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Five questions about the Sylhet incident

  • Published at 07:55 pm March 29th, 2017
  • Last updated at 08:12 pm March 29th, 2017
Five questions about the Sylhet incident

The Atia Mahal incident is over, with the holed-out jongis dead -- but the five-day campaign run by the army and several other agencies before that in the immediate past have aroused questions in the public space.

It is good that such questions are being asked, and, in this age of instant information, this is inevitable and positive. That is why the need to open better communication channels between the public and those in uniform.

The five main questions are:

1. Why did it take five days when the Holey Artisan bakery attack took just a few hours to contain? Other such incidents prior to this were handled by the police and RAB, so why was the military required?

2. Can this be considered an intelligence weakness/failure as a series of incidents took place in the last few weeks, which showed extensive planning all over the country?

3. Would it not be better if jongis were arrested and not killed, which would allow the police to know more about them and their plans?

4. Is there any truth to the speculation that this was a set-up to divert attention from political problems, and potentially unpopular treaties with India, in the coming India visit of the PM?

5. What sort of information-management system should there be, so that the public-law enforcement agencies’ interaction is better and of higher magnitude?

If the people are not on the same page with law enforcers, the scripts may differ significantly later on, and that is never a good thing

It was also noticed that:

1. Public interest in jongis and anxiety about them is much less than it was a year before.

2. Facebook seems to find the latest brand of jongis as rather inept and not dangerous so people are less concerned.

3. Given the experience of the jongis up to the Holey Artisan attack, which induced fear, the present bunch appear “not too serious.” This has led some to ignore and some to think that these are very low-end jongis and “questionable” jongis.

Public information and education campaign needed

In view of the backdrop of such questions and observations, it is obvious that the public is less concerned than before. Anti-jongi operational success may have played a major role in creating a part of this attitude.

But the sudden spike in the number of events, and their distribution all over the country, means the public-official contact should be strengthened to avoid any possible confusions.

Such speculations could also be the result of feeding the public with information without much concern about their credibility.

People will always find it difficult to believe the agencies if many cross-fires are routinely passed off as encounters. When people no longer accept, as routine, what law enforcers are telling them every day, for example, the chance of believing other information conveyed also becomes difficult.

Basically, the credibility gap was created by the agencies themselves when they resorted to information tailoring, even if it was done in the interests of successful counter-terrorism.

But if they are real encounters, law enforcers must develop a plan to make their activities more transparent. In this time and age, when information, action, and reaction are all instant, and access to information is unlimited, it’s best to be as open as possible. Otherwise, any operations by such agencies will lead to limited belief.

That is why a public relations and education campaigns should be initiated so that the people, in whose name such actions are being taken by the security agencies, are also made part of the process.

If the people are not on the same page with law enforcers, the scripts may differ significantly later on, and that is never a good thing -- at least not for the end-game for which all this is being done: The good of the people.

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.

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