THE MURDER OF 20 people in a cafe followed by bomb blasts outside the Sholakia Eidgah in Dhaka are just a few in a series of terror attacks that have rocked the Muslim world in the last ten odd days. The curved line on the map that links Istanbul, via Medina, all the way to Dhaka is the new ‘arc of instability’.
But this is a disingenuous label in a way, for the arc has merely expanded: earlier, its borders were the banks of the Euphrates in the West and the Indus in the East. The phenomenon is not new, only its expansion is.
Bangladesh is not just another victim but an important marker in understanding the psychology of permissiveness that allows such terror to expand. Dhaka has an unimpeachably secular government for a Muslim-dominated country. Politically, this is a rarity. Yet, it is a government that is under grave stress. In the last few years, a number of agnostic bloggers and Hindus have been killed by Islamists.
While the Sheikh Hasina government is always quick to condemn these atrocities, it has done precious little to stem the country’s slide into an abyss. In the war against terror, this is a fatal weakness. It sends a powerful signal to terrorists: they can get away.
A combination of local events is at work that’s likely to fan the flames. For one, opposition parties in Bangladesh subscribe to a brand of politics that blurs the boundaries between religious politics and extra-constitutional action. From there to terrorism is just a small step. Perhaps more disturbing is the denial in which the Hasina government lives. Take, for example, its response to the latest attack. The government in Dhaka has denied that ISIS was responsible. This denial came within a day of the attack on the cafe in the capital, even before investigators had pieced together the evidence at the site. It may turn out that local Islamist groups were indeed behind the attack, but that would be unusual, given that globally ISIS has successfully waged attacks in different countries at the same time in recent days and weeks.
Whatever the reason for that denial—local politics or the internal dynamics of the Hasina government—this attitude does not bode well for Bangladesh and South Asia. The probability of further attacks in Bangladesh will remain dangerously high.