Taliban's gains in Afghanistan pose fears of JMB's resurgence in East: Experts

Ambassador Tariq Karim, the former high commissioner of Bangladesh in India said "Afghanistan's collapse will definitely have an effect on the subcontinent.."
A man sells Taliban flags in Herat province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Photo | AP)
A man sells Taliban flags in Herat province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Photo | AP)

KOLKATA: When the special task force of Kolkata Police nabbed three Bangladeshis suspected of links with terrorist outfit JMB in the eastern metropolis in July, warning bells started ringing among South Asia's security community.

A month later, as the Taliban took over Herat, Kandahar and other cities in Afghanistan, analysts have started worrying that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which has its roots in an earlier Afghan war, may once again grow in strength.

"We have seen how the JMB was founded by Afghan war veterans and how they started a reign of terror in neighbouring Bangladesh in the early 2000s.

"It is well known that they want to bring a form of medieval rule in South Asia and both Bangladesh and India need to guard against the aftermath of a possible Taliban takeover of Afghanistan," Shantanu Mukharji, a strategic affairs analyst and former IPS officer, said.

Ambassador Tariq Karim, the former high commissioner of Bangladesh in India, told PTI telephonically from Dhaka, "Afghanistan's collapse will definitely have an effect on the subcontinent.

It will be a messy situation as groups which had laid low because of the pressure that security forces had imposed on them will feel rejuvenated."

After JMB's founder, Afghan war veteran Sheikh Abdul Rehman was executed in Bangladesh in 2007 and its next leader Maulana Saidur Rehman imprisoned three years later, Salahuddin Ahmed was anointed its new leader.

He is suspected to be hiding in the India-Bangladesh border region.

The Taliban had recruited large numbers of fighters from Bangladesh in the 1990s who formed the core of extremists who plagued that nation in the last two decades.

A slogan coined by the returnees and used in street demonstrations then -- "Amra sobai hobo Taliban, Bangla hobe Afghanistan" (We will all join Taliban, Bangladesh will turn into Afghanistan) -- still haunts India's eastern neighbour.

Although it is yet to be known how many people from Bangladesh have joined the Taliban in recent years, the presence of foreign fighters among Taliban forces slowly encircling Kabul has been observed.

Rajiv Dogra, former Indian ambassador and author of the book 'Durand's Curse: A line Across the Pathan Heart', said, "We know that foreign fighters from across the globe have rallied to the Taliban's cause and we fear that they will carry home the extremist ideology."

These fighters are expected to return to their homelands after the Afghan war ends with their extremist ideology to swell ranks of local disgruntled radicals.

While JMB's current chief is still being hunted, Indian security forces have been rounding up suspected members of the outfit and other Islamic terrorists from Bangladesh who have sneaked into India after the crackdown on radical elements intensified in the neighbouring country following an attack on a popular restaurant in Dhaka in which 22 people including several foreigners were killed in 2016.

Two suspected JMB members were arrested in Assam in April, while other Islamists were rounded up near the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal's Murshidabad last year.

A crackdown on border infiltrations intensified since then but it has not yet yielded any major haul-in of terrorists.

The Border Security Force (BSF) has been put on high alert along the India-Bangladesh border in Assam and Tripura following intelligence inputs of Islamic terrorists planning to infiltrate the country.

Senior Fellow with think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, Gautam Mukhopadhyay, said, "If the Taliban takes over Afghanistan, we will see its ripple effects all over, they believe in an Islamic Emirate which by its nature is international. We foresee a rise in extremism not only among radicals in Bangladesh but also among Rohingyas."

Bangladesh expert and former director of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute for Asian Studies Sreeradha Dutta agreed, "The Taliban takeover will re-energise extremist groups operating in Bangladesh, with spill-overs to border states like West Bengal and Assam, and a possible impact on Myanmar."

India and Bangladesh have been allies in a war against Islamic extremism which the Sheikh Hasina government has been fighting since it came to power.

Terrorists and their sympathisers in the neighbouring country remain her implacable foes ever since she tried and executed Jamaat-e-Islami leaders who were involved in war crimes along with Pakistani forces during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

Hasina's secular agenda has only served to deepen their displeasure.

"Till now, her relentless war on radicals has paid off and given Bangladesh the peace it needed to push its development and economic agenda, but the turning of the clock in Afghanistan with a return to Taliban control could undermine gains with a rise in militancy all over South Asia," Karim said.

Ambassador Sarvajit Chakravarty, who had long years of experience in Bangladesh during the period when Islamic terrorism was rising, said, "The only long-term solution to the problem is wide-spread adoption by India and Bangladesh of a policy of de-radicalisation where youth attracted towards extremist ideology are weaned away from that path and mainstreamed."

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