Saying that rule of law is often flouted in anti-militancy operations, security analyst ANM Muniruzzaman insists that a strategic initiative is required to tackle the issue.
“The problem of militancy is not just a police or law and order problem. Families, society, the media, religious institutions, financial institutions, everything is affected by militancy,” he says.
A retired Major General, Muniruzzaman has also observed that the militants want to take advantage of any political uncertainty.
“That is why we must be alert concerning the election. If there is a long-standing vacuum in the political field, someone or the other will come forward to fill that vacuum,” he said in an exclusive interview with Prothom Alo ahead of the two years’ anniversary of militant attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery on 1 July.
He spoke on the present state of the militants, apprehensions of further danger, strategies to tackle militancy and the way ahead. The full text is given below:
Prothom Alo: After the Holey Artisan militant attack, the government has taken a tough stand against militants. How would you evaluate the government’s role in this regard?
ANM Muniruzzaman: The effectiveness of the government initiative is short-term. Many militants were caught after the Holey Artisan incident and many were killed in armed encounters. Over the past one and a half years there have been no significant attacks or militant activity. The success of such tactical operations against militancy is temporary. And the rule of law is often flouted in such operations. Attention must to given to this matter.
Prothom Alo: Won’t you consider it a success that militant activities have lessened due to the government’s drive against militancy?
Muniruzzaman: It is certainly a success, but short-term. It must be kept in mind that the problem of militancy is not a temporary one. It is a deep and long-term problem. Strategic initiative is required to tackle the problem. We are trying to bring this under control, but not looking for solutions. A national strategy or policy must be taken up and implemented in this regard.
Prothom Alo: Has the danger of militancy lessened in the country to an extent?
Muniruzzaman: Visible or operational activities of the militants may have lessened, but the seeds remain. We often hear of raids on militant dens here and there, arrests being made and arms and explosives being recovered. About a year ago, a militant attack on Dhanmondi Road 32 was thwarted at the last minute. Yet the militants had taken significant preparation and there would have been massive damage had they been successful. It is evident that their activities haven’t come to a halt. They may not be able to carry out their operations at present due to the police operations or, from the outside, we can’t see what they are actually doing.
Prothom Alo: Top leaders of the militant outfits have been killed. Hasn’t this weakened the organisations?
Muniruzzaman: The militant outfits are organisationally alive. We see that the militant organisation JMB is not just in Bangladesh now. It has opened a chapter in India too, JMI. They wouldn’t have been able to do this if they were organisationally weak. Such forces normally, simply lie in wait for an opportunity. The moment they get a chance, they carry out an operation and rise up. A publisher was recently killed in Munshiganj. This seems to be a continuation of the incidents in which bloggers and free thinkers were killed.
Prothom Alo: Why is it so difficult to contain the militants legally? It’s been two years since the Holey Artisan incident and the police haven’t been able to draw up a charge sheet as yet.
Muniruzzaman: There is a lack of competence and efficiency. This leads to delays in the process and makes it difficult to deal with the militants legally and to ensure peace. Shoddy investigations allow the militants to slip out through the loopholes of the law. It requires much analysis, assessment and research to identify such weaknesses and to take action accordingly.
Prothom Alo: Steps are being taken against those who are already involved in militancy, but what effective measures is the government taking against fresh radicalisation?
Muniruzzaman: As I said, militancy is a deep and long-term problem. A national policy and strategy is required to tackle this. There has to be various initiatives to prevent the rise of extremist thinking in society. The problem of militancy is not just a police or law and order problem. Families, society, the media, religious institutions, financial institutions, everything is affected by militancy. That is why a national policy is required in this connection. It is not possible for the police to deal with this. It is not possible to kill everyone involved in militancy. There has to be programmes to rehabilitate them in society. There has to be a deradicalisation policy and strategy. The extremists have radical narratives to draw people to their ideology. We must have counter narratives. Bullets can’t solve everything.
Prothom Alo: Many militants are arrested and sent to jail. It is said that many minor militants become bigger militants there and radicalise the other prison inmates. The prisons have become breeding grounds for militancy. What would you say?
Muniruzzaman: Our existing prison system is faulty. The inmates are not being kept properly. There is a lack of funds as well as limited knowledge. The militants are going to jail and creating more militants. It is like an epidemic. A low ranking militant goes to prison and becomes a leader and gathers followers. We do not pay attention to this. Then again, when a militant completes his term and emerges from jail, he is rejected by his family and society as a whole. Some of them are harassed by the law enforcement agencies. So attention needs to be paid to the the prisons and there needs to be a rehabilitation programme for the militants.
Prothom Alo: How far is Bangladesh’s socioeconomic and political situation responsible for the spread of militancy?
Muniruzzaman: There are serious inequalities in our social, economic and education sectors, for which many feel deprived. They are the ones susceptible to militant ideology. Also, rapidly shrinking spaces for expression of political and divergent views also increases scope for the rise of such forces.
Prothom Alo: The elections are ahead. How tenable are apprehensions of militants becoming more active at this time?
Muniruzzaman: Generally speaking, conflicts arise when there is a political vacuum or unrest. Militants and extremists are always on a look out for such circumstances. They want to take advantage of political uncertainty. That is why we must be alert concerning the election. If there is a long-standing vacuum in the political field, someone or the other will come forward to fill that vacuum. Militants or such forces are ready to grab such opportunities.
Prothom Alo: You and your organisation work on militancy. According to your observations, do you see any fresh trends in militant activities?
Muniruzzaman: In the case of Bangladesh, certain trends are very important. Firstly, the use of internet has increased to inspire people towards religious extremism. Bangladesh has quite deep internet penetration. There are users at a number of levels. Information or pictures on one Smartphone can be shared with several users. And this is not just an urban problem. Secondly, militancy has spread rapidly among women. Thirdly, in many cases a family operates as a terror unit. It comes difficult for the intelligence to penetrate such units when the parents, the offspring and the entire family work in conjunction. Fourthly, expatriate Bangladeshis also communicate home and generate extremism. It’s a two-way route, going from Bangladesh and coming in from outside.
* This interview, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir