Strategy analysts yesterday said the country's intelligence agencies had failed to respond appropriately in times of crises on several occasions in the past and called for creation of an apex body to coordinate intelligence efforts.
Failures were seen notably during Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's assassination in 1975, the grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina in 2004, and the synchronised bomb attacks across the country in 2005, they told a seminar at the Dhaka University senate building.
The discussion on “Intelligence, National Security and Foreign Policy” was organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (Bilia) and the Department of International Relations of DU.
“It is time to consider whether the country needs a national security council to make prompt policy decisions about security issues at home and abroad,” said Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan, editor of defence and strategic affairs, The Daily Star.
“A threat on national security does not only mean a foreign country invading us. It includes issues like climate change, political violence, organised crime and border disputes at land and sea," he said.
At least eight intelligence agencies are operating in Bangladesh currently, according to Khan.
DU law professor Dr Shahdeen Malik, honorary director of Bilia, said any discussions on intelligence agencies in the mass media was a taboo and pointed at the politicisation of the agencies.
"It's an age of transparency and accountability. The people should make a collective effort to know about the recruitment, budget and other issues of intelligence agencies," he said.
Khan M Ibrahim Hossain, former secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, stressed the need for the agencies to detect threats in the first place to maintain national security. "But in our country, the concept of national threats changes with the change of regimes."
In order to prevent such politicisation, he said the agencies needed to be formed through an act to give them a legal base and ensure greater transparency. “The agencies will have to make sure they follow their constitutions, not what the political high-ups ask them to.”
Former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain, DU International Relations professor Amena Mohsin, and DU law department associate professor Sheikh Hafizur Rahman Karzon, among others, spoke on the occasion.