A former Indian army officer says Muslim majority Bangladesh, despite its “initial success” in countering radicalisation, remains an “important” target of the Islamic State to expand its caliphate.
Lt General Syed Ata Hasnain, however, did not see any ‘big’ IS presence in the region, including in Bangladesh, at present.
“At the moment it is restricting itself and not expanding in rapid-fire. It is looking for surrogates,” Hasnain, who commanded the Indian army in Kashmir and served as the military secretary in his much-decorated career, said in Dhaka.
He was delivering a lecture on Tuesday at the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) on the challenges facing counter-terrorism in South Asia.
His comment on the IS came in the wake of the radical group claiming that it killed two foreigners in Bangladesh and hurled bombs on a Ashura rally preparation of the Shia Muslims that left at least two dead.
The government has dismissed those claims, but the US says they should be taken seriously.
Hasnain, however, said it was up to the Bangladesh agencies to find out whether IS was involved or not, when asked.
He said events in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan “may be the ‘feelers’ to see how [it] can be done here, if it has to be done at all”.
“A lot of people are raising Islamic State flags in Kashmir that is bull-shit. Those are all symbolic acts.”
But he said Bangladesh could be an “important” target in South Asia because of the “density of Muslim population” and its geographical location connecting South East Asia.
“If caliphate has to be successful, they have to look at the larger segment of territory. South Asia has a larger density of Muslim population. But in India Muslims live in pockets. Pakistan has concentrated Muslims as it is an Islamic republic.
“Bangladesh has a larger density and this is why Bangladesh is important in a larger game of expanding the so called caliphate movement,” he said.
But he added that secularism was Bangladesh’s biggest strength and, hence, it was “not as vulnerable as Pakistan”.
Hasnain suggested addressing the issue of “ideology”, which he said was one of the three things needed to trigger terrorism.
The other two, in his opinion, were leadership and finance.
“That’s (idealism) what our concern is today in South Asia. It’s a major concern in Bangladesh and India. We’re all worried about all aspects of radicalisation,” he said.
Senior military officers including Principal Staff Officer to the Armed Forces Division Lt General Md Moinul Islam, diplomats of different embassies, former Bangladesh diplomats, officials, academia and journalists were present at the lecture.