Thursday, August 20, 2009

Confronting "Jihadis" in the village, the new trench

If there has never been a more golden opportunity for the US and UK to work with Bangladesh on substantial issues of border security, this is it. The US and UK must support Bangladesh's training program for border village paramilitaries. Their support will not only increase the effectiveness of the village guards but they will also be able to increase cooperation between paramilitary units and the security forces. Dhaka's plan has enough credibility to seriously undermine militant efforts in moving across the Indo-Bangladesh frontier. American and British support for the plan will make the militants' efforts much more costly. In short, this plan is brilliant and should be supported by Washington and London.

Dhaka's plan calls for training the Ansar-Village Defence Party units in border villages to be able to "eradicate militancy." They reason that since the Ansars will be working primarily in their own villages they will easily identify strangers and, with their new training, will be able to gather information on the newcomers and provide it to security forces for action. In addition, the plan also calls for recruiting women in equal numbers as men (Daily Star).

However, Dhaka must be on guard against walking into a similar situation that West Bengal is facing in Midnapur. It must not rely totally on the Ansar-VDP for its information and security, doing so could cause a total collapse in information-gathering if the Ansar-VDP is unable to complete its mission. JMB members clearly read newspapers: What is going to protect Ansar-VDP agents from their wrath, especially if the village is far from any security force? The answer: a strong relationship with the Bangladesh Rifles.

Bangla Nation believes that in addition to training the Ansar-VDP in this regard, Dhaka, Washington, and London should also look to training and providing for the local Bangladesh Rifles units as an additional facet to the recent proposal to PM Sheikh Hasina.

Although the proposal by the BDR Director General included such mundane things as changing the name, uniform, and insignia of the BDR. A more substantive proposal involved creating a three-tiered intelligence unit.

The first tier would sit alongside National Security Intelligence and Directorate General for Forces Intelligence, the national intelligence organizations. The second tier, under a regional head, would focus on counter-intelligence similar to Rapid Action Battalion. The lowest tier would focus on field intelligence and cross-border intelligence, similar to the army (Daily Star).

This intelligence unit has great potential and would allow the BDR to extend its eyes and ears in the border areas, its home, and work with the Ansars. US and UK training for the BDR and the Ansars would encourage these two organizations to work together for their mutual benefit. Ansars could call in information to BDR, informing them of possible JMB cadres moving across the border into their village, BDR moves in and apprehends the suspects, brilliant.

This may solve security issues along the border, but what about the local governance...

Sidenote: The proposal did not seem to resolve any of the outstanding issues of the BDR including poor payment (as compared to the Army) and the continued appointment of Army officers to lead the BDR. Dhaka must allow the BDR to command itself. The proposal to recruit retired army personnel should be rejected, allowing retired army personnel to join is fine, pushing for it will simply make the BDR a de facto extension of the Army.

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