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Saturday Feature
Peace Corps withdrawal is no fluke
Enayet Rasul

          The United States authorities suspended the activities of their Peace Corps in Bangladesh from March 15 and since then the 71 members of the corps left Dhaka. The instant reaction of the Bangladesh government was one of disappointment. Government leaders here described the pull out of the Peace Corps as unwarranted ; they considered that security conditions following the gaoling of JMB's top leaders had rather worked against the necessity of any such withdrawl as the security conditions have vastly improved.
But the developments, so far, tell a different story. According to whatever things have been reported to the press about the statements yielded from interrogating JMB supremo, Shaikh Abdur Rahman, there is still a large countrywide presence of the JMB units with their striking potentials remaining unaffected. What is more ominous has been the hint from the JMB supremo that the ones of the JMB at large retain their motivation to carry out retaliatory or revenge actions. Shaikh reportedly told his interrogators that he directed over cell phone the free members of JMB'S highest governing body, the Majlis-e-Sura, to carry out reprisal attacks against select targets. Shaikh boasted to his captors that it was impossible to root out the JMB followers or stamp out their activities. He has reasons to maker such confident remarks. Only a handful of the JMB's terror networks have been arrested and disabled from their violence potential.
According to Shaikh's confession to his interrogation team, JMB has 64 district commanders or one each at the district level. Under them there are assistant commanders at the upazilla level. The underground organization also draws active support from some 10,000 full time activists apart from having probably a considerable support base among the population in general that played no small a role in helping them to sustain in their murderous adventures. Thus, in all appearances, the vast network of terrors is far from being totally subdued. Certainly, the arrest of a major part of its top leadership comes as a big blow for the JMB but not probably as an overwhelming one. For both the facts of the terror networks remaining substantially intact and earlier preparations taken by the underground body to be able to regroup and revive notwithstanding lack of contacts with their highest ranking leaders, seem to suggest that JMB is far from being a spent force.
As it is, the two Majlis-e-Sura members and three of the district commanders who have been successfully evading arrest, are known to be particularly ferocious persons and could be quite undeterred by the arrests of the top JMB men. Sura members-- Salahuddin and Khaled Saifullah -- are particularly dangerous for their love for violence and they are apprehended to be active in reorganizing and resuscitating the JMB after its current traumas. They are getting assistance in this from the three district commanders - Shafiqul Islam, Abdul Aziz and Abdul Hye who are all distinguished for their notoriety and barbarity. Reportedly again, security agencies have been tipped off about the strong possibility of the recovered JMB carrying out blood shedding activities --specially in the capital city-- on the occasion of the Independence Day on March 26.
Recently, the Charge d' Affaires of the US embassy in Dhaka told journalists at a meeting that the decision to pull out the Peace Corps was not taken casually. It was taken after it was substantiated that a credible threat to Peace Corps members existed from JMB operations. Earlier, it was reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the USA had carried out independent investigations about the JMB threat to Western interests in Bangladesh. It appears that among other recommendations made by the FBI was the one of withdrawl of Peace Corps members particularly for the reasons that the young Peace Corps members roam round the country in connection with their philanthropic activities. They could, therefore, be the soft target of JMB extremists. Furthermore, the FBI had recommended that Westerners should be careful and restricted in their activities in Bangladesh and that embassies and other high profile Western institutions and also NGOs supported by Western countries could be the target of JMB attacks. The FBI investigations found that JMB's ire against Western interests have peaked as its top leaders were convinced that the crackdown against them was mainly at the insistence of the US and other Western countries.
The US embassy's Charge d' Affaires has called the Peace Corps withdrawl not as a reflection of no confidence in the abilities of Bangladeshi security agencies. She described it as only a transient phenomenon or a suspension in the activities of the Peace Corps till further improvement in the security conditions in Bangladesh. This can be interpreted to mean that there is no great dissatisfaction with the activities of local security agencies but only taking precautionary measures till they have completed their tasks when conditions will have been created for the return of the Peace Corps. Thus, there is no reason for misconception or misunderstanding as this step has been taken in response to the realities without indicating that Bangladesh authorities have failed to take decisive actions against terrorism or are being lackadaisical about it.
However, the Peace Corps withdrawl has some symbolic value. Foreign investments and all other fruitful or positive interactions with foreign countries and organisations are influenced by the host country's image as a safe and peaceful one. But this image of Bangladesh has been tarred somewhat. It must be fully restored and for this to happen the government must not feel complacent with the arrest of Shaikh Rahman and some other top leaders of the JMB. The bigger and harder tasks of completely detecting and uprooting the extensive networks of the JMB remains. Only the accomplishment of these tasks 'fully' and 'effectively' at an early date will restore the unblemished security image of the country.


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