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The thin blue line

  • Published at 06:03 pm October 29th, 2016
The thin blue line

The average person faces a great deal of confusion about the fine line that separates our police force and RAB.

There are the superficial similarities -- both are law enforcement bodies, and both can be seen patrolling our streets in uniform carrying government-issue weapons, busting crime, and posing for the press with the illegal weapons, drugs, or gold that they have seized.

The differences are tougher to point out. Other than the colour of uniform, and the fact that RAB gives off a slightly more elite vibe than normal police, it would seem that both groups are out to achieve the same thing, and are therefore on the same side.

And for the sake of the country, they better be. The only way to crack down on domestic terror would be for RAB and police to work together, not against each other.

If there is, as some reports suggest, a rift between the two forces, both institutions would be undermined, and our government would have on its hands a rather blunt instrument.

At a time when extremists in the country are showing an unprecedented level of unity and coordination among themselves, we simply cannot afford to have a law enforcement system divided against itself.

Is there simply a lack of coordination in the anti-terror drive, or are the two agencies acting like this on purpose? It is impossible to say from the outside, but one thing is for sure -- the confidence of the public will be shaken if this goes on

Big fish or small fry?

On October 8, during one of RAB’s raids in Ashulia, Abdur Rahman, whose real name is Sarwar Jahan, jumped off a five-storey building and died.

According to RAB, Sarwar was the main guy -- the chief of terrorist outfit New JMB. The counter-terrorism chief of the police, however, said Sarwar was merely a third-tier operative, in other words -- small fry.

The conflicting story is frustrating to say the least. Not only are the two agencies contradicting each other, they are doing so publicly.

Logic dictates that both sides cannot be correct -- Sarwar aka Abdur Rahman cannot be both big fish and small fry.

Someone is wrong, deliberately or not. Something is rotten in the state of law enforcement.

Is there simply a lack of coordination in the anti-terror drive, or are the two agencies acting like this on purpose? It is impossible to say from the outside, but one thing is for sure -- the confidence of the public will be shaken if this goes on.

There really was a lot of good faith towards the police and RAB following the unprecedented Holey Artisan attacks. Successful raids in Narayanganj and Dhaka’s Kallyanpur made the nation believe that the fight against terror was going places. We were hitting back hard, targeting the strategically important dens, and rooting out the main players in the country.

But what exactly is going on between police and RAB now? Are they conducting their own separate operations while leaving each other in the dark? If so, to what end?

There is no reason for there to be separate investigations with the public getting different and conflicting answers. Tremendous confusion had followed the Holey Artisan attacks.

From questions about what exactly happened on that terrible night, to the fates of citizens taken into custody (or even if they were in custody), rumours and misinformation were spreading throughout the country like wildfire.

Now, with police and RAB directly contradicting each other, it becomes clear that some of the confusion is due to internal problems, and not just an honest uncertainty on part of the authorities.

Brothers fight, but this is no happy family

RAB went so far as to complain to the Home Ministry about the conduct of the police, making accusations that police on multiple occasions had assaulted RAB personnel.

A memo was issued by the police, presumably in response, asking police to treat RAB like colleagues and not rivals. RAB had previously complained that its people had at times been attacked by members of the police with sticks and rifles.

The police memo responded by saying misconduct on RAB’s part should be reported to superiors, and that no one should attack anyone while on duty.

For RAB to put in an official complaint to the ministry, it seems likely the problems between the two groups have been brewing for quite some time, and now the tension has reached dangerous levels.

While there may have been resentment within RAB for losing the fight to head the police force instead being put in the role of an elite squad under the police, that power struggle does not give the whole picture.Was there further dissatisfaction over the fact that RAB was given a secondary role in the Gulshan raid and the Kallyanpur raid?

The IGP of Bangladesh Police has since made the assurance that there were no major conflicts between RAB and police, and that the two agencies would work together in harmony, uphold the law, protect the people, and so on. So is this just a case of “brothers sometimes fight”?

The people might need a little more convincing. A big step would be for both agencies to get their facts straight, be a little more transparent, and be honest about the results.

If we are kept in the dark, there is good reason to believe our finest law enforcement personnel are spending less energy on going after terrorists, and more energy on office politics.

Not good for RAB. Not good for the police. Certainly not good for the country.

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.

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