Vol. 5 Num 79 Sat. August 14, 2004  

Bomb threats
What do these imply?
After the bomb blasts in Sylhet, there is now the palming off of threats resulting in a bomb scare and consequent alert on the part of the authorities across a large swathe of installations. Anonymous callers are mouthing these in a free run of self-confidence as though their impunity is guaranteed in a climate of confusion created by successive bombing incidents in Sylhet.

It's something of a new phenomenon we are having to face -- the threats on top of the bomb attacks may not be directly correlated but nonetheless worth taking seriously. Let's catalogue the places being targeted for the panic treatment as if these are sitting on ticking time bombs. First, the three international airports viz Osmani in Sylhet, ZIA in Dhaka and Shah Amanat in Chittagong came under threat. Then followed the bomb scare in the Dhaka University science complex, a number of educational institutions in Sylhet and Sylhet radio station.

It would be too simplistic to be dismissive about these being mischief-mongers' pranks, empty threats or plain hoaxes. Are these the handiwork of isolated individuals and groups looking for kicks and excitement? Or they are an organised part of a network with a mission to destabilise society, paralyse economic and service related activities and cash in on the confrontational politics in the country?

Whichever way we look at it, one thing is certain: law and order concerns in Bangladesh can no longer be treated as routine matters. The circumstances are extraordinary and these call for special counter-measures.

The motivation behind the threats can well be to test the preparedness reflexes of the government, or the response time they take to react to any simulated alarm situation. By reading into the government's reaction pattern they hope to sharpen their strategy for actual destabilisation later in the day.

The dispersal or redeployment of forces entailed is the direct consequence of threat calls. This is a way of testing the strength and resilience of the government to face up to different challenges simultaneously.

At least, they have succeeded in distracting the police and the RAB away from their other tasks to some extent. This has dual implication: on the one hand, the services tend to suffer at the threatened installations, and on the other, ordinary criminals and other hoodlums have a freer rein.

The bottomline is: we must not proceed on the notion that the threats are hoaxes; on the contrary, what they actually imply does call for a more serious strategy to counter them.

Meanwhile, why not get an anonymous telephone identification mechanism fully in place?