Sri Lanka and Bangladesh: Maintaining Peace, Harmony, Law, Counter-Terrorism Approach | Daily News

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh: Maintaining Peace, Harmony, Law, Counter-Terrorism Approach

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina welcomes her Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa with a bouquet at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on March 19, 2021.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina welcomes her Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa with a bouquet at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on March 19, 2021.

Bangladesh is a developing country. Its economy is booming day-by-day. The pattern of crime is changing. Technological advancement has also changed the tendency of crime. One of the major obstacles to Bangladesh’s progress is the volatile law and order situation. In such a situation when every member of the society was suffering from uncertainty, the Government planned to form an elite force to make the activities of the Police Force more dynamic and effective. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) started its journey on March 26, 2004, by participating in the National Independence Day Parade.

On June 21, 2004, RAB Forces started full operational activities. Soon after birth, it started to maintain peace and harmony in society. Since its inception, the RAB has been working at the risk of its life. The RAB has been fighting terrorism and terrorists and has brought those involved in drug trafficking under the law which is one of the goals of the US administration. The United States also aims to curb illegal human trafficking and criminal activity. In fact, RAB is implementing the US policy in Bangladesh.

The Sundarbans

On the other hand, the Special Task Force (STF) is an elite Special Forces unit of the Sri Lanka Police Service specializing in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. It was formed in 1983 not as a military force but rather as a highly specialised police unit. Today it has developed into a major security arm of the State involved in VIP security, protecting sensitive terrorist targets and suppressing activities that pose a threat to national security. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can work together in maintaining peace, harmony, law and counter-terrorism approach, intelligence sharing. The two Special Forces can exchange their experiences.

According to the website of Lankan Police, at the beginning of the early 1980s, with the emergence of terrorist activities in the North and the East, the Police in the course of their duties had to face armed attacks carried out by the terrorists. The terrorist attacks resulted in the killing of police personnel, attacks on Police Stations and assassinations of VIPs. Hence the necessity arose for the formation of a special military arm within the Police Service to counter terrorist activities. In the light of the above situation, a Special Committee was appointed to investigate the police functions in the past to combat terrorism and its shortcomings. Thus the STF and the RAB can work together to counter terrorism and extremism.

Special Task Force (STF)

According to various media reports, the Sri Lanka Army has taken part in two peacekeeping missions with the United Nations over the course of its history. The first assignment was in the Congo (ONUC) (1960–1963). Most recently, following the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the Government and the LTTE in 2002, Sri Lankan Forces were invited by the United Nations to be part of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Haiti. In the process of peacekeeping operations, two soldiers were killed in a raid in Petit-Goave. After over six months of service, the first contingent of the peacekeeping force returned to Sri Lanka on May 17, 2005. In December 2007, the 7th rotation of the Sri Lankan contingent had been deployed with a force of 991 officers and other ranks and many of those deployed have been awarded the United Nations Medal for their services. In January 2019, a Sri Lankan Army officer and trooper on peacekeeping duty in Mali were killed and three more wounded when their convoy came under an IED attack. The incident prompted the Army to accelerate its Avalon programme.

In the wake of the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide attacks by ISIS-inspired terrorists, Sri Lanka continued efforts to enhance its Counter Terrorism (CT) capacities and architecture and improve border security, including through engagement with the United States and other international partners. The Sri Lankan Army and Bangladesh Army can work together in the peacekeeping missions to promote peace because the aim is the same.

The Sri Lanka Army’s newest contingent of 243 professionally-trained Army personnel in the Combat Convoy Company (CCC), well-prepared to serve in the United Nations (UN) Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) left the island on April 21, 2021. The 1st group of the 8th contingent of the Sri Lanka Army Medical Corps (SLAMC) bound for United Nations Peace-Keeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) left the island from the Colombo International Airport (BIA) early on December 28, 2021.

After the verdict in the seven murder cases in Narayanganj on January 19, 2017, the United States commented that the Government of Bangladesh should abolish the ‘RAB’. They called the RAB an “in-house death squad” and criticized the Government’s role in its involvement in extrajudicial killings, torture, and disappearances. However, 25 members of this force have been convicted for seven murders in Narayanganj. Of them, 16 have been sentenced to death and nine members have been sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. As a result, there was a tendency to underestimate the various achievements of the RAB achieved in the last 12 years.

Sri Lanka Army 8th contingent leaving for UN Peacekeeping in South Sudan


RAB’s role in suppressing crime

Apart from suppressing militants and terrorists, the Elite Force RAB is also playing a special role in suppressing traditional crimes. The organisation has cracked down on members of the terrorist forces in different parts of the capital. They still maintain that continuity.

According to various media reports, RAB has so far arrested more than 1,200 criminals and rescued more than 1,000 victims in a crackdown on human trafficking. More than 16,000 firearms and more than 2.5 million rounds of ammunition were seized from the area-based terrorists and arms dealers. About 13,000 armed terrorists have been arrested.

More than 500 Sundarbans-centric pirates and bandits have been arrested in the southern part of the country and about 2,000 firearms have been recovered.

A top RAB official said that besides special operations, RAB has been conducting regular operations to unravel the mystery of cold case murders and catch the fugitives accused. Apart from this, the mobile court of RAB has collected more than two and a half billion rupees in fines.


Role in Anti-Narcotics drive

According to the information of various law enforcement agencies, drugs are behind many crimes including theft, robbery, smuggling, and use of illegal weapons all over the country including the capital Dhaka. For this reason, RAB has been working in the light of a zero-tolerance policy against drugs since its inception.

On May 3, 2016, on the occasion of the 14th founding anniversary of RAB, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed to intensify zero tolerance for drug eradication. Following this, the RAB launched a massive campaign across the country with the slogan ‘Let’s go to war against drugs’.

The Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Dhaka which came under a terrorist attack in July 2016.

According to RAB statistics, they have arrested about 55,000 drug dealers since May 3, 2016. About 150,000 drug dealers have been arrested since its inception. The unit has recovered more than six and a half Crore Yaba tablets since its inception. In addition, about 800 kg of heroin and more than 3.8 million phencidyl were seized.

RAB officials say that Yaba is now the most used drug in Bangladesh. They are coming to the country by sea from Myanmar. In addition, Yaba is constantly entering through the deep areas of the hilly region. RAB is working closely with various law enforcement agencies to close the routes of Yaba entry. At the same time, regular operations are being carried out by listing Yaba traders in and around Cox’s Bazar. The militant attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery (Spanish restaurant) in Gulshan, an elite area of the capital, has brought Bangladesh to the forefront of global discussions. Twenty people, including 17 foreigners, were hacked and shot dead in the attack. Among the dead were nine Italians, six Japanese, and one Indian.

After that hellish attack, the Government sat motionlessly. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sat in meetings with the chiefs of all the forces of the country from time to time. Discussions are going on about how to free the country from the curse of militancy.

After lengthy discussions and consultations, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’ against militancy and extremism. After the Prime Minister’s announcement, the law enforcement forces took to the field to fight militancy and extremism.

The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has been seen playing the most effective role in the campaign against militancy since the Holy Artisan attack.

According to RAB sources, the organisation has conducted 241 anti-militant operations since the Holy Artisan attack. In these operations, RAB has arrested a total of 809 militants. Twenty-five militants were killed in gun battles. In addition, seven militants have so far surrendered to the RAB.

It is also learned that since the Holey Artisan attack, there has been one anti-militancy cell in each battalion of the RAB. All the activities of the militants are monitored through that cell. RAB also has an anti-militancy app to raise awareness about militancy and extremism.


Anti-militant campaign

Regarding the RAB’s campaign against militancy, RAB Director General (DG) Benazir Ahmed said, “Not only the campaign, but we are also constantly carrying out various activities with the militants. So far, eight militants have surrendered. But we have shown the way that the militants can also surrender.”

“We are trying to prevent the militants from trying to incite people to extremism by misinterpreting the Holy Qur’an and its verses, but we are trying to convey the correct interpretation of various verses of the Holy Qur’an to the people,” he said.

Referring to the people of Bangladesh as peace-loving, Benazir Ahmed said, “People of our country do not like bloodshed. Militancy will never be able to rise fully in our country because the people of our country do not like them. According to the media reports, a 9,000-member RAB force is working to protect human rights. Around 27 RAB members including Colonel Azad were martyred. More than a thousand members have been maimed in maintaining law and order and protecting human rights. At different times, more than two thousand members were injured while trying to maintain law and order.

The RAB has been established in the light of some mandates as an elite force. The RAB has been established to suppress militancy, drugs, and terrorism. Today, due to the success of RAB’s campaign, militancy and terrorism have come down to zero in the whole country including the North or the South. The Sundarbans has been freed from piracy due to the RAB’s campaign. We have celebrated the third anniversary of the Sundarbans free of pirates this time.

More than 320 members of 32 bandit groups had surrendered in the Sundarbans. The RAB has also played a humanitarian role in their rehabilitation. In addition to Government grants, the RAB has provided houses, cows, and goats. The pirates of Banshkhali have also been brought back to normal life. RAB was working to bring the surrendered militants back to normality.

Today, the contribution of the ‘RAB’ in socio-economic development and in maintaining law and order in times of crisis is undeniable. The unstable law and order situation is one of the obstacles to our progress. This includes maintaining law and order, recovering illegal weapons, ammunition, explosives, and other such harmful substances, arresting armed terrorists, assisting other law enforcement agencies in maintaining law and order, providing intelligence on any crime and criminals, according to government orders. The RAB also performs other Government duties.

The RAB has received many accolades, including the Freedom Award for its bravery, heroic role, and public service in maintaining law and order. RAB officials have received various medals. Bangladesh is on the highway of development. Therefore, the biggest need is to maintain the overall law and order situation in the country. Thus, we can say that RAB has been playing a significant role in maintaining peace, law and harmony in Bangladeshi society.

(Jubeda Chowdhury is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Dhaka)

- Eurasia Review


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