Bangladesh has moved up three spots to 43rd place on the list of 163 nations included in the most recent edition of the Global Terrorism Index (2023). Bangladesh has been one of the most efficient nations in combating terrorism, and it has been progressively climbing higher on the rankings every year since 2016. Such growth is outstanding for the country, especially that it has overtaken most of its contemporaries in the South Asian region, with India ranking 13th and Pakistan ranking 6th. Bangladesh has also passed the United States, which is currently ranked 30th among the countries most affected by terrorist activities. Bangladesh’s such progress has come after several trials and troubles, credits to its attitude of no compliance intended in its anti-terrorism movement.
Although South Asia resonates with the global trend of decreasing death by terrorist activities in 2022, it still has the worst average GTI score, the same as the previous year. There’s no wonder about it, as three of the South Asian nations, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, are among the top 15 countries that are most likely to be impacted by terrorist activities.
Pakistan recorded 643 deaths, a 120% increase in deaths from terrorist attacks in 2022 compared to 2021. Much of the death is attributed to Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), the fastest growing terrorist group in the world. Not only that, among the 10 deadliest terror groups, three of them operated in Pakistan last year. The developing country once had a promising future but its ominous association with such terrorist groups and government reluctance in countering them with strong hands have created a constant state of frenzy and insecurity in lives of the people of the country.
India stood 8th in declining deaths from terrorism in the last year, yet it stands very high on the GTI ranking. The religious and communal diversity in the country sows’ seeds of terrorism easily. It has been suffering from terror attacks in Jammu & Kashmir by Pakistani Jihadist groups since forever. Notably, deeply-seated Maoist terrorism is another headache in Northern India.
In Bangladesh, anti-terrorism mission is built on sheer governmental will along with active responses from different branches of law enforcement agencies. The country left no stones unturned to maintain its international reputation as a pro-peace country especially knowing how terrorism can quickly become a roadblock to the country’s development, exemplified by Pakistan’s current situation. So there’s no denying that Bangladesh’s South Asian peers can pay attention to what the country is doing right.
Bangladesh first experienced a large-scale terror attack in 2005, when a Muslim militant group, Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), carried out 459 bombings in 63 districts in 30 minutes.
This horrifying incident marked the country’s realization that terrorism has reached its doorstep. By 2009, terrorist activities had amplified further. Bangladesh didn’t have the infrastructure to cope with such a crisis at the time, but the government doubled down on terrorists with whatever it had at the time, and it certainly worked well in tackling the militancy threat in the country.
Bangladesh’s proactive approach to counter-terrorism began with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2009 (amended in 2023), Money Laundering Prevention Act 2012 (first to add provisions regarding terrorist funds), the formation of a National Committee for Intelligence Coordination, a 17-member National Committee on Militancy Resistance and Prevention headed by the State Minister for Home Affairs, and the banning of all terrorist groups designated by the United Nations Security Council. It also took initiatives to reform the Aliya and Quami madrasas by incorporating them into mainstream and secular educational curricula, as radical ideologies were discovered to be spread among young students of Madrasas who later became involved in such militant acts.
A traditional expectation from such experiences with terrorist activities was that militancy in Bangladesh was exclusive to poor, illiterate madrasa students or Afghan returnees. But with the 2016 Holey Artisan café siege, militants who took hostages were found to be from wealthy and educated backgrounds. A new kind of terrorism was brewing in the country with online radicalization and brainwashing. This was far beyond religious ideologies or political maneuvers where frustration towards the state was associated with the causes behind extremism. The government realized it had to be nipped in the bud before it caused more chaos.
Bangladesh reacted fast and diligently. A zero-tolerance policy was pursued to track down militants, Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU) was introduced, along with a joint clearance operations strategy was followed through by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC). Government also increased monitoring of cyberspace and social media where terrorists were found to be building their network. The clearance operations resulted in the deaths of 79, arrests of more than 512; setting a precedent that Holey Artisan tragedy won’t be repeated in the country.
The steadily decreasing number of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh since 2016 can be attributed in large part to the country’s unwavering dedication to the anti-terrorism fight that has been repeatedly demonstrated. Recently, there has been an upsurge in Rohingya terror activities in Coxs Bazar camps and a new relation between ethnic groups and terrorists. Rising ethnic violence among local groups in CHT especially when separatist groups like Kuki-Chin National Front has been aiding militant groups, is not an old phenomenon in the history of terrorism in Bangladesh. The government must show the same vigilance in dealing with these issues, clearly dampen internal security in these regions.
To deal with these new threats, government must hold transparent discussions with political leaders, collaborate with India to address transnational terrorism, and also policymakers should focus more on building institutional capacity in dealing with militancy.
*Sadia Aktar Korobi is a master’s student of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.