Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to initiate the process of honouring the families of Indian soldiers killed during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War when she visits India next month. Hasina will reportedly present a citation and Rs 5 lakh each to the families of fallen soldiers. The key role India played in Bangladesh's struggle for Independence in 1971 will be forever etched in the memory of both nations. On the orders of the then Indira Gandhi government, the Indian Army supported the Bengali War of Liberation against Pakistan. Unfortunately, on March 25, a day before Bangladesh celebrates its Independence Day, at least six people were killed in two explosions near a militant hideout that was raided by the country's security forces as part of their "Operation Twilight" in the northeastern district of Sylhet. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. Earlier this month, there were two more suicide bombings near Rapid Action Battalion (a unit of the Bangladesh armed forces focused on counter-terror operations) headquarters in Dhaka. On both instances, the Islamic State claimed responsibility. Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, however, has rejected these claims and said there that there is no Islamic State link with the suicide blasts during the raid at a militant hideout in Sylhet. In the aftermath of a deadly terror attack on an upscale posh café in Dhaka, Bangladeshi intelligence officers working with their Indian counterparts had ascertained that the group responsible was the Al-Qaeda-inspired Ansarullah Bangla Team, and not ISIS, even though they had claimed responsibility. For the time being, both Dhaka and New Delhi have dismissed an ISIS link. "According to them, the Islamic State wants to claim responsibility to show a global footprint, while home-grown militants want to show their international clout," writes Saikat Datta, a Visiting Fellow with Observer Research Foundation's National Security Programme, in a recent column for an Indian news website. "Intelligence analysts agree that the threat is much closer home and has little to do with that terrorist group, at least for now." Although the Hasina government has taken a whole host of measures to tackle this security threat, terrorists continue to indulge in audacious attacks, especially in the days leading up to its Independence Day and Hasina's upcoming visit to India. Terror groups like the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkat-ul-Jehad, Hefazat-e-Islam, elements from the banned Jamat-e-Islami (JeI) and its affiliates with links to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, a few other Gulf countries who believe in 'Islamising' Bangladesh through the instrument of terror, are still alive and kicking. Last year, Bangladesh's Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu made the stunning claim that Pakistan's all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had trained up to 8,000 Bangladeshi jihadis in the last two years and sent them back to launch a violent campaign. "They are trying to avenge 1971, they can't get over it," the Minister said. Bangladesh's intelligence community has furnished several details of Pakistan-trained terrorists. The ISI's alleged aim here is to foment terror, undermine the Hasina government, and fan communal tensions between Hindu minorities and Muslims in a bid to derail Indo-Bangla ties. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's singular focus on Pakistan-sponsored terror has received the unflinching support of the Bangladesh government. Within the international community, Bangladesh has proven to be India's greatest supporter in its recent conflagration with Pakistan. Experts contend that Bangladesh is now India's closest ally in South Asia, ahead of Nepal. On the sidelines of the BRICs summit last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded Hasina for coming up with a comprehensive plan to crackdown on militancy and has said that it could be a model for other countries. Given these circumstances, New Delhi has reached out to Dhaka and offered all assistance, both regarding intelligence and equipment. In 2014, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had unearthed a vast JMB terror network that spread its tentacles across individual eastern Indian states. When Hasina visits India next month, she will surely seek New Delhi's help in addressing cases of terror violence on both sides of the border, which is likely to receive a favourable response from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. New Delhi-based security and intelligence agencies like the NIA, Intelligence Bureau, and Research and Analysis Wing must pay close attention to developments in the neighbouring country, and what spills over into Indian Territory.
India shares a good rapport with the Hasina-led Awami League government, developed over years of mutual assistance. The signing of the Land Boundary Agreement in 2015 and growing trade and commerce ties have improved relations in the last three years. Bangladesh is now India's largest trading partners in South Asia. Last year, both Modi and Hasina signed a host of agreements that allowed the Indian mainland access to its Northeast and South East Asia through routes in Bangladesh. The growth of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)—a multilateral group aiming to revive the vibrant commerce around the Bay of Bengal—is also another positive step in that direction. New Delhi must back the Hasina government's fight against terror. There is just too much at stake for both sides.
Since its inception, critics argue that Bangladesh has traversed on an uneasy path between its secular ethos and the Islamic doctrine professed by its majority. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, declares itself to be a secular party that seeks to protect the rights of minorities. But it has also been accused of appeasing to sections of the radical Muslim community, much to the dismay of liberals, atheists, religious, and sexual minorities. At stake here is the secular character that many Bangladeshis seek to espouse. The country's war of Independence in 1971 is often used as an anchor for modern-day struggles in Bangladesh to maintain its secular identity.