Op-Ed

Foreigners: Fear factor still prevailing
AKM Moinuddin
10 Aug,2016

Time flies fast. One month has already passed since the Holey Artisan Bakery tragedy that claimed 24 lives, mostly foreigners. Still the fear factor prevails among foreign nationals though the government is desperately working to create an atmosphere comfortable to all, specially for our foreign friends who live and work in Bangladesh.

Relatives and friends of Dhaka cafe victims are still bearing the pains of last month’s terrorist attack. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, government officials and relatives joined a memorial service in Tokyo on August 2 and they bade farewell to seven Japanese nationals who were brutally killed on July 1. We also feel a strong resentment seeing the bereaved families at home and abroad in deep sorrow.

We have learned that many Japanese nationals who went home on vacation after July 1 attack on Holey Artisan Bakery are yet to return to Bangladesh. The vacation of the Japanese nationals, working in Bangladesh in different fields, has been extended twice and they have been advised lately to stay back home until August 15. It seems that Japanese authorities will take a decision about deploying their personnel at field level in various projects after further reviewing the security situation in Bangladesh.

We have no reason to think that Japan, a very close friend of Bangladesh, and other countries will leave us fearing further attacks on them. It becomes clear from Japanese Prime Minister’s recent remark. He, on August 2, reiterated Japan’s intention not to give way to terrorism and clearly mentioned that Japan will continue to offer assistance to Bangladesh. But the Japanese government is looking for an answer – why Japanese national have been targeted. That question still remains unanswered.

Japanese government, however, is now planning to introduce bulletproof vehicles and modern safety equipment to ensure proper protection of its aid workers overseas, including Bangladesh, as terrorism has turned out to be a common threat everywhere. They have also started renewing their thinking that safety does not come without costs.

On July 6, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) President Shinichi Kitaoka in a statement said JICA will continue giving top priority to the safety of JICA-related personnel and thoroughly assessing the situation on the ground in the places where they work.  JICA also remains firmly committed to contributing to the development of Bangladesh.

Ambassadors of the European countries, last week, met Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed and urged the government to ensure security all over Bangladesh and not just concentrating on the diplomatic zone as their business and development activities are spread across the country. Pierre Mayaudon, the EU ambassador to Bangladesh, after the meeting with Commerce Minister, said, “It is essential that we care not just about the security condition in Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara, the areas where we live. We care about the security situation in every square kilometre of this country.”

Ambassador Mayaudon pointed out it as the EU runs its development activities outside the diplomatic enclave and its investors have businesses outside the diplomatic zone. The EU delegation last met with Ahmed on May 12. At that time, the EU conveyed its security concerns, which hurts the expansion of European investment in Bangladesh. There have been 50 targeted attacks in less than 18 months, with three of them being directed at foreigners, apart from the deadliest attack on July 1. The terrorist attack on Dhaka cafe has dramatically changed the EU’s perception over the security arrangement available in Bangladesh.

German Ambassador in Dhaka Dr. Thomas Prinz recently said two of his colleagues from the Embassy who went home to enjoy summer vacation informed him that they are not coming back to Dhaka after the vacation ends. It indicates that fear factor still prevails among foreigners. Foreigners, working here in various offices, have also reportedly limited their movement.

We understand the government can not alone overcome the challenges. It needs people’s participation in a bigger way. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also sought greater cooperation of people and information from them in tackling militancy and terrorism in an effective way. This call for people’s support in fighting militancy and extremism effectively is very timely. We truly need joint effort as the core values and principles on which we stand as a nation are under attack. We had never thought that tragedy like the Holey Artisan one can happen in a peaceful country like Bangladesh.

Our Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali has also said the government will crush the nexus of terrorism, extremism, and radicalisation at any cost, and eliminate them all from Bangladesh. As the government undertakes immediate and short-term measures, he said, they also need long-term measures to prevent the people getting radicalised. It is a good sign that the government is willing to closely work with civil society, religious leaders, and private sector for advocacy against violent extremists.

A national unity engaging over 160 million people is now essential to restoring confidence among people, both local and foreign friends. Without a fear-free and comfortable atmosphere it will be very difficult to create conducive business climate in the country. If that remains absent, the country will not be able to attract foreign investors to come and develop business activity.