Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Joint Working Group

Government representatives of the United Kingdom and Bangladesh met and inaugurated the Joint Working Group to combat terrorism, as reported by the New Nation and the Daily Star.

Dhaka is seeking the UK’s assistance in capacity building, training, equipment procurement, and border management. During the meeting the UK agreed, in principle, to assist in developing Dhaka’s capability in combating terrorism through law enforcement training, intelligence sharing, and obtaining equipment. However, specific items were not concluded and the next meeting of the Joint Working Group could take place “in [the] next six months.”

Dhaka also suggested the formation of a “joint cell” as part of the border management framework. In addition Dhaka is also seeking assistance in building the capacity of the Coast Guard in order to protect the country’s “marine resources and maritime boundary.”

The Home Secretary said Bangladesh looked forward to “form such [a] group with U.S., Australia, and Russia.” Rather cryptically, foreign ministry officials indicated that the U.S. and UK have proposed Bangladesh and other countries in this region to form a Joint Working Group to combat terrorism.

Additionally, the UK Minister for Security and Counter-terrorism indicated that London is very concerned about the “radicalization of young vulnerable people in countries like Bangladesh,” according to the Daily Star. The Minister stated that ‘there is no doubt illiterate people are most vulnerable to committing terrorism activities.’

The progress of the Joint Working Group is good news, particularly for Bangladesh. Intelligence sharing and training will be beneficial for combating terrorism and border management. Cooperation on the latter will expand the visibility, and control, of the Bangladeshi government in the border areas. Coupled with better equipment, Bangladeshi security and police forces will one day be able to enforce the country’s laws in the areas that are too remote to be policed effectively, such as the Sundarbans and the Hill Tracts.

There is no doubt that these areas continue to spawn violent groups, Islamist or otherwise, due to the lack of effective state control in these areas. The British and Bangladeshis should expand the partnership to include the Australians and the Americans, in order to utilize even more resources in combating terrorism (in the short term) and effective border management (for the long term). The West has obvious interest in promoting Dhaka’s control over its border areas, as effective control will limit the presence of violent groups and their ability to move freely across the India-Bangladeshi border.

India should also be engaged in this dialogue. Any discussion on border management must include the input of the bordering country. Moreover, if the Joint Working Group is also going to discuss the Rohingya issue – Burma must be included at some point. Though the legitimacy (and brutality) of the junta government is clearly an impediment.

The Minister’s assertion that poverty could make one susceptible to messages of Islamism is only part of the problem. As the recent arrest of the JMB’s “IT chief” illustrates even well-educated students can be recruited by violent Islamist organizations. The assertion that poor education, inadequate healthcare and lack of economic opportunity are shared by many militant Islamists is not exactly novel. Targeted development aid to mitigate these realities, coupled with a drive by the Bangladeshi government against corruption will help to prevent seemingly easy recruitment from the rural areas.

However, more work must be done in figuring out why the message of Islamism, and specifically violent Islamism, is being well-received by both the disadvantaged and the advantaged.

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