CTFP In Action: Crafting a National Counter-Terror Strategy for Bangladesh

By: Dr. Dennis Walters & Mr. Shahab Khan

BangledeshThe United States published its latest National Counter Terrorism (CT) Strategy in June of this year. On page five of the strategic document, a direct link between American national values and fighting terrorism is made. To Americans this comes as no surprise. Americans expect any national strategy to be about protecting the very values that are at the heart of their country. But where do you start in drafting a strategy when no national values have been defined? The answer of course is with the Constitution. But what if the Constitution has been revised 14 times, and lacks a solid judiciary and legal system to enforce it? A complex task now becomes even more daunting. This was the situation facing Bangladesh when it first tackled the problem of drafting a national CT strategy more than two years ago.

Prior to 2009, most counterterrorism efforts in Bangladesh were focused on short-term security and law enforcement measures to the near exclusion of longer-term efforts to address underlying conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. This began to change when Bangladesh reached out to the Defense Institution Reform Initiative.

"Where do you start in drafting a strategy when no national values have been defined?"

The Defense Institution Reform Initiative (DIRI), a security cooperation program of the U.S. government, began working with the Bangladeshi Enterprise Institute (BEI) in 2009 to determine which of a number of national strategies should be the first to be written and published. By overwhelming consensus, the group decided that counterterrorism was the least controversial of any of the areas needing a national level strategy. Work began immediately and it quickly became apparent that differing views of the problem, not to mention very complex domestic political overtones, made the task quite daunting.

The Combating Terrorism Fellowship (CTF) joined the effort in 2010, and quietly worked behind the scenes with DIRI to help guide the development process. After four sessions spanning three years, a draft strategy was delivered to the Home Ministry by the joint team of BEI, the CTFP, and DIRI. The Home Ministry is now busy finalizing the draft, and it is expected to be ratified by the Prime Minster in the coming days.

Now comes the hard part: implementing the strategy. A strategy is only as good as its implementation, and Bangladesh faces several shortfalls in infrastructure that will make implementing an aggressive CT strategy a challenge. Given the political culture in Bangladesh, consensus and sustained commitment will be required for long-term implementation. Relevant policymakers and stakeholders need training on best practices regarding CT initiatives. Moreover, there is a need to sensitize various stakeholders to the necessity of interagency cooperation in the fight against terrorism. This is where the global CTF network can be put to good use, assisting Bangladesh in achieving a number of key objectives outlined in the strategy. To date, over sixty Bangladeshis have attended some form of CTF training, ranging from regional terrorist finance seminars to graduate degree programs in the United States. In the coming days these individuals will play important roles


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