Vol. 5 Num 558 Wed. December 21, 2005  
Front Page

US lists actions for Dhaka to check terrorism
Suggests closure of institutions, facilities linked with extremists

A high official of the United States government yesterday expressed 'concern' about Bangladesh's future and spelt out the measures the US expects Dhaka to take if it is to become a 'full partner' in its battle against Islamic terrorism.

Bangladesh government should close institutions, organisations and facilities linked with Islamic extremists and "capture and prosecute Bangla Bhai and Abdur Rahman," US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs John Anthony Gastright Jr told an online discussion on the current state of US-Bangladesh relations yesterday.

He also cautioned against those who believe the recent successes of the security forces in capturing senior JMBs figures have ended the terrorist threat.

"We welcome the recent arrests of senior JMB figures and the seizure of huge arms and explosives caches. But, note that most of the JMB's senior leadership remains at large and the actual impact of these developments on the JMB's operational capabilities is unclear," he said during the online discussion with a group of Bangladeshi journalists.

Gastright listed some of the things that would constitute a full partnership between the USA and Bangladesh. These would include ensuring that "investigations of incidents run their full course, including investigating government officials, if applicable, and do not just end with the prosecution of low-level figures."

The USA wants a rapid passage and implementation of anti-money laundering legislation. It also wants Bangladesh's vocal support of the Comprehensive Convention against International Terrorism and for the country to lobby members of the Organisation of Islamic Countries to back it.

"We remain eager to assist and urge the government of Bangladesh to cooperate fully with the US and others and expand its capacity -- with US and other outside assistance if necessary -- to take on these terrorists and other violent extremists...The US has offered to assist and we remain eager to help, but we need to be a full partner in this effort," he said.

On the next general elections, Gastright said, "We think that the most important thing to agree on politically is that all parties should compete in the upcoming national elections and that all parties accept the outcome of those elections."

He suggested that the Bangladesh government, with cooperation of all political parties, "should begin preparing now for ensuring that the general elections will be free and fair."

"Such preparations should include acceptance of international and domestic monitoring and protection for voters, especially religious minorities," he said. He also admitted that questions were being raised as to whether the general elections to be held by January 2007 will be free, fair and credible.

On the country's confrontational political culture, Gastright said the USA certainly hopes that the political parties will end the use of hartals that only harms the "superb Bangladeshi business community" and take politics to parliament and the constitutional institutions.

"The United States is concerned about Bangladesh's future," he said, adding the future hinges on Bangladesh's ability to remain true to its tradition of tolerance and moderation, hold free and fair elections, combat corruption effectively, expand economic growth, treat all citizens with equal respect and dignity, and deal effectively with extremists who seek to destroy Bangladesh's future.

The US Deputy Assistant Secretary thinks strengthening democracy and civil society are crucial for preventing the growth of extremism. He also said ineffective law enforcement is just a by-product of the endemic corruption in both the government and the private sector.

"Corruption undermines confidence in government and the country's economy. Corruption threatens Bangladesh's survival. The government should make good on its previous commitments to end it," he said, adding the government should establish a judiciary separated from the executive and give its Anti-Corruption Commission the resources and authority to be truly independent to defeat corruption.

Asked if he believes that there are any links between the JMB and international terrorist organisations, Gastright said the Jamaa'tul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) was using "the same tactic that al Qaeda employs."

Regardless of whether this group is "officially" aligned with Al Queda or not, it obviously wants to impose its violent extremist views on the democratic and peace-loving people of Bangladesh through fear, he said. "So as far as we are concerned they are the enemy of democracy and in the same category," he concluded.