As the high-profile G20 Summit began here on Saturday, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told IANS that the relation between New Delhi and Dhaka is a “very deep rooted one” and “we believe that every time the two countries remain united in every cause”.
Khan, who is also a trusted aide of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also asserted that his country will get some good results from the G20 Summit.
Sheikh Hasina is one of the more than 150 heads of state attending the two-day event at the national capital.
Bangladesh is the only country that has received an invitation for the G20 Summit among the South Asian nations, indicating the importance of India’s Act East Policy with the northeast at the centrestage.
Besides Bangladesh, Egypt, Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Spain, the Netherlands, Singapore are also among the special invitees.
These are some of the excerpts from the interview:
IANS: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had a bilateral meeting with her counterpart Narendra Modi on Friday evening. So what do you expect the outcome of the meeting and how much Bangladesh will gain from the G20?
Asaduzzaman Khan: Actually, our relation is a deep rooted one with India since the inception of Bangladesh. We believe in everytime India-Bangladesh to remain united in every cause, definitely we get some result from this summit.
IANS: How is Bangladesh dealing with terrorism?
Asaduzzaman Khan. Our government is committed to deal with terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations. We have taken various measures to prevent, counter and respond to the threat of terrorism in Bangladesh, such as enacting and enforcing anti-terrorism laws and regulations, such as the Anti-Terrorism Act (2008) and the Money Laundering Prevention Act (2012), to criminalise terrorism and terrorist financing activities and to impose strict penalties for them.
Strengthening law enforcement and security agencies, such as the Rapid Action Battalion, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit, and the Bomb Disposal Unit, to enhance their capacity and capability to detect, disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks and plots.
Enhancing border security and immigration control, such as by installing biometric systems, electronic passport machines, and advanced passenger information systems at all major ports of entry, to prevent the movement of terrorists and their resources across borders.
Cooperating regionally and internationally for combating terrorism, such as by participating in various forums, initiatives and mechanisms, such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, to share information, best practices and resources with other countries and organisations. Implementing social measures to address and fight the root causes of terrorism, such as by promoting education, employment, social justice, interfaith dialogue, tolerance and moderation among the youth and the general public, to counter the narratives and ideologies of violent extremism.
We are determined to protect our people and our nation from the scourge of terrorism. We are also grateful for the support and solidarity of our friends and partners in this endeavor. We believe that together we can overcome this challenge and ensure peace and security for all.
IANS: The Sheikh Hasina government has sought to restore secularism and freedom of religion. What has been her achievement so far?
Asaduzzaman Khan: Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is not only a great visionary leader like her father, the Father of Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, but she has been a champion of secularism and freedom of religion in Bangladesh.
She is the beacon of right and peace for all and with that vision in mind, she has restored religious freedom in the constitution as the cornerstone of our secular identity and declared a ‘Zero Tolerance Policy on any form of discrimination or violence against religious minorities’.
She has also clarified that secularism in the constitution never conflicts with Islam, which is the state religion, and that everyone has the right to follow their own belief and religion. She has balanced her personal piety with a firm secular stand, rallying the support of a major section of the liberal intelligentsia.
The Prime Minister has sought to foster religious harmony and tolerance among all communities in Bangladesh, which is a secular country.
She has also ensured that family law, which contains separate provisions for different religious groups, is enforced in secular courts. These are some of her achievements so far in upholding secularism and freedom of religion in Bangladesh.
IANS: What is your role to contain terrorism in the Bangladesh-India border?
Asaduzzaman Khan: As you may already know, the former BNP-Jamaat led government, being supported by certain other quarters of external elements who were against liberation of Bangladesh, during their tenure extended support to separatist elements from India’s northeastern states, particularly Assam.
Our government has taken action to deport numerous insurgents, especially from Assam, to India in the last few years.
Our security forces totally ensured that Bangladesh soil would never be used by any foreign insurgents for separatist activities or terrorism, in Bangladesh or elsewhere.
Apart from this, as the Minister of Home Affairs of Bangladesh, my role is to ensure the security and stability of our country and our people. I am also responsible for maintaining good relations with our neighboring countries, especially India, with whom we share a long and historic border.
We have a common interest in preventing infiltration, terrorism, and other illegal activities along our border. We have been working closely with the Indian authorities to address these issues and enhance our cooperation in security and border management.
We respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and do not interfere in each other’s internal affairs. We also condemn any violence or discrimination against any religious or ethnic group in either country.
We are committed to upholding the values of democracy, secularism, and human rights that bind us together as friendly nations.
One of the subjects of the agreement signed by our great leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in May 1974 was to complete the demarcation of the land border between Bangladesh and India on the basis of compromise.
Bangladesh is maintaining border management with friendly relations with India in accordance with this agreement.
IANS: You have been one of the longest running Minister holding the Home portfolio in Bangladesh, how do you measure your success in upholding the law and order situation?
Asaduzzaman Khan: I have been serving as the Minister of Home Affairs of Bangladesh since 2014, and I am honoured to have this responsibility given to me by Prime Minister.
I measure my success in upholding law and order situation in Bangladesh by looking at various indicators, such as the Global Law and Order Index, the number of terrorist incidents, the effectiveness of legislation and law enforcement, and the public perception of safety and security.
According to the Global Law and Order Index 2022, Bangladesh scored 79 out of 100, which is similar to the UK. This shows that Bangladesh has a relatively high level of law and order situation compared to many other countries in the world.
Bangladesh also improved its score from 77 in 2021, which indicates that we are making progress in this area.
In terms of terrorist incidents, Bangladesh has been able to prevent and counter many potential attacks by extremist groups, such as Neo-JMB and home grown ISIS, with the help of our police and security forces.
For example, in 2021, we detected and neutralized a remote-controlled explosive device in Narayanganj, raided a militant den and recovered weapons and bomb-making materials, and arrested a lone-wolf attacker who hurled a petrol bomb in the Gulshan Diplomatic Zone.
These are just some examples of how we are combating terrorism and ensuring public safety. We have also enacted and enforced various laws and policies to strengthen our legal framework and capacity to deal with terrorism and other crimes.
The Anti-terrorism Act of 2009, as amended, remains the basis for the arrest and detention of terrorist suspects. The Digital Security Act of 2018 enables us to counter online extremism and hate speech.
We are also considering a US “Alert List” project to create a dedicated terrorist watchlist.
Finally, we measure our success by listening to the people of Bangladesh and their feedback on the law and order situation.
We are aware that there are still some challenges and areas for improvement, such as smuggling of narcotics, communal violence, political unrest, and border security.
We are committed to addressing these issues and ensuring that every citizen feels safe and secure in Bangladesh.
IANS: What are the immediate and long-term challenges with respect to the law and order situation of Bangladesh?
Asaduzzaman Khan: As the Minister of Home Affairs, I am aware of the immediate and long-term challenges that we face in maintaining and improving the law and order situation in our country.
Some of these challenges are: Environmental crimes and harms: Bangladesh is one of the most environmentally fragile countries in the world, facing threats from climate change, natural disasters, pollution, deforestation, wildlife trafficking, and illegal mining.
These crimes and harms not only damage our natural resources and biodiversity, but also affect our health, economy, and security.
We need to strengthen our environmental laws and regulations, enhance our law enforcement and border security capacities, and collaborate with our neighbouring countries and international organisations to combat environmental crimes and harms. Terrorism and extremism:
Bangladesh has been a target of terrorist attacks by extremist groups, such as Neo-JMB and home grown IS, who use online platforms to recruit, fund, radicalise, and incite violence. These attacks pose a serious threat to our national security, social harmony, and regional stability.
We need to prevent and counter these attacks by enhancing our intelligence and surveillance capabilities, disrupting their networks and activities, prosecuting their members and supporters, and countering their narratives and ideologies.
In this regard we are constantly holding dialogues with national and international stakeholders to exchange views, technologies and data to ensure strict vigilance and cooperation to eradicate terrorism by extremist groups in the sub-continent.
Rohingya Refugees: While under the instruction of our Prime Minister, we opened our borders to refugees from Myanmar back in 2017 and ever since been providing them with shelter and food; however, as it is well documented, the Rohingya Refugees are posing serious threat not only with regards to law and order situation but also economically for the country as it is becoming greatly burdensome for a developing country like ours.
Some of these refugees are getting engaged with drug peddling, some are fleeing the camps and crossing borders with fake identities as Bangladeshi citizen and committing crimes in other countries, tarnishing the image of Bangladesh.
Through you, I would like to request all concerned to voice out the concerns and pursue the government of Myanmar to allow the fefugees to return to their homestead at the earliest.
These are some of the major challenges that we face in upholding the law and order situation in Bangladesh.
We are committed to addressing these challenges with determination, dedication, and collaboration.
We seek the support and cooperation of all stakeholders, including the media, civil society, political parties, and the public, in this endeavour.
IANS: With respect to the geographic location of Bangladesh, sharing borders and long coastal border, what are your views of transnational crimes and cross border security?
Asaduzzaman Khan: Bangladesh is a country that faces many challenges in terms of transnational crimes and cross border security. Some of the major threats include terrorism, arms- and drug smuggling, human trafficking, climate security, and financial crime.
These threats jeopardise our economy, social development, and national sovereignty.
As the Minister of Home Affairs, I am committed to enhancing our capacity and cooperation to combat these threats. We have established specialised units such as the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU) to deal with terrorism and organized crime.
We have also strengthened our border security with the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), which is responsible for guarding our 4,427 kilometers border with India and Myanmar.
We also recognise the need for regional and international collaboration to address the transnational nature of these threats. We have been working closely with our neighbours, especially India and Myanmar, to resolve border disputes, prevent cross-border crimes, and assist the Rohingya refugees.
We have also ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and participated in its review mechanism to enhance our legal framework and share best practices.
We are determined to make Bangladesh a safe and secure country for our people and our partners.
We welcome any constructive suggestions and support from the international community to achieve this goal.
IANS: We are aware that in line with your government’s vision of Digital Bangladesh and now, Smart Bangladesh, your ministry has implemented certain schemes, can you elaborate on your efforts of digitalisation of Border, Security Services and relevant issues by your Ministry?
Asaduzzaman Khan: The Ministry of Home Affairs is committed to the vision of Digital Bangladesh and Smart Bangladesh, and has taken several initiatives to digitalise the border and security services and address the relevant issues.
Some of these initiatives are: Digitalising the immigration system to facilitate the movement of people across borders, reduce processing time and cost, and enhance security and data management.
To this end, we have already implemented E-Passport system and soon will be launching E-Visa issuance for foreign nationals intending to visit Bangladesh and the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) for pre-security clearance for all travellers.
Our 999 police helpline service has received millions of calls and it has provided services to them promptly.
Already many citizen services including filing of General Diary with police station, application for passports, work permits for foreign nationals can be made digitally through designated web portals.
Further, we have established a biometric database for the Rohingya refugees to ensure their identification, protection and repatriation.
Also, we have implemented e-governance in the ministry and its subordinate offices to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability.
We believe that these efforts will contribute to the economic and social development of Bangladesh, as well as to the regional and global peace and stability.
IANS: What are your views on the Rohingya refugee Ssituation in Bangladesh from the perspective of security concerns and border control? How are your Ministry placed to tackle this crisis in the long term?
Asaduzzaman Khan: On this burning issue, the Rohingya refugee situation is one of the most complex and protracted humanitarian crises in the world.
Bangladesh has been hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district since August 2017, when they fled from the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is fully aware of the security concerns and border control challenges posed by this massive influx of refugees.
We have taken several measures to address these issues, such as: Strengthening the border security with additional personnel, equipment and surveillance systems to prevent illegal entry, exit and cross-border crimes.
Establishing a biometric database for the Rohingya refugees to ensure their identification, protection and repatriation.
Enhancing the law and order in and around the refugee camps with the deployment of police, army and civil administration to prevent and respond to violence, trafficking, smuggling and other criminal activities.
However, we also recognise that these measures are not enough to solve the root causes of the crisis.
We need a comprehensive, durable and inclusive solution that ensures the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the Rohingya refugees to their homeland in Myanmar with full citizenship rights and security guarantees.
We urge the international community to support our efforts and to exert more pressure on Myanmar to create conducive conditions for the repatriation.
Through you, we would also like to express our gratitude and appreciation to the humanitarian assistance and solidarity shown by various countries, organizations and individuals to alleviate the suffering of the Rohingya refugees.
IANS: What is your response to the allegations made by different local and international organisations regarding human rights violation and extra judicial killing by law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh?
Asaduzzaman Khan: The Ministry of Home Affairs is committed to uphold the rule of law and protect the human rights of all citizens in Bangladesh.
We do not condone any form of human rights violation or extra judicial killing by law enforcement agencies. We have taken several steps to ensure accountability and transparency in the conduct of our law enforcement personnel, such as issuing clear guidelines for the use of force and firearms by law enforcement agencies in accordance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
Establishing complaint mechanisms for the victims or their families to report any allegations of human rights violation or extra judicial killing by law enforcement agencies to the relevant authorities.
Conducting prompt and impartial investigations into any allegations of human rights violation or extra judicial killing by law enforcement agencies and bringing the perpetrators to justice in accordance with the law.
We also welcome the constructive engagement and cooperation of local and international organisations in monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Bangladesh.
We are ready to address any legitimate concerns or recommendations raised by them in a respectful and constructive manner.
We believe that dialogue and partnership are essential for ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights in Bangladesh.
However, we also reject the baseless and biased allegations made by some local and international organizations regarding human rights violation and extra judicial killing by law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh.
These allegations are politically motivated and aimed at tarnishing the image and reputation of our government and our law enforcement agencies.
They are also part of a larger conspiracy to destabilize our country and undermine our development achievements.
We urge these organisations to refrain from making such unfounded and irresponsible accusations and to respect the sovereignty and integrity of Bangladesh.
We also invite them to engage with us in a constructive and cooperative manner to address any genuine concerns or issues related to human rights in Bangladesh.