US envoy pat for Bangla – Home terror? Yes; outside influence? Absolutely

The US ambassador to Bangladesh, Marcia Bernicat, today praised the Sheikh Hasina government for its “zero tolerance” for terrorism but sought more democratic space for the Opposition.

She maintained that terrorism in Bangladesh, if homegrown, was not free of external influence. The Bangladesh government says all terror activities in the country are perpetrated by homegrown elements.

Bernicat spoke to The Telegraph exclusively on the sidelines of a panel discussion attended by her and the US ambassadors to India and Nepal, Richard Verma and Alaina Teplitz. The discussion was part of the two-day Indo-Asia Connectivity for Shared Prosperity conference that began in Calcutta yesterday.

Hasina government

The government of Bangladesh has been meeting the threat of the ISIL (also known as the Islamic State) with the formation of a new counter-terrorism unit…. The Prime Minister has avowed zero tolerance for terrorism…. She’s made it clear to all agencies, the various units and intel services, they need to work together, work with Bangladesh’s foreign department, so that their ability to fight terror is a lot more effective.

Bangla Opposition

We urge as a democracy that you cannot have a democracy without a vibrant Opposition… and so we urge that all of Bangladesh’s Opposition parties and the civil society be given expanded democratic space.

No force should be able to divide a country, but if we as governments, as political entities, create a sense of division that they (the forces of terror) can exploit then shame on us.

Homegrown terror

When the Bangladesh government talks of homegrown terrorism, that’s not inconsistent with the ISIL threat, in fact it is exactly how the ISIL works. It has been very effective in finding disaffected individuals. Are they associating with the JMB (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh), with al Qaida, with the Ansarullah Bangla Team? Yes, all of the above…. Homegrown? Yes. Influenced from the outside? Absolutely.

In 15 months, Bangladesh has actually experienced more claims of attack by the ISIL than any other country in the world outside of Iraq and Syria, so all this is to say that this is a real, serious threat.

Security situation

I think it’s not over…. It’s a new form of terrorism, outsourcing. The lone wolf kind of attacks are so much harder to detect than the old al Qaida style of highly hierarchical, organised and large-scale attacks.

The capacity for flexibility of the ISIL is really extraordinary…. If we as sovereign governments don’t keep expecting the unexpected and planning for that, then we put ourselves at great risk.


We have seen it more and more in the world…. In the Bangladesh model, if you get a good education, particularly in English, then your prospects for getting hired should be very strong. But we know that there are not enough jobs being created.

Another theory… if you have been raised in an environment or household — and this is not a criticism — where there has not been much of an emphasis on religion, then the skewed, wrong teachings of the ISIL might make sense to you. They are known to target the disaffected and the disconnected.

Indo-Bangla ties

We are really in an extraordinary time when India-Bangladesh relations are the strongest they have ever been, the India-US relations are the strongest they have ever been and the US-Bangladesh relations are the strongest they have ever been.

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