Bangladesh's Success Against Terror
The U.S. State Department has gone out of its way to praise the government of Bangladesh for fighting against extremism and terror. The accolade is well deserved.
This country of 160 million people is ripe for terrorist influence. According to the State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism, "terrorist organizations used social media to spread their radical ideologies and solicit foreign fighters from Bangladesh." Indeed, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri once singled out Bangladesh as one of the countries in which the newly-established al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent seeks to operate.
Bangladesh has responded adroitly. The government has arrested Bangladeshis who have returned to their country from abroad for attempting to recruit its citizens to join the so-called Islamic State. Indeed, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh in June, he praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a formidable force in fighting regional and global terrorism.
Opposition to terrorism runs deep in Bangladesh, which has long cherished a tradition of secular tolerance. In large part, this is a reaction to the country's violent history. In 1975, Hasina was a 27-year-old wife and mother with only a passing interest in politics when her father, then-Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, was assassinated along with 17 other family members and the house staff. Hasina and her sister survived because they were out of the country on a goodwill mission to Germany.
The tragedy inspired Hasina to create a vibrant, democratic Bangladesh. That entailed fighting against terrorism both foreign and domestic.
Hasina was Bangladesh's prime minister from 1996 to 2001, and has been again since 2009. Along the way she has had to deal personally with extremism. The prime minister has survived 19 assassination attempts, including a 2005 grenade attack that killed 24 people and injured another 500. She has been jailed and twice exiled by political enemies.
The result is today's zero-tolerance policy against extremism. Bangladesh now works with allies to prevent the country from falling under the influence of terrorists. Bangladeshi police have repeatedly confiscated illegal arms and have stopped terror plots before they could be carried out. For example, police in Bangladesh arrested Samiun Rahman for allegedly recruiting militants for both the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusrah - a fact singled out for praise by the U.S. State Department.
The State Department recently also lauded Bangladesh for its "commitment to counter both domestic and transnational terrorist groups." Bangladesh has showed "political will and firm commitment" to fight terrorist groups and has made it harder for terrorists to establish safe havens, the department said.
Bangladesh has complicated its battle against terrorism by restarting war crimes tribunals that target high-ranking officials who collaborated with the Pakistani Army during the 1971 war for independence. During that civil war, 3 million Bangladeshis were slaughtered in what today is widely seen as genocide. Many of the accused war criminals are also political opponents of the current government. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country's largest opposition party, has enlisted extremist elements of Jamaat-e-Islami, an allied group, to perpetrate arson and murder as tools of partisan disruption. As a result, hundreds have died during a two-year campaign of domestic terror.
The government has continued to uphold the rule of law and due process. The war crimes tribunals continue, even as opposition to them has grown angrier and more violent. No wonder Forbes magazine this year included Prime Minister Hasina among the 20 most powerful women heads of state along with those in Germany, Brazil and South Korea.
Hasina and her government strive every day to beat back domestic terrorists and, in so doing, to save lives. Her effort is part and parcel of the international war against terrorism and deserves the kudos it has received.