The aftermath of the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly clear following the failure of the United States. Gradually, it has become clear that Afghanistan and the whole of Southeast Asia can be in danger.
Over the last few days, the leaders of the Taliban have made it clear that the initial "good boyish" talk will disappear. These days, sometimes they oppose a high degree of modern education, sometimes they speak of keeping women at home.
Most experts and researchers believe that the Taliban have no plans on their own to be active outside Afghanistan. But that does not allay our fears, because there is so much more involved with this resurgence of the Taliban.
The international media believes that the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan could usher in a new era of jihadist ideology in the Middle East and Asia. According to them, the biggest threat could come from al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS), which have been weakened in recent years but has not become completely inactive.
The Taliban signed an agreement with the United States that it would not harbour any extremist group that seeks to attack Western targets. But the Taliban still has close ties to al-Qaeda. IS, on the other hand, is al-Qaeda's rival. Some experts believe the group will now be under a lot of pressure to show that they are still relevant. Consequently, IS has also been blamed for a suicide bombing outside Kabul airport on August 26 that killed at least 160 people, including 13 US troops, just days after the Taliban entered Kabul.
So even if the Taliban confine themselves to Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and IS will remain in their old roles - no doubt about it. Also, recent reports about leadership disputes within the Taliban look ominous.
After the astonishing fall of IS in late 2016, most of its fighters were killed, captured or repatriated. But has IS been completely eradicated?
While IS has been weakened in the Middle East, it still has a substantial presence in Afghanistan. Weak security institutions, political instability, the resurgence of the Taliban, their internal conflicts and widespread corruption have turned Afghanistan into a fertile ground for IS. They maintain financial clout through controlling mineral sources as well.
The picture is identical for Iraq as well. Despite the Iraqi government's military victory, they have so far failed to destroy IS's financial capabilities. Iraqi authorities have already acknowledged that Baghdad alone is home to hundreds of companies whose investments and profits are made by IS.
Clearly, despite being defeated on the battlefield, IS has continued to accumulate resources, which ultimately contributes to their activities globally. Thousands of veteran foreign IS fighters have returned to different countries, including Southeast Asian countries. Some of these returnees may now be hostile to the team, but some of them may still cherish their earlier beliefs. This means that this group has access to a global network that is still ready to kill and die.
Concerns about Bangladesh, in particular, are reasonable. The main objective of the freedom struggle of this country was to build a non-communal egalitarian state. In hindsight, the anti-independence groups were those who wanted to see Bangladesh as a religion-based fundamentalist state. Therefore, the great liberation war of 1971 was not only a military struggle against the Pakistanis, it was the result of a series of ideological struggles, where, besides Pakistan, the local fundamentalist groups were also defeated at the hands of the freedom-loving people. After gaining independence, the anti-independence groups became active again in the wake of various conspiracies. Since the assassination of Bangabandhu and his family, we have had to suffer the consequences of their rise in Bangladesh. Militancy rose under the patronage of the state. Jamaat's alliance with the BNP strengthened the communal groups. They have repeatedly conspired against Bangladesh, including the brutal attack on August 21.
The Awami League-led 14-party alliance campaigned against these communal groups and were successful in the ballots. Consequently, the Awami League is still in power. Although this victory may appear to have weakened communal evil in many ways, how accurate is it today? Has it really been possible to eradicate them? Or are the economic activities behind the communal groups in our country still going on like in Iraq or Afghanistan?
We should not forget Professor Abul Barkat's study of the fundamentalist economy that he presented in 2014. He estimates the size of the fundamentalist economy in Bangladesh at Tk 2,464 crore or $3 billion.
A maximum of 26% of this came from various financial institutions. Around 18.6% came from various non-governmental organisations, 10.7% from health institutions including the pharmaceutical industry and diagnostic centres, 9.2% from educational institutions, 6.5% from real estate, 7% from media & IT companies and 7.5% came from transport and communication business.
This picture is even more horrifying now. Abul Barkat has stated in his newly published book that the net size of the fundamentalist economy in 2019 was around Tk4,262 crore. In other words, the amount has almost doubled in just five years. Even more worrying is the fact that the annual growth rate of the country's core economy is 7.5-7.8%, but in the case of fundamentalist economies, it is much higher (9-10%). Over the last 40 years, the total net profit accumulated by their economy has stood at more than Tk3 lakh crore. Such a huge accumulated profit has not been spent overnight. Somewhere or other they have definitely been invested, increasing their capital for the future. But how have they continued to invest in these seemingly "unfavourable" times?
Over the last few years, new business companies have emerged at a surprising rate in all important sectors of the country. A large part of these organisations is owned or operated by people involved in fundamentalist politics. Another bigger concern is that they have even added ruling party leaders at the local level as partners in these new companies. With the help of these leaders, their businesses are moving forward at a great pace.
Recently , Hefazat-e-Islam has also adopted a strategy of staying close to local influential people in order to increase its organisational strength by hiding its true identity. To that end, they have formed an organisation called "Rabitatul Waizin Bangladesh", which has spread all over the country. Work is underway in all the districts centring on multiple qawmi madrasas. Some influential locals are also involved in those madrasas through donations. It is a new source of finance for Hefazat, which is growing under a safe umbrella.
It will be difficult to eradicate these extremist groups if their economic apparatus is not rendered useless. If the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan enables IS or al-Qaeda to expand, then this huge amount of money from the fundamentalists in Bangladesh could be used for them.
Therefore, we should rethink our policies for creating a non-communal country, in the spirit of the Liberation War, in this new geopolitical context.
It is important to make a political action plan, particularly for combating corruption, on which their economy is based. Also, it is very important to ensure the proper implementation of the constitution. We have to remember that only a secular egalitarian Bangladesh can stand firmly against terrorism and fundamentalism, not only for her own but also for the whole region.
Fazle Hossain Badsha is the General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Bangladesh and a member of parliament representing Rajshahi-2.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.