Transnational Security Facing Threats: Bangladesh

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Transnational security issues have been of concern to policymakers for quite some time now. Global terrorism, human trafficking, small arms proliferation and other forms of transnational security threats have raised concern among policymakers for several reasons. First, the negative impacts of such cross-border issues do not remain confined to the territorial boundary of a state; rather this spill over and affect other countries. Second, in recent times, transnational security threats have caused serious damage to the economic, social and political development at the systemic level. For instance, drug trafficking in Latin America or cross-border terrorism in South Asia has created significant economic, social and political instability. The third reason is equally noteworthy. Limitations of national-level legislation and an absence of adequate transnational collaborative mechanisms or legal regimes have made it quite difficult to deal with most transnational threats decisively.

Bangladesh faces a host of Transnational Security Threats starting from terrorism, arms- and drug smuggling, human trafficking, climate security, and financial crime to transnational organized crime- that jeopardize its already fragile economy and impede social and political development. Bangladesh is geo-strategically significant for a number of reasons: It is the world’s 8th most populous nation with more than 160 million people, World Population Statistics- 2017 under UN. It is also the third largest Muslim nation in the world in terms of demographic strength. Bangladesh sits in close proximity to two would be superpowers- China and India. Hence, if unchecked, the transnational problems facing Bangladesh will have serious consequences for this entire region. In this regard, this article identifies the major transnational security threats facing Bangladesh, analyses how severe the threats are and recommends measures to address these challenges adequately.

Transnational security challenges are threats to the security of nations characterized by an event or phenomenon of cross-border scope, the dynamics of which are significantly (but not necessarily exclusively) driven by non-state actors (e.g., terrorists), activities (e.g., global economic behavior), or forces (e.g., microbial mutations, earthquakes). According to James Cockayne and Christoph Mikulaschek, international terrorism, transnational organized crime, climate change, and climate-related migration, as well as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and small arms and light weapons (SALW), are among the most salient transnational security challenges on a global scale. Paul J. Smith defines cross-border security issues as the non-military threats that cross borders and either threatens the political and social integrity of a nation or the health of that nation’s inhabitants
The absence of a focal point makes it difficult for policymakers and government leaders to direct their attention and energy efficiency. According to the US Department of Defense, transnational threats are major security threats for the 21st century. These threats are characterized by their global nature which means, by definition, that these threats straddle both the domestic and foreign spheres. Transnational security threats have also redefined the role of the military. Previously, the US military was primarily responsible for ensuring national security, while domestic security was in the province of law enforcement agencies.

Experts believe that the advent of globalization has rendered unprecedented economic growth, commerce, and international migration. Easier communication has expanded the global, national and regional horizons creating new opportunities for most countries. However, at the same time, globalization has also opened the floodgates to more harmful elements, i.e., Transnational Security Threats.

The transnational security threats challenging Bangladesh which this article has focused on are Terrorism and Religious Militancy, Arms trafficking and Financial Crime.

Terrorism and religious militancy have become a major concern for Bangladesh. Terrorism and religious militancy in Bangladesh have caused severe damage to the moderate image of the nation. Terrorism has threatened people’s lives, the country economy, and Bangladesh’s political establishment and religious pluralism. Terrorism, amid its lethal manifestation, has generated insecurity and instability within the state and society.

A number of Islamist Militant Groups and their offshoots have sprung up in the country over the course of last two decades. Harkat-ul- Jehad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Hizbut Touhid, Islami Samaj, Hizb-ut Tahrir, and Allar Dal are under the radar of the law enforcement agencies of the country, BIPSS 2010. To make it even worse, these terror outfits maintain and harbor linkages with other trans-national/ international terrorist groups.

Major terrorist attacks in Bangladesh took place in the post 9/11 dateline. Notwithstanding Bangladesh’s Muslim-majority status, the people of this land have traditionally sustained close affinity with Bengali language, culture, and heritage. Their distinct Bengali identity has been a source of religious harmony and peaceful co-existence among different confessional communities in Bangladesh for many centuries. Extremist and religious militants opposed the Bengalis secular image and targeted the traditional Bengali new year cultural festivities on April 14, 2001. Bomb blasts at a crowded festival, on the morning of the Bengali New Year, claimed nine lives, injuring many others.

The terrorist groups planned and executed their terror plots in a sequential manner within the country and society. After targeting symbols of Bengali culture, the militants attacked Bangladesh judicial system. Nine people including two lawyers and a police constable were killed, and 78 others injured on 29 November 2005, in two suicide bomb attacks by the JMB, on Chittagong and Gazipur court premises. The JMB targeted the judiciary as a part of its attempts to replace the current legal system of Bangladesh with Sharia-based Islamic law, Asian Journal 2017.

Militants also attacked the administrative components of the government. The most noteworthy of these, serial blasts in August 2005, rocked 63 administrative districts (out of a total 64) of the country within just 30 minutes, the Prothom Alo, August 2018. Government establishments were targeted in the attack. The country’s democratic political parties too were targeted. With an attempt to assassinate the chief of the then main opposition party and present Prime Minister, Mrs. Sheikh Hasina, militants launched grenade attacks on a political rally. More than 16 people were killed, and over 200 people were injured in the attack. Even foreign diplomats serving in Bangladesh were not spared. Two people were killed and the then British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Mr. Anwar Choudhury, and control structure of several terrorist groups. Top leaders of the JMB were apprehended, put on trial, convicted, and executed. Many operatives of HUJI-B and JMB are still on the run. In terms of legislative responses, special laws and ordinances were enacted to curb terrorism and terrorist financing in Bangladesh. Recent statistics show a dramatic decline in the number of fatalities resulting from terrorist attacks in Bangladesh.

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