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All Quiet On The Eastern Front

A week after the bomb blasts in all but one of its districts, if the Bangladeshi leadership has devised a credible political strategy to counter the threat, it is certainly keeping that a well-guarded secret.

All Quiet On The Eastern Front
All Quiet On The Eastern Front
Officially, there are no Islamic militants in Bangladesh. That theory got blown into smithereens one week ago when around 470 little bomblets went off in all but one of Bangladesh's 64 districts. The amazing thing is only two people died, although scores were injured in the explosions, all of which were near simultaneous all across the country. 

The intent was not so much to kill as to prove a point regarding the reach, the capability, and the serious intent of the attackers: the next time, it will be much worse. 

The timing was also interesting: It happened just after the Prime Minister Khaleda Zia left for China, along with senior officials. The country was, to put it mildly, paralysed. The blasts came with special effects: pamphlets that mocked the idea of democracy and called for the establishment of Islamic law. 

Could it have been the work of Islamic militants? One week later, the Bangladesh government is silent. Could it be that there was an intelligence failure? Certainly, there has been no reshuffle to suggest that this is being addressed.

How many people would it take to precision-manage about 470-blasts without anybody catching on? There is a figure that is doing the rounds: a little over about 3,000. Apparently, small groups of seven were assigned to carefully set up each blast. Could all of them have fanned out without even a hint of official patronage, with zero collusion, connivance or tacit support? If that is possible then it would be tempting to conclude that the authorities are even less in control than was the belief a week ago. 

Could it all have been done by one group alone? The situation certainly opens up a lot of questions. But a week later, if the Bangladeshi leadership has devised a credible political strategy to counter the threat, it is certainly keeping that a well-guarded secret. 

But from the lack of action against those even notionally responsible for the security of the people, it would appear that the same political compulsions that prevent Dhaka from admitting the presence of Islamic fundamentalists on its soil restrain it similarly when it comes to taking punitive action, considering the composition of the government.

These are worrying signs, and not only for Bangladesh. There are over 64,000 madrasas in Bangladesh, and the number is increasing. Some of these madrasas are believed to be harbouring extremists who have received training in places like Afghanistan. When Musharraf sent out foreign "students" from Pakistani madrasas, many hundreds were from Bangladesh.

Given the rise of the more extreme political parties, radicalisation is inevitable. With a long and somewhat porous border, implications for India are quite serious. This is compounded by New Delhi's alarming lack of leverage with Dhaka.

It also does not bode well that coalition ministers make statements that cannot be construed to be anything other than unfriendly and unhelpful to bilateral relations. The big question is: With the elections about a year away, how does Bangladesh stop ceding more political space to fundamentalists?

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