Bangladesh heaved a great sigh of relief after it claimed to have successfully ended the 13-hour hostage crisis that claimed 20 lives on late Friday.
On their part, Islamic terrorists were equally buoyant — having made their presence felt in the international community and having once again proved that they can strike at will and with brutality. The modus operandi of the killings, involving the use of medieval weapons like machetes and how the victims were tortured indicates that it was the handiwork of home-grown terrorists with Islamic State-leanings. The debate surrounding who carried out the attacks is now only of academic interest.
Terror is not new to Bangladesh.
In 1979, the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka was shot at by Islamic youth wing activists. Back then they did not have the tag of the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. Terrorists in Bangladesh got a huge boost when a large number of Bangladeshis joined Taliban in Afghanistan and fought shoulder to shoulder. There are battle hardened veterans who, upon return, nurtured their extreme ideology and trained youngsters in weaponry, grenade-manufacturing and all trade craft needed to become a jihadist. This movement was further bolstered by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) becoming part of the government (2001-2006 ). With the state's support, militancy was got a huge boost and cadres flourished with legitimacy.Their target was obviously the liberals, seculars, Ahmediyas, Shias, pro-Indian elements and Hindus.
Jamaitul Mujahideen of Bangladesh (JMB) was kicking and alive with the patronage of the JeI and the opposition BNP polarising the country with those opposed to Hasina and India, implying seculars and the rest — who received funding from certain middle-eastern fundamentalist countries, furthering strength the extreme forces.
A daring attack was made on Hasina's life in August 2004, where she had a providential escape while many Awami League cadres got killed. Pakistan's ISI was always one to exploit these forces to its advantage by organising anti-India rallies and targeting the progressives. This tend continued unabated.
The situation worsened after Hasina came back to power in 2009. Her decision to try the war criminals and collaborators and executing them made the fanatics bay for Hasina's blood and that of seculars .
Pakistan, in the meantime, tried its best to stall the hangings by aggressive anti-India and anti-Hasina propaganda. It also stepped up subversive activities on Bangladeshi soil. There was more than one occasion when Pakistani High Commission officers were declared persona non grata for their undesirable role. Apparently, they were undercover ISI operatives.
It's hard to accept that the ISI did not have a part to play in the 1 July terror attacks in Dhaka. JMB ,by all reckonings, was handled by ISI operatives for supply of weapons, training, reconnaissance and indoctrination to carry out an attack. Islamic State may have radicalised the youth for its cause but a nexus with Pakistan remains a strong possibility as both have a common target in Hasina and by proxy, India. The youth who carried out the hostage drama were in their early 20s, came from affluent families and were educated in some of Dhaka's best schools.
Massive radicalisation, possibly through social media and related developments escaped notice of the Intelligence machinery. The second failure on part of Bangladeshi intelligence was their inability or adoption of an ostrich like attitude in refusing to read the writings on the wall when a systematic trend of singular killings began from 2013 onwards targeting liberals , academics, bloggers, LGBT activists and Hindus. Manner of killings maintained a set pattern. Use of machete and murders most gruesome. Hindu priests were exterminated near or inside the temples . Message was loud and clear but it went unheeded .
What happened in Dhaka could have been averted if the perpetrators were effectively dealt with. Also if the establishment had accepted that Islamic State had its hand in these acts. Perhaps the government did not want to be seen not being in control. That approach cost the nation dearly as the symptoms had always been there for everyone to see.
Failure notwithstanding to prevent the attacks , the Bangladeshi forces did a commendable job by successfully completing the operation by ending the hostage crisis in 13 hours. This is noteworthy considering that Bangladesh experienced such a grave security crisis for the first time.
As the dust settles, there is need for India to draw up a blueprint to address various security challenges arising. Intelligence agencies must gear up their apparatus with a special focus on Bangladesh for gathering human intelligence as well as stepping up their technological know how to remain well informed about the threats to Indian interests. Most important aspect being, to try and cut off any emerging nexus between Pakistan-based terror outfits, Bangladeshi Islamic terrorists and the groups active in India. This unholy nexus must be neutralised. Bangladesh's security and intelligence set ups need to be taken on board for this onerous task .
Indo-Bangladesh borders should be hermetically sealed to prevent not only illegal migration but any attempts by the terrorists trying to sneak into this side . Compared to Bangladesh , India's ongoing alertness to prevent radicalisation and attempts to carry out terror attacks within , have so far paid dividends. This is evident by NIA's recent arrests in Hyderabad . That was swift and decisive. This tempo must be kept up as it will also act as a deterrent.
After the number of foreigners who were killed on Friday, Japan and Italy have joined hands with Bangladeshi investigating agencies. India could also join these efforts and attempt to be a part of the interrogation team questioning the lone terrorist who was captured alive. His disclosures may be vital for Indian interests as well.
India's role in helping Bangladesh tackle terror needs to be more demonstrative than before and perhaps a high level Indian security delegation to Dhaka will instill confidence and goodwill too. More importantly, gathering intelligence from states bordering Bangladesh should not to be left to the state intelligence apparatus. Central agencies must closely monitor them to avoid any complacency and mediocrity.
If the most recent wake up call from Dhaka is ignored, it might have serious implications on Indian security interests. It therefore deserves undivided attention and should be Narendra Modi government's priority.
The authot is a retired IPS officer and was also posted in Bangladesh. Views are personal.