Political

RISK LEVEL: MODERATE

RISK OUTLOOK: DETERIORATING

Elections were held in December 2018, as a result of which the ruling Awami League won a third consecutive term, collecting 288 of the 300 available seats; while the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) collected only 7 seats. The election was marred by violent clashes, resulting in 17 deaths, and claims of voter intimidation/vote rigging during the election. While the Bangladesh Election Commission claimed it would investigate the allegations, at this stage the election is highly unlikely to be overturned. International pressure to do so is subdued by China and India, who are unlikely to raise questions regarding internal political arrangements within Bangladesh owing to close ties and proactive diplomatic and trade relations. Bangladesh is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which strives to maintain good relations with all nations, essentially by being the enemy of none, and is active in promoting regional and sub-regional cooperation through their membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Such intentions are often tested, however, and tensions between Bangladesh and Pakistan over electoral interference has endured for over a year.

Foreign investment from China has led to an increased ceding of preference regarding manufacturing, power and infrastructure sectors. Cordial foreign relations mean that the possibility of conflict being declared upon or being declared by Bangladesh is low. The Awami League has good relations with both India and Myanmar, while a recent pledge from China of $30,000,000,000 toward its infrastructure has increased ties between the two nations. This, in turn, has led to a number of regional infrastructure projects; such as the Padma Bridge project, aimed at increasing operational efficiency and capacity.

During August 2018, large student protests on road safety in Dhaka were met with a violent crackdown from government forces. During the protests a US Envoy was attacked by armed men resulting in the damage of two security vehicles, leading to a U.S embassy probe into the incident. Partly in response to the student road safety protests, the government recently approved a new Road Transport Act while also attending the UN Road Safety Week for the first time, and sights have been set on reducing road deaths by fifty percent by 2020. Road safety and increased protests are likely to be an enduring issue as the government seeks to rectify endemic issues.

While foreign relations are close and the economy grew by 7.9% during fiscal year (FY) 2017/2018’ with an average for the decade of 6% per FY; Bangladesh remains a poor country with 26.5% of the populace suffering from hunger last year, meaning the potential for unrest remains large. During January 2019 garment factory workers carried out industrial strikes in their thousands, blockading roads and taking part in violent clashes with police over poor pay with minimum wages currently standing at $95 a month. The unrest forced 52 garment factories to close and ultimately led to the sacking of 5000 workers by factory owners. Tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets were reportedly used by police to disperse crowds, with one worker killed. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Associations hold huge political influence and has warned of increased factory closures and protest, and this is likely to be an ongoing issue the government will seek to manage. Government ministers have argued that the Awami League’s record of raising the minimum wage for garment workers from $19 to $95 between 2008 – 2019 must not be ignored; however, they do accept that the current level remains below regional averages.

Operational

RISK LEVEL: HIGH

RISK OUTLOOK: STABLE

Cyclones are a common occurrence in Bangladesh, with Cyclone Fani being the most recent to make landfall in early May 2019. Formed on 26 April, Fani was classified as an extremely severe cyclonic storm (equivalent to a Category 4 major hurricane) by 2 May. However, the storm degraded rapidly before making landfall and had dissipated by 5 May. Despite this, the storm was responsible for killing 17 people, destroying 13,000 houses, flooding 63,000 hectares of land and destroying 1,800 hectares of crops. Cyclone Sidr, which hit Bangladesh during November 2007, killed between 3,447 – 15,000 people while affecting over 7 million people. Total damages came close to $450,000,000.

Due to the low altitude of Bangladesh, severe flooding has led to a lack of potable water, the prevalence of disease, including acute diarrhoea and typhoid fever. Flash floods are most prevalent in the northern Haor Basin. Global system analysis suggests that the cyclone rate is set to increase over the coming years. Flooding has caused agricultural soils to become saturated by saltwater, leading to long term adverse impact on agriculture, while high salinity rates in drinking water have also caused continued health hazards to individuals living in affected areas. Agriculture accounts for approximately 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs approximately 26million people across the country. Due to the immediate and long-term risk factors listed, internal displacement has led to a continued trend of migration away from villages to the increasingly densely populated cities, a pattern that is likely to extend in the future

Recent student protests over road safety that shut down traffic in and out of Dhaka temporarily in August 2018, when combined with an ongoing nationwide strike by unpaid Jute workers who are indefinitely blocking roads and railways until they receive pay; suggest an enduring operational crisis in Bangladesh. With many industries reporting worker dissatisfaction through poor conditions and underpayment, future protests/strikes remain a distinct possibility and will likely impact operational effectiveness.

Since the Rana Plaza building complex in Dhaka collapsed in 2013, killing over 1100 garment workers; fire, building and worker safety have all been scrutinized through the Accord on Fire and Safety in Bangladesh (AFSB), the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (ABWS) and the government-run National Initiative (NI). According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are 5,271 garment factories in Bangladesh, however other sources claim there may be as many as 8000. The AWBS claims of the 655 factories that fall under its remit, 428 have completed the necessary safety work, while the AFSB have 188 out of the 1,690 under its remit that have completed the necessary safety work. Under the government’s NI only 218 out of the 745 factories have completed half the safety improvements required. Factory owners describe the safety measures as unreasonable due to tight operational margins, and competitive pressures have led critics to state that Bangladesh risks losing its garment industry to foreign competitors if running costs continue to rise. A perceived threat of Terrorism, (chiefly driven by the Holey Artisan Bakery attack of 2016, within which nine Italian garment industry employees lost their lives) has also raised questions of security that may affect future sourcing plans of major retailers.

Security

RISK LEVEL: MODERATE

RISK OUTLOOK: STABLE

Environmental research indicates that 900,000 people, primarily from the Southern half of the country, will be displaced by 2050. Destination cities such as Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Barisal, are expected to be subjected to a substantial increase in employment demands, with a residual impact on the availability of housing and resources. According to The Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), future security concerns should be taken seriously as a potential resource crisis will likely lead to internal instability and the disintegration of social cohesion. This may, in turn, create local conflicts as well as intensifying terrorism.

Increased authoritarianism from the ruling AL raises security concerns due to the curtailment of democratic freedoms. Corruption allegations, voter intimidation during the recent election and harsh crackdowns on student protestors and drug users/distributors has led to critics labelling the AL as less than democratic. 600,000 security personnel were deployed at the recent elections during December 2019, and peaceful student protests during August 2018 in Dhaka were met with a violent crackdown from government forces (later condemned by Amnesty International), while there have been reports of violence towards journalists covering the protest by the AL affiliated Bangladesh Chatra League.

The illicit drug of choice in Bangladesh is Yaba, a highly addictive mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine. Yaba is smuggled across from neighbouring Myanmar, often from fleeing Rohingya refugees through the River Naf. The business is estimated to be worth $1,000,000,000 per year while authorities seized 53,000,000 Yaba tablets in 2018. NGOs estimate there to be approximately 7,000,000 addicts throughout the country of which a third are thought to be Yaba users, leading to an increase in drug-related crimes such as theft, robbery and assault. The government has taken a harsh stance on drug users and producers, leading to 70 deaths in May 2018 from apparent skirmishes between drug producers/users and the governments Rapid Action Batallion Forces (RAB), although leading human rights groups have denounced the killings as extrajudicial and premeditated, drawing comparison to the Philippine anti-narcotics crackdown.

Crime in Bangladesh is common yet moderate. Most common crimes committed against foreign nationals take the form of robbery, specifically purse snatching and pickpocketing. The risk of crime increases considerably at night, and individuals are much more likely to be targeted when travelling alone. Corrupt officials are known to abuse their authority, and this is another instance where travelling with a companion will reduce the likelihood of individuals being targeted. Foreigners using taxis and rickshaws on their own have often been targets of crime and it is not advised to use this form of transport solo. Passport theft has become commonplace in Sylhet and Dhaka airports, as well as bag thefts from individuals posing as touts and taxi drivers. Abductions are not unknown, yet there is no evidence that foreigners are specifically targeted. However, individuals travelling to Bangladesh should be made aware of their host nations policies on negotiating ransoms. The area known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts is inadvisable to visit. Poor security, regular reports of violence and other criminal activities are driven by violence amongst the region’s ethnic communities and affiliated parties. This has resulted in 58 crime-related deaths in the past 15 months, including 8 security officials carrying polling boxes who were ambushed by two unidentified gunmen on March 18 2019.

The mass migration of 700,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh from Myanmar has the potential to cause civil unrest due to food shortages caused by the Rohingyans settling on over 2000 hectares of fertile land. This, coupled with the lack of food for the camps housing the vast majority of refugees in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh, has led to an increase in petty crime from desperate refugees and civil unrest around the region. While the Bangladesh government plans on moving the Rohingyas back to Myanmar, the vast majority argue that they face persecution by the military when they arrive home. A lack of accountability between the military and the executive in Myanmar reduces the likelihood of stateless individuals moving back to Myanmar, whilst increasing the potential for civil unrest in Bangladesh.

Travel

RISK LEVEL: HIGH

RISK OUTLOOK: IMPROVING

Owing to diplomatic tensions between Bangladesh and Pakistan; as of 13 May 2019, Bangladesh has halted visa issuance to Pakistani nationals. Travellers to the Chittigong Hill Tracts are required to give Bangladesh authorities 10 days notice of their travel plans. If travel to the region is unavoidable, it is advised that travellers are accompanied by security personnel with a knowledge of local atmospherics.

Road infrastructure and etiquette are poor across the country. With estimates ranging from 2,609 – 7,221 fatal car-related incidents in 2018, the roads in Bangladesh are considered among the most hazardous in the world. This is largely due to poor enforcement of traffic regulations, improper/no licencing of drivers and a lack of legal consequences to dangerous driving. Gridlock in urban areas is the norm. Drivers often speed and accidents are common with the potential for pedestrians to involve themselves in incidents with regard who is at fault, potentially leading to violence and confrontation. Non – vehicular users on roads such as pedestrians, farm animals and delivery carts are commonplace. Protests and strikes can lead to road blockages as well as short term restrictions put in place by security personnel tackling terrorism, however the new Padma bridge over the Ganjes is expected to cut journey times between the north and east of the nation by several hours, potentially easing congestion. Planned to be completed by December 2019, the Padma Bridge is a multipurpose through-fare aimed to carry cars, trucks and trains. While shortening trade turnovers, Padma Bridge is also expected to accelerate GDP by 1.5% to 2% per year.

Bangladesh’s largest airport is Hazrat Shahjalal International airport in Dhaka. Travellers have described the airport as chaotic. It is important to decline help when offered, and pre-arrange transportation from the airport before arrival. Trains are often overcrowded and can be target of sabotage and derailment during political unrest via nationwide strikes. Ferries are also often overcrowded and have poor safety conditions which can lead them to sink, as happened on 22 February 2015, when an overcrowded ferry carrying 200 sank and left 70 dead due to striking a cargo ship. On 5 August 2014, a ferry capsized due to overcrowding, leaving 125 dead. It is advised to avoid this form of transport unless absolutely necessary.

Terrorism

RISK LEVEL: MODERATE

RISK OUTLOOK: DETERIORATING

The most active Terrorist organisation currently operating in Bangladesh is the Jamma’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), who target non-Muslim foreigners and religious minorities as well as left-wing extremists. They aim to establish an Islamic State within Bangladesh and South Asia. JMB have known links with Ansar al-Islam, who are the Bangladeshi are of Al-Qaeda. Such links are exemplified by the 11 June 2018 shooting of Shahzahan Bachchu, a prominent critic of secular principles and former left-wing politician. Reportedly working together, Ansar al-Islam conducted reconnaissance that JMB utilised to eliminate their target. Potential targets include religious minorities such as Hindus, Buddhists and Christians, as well as members of the Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP). The most recent attack with relevance to Bangladesh took place on 25 May 25 2019, in the Naagaland region of north-eastern India. 2 soldiers from the Assam Rifles paramilitary group were killed when an expected Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated while they were on patrol. This was followed by small arms fire that left another 4 security personnel injured. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland, a banned group who would like to create a nation-state from the Nagaland region, are assessed to be behind the attack. The group has been known to operate from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh.

Large scale terrorism has witnessed a decline through 2017-18, with the latest example in Bangladesh was claimed to have been perpetrated by Islamic State (IS) on 1 July 2016, although it later emerged that JMB perpetrated the attack on the behalf of IS. An attack was conducted on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, believed to have been targeted due to its popularity amongst the expat community. Terrorists stormed the building, utilising small arms, explosives and bladed weapons. Sources claim the terrorists did not attempt to harm Bangladeshi’s, while specifically targeting foreigners; torturing and killing those who could not recite verses from the Koran. 20 people were killed in the attack, which lasted 12 hours before security forces neutralised the assailants. Due to the JMB’s willingness to target foreign nationals poses a concern for travellers to the region.

Since the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, counter-terrorism efforts have markedly increased in Bangladesh due to a zero-tolerance approach from the government toward terrorist groups and the use of the nation as a potential safe haven. During 2017 and 2018, terrorist attacks were small and sporadic, although Dhaka remains the most likely City to be targeted. Security forces have claimed to have foiled a large number of terrorist plots throughout 2017, and increased hostility toward suspected militants from RAB forces and the Counter-Terrorism and Transitional Crime Unit (CTTC) in Dhaka has led to a number of deaths referred to as ‘cross-fires’, a term that is understood as a euphemism for extra-judicial killing.

A series of victories claimed against IS forces in Syria have seen large numbers of militants attempting to return from Iraq and Syria. As of 23 March 2019, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took control of the last IS territorial stronghold in the eastern Deir Ezzor province, while taking 800 foreign fighters prisoner; of which an unspecified number were of Bangladeshi origin. While many countries have refused returning fighters entry, Bangladeshi authorities have stated that citizens who left the country to fight for IS will be detained upon arrival in the country. Of the 40,000 expected to who have joined the IS from abroad, at least forty of these are suspected to be from Bangladesh, according to the UN. However, owing to high levels of corruption, poor security and high density of traffic, Bangladesh’s Hazrat Shahjalal Airport located in Dhaka, which controls over 90% of traffic into the country, may struggle to ensure that all returning fighters are tracked accordingly.

The recent Easter Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on April 21 2019 that killed 258 have undoubtedly raised terror concerns. Terrorists stormed hotels frequented by foreigners and coordinated suicide bombings. While Bangladesh security forces claim militants in the country are currently too restricted to be able to carry out such a coordinated attack, Monirul Islam, chief of the CTTC, has stated that there is a danger that militants may draw inspiration from the Sri Lanka attacks.