Bangladesh has been maintaining close cooperation with the international community to combat terrorism ever since the Awami League (AL) returned to power in 2009. Despite resource and technical constraints, the Bangladesh government has accorded top priority to contain the proliferation of terrorist activities inside the country and their expansion beyond the border. The country under Sheikh Hasina has remained steadfast to deny transit, sanctuary or safe heaven to foreign terrorist groups.
In 2012, the AL government enacted the Mutual Legal Assistance Act that provides legal structure for inter-country cooperation to facilitate enquiries, prosecutions and trial of criminal activities. Under this law, the Bangladesh government could freeze properties of criminals and terrorists and their equipments used in terrorist activities complying with the request of a foreign country. It may be noted that the AL government attached all financial assets of a few United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leaders, including its chief Paresh Baruah following their conviction in domestic courts for direct involvement in cross-border terrorist activities.
As a part of her commitment to the eventual elimination of terrorism in all its forms, Bangladesh acceded to 14 out of 14 United Nations (UN)/ International Anti-Terrorism Conventions/ Protocols. Bangladesh signed the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime in December 2000 to support the process of erecting an international regime against terrorism and related crimes. The Bangladesh National Parliament also ratified the convention later. The country fully supports the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006. Bangladesh was a facilitator of the resolution regarding review of the strategy in 2010 too. The country's Anti-Terrorism Act, 2009 was amended in 2012 and again in 2013 to integrate it with the UN's Global Strategy and other resolutions.
Bangladesh has been forthright on the compliance of the UN counter-terrorism endeavours both at domestic and international levels. The government has made serious efforts to comply with the UN Security Council (SC) Resolutions 1267, 1373, 1455 (regarding al Qaida and Taliban and associated individuals and entities) and other relevant resolutions. Dhaka has been continuously engaged with the UNSC Counter-terrorism Committee formed in pursuant to the UNSC Resolution 1373(2001), which was a counter-terrorism measure against al Qaida, Taliban and allied groups in the aftermath of 9/11 attack.
This resolution requires member states to freeze, without delay, funds and other financial assets or economic resources of persons or entities that commit, or attempts to commit, terrorist acts. The government had enacted the country's first ever Money Laundering Prevention Act in 2012, which was subsequently updated to make it more stringent, to include suspicious transactions and predicate offences for addressing terror financing.
Bangladesh supports the work of the UN in the effective implementation of the UNSC Resolution 1267(1999) and the government has banned all global terror outfits blacklisted by the 1267 Committee. After receiving a communication from the Chairman of the UNSC Committee established pursuant to resolution 1267 covering al Qaida and Taliban and associated individuals and entities, the Bangladesh government immediately activated all concerned authorities, including the Ministry of Home Affairs and Bangladesh Bank for necessary action. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates inter-agency responses.
Bangladesh, in line with its stated position, strongly condemned all terrorist acts, including killing of innocent civilians, particularly women and children, destruction of property, cultural and religious sites in parts of Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and other individuals, groups and entities. The Bangladesh government took note of UNSC Resolution 2170 and its successor Resolution 2178 adopted on September 24, 2014 at the UNSC Summit.
Bangladesh has been active in the South Asian region in areas ranging from building states' capacity to prevent and combat terrorism to strengthening the role of regional organisations in this regard. The country signed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism in 1987. Like other South Asian nations, Bangladesh subsequently ratified this regional pact. Bangladesh also signed Additional Protocol to this convention in 2004. This protocol allows legal cooperation on countering terrorism and it's financing.
Dhaka is also a party to the regional counter-terrorism instrument under BIMSTEC Counter-Terrorism Convention. In its efforts to contain violent religious extremism especially the jihadi forces affiliated to al Qaida and ISIS, the AL government recently decided to participate in multilateral alliance. Bangladesh joined Saudi-led counter-terrorism coalition consisting of 34 Muslim nations in December 2015. The Bangladesh government believes that the country's greater engagement with the key players of the West Asian region would help it to counter jihadi activities in a more coordinated and effective manner.
In addition to these, Bangladesh has been engaged with a number of countries at the bilateral level to fight terrorism and it's financing. . The United States (US) is a key ally of Bangladesh in its fight against Islamic terrorism. On October 22, 2013, Bangladesh signed an agreement with the US to expand bilateral cooperation in the fields of capacity-building and information sharing. The pact also seeks to enhance exchanges between the law enforcement agencies of the two nations.
Bangladesh fully cooperated with the Department of Justice's endeavours to impart prosecutional skills training, and to institute community policing in targeted areas of the country. US Special Operations Command Pacific provided counter-terrorism training to a number of Bangladesh security forces, including Bangladesh Coast Guard, Bangladesh Navy Special Warfare and Diving Salvage Unit, and the Bangladesh Army 1st Para Commando Battalion. At present, Bangladesh's counter-terrorism cooperation with the US focuses on three areas--- (a) counter-terrorism capacity building through training and technical assistance; (b) containing money-laundering and financial crimes and (c) strengthening border and immigration control.
The AL government has been working with other foreign nations as well to counter the jihadi threats facing the country. The Bangladesh Armed Forces Division of the Prime Minister's Secretariat and the British High Commission in Dhaka are currently engaged in the training on counter-terrorism on specific areas under the Counter-Terrorism Training Assistance Programme with the United Kingdom. In order to broaden cooperation on counter-terrorism through training and technical assistance, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Bangladesh and Australia.
The security cooperation between Bangladesh and neighbouring India has been expanded after Hasina's assumption of power. Both the sides stepped up cooperation in fighting cross-border terrorism especially after the accidental bomb blast in Burdwan on October 2, 2014. New Delhi and Dhaka agreed that terrorism poses a common threat and underscored the need to strengthen cooperation for tackling this menace. A number of joint institutional mechanism for various areas related to security have been created to take more coordinated, targeted and action-oriented steps. The multi-tiered consultative mechanism and regular meetings between the heads of border guard agencies of the two countries are working smoothly to take the bilateral security cooperation forward.
The two South Asian nations have been able to build a cooperative security framework by signing several security related agreements and MoUs which specifically address the issue of cross-border terrorism and crimes. New Delhi and Dhaka have undertaken concrete steps to implement the provisions under the Agreement on Combating International Terrorism, Organised Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking. India and Bangladesh signed an extradition treaty on January 28, 2013 to combat cross-border terrorist connections and networks afflicting both the nations. The two neighbouring nations cannot afford to lower the guard as the terrorist groups across the borders often forge ties to subvert the friendly bilateral relations.
The Hasina government's "zero tolerant" policy against violent religious extremism and terrorism, and persistent crackdown on jihadi elements have been lauded by a number of nations, including India and US - Bangladesh's two most important counter-terrorism allies. The US State Department's Country Report on Terrorism in 2013 noted that Bangladesh has achieved remarkable success in several aspects of counter-terrorism like legislation, law enforcement, terror financing, and regional and international cooperation for combating terrorism. It is expected that the ruling AL, which has vowed to root out Islamic militancy from Bangladesh's territory, will sustain the ongoing counter-terrorism cooperation with its regional and global partners to protect the country's peace, stability and democracy.
Dr Rupak Bhattacharjee is an independent policy analyst, writing on issues related to Bangladesh