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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Will ISIS Infect Bangladesh?

Atif Jalal Ahmad & Michael Kugelman

As militants loyal to Islamic State (IS) claim responsibility for increasing numbers of attacks across the Middle East and North Africa, including a recent massacre of European tourists on a Tunisian beach, questions are arising as to just how far-reaching IS’s reach is across the world.
There is good reason to be concerned about the global spread of IS. For example, there are indications that South Asia may be the group’s latest front. Fighters loyal to IS have deepened instability in Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar province where Taliban fighters have been pushed out. These pro-IS fighters may grow in number in light of the recently announced death of the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, which will likely lead some Taliban members to leave the organisation and shift their allegiances to IS.
In fact, terrorist factions in several South Asian nations have already pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
IS’s plans to deepen its global presence were made quite clear a year ago when pro-IS groups released a map detailing a five-year expansion plan. The graphic depicts the many countries that the group hopes to bring under its control as part of its self-proclaimed “caliphate.”
Bangladesh has apparently been spared.
This is surprising for several reasons. First, many European nationals of Bangladeshi origin have supplied IS with mercenaries. Additionally, the country is volatile, with constant political feuds and some radicalised elements of society. This makes the country quite vulnerable, particularly against the backdrop of IS’s increasing influence in nearby Afghanistan and Pakistan.
So why has Bangladesh avoided IS’s crosshairs?
Part of the answer can be gleaned from comments made by a former U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena. He has remarked: “A moderate, tolerant, democratic country, Bangladesh, the world’s seventh most populous country and third largest Muslim majority country, is a viable alternative to violent extremism in a troubled region of the world.”
Indeed, the majority of Bangladesh’s large Muslim population rejects violence, and the nation is more concerned with achieving economic prosperity amid numerous challenges. These all provide a weak foundation for economic modernisation. The lack of a national consensus on future policy has diminished momentum for economic reforms, and deteriorating prospects for near-term improvements in economic freedom make it unlikely that the relatively high growth rates of recent years can be maintained. And yet Bangladesh has somehow made great progress.
While Ambassador Mozena has rightfully described Bangladesh as a moderate and tolerant country, there have admittedly been instances of extremist violence. The Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) is a militant organisation in Bangladesh that originated in 1998. The group gained international notoriety when it coordinated an audacious, country-wide bombing campaign on August 17, 2005.
Ever since the execution of major JMB leaders, no major terrorist incident has rocked Bangladesh on that scale. Bangladesh’s current government has ushered in a process of de-radicalisation, with Dhaka ramping up efforts to rein in Islamist extremists. Dhaka’s modus operandi in de-radicalisation has increased law enforcement actions. In addition, the JMB’s top brass has also been arrested, effectively defanging the organisation and hindering its ability to continue with militant activities.
Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh does not only manifest as militant violence, but also as a political force in the form of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). This party has historically played important roles in coalition-building in Bangladesh’s 300-seat parliament. The JeI’s mantra of “vesting complete faith in Allah’s law,” however, was not enough to secure the support of militants such as Bangla Bhai, who rejected the JeI’s decision to accept female leadership in Bangladesh. Bangla Bhai, in fact, wholly rejected the JeI’s ideals, and instead charted a course of destruction and violence that thankfully did not last long. At any rate, today the JeI, as with the JMB, has been defanged.
Bangladesh is no stranger to mass violence. Nonetheless, this form of violence, seen in 2014 and during other election years, is different in a major way from the violence incited by the likes of Bangla Bhai: The former has traction, and the latter does not. During election years, activists of all political parties engage in bloodshed as part of their determined efforts to win elections for their candidates and to help them stay in power. Meanwhile, to reiterate, the ideals of Islamic extremism are largely rejected by the people of Bangladesh.
An example of Bangladesh’s moderate and tolerant posture can be observed when Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists join and enjoy each other’s religious festivals like Puja, Eid, Christmas, and Buddha Purnima together. National holidays are declared for the major religious festivals so that all people regardless of their religious identities can participate.
A large demonstration that included university teachers, artists, singers, other cultural personalities, students, and the general public mobilized against the destruction of a sculpture of folk singer Baul Lalon Shah, a symbol of secular culture, in front of the Dhaka Airport. Such widespread sentiment indicates that in Bangladesh, people generally reject communalism and intolerance. It is this mentality of the Bangladeshi people to embrace and enjoy each other’s cultures that makes Bangladesh less appealing for radicalisation.
The JeI, even with its mantra of “Allah’s Law,” which in some ways echoes IS rhetoric has a very different modus operandi and set of priorities from the likes of the JMB. The JeI, through its participation in politics, wishes for a larger say in the governmental politics of Bangladesh; several JeI top brass, in fact, have served as ministers in the cabinet. While the JeI has been described by some as a terror outfit, its activities are in fact more reactions to political decisions made by the ruling party. The JeI’s major protests are always in response to prosecutions of its top figures. The JeI does not protest about Bangladeshi women not wearing burkas, and it does not stage marches that advocate for the strict imposition of sharia law. The JeI seeks to regain its status as a key parliamentary player and influential coalition-builder that it enjoyed in the past.
Thanks to increased counterterrorism efforts spearheaded by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, IS has few allies that can help it tap into Bangladesh’s large Muslim population. Pro-IS sentiment, simply put, is very weak in Bangladesh. Consider that in an ignominious list of the most pro-IS tweeting countries, Bangladesh is nowhere to be found. IS’s much-vaunted social media reach has not had the desired effect on Bangladesh’s largely moderate and tolerant population, which at the end of the day is more concerned about putting food on the table than embracing religious fundamentalism.
Ominously, however, there are warning signs that the Bangladesh could one day succumb to IS’s influence. In addition to those European nationals of Bangladeshi origin who have fought for IS, two Bangladeshis were arrested recently for conspiring to fight in Syria. A British citizen of Bangladeshi origin was also arrested while attempting a recruitment drive in the northeastern districts of Sylhet and Habiganj, districts which border the Indian states of Tripura and Shillong. In early 2015, a regional co-coordinator for IS was arrested in Bangladesh along with eight other accomplices in attempts to “establish a caliphate state in Bangladesh.” There have also been reports of IS promotional activities over social media with an “ISIS in Bangladesh” Facebook page and YouTube videos showing individuals pledging allegiance to IS, all of which have been removed. Additionally, if the JeI is unable to rehabilitate itself and become an influential political force, its desperation may well lead it to start incorporating more extremist schools of thought.
Still, some perspective is in order here. To date, no Islamist group based in Bangladesh has declared allegiance to IS. In another development, Assad Uzzaman, the last member of a group of British men of Bangladeshi origin who travelled to join IS dubbed as “Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys,” has died. The other five members of this group have either died or are in British prisons. These factors amplify the great difficulty IS will have in establishing a strong foothold in the country.
To successfully forestall possible IS advances into Bangladesh, the country must be vigilant and proactive in combating any IS attempts to court disgruntled JeI members or remnant factions of the JMB. Even though Bangladesh escaped IS’s crosshairs on that aforementioned map of expansion, it is important to avoid the temptation to be complacent. Indeed, it would be incorrect and even dangerous to flatly conclude that IS will not eventually look at Bangladesh as a potential target for recruitment or even as part of its envisioned “caliphate.”
Ultimately, the larger issue at hand, and the country’s core challenge, is to ensure political and economic stability. Above all the goal should be to drastically diminish the risk of radicalisation by having a more peaceful, prosperous, and politically stable environment.

Atif Jalal Ahmad is currently working on a thesis on the origins of corruption in South Asia, specifically Bangladesh. Michael Kugelman is Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

Courtesy: National Interest Magazine

Source:  The Daily Sun, 09 August 2015

Washington lauds Dhaka’s stance on terrorism

Tribune Report

Praising the incumbent Bangladesh government for its strong political commitment and firm determination to combat local and international terrorist groups, the United States has said that terrorists find it difficult to carry out any criminal activity using the territory.
“Bangladesh made counter-terrorism progress in 2014, with the government demonstrating a commitment to counter both domestic and transnational terrorist groups,” the US Department of State said in its annual Congressionally-mandated Country Reports on Terrorism 2014.
The report gave a detailed overview of Bangladesh’s efforts with its legislation, law enforcement and border security issues; countering the financing of terrorism; regional and international cooperation; and countering radicalisation to violence and violent extremism.
“No major terrorist incidents took place in 2014, and the government’s counter-terrorism efforts have made it more difficult for transnational terrorists to operate in or use Bangladeshi territory,” the report says.
South Asia remained a front line in the battle against terrorism. According to the report, the number of terrorist attacks last year increased by 35% and total fatalities increased 81% compared to 2013, largely due to terrorist activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.
More than 60% of all the attacks took place in five countries: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria. And 78% of all fatalities due to terrorist attacks also took place in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
Terrorists use social media platform
Mentioning al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s audio tape over Bangladesh last year, the US report says terrorist organisations used social media to spread their radical ideologies and solicit foreign fighters from Bangladesh.
“Expatriate Bangladeshis have been arrested for attempting to recruit Bangladeshis to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). While Bangladesh is not part of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, it is taking steps to address the threat,” says the report.
Legislation, law enforcement, border security
The annual report says Bangladesh’s criminal justice system is in the process of fully implementing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009 (ATA) as amended in 2012 and 2013.
“Although Bangladesh’s ATA does not outlaw recruitment and travel in furtherance of terrorism, the broad language of the ATA provides several mechanisms by which Bangladesh can implement UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2178, which requires nations to address the foreign terrorist fighter threat.”
The US report quoting media reports mentions that the law enforcers arrested several members of local terrorist groups Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami-Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team.
“Bangladesh cooperated with the United States to further strengthen control of its borders and land, sea, and air ports of entry. Bangladesh continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance programme and received counterterrorism-focused training for law enforcement officers,” it adds.
Counter-terrorism cooperation between India and Bangladesh was seen after the October 2, 2014 blasts in Burdwan of West Bengal in which involvement of the JMB members have been suspected. Following the incident, Indian officials visited to Dhaka while a Bangladeshi intelligence team travelled to West Bengal, and both countries intensified parallel raids along the border, the report says.
Countering the financing of terrorism
Bangladesh Bank and its Financial Intelligence Unit/anti-money laundering section lead the government’s effort to comply with the international sanctions regime.
According to the report, the terrorist finance provisions of the ATA outlaw the provision, receipt and collection of money, service, and material support where “there are reasonable grounds to believe that...the same has been used or may be used for any purpose by a terrorist entity.”
Regional and international cooperation
Bangladesh is active in the full range of international fora and bringing the country’s counter-terrorism efforts in line with the four pillars of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The country is party to various counter-terrorism protocols under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).
“The current government has demonstrated its strong interest in cooperating with India on counter-terrorism. It has signed memoranda of understanding with a number of countries to share evidence regarding criminal investigations including investigations related to financial crimes and terrorist financing.”
Countering radicalisation to violence and violent extremism
The US annual report states that last year, Bangladesh became a board member and pilot country for the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience, a public-private global fund to support local, grassroots efforts to counter violent extremism.
“Bangladesh uses strategic communication to counter violent extremism, especially among youth,” the report says.
It adds that the Education Ministry provides oversight for madrasas and is developing a standard national curriculum that includes language, mathematics and science; and minimum standards of secular subjects to be taught in all primary schools, up to the eighth grade.
On the other hand, the Religious Affairs Ministry and the National Committee on Militancy Resistance and Prevention work with imams and religious scholars to build public awareness against terrorism, the US State Department report adds. 

Source:  The Dhaka Tribune, 21 June 2015

Political violence: A threat to national security

Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury

POLITICAL violence has plunged the nation into a vortex of uncertainty. As the BNP-JI led 20-party alliance's agitation continues, there is widespread despair in the minds of the ordinary citizen. We never saw the kind of senseless violence that we are witnessing now. A new element introduced this time is petrol bomb. The agitators are targeting public transports. There have been a number of cases of sabotage of railway system causing derailment. The aim is to instill fear in the minds of the people so that they stay home and everything comes to a standstill. Because of indiscriminate petrol bomb attacks, hundreds have suffered serious burn injuries; many have died and many others will continue to endure a painful life as long as they live. So far, the agitators have not been able to achieve their political aim of unseating the government.
The BNP-JI led opposition wants the government to resign immediately and hand over power to a neutral caretaker government that will hold a free and fair election. The government claims that the provision for a caretaker government has been annulled by a High Court ruling and restoring it would entail constitutional amendment.
The government claims that it has gained legitimacy at home and abroad and has dispensed good governance. In its support, the government says that its first year had been a year of growth in every sector. The country had over 6% GDP growth rate despite global slowdown, and there was rise in export, investment, per capita income and calorie consumption. More children, especially girls, were going to school and staying on beyond the primary level; our Human Development Index (HDI) was rising faster than many others, which prompted Nobel Laureate Prof Amirtya Sen to term Bangladesh “a development enigma.”
BNP-JI-led political agitation exploded on January 5, when the alliance was not allowed to hold a public meeting and rally in the capital. Since then, the alliance, especially its second most important partner JI, has been on the streets to enforce a nationwide blockade of all forms of transportations. Continued fire bomb attacks on the transportation system, targeting innocent travelers, have taken a heavy toll of human lives.
A survey of the victims shows that they are mostly truck or bus drivers, small traders, farmers, menial workers etc. The pattern of the attacks revealed that the attackers are well trained in military style ambush -- a quick attack on an unsuspecting target and then quickly getting away from the crime scene.
The pattern that has so far emerged reveals that sections of the youth belonging to BNP and JI, who are trained and dedicated to the cause, are behind these attacks. A recent survey carried out by a local daily revealed that while in previous anti-government agitations most of those killed or injured were political workers, this time virtually all are ordinary citizen far removed from any political affiliation. Ordinary people are increasingly feeling insecure in a society that cannot ensure peace. This raises the question, “Is our national security at stake because of the current political violence?”
Former US Secretary of State (1977-81) Harold Brown defined national security as “the ability to preserve the nation's physical integrity and territory; to maintain its economic relations with the rest of the world on reasonable terms; to preserve its nature, institution, and governance from disruption from outside; and to control its borders.” This definition envisages external aggression as the main threat to national security. Professor Charles Maier of Harvard University described national security as the “capacity to control those domestic and foreign conditions that the public opinion of a given community believes necessary to enjoy its own self-determination or autonomy, prosperity and wellbeing.” Given these definitions, we might argue that while Bangladesh is not threatened from outside aggression and while its territorial integrity is not at stake, the internal political violence is threatening the prosperity and well-being of its people.
Ibn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab political scientist, said that a state exists to provide physical security and well-being of its subjects, and when that fails, the raison d'ĂȘtre of the state disappears. The states that are called “Failed States” or “Fragile States,” where state machinery have ceased to function and where the population live in utter fear of their life and property, are not victims of any external aggression but the result of internal chaos and dissention. In Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, internal chaos, civil war and a near complete absence of governance has led to massive disorder, violence, famine and mass migration.
The breakup of political order gives rise to extremist forces that use the political vacuum to consolidate their position. Fragile State Index, published yearly by Fund for Peace, classifies the states' vulnerability to failure based on 12 political and socio-economic indicators. Bangladesh's position in 2008, during pre-election political agitation was down to 12, which was the lowest score ever. Since then Bangladesh's score reached a score of 29 in 2014.  During the same period, Pakistan's position went down from 32 in 2008 to 10 in 2014.  
The violence wreaked by Taliban and other terrorist organisations all across Pakistan, as well as political volatility, was to blame for Pakistan's fall, whereas steady socio-economic progress and a stable political climate were responsible for Bangladesh's rise. Are we going to lose all the gains in 2015 and again slide down the scale? The political leadership of all shades must weigh the risk they are putting the whole nation into. Failure of democracy only strengthens the hands of the extremists with their variants of a totalitarian state. At this juncture, political instability coupled with violence is posing a serious threat to our national security. Only through a total rejection of all kinds of violence and a national dialogue on our common future can the nation march ahead.

The writer is Registrar, East West University.

Source:  The Daily Star, 17 February 2015

Isn't it what we call terrorism?

Syed Ashfaqul Haque

A bus full of sleeping people was petrol-bombed in the wee hours yesterday on the highway in Comilla, about 100km from Dhaka. Seven, including children and woman, were burned alive. The attackers vanished swiftly, punishing ordinary folks for defying the ongoing hartal.   
Forget politics and let us focus on the nature of the crime. Was it one of those political excesses that stepped over the line of crime? Was it just a political agitation that aimed to stop plying of vehicles but ended up killing people?
Attackers in no way can be seen as pickets. They did not go there to vandalise hartal-defying vehicles. They went there simply to kill. And they used a petrol bomb to ensure higher number of causalities.  It was indeed a cold-blooded massacre of innocent people.
And it was not a one-off. In scores of arson attacks, almost every day, since the out-of-sorts BNP launched its topple-government programme about a month back, 27 people have been killed and 153 others injured. Last night, 41 victims were making the air thick with their blood-cuddling screams at the DMCH burn unit.
Do we really find any difference between al-Qaeda deploying its bombers to wreak mayhem and kill civilians as in Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, and a political party spurring its activists to bomb sleeping bus passengers to death?
If not, what we have been witnessing for the last one month -- the relentless killing of innocent citizens -- is nothing less than terrorism.
There is no international legal consensus yet to define terrorism. But the widely acceptable definition is: The use of violence or the threat of violence, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political goals. So, if we go by this definition, what we are now faced with is all but political agitation.
The country survived a spate of terrorism for close to two months, ahead of January 5 elections last year. But it was the Jamaat-e-Islami that earned the terror tag then for unleashing targeted attacks on police, public properties, and people, Hindus to be precise, over the war crimes trials. Forty-two people were killed, 33 of them in arson attacks, and 345 injured then, but not many fingers were raised against the BNP, which was Jamaat's main ally and partner in the crime. 
Now the BNP is also being accused of terrorism though the Jamaat and its student wing remain violent as before.
Police on Sunday arrested 16 activists of Jamaat's student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir, with explosives and bomb-making materials in Rajshahi and Feni. In 10 days till Saturday, at least 17 Shibir men were caught by law enforcers and common people before or after they carried out bomb or arson attacks on police or public transports.
The character of Jamaat-Shibir is well exposed. But what about the BNP?
Is not the BNP, which ruled the 44-year-old country for 15 years, now treading itself on a dangerous territory? Does it realise a terror tag can eventually initiate its political funeral?  
The ruling Awami League should also not be happy at all with its rival's journey towards terrorism. The government has miserably failed to protect people.

The patience of people is going to fray sometime, someday down the line. Will this type of politics be able to survive people's rejection?

Source:  The Daily Star, 04 February 2015

Security dilemma

Zahir Kazmi

Among other things, the visit of President Obama to India brings into focus the politics of the region. If Pakistan and India reduce their bilateral insecurities, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation could substantively give shape to a stable regional security complex.
Individual security precedes regionalism. It pertains to lack of threats to the values of a state, or the latter’s ability to avoid wars and achieve victory when provoked.
The insecurities of India and Pakistan undermine SAARC’s stability, and regional security remains a pipe dream. New Delhi’s pursuit of international prestige and its security calculus dictate Islamabad’s hedging. Cooperation is possible if interdependence is built to such an extent that regional ‘security problems cannot be analysed or resolved apart from one another’.
The stakes for the two SAARC heavyweights are high and depend on their simultaneous choices. Without stability, India’s aspiration of Security Council membership will remain unfulfilled.
Likewise, Pakistan’s prospects of becoming a vital node in the Silk Road would be undermined. As a land bridge between the resource-rich Central Asian region and the Indian Ocean, Pakistan’s position remains central despite competing big power interests.

Both nuclear rivals accept that a stable, secure and peaceful neighbourhood is in their interest but cannot achieve this. However, the prize for cooperation is bigger than the incentives of competition. If India and Pakistan make some concessions, the subcontinent’s teeming population and resources could promise a powerful regional hub. New Delhi may balance its goals to revise the international order. Likewise, Islamabad may create an environment for making this happen.
At the moment, India unrealistically expects Pakistan to relent on its demands on bilateral territorial and water disputes; it wants Pakistan to give up allegedly destabilising India; and to give New Delhi non-discriminatory market access status.
Pakistan expects India to resolve certain disputes before opening up its fragile markets. It is also refraining from giving India NDMA status because of fears that there is no level playing field that could help Pakistan acquire inexpensive energy sources, such as nuclear energy, essential for economic development. Like India, Pakistan would expect that no state should foment instability. Coercion cannot resolve these seemingly inexorable bilateral expectations, but bold leadership could end the zero sum game.
The international system holds opportunities for the subcontinent as the economic centre of gravity is shifting from the West to Asia. This transition may also sway military and political power.
China’s rise and the potential shift in the balance of power have prompted Washington to cooperate with Beijing in the economic sphere while strategically partnering with Delhi and others to contain Beijing. The success of America’s ‘rebalancing strategy’ would also depend on what is acceptable to China and Russia.
The new Russian military doctrine indicates Moscow would deter NATO’s eastward encroachment. Moscow may also react if India pushes American interests in the East China Sea with Russian-supplied technology. India’s alignment with America may affect relations with Russia, triggering Moscow’s strategic options that would exacerbate South Asian instability.
Some elements of the gestating US-India partnership affect Pakistan’s security. It has emboldened India in dismissing Pakistan’s peace-building initiatives. And the Indo-US nuclear deal has unlocked India’s domestic resources for building a nuclear triad. Denying civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan affects the latter’s growth and deprives the global industry from investing in a market that equals the combined populations of UK, France and Germany.
Afghanistan has shown promise under the new government and is cooperating with Pakistan. The aftermath of the Peshawar tragedy marks the beginning of decisive fight against Taliban. Stable borders can help maintain the internal balance, and India can play a role in making this happen.
The future might be more challenging than what the SAARC nations have anticipated or are ready to handle. Governance problems, economic challenges, population growth and recurring natural disasters may rule the geopolitics India is trying to affect and Pakistan is coping with. South Asians have to overcome domestic constraints in order to take advantage of or absorb the stresses and shocks of the international system.
India and Pakistan must lead by taking direct and indirect actions to stabilise South Asia. Restraint and conflict resolution are better options that conflict management. Negotiating the simmering disputes can create space for building greater security for SAARC to finally make up for the lost opportunities of the past.
The writer is visiting faculty at the School of Politics & International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, and worked at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London., January 27. Zahir Kazmi is visiting faculty at the school of politics and international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, and worked at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London.

Source:  The New Age, 28 January 2015

Ready to link Maritime Silk Route plans with India’s ‘Mausam’ project, China says

Tribune Desk

Source: CKGSB Knowledge 
Ahead of this week’s annual defence dialogue, China has expressed its readiness to work with India to link its ambitious Maritime Silk Route plans with India’s “Mausam” project in a bid to address New Delhi’s strategic concerns and derive “common benefits.”
Defence secretary RK Mathur will lead the Indian defence delegation at the talks due to be held here on April 8-9 during which the two countries would discuss a wide range of measures to step up cooperation between the defence forces of the two countries.
Significantly, ahead of the key meeting Chinese foreign ministry said China looks forward to stepping up interaction with India to identify the meeting point for their strategic interests in South Asia, especially the Indian Ocean region.
“China is ready to work with South Asian countries, including India, Sri Lanka, to strengthen policy communication, identify the meeting point of their development strategies, explore effective ways of mutually beneficial cooperation and common benefit of the region, countries and the people,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told PTI.
She was responding to a question on China’s ambassador to India Le Yucheng’s recent comments to media that China wants to have communication with India to link the “belt and road” initiatives with New Delhi’s “Spice Route” and “Mausam” projects.
During last year’s defence dialogue, the two sides discussed prospects of joint naval exercises in addition to the “Hand in Hand” exercises being held annually between the two armies to promote military-to-military relations.
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Source:  The Dhaka Tirbune, 06 April 2015

Highly destructive weapons being smuggled from India Criminals changing tactics to smuggle in weapons: DG of BGB


Highly destructive improvised explosive devices (IED), explosive gels, guns and small arms, and ammunition are being smuggled into Bangladesh through various points along the international border (IB) with India,
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and intelligence agencies said. They warned that these weapons and ammunition could be used to create disturbance and carry out sabotage activities inside the country.    
The BGB recently recovered IEDs, detonators, explosive gels, AK-47, AK-56 and Self-Loading Rifles (SLR), Light Machine Guns (LMG) and automatic rifles from various points along the IB. According to sources, these weapons and explosives originated in India and involve certain criminal syndicates who are engaged in smuggling activity.
After intercepting a consignment of IEDs recently, the BGB came across a letter written in Urdu containing the description and type of ordnance. Upon translating the letter it was learnt that it was written by one Manjur Khan to Mizan Vai describing the destructive capability of the IEDs. “It (IED) is not an ordinary weapon. It is capable of killing at least a thousand people at a time if used at a public gathering. If it’s used in an airplane it can be destroyed in a few seconds. I (Manjur Khan) am also providing an expert along with this consignment, who will work for you. But, please keep this a secret.”
Intelligence sources said that they are trying to arrest Mizan Vai and his followers on the basis of the letter.
According to experts an IED is an explosive device that’s used in unconventional military action. IED is a favourite weapon for many insurgent groups across the world such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the erstwhile Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. IEDs accounted for approximately 63 percent of deaths of coalition forces in Iraq and 66 percent in Afghanistan.
The authorities concerned, especially the BGB, sent letters to their Indian counterpart, the Border Security Force (BSF), urging them to take necessary action to stop the trafficking of arms and explosives, sources added.
Maj. Gen. Aziz Ahmed, Director General, BGB told The Independent that arms and explosives are entering the country through several border points. “Criminals have changed their strategy for trafficking weapons. They are smuggling in weapons in phases using fake identities and origin.
We’ve alerted our forces along the border and it’s possible to reduce the entry of arms and ammunition in spite of the new strategies adopted by the smugglers,” said Ahmed
According to sources, the BGB recovered a huge quantity of firearms and ammunitions following a special operation at Boradom Dukhi Para, 18 km inside the Bangladesh border under Baghaichari upazila of Rangamati district on August 15. The recovered arms and ammunition were made in India and manufactured by the OFV (Ordinance Factory of Varangaon, Maharashtra) and KF (Ammunition Factory at Khadki, Pune).
On February 8, the BGB recovered eight sets of highly-destructive IED from a bus passenger on the Ashampur road of Tamabil, Sylhet.
The explosives were intended for creating large-scale destruction and disturbance at public gatherings, said intelligence sources. All explosives were made by Indian Explosives Limited, Gomia-829 112 and QORIKA.


The Independent, 04 October 2015

Tip of iceberg: Only a small portion of smuggled gold is seized; India with high demand remains the major destination

 Shariful Islam and Wasim Bin Habib

More than 1,000kg of gold worth around Tk 450 crore was seized in the last one year by Customs Intelligence and other agencies.
Detectives and investigators suspect the seized gold makes up only five percent of the total gold smuggled into Bangladesh during that period. A small portion fed local demand and the rest went to India, the world's second biggest consumer of gold after China.
Therefore, a guesstimated 20,000kg or 22.04 tonnes of gold worth around Tk 9,000 crore was smuggled out of the country in just one year.
Leaders of Bangladesh Jewellery Association believe around 10,000 tolas or 116kg of gold is smuggled to India via Bangladesh every day.
Gold smuggling through Bangladesh became rampant after India raised import duty on gold from 2 percent to 10 percent in three phases from 2012, resulting in a sharp decrease in import.
Currently in Bangladesh, a traveller can bring up to 200gm of gold from abroad paying a tax of Tk 3,000 per tola (11.66gm) under baggage rules. But a traveller can bring gold up to 100gm without any tax and duty.
The World Gold Council estimates that a staggering 150-200 tonnes of gold is smuggled to India each year.
In Bangladesh, there was no import of gold through LC (letter of credit) in the last three decades, said Joint Commissioner of Customs Kazi Muhammad Ziauddin.
The current government policy allows import of gold and silver, subject to permission from Bangladesh Bank.
A central bank official said, “So far I can recall none ever came to us for permission to import gold as the internal demand is met internally.”
Wishing anonymity, he said the gold sold through auction by the Bangladesh Bank is one of the ways of meeting internal demand.
Another BB official said local demand is met also by smuggled gold.
Syndicates use Bangladesh to avoid tight security checks at Indian airports. Once they used to smuggle gold to India through the sea. But security has been beefed up on the sea routes since the Mumbai terror attack in 2009, said intelligence officials dealing with the gold smuggling cases.
In contrast, security at Bangladesh airports is quite relaxed. Smuggling syndicates easily bring in the metal through the airports with the help of a section of unscrupulous officials of Biman, Caab and intelligence agencies deployed at the airports. They also manage persons in the administration to ensure safe passage of gold to India, the officials added.
According to the detectives, smugglers now make a profit of around Tk 2.5 to 3 lakh on every kg gold sold in India after meeting the purchase cost in Dubai, Singapore or Malaysia and all other expenses like carrying cost and bribes to the people at the airports and administration and agent charges.
"Gold is also a means of payment for drugs, arms and cattle," said one of officials. Gold is also used for illegal money transfer to evade tax through over/under invoicing.
In many cases, prices of goods are shown less than the actual prices on letter of credit (LC) to evade tax at the ports. Buyers, however, have to pay a bigger amount to the seller and they use gold to pay the additional amount, the investigators said.
Talking to different agencies and jewellery traders, The Daily Star gathered that the domestic demand for gold in Bangladesh is about 1.9 tonnes or 1,725kg per month.
Of the local demand, around 1.15 tonnes is met through recycling, said Enamul Haque Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Jewellery Association.
Some smuggled gold might have been used for local consumption, but he had no idea about the amount, he added.
There are around 4,000 jewellery shops registered with the association. Besides, several thousand other small jewellery shops also do business in different localities, Enamul said.
According to the Customs Department at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, which handles 90 percent of the total air travellers, about 319kg of gold was carried by expatriates from Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai and other Middle Eastern countries legally per month in one year till June 2014.

As the government increased the customs duty in June, this supply came down to 91kg a month. The customs officials and investigators believe the shortfall is now being met by the smuggled gold.

Source:  The Daily Star, 28 February 2015

Into the cobweb of gold rackets

Shariful Islam and Wasim Bin Habib

 It is like a cobweb -- extremely complex and intricately designed. The way gold is smuggled in from abroad is so ingeniously planned that it often outclasses Hollywood crime thrillers.
A consignment changes several hands in its journey from the source to the destination, but there are stages when a carrier doesn't even know who takes over from him. So, even if someone is caught with a shipment, most of the time it's impossible to trace back to the gang leaders.
To get the smuggled gold through the airport security and to its destination, the smuggling syndicates collude with unscrupulous staff of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab) and intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The extent of complicity of the government agencies is mind-boggling; so much so that the smuggling syndicates provide carriers with special identity cards which, upon being produced, help them avoid arrest even when they are caught red-handed.
Smuggling syndicates buy gold mostly from Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia, where purchasing the precious metal and shipping it out is legitimate.
Then they contact their gang members in Bangladesh to prepare the chain of activities to smuggle a consignment, said intelligence officials dealing with the gold smuggling cases.
The recent gold hauls at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport show that the smugglers mostly use Biman flights to get gold into the country.
A carrier boards a Biman plane and with the help of aides among the flight crew gets the gold bullions hidden in secret places of the aircraft, like under the passenger seats and inside the toilet chambers and the cargo holds, said the officials.
"We seized 124 kilograms of gold from inside a cargo hold chamber of a Biman aircraft. The door of the chamber was badly scratched which suggests it was screwed open and shut numerous times," said Moinul Khan, director general of Customs Intelligence that alone seized around 712kg of gold and arrested 90 people in the last 18 months.
There are various ways to get the gold through the airport security after landing.
"The smugglers often provide the people assigned at the airports with codes and numbers to locate the gold hidden in the aircraft," said a DB official, preferring anonymity.
For example, if the bullions are hidden inside a Biman aircraft's toilet or cargo hold, the carrier hands over a chit with codes like "J20, left side 20kg" to an official of the Biman's engineering section, he said.
"With this, the carrier's job is done."
In return, the carrier gets Tk 50,000 to Tk 1,00,000 depending on the quantity, he added.
Sometimes the duty officials at airports are provided with the codes or the details of the consignment's location through text messages or phone calls, the intelligence officials said.
Then a section of Biman's engineering staff offloads the gold from the aircraft at a convenient time and get it through the airport by hiding it inside vehicles or garbage boxes.
"It is not possible to get a single gold bar out of the airport without the help of officials deployed at the airport," said an intelligence agency official, wishing anonymity. Some 26 agencies work at the airports, but seven to eight of them watch over the operational activities.
The strategy, however, is different if a carrier brings in gold by hiding it inside his clothing or belongings.
After landing, the carrier goes to a secluded place like toilet where there is no CCTV coverage, keeps the gold inside the commode's flush chamber and leaves the airport.
Then someone from among the airport officials collects the gold, gets it through the airport security and hands it over to the syndicate members waiting outside in cars, often in costly ones, said the investigators.
For this, the airport official gets between Tk 1,000 and Tk 1,200 for every 10-gram bullion.
Then the consignment is transported to a specified place in the capital. The carriers get Tk 150 to Tk 200 for each 10-gram bar.
Finally, another group of carriers, mostly from the bordering districts, collect the gold and take it to the borders where smugglers from India receive it from them. These carriers get Tk 10,000 each for carrying 15 to 20 bullions from Dhaka.
The Daily Star talked to one such carrier from Jhenidah. The young man of around 35 carried 20 consignments between 2011 and July 2014 usually from the capital's Uttara and Tantibazar.
"I used to carry the gold bars concealing them in packets of sweetmeats or breads," he said.
His employer gave him an ID card. If he landed in any trouble involving police, he would show the card and police would let him go, he said.
"Smugglers have secret deals with police and border guards. So, usually they do not disturb carriers," he added.
These carriers would strap the gold bars to their bodies and take buses, microbuses, motorcycles and even bicycles to transport them to bordering districts, mainly Satkhira, Jessore, Jhenidah, Kushtia and Chuadanga, the man said.
Sometimes, gold is smuggled through individual efforts as well.
Syndicate leaders arrange tourism or business visas for Dubai, Malaysia or Singapore for a carrier, detectives said, quoting detained carriers.
The carrier goes there, takes the gold bars and conceals it using techniques like "khata system" or "scale system" in which he flattens the bars into thin sheets. The gold sheets are then hidden inside shoes and specially designed belts, they said.
These individual smugglers sell the gold mostly at Tantibazar, according to them.
Investigators said except for the carriers' and airport agents' charge, no payment for syndicated gold smuggling is made in Bangladesh.
The payment is usually made through "hundi", an illegal system to transfer money without using the formal banking network.
Gold is also used as a substitute for currency. A portion of the smuggled gold is used for payments of drugs and arms smuggled into Bangladesh from India.
Gold and cattle smuggling go hand in hand in many cases.
An estimated six lakh cattle, mostly cows, are smuggled from India each year and payment for a large number of those is made in gold, said many of those involved in this business.
"We've information that the smuggled gold works like oxygen for illegal activities like arms and drug smuggling," said Moinul Khan of Customs Intelligence.
Many of the gold smugglers in Bangladesh are believed to be money exchangers with offices both in Dhaka and Dubai.
Under the guise of their business, they send money to Dubai, Singapore or Malaysia through their agents among the Biman crew to pay for the smuggled gold.
"The money exchange businesses would not even earn them 15 days' expenditure, but they are making crores of taka. It is possible only because they are involved in gold smuggling," said a detective, wishing anonymity.
"We have been able to seize a huge amount of gold in the last one year as we have increased our manpower and capacity, and provided training on intelligence activities to the airport staff," said Moinul Khan.
Assistant Superintendent Alamgir Hossain of Airport Armed Police Battalion suggested setting up scanners at all conveyer belts to check luggage and vehicle scanners at all the entrance and exit gates of the airports in Dhaka and Chittagong to curb the smuggling.

Another Customs official suggested increasing vigilance in the seaports and on sea routes.

Source:  The Daily Star, 27 February 2015

Geopolitical imperatives of South Asian nations

K. B. Ahmed

South Asia is a later-day political configuration of the previously known sub-continent of India that had acquired legendary historical accolades for many thousand years. With the exceptions of the Dravidians who are currently known to be occupying the Southern region of the subcontinent, rest of the populations also known as Indians came from outside. This has, over many thousands of years, resulted in multicultural, multi-faith and multi-ethnical convergence in the union of India. In the last two centuries the Europeans descended onto the sub-continent of which the East India Company of Great Britain succeeded in establishing an administrative colony to rule and trade as well. They found it expedient in putting the ruling class, the Muslims who descended from the Central Asia, against the Hindu majority who were at times subjected to coercive oppression by the rulers. It was also convenient for the colonial rulers to train and create an administrative cadre of clerks to support and assist in the ruling of the colony for both maintaining law & order and conducting trade as well. East India Company, however, continued to administer the established laws and practices including usage of Farsi as the official court language. But exploitation and oppressive measures soon became clear to the locals of all faiths and a resistance was mounted to remove the colonial rulers. Division in the ruling class and polarisation in the social structures brought advantages to the ruling colonials and they successfully put down the rebellion. This created the opportunity to install direct rule from the Crown of Great Britain and English Common Law was adopted as well as English as the official language introduced.   

During the post-colonial era since Second World War, decolonised nations went into another interface of history in which the victory by the national leaders, who sacrificed their lives in achieving independence from the colonial rule, was marred by deception, corruption and unconstitutional efforts to perpetuate power by establishing dynastic tradition. In this, old colonial powers and newly acquired supremacy by the Western economies including USSR played actively the conniving schemes and in manipulative roles. The sub-continent like other third world nations is till the victim of the same.

Cold War, as long it continued, remained an active provocateur in polarising the regional national interest with that of international formation of bloc conflict which overshadowed the need and necessity of alleviating the dire depravity borne out of poverty of the citizens. The wrong and faulty argument that had propelled leaders to seek for the partitioning of the sub-continent left its impact in both political and economic terms. Over the last sixty seven years, hundreds of billions of dollars were spent in marshalling armies, and in armed conflicts which were neither necessary nor had benefitted the nations. Instead, if the same money were invested in economic development, the fate and fortunes of millions would have been substantially improved. This intransigent motive and intractable mind-set of leadership has left the subcontinent as one of the poorest region of the world.

Although the region is known to have rich historical and cultural heritage, but a false sense of pride and ego had guided the nations of the region which can be characterised only in animation.  Unlike other regional and sub-regional alliances, the organisation South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC)  has become a sphere of influence by Indian hegemony and their sustained preoccupation with the conflicts with Pakistan at many different level has left the SAARC inoperative and without any direction. Pakistan, on the other hand, has become completely rudderless by engaging itself between invoking the right to uphold solidarity with Muslin Ummah and by acting as a proxy to the USA and the Western Alliances against the increasing influence of USSR. Pakistan lacked articulation and focussed on short term gains as against the future viability of the country. Both India and Pakistan has inherited common fault line of having multiple ethnical, cultural and linguistic national identities under a superficial veneer of faith.

What had been conceived by the founding fathers in achieving a peaceful, and wealth-making nations to cooperate with each other was shattered by its initial impact. Ever widening conflicts divided the nations, leaderships, bureaucracies and even the intellectuals. Politicians typically concerned with power-sharing focussed only on the manipulation of public opinion and ignored the prospects and potentials of cooperation, collaboration that would have alleviated the curse of poverty and dire depravation of the people in the sub-continent. Neighbouring ASEAN nations however, focussed on economic development, and quickly established a collective bond to build infrastructures and skill and offered a competitive edge to investors to choose their destination in South East Asia.

At last, in South Asia a dialogue has begun in the private sector with some qualified official support to re-integrate South Asia for the economic development by invoking cooperation and interdependence. The fate and future of the people cannot be metaphorically dismissed for the sake of unimaginative concern for security and misconceived sense of sovereignty.

 "There is a growing awareness-and an increasing sense of urgency-in South Asia that the dire forecast for the region's non-traditional security environment will inevitably have a spill over effect in traditional security areas. At the same time, there is optimism in South Asian policy corridors that if these non-traditional challenges begin to be effectively addressed today, before they have a chance to evolve into the "hot button" traditional security threats of tomorrow, they may inspire innovative pathways for tackling some of the region's long-standing traditional security problems.

In recent years, the human impact of food and water crises, natural and environmental disasters, and pandemic diseases that cut across geographic boundaries has awakened South Asia's leaders to the seriousness of these "soft" non-traditional security challenges. As countries in the region have witnessed, the higher incidence of calamities in these areas can have political consequences, if not adequately addressed, and exacerbate conditions contributing to more traditional "hard" security threats" (Mahin Karim, Senior Associate for Political and Security Affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research, Seattle, Washington).

 In this context, it may be pertinent to quote Lt Colonel Puran Ghale of Nepal armt, who stated in his doctoral research, "It is widely believed that the regional dynamics in South Asia, characterised by power asymmetry and geographical Indo-centricity, makes the region a particularly brittle strategic environment. In that challenging context, one needs to ask why regional integration, including the creation of an important role for SAARC has been so difficult in South Asia". He further added that the prospect of converting South Asia into a prosperous region is time-bound and if it is not achieved within next 20 years, the history of the subcontinent will be written for the failure of leadership and the identity of the nations in the subcontinent will be in the foot prints of the success of other nations. If petty minded intransigence can be overcome, there is a great prospect waiting for South-Asia.      

While thinking of the prospect of the formation of a discriminatory trading area in South Asia from a political economy perspective, it is generally believed that the existence of political rivalry and economic asymmetry in the region acts as a deterrence to the formation of such a trading bloc. According to Ronald C. Duncan, Professor of Economics, the Australian National University, "This could be argued that the politico-economic imperatives of the changed fundamentals of international political relations and trade would bring the countries of South Asia closer to settling the conflicts. The economic asymmetry in this region would not preclude economic cooperation. Rather, a trading bloc involving geographically-large India and its small neighbours would lead to a significant increase in intra-regional trade."

Source:  The Financial Express, 25 November 2015

The Sri Lankan revolution

Sanjay Kapoor

There is perceptible glee in Indian diplomatic circles after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse was voted out in the January 8 elections. Over the last few months, Rajapakse had antagonised the Indian government by displaying manifest proximity to the Chinese government. “He had literally sold the entire country to the Chinese to buy political longevity. His continued presence would have hurt Indian interests”, claimed a senior government official. Rajapakse had taken hefty loans— almost $5 billion—from China to rebuild his country’s war-battered infrastructure. Besides partnering with China in the $1.5 billion Hambantota port project— against India’s objections—Sri Lanka had also built a modern airport at Mattala. Not just these investments, the Indian government was also watching with trepidation how its Sri Lankan counterpart was slowly getting engaged in China’s ambitious maritime silk route project. In some ways, when the Chinese nuclear submarine showed up in Sri Lankan waters, a quiet resolve began to build in the new Modi government’s security establishment that such activities could not be allowed to continue uncontested in an area that resides in India’s arc of influence.
So, did the Indian government actively connive to bring Rajapakse down? A Reuter report of January 18 claimed that a senior official of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency, was expelled by the Rajapakse government for working closely with the opposition parties. Publicly, the Indian government may have denied these suggestions, but it was possible to sense some kind of quiet satisfaction in the diplomatic community over how Rajapakse’s fall was engineered. It was in December last year that India’s National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, visited Sri Lanka. Although he had gone to the island nation to deliver a lecture on the invitation of the Sri Lankan army, he met with the then opposition leader and now Prime Minister, Ranil Wikremesinghe. His meeting with Wikremesinghe did not raise too many eyebrows, though The Hindu report of December 2, 2014, states, ‘the NSA is reported to have enquired about the election strategy and campaign plans of the common platform that the UNP is backing, said sources. The issue of China’s role in Sri Lanka—a major concern for India— also came up in discussions, said the source.’ At that time, not many were discussing the possible fall of Rajapakse’s government, but Delhi’s diplomats who are also attached to Colombo had begun to toy with thoughts about the possibility of his electoral loss. It seems that the Indian government agencies had also sensed that Rajapakse’s influence had diminished due to the departure of his core constituents. However, he wouldn’t have been ousted from power if he had enjoyed the support of the army and the bureaucracy.
Although the Reuter report does not state as to who convinced them to stay neutral in the elections, the outcome of their approach was quite visible. Sources claim that when Rajapakse and his partymen realised that he was losing, they got in touch with the army top brass to stall the polls and tried to stay in power. 
Despite the fact that the army was under the command of his brother, the generals refused to respond to these requests. Contrarily, they conveyed to the Election Commission authorities that they should hasten the poll process so the transfer of power could take place peacefully. 
It may be recalled that Rajapakse resigned and Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in on the same day to the high office when the results were announced. Normally, the winner takes some time before he or she assumes office but this time around Sirisena and his coalition did not want any delay. A highly placed Indian official told this writer that there is considerable merit in the assertion by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera that Rajapakse tried to organise a coup against the new government. This official is of the view that Rajapakse may be tried at a later date.
Samaraweera visited Delhi a few days after the new government was elected to convey to the world that Sri Lanka was lending primacy to its relationship with India. The buzzword was course correction and to end the slant towards China. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe also said that Rajapakse had tried to play China against India and that would not be entertained. During the election campaign, investment from China was an issue and there was a promise to relook at some of it. Charges of corruption were levelled against the Rajapakses in some of these deals, which the new government promised to investigate.
It is unlikely that the Indian government can really step in to replace China as its track record, when it comes to execution of projects is quite abysmal. Worse, its investment is barely $305 million and it is not in a financial state to fill in the gap—if the Chinese move out from some of these commitments. So, although the Indian agencies may have succeeded in seeing the back of a pro-Chinese leadership from Colombo, as in the case of Myanmar, they are not in a position to adequately replace them.  
The Indian government will have to worry, too, about how Sri Lankan developments are being perceived by Beijing. 
Does the Chinese government see it as a hostile act to restrict its influence in the Indian Ocean or as a normal development that happened due to changed political circumstances? The conduct of the new government in Colombo will decide a lot of things that will determine the course of this growing tension between India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. 

Source:  The Independent, 23 February 2015