Bangladesh’s Zero-Tolerance Policy on Terrorism: Implications in the Region & Beyond

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Where is Bangladesh located in the Global Terrorism Index 2023? In 2022, the US experienced 8 terrorist attacks resulting 11 deaths while the EU experienced 78 terrorist attacks (Global Terrorism Index 2023, p.45 & 48). On the contrary, Bangladesh experienced only 2 terrorist incidents with no death (p.48).  In the report, it was also said that “Bangladesh was the second most improved country in regards to the impacts of terrorism” (p.48). In a recently published book (July 2023), titled, Counter-terrorism in Bangladesh: Developing an Edifice of a Peaceful Society, by the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA, Dhaka) has shown how Bangladesh has been a successful case of counter-terrorism not only in the region of South Asia but also in the world. However, the book argues that the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has had a great impact on the development of counterterrorism efforts in Bangladesh.

It is also worthy to note that in the US Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2022: Bangladesh, it is mentioned that: “In 2022, Bangladesh experienced few instances of terrorist violence as authorities continued to pursue militants rigorously. PM Sheikh Hasina and other Bangladeshi government officials frequently emphasized Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance policy on terrorism”. So, one can argue that Bangladesh was more safer to the US or EU in 2022. But how did Bangladesh do that? And what are the regional implications of Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance policy on terrorism and beyond?

Why Zero-Tolerance Policy?

In 2011, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mentioned the policy of her government with regard to dealing with terrorism. According to her, “Our Government has a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism. Our aim is to break the nexus between terrorism, extremism and radicalization and eliminate all of them from Bangladesh” (UNGA, 2011).

Sheikh Hasina has personally experienced the menace of terrorism. In 2010, at the sixty-fifth session of the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina recalled that “As victims of repeated terrorist attacks, my family and I know this menace well. Clearly, our rejection of terrorism is total, as is our determination to eliminate it in all its forms” (UNGA, 2010).

In fact, a leader’s perceptions matter to the formulation of counter-terrorism policy. Sheikh Hasina perceives terrorism as a personal, national, regional, and international threat. In 2017, at the seventy-second session of the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina pronounced that “Terrorism and violent extremism have become a major threat to peace, stability and development”. Similarly, in 2021, at the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina noted that “Threats of terrorism and violent extremism jeopardize peace and security in many parts of the world. We therefore maintain a zero-tolerance policy in that regard” (UNGA, 2021).

In 2010, at the UN General Assembly Sheikh Hasina also said that “terrorism will not be allowed on the soil of Bangladesh, and that is precisely why we are a party to all terrorism-related United Nations conventions and accord them our full support” (UNGA, 2010).

Thus, the personal experience of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina helped to eliminate all forms of terrorism from Bangladesh which bears regional implications.

Implications in the Region & Beyond

India was facing insurgencies in its Northeastern states for more than 60 years. During Sheikh Hasina’s 2010 New Delhi visit, Hasina ensured that “Bangladesh will not allow its territory to be used for terrorist activities against any country in the neighbourhood or around the world. I can give you this assurance that Bangladesh is committed to eliminating all forms of terrorism from within its territory”.

On 25 March 2017, Mahfuz Anam, the editor and publisher of the Daily Star, wrote at the Straight Times that “Khaleda Zia government had allowed insurgents from the north-east in a mistaken policy to keep ‘pressure’ on India. Over time, these insurgents had become a genuine worry as their destructive power rose with sanctuary on Bangladesh’s side of the border”.

In December 2009, some Indian insurgents were arrested in Bangladesh and were handed over to India. In April 2010, both Bangladesh and Indian governments took firm actions against militants from India’s Northeast. Notably, Bangladesh security forces launched massive operations against the militants.

Sheikh Hasina regime addressed India’s major security concerns by arresting and handing over top United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) insurgent group leaders (ULFA Chief Aravinda Rajkhowa in 2009, who was leading ULFA for three decades). Bangladesh also handed over ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia to India in November 2015.

Indian Recognition

In March 2013, during his visit as the Indian president in Bangladesh, Pranab Mukherjee appreciated the contributions of Bangladesh to address the cross-border security concerns for India.

On 8 June 2015, in its editorial, the Indian Express noted that “The Bangladesh PM’s unreserved cooperation on terrorism has been key to constructing a genuine partnership between Delhi and Dhaka”.

In June 2022, former director-general of National Security Guard of India, Jayanto Narayan Choudhury told that “All the trouble we had in the northeast has been controlled and managed, partly because of Bangladesh. Almost every state in the northeast is now in peace”. He also highlighted that “At all levels, Bangladesh has so far been an outstanding and amazing partner of India on security issues. No one has done as much for the northeast as Bangladesh”.

Bangladesh-India Security Cooperation

To address cross-border terrorism, Bangladesh and India have signed several agreements and MoU. For instance, during the visit of Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010, India-Bangladesh signed three agreements related to terrorism matters. These agreements are: A) Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters; B) Agreement on Combating Terrorism, organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking; and C) Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

In 2013, Bangladesh-India also signed extradition Treaty to suppress crimes. In addition, MoU on prevention of human trafficking, MoU on prevention of smuggling and circulation of fake currency notes were signed in 2015.

These agreements and Memorandum of Understanding are imperative in forging Bangladesh-India cooperation on terrorism matters.

International Recognition

In the United States’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2011, Country Reports on Terrorism 2012, Bangladesh’s cooperation with the United States in combating transnational terrorist groups was acknowledged. In the United States’ Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, it was said that “The Government of Bangladesh has demonstrated political will and firm commitment to combat domestic and transnational terrorist groups, and its counter terrorism efforts made it harder for…terrorists to operate or establish safe havens in Bangladesh”. One can also add that the former US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Marcia Bernicat said “Bangladesh has remained a strong partner in the fight against terrorism. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself is a very, very strong leader in the fight against terrorism”.

Benefits in the Region & Beyond

The successes of Bangladesh’s counter-terrorism policies have had a significant impact on the South-Asian region.

First, success in counter-terrorism contributes to the overall stability of the region. Bangladesh shares borders with India and Myanmar, and any improvement in the security situation in Bangladesh can have positive effects on its neighboring countries. The hill tracts of Chittagong and the northeastern part of India have long been entangled with terrorist activities. Disrupting those groups contributed to the regional stability and security.

Second, countering terrorist activities has an economic aspect, too. An area without any terrorist activities would attract more investment from outside. Additionally, a stable environment for business could enhance intra-regional trade. Thus, the region would see growth in its economy and business.

Third, in combatting terrorism and violent extremism, Bangladesh collaborated and cooperated with various nations. For instance, the country collaborated with India, the US and the UK. As a result, Bangladesh enhanced its diplomatic ties with these nations. This, in turn, created a region of harmony.

Finally, the success of countering terrorism in Bangladesh weakens the terrorist networks in the region. Thus, it helps to uproot terrorism from the region.

Conclusion

While there is security, there is peace and prosperity. One can argue that the impressive socio-economic development in the Northeast of India has been possible due to Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance policy of terrorism. Bangladesh’s success story in counter-terrorism is beneficial not only for Bangladesh but also for the region. Due to the successful counter-terrorism actions of Bangladesh, i.e. zero-tolerance policy, the South-Asian region experiences a more stable and sustainable environment for cooperation and growth. Moreover, it also weakens the entire terrorist network of the region. The success story of Bangladesh in this field would encourage other nations to address the issue of terrorism effectively. So, this piece suggests that there is no alternative to the continuation of Sheikh Hasina government not only to Bangladesh’s security and prosperity but also to the regional peace, prosperity and security.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an adjunct Research Fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA, Dhaka). He is also an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Rajshahi.

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