Democratisation of state and society needed to root out terrorism

Editorial, NewAge, October 31, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Islamist militants in the country are very much alive and very much kicking. The periodic arrests of the merchants of terrorism and the haul of weapon, explosives and extremist literature make this clear. They are there in the country, either living incognito among the common people or withdrawing within their hideouts, till apprehended in periodic drives. Obviously, had vigilance been more intense and the lawmen’s drive more regular, they would have been captured long ago. Even then, we welcome the action by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but with a note of anxiety that such actions are episodic and not sustained.

Monday’s raid by the Rapid Action Battalion after two days of operation resulted in the arrest of nine persons associated with the banned Islamist outfit Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami, for their alleged involvement in the deadly grenade attack on the Awami League rally on August 21, 2004. Two of the seven arrested were alleged to be directly involved in the attack. While the arrests are to be commended it is relevant to enquire why the militants escaped arrest so long and how many are yet to be netted. In other words, the drives must be thorough, intense and sustained. Arresting is only the first stage of the anti-militancy operation. Assiduous investigation must follow, charge-sheeting must be flawless and prosecution unsparing.

However, Islamist terrorism is not entirely a law and order issue; there are educational, political and cultural dimensions of it. Why young people are turning to militancy and why do they enjoy some limited support among the people? Their number may still be small but far from negligible and those arrested may be just a fraction of the army of youths recruited by one or the other of the terrorist outfits bearing different names. Terrorism does not grow out of nothing; behind terrorism and militancy there are sources, financial conduit (foreign link), training, education and indoctrination. And these terrorists are not without their patrons, local and foreign, who may be either religious zealots themselves or encourage terrorism from different motives.

There is also the negative factor that helps nurture extremism: popular frustration over the non-fulfilment of their hopes and aspirations. Economic deliverance of the people has not come and the democratic process which could lead the people to the desired goal is faltering. The local and foreign patrons of terrorism must be disabled, any money laundering must be watched, greatest care must be taken during any transfer of national assets like banks to a foreign national, and the democratic process should be so inclusive and inspiring that none should feel left out and look for desperate alternatives to democracy. As an immediate imperative, the normal process of democratisation must be restored speedily. While the lawmen and prosecutors do their job, the country itself must ponder what is amiss in the field of politics, education and culture and deal the correctives.

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