Last Thursday marked the end of a year after the countrywide bombings by the operators of the banned Jamiatul Mujaheedn Bangladesh (JMB). It is worthwhile to examine what had happened since that fateful day to become both conscious about the rise of extremism in Bangladesh and to take befitting actions in response to it.
Undoubtedly, the government's reactions to the August 17 incidents were spontaneous and all-out in nature. August 17 seemed to shake up the government from its rather casual handling of the rising extremist threat. At least two years before the show of strength by JMB on this day, government had been receiving warnings from different sources that the so called Islamist terrorism was about to burst forth in a serious form in Bangladesh. But the warnings were not well received. The official attitude to them was that the same constituted propaganda designed to spoil the otherwise good image of Bangladesh, internationally, as a moderate Muslim country. However, the shattering effects of August 17 forced the government into appreciating the seriousness and the intensity of the threat posed by extremists.
Therefore, what followed was an well organised dragnet against the JMB leading to arrests of their top ranking leaders, smashing of their networks, seizing of bomb making materials and other arsenals. Thus, one year after August 17, the country appears relatively peaceful and delivered from the terrorist threat ? But is it ?
The doubts are growing afresh because recently signs have surfaced that the JMB operators who were on the run, are utilising probably a slack in the drive against them to reorganise and renew their programme of terror albeit under a new platform. The detection and arrests by the police last week of members of an underground terrorist organization, Hizbut Tawhid, at Chittagong, is a reminder that the threat to the country from terrorism is far from over. Only some months ago, people were impressed by the swift arrests of the main leaders and busting of the networks of the main terror organization, JMB. But the latest arrests in Chittagong and the arrested ones confessing that they belonged to the JMB and had regrouped and formed another organization with goals no different from the JMB, are eye openers that the terrorist elements have not been thoroughly uprooted or eliminated. Rather, they have survived dragnets and search and destroy operations in considerable number and are getting ready to strike again. The arrested ones of Hizbut Tawhid told the police of their plans to launch large scale attacks against targets in different places of Chittagong on August 17.
Thus, there is no room for complacence from a thinking that with the top people of the JMB behind bars and many of its ordinary members having met a similar fate, plus damages inflicted on the clandestine organisation from successful seizures of big caches of explosives, bomb making materials and arms, it has been virtually reduced to impotence. For the arrested former JMB members and now the operators of Hizbut Tawhid, had told their captors that they retained the capacity for quick reorganisation, creation of alternative leaderships and sources of sustenance and methods of revival when their main organization suffered apparently debilitating attacks. That these expressions were not merely boasting have been now proved by members of the JMB getting detected under a new name and platform at Chittagong. There are reasons to think that a large number of JMB members have escaped arrests and detection throughout the country and they retain the motivation and abilities to stage a powerful comeback.
Therefore, the security agencies cannot afford any slack in their operations from a false sense of confidence that they have so badly mauled the JMB and like-minded forces leading to their incapacities, that a lull can be allowed in further searching for them in the same vigorous manner as in the past. Deep cleansing and relentless operations will have to be sustained against the JMB and all terror operators long into the future with not even the slightest decline in the vigil and momentum of the drive against them. This would be the only way of effectively frustrating their renewed attempt to regroup and pose fresh grave threats to the security of the country in all respects. According to reports, there are 22 organisations with aims and operational strategies no different from the JMB. Only four of them have been banned so far while the rest retain considerable facilities to operate relatively freely as surface organisations. Government should consider banning all of them and increasing the vigilance against each of them.
It is also high time to decide on taking swift and uncompromising actions against the godfathers of the JMB and like minded groups. It was learnt from newspaper reports that during their interrogation, JMB leaders had disclosed the names and identities of their shelter-givers and patrons within Bangladesh. Government cannot play hide and seek by letting these godfathers to remain as free men. Whoever they are or their political identities , they must be nabbed and the ruling party must declares its distance from them. This would be the most effective way of dealing with terrorism by getting at its roots and uprooting them. Government may think that such a step before the election will embarrass it before the voters. But this would be wrong thinking because voters are more likely to consider government's impartial and decisive crackdown against the godfathers of terrorism as expression of its sincerity and determination to rid the country of the scourge for good. The same should add positively to the image of the government and its vote banks.