World View: Bangladesh Tries to Recover from Worst Terror Attack in 40 Years

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Bangladesh tries to recover from Dhaka terror attack, the worst in 40 years
  • Suspicions that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency supported the Dhaka attack

Bangladesh tries to recover from Dhaka terror attack, the worst in 40 years

Photos of five of the attackers, appearing on an ISIS-linked web site
Photos of five of the attackers, appearing on an ISIS-linked web site

“Blood, shock and horror” are the words being used by Bangladeshis to describe the grim news from the Friday overnight terror attack that we reported yesterday at the bakery in the in the highly secure Gulshan diplomatic enclave of Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.

We’ve previously reported on several of the 18 jihadist attacks in Bangladesh in the last year, as in “24-Apr-2016 World View — Bangladesh in shock after university professor hacked to death”. These attacks targeted upper class secular bloggers and liberals. The attacks typically took place in full public view, as gang arrives on motorcycles to attack individuals, butcher them with machetes in the middle of crowded streets and then take off.

However, for the first time, the attack targeted foreigners and was a lengthy siege lasting over twelve hours. Nine of the victims were Italian, seven were Japanese, one was from India, two were Bangladeshi and one was a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin. The victims were among roughly three dozen people taken hostage. It’s the first time that hostages have been taken in 40 years, and it’s being called “Bangladesh’s 26/11,” in comparison to the three-day ’26/11′ terror attack in Mumbai India of November 2008.

The so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) claimed credit through its Amaq News Agency, and backed up the claim by posting photos of the carnage in the cafe hours before the police entered the cafe.

I am among those analysts who do not believe that this was an ISIS operation. I do not believe that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, from his ISIS headquarters in Syria, sent out a team of jihadists to a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh to carry out this attack. Indeed, the Bangladesh police say that all of the perpetrators were Bangladeshi locals, not foreign fighters. It’s possible that ISIS supported the operation and even provided some money, but at most it was a local home-grown operation piggybacking on ISIS’s public relations facilities for their mutual benefit.

Indeed, as I’ve written repeatedly, these terror attacks almost certainly were conducted by ethnic Bihari activists targeting ethnic Bengalis. The difference this time was that they copied ISIS’s tactics, and used ISIS for support.

In fact, Bangladesh suffered an even larger terrorist attack in February 2009, before ISIS even existed, that was even more horrific, except that it didn’t target foreigners. 76 Bangladesh army border guard officers were mutilated and killed in a 33-hour massacre that shocked the country for its brutality. The perpetrators were the troops reporting to them. Bodies of officers and their wives were mutilated and piled into mass graves. ( “(4-March-2009) FBI will aid Bangladesh investigation of border guard officer massacre”) In the end, a total of 847 defendants were tried, en masse, and 152 sentenced to hang, with hundreds more facing long jail terms. ISIS didn’t exist in 2009, but if it had, they might have claimed credit for the border guard officer massacre.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wondered how the terrorists could do this to their own country. She said the usual things about these attacks being “intolerable” and that she was determined to “eradicate” the terrorists:

There is no place for terrorists or terrorism on Bangladesh’s soil. People must resist these terrorists. My government is determined to root out terrorism and militancy from Bangladesh.

It was an extremely heinous act. What kind of Muslims are these who kill other people during Ramadan?

One thing that Hasina always did in the past but didn’t do this time was to specifically blame the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally Jamaat-e-Islam for perpetrating the violence. The BNP is a Bihari political party, so she was using BNP as a code word for Bihari. However, BNP leaders insisted that their political party does not support Bihari violence, and so this time, because of the severity of the attack, Hasina was trying not to be divisive. Daily Star (Dhaka) and Dhaka Tribune and CNN

Suspicions that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency supported the Dhaka attack

Some analysts, especially in India, believe that the Dhaka attack was perpetrated by a Taliban-linked group in Pakistan, supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Besides mere suspicions, there are two major reasons that give plausibility to these accusations.

First, the Dhaka attacks were similar in nature to the November 2008 three-day ’26/11′ terror attack in Mumbai. That attack was perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a Pakistani terrorist group with known connections to ISI, though ISI claims that the connections were severed long ago. The Mumbai attack almost resulted in war, as India threatened to invade Pakistani soil to go after Lashkar-e-Toiba. War was only avoided by hard intervention from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Second, Bangladesh was originally part of Pakistan, and was known as East Pakistan. One of the worst wars of the 20th century was the bloody genocidal war between Hindus and Muslims that followed Partition, the 1947 partitioning of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan, with the latter split into West and East Pakistan. The scale of civilian displacement from their homes was so massive that it was called by some an “exodus of biblical proportions,” since it forced millions of Hindus in Pakistan to flee to India, and millions of Muslims in India to flee to Pakistan.

However, that was a generational crisis war only for West Pakistan and western India. Eastern India and East Pakistan are on a different generational timeline, and their crisis war was the bloody civil war of 1971, mainly between the Biharis and the Bengalis of East Pakistan. The outcome of that war was that East Pakistan became an independent country, Bangladesh.

In the Bangladesh of today, the Bengali-speaking Bengalis are the dominant ethnic group, and the Urdu-speaking Biharis, who originally were from India, are the subservient ethnic group.

But that’s a flip-flop from how things were in 1949, after the Partition war. At that time, Pakistan declared that Urdu was the official language of both West and East Pakistan, and that the Bengali language was to be marginalized. The Urdu-speaking Biharis became the dominant group, and the Bengali-speaking Bengalis were subservient.

In the 1971 war, the Pakistan army was on the side of the Biharis, fighting against the Bengalis, who were supported by India. The war was incredibly brutal, especially the behavior of the Pakistan army toward the Bengalis. Stories of rape, beheadings and mutilation of Bengali civilians were common. The Bengalis won, making Bangladesh an independent nation, and after that the Bengalis were the dominant ethnic group.

Pakistan today still favors the subservient Biharis over the dominant Bengalis, and so it’s quite plausible, though unproven, that the Bihari terrorists received support for Friday’s attack from Pakistan’s ISI.

(In researching this article, I noticed something strange. The Taliban Easter attack on Lahore in Pakistan on March 29 took place in Lahore’s Gulshan Iqbal Park. Saturday’s terrorist attack took place in the Gulshan diplomatic enclave of Dhaka. None of the news reports notes this connection, so perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I thought it to be worth mentioning.) Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (PDF-2001) and My Golden Bengal (21-July-2013) and Swarajya (India)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Bangladesh, Dhaka, Gulshan diplomatic enclave, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Amaq News Agency, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, Hindus, Muslims, Bihari, Urdu, Bengali, Sheikh Hasina, Ramadan, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, BNP, Jamaat-e-Islam, Pakistan, Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI, Mumbai, India, Lashkar-e-Toiba, LeT, Condoleezza Rice, East Pakistan, Taliban, Lahore, Gulshan Iqbal Park
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