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     Volume 4 Issue 33 | February 11, 2005 |


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Perceptions

Incapability or Insincerity, that is the Question...

Shamim Ahsan

The US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Christina Rocca, wanted to know about the mandate and terms of reference for FBI consultants in a telephone conversation with FM M Morshed Khan while responding to a Bangladesh request for US assistance in the January 27 Habiganj carnage. She stressed that the team have access to all the evidence, witnesses and relevant documents to ensure a meaningful investigation. The newly appointed US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in her telephone talk on February 1 with PM Khaleda Zia also hoped to see an "open and transparent" probe into the Habiganj incident. This implies that the FBI team that investigated the August 21 mayhem wasn't allowed full access to everything concerning the grenade attacks. But what was the point in seeking FBI's assistance and then denying them things they needed to do the job properly? The Home ministry certainly owes the public an explanation; otherwise the AL allegation that "the whole affair of employing foreign investigators into solving the grenade incidents is nothing but an eyewash" would find more credential.

Ten days into the Habiganj tragedy no FBI or Interpol people are in sight. In fact, though both Rice and Rocca claimed that US was considering Bangladesh's request we are yet to know the result of US's seemingly interminable "consideration", that is, whether the FBI is indeed coming or not. The US ambassador Harry K Tomas told reporters on January 3, eight days after the grisly attack in Habiganj, that US was considering Bangladesh's request for FBI aid. One wonders how long will it take? Does this delay translate into Bangladesh government's reservations about giving FBI full access to evidence, witnesses and documents relating to the grenade attacks? We don't know. Those who do know are not saying anything about it.

The government's willingness to get the FBI involved has been also questioned by the slain leader's wife Asma Kibria. In a press conference on February 5, Asma accused the government of lying about inviting foreign investigators. " They didn't make any formal request to any foreign agency so far. I want to see a copy of any such invitation," she claimed. We don't know the truth, but the concerned government authority must have an answer.

The delay in starting the investigation is the last thing we want to see now. It does not take a genius to know that the spot of occurrence needs to be scrutinised and evidence collected from there by forensic experts as quickly as possible; any delay in doing so will very likely damage crucial clues. In fact, one of the reasons why the foreign investigators failed to make any headway into the August 21 grenade attacks was the delay in their arrival. Ten long days have already gone by, how much time are we going to lose by dilly-dallying?

There have been more than 20 such incidents since 1999 including 4 grenade attacks . It is widely believed that the majority of these acts are linked, specially in the 4 grenade attacks the same brand of Arges grenades have been used. Even from a layman's eyes it is easy to detect a pattern in these incidents -- individuals or political parties or organisations or occasions that are associated with a certain set of values and beliefs are being made the targets. Very often the target is a political meeting or some sort of gathering. But more than half of a dozen intelligence agencies are grappling in the dark, absolutely clueless about these terrorist attacks.

There is more to it than just simple intelligence failure. Had our intelligence agencies investigated all these cases intensively and in a coordinated manner since the first such incidents it would have sent the right message to the perpetrators? Did they really pursue any of these cases with single-minded concentration to the finish? Not really. In most cases, the investigations fizzle out half way through, sometimes because of the inefficiency of the responsible persons, sometimes for political interference or political interest, sometimes because the IO (Investigation officer) was changed and all his work trashed because he was appointed by the previous government. Sometimes, weird as it may sound, another gruesome incident has occurred to grab the public's and media's attention and divert it from the previous one. There may be other reasons but nobody seems to know what they are.

One thing is certain though. The government control intelligence bodies and unfortunately, the BNP government, as did the AL while in power, appears to be seriously lacking in sincerity, when it comes to consistently pursuing all these cases. So, how can we blame the intelligence agencies before we allow them to work independently and to their full capability? Given full liberty they could perhaps have resolved all the cases and nabbed all the heinous perpetrators. And who doesn't know that the best and perhaps the only means to stop the next attack is to catch the killers who orchestrated the previous murders and by bringing them to justice. But does the government have this precious element called "sincerity"? We really don't know.

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