BANGLADESH: Militant attacks are the result of failed institutions

The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the terrorist attack in Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka. The country experienced bloodshed on July 1 and 2. A group of militants attacked a Spanish restaurant in the diplomatic zone at Gulshan in Dhaka, at around 9 p.m. on Friday. Around 8 gunmen captured the Holey Artisan Bakery at gunpoint and took all staff and customers as hostage.

A police operation was foiled when the attackers fired AK 22 Assault Rifles and launched grenades at the police, causing the deaths of two police officers (an Inspector of Police and an Assistant Commissioner of the Detective Branch of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police) and injuring more than 20 others. A team of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the country’s so called ‘elite paramilitary force’ back-tracked from the operation and the plan to rescue the hostages that night itself.

The following morning, July 2, at around 7:30 a.m., a combined military commando unit completed ‘Operation Thunderbolt’. Five identified militants and a chef of the restaurant were killed in the military operation (although the authorities claimed 6 militants were killed without providing the details of the sixth person). Of the hostages, 13 of them, including ten Bangladeshi nationals, two Sri Lankans, and an Argentinian, were rescued alive.

After the military operation, there were 20 bodies found inside the restaurant. The Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) of the armed forces of Bangladesh later stated in a press conference that the bodies recovered from the crime scene are mostly that of foreign nationals. Out of the 20 victims, nine of them were Italian ready-made garment buying house officials, seven were Japanese development workers and researchers. Others were an Indian student, a Bangladeshi origin US student, and two Bangladeshi nationals. All of them had their throats slit by the militants. This reportedly happened the previous night after the failed police operation. In total, 28 lives, including that of the five attackers, were lost in the incident.

The US-based SITE Intelligence Group, referring to the Amaq News Agency (IS), has revealed that the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack in the Holey Artisan Bakery. The same subscription-based agency also published the photo of five Bangladeshi youths, introducing them as the attackers. All of them were seen smiling, wearing black dresses, and standing in front of a black back screen carrying guns in the photographs. Later, the police in Dhaka confirmed the information to be true.

According to the information published in the Bangladeshi media, the five youths who took part in the attacks were from affluent families living in Dhaka. The young men, in their 20s, were educated in international schools and private universities of Bangladesh and Malaysia. They left their respective homes and remained missing for months until they emerged as militants.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in a televised speech on Saturday evening, declared two-days national mourning for those that died in the militant attacks. The former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has called for national unity to fight terrorism for protecting the achievements of the nation.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has reiterated in recent years that the institutions of Bangladesh have collapsed, to the extent that they are incapable of discharging their responsibilities, something they are obligated to do for the benefit of citizens.

The latest militant attack is more proof of how far the institutions of the country have failed. In a country where law-enforcement means coercive action with the aim of corruption and appeasement of the ruling masters of the day, the outflow of violence by disgruntled elements, as a result of the vacuum created by disordered governance is inevitable.

The Bangladesh intelligence agencies are being used systematically for chasing political opposition and there is no investment of time, energy, resources, and skills to protect national security, which is daily long-term effort that needs to be done in a silent and peaceful manner.

The politics of the ruling parties of the day has been to abuse the police and intelligence agencies for individual political gains, for the purpose of dismantling the opposition and curtailing fundamental democratic freedoms.

For example, the incumbent government has been consistently blaming opposition parties for every attack and assassination that have taken place in recent years. So far, the justice mechanism has consistently failed to substantiate the governmental claims through credible investigation, prosecution, and adjudication.

In fact, a large number of opposition activists have been extrajudicially executed by law-enforcement agencies in recent years. In contrast, many assassinations and physical attacks on religious minorities and bloggers have taken place with the Islamic State having claimed responsibility for some of these crimes. The government has however constantly rejected that Islamic State has any presence in the country and has continued blaming and hounding the political opposition for any such violence on minorities and bloggers, without evidence. Ultimately, an authoritarian regime has been established in the saga of the blame game, which has deepened problems.

In absence of democracy and the rule of law, the justice institutions that are totally subjugated to the Prime Minister’s Office have been operating as nothing but dysfunctional facades. These facades, amidst the destructive politics, have created the conditions for this attack, which has resulted in the loss of lives of 18 foreign nationals, two policemen, and other citizens that have been victim to the latest militant attack.

In comparison to other jurisdictions where the justice institutions are able to function, Bangladesh does not have the institutional capacity and mindset to resolve the problem, pursue the facts, and uphold justice.

If “national mourning” does not include any holistic unified national plan of action for rebuilding the justice institutions, then Bangladesh is not heading anywhere to protect itself from what it has experienced through the militant attack. If the international community is sincere about helping Bangladesh and its people, it should provide assistance towards the rebuilding of justice institutions, so that they become capable of upholding justice. Sooner it is done the better it is for the nation’s economic, social, political, and democratic existence.