Night view of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: public domain
Night view of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: public domain

Foreign organizations, including national cricket teams, have been demonstrating renewed confidence in Bangladesh’s security regime after a bad patch of terror attacks from 2013 until last year.

Last month, commandos from the Bangladesh Army, along with other security forces, performed a drill at Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka’s Mirpur area amid the Australian cricket team’s tour of Bangladesh.

Ahead of the Test Match Series between Australia and Bangladesh, the drill on August 17 was conducted not just to assure Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council on the security of the visiting team, but also to portray to the international community that Bangladesh is prepared to tackle any threat from militants, ensuring protection for foreigners in the country.

The drill

A Bangladeshi daily, The Independent, described the drill this way (the English has been copy-edited):

After a loud sound of gunfire, an extremist group detained players in the dressing room. Thereafter, Bangladesh Armed Forces were called to release the captives. Within a short span of time, a battalion of para commandos came forward to release the detained players. After freeing the players from the captivity of the extremists, the armed rescuers quickly shifted the players to a safer place.

Thereafter, the commandos launched the mission to make the stadium extremists free – which they successfully did.

The Holey Artisan attack

In 2015, Cricket Australia canceled a tour in Bangladesh, fearing security threats. Indeed, since 2013, there had been attacks on many locals and foreigners within Bangladesh. Militant organizations, both local and international, claimed responsibility for these attacks. However, the government and law-enforcement agencies attributed them to home-grown militants, and denied any link to international organizations.

Many individuals – bloggers, writers, publishers, and academics – were killed for allegedly insulting Islam. Also, religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Shiites, were killed during the period. Cricket Australia perhaps canceled the tour after taking into consideration the above-mentioned security situation that had been prevailing in Bangladesh during the period.

Later, the English national cricket team also thought about canceling their tour of Bangladesh in 2016 after a terror attack on the popular Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, which was claimed to have been masterminded by ISIS sympathizers in the country.

The attack on the night of July 1 at Holey Artisan, a Spanish cafe in one of Dhaka’s most secure areas, the Gulahan diplomatic quarter, reflected a new security-related reality that had been slowly on the rise in Bangladesh since 2013. The scale of the attack was unprecedented and it raised concern over the country’s security situation.

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Immediately after the Holey Artisan attack, which was followed by another attack in the same month in Sholakia close to Bangladesh’s largest Eid congregation, foreign embassies and businesses became cautious over their operations in Bangladesh and warned their citizens to reduce their movements within the country.

The US Department of State warned its citizens to consider carefully whether to travel to Bangladesh.

Improving conditions

However, Bangladeshi authorities were quick to take control of the security situation and managed to foil all further attempts by militants to wreak havoc. The country has gone on to host several scheduled international events, summits and conferences, including the Dhaka International Folk Festival in November 2016, the 136th Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in April 2017 and the fourth Asia LPG Summit in February 2017. This indicates the growing confidence on the part of the international community over the improved security environment in Bangladesh since the Holey Artisan attack.

India’s accord on big investments in Bangladesh during the Bangladeshi prime minister’s visit to the neighboring country clearly reflects New Delhi’s implicit acceptance of a stable, secure and business-friendly environment in Bangladesh.

Moreover, the tour of the English cricket team in Bangladesh in October 2016 – ending all the confusion that had been brewing regarding the tour – stands as further testimony to the country’s recovery of a secured and stable security environment. Besides a military drill during that tour, the English team were given  “head of state” style security.

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Since, like the English team, Australia showed no reluctance this time to come to Bangladesh, it is apparent that their fear of security threats has largely been reduced, perhaps because of the security forces’ post-Holey Artisan activities in their attempt to reduce the potential for militant threats within the country.

Bahauddin Foizee is a threat/risk intelligence analyst focusing on the assessment of investment, legal, security, political and geopolitical threat/risk. His articles on these areas as well as on social, environmental, financial and military affairs in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific and Middle East regions have been widely published.