by taking extremist positions to increase its readership/viewership levels. Civil society and religious leaders need to play an active role.

It is an oft-heard cliche that religion is not associated with terrorism. It is of course true that no religion teaches hatred or violence. All religions promote kindness and compassion. It is equally true that religion is used by terrorists and vested interests to kill, destroy and expand their sway and influence. Most recent terrorist acts have been inflicted in the name of Islam. Greater responsibility hence devolves upon the Muslim clergy, intellectuals, ulema and academics to unambiguously and collectively condemn such attacks.

After each such attack it is declared that terrorists who are behind the incident are not true Muslims because Islam is a religion of peace and does not teach killing innocent people. Such pronouncements need to be promulgated boldly and loudly and should be propagated far and wide by the media. Lastly, but possibly most importantly, it is necessary to craft another ideology and philosophy of peace, amity, pluralism and secularism, which can confront the ideology of violence, hatred and brutal killings that is espoused by jihadi Islamists and organisations like IS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and others.

India and Bangladesh need to collaborate in intelligence gathering and sharing, training, conducting joint exercises and patrols along the border so that such criminal operations are nipped in the bud.

India is fortunate that in recent times it has not suffered an attack similar to the Dhaka tragedy. We should not push our luck too far. It is essential to device joint, multi-pronged strategies to ensure that such evil designs don’t succeed in the country or the region.

The author is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. He is currently President, Institute of Global Studies.”

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