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“We have zero tolerance for terrorism”

Shahara Khatun is one of the most trusted aides of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the first woman home minister ofBangladesh.

Excerpts from an interview.

Q. India and Bangladesh have agreed to sign the extradition treaty? How important is this treaty?

A. We hope if we sign it, it will be a landmark treaty. It will check crime and acts of terrorism. There are people who use the India-Bangladesh porous border for illegal activities. Some people from our side cross over the border and take shelter inIndiaand same way some criminals from across the border take shelter inBangladesh. Once we have a treaty it will help us to deal with cross-border crime and terrorism activities. We are scrutinizing the final draft and we hope that the pact will be signed at the earliest.

Q. Will you handover ULFA commander Anup Chetia to India?

A. His case is before the court. We will go by the verdict of court. 

Q. Have you demanded extradition of any person from India?

A. We have requested for the extradition of killers of our father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. According to our information, two of the convicted killers of Bangabandhu – Captain Majed and Risaldar Moslehuddin are hiding inIndia. When I met Indian home minister Chidambaram, I told him, that we suspect that two of the killers of Bangabandhu are hiding inIndia. He assured us that Indiawould do its best in capturing them.

Q. What are your views on Bangladesh’s relationship, particularly in security matters, with India?

A. India is our neighbouring country and a good friend. The bilateral relationship has improved after our prime minister Sheik Hasina’s visit toIndiain 2010 and since then it has been reflected in the top level and successful bilateral visits and meetings. We have signed agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters; transfer of sentenced persons and combating international terrorism and drug trafficking.  

Q. Many in India praise your government’s efforts to combat extremism and terrorism in Bangladesh. What led your government to take the action against terrorists who were hiding in Bangladesh for years?

A. When we took power (in 2009) we realised that there were lot of wrong things happening in our country. We made a clear decision that we are not going to tolerate any act of terrorism and gun running in our country. We cannot allow the soil ofBangladeshto be used for terrorism purposes. It was unanimous decision of our government that terrorists are an international problem and that we should work with other countries in eliminating this scourge. We have taken harsh action against terrorists. As per the verdict of the court we have executed some terrorists and we have banned five terrorist organisations including Hizb-ut Tahrir. Our policy is clear: we have zero tolerance for terrorism.

Q. Is the terrorist outfit Huji still active in Bangladesh?

A. There are few radical individuals but the Huji as an outfit has been fully incapacitated. These radical people know that not only the government even the people are dead against any terrorist activity. There is occasional media hype about the group which is unfortunate. The media reports are largely exaggerated and often fake.

Q. What is the status of Chittagong arms case?

A. Chittagong arms case was a big and complicated case with international links. We have never seen such a big haul of smuggled weapons. We have completed the investigation into the case. The trail has begun and we hope that guilty will be brought to justice.

Q. Who is the prime accused in the case?

A. There are many high profile people including Lutfozzaman Babar, Motiur Rahman Nizami, two former intelligence chiefs and other people involved in the case. All are behind the bars and are now facing the trial.

Q. Is Tareque Zia also wanted in this case?

A. No, he is not wanted in this case. He is accused in the assassination bid on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, when she was the leader of the opposition in 2004.

Q. Does the findings of the investigation scare you?

A. Yes, the involvement of so many of our top intelligence officials was frightening. They were supposed to be our protectors.

Q. What was the source of Chittagong weapons?

A. There are international players involved in the case. The weapons shipment began from some other country and many people fromBangladeshandIndiawere behind the arm this smuggling. As the case is under trial therefore I don’t like to speak about it.

Q. I heard that you are a great admirer of Indira Gandhi.

A. She was a wonderful lady and a powerful leader. During our liberation struggle she supported us and our Mukti Bahini. She gave support and shelter to millions of our people. I still recall her visit toBangladeshin 1972 after our liberation.  Her name brings back lot of memories. I recall with great gratitude her strong support for the independence of our country.

(THE WEEK, Dec 11, 2011)

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