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Research Report

Bombs and Ballots:: Terrorism, Political Violence, and Governance in Bangladesh

Naureen Chowdhury Fink
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2010
Pages: 28

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. None)
  2. (pp. i-ii)
  3. (pp. iii-iv)
  4. (pp. 1-1)
  5. (pp. 1-2)

    International initiatives to counter terrorism and militancy have more often than not been directed at the military aspects of such threats, with insufficient attention paid to the specific context—the social, political, and regional dynamics—in which they evolve. In Bangladesh, for example, the combination of development challenges, weak governance, violent politics, and regional tensions has proved a combustible mix. Though the threat of terrorism and violent religious radicalization has evolved gradually over the past decade and a half, it took a series of serious attacks across the country in 2005 before Bangladesh appeared on international radar screens. Despite some...

  6. (pp. 2-6)

    In the 1990s, reports began circulating of bombings targeting Bengali cultural events and allegations began to surface of violent groups imposing harsh interpretations of sharia (Islamic law) in rural communities.⁵ This violence escalated to a series of explosions and bombings beginning in 2004 that targeted prominent political personalities and government representatives. Particularly alarming was the simultaneous detonation of nearly 400 bombs across all but one of Bangladesh’s sixty-four districts in 2005, heightening concern at home and abroad about the hitherto underestimated capacities of militant groups in Bangladesh. More recent reports of secret arms caches, underground operatives, and the regrouping of...

  7. (pp. 7-11)

    In order to effectively combat the threat of terrorism and its causes, it is vital for key stakeholders to better understand the domestic context and operate within the opportunities and limitations it presents. Militancy in Bangladesh feeds off national challenges, such as divisive and violent politics, weak governance, and the social impacts of underdevelopment. These are complicated by the influx of ideas and resources from abroad being directed towards transforming Bangladesh into a theocratic state or imposing more rigid religious and social practices in place of traditionally moderate ones.

    The potential replacement of traditional Bengali cultural practices and regionally informed...

  8. (pp. 11-15)

    Given the severity of the challenges described above, why has Bangladesh not descended further into chaos and insecurity? While the confluence of weak governance, development needs, and political violence would seem to make it an ideal candidate for state fragility or even failure, Bangladesh is also home to strong cultural, social, and political forces that are working to counteract these challenges. Citizens have demonstrated their overwhelming preference for democratic governance despite repeated attempts to install autocratic rule before 1991.69 Political leaders and civil-society actors—including NGOs, the media, and cultural and religious associations—have made efforts to address the gaps...

  9. (pp. 15-18)

    Though terrorism and militancy in Bangladesh has not registered alarm on par with some regional neighbors, national and international actors have recognized the need to effectively combat the threat. However, the government of Bangladesh’s response has been largely reactive, rather than preemptive, and constrained by resources and capacity limitations. This section will explore their response and the gaps therein which provide opportunities for engagement by international actors, with some recommendations for moving forward.

    The government of Bangladesh has adopted a primarily reactive approach to counter terrorism within a law-and-order framework. They have come to rely on an elite force, the...

  10. (pp. 19-21)

    Despite efforts to counter terrorism and radicalization in Bangladesh, reports of recent activity by militant groups suggest that the threat remains persistent, if not in ascendence. Responses by the government have been largely reactive rather than preventive, and have focused on the use of military measures ending in the incarceration or the execution of suspects. Moreover, countering terrorism has become increasingly politicized and perceived by some as a narrow party initiative rather than a broad national imperative.

    The terrorist threat needs to be seen in the context of the political and social challenges facing Bangladesh. Increasing personalization of power, the...

  11. (pp. 22-22)