Thursday, June 27, 2019
A police study has revealed that more than half of the country's radicalized students complete their education in general schools. Experts say the government needs to shift focus while targeting potential militants.
The Anti-terrorism Unit of Bangladesh's police published the report, called Preventing Terrorism and Extremism through Community Engagement, last week. The study used data collected from 3,000 suspects who were arrested between 2015 and 2017.
"The common idea is that only Madrassas produce militants, which is absolutely wrong. It is evident that only the Madrassa or Islamic education system cannot be blamed for militancy," Additional Deputy Inspector General (Intelligence) Mohammed Moniruzzaman told DW.
Education to blame?
Schooling in Bangladesh is divided into three chief systems. The general, or mainstream education system treats all religions equally and the curriculum is controlled by the government. Madrassas focus on Islamic education for their students and English-medium schools offer all subjects in the English language. There are around 100,000 primary schools in Bangladesh that follow the general system.
Data from the police study revealed that 56% of Islamic radicals had been educated in the general system, while 22% each came from English-medium and Madrassa schools, although the English system has only 200 schools compared to 20,000 madrassas.
Speaking to DW, Shantanu Majumder, professor at the University of Dhaka said that the education system alone was not to blame for the influencing students negatively.
"One can be exposed to such [radical] ideas sitting in any type of school, whereas I still believe that the government should not take its hands off of monitoring the books or syllabus that are studied in some religion-based schools," he told DW.
More internet, more radicals?
The survey also revealed that 80% of those arrested were radicalized through the Internet while 20% were swayed by their peers. Police officer Moniruzzaman said that students of Bengali and English-medium schools used the internet more often compared to Madrassa students.
He said it was possible that frequent access resulted in more radicalization, but other surveys have proved the contrary. For example, a survey by Move Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Bangladesh, revealed that 75% of Madrassa students had access to the internet through their mobile phones and tablets. Their survey included 36 Madrassas across 12 districts of Bangladesh.
"On an average, students of Madrassas spend one and half hours on the internet every day," Saiful Haq, the head of the NGO told DW, adding, "Girls spend more time than the boys." However, school administrators could not prevent students from using the internet when they were at home.
"Many of them use mobile phones and computers at home. They can use the internet there," Mawlana Mahfuzul Haq, principal of the Jamia Rahmania Arabia Madrassa in the capital of Dhaka told DW. He also said that his institution regularly held teachings to dissuade students from joining radical groups. "With references from the holy Quran and Hadith we tell them that there is no relation between religion and terrorism," he said.
Shift in Focus
In the last few years, several terror attacks in Bangladesh, including at the Holey artisan bakery in Dhaka, the murders of bloggers and liberal thinkers have led the government of Bangladesh to adopt a "zero-tolerance approach" towards Islamic radicalization. Among other initiatives to prevent the youth from joining extremists, the police are increasingly monitoring educational institutions other than Madrassas.
"Especially after the Holey Artisan attack where students from private universities were involved, the common attitude of blaming Madrassas for spreading radicalization has changed drastically among people," the University of Dhaka's Shantanu Majumder told DW.
He thinks that government agencies have successfully countered terror acts, but there is a complex process through which radicalization occurs, and this has increased. On the other hand, cultural activities like theater, which create open attitudes and promote free thinking, have reduced.
Majumder feels that focusing on cultural movements could fight radicalization. "For that, we need to promote more cultural activities in schools, hostels and other places."
Most opposition political parties in Pakistan appear to be uniting in opposing the growing role of the country’s powerful military in shaping the country’s politics, governance, and economy.
A major meeting of leaders of the country’s main liberal, conservative, ethno-nationalist, and Islamist political parties this week agreed on a charter of demands, an agitation date, and a way forward that extensively targets the military’s involvement in Pakistan’s politics and its role in shaping major policies.
Jamiat Ulma-e Islam (JUI), an Islamist political party, hosted the June 26 meeting that included the top leaders of the conservative Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), the liberal Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and nearly half a dozen other parties. Together they present a formidable opposition to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI), whose coalition government holds a thin parliamentary majority.
“This meeting has emphasized parliamentary, constitutional, and civilian rule in the country,” JUI leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman told journalists late on June 26. “We will oppose every move aimed at weakening the parliamentary democracy in our country.”
Rehman said the opposition will unite in moving a no-confidence motion against Sadiq Sanjrani, the current chairman of the Senate or upper house of the Pakistani Parliament. He vowed to mark July 25 as a “black day” to protest what the opposition claims were rigged elections on the same day last year.
Former lawmaker Afrasiab Khattak says the opposition meeting is significant because it shows their resolve to reverse what they see as “political engineering” by the military.
He told the RFE/RL Gandhara website that most opposition leaders are convinced the PTI’s rise since 2011 and its victory in last year’s parliamentary election was orchestrated by the military, which now holds a commanding influence over the administration. The PTI denies being supported by the military, and a spokesman for the military has repeatedly denied meddling in politics.
Khattak says the election of Sanjrani, a political novice, to lead the Senate in March 2018 was part of a larger scheme to dominate the current political system by orchestrating the PTI’s victory. “Removing the chairman of the senate will be a logical first step toward the subsequent removal of the puppet government,” he said of the opposition’s strategy.
Beyond the country’s treacherous power politics, some of the opposition’s most pressing demands also directly address the military.
“We demand that laws should be framed to deal with the issue of forced disappearances,” Rehman said. “People being held by the security forces must be presented before courts of law. We need to also legislate against torture.”
For more than a decade now, Pakistani political parties and human rights organization have accused the security forces of being involved in forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and other grave abuses in conflict regions such as southwestern Balochistan Province and parts of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
While the Pakistani military denies any involvement, these issues have prompted large-scale protests under the banner of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a civil rights movement that emerged in February 2018.
The Pakistani military has accused the movement of colluding with the intelligence services of neighboring India and Afghanistan. But PTM leaders reject such accusations and say they are demanding rights and security for Pakistan’s largest ethnic minority, an estimated 35 million Pashtuns, through peaceful protests.
Months of tensions between the military and the PTM boiled over last month. On May 26, the military killed 13 PTM protesters at a check post in North Waziristan tribal district, according the movement’s members and witnesses. The military, however, said it only responded after protesters led by lawmakers Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir first opened fire.
The two PTM lawmakers are still in prison. Asad Qaisar, a PTI leader and speaker of the National Assembly or lower house of the Pakistani Parliament, has refrained from allowing them to participate in the ongoing budget session. Opposition leaders demanded that the two lawmakers must be allowed to participate in the parliament’s deliberations and called for the formation of a parliamentary committee to probe the May incident in Waziristan.
Rehman said that all leaders are united in opposing the military’s role in first-ever provincial elections in Waziristan and five other districts of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which were merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last year. “We reject the election commission’s recommendation of deploying army soldiers inside the polling stations during the upcoming elections in the erstwhile FATA,” he told journalists.
The opposition rejected the PTI’s proposed budget and ruled out new government initiatives to investigate alleged past corruption and grant the military a formal role in economic decision-making. It called for the freedom of press, which international watchdogs say is reeling from censorship imposed by the military.
Senior leaders of the ruling PTI, however, are not deterred by the opposition’s posturing.
“It is the job of the opposition to criticize and target us, while ours is to stop them,” Firdous Ashiq Awan, a special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan, told reporters. “There is not a single word in the [opposition] parties’ declaration against corruption,” she said, alluding to her party’s longstanding campaign that most Pakistan’s current problems stem from corruption by leaders of the PPP, PML-N, and other parties.
But opposition politicians are banking on rising resentment among Pakistan’s 207 million people amid rapid economic decline. The rupee, the Pakistani currency, dropped to another record low against the U.S. dollar this week. Since December 2017, the rupee has lost more than half its value. Runaway inflation, new taxes, and increasing utility prices are stoking widespread anger.
“We aim to relieve the masses of the crippling inflation created by the incompetent government that assumed power after a rigged election,” Rehman said.
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