In 2016 a youth from Dhaka went to Afghanistan. He was killed the very same year. Videos depicting him have been shared again. If anyone raises the issue of the Taliban's brutality, they come under attack in the virtual media.
The question that now looms large is -- what impact will the return of this extremist sunni group Taliban, have on Bangladesh? Several police officers involved against militancy have said that there is no apprehension for the time being. However, in the long run, there may be cause for concern.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner, Mohammad Shafiqul Islam, told journalists, "In recent times it is being said that a call had been made in Bangladesh on behalf of the Taliban to join the war in Afghanistan. And some persons in Bangladesh were even motivated to start out to fight alongside the Taliban. We think that some were caught in India and some are trying to reach Afghanistan on foot."
However, officials of the police's Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) or the Anti-Terrorism Unit, could not confirm any report of young men leaving the country in groups to go to Afghanistan.
CTTC head and deputy inspector general of police, Md Asaduzzaman, told Prothom Alo that Bangladesh's law enforcement is not worried about the changes in Afghanistan, but is alert. So far only the elation of a few quarters has been observed. When a certain ideology gains victory anywhere, it is only natural for persons sharing such ideology to be elated.
But so far according to police records, only two young men have gone to Afghanistan. Ansar Al Islam, through its channels, has called upon the youth to go to Afghanistan. But there has hardly been much response. The Taliban have not called for foreign 'fighters'. They have said that they will not allow Afghanistan territory to be used for militancy.
The police official went on to say, it is not even very easy to get to Afghanistan from Bangladesh. Those who went earlier, went via India. The Indian border forces are on alert. Bangladesh is adequately alert too.
Police point to two possible changes in the long run. Firstly, the Taliban may break their commitment and give shelter to militants. Secondly, Bangladesh's Islamic groups may emerge as political forces.
A senior CTTC official involved in that operation, told Prothom Alo that the pro-IS militant group in the country, neo JMB, was organisationally very weak. But the pro-Al-Qaeda militant group, Ansar Al Islam, could be a serious threat to Bangladesh
Al-Qaeda presence remains
On 20 May, CTTC arrested four young men ranging from 20 to 29 years in age. When interrogated, they said two of their associates had gone to Afghanistan.
A senior CTTC official involved in that operation, told Prothom Alo that the pro-IS militant group in the country, neo JMB, was organisationally very weak. But the pro-Al-Qaeda militant group, Ansar Al Islam, could be a serious threat to Bangladesh. The four arrested young men were members of Ansar Al Islam. It is apprehended that the two young men who had gone to Afghanistan, had gone at the call of Al Qaeda or any of their representatives there.
After the fall of Kabul, a BBC report said that in February last year, the Taliban had come to an agreement with the US in Qatar. One of the main clauses of the agreement was that the Taliban would not allow Al-Qaeda or any other militant group to take up position in the territory under their control. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the same at the official press conference. Earlier in Doha, the Taliban said they had not taken any assistance from 'foreign fighters' to take Afghanistan under control. They are in the strongest position presently. According to NATO, they have 85,000 men in their ranks.
BBC, however, said that they had spotted foreigners among the Taliban. The statement they made about not to aiding or abetting militant groups was not true either. Fitton Brown, coordinator of the UN team monitoring Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, told BBC that Taliban and Al-Qaeda in consensus were working as allies. Taliban had pledged that they would maintain their historic ties with Al-Qaeda.
Foreign media reports state that there are many areas in Afghanistan where it is difficult to enforce government rule. The militants may take shelter there. In the past, alongside support for Osama Bin Laden, around 20,000 militants of Al-Qaeda were trained in Afghanistan. Analysts feel that if militants gain strength in Afghanistan, this will have an impact on other countries including Bangladesh.
Another threat to be faced by Bangladesh will be the release of convicts from Afghanistan's prisons. These include Bangladeshis. There has been news of at least three of them escaping. One of the top leaders Tanveer is still there and there is no trace of them. They may attempt to return to Bangladesh.
When asked whether any added cautionary measures had been taken at Bangladesh's entrance points, deputy inspector general of the police headquarters told Prothom Alo, the borders are on alerts as always.
From 1996 to 2001, a large part of Afghanistan had come under Taliban control. They had made efforts to rein in corruption, ensure security and create an environment conducive to business. They even gained popularity. But within some time they took up oppressive ways in the name if Sharia law
Possible rise in religion-based organisations
Defeated by Afghan Mujahideen in 1989, the Soviets left Afghanistan. Some madrasah students of Bangladesh joined up with the Mujahideen at the time. They returned home in 1992 and formed Harkatul Jihad Bangladesh (HuJi-B). Their objectives were political, but they later took up terrorist activities. As a single party, they carried out the biggest militant attacks.
After the withdrawal of the Russian forces, madrasah teachers and students wanted to emerge as a political force in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Most of them were educated in Pakistan madrasas. 'Taliban' is a Pashtu word meaning 'students'.
Informed sources say that there are increased apprehensions of extremist outfits in Bangladesh rearing their heads with the takeover of state power by the Taliban. Even two decades or so ago, certain extremist groups in Bangladesh had tried to create a political position. A large section of madrasa students consider the takeover of Kabul by Taliban as 'inspiring'. They are eager to find similarities between themselves and the Taliban. Facebook and other social media under its control have a sort of embargo on the word 'Taliban'. Certain pages from Bangladesh refer to the Taliban as 'brother students' or 'student friends'.
Islamic thinker Sharif Muhammad keeps watch on the activities of the religion-based groups in the country. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said the Islamic groups no longer have the strength they had in 2013-14. But it is not that the religion-based groups won't feel inspired by the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They may take up some activities but, he feels, they will not become any significant political organistaion or join any armed movement.
Professor Shahab Enam Khan of Jahangirnagar University's international relations department feels that it will take some more time to discern which way the situation is heading. The Taliban this time had made several pledges which they hadn't before. They are trying to be active in the international arena and want relations with the regional forces. They have not enforced any prohibitions as yet on girls going to school or women to workplaces. They have granted amnesty to government officials and asked them to return to work. They have not displayed any extremist behaviour as yet. They have assured everyone can return to work. So it would be a mistake to call the Taliban extremists at the moment. But if they move away from upholding human rights, then the situation will change.
According to the media, from 1996 to 2001, a large part of Afghanistan had come under Taliban control. They had made efforts to rein in corruption, ensure security and create an environment conducive to business. They even gained popularity. But within some time they took up oppressive ways in the name of Sharia law. They openly killed persons for committing murder or adultery. Girls were prevented from studying after 10 years of age. It was compulsory for men to have beards and women to wear burqa. The Taliban were then criticised for their harsh laws. And now two decades on, the Talibans are in state power again.
* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir