11:00 PM, August 23, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, August 23, 2009

Govt takes on terror socially, politically

Ansar-VDP assigned to monitor militancy at grassroots; imams join campaign

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Sharier Khan and Abul Kalam Azad

Recognising the fact that anti-militant drive is not enough to uproot the evil of extremism from the society, the government has launched a massive socio-political campaign, involving 14 different agencies, to educate people and closely monitor militant activities at the grassroots level.
This campaign heavily involves the 3.5 lakh strong Bangladesh Ansar and Village Defence Party (VDP) for the first time as the networks of the two agencies are spread even to the remotest parts of the country where neither Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) nor police have regular access.
With the state minister for home affairs spearheading the drive, the government has taken up various innovative initiatives to make people aware about the destructive nature of extremism. The initiatives include holding campaigns, screening documentaries, training imams of mosques, organising anti-militancy campaigns at madrasas and others.
Under the initiative imams will be trained to present sermons against militancy prior to Juma prayers. "This has already begun in Dhaka and some other parts of the country," said Home Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder.
Another aspect of the drive is to involve unemployed youths in various development work and different trades through small loans. Religious educational institutions will be closely monitored.
The drive is the culmination of initiatives by various agencies that have opined that armed drives against militancy is not enough to uproot or contain militant threats. Following a series of meetings since 2007, the Awami League government formed a high-powered committee on April 20 headed by the then state minister for home Sohel Taj. However, after holding two meetings the committee has remained inactive since Taj's resignation from the ministry.
Now with Shamsul Haque Tuku taking charge as the state minister for home affairs, the committee resumed the drive through a meeting earlier this month. It has been decided that the committee will hold a meeting every month.
Other members of the committee are secretaries of the ministries of home, education, law, religious affairs, social welfare, LGRD and cooperatives, and information, the inspector general of police, chiefs of Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, Bangladesh Rifles, Ansar and VDP, National Security Intelligence and Rapid Action Battalion and the director general of Prime Minister's Office.
Each of these ministries and authorities has been given specific tasks. For instance, the religious affairs ministry will assign the Islamic Foundation to motivate imams against militancy while the LGRD ministry will discuss the issue of militancy at the meetings of district and upazila law and order committees.
The foreign ministry, although not a part of the committee, has been given the task to brief and update the international communities, donors and development partners about the government's positive steps to eradicate militancy.
Explaining why Ansar and VDP have been integrated with the drive, Home Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder told The Daily Star, "Each Ansar-VDP team has 36 female and 36 male members. They have been greatly helping the Rab and police in arresting members of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh and other militants.
"Since Ansar-VDP members interact with villagers very closely, they are the first ones to notice strangers in a village or if newcomers are doing anything suspicious," he said.
The information ministry has prepared a documentary, highlighting the negative impacts of militancy. The ministry will begin screening the documentary at the village level across the country.
"Militancy has now become a social problem that cannot be contained by only Rab or police or journalists," said Rab's intelligence wing Director Commander MAK Azad. "This needs an all-out socio-political drive."
The 9,000-strong Rab has been spearheading the anti-militancy drive following the countrywide explosions carried out by the JMB on August 17, 2005. As of now it has arrested 516 JMB members including 10 top leaders and its chief of information technology. The Rab also arrested six Harkat-ul-Jihad members. Besides it recovered huge arms and ammunition including 452 hand grenades.
Rab's legal and media wing Deputy Director Shakhawat Hossain notes that the country's poor socio-economic condition and religious sensitivity make its people vulnerable to religious exploitations. The exploiters also interpret national interests to best suit their purpose as the nation is also politically sharply divided. In such a situation, the country remains a breeding ground of militancy that needs to be dealt with from various fronts.
"For instance, we need to improve the teaching materials at madrasas instead of ignoring them. At first, we may involve some strategic madrasas. Young minds should be properly enlightened," Shakhawat said.

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