How will the takeover by the Taliban affect Bangladesh and will we see a strong resurgence of Taliban-inspired Islamist outfits?
The subsequent verdict of the Dhaka court held senior officials of the Bangladesh National Party-Jamaat-e-Islami coalition, responsible for using the HuJI to attack the Awami League.In the 1980s, many fighters had been recruited by the Taliban from foreign countries including Bangladesh. On their return, these insurgents carried back the extremist legacy of the Taliban, which dictates a strict adherence to Sharia law for governance and, in reality, translates into a medieval and often inhuman system of justice. In their aspiration to morph Bangladesh into an Islamic State, these returnees created a local radical network named Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami, Bangladesh or HuJI-B, with financial support and strategic guidance from the Taliban. Since its formation in the 2000s, the group has been responsible for several terror attacks across Bangladesh. In 2001, they staged the Ramna bombings during the Bengali New Year, which was live telecast. Three years later, in 2004, the HuJI carried out a grenade attack on a rally of the Awami League Party, killing 24 party members and injuring 500 others. The present Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, who was then the opposition leader, barely survived the attack. The subsequent verdict of the Dhaka court held senior officials of the Bangladesh National Party-Jamaat-e-Islami coalition, responsible for using the HuJI to attack the Awami League. The top leaders of the HuJI also helped in creating the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Bangladesh (JMB) by forging a connection between one of the chiefs of the JMB—Siddiqur Rahman also known as “Bangla Bhai”, with Shaykh Abdur Rahman, an Islamist who had returned from Afghanistan. JMB gained notoriety in Bangladesh in the mid-2000s through its series of attacks, from the attempts to murder the progressive writer Humayun Azad in 2004 and the mass-coordinated bombings in 60 districts across Bangladesh in 2005, topping the list. Like the Taliban, the JMB also sought to create an Islamic society based on the Holy Quran and the Hadith and was, thus, in violent opposition to the democratic government in Bangladesh. Police reports have claimed that the JMB jihadists had been trained by Lashkar-e-Taiba—the Pakistani militant outfit backed by the Taliban.
The Bangladesh government has tried to uproot all terrorist organisations within its territory and the dismantling of the JMB and near eradication of the HuJI are feathers in the cap for the specialised unit of Counter Terrorism & Transnational Crime of the Bangladesh Police.In view of the growing threat from these terrorist organisations, the government of Bangladesh, led by Sheikh Hasina since 2009, embarked upon a “zero tolerance to terrorism” policy, which became particularly manifest after the 2016 attack on a restaurant in Dhaka that left 23 dead, including 18 foreigners. The Bangladesh government has tried to uproot all terrorist organisations within its territory and the dismantling of the JMB and near eradication of the HuJI are feathers in the cap for the specialised unit of Counter Terrorism & Transnational Crime of the Bangladesh Police. The government’s iron control has largely helped in curbing terrorist insurgencies in Bangladesh, despite earning criticisms of human rights violation from western countries. However, it is precisely this hard line of control which makes the country vulnerable to future radicalisations of non-militant Islamists who resent how they have been treated by the government. Naturally, the state is now watchful of any suspicious movements within the country, especially as social media was flooded with posts in support of the Taliban takeover from many parts of Bangladesh. Earlier in 2021, the Dhaka police had also nabbed four suspected Islamists who wanted to travel to Afghanistan via India and Pakistan to join the Taliban. They were part of a group of 10 people who wanted to become members of Taliban and two of them had allegedly already joined the fundamentalist organisation. Asaduzzaman Khan, the Chief of the Counterterrorism unit of Dhaka police, stated that, although a lot of information has been revealed by those arrested, it is still not clear how many Islamists have left Bangladesh to join the Taliban forces. Indian dailies, meanwhile, report that the country’s border security force is on high alert after they were intimated by Dhaka that several Bangladeshi youths were trying to get into India to reach Afghanistan following a reported appeal from the Taliban.
In 2021, the Dhaka police had also nabbed four suspected Islamists who wanted to travel to Afghanistan via India and Pakistan to join the Taliban.However, even as Bangladesh keeps a hawk’s eye on connectivity networks through which Bangladeshi Islamists may try to join the Taliban, Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, voices a different opinion. According to Kugelman, the Taliban are not interested in instigating terrorism in South Asia, “So, it’s not like the Taliban will encourage militants to carry out attacks outside Afghanistan. The problem is that militants will be inspired themselves to do so.” It is, therefore, necessary that the country keeps a tab on the terrorist networks still prevailing within the country. It is also important that Bangladesh decides on how or whether at all it will engage with the Taliban government in Kabul, which has already gained legitimacy from Pakistan, China, and Russia. Speculations are also on as to whether India—Bangladesh’s closest ally in South Asia—will engage in talks with the Taliban. Commenting on this affair, renowned International Relations expert, C. Raja Mohan, stated, “That victories on the battlefield have political consequences is one of the fundamental features of international politics. Governments have no option but to come to terms, now or later, with the victor.” If at all India will engage with the Taliban and if Bangladesh will follow suit still remains to be seen. However, it is important that countries engage with the Taliban of their own accord and not by succumbing to external pressure. It may be recalled in this regard that, a few months ago, when countries in South Asia were in dire need of COVID-19 vaccines following India’s halted supply, China’s grant of Sinopharm vaccines to Bangladesh, had been superseded by a warning to the latter. A day before the vaccines arrived, Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jimming had cautioned Dhaka that joining the Quad alliance, which Beijing perceives to be an ‘anti-China club’, would severely damage bilateral ties between the two countries. Such statements bearing coercive undertones naturally provoked a reprimand from the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister, who reasserted the country’s sovereignty to make its own decisions. Should China again seek to influence the foreign policy decisions of its Belt and Road Initiative member states, to recognise the Taliban regime, it is hoped that Bangladesh will make an independent choice, regardless of being significantly reliant on China for commerce. Ideally, the only overwhelming factor on which Bangladesh’s decision must depend, is whether the Taliban delivers on its promises.
It is important that countries engage with the Taliban of their own accord and not by succumbing to external pressure.Indeed, at the Doha round of the Afghan peace talks, the Taliban had authored a list of tennets, which they would adhere to once they gained authority. These promises, which Abdul Ghani Baradar the Co-Founder and the Senior Deputy Leader of Taliban and their Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen are seemingly keen to execute, supports an “Afghan Islamic-inclusive government” and provides for “hundreds of schools for girls” and women to “have access to education and to work.” The pledges are in sharp contrast to their erstwhile policies as witnessed during the Taliban rule of the 1990s. While there have already been many on ground reports of violations, it is still important to see how this half a month-old government in Kabul fares in the coming months. This decidedly will be the factor determining whether Bangladesh will at all officially engage with the Taliban and also whether it will have stronger reasons to be concerned over Islamist insurgencies within its own territories.
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Sohini Bose is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Kolkata with the Strategic Studies Programme. Her area of research is India’s eastern maritime ...Read More +