11,600 Jailed in Bangladesh Crackdown on Militants

11,600 Jailed in Bangladesh Crackdown on Militants11,600 Jailed in Bangladesh Crackdown on Militants

Within six days of announcing a crackdown on militants, Bangladesh had filled its jailhouses with 11,600 new detainees in what seemed like an astonishing display of law enforcement might.

The problem is, less than 2% of those picked up are suspected radicals, and not one is considered to be a high-level operative.

The rest? Most are accused of petty crimes such as theft, burglary or small-time drug smuggling. At least 2,000 are members of the main opposition party, according to its spokesman, while others were believed to belong to a key ally of that party, AP reported.

Analysts, rights groups and opponents of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s secular government now question the crackdown. Was it truly an effort to stop a series of brazen, deadly attacks by extremists on various minorities, or an attempt to gain political advantage from the fear the killings have generated at home and abroad?

Lisa Curtis, an expert on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C., said a crackdown on extremists was needed. But given that only 177 of the thousands detained are actually suspected of radical militancy, according to police, she said that the dragnet will begin to look more like a tool to pressure the political opposition rather than a serious effort to stop the attacks.

The law enforcement campaign could actually deepen the divide between the secular government’s supporters and those longing for Islamic rule, possibly even encouraging militants, analysts said.

“The current political deadlock in the country … will make it difficult for the Bangladeshi government to build a national consensus against the extremists,” Curtis said.

Bangladesh, in addressing the criticism over the crackdown, pledged to refocus its security efforts against suspected militants blamed for the killings of nearly two dozen atheist writers, publishers, religious minorities, social activists and foreign aid workers since 2013. Many of those deaths have occurred in recent months.