The Shia killing has brought home the chilling message of the arrival of “terrorism” as few have done before. In whatever shape or form we wish to see, it has ended the sense of social and political innocence in Bangladesh.
The Shias were hardly on the list of enemies in Bangladesh worth killing. But a culturally marginalised group with no political identity makes Shias easy prey for terrorists.
Or is it because they are Shias? Equally scary is the fact that law enforcement agencies seem to be quite unable to do much. More inept than they were thought before. The political price of such events is indeed huge.
Killing is slowly becoming a way of life in Bangladesh. The Imambara blast has a simple message: Public safety in general is slowly dying.
Like many other countries have found out much too late, terrorism is also cruelly efficient. The cost and duration of fighting such wars is huge as the “Coalition of the Willing” in the Middle East found out.
In the never-ending cycle of violence that is now commonplace in the region, no answer has been found to end this. In a recent TV interview ex UK Premier Tony Blair has admitted that their actions have possibly led to the birth of the Islamic State (IS) as well.
The US’s Forever War against militants in the region still goes on. It has become a new Vietnam of sorts and ravaged all people in the region.
But what is this group whose shadow seems to be stalking Bangladesh now? We don’t know for sure. Most experts from all over say that this is not the case here.
The IS and the now fading al-Qaeda are more of an ideology than a network, let alone a tight-knit functional group. In Pakistan even, where Islamic terrorists of every sort run free, IS is a minor show.
It’s far more active in Europe, particularly the UK, where a large Muslim émigré population lives. It is they, who are running away from home and joining the fight in the Middle East and give IS the international stamp.
But the IS is actually a nationalist and regional outfit, much like the IRA was in Ireland. It’s cruder, more brutal, and has a large area under direct control. But the IS has not indulged much in international terrorism.
It has in fact, invited Muslims from all over to join their fight, but not gone to fight other wars as happened in Afghanistan. So it’s a local war by many descriptions supported by militant Muslims from many places.
That is why the chance of IS terrorists in Bangladesh is quite low.
But if not IS, then who?
PM Sheikh Hasina and her supporters are saying that this is the act of BNP-Jamaat. The police IG has more or less blamed every killing – the foreigners, the police ASI, the Imambara victim – all of them on a common enemy toeing the official line.
Meanwhile, several people have been arrested in connection with the Italian killing on the basis of confession. However, we are still not sure how much progress has been made. We only hope the arrests will end the terrorist violence that has been going on.
Yet even after departure of expats and withdrawal of foreign staff from at least one commercial project, the police have failed to show any results beyond making promises.
The terrorists have shown that they can do much at will, partly because the efficiency or capacity of the law enforcement agencies is limited. And that should be a very big worry.
How much does the identity of the killers and bombers matter?
What matters is what they do and they seem to be doing it at will. It’s possible that a new homegrown group has emerged which is neither BNP-Jamaat nor IS, though perhaps linked to both or totally independent.
We don’t know much and we are all left guessing.
But if after putting almost 17,000 of their cadres in jail, starting nearly 25,000 cases against them, the combo can still remain so effective that they can create mayhem which has put Bangladesh in such trouble, one would say they are far more powerful than thought or stated before.
And the conventional containment strategy has not worked.
If such mayhem continues and the law enforcement agencies fail to produce results, no matter who is blamed, including even the AL as some BNP-Jamaat supporters claim, what will matter is what happens in the next phase and how big the economic hit becomes.
Nobody wins a war against terrorism, which is why the best way to deal with one is to never do anything to start one, or minimise it as soon as possible.
It’s now up to Sheikh Hasina and her government to make sure that this violent but still unknown enemy is ended.
Clearly, our law enforcement agencies are not up to the task and as the Middle East situation shows, probably none are. That is why most experts globally speak of political solutions to end terrorism. Even India is turning to political situations in the troubled North East. The time has come to listen to this counsel of peace making through public support and political action. Terrorism can’t be defeated by arms, it only grows back. But it can be overwhelmed by wise politics and that should be the choice to save Bangladesh.
We don’t know what that will be but we know the answer lies in politics not confrontation.
Our deepest sympathies to all victims of terrorism in Bangladesh and everywhere.
Afsan Chowdhury is a bdnews24.com columnist.