12:00 AM, January 26, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Counter-terrorism runs out of gas

Counter-terrorism runs out of gas

Most imams refuse to give anti-militancy sermons; govt relies only on law enforcers
M Abul Kalam Azad

The country remains vulnerable to militancy, as the government relies mainly on law enforcers to combat the menace while keeping shelved its nationwide socio-cultural and religious campaign against militancy.
The Awami League government launched the campaign in 2009, which quickly fizzled out for lack of political will, said officials involved in the campaign.
They identified militancy as a social problem that couldn't be uprooted by using Rab and police alone, and thought that a campaign to make people aware of the scourge of militancy would be more effective.
Moklesur Rahman, director general of Rapid Action Battalion, believes that it's not possible to cleanse the society of the malaise only by using the law enforcers.
“All of us -- the government, politicians, journalists and non-governmental organisations -- have a role to play. If we can create awareness among people through such a campaign, we will be successful in weeding out this menace,” he told The Daily Star.
In the absence of a strong campaign, militancy has gained ground in remote villages, especially in south-western and northern districts over the last decade, according to law enforcers.
In April 2009, the government formed the Militancy Resistance and Prevention Committee comprising officials of different ministries, intelligence agencies and government institutions.
Though the committee headed by the state minister for home is supposed to sit every month, it held only 16 meetings in the last five years.
Initially, it came up with the idea of orienting imams and motivating them to deliver anti-militancy sermons during Juma prayers.
In line with a committee decision, the Islamic Foundation started providing orientation to imams. But it ran out of steam after interacting with only a few thousand of around three lakh imams in the country.
“Most imams refused to talk against militancy … only a few liked the idea but they didn't continue giving such sermons for long,” said an official of the organisation on condition of anonymity.
Only a few imams, including Moulana Abdus Shakur, khatib of Darul Aman Trust in Pabna, have given sermons against militancy.
Shamim Mohammad Afzal, director general of the Islamic Foundation, said the organisation didn't have the capacity to observe the imams in 2.60 lakh mosques across the country.
The committee asked the information ministry to make anti-militancy short films, advertisements and documentaries, and arrange for airing those regularly on state-run BTV and private TV channels, and screening those in educational institutions and public places.
But the ministry didn't do much except for making arrangements for broadcasting several documentaries on the BTV.
The education ministry was also              asked to organise in all educational     institutions discussions on impacts of terrorism and militancy. But that too didn't happen.
Moreover, the ministry was supposed to ensure that teachers give anti-militancy speeches in school assemblies. But it didn't monitor whether its instructions were carried out.
Considering the universities a potential target of militant outfits for spreading the malaise, the committee put emphasis on creating awareness among students, but failed to make any progress to that end.
It decided to involve about 3.5 lakh members of Bangladesh Ansar and Village Defence Party in the campaign as their networks are stretched to remote areas. But it couldn't utilise them to gather information on militants or their activities.
The committee also moved to form anti-militancy cells with elected representatives, teachers and imams in all districts, upazilas and unions. But in reality, only a few committees were set up.
On the committee's inaction, a deputy secretary at the home ministry told The Daily Star, “The committee held its last meeting in June last year, and the date for the next meeting is yet to be fixed. The campaign now exists only on papers.”
The minutes of the meeting show that the participants mostly discussed the same topics and took similar resolutions over and over again without following up whether their previous decisions were implemented or not.
Former state minister Shamsul Hoque Tuku, who led the campaign till the new government was formed on January 11, claimed the campaign had been successful in creating awareness among people against militancy.


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