October 2, 2022

Ethnic fires in Bangladesh

Getting back to the anti-Hindu fires in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina will need to fulfill her promise of exemplary punishment for those responsible for the assault on Hindus. How effective this will be only time will show knowing all politicians count their vote-banks. Quick compensation to victims too will be good.

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

The communal anti-Hindu fires in Bangladesh are still smoldering after having lit at multiple places on occasion of Durga Ashtami on October 13. The trigger was a phoney video clip of the Quran being desecrated in a temple – not the first time false blasphemy has been used by Islamist radicals to raise passions against non-Muslims around the world.

As a result, a number of pooja pandals were attacked, three Hindus succumbed to inquiries after being attacked with sharp weapons, the ISKON Temple was vandalised, houses of over 20 Hindus were set afire and another 66 houses of Hindus were damaged. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered strict action against the perpetrators and security has been tightened in more than two dozen districts. There is no news about what compensation would be given to families of those killed and whose houses have been burnt or damaged.

Bangladesh fully acknowledged the contribution of India in the demise of East Pakistan and emergence of Bangladesh in 1971. In August 2020, Bangladesh announced construction of a standalone memorial for Indian soldiers who laid down their lives fighting for liberation of Bangladesh. The Hasina government has selected 3.5 acres in Ashuganj of Brahmanbaria district, bordering Tripura, due to its significance in the Liberation War of 1971. The architectural design is to reflect the bond between India and Bangladesh. The construction commencing 2020 is to be completed in two years. India too could acknowledge and felicitate prominent Bangladeshi leaders of the Mukti Bahini who had helped Indian forces in East Pakistan.

Before the liberation of Bangladesh, Mujibur Rehman had written in his book ‘Eastern Pakistan – its population and economics’, “East Pakistan must have land for its expansion and because Assam has abundant forests, mineral resources, coal, petroleum etc., Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be economically and financially strong.” Ironically, vote hungry Indian politicians permitted major influx of illegal Bangladeshis into Assam through the 1983 Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal (IMDT) Act. This infamous Act was struck down by the Supreme Court of India in 2005 but not before the demography of Assam was drastically changed. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s contribution in drafting the IMDT Act was rewarded by installing him as President of India.

But radicalism is rampant in Bangladesh with IS supported by terrorist organisations like the Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) – faction of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh. In July 2019, Bangladesh had observed the third anniversary of the IS-claimed attack on the Holey Artisan Cafe in which at least 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, were killed.

The period of Bangladesh under Khaleda Zia-led BNP government was a dark period in India-Bangladesh relations. Four major anti-India terrorist training camps were established in Bangladesh that had Al Qaeda and SSG instructors. India-based insurgents were also trained in these camps. The Islamist BNP government had major tilt towards China and Pakistan and supported multiple terrorist organisations like Jamat-e-Islami, Ahle Hadith Andolan and Hefajat-e-Islam that are viciously anti-India – sowing the seeds of violence against Hindu.

Under Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh military began holding ‘cold start’ annual exercises racing for the Siliguri Corridor – to be initially supported by insurgents within India. That is one reason why China and Pakistan have been fuelling insurgencies in India including in our northeast. The cold start by Bangladesh independently is little threat but when viewed in conjunction with China’s designs for Doklam Plateau (Bhutan), Arunachal Pradesh and strategic footprints in northern Nepal, the threat magnifies.

The Sheikh Hasina government has been going hard against radical Islamists. That is why the Islamic State’s new agency ‘Amaq’ uploaded a new video in Bengali in August 2019 claiming that their fight to establish the Caliphate in Bangladesh has not ended. But radicalism is rampant in Bangladesh with IS supported by terrorist organisations like the Neo-Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) – faction of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh. In July 2019, Bangladesh had observed the third anniversary of the IS-claimed attack on the Holey Artisan Cafe in which at least 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, were killed.

Source: Hindu Jagriti

A former Governor of Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh writes that there is nothing new about persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh albeit this time we are writing about it openly and firmly. This is true but it is also true that the scale of this well planned large-scale anti-Hindu violence is first time since Sheikh Hasina took over the reins of Bangladesh in 2009. This cannot be solely because the Islamists want to get back power in the next general elections in Bangladesh that may be held in December 2022 or early 2023.

A former Governor of Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh writes that there is nothing new about persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh albeit this time we are writing about it openly and firmly. This is true but it is also true that the scale of this well planned large-scale anti-Hindu violence is first time since Sheikh Hasina took over the reins of Bangladesh in 2009. This cannot be solely because the Islamists want to get back power in the next general elections in Bangladesh that may be held in December 2022 or early 2023.

The rise of Islamic jihad in the Af-Pak region post the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and Pakistan-sponsored targeted killings of Hindus and Sikhs in J&K would have a definite link to such large-scale anti-Hindu terrorism in Bangladesh; with the Islamic State and ISI-linked terrorist organisations the common instigators-cum-executioners. But at the strategic level, it is not Pakistan and the Islamic State only that reaps the benefit; instead it is China.

China would love to overthrow the Sheikh Hasina government or bring it to heel if it can create conditions for distancing Bangladesh from India by using all means including continued anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh, exploiting the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam, India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), deportation of only Muslim Bangladeshi migrants under the NRC and CAA while taking in migrants from Afghanistan and no possibility of deporting Pakistani migrants, and the like. Getting Bangladesh on its side will complete the Chinese noose on India’s northeast.

America’s ‘Integrated Country Strategy Bangladesh’ which was approved on August 13, 2018 outlines the aims of peace and stability in Bangladesh for security of the country as well as to ‘counter threats to US interests’ as also serve as a growing contributor to Indo-Pacific and global security. But can the US stop Bangladesh from being drawn into China’s strategic sphere in case Islamists come to power in that country – especially after handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban?

It would be wrong to interpret Chinese President Xi Jinping’s muscle flexing is only to prepare for the 20th Congress of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) slated for next year; which Xi will manage to orchestrate to his advantage because Xi’s political position and CCP’s domestic strength are both peeking presently. But Xi has other headaches that hinder his aim for world domination. China’s external debts are rising and economy is sliding down. The BRI may be at tipping point and rising debt threatens consumers’ capacity to sustain Xi’s domestic consumption-focussed dual circulation economic model. China’s two-child policy too has not been able to reverse the setbacks of the one-child policy because most Chinese find raising the second child too expensive.       

China would love to overthrow the Sheikh Hasina government or bring it to heel if it can create conditions for distancing Bangladesh from India by using all means including continued anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh, exploiting the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam, India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), deportation of only Muslim Bangladeshi migrants under the NRC and CAA while taking in migrants from Afghanistan and no possibility of deporting Pakistani migrants, and the like. Getting Bangladesh on its side will complete the Chinese noose on India’s northeast.

Conversely, the China sees itself ahead of the US in artificial intelligence (AI) and cyberspace. According to a former Pentagon chief of software, “In 10 years, China will dominate key technologies related to AI, synthetic biology and genetics. Some of the US cyber defence systems are at kindergarten level.” In the hypersonic sphere, China may not be ahead of the US despite its recent test of the nuclear fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) in August but Russia is known to be ahead of the US. Therefore, a combined China-Russia hypersonic threat to the US is potent today. Would Xi want to lose the current strategic advantage and take the risks of conflict knowing that initiative lies with him or wait for the US and allies to catch up?

Getting back to the anti-Hindu fires in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina will need to fulfill her promise of exemplary punishment for those responsible for the assault on Hindus. How effective this will be only time will show knowing all politicians count their vote-banks. Quick compensation to victims too will be good.

There has been criticism over India only taking note of the developments in Bangladesh; no statement by the national hierarchy especially the Prime Minister. What Sheikh Hasina is facing today is not just a surge in anti-Hindu rioting but rising radicalism and terrorism. It is also seen from media reports over last few years that the Sheikh Hasina government has supported India in counterterrorism perhaps more than what India has reciprocated. The Prime Minister may wish to depute the External Affairs Minister and the head of R&AW to visit Bangladesh in solidarity for countering radicalisation and terrorism.

The author is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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