There was a news item recently on an English TV news channel that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has survived an assassination attempt in Dhaka amid suspicions that it was the work of insiders including her own security personnel.
The news was based on a report filed by a prominent journalist, believed to be an authority on Bangladesh. However, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was quick to deny the news and said it was fabricated. Denial notwithstanding, the veteran journalist maintained that there was truth in the news of the assassination attempt and stood by his story. Without arriving at any conclusions, this “development” calls for quick scrutiny as Hasina’s life is not only precious to India’s geopolitical and security interests but equally to the stability of Bangladesh.
Hasina today is in the cross-hairs of jehadis and anti-liberation and fundamentalist forces as targeting her would mean a field day for Islamic radicals whose very existence stands imperilled by her no-nonsense and uncompromising stand against war criminals, terrorist and fundamentalist outfits including Jumatul Mujahdeen (JMB), Hefazat e Islam and their affiliates.
So a whole bunch of enemies has sprung up, continuously trying to assert their presence by terror attacks as notoriously seen on 1 July 2016 at the Holy Artesan bakery and followed by sporadic suicide attacks in different parts of the country. Influx of Rohingyas has added to the security threat to Hasina. And their numbers are huge.
Last reports said the figure stood at 4,51,000 and the number is growing. Hasina is wisely addressing the refugee problem with a humanitarian approach perhaps to be on board with the international community. Yet, a large number of Rohingyas have been or being radicalised.
There are credible reports that Pakistan’s ISI, with its agenda to destabilise Hasina, is constantly trying to use the terror outfit Lashkar e Toiba( LeT) to indoctrinate and train a segment of Rohingyas to eventually harm the Prime Minister. ISI activities are well known on the soil of Dhaka. The Pakistan High Commission has been proactive. In the last couple of years, there had been expulsion of many Pakistani diplomats and staffers from Dhaka due to incompatible conduct. There were also reports that one undercover Pakistani High Commision official had come to notice openly providing money to JMB for terrorist activities.
Material support in terms of fake Indian currency was also given to operatives for destructive actions in India. These nefarious designs are part of the bigger plot to harm Hasina. Getting rid of her would help rightist, reactionary and fundamentalist forces to usurp power and once she is gone there is no other leader in sight who can hold the reins and control the country.
Not even her son or daughter. Even if the report on the assassination is false, Hasina can’t afford to take chances with her life and Bangladesh. The country’s most popular Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and many members of his family were slain on 15 August 1975 by the military.
Informed sources confirm that there was specific intelligence to the effect that Mujib’s life was in danger and a conspiracy was being hatched to kill him. This information was shared in time by the Indian external agency R&AW directly with Mujib but it went unheeded.
Even a chopper from the Indian side was on standby but nothing helped probably because early warnings were not taken seriously and Bangladesh paid dearly. The current report also speaks about a theory that her personal security personnel have been allegedly won over exactly on the lines of the Indira Gandhi assassination case. We are yet to get authentic reports about this but there is no harm if adequate precautions are taken.
Intelligence must be hard, corroborated and since it has implications for India, needs to be addressed with all the seriousness it deserves. Neither Bangladesh or India – two friendly countries – can afford another assassination.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that outfits like Aqua Mul Mujahdeen ( AMM) have surfaced with the active collaboration of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) under the stewardship of one Hafiz Tohar who is suspected to be working hand in glove with Pakistani ISI backed LeT trying to cause problems in Bangladesh. Thus an attempt to harm Hasina cannot be ruled out in the present turbulent scenario when a section of the Rohingyas has gone berserk and multiple forces are at work to rattle the stable government.
Waiting in the wings, with the support of Pakistan, is opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia whose son, Tareq Rahman, sheltered in London, remains in touch with the Pakistani military and ISI. It is very likely that these inimical forces may join hands to embark on a misadventure.
Immediate answer to tackle the problem is to launch a vigorous joint intelligence drive with India. A senior intelligence officer from India can be positioned in Dhaka for some time to interact and for regular stocktaking.
Sources say that the last audit of Hasina’s personal security was undertaken by Indian experts in 2010. It is high time a fresh review is undertaken in the light of developments.)
(The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a columnist on topical issues. He is a Bangladesh watcher and had served in Indian High Commission, Dhaka for more than three years. The views are personal.)