I know that everyone has a theory about why we are on the List. I suspect that the world press, Indian accusations and perhaps even the ill-advised remarks from certain opposition leaders may all have played a part (i.e. while adding up the twos to make the fours). The main culprit, however, must surely be those bombings -- and the successive failure to make any headway with the investigations. Our greatest enemy is actually the state of our governance that fails us at every critical juncture...So what next? The answer must clearly be that we need to get de-listed. That, however, is unlikely to happen automatically.
I am of course talking about George W. Bush's ever-expanding list of 'risky' nations. Just as WE have our list of criminals, so does Mr. Bush, with the exception that while we have perhaps a few hundred listed criminals, the US list consists of millions of people all over the Muslim world. I would advise Mr. Bush to expand his list further to include China and India (where there are large Muslim communities) as well as much of Europe, Russia and the rest of the world (for the same reason).
Given the fact that there have been cases of American Al Qaeda, British Al Qaeda and French Al Qaeda, there is absolutely NO reason for not putting the names of these countries, in particular, in Category 1 or 2. There's no doubt about it Mr. Bush -- we need to cast the net as far and wide as possible to nab terrorists, future terrorists, potential terrorists and their children grand children and even potential offspring. No cost must be spared to make the US safe, and OUR allies should come forward to help us in this glorious struggle for world domination. After all, if WE are not safe, nobody else can be. And as long as Saddam is in power in Baghdad, WE do not feel safe. More importantly, our close friends in Israel do not feel safe. And that is unacceptable.
Now what explains Bangladesh's inclusion in the Category 4 list? No one quite seems to know, giving rise to much speculation and soul-searching -- in tea shops, along the corridors of power and even in perfectly ordinary homes right across the country. The decision literally affects almost every middle class home in Bangladesh as families agonise over this latest symptom of a xenophobic culture that is sweeping across the bastions of tolerance, democracy and human rights. Mothers have begun to fret for their sons studying in the US or working legally or illegally in the land of the free. Our people out there are gritting their teeth for what may indeed prove to be a long and cold winter.
So who is winning, do you suppose? Osama, of course, for single handedly he has been able to subvert the carefully laid out veneer of Western Values that was used (often effectively) to preach and lecture to the rest of the world. Alas, those glorious moral heights are being rapidly eroded, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between a Saddam, a Gaddafi, a Bush or a Blair.
However, one must be given credit for trying. And we did try so hard: we arrested foreign journalists for spreading half-truths and lies; we arrested local journalists for aiding and abetting the foreign ones; we even sorted out the Kabirs and Mamuns of this world; we launched lengthy and complex judicial enquiries -- what else could we do? And despite all our very best efforts we got ourselves sadly labeled as a 'terror risk country'. We could of course look at the brighter side of the picture: at least we are not in category 3 or for that matter 2 or 1 -- thank God for smaller mercies.
I have been trying to figure out (as I am sure you have too) what exactly were our faults. As far as I know there has not been a single Bangladeshi Al Qaeda member who has been taken into custody by the Americans. That did not stop us from receiving a bad international press though -- what with reports filtering in (mainly via India) of boat-loads of Al Qaeda members headed for the Chittagong coast, existence of base-camps in the 'deep jungles' (I didn't think there were any forest cover left in Bangladesh, actually) and the presence of ISI. One cannot blame India for playing the terrorist card against Pakistan and the Kashmiri militants in an attempt to gain Western approval and even sympathy for a cause that is basically indefensible. Its attempt to use it against poor Bangladesh defies common sense or even enlightened self-interest. It exposes an utterly irresponsible polity that thinks nothing of trashing a friendly neighbour for the sake of extremely narrow, short-sighted concerns (i.e. to fuel parochial and communal sentiments for electoral gains). For example, the reported 'discovery' of 20 million illegal Bangladeshis in India is a case in point.
There is much potential for regional cooperation and development between our countries. These gains cannot be reaped in a context of suspicion, lack of respect and acute insensitivity to each other's interests. Under the circumstances we may be tempted to give up on South Asia, and in particular, India and start exploring newer, more exciting horizons across our eastern borders. Actually, we should fully exploit our strategic location to expand eastwards irrespective of the situation on the western frontier.
I know that everyone has a theory about why we are on the List. I suspect that the world press, Indian accusations and perhaps even the ill-advised remarks from certain opposition leaders may all have played a part (i.e. while adding up the twos to make the fours). The main culprit, however, must surely be those bombings -- and the successive failure to make any headway with the investigations. Our greatest enemy is actually the state of our governance that fails us at every critical juncture. We are at risk of terror precisely because there is NO confidence in our ability to prevent bombings or to identify and apprehend the perpetrators. And it certainly does little to enhance our credibility when ALL we can do is arrest journalists and politicians on trumped up charges of being linked to terrorist activity. More importantly, it serves to divert attention away from the REAL culprits.
So what next? The answer must clearly be that we need to get de-listed. That, however, is unlikely to happen automatically. Nor will judicial commissions be of much use. Any chance that WE may be able to stop the witch-hunt and concentrate a little more on finding the bombers? Frankly, I doubt it.
Dr K A S Murshid is an economist and Research Director, BIDS.