Bangladesh s Counter terrorism Efforts: The People s Empowerment Model. Farooq Sobhan

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1 B A N G L A D E S H E N T E R P R I S E I N S T I T U T E House # 3A, Road # 50, Gulshan 2, Dhaka 1212, Bangladesh. Phone: Fax: E mail: online.com, Website: bd.org Bangladesh s Counter terrorism Efforts: The People s Empowerment Model Farooq Sobhan Introduction Terrorism is one of the greatest threats to democracy, economic development and peace today. Terrorism cuts across the boundaries of race, religion, ethnicity and nationality. For Bangladesh, a nation that has made great sacrifices in her War of Liberation in 1971 in order to establish democracy and secularism, the attempt by extremist forces to uproot and denigrate these two intrinsic national values poses a serious challenge to the nation and its identity. Bangladesh witnessed a rise in Islamist militancy between 1999 and Militant groups, with the aim of destabilizing the country, demonstrated their strength by orchestrating a series of gruesome attacks on innocent citizens, the judiciary, politicians and cultural and progressive personalities and groups. Since the Awami League led government came to power in January 2009, Bangladesh has not experienced any act of terrorism in the country due to strong counter terrorism measures. These measures have involved a combination of hard and soft power approaches. The success in countering terrorism in 1

2 Bangladesh can be attributed to prompt action by the law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the judiciary, the Home Ministry, the armed forces, as well as some other key Ministries and agencies. The important role played by the media, the private sector, NGOs and civil society in general also needs to be underscored. Within the government there is much better co ordination and coherence now. The co operation between the government and non state actors has also improved. It should also be stressed that Bangladesh has strengthened its cooperation with countries in the region as well as internationally. The success achieved by Bangladesh in countering terrorism is widely acknowledged and appreciated both at home and abroad. Not withstanding this success in countering terrorism, it needs to be recognized that the traditional responses to terrorism in Bangladesh have been dominated by hard power approaches by the government and law enforcement agencies. Although this has proved to be greatly effective, contemporary discourse on security and counter terrorism suggests that an inclusive peopleoriented model on countering terrorism via eliminating the causes that are conducive to the spread of terrorism can be more effective in tackling this threat in the long run. The People s Empowerment Model (PEM) introduced by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in September 2011 at the 66 th Session of the United Nations General Assembly provides a viable framework for this to be achieved. This paper aims to evaluate how a more inclusive approach to countering terrorism, particularly in eliminating conditions conducive to radicalization and breeding terrorists and giving them the space and opportunity to propagate extremist ideologies, leading to acts of terrorism, causing harm and misery to innocent people, can best be achieved within the framework of PEM. 2

3 This paper aims to examine the development of an effective national counter terrorism strategy based on global best practices and success stories as well as the U.N. Global Counter terrorism Strategy. This is followed by examining the application of the model in the context of Bangladesh, by undertaking an analysis of the way the six other Peace Multipliers can play a role in reinforcing the existing counter terrorism efforts. Finally, the greater use of soft power to tackle contemporary threats of terrorism and more specifically the radicalization of youth is examined. People s Empowerment Model and the U.N. Global Counter terrorism Strategy The United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy was adopted by Member States on 8 September This strategy is a unique global instrument that aims to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counterterrorism. The essence of PEM is in accord with the first pillar of the U.N. Counter Terrorism Strategy, which is Measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. These measures are aimed at resolving conflicts, dehumanization of victims of terrorism, lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio economic marginalization, and the lack of good governance, as the existence of these factors are thought to create conditions that are favourable to the spread of terrorism. When implementing any global strategy in a particular country, local customs, specific challenges and threats and socio economic factors must be taken into account. The first six peace multipliers of the model, while retaining the intrinsic essence of the First Pillar of the U.N. Strategy, highlights the importance of mitigating the critical domestic issues of poverty, inequality, 3

4 deprivation, exclusion and human development. Thus, while the People s Empowerment Model is particularly important to achieving peace at the national level, it is also in sync with the U.N. s efforts to counter terrorism globally and can be a conduit for linking national counter terrorism efforts to regional and global initiatives. Background on Counter-Terrorism in Bangladesh During the first half of the last decade, Bangladesh experienced a number of terrorist acts. A series of serious attacks were mounted, particularly in 2004 and The most significant of these was the 21 st August 2004 grenade attack on an Awami League public meeting, which specifically targeted the Awami League leadership, including Sheikh Hasina, the then Leader of the Opposition. On 17 th August 2005, around 500 bombs were exploded, in 63 out of 64 districts, and the issue of terrorism in Bangladesh gained international attention. The violent nature of these incidents convinced stakeholders in the government, civil society and the general public, that if Bangladesh becomes susceptible to terrorist activities, it will have a severe impact on the stability, security and economic development of the country. Bangladesh has successfully combated this menace through developing an effective counter terrorism strategy. The counter terrorism strategy in Bangladesh includes law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the judiciary, relevant stakeholders of the government involved in countering terrorism in Bangladesh, the media and civil society. This counter terrorism strategy has been playing a significant role in containing terrorism in Bangladesh during the past three and a half years. As such, there have been no significant terror attacks in 4

5 Bangladesh in recent years. Despite this, new threats of radicalization and terrorism have emerged that requires a shift in the counter terrorism efforts from the current emphasis on the use of hard power to a more inclusive, communityoriented model of countering terrorism. The People s Empowerment Model and the Future of Counter terrorism in Bangladesh As mentioned earlier, in September 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina introduced her peace model while addressing the 66th annual session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The Honorable Prime Minister s peace model is based on people's empowerment under a multidimensional democratic approach with seven mutually reinforcing multipliers: eradication of poverty and hunger, reduction of inequality, mitigation of deprivation, creating jobs for all, inclusion of excluded people, acceleration of human development, and elimination of terrorism. This model is broadly based on democracy, economic development, governance and social justice. The model incorporates a rights based approach in which empowering people to realize their full potential is the basis of achieving peace and development. This inclusive approach may also imply a more equitable distribution of wealth, establishment of minority rights and of social safety nets for the vulnerable members of the society. I would now like to attempt to conceptualize counter terrorism in the context of the People s Empowerment Model in two broad categories. 5

6 1) Firstly, an analysis of the counter terrorism component of the People s Empowerment Model vis à vis the six other peace multipliers is undertaken, with particular reference to how they can play a role in assisting counter terrorism efforts; 2) Secondly, the constituents of the counter terrorism model as an individual component of the People s Empowerment Model are outlined. How the six other peace multipliers of the People Empowerment Model can play a role in assisting Counter terrorism Efforts? This model to promote peace seeks to address and remove the key threats and challenges to peace; the elimination of terrorism, it is argued, is one of the key threats to peace and stability. It also must be appreciated that the six other peace multipliers, if achieved, would also go a long way to eliminate some of the conditions that lead to the spread of terrorism as well as assist in deradicalization. Terrorism remains a major threat to human security and, while hard power approaches to counter terrorism have been effective up to a certain level, the root causes of terrorism must be adequately analyzed and addressed. Studies show that deprivation of the legitimate aspirations of people and denial of social justice, discrimination against minorities, inequality, unemployment and poverty become the breeding ground for non state actors who resort to violence and acts of terrorism. In addition to hard power approaches, implementing the six peace multipliers of the People s Empowerment Model would thus boost counter terrorism in two ways: 6

7 Firstly, by addressing social concerns like poverty, inequality and human development, it would reduce the number of young people in the country who are disenchanted by the prevailing socio economic situation and are susceptible to be recruited by extremist groups. It must be understood that terrorists target young people by offering them monetary rewards, as well as a sense of worth and belonging. By implementing the People s Empowerment Model, the government and society can offer the younger generation a better future. A better standard of living would delegitimize many of the perceived grievances that terrorists exploit by spreading propaganda and inciting hatred and violence in communities. Secondly, the People s Empowerment Model may play a role in curbing the other big threat to Bangladesh as a nation, that of radicalization. Many studies have shown that radicalization is a process that leads to terrorism, although radicalized people do not necessarily become terrorists. However, it can be generally stated that a radicalized population will be incompatible with the democratic and economic aspirations of the people of Bangladesh. Accelerating human development will be of critical importance in educating and empowering individuals, thus ensuring that they are better equipped to reject radical or extremist ideologies. Overall the seven components of the People s Peace Model are essentially interdependent. To achieve peace, the elimination of terrorism is necessary. To win the war against terrorism comprehensively, elements that are conducive to the spread of violent ideologies must be eliminated. Thus, the elements of the peace model, if implemented, may assist greatly in countering terrorism, which in 7

8 turn would help to ensure peace, stability and the economic growth and development of the country. The constituents of the Counter Terrorism Model as a component of the People s Empowerment Model Bangladesh has made great progress in countering terrorism in the country and has received national, regional and international appreciation for her efforts. Despite this, although violent terrorist attacks have been contained since 2005, terrorists and extremists have shown great adaptability and have changed their strategies to ensure the survival of their organizations. Hizbut Tahrir, which was banned by the government in 2009, has already brought a qualitative shift into the ongoing strategy of terrorist organizations in Bangladesh. The salient feature is that the militants of Hizbut Tahrir are focusing more on organizing seminars, workshops, human chains and widely circulating publications to preach their ideology. Another significant aspect is that they are operating mostly in private universities and English medium schools, including recruiting students from middle class and upper middle class backgrounds. This qualitative shift has made counter terrorism practitioners realize that although hard power approaches had been and continue to be extremely successful, the long term solution to radicalization and terrorism lies in counter radicalization efforts that would include implementing an effective communication strategy and taking a wide range of measures to increase awareness about these extremist ideologies in all segments of society, particularly among the youth in both urban and rural areas. 8

9 Thus, a more inclusive approach to counter terrorism and radicalization is required to meet the challenges posed by contemporary extremist and terrorist groups that would include de radicalization programmes involving the active participation of educational institutions, law enforcement authorities, the media and civil society. Bangladesh has already made some progress in this regard, particularly through the Ministry of Education and the Islamic Foundation, and the quantity and quality of these initiatives can be further enhanced. The progress made by the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Bangladesh Bank must be continued, and vigilance is required to stop the funding of extremist organizations. Capacity building of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, strengthening the judicial system and technical cooperation with regional and international partners will contribute significantly to bolstering the existing measures taken to combat terrorism. Conclusion It can be stated that the People s Empowerment Model is a viable framework for achieving development, growth, empowerment and prosperity which can be extremely effective in reducing the spread of terrorism. Together all seven peace multipliers are mutually inter dependent and the effective implementation of all could empower individuals and societies to enjoy development, prosperity and reject violence, hatred and terrorism that could ultimately lead to enduring peace. Countering terrorism, which is the seventh peace multiplier of the People s Empowerment Model, can be further enhanced through: 9

10 1. Involve key stakeholders including young women, civil society, media, communities and families, government and security bodies to respond to concerns about the threat of terrorism and militancy. 2. To counter the threat of insecurity including violent extremism, community security initiatives need to be promoted as a preventive mechanism. 3. The development of an effective education programme that addresses the weaknesses of mainstream and madrassa education and ensures that educational qualifications lead to employment. 4. The creation of employment and poverty reduction programmes, particularly for young people. 5. Social networks should be created to ensure that frustrations of young people can be legitimately vented through recreational clubs and activities 6. Awareness programmes should be undertaken with a focus on spreading information about the threats of extremism and influencing young people to be socially responsible and avoid unlawful activities. Mass media and cultural programmes should be utilised in this regard. I would like to conclude by recalling what Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in her speech at the 66 th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, where she spoke about the People s Empowerment Model (I quote), peace is achievable with the removal of injustice, which includes repression and absence of rule of law, inequality and economic disparity, deprivation and poverty, suppression of self 10

11 determination, denial of secularism and multi ethnicity, negligence of equal rights for women and the marginalized, as well as the lack of transparency and accountability of governments. Within the framework of the People s Empowerment Model it is important to ensure that each of these issues is addressed in a well co ordinated and cohesive way. It is only then that it can be ensured that not only Bangladesh but all countries both rich and poor, developed and developing do not become a breeding ground for extremists who are willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent people through acts of terrorism. It is only then that we can ensure both national and international peace, security and development. 11

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