The ominous threat remains | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 06, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 06, 2010

The ominous threat remains

Apprehended suspected extremists.

Nationally significant events of the very recent past that included the apprehension of suspected religious extremists, both local and foreign, along with seizure of incriminating materials and hauling of arms and ammunitions by RAB are manifest indication of the terrorist threat with which we may have to live for a considerable length of time. To recall, initially, there was a denial mode about the threat and then there was the naïve belief that with the execution of six terrorists the problem has been taken care of, root and branch.
While some segment of the establishment may have entertained the above-mentioned belief, the discerning observers and practitioners held a different opinion. They were of the considered view that the so-called religious extremists were laying low consequent upon the energized operations of the enforcement unit that led to a temporary incapacitation of the leadership ranks; and the premonition was that when circumstances in their view would demand action they would not remain inactive.
Developments of the preceding week would show that the aforementioned observers and practitioners had their antenna properly tuned. The question is, have we taken a long hard look at the objective conditions that are promoting and nurturing the extremist thoughts and actions? Further, as a corollary to the study of such conditions, have we adopted a pragmatic counter-terrorism strategy?
Since the ugly fangs of terrorists are visible, the concerned citizens need to know if some parties have a vested interest in a soft state and a weak government. People should ask if foreign funds are flowing substantially to various groups and organizations that serve the long term objective of local, regional or international terror networks.
The Brussels-based 'International Crisis Group' has reported that members of banned terrorist outfit are reappearing under different banners in Bangladesh for subversive activities. It adds that such extremists who have international link may succeed in causing damage to diplomatic missions in Dhaka although they failed to execute a similar mischief last December. Those are, without doubt, worrisome eventualities for a democratic government, warranting tough preemptive actions.
Our constitutional objectives vis-a-vis the program of the extremists leave no room for any ambiguity. While at the macro-level it may be a matter of political direction to sort out disagreements through dialogue and persuasion, the field-level operatives, both in uniform and plain cloths must have clear directives and plan of action for preventing violent subversive actions. This is all the more significant now because the new enemy has an emotional and religiously sensitive alignment with the common folks of the country. One must not be oblivious of the fact that the enemy combatants are entrenched in places and institutions that are traditionally respected and revered in our society.
As part of strategy, the enforcement apparatus should succeed in separating an act of violence from its so-called politico-social context and thus criminalize a certain mode of political expression. In Bangladesh's context this line of action is very appropriate because there is a greater need to reject the religious extremist's right to legitimize violence as part of a larger social movement.
The so-called Jihadists must not be bracketed with political dissenters, although such differentiation becomes difficult from an enforcement point of view. Laws to be made for dealing with religious extremist should be such as to distinguish them from constitutionally oriented political elements.
The above has been emphasized upon because the mission and strategy of our crime-fighting and intelligence organizations had not been stable at least in so far as the domestic threat scenario is concerned. Those have invariably substantially changed with the change of a political government. It has been our unfortunate experience to witness the differing political agendas often clouding the pragmatic understanding of our real national interests.
Continued acts of terrorism have undoubtedly shocked the conscience of the nation. Apart from the political dimensions of the debate on terrorism, the prime concern should be on the pernicious effects that such malevolence has on the young generation. We cannot live with thoughtless violence.
Terrorism based on religious bigotry will not disappear overnight. Beyond police work we may have to depoliticize religion, revamp religion-based education and address vital issues of social and economic development.
Muhammad Nurul Huda is a columnist of The Daily Star.

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