Friday, February 11, 2005

BANGLADESH: The genesis of underground terror

+ That brings us to the moot question that is agitating many minds in Bangladesh, but is not spelt out for fear of offending the big neighbour. Is RAW aiding and abetting the bomb-throwing saboteurs who are in effect destabilising Bangladesh and have begun targeting luminaries, albeit with the involvement of material and political beneficiaries in Bangladesh, but essentially for Indian aggrandisement? Between 1995 and 1996 there were eight high-profile incidents of fatal bomb explosions in Pakistan, which are attributed to the clandestine network of RAW and its Afghan agents. The mystery of those bombings was never solved. Is Bangladesh witnessing a re-activation of such a serial bombing strategy for punishing the 'recalcitrant' regime in Bangladesh? +

The genesis of underground terror
Sadeq Khan

Following the fatal bomb blast in Baidyer Bazar, which took the life of former Finance Minister Shah AMS Kibria and three others, a bomb blast in Khulna Press Club has put the life of the president of the Khulna Metropolitan Journalist Union, Sheikh Belaluddin, in grave danger. Kibria belonged to the top echelon of the Awami League, although of late he was withdrawn, expressing his reservations about the strategy of forcing the overthrow of the government adopted by the Awami League leadership. After his death, his family members are underlining that difference of approach by charting out a separate programme in the form of peaceful and non-disruptive public shows of collective anger at the failure of the administration to prevent such attacks and to prosecute the perpetrators. On the other hand, the Awami League and twelve other smaller parties are out to capitalise Kibria?s death for their disruptive and violence-prone ?continuous? hartal programme to bring down the government, hamstringing the economic
endeavours of the entire nation in the process.

The president of the Khulna Metropolitan Journalist Union belongs to the party newspaper of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the daily Sangram. Two other journalists who were seriously injured along with him belong to other newspapers that are highly critical of Jamaat-e-Islami. The journalist community in Khulna, irrespective of their political affiliations, have pointed at the 'underground' cross-border dimension of the terror regime. Indeed the regional security situation demands that the cross-border dimension of all the recent bombings ought to be thoroughly investigated.

The genesis of the 'underground' terror regime in Bangladesh historically occurred in the same Cold War cradle as did Jano Juddha in India and Maoists in Nepal. They borrowed the name of Mao but have little to do with Mao's ideas. In Nepal and India, though, they still espouse some causes of deprived ethnic or caste-based community grievances and aspirations. In Bangladesh, the ?underground? militants have no such cause to espouse. They have degenerated into outfits of local extortion rackets and smuggling rings, as well as units of saboteurs and killers available on hire to unscrupulous politicians and/or land-grabbers or bigwigs who are prone to use illegal muscle to secure legal gains. A section of the press and a sort of doctrinaire group of civil society members, not to speak of tendentious politicians, have been trying hard to mislead the public by raising the bogey of Islamic jihad that is supposedly raising its aggressive head in Sufi-inspired mystically-inclined Bangladesh. Hard evidence shows the
opposite.

Localised emergence of counter-terror by vigilantes like Jagrata Muslim Janata notwithstanding, it is increasingly becoming clear that the few gunmen amongst mostly lathi-wielding followers of the so-called Bangla Bhai, all of whom are local domiciles, could hardly be a threat to public security. They do not throw bombs at public gatherings. The gun-toting, border-crossing bomb-thrower Janojuddha terror is, in fact, a real destabiliser. Their involvement and their patrons or clients, internal or external, with materially gainful or strategically helpful vested interest in such bombings, need to be thoroughly investigated, for national security as well as for regional peace and stability.

Indeed India's instant reaction and corroborative Western reaction to Nepal's King Gyanendra's risky yet decisive 'emergency' measure against the so-called Maoist rebels in Nepal with what now looks like a stick and carrot policy may have been hasty and anachronistic, the professed panacea of multi-party democracy notwithstanding. Multi-party bickering and inaction was only helping the consolidation of so-called Maoist revolt in Nepal, and under the new measure, the retreating Nepalese militants, finding ready sanctuaries in Indian territory across open borders, have already made news. Many in India question the wisdom of India?s indulgence of the Maoist-Janajuddha threat, although these low-intensity militant camps may sometimes lend themselves to the covert purposes and operations of the Indian National Security?s strategy. According to Ananda Bazaar Patrika, there are at least three hundred thousand cadres of the Maoist Nakshal genre in India, of which at least 7,000 are armed and well trained. Yet when the US expressed concern over Nakshal activity increasingly overwhelming the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, India dismissed the concern as overblown. During a recent visit to India, the Bhutanese King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, warned his hosts that the Maoist revolt in Nepal could have 'negative implications' for both India and his country.

Some analysts say India has underestimated the threat to its stability from ultra-leftists who have a large popular base in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh - which is host to many multinational companies. Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and several other states.

There is an 'obduracy in the refusal to acknowledge and address the realities of the left-wing extremist threat in India', said Saji Cherian, research associate at the Institute for Conflict Management.

'The sheer scale and spread of Maoist violence in India' is a direct challenge to the country's vaunting pretensions to superpower status,' said Cherain.

He said India's strong economic growth had left behind many people in urban and rural India.

Although 'blissful scenarios' of a booming India 'may well come to pass', he said lopsided development and growing lawlessness in India?s eastern part could threaten stability.

On the other hand, according to the Global security Org: 'Current policy debates in India have generally failed to focus on the relative neighbours versus attention to domestic affairs to safeguard India's security and territorial integrity.

'The Cabinet Secretariat Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's most powerful intelligence agency, is India's external intelligence agency. RAW has become an effective instrument of India?s national power, and has assumed a significant role in formulating India?s domestic and foreign policies. RAW has engaged in disinformation campaigns, espionage and sabotage against Pakistan and other neighbouring countries.

'The RAW has had limited success in dealing with separatist movements in Manipur and Tripura in the north-east, Tamil Nadu in the south, and Punjab and Kashmir in the north-western part of the country. Indian sources allege that the CIA has penetrated freedom-fighters in Kashmir and started activities in Kerala, Karnataka and other places, and is conducting economic and industrial espionage activities in New Delhi.'

The Indian debates about the successes and failures of covert and overt polices dictated by RAW is none of our business. But insofar as RAW might have influenced the postponement of the scheduled SAARC summit in Dhaka this month, it is certainly our concern. As the Pakistani newspaper Daily Times has noted in an editorial in its February 4 issue:

'SAARC's progress is largely in India's favour, especially from the viewpoint of trade and cultural ties. However, it is equally true that India has forced postponements in the past also. Why would it do that if a strong SAARC favours it.'

'This is where India's perception of its own role vis-a-vis other regional states comes in. India perceives itself as the leader and it wants SAARC to reflect that 'reality'. In this specific case, it seems to have two concerns. The situation in Nepal seems to be getting out of hand and King Gyanendra's decision to sack the government, declare a state of emergency and assume direct powers for the next three years has been largely criticised by the world, including India. The events in Nepal are important for India which has a major influence and stake in that country. It seems that one of the reasons for not attending the SAARC meeting was to avoid giving swift legitimacy to the happenings in Nepal. India has adopted a similar attitude towards Bangladesh where it faces problems with the current dispensation of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. India and Bangladesh have simmering problems on the issues of border demarcation, refugees and water sharing, among others. But while these problems cut across the internal political polarisation within Bangladesh, New Delhi definitely feels much more at ease dealing with an Awami League government than Ms Zia whose government is widely considered a centre-right dispensation by both India and the liberal elements within Bangladesh.

'However, the main driver seems to be India's desire to dominate its neighbourhood. Its reaction to developments within the region clearly shows that it wants to monitor the behaviour of its neighbours and have a say in the internal affairs of the weaker ones. The irony is that while India has always insisted on keeping bilateralism out of SAARC and emphasised multilateralism, its current emphasis on acting as a kind of moral gendarme, that grades states on the basis of how they behave internally, is actually unilateralism.'

That brings us to the moot question that is agitating many minds in Bangladesh, but is not spelt out for fear of offending the big neighbour. Is RAW aiding and abetting the bomb-throwing saboteurs who are in effect destabilising Bangladesh and have begun targeting luminaries, albeit with the involvement of material and political beneficiaries in Bangladesh, but essentially for Indian aggrandisement? Between 1995 and 1996 there were eight high-profile incidents of fatal bomb explosions in Pakistan, which are attributed to the clandestine network of RAW and its Afghan agents. The mystery of those bombings was never solved. Is Bangladesh witnessing a re-activation of such a serial bombing strategy for punishing the 'recalcitrant' regime in Bangladesh?

Corruption must be eradicated

The answer to that question also needs to be thoroughly investigated with an open mind. In the meantime, many in Bangladesh are taking heart from comments by the US Ambassador in Bangladesh, Harry K Thomas, at a discussion with the Economic Reporters Forum on Tuesday. He said that the process of negotiations for US-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) was on track to open the door for a free trade agreement between the two countries. In answer to a question whether the Habiganj grenade attack that killed former Finance Minister Shah AMS Kibria would affect the bilateral relationship between the US and Bangladesh, he said, 'I don't think so.'

On trade and development of the country, the US envoy said that corruption is the major obstacle for Bangladesh's development as it has too long been a 'business as usual' situation in the country.

'Make no mistake, for the economy of Bangladesh to continue to grow and prosper, in both the short and long term, corruption must be curtailed and eventually eradicated,' he said emphatically.

The Bangladesh Government has taken one step forward by forming the Anti-Corruption Commission with specific provisions of law assuring its independence of action. It has then taken two steps back, and in practice the commission has remained captive to a rule-framing and personnel-screening exercise demanded by the scheming top bureaucracy and their political backers in the cabinet who want to ensure their influence on the commission's activities. One Commissioner who plays their tune joined the commission three weeks after the others did. With bureaucratic connivance, he did everything that was possible to undo the decisions taken by the other two Commissioners, and has then gone on raising questions of law to block other actions. He himself has no education in law, whereas the chairman of the commission is a retired Justice of the Supreme Court. The lone-wolf Commissioner was supported by a dissenting interpretation of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act, contrary to the opinion given by the Attorney General.

Some top bureaucrats are already in the dock for wilfully misinterpreting a Supreme Court order, but the practice seems to be persisting in the corridors of executive power of the republic. Is it because 97 ex-civil servants have issued a public call for those in the service of the republic to exercise their own 'conscientious judgment' to interpret the Constitution, which only the Supreme Court is entitled to interpret, in case of doubt? That call says: 'The constitution unambiguously states that everyone in the service of the republic has the duty to serve the people to whom belong all powers of the republic which are exercised on their behalf under the authority of the Constitution.

'Anything to the contrary is an offence and derogation of the Constitution, tolerance for which has waned globally.'

One cannot fail to detect in that call a resemblance to the assertions of a section of rebel civil servants who had joined the AL-sponsored 'Janatar Mancha' in 1996. Yesterday's statement contained names and designations of 97 ex-officers.

Be that as it may, the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission has in the meantime withdrawn administrative powers from the lone-wolf Commissioner, who has characteristically embarked on a media campaign for restoration of those powers and threatened to resign. The bureaucratic view appears to be that RAB, to really start independent action, took two years of executive oversight, as the executive arm of the state is the paymaster. During teething troubles, intrinsic or induced, the ACC should also yield to bureaucratic oversight before it becomes truly independent after two years. The current state of investment outlook of Bangladesh cannot brook that delay, and it would be better if the ACC could become functional with ad-hoc appointment of reserve or regular personnel right now. If one Commissioner does not fit in, it is better that he resigns.