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A Brief Look at Bangladesh

14/12/2009

My friend and former colleague Naureen Chowdhury Fink has a fine brief on militancy and radicalisation in Bangladesh in the most recent Asian Conflicts Report (pdf). The situation in Bangladesh may be overshadowed by more dramatic developments elsewhere in the region, but it’s worth a look given the importance of preventing an escalation in militancy in another corner of South Asia as well as the potential for developing new approaches based on some positive aspects of the Bengali experience.

One of the key points of the brief is the need to consider militancy and radicalisation within the context of governance and development as well as security. (Interestingly, Naureen notes that this should be done at least at the decision-making level, if not necessarily in the public sphere; I’d like to hear more about this distinction.) With respect to the importance of the governance sector, two issues in Bangladesh stand out – not just because of their local salience, but because they tend to hold true in other countries where militancy and radicalisation are a problem:

1. The Normalisation of Political Violence

Naureen writes, ‘The highly partisan and confrontational nature of politics in Bangladesh has created an enabling environment for the emergence of militant groups by normalizing the use of violence to express political disagreement and promoting a culture of impunity’. This reminds us that in tracing the evolution of militant groups, a focus on group dynamics and behaviour should not be divorced from analysis of the broader political and normative culture in which it operates.

2. Corruption Facilitates Militancy

Wow, this sounds familiar: ‘Nonetheless, in developing a reputation for integrity in office and a network of social services for the rural poor, Jamaat, or more militant groups outside the political system, can pose a significant challenge to secular governments branded as corrupt, self-serving and unable to provide for citizens’ basic needs in Bangladesh’. This dynamic is a fairly common one that nevertheless remains poorly addressed within both analytical and political spheres. It’s one reason I’m happy to see the publication by Brookings of Corruption, Global Security and World Order (which has not yet arrived in my mailbox, but for which I have high hopes given the list of contributors).

At any rate, Bangladesh serves as a very interesting case study for many of the issues discussed in this blog and I recommend Naureen’s brief as a starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the country. This issue of ACR also has briefs on Maoist violence in India and Thailand’s Islamist insurgency that are worth a look.