by Raian Hossain 25 September 2021
On the verge of 50th year of a friendlier diplomatic relationship between Bangladesh and India, it is essential to consider and analyse the issues which hinder peace, stability, and security, such as transborder militancy of both of the countries. Despite of having longstanding amicable bilateral relations, threats such as transborder militancy might turn out to be an issue of nonconfidence in a changing global political world. In a globalised world, when nation-state borders do not confine security threats pertaining to terrorism, it is crucial for Bangladesh and India to jointly work and adopt preventative mechanisms for reducing or mitigating transborder militancy for the future.
The transborder militancy between Bangladesh and India is not something new, but instead goes back to the late ’90s. Abdul Akrim Tunda, an Indian citizen and one of Delhi’s most wanted terrorists currently in Indian custody since 2013, entered Bangladesh in 1994 being connected with Shaykh Abdur Rahman of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Two Indian militants named Abdur Rauf Daud Merchant and Jahed Sheikh were also arrested in Bangladesh in 2008 and 2009, respectively. In 2009, numerous members, including top operative Mufty Obaidullah of Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF), an Indian banned militant group, claimed responsibility for the American Centre attack at Kolkata having closer links to Harkatul Jihad Bangladesh was arrested in Bangladesh. Last year in 2020, an Indian woman named Ayesha Jannat Mohona alias Jannatul Tasnim was arrested by The Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) branch of Bangladesh police for being involved with Neo-JMB (an Islamic State-inspired terror outfit), who regularly travelled between the two countries.
Transborder militancy between Bangladesh and India is not one-way traffic; Bangladeshi militants have also been arrested and were found to have links with militancy in India. Four Bangladeshis members of JMB were arrested and linked to a bomb blast in West Bengal’s Burdwan district, which killed two people in 2014. Another notable case, Mizan alias Boma Mizan, a top-notch bomb expert of JMB who was snatched from a police van in Mymensingh, Bangladesh, was arrested at Ramanegara, India, was linked with the bomb blast in Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Also, two Bangladeshi nationals- Khairul Mandal and Abu Sultan members of Neo-JMB were arrested along with pamphlets and posters of ISIS by the anti-terror squad of Bihar Police. Besides JMB and Neo-JMB, other banned militant outfits such as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ATB) have shown presence in India as well.
As the activity of militancy among Bangladesh and India is seen with the nature of transborder activity, there is no alternative of combating or fighting extremism and terrorism with two countries hand in hand. Based upon the traditional friendlier relationship between Bangladesh and India, both countries signed the ‘Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT)’ concerning the Criminal Matters in January 2010. The MLAT has allowed both countries law enforcement agencies to share criminal information, extremists’ profile, judicial records, and exchange of arrested individuals, which are essential for combating cross border militancy in the twenty-first century. After the Holey Artisan Bakery incident in 2016, the cooperation grew much stronger between law enforcement agencies of Bangladesh and the National Investigate Agency, Multi-Agency Centre of Intelligence of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Kolkata Police Special Task Force of India. Apart from that, border monitoring activity partially serves to curb cross border militancy between Bangladesh and India. On the 50th friendship anniversary between Bangladesh and India, the first police chief level dialogue was held virtually on January 2021. Such high-level cooperation dialogue helps to reaffirm a strong commitment to fight extremism and terrorism against global terrorist groups and other fugitives. The existing mechanisms mainly include initiatives from the two countries’ law enforcement and national security agencies, which hardly address or focus from the lens of Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE).
India surrounds the border of Bangladesh on three sides with 4096 km. South Asian borders, including Bangladesh and India, are ill-defined, making them rigid and porous for the movement of goods and people. The Bangladesh-India cross border issue creates the opportunity for illegal cross border migration, illegal cattle trade, smuggling, crime, trade of fake currency supporting transborder militancy. While the borders are already porous and ill-managed, the Rohingya refugee crisis has made the situation even more stressful. Even though there are rising concerns about growing connections between Bangladeshi militants, Rohingya rebel groups and Indian rebel groups, both countries see the problem from their own political lens rather than finding a ground of cooperation for mutual security benefit. Also, since most of the cooperation initiatives in countering terrorism are operational and security sector-led, the absence of non-state actors often turns the cooperation mechanism into a realist tool. Even though there are intrastate awareness and policy discussion about P/CVE, but yet been discovered on bilateral cooperation ground between Bangladesh and India. Despite both countries having amicable relations between people to people or at the state level, the presence of religious centric nationalism in politics of both countries often creates the opportunity for misusage of religious sentiments.
The border between Bangladesh and India plays a vital role in transborder militancy, besides border security forces continuing its traditional responsibility of safeguarding the state’s sovereignty, there can be new areas of cooperation such as countering transborder militancy. An India- Bangladesh CT & P/CVE dialogue, either yearly or half-yearly at track 1.5 format, can be arranged to bring relevant ministry, law enforcement agencies, civil society, academics, and think-tankers to discuss and exchange of ideas to explore the possibilities of reducing transborder militancy. Bangladesh and India can set up a joint terror financing working group to carry out terrorist financing risk assessment, which is necessary. Such risk assessment reports can be shared with relevant stakeholders, including ministries, policymakers, law enforcement agencies and financial institutions of both countries. As the transborder militancy among Bangladesh and India is motivated to challenge secular and democratic practices of both governments’, it requires a tolerant and resilient interpretation of religion and practices to reach the ground or community level. Such tolerance, social cohesion, and resiliency-building exercises are to be initiated in schools, colleges, universities, madrasas, religious mosques, or temples. Transborder militancy between Bangladesh and India has also shown women and youths as perpetrators. It requires joint initiatives from both countries to promote and ensure women and youths at grassroots and community levels, like ensuring education, employment, and engaging in volunteering.
As the root cause of transborder militancy is more ideological and misinterpreted by religious narratives, both Bangladesh and India must initiate a plan of recidivism. In both countries, prisons must introduce a particular rehabilitation program and reintegration programs that also caters for militants arrested for transborder militancy to be deradicalised and reintegrated into society. The existing mechanism between Bangladesh and India shows a very ‘top-down approach; rather, a ‘bottom-up’ approach should be encouraged. Academia, think tanks, and civil society must research, analyse and set up initiatives (dialogue, conferences) to assist the governments with effective and practical policy recommendations. Often militants hiding in India from Bangladesh use fake currency, fake voter identity cards, and fake PAN cards (used for high-value bank transactions), robberies, and operate small businesses to self-sustain and finance their terror activities. Hence, cyber cooperation is essential against the threat of dark web or the usage of VPN.