It is puzzling that, days after the circulation of al-Zawahiri's podcast on Bangladesh, homegrown JMB terrorists are said to have re-emerged with full vigour and ferocity in the country. This is what we have been hearing from the government since February 23. The story has two parts. The first part tells us that on February 23 several JMB gunmen attacked a prison van on a highway in Mymensingh District, killed one policeman and seriously injured three others, and rescued the three JMB convicts who had been on their way to a court in Mymensingh to testify in another trial. All three had been sentenced for their terrorist acts, committed in 2005.
The second part beats the imagination of the most imaginative Bollywood playwright. Good actors played their role while the plot was weak, and direction lousy. We hear that soon after the commando-style attack on the prison van (mysteriously, guarded by only four policemen), the gunmen fled with the three convicts; and unexpectedly the police arrested one of the rescued prisoners, Rakib Hasan on the same day. Then, we learn, the convict was killed in a gunfight with police near Tangail on February 24. People within and beyond Bangladesh know that the so-called “cross fire” or “gunfight” is a euphemism for extrajudicial killing of suspects.
Bangladesh must learn from the example of Colombia, where President Alvaro Uribe's (2002-2010) United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (AUC) initially crushed armed drug syndicates only to turn itself into an outfit, which is now beyond government control.
The resurgence of the JMB could not be just a figment of the imagination. This Ahl-e-Hadis Islamist terror outfit, similar to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) of Pakistan, is not dead but dormant. It has around 1,000 active workers, mostly in the “Ahl-e-Hadis belt” in North Bengal and Greater Mymensingh. Its current strategy is to re-build the outfit into a Taliban-like organisation to takeover a district in northwest Bangladesh to establish a Shariah-based state. It does not share Jamaat-e-Islami's non-violent means to capture state power, and considers the Jamaat a deviant, anti-Islamic force.
As we know, Bangladesh is going through a period of political uncertainty after the yearlong violent political unrest -- which at times resembled a civil war and a reign of terror -- up to the farcical parliamentary election of January 5. The government formed after the election has failed to fully stabilise the country. The main opposition parties -- the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami -- and other anti-Awami League forces have not yet accepted the election and the hitherto unheard-of-type government, where the so-called opposition is also a part of the government. Meanwhile, the ruling Awami League performed abysmally in the countrywide upazilla (local government) elections, while rival BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami performed much better days before the purported JMB attack.
Even if the first part of the story is true, the police and prison authorities responsible for the negligence should be dismissed with retroactive effect from February 23. A judicial inquiry is also in order to find out the truth. One can only wish that the “JMB-Police Drama” is the last of its kind in Bangladesh. Since the world has already entered the post-terrorist phase of history, and Bangladesh being “the least terrorism affected nation” in South Asia (according to the latest Global Terrorism Index), the government must stop ranting “terrorists are coming,” in accordance with the cry wolf game. We know that when the wolf really comes, nobody comes to help the deceitful shepherd.
Both the ruling and the opposition parties must stop blaming each other as “promoters and protectors” of JMB, al-Qaeda and their ilk, once and for all. Politicians and their followers who are blaming each other for the “sudden surge” of terrorism and the “looming threat” of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh will learn that JMB, al-Qaeda and similar terror outfits have no love lost for the Awami League, BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami or any other political party that takes part in elections.
Bangladeshi politicians and “terrorism experts” must learn that defensive and long-term anti-terrorism (AT) is more effective than short-term, and offensive counterterrorism (CT) method. Terrorism is not an end in itself but a means towards an end. Terrorists are not mindless killers but politically motivated fighters. As David Galula, the guru of counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare has argued, COIN is 80% political and 20% military, so there is no military solution to the problem.
Assertions about eliminating terrorism in Bangladesh with brutal force are as hyperbolic as George W. Bush's Global War on Terror. Bangladesh must find out the socio-economic and political roots behind the rise of Islamist terrorism. Political instability; growing inequality due to corrupt politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats and police; and the faulty education system that creates employable and unemployable graduates, are the root causes of terrorism. It is past time to address these issues. Blaming political rivals for the alleged “homecoming” of the JMB, and circulating unbelievable stories about encounters with JMB militants could fetch short-lived political dividends for politicians; but in the long run, such moves are likely to backfire to the detriment of the nation as a whole.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University, Tennessee, USA.