AFTER a brief lull in terrorist bombing and arson attacks, the streets of the capital city and other rural places are again turning to theatres of violence and arson attacks. The attackers are now launching attacks in small groups, vandalising 53 vehicles, and the death figure has shot up to 114 till March 3, including 36 in crossfire or shootout.
These bomb attacks have convinced the citizenry that other than mainstream opposition BNP, some militant groups belonging to radical Islamic factions are involved in creating an unstable situation in the country. These defeated forces in the Liberation War regrouped themselves and, after years of preparation and training, have launched an attack at the right moment when BNP and AL are feuding.
The attacks during the last two months have shattered our complacency. Out there, someone had been waiting for the right moment to strike. Fear and panic have staged a comeback, even though the government claims that it will succeed in combating terrorism. Paradoxically, law enforcers had been saying so long that the problem was a law and order problem and they would defuse it in about a week. But, much to the people's consternation, the Rab DG has now admitted that radical and extremist forces are trying to creep in taking the advantage of the political instability in the country.
Radical Islamic groups are operating covertly in almost all the districts, most notably in Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna divisions, as reported in newspapers. With the execution of JMB supremo Shayekh Abdur Rahman, Siddiqul Islam Bangla Bhai, and Ataur Rahman Sunny in March 2007, the radical group was weakened and went into hiding because of leadership crisis. But by executing some identified leaders, the administration has only treated the symptom, not the disease.
The disease is fanaticism, which is inculcated into the minds of the people who are made to believe that their cause or their thinking is the just one and must prevail. The fanatics are only a handful compared to the millions believing in the interplay of ideas and opinions in most democratic countries and open societies. Because they are a minority, they resort to such terrorist methods. With several thousand operatives, as reported through several sources, and several hundreds having special training in use of arms and bomb making, they have regrouped and gained strength to create havoc as we now see in the country.
We might recall that Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai set up organisational bases and militant training camps in madrasas and in remote areas of the country, mostly in the dense forests and hilly areas. They translated their plan into action with the help of huge funds from foreign countries that were meant for building mosques and madrasas.
The revelation of foreign money coming into Bangladesh in the name of charitable causes and then being used to promote radicalism and terrorism is really worrying. It is the proliferation of such foreign-funded Qawmi madrasas run by radical groups that seemingly led to fundamentalism spreading in the country, which earlier had the most tolerant Islam. The busting of a militant training camp in the hilly area of Chittagong, camouflaged as a poultry and livestock farm, and recovery of arms and ammunition as well as a huge cache of explosives and bombs from a militant hideout at Halishahar in Chittagong point to the danger lurking in the country and invisible enemies spawning like swamp mosquitoes. While the two major parties are squabbling and activists of BNP and Jamaat are killing people on the roads, clandestine radical groups inimical to the interest of the country as well as democracy are thriving in different places of the country.
The rise of fundamentalism in its present form, based on a hate campaign, was inevitable when Jamaat-e-Islami, the reported mentor of banned JMB and JMJB, got credibility and opportunity after two of its stalwarts were appointed ministers. After so many tumultuous events in the country during the BNP rule, when zealots destabilised the administration, the alliance between the coalition partners was so firm that religion and politics often appeared as inseparable. Even persistent media outcry in those days about the sinister rise of militant organisations with ulterior objective to destabilise the government could not nudge the government to take action for the reason that BNP-led coalition did not want its alliance with Jamaat, BNP's vote bank, to be fragmented.
It is puzzling as to how the BNP-Jamaat alliance government in the past years could, despite repeated warnings about the activities of Bangla Bhai or JMB, pass it off as a creation of the media without investigation. More so, how could the administration shut its eyes to the flow of funds from foreign countries, running up to crores of taka, in the name of funding madrasa education and recovery of Islamic heritage?
Now it is time for us to wake up and defend collectively, for the enemies are out there to break the nation down as a whole. It is time for shedding the legendary Bangladeshi type of complacency. The terrorists have nothing to lose but themselves, for their act is born out of blind fanaticism, but the country has a lot to preserve -- the national will, its honour, freedom and culture.
All these petrol bomb attacks and murders of men with enlightened and liberal views are a message to the law enforcers, law makers and all parties that, in an environment of political bickering and heightened anxiety, no one is safe. They remind us that Bangladesh is about to face an ominous storm from zealots and adversaries of our Liberation War. The consequences are too frightening to comprehend.
The finance minister, in a meeting with the Exporters Association, admitted that the situation is very alarming and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. All sectors of the economy have been severely hit. This is no time to wish it away as a law and order problem. The problem, essentially a political problem, must be solved by a dialogue between the feuding parties. It must be preceded by cessation of violence and petrol bomb attacks and BNP's seperation from Jamaat.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.