Monday, November 28, 2011

South Asia’s: Water Unquenchable Thirst

A growing rivalry between India, Pakistan and China over the region’s great rivers may be threatening South Asia’s peace.


SONAULLAH PHAPHO has spent half a century picking a living from Wular lake high in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Today he is lucky if he scoops a fish or two out of the soupy mess. Push a boat into the knee-deep lake and the mud raises a stink of sewage. A century ago Wular and its surrounding marshes covered more than 217 square kilometres (84 square miles), making it one of Asia’s larger freshwater lakes. Now, thanks to silt and encroachment, the extraction of water by nearby towns and tree planting on the shore, it measures only 87 sq km and is shrinking.

Compared with much of South Asia, Kashmir, a disputed territory in northern India, has many rivers and relatively few people. But even here fresh water is running short. To see how contentious this can be, drive half a day south to where the Baglihar dam (shown above) is rising up. An enormous wall bisects the valley, dressing it in white spray, and three huge jets of water blast from its sluices.

Half complete, the dam is already a local wonder that tourists gape at. It generates 450MW for the starved energy grid of Jammu and Kashmir. Once the scheme fully tames the water, by steering it through a tunnel blasted into the mountain, the grid will gain another 450MW.

The river swirls away, white-crested and silt-laden, racing to the nearby border with Pakistan. But there Baglihar is a source of bitterness. Pakistanis cite it as typical of an intensifying Indian threat to their existence, a conspiracy to divert, withhold or misuse precious water that is rightfully theirs. Officials in Islamabad and diplomats abroad are primed to grumble about it. Pakistan’s most powerful man, the head of the armed forces, General Ashfaq Kayani, cites water to justify his “India-centric” military stance.

Others take it further. “Water is the latest battle cry for jihadis,” says B.G. Verghese, an Indian writer. “They shout that water must flow, or blood must flow.” Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani terror group, likes to threaten to blow up India’s dams. Last year a Pakistani extremist, Abdur Rehman Makki, told a rally that if India were to “block Pakistan’s waters, we will let loose a river of blood.”

Assorted hardliners cheer them on. A blood-curdling editorial in Nawa-i-Waqt, a Pakistani newspaper, warned in April that “Pakistan should convey to India that a war is possible on the issue of water and this time war will be a nuclear one.”

Upstream such outbursts are usually dismissed as proof that troubled Pakistan is, as ever, spoiling for a fight. Water is merely the latest excuse. India is not misbehaving, says Mr Verghese placidly. It fails to take all it is entitled to from cross-border rivers in Kashmir. Run-of-the-river dams like Baglihar consume nothing, since water must flow to run turbines. Such a dam, he says, merely briefly delays a river.

Indians point out, too, that Pakistan enjoys a rare guarantee: the Indus Water Treaty, struck in 1960 by far-sighted engineers and diplomats who saw that after the partition of land, water had to be shared out too. The treaty, which has survived three wars, details exactly how each side must use cross-border rivers. Mostly this applies to the tributaries that flow from Kashmir to form the massive Indus river, Pakistan’s lifeblood.
If Indians abide by the treaty, then in theory at least they cannot be misbehaving. They see Baglihar as proof of co-operation, not a threat. When Pakistan objected to the dam’s design, India accepted international arbitration, the first case in the treaty’s history. Outside experts studied the dam and ordered small changes. But in effect they said it posed no threat to Pakistan. And last year the dispute was officially ended by the two governments.

Downstream, however, few sound satisfied. “The Baglihar decision…allowed a reservoir on a river coming into Pakistan, and now a precedent is set,” laments John Briscoe, a water expert formerly of the World Bank who advises Pakistan. The Pakistanis fear Indian control over the headwaters of the Indus. And Indian bureaucrats fuel these fears with obsessive secrecy about all water data.

Bashir Ahmad, a geologist in Srinagar, Kashmir who studied the Baglihar dam, gives grim warning about the Indians’ future intentions: “They will switch the Indus off to make Pakistan solely dependent on India. It’s going to be a water bomb.” A less excitable report in February by America’s Senate offered a similar assessment: “The cumulative effect of [many dam] projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season.” Dams are a source of “significant bilateral tension”, the report concludes.

More dams are to come, as India’s need to power its economy means it is quietly spending billions on hydropower in Kashmir. The Senate report totted up 33 hydro projects in the border area. The state’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, says dams will add an extra 3,000MW to the grid in the next eight years alone. Some analysts in Srinagar talk of over 60 dam projects, large and small, now on the books.
Any of these could spark a new confrontation. The latest row is over the Kishanganga river (called the Neelum in Pakistan) as each country races to build a hydropower dam either side of Kashmir’s line of control. India’s dam will divert some of the river down a 22km (14-mile) mountain tunnel to turbines. To Pakistani fury, that will lessen the water flow to the downstream dam, so its capacity will fall short of a planned 960MW.

Pakistan also claims (though the evidence is shaky) that 600,000 people will suffer by getting less water for irrigation. Again it insisted on international arbitration at The Hague. In September, to Pakistani delight, India was ordered to suspend some of its building for further assessments to be made. But India still looks likelier to come away happy in the end, as the treaty foresaw and permitted the Indian design, and India is likely to finish its dam ahead of Pakistan in any case, by 2016 rather than 2018.

When China’s upstream
Countries downstream have genuine reasons to fret. Pakistan is exposed. Like Egypt it exists around a single great river, though the Indus is nearly twice the Nile’s size when it reaches the sea. It waters over 80% of Pakistan’s 22m hectares (54m acres) of irrigated land, using canals built by the British. In turn that farming provides 21% of the country’s GDP, as well as livelihoods for a big proportion of its 180m people. Many of them are already thirsty.

On average each Indian gets just 1,730 cubic metres of fresh water a year, less than a quarter of the global average of 8,209 cubic metres. Yet that looks bountiful compared with each Pakistani’s share: a mere 1,000 cubic metres. Worse yet, South Asia’s fresh water mostly falls in a few monsoon months. The dreadful floods this year and last showed that untamed and unpredictable rivers can be both resource and threat.
More rows between India and Pakistan are certain. India may keep on dismissing them as Pakistani bluster, an easy thing to do if you are upstream. But India is downstream in another highly tricky area: its border with China.

Tension already exists over the status of India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, which China refuses to recognise. A quarrel over rivers in the region could serve as a focus for wider disputes about territory. A measure of the recent slump in relations came when, to the fury of India’s authorities, China blocked an attempt by the Asian Development Bank to prepare for a dam project in Arunachal Pradesh. And one of India’s largest rivers, the Brahmaputra (Tsangpo in China), flows south from the Tibetan plateau and into Assam not far from the disputed land.
Angry Indian politicians, activists, bloggers and journalists claim that water-starved China (with 8% of the world’s fresh water but 20% of its population) has plans to divert the Tsangpo/Brahmaputra to farmers in its central and eastern regions. Feelings are running so high that India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, felt obliged to issue a statement on August 4th saying that China’s leaders had assured him there were no such plans afoot. And though a few run-of-the-river hydroelectric schemes are being built upstream on the Tsangpo, none of these could change the river’s course. Cool heads point out that speculation about China channelling the torrent from near the border, at a spot known as the Great Bend, looks fantastical, at least at present.

Chinese engineers would need to use nuclear explosions to have a chance of making tunnels through a series of ridged mountains to get water east from the Great Bend. Although plans have existed since the fourth century to take water from China’s west to the east, and the scheme was pushed by Mao Zedong, the engineering, at least for now, appears to be technically impossible. Yet broader Indian strategic fears—the fact that the Chinese control the Tibetan plateau, which is the source of water for parts of densely populated northern India—will evaporate no more easily than Pakistani fears of India.

An ever-thirstier region
The scarcity of water in South Asia will become harder to manage as demand rises. South Asia’s population of 1.5 billion is growing by 1.7% a year, says the World Bank, which means an extra 25m or so mouths to water and feed: imagine dropping North Korea’s entire population on the region each year. Greater wealth in South Asia brings with it a soaring demand for food, especially for water-intensive meat and other protein. Industry and energy-producers also use water, though unlike farms they return it, eventually, to the rivers.

Worse, overall supply will not only fail to keep up with rising demand but is likely to fall (unless a cheap way is found to turn sea water fresh). The Himalayan glaciers are melting. A Dutch study last year of the western Himalayas reckoned that shrunken glaciers will cut the flow of the Indus by some 8% by mid-century. Flows may also get less regular, especially if glacial dams form, withholding water, and then collapse, causing floods.
Others give even scarier predictions. Sundeep Waslekar, who heads a Mumbai think-tank, the Strategic Foresight Group, which has picked water as a long-term threat to Asian stability, sees a “mega-arc of hydro insecurity” emerging from western China along the Himalayas to the Middle East and farther west. The strain of bigger populations, diminishing water tables and a changing climate could all conspire to produce a storm of troubles. South Asia is especially vulnerable: Mr Waslekar sees a cut of 20% in total available fresh water over the next two decades.

The greatest threat of all would be from any change to the monsoon, which delivers most of the region’s fresh water each summer. Here, again, worries arise. Indian meteorologists who have studied rainfall data from 1901 to 2004 have noted signs in recent decades of more dry spells within the peak monsoon months. If these lead to weaker, or less predictable, monsoons in future (though this year’s was about normal) the consequences for farmers could be dire.

When the water ran out
In any case, the cost of running short of water is already becoming clearer. The Lancet, a British medical journal, reported last year that up to 77m Bangladeshis had been poisoned by arsenic—the largest mass-poisoning in history. It was the result of villagers pumping up groundwater from ever deeper aquifers. The same poison is now entering crops and more of the food chain.

Filthy water and bad sanitation spread diseases, such as diarrhoea and cholera, which kill hundreds of thousands of Indian children every year, says Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency. Several South Asian rivers, suffering from weaker flows, have become a sludge of human and animal waste, dangerous to drink and wash in and unsafe even for watering crops.

All over the region water tables are dropping as bore holes drive deeper. In the dry season even some of the larger rivers slow to a trickle. Knut Oberhagemann, a water expert in Dhaka, Bangladesh, says that the flow of the mighty Ganges where it enters Bangladesh is at times a pitiful few hundred cubic metres a second, so low that “you can walk across the river”. When the same river, at this point called the Padma, reaches the coast, it is often so feeble that the sea intrudes, poisoning the land with salt.

The same problem curses the delta of the Indus in Pakistan. There a semi-desert was turned into some of the most fertile land on earth by British-built irrigation canals. But as the sea encroaches on low, flat land, rivers at times are flowing backwards, laments a local environmental activist. Take away the fresh water—around 60% of which is now lost to seepage and evaporation because of the bad management of those canals—and the desert will eventually come back.

Save or snatch
Governments in South Asia can respond to growing scarcity in one of two ways. The first is to improve the way they use the water they have, both by managing it better and by co-operating with one another. The second is to try to grab as much water as they can from their neighbours.

Better management of irrigation canals and better farming techniques would help hugely to cut waste. In Pakistan bitter rows between provinces have long scotched coherent planning. Wealthy Punjab, a big farming province, is routinely accused by downstream Sindh (and by others too) of taking an unfair share of the water.
And Pakistan badly needs more dams to control floods, store monsoon water and make electricity (China is said to have offered to help Pakistan build a series of big dams, and has already sent engineers to help speed along the new one on the Neelum/Kishanganga). Only about 10% of the potential hydropower of the Indus has been tapped so far, and only 30 days’ average river flow can be stored (by contrast, the Colorado in America has dams to store 1,000 days’-worth).

Many governments are at least thinking in terms of dams and co-operation. Mr Waslekar reckons that 60-80 big dams (mostly for energy) will be built in South Asia in the next two or three decades, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. In many cases—as for example in mountainous Bhutan, where the economy gets a huge boost from selling hydropower to India—this can foster economic and diplomatic co-operation. India has visions of one day persuading unstable but immensely water-rich Nepal to follow suit. The country is the source of more than 40% of the Ganges’s water, and Indian analysts talk dreamily of 40GW of hydropower potential waiting to be used.

Other cross-border water deals are pending. Cosy ties with Bangladesh’s government mean that India can more easily build dams on some of the several dozen rivers that cross their shared frontier. In September Mr Singh visited Dhaka to sign a deal with Bangladesh to allow the latest hydro dam to go up on the Teesta river. Though the deal was postponed at the last minute by a row with a regional Indian leader, it now looks set to go ahead. However there are bitter memories in Bangladesh of an earlier deal, on the Ganges, which allowed India to put up a barrage to block the river’s flow in the dry season.

Tentative signs of wider co-operation exist. China issues twice-daily reports on the Tsangpo river flow in the flood season, separately to India and to Bangladesh. This could be seen as encouraging, if the two giants of the region wished to consider getting together over water. Indeed if full-scale friendliness were ever sought, an immense opportunity awaits.

Mr Verghese points out that the Tsangpo/Brahmaputra falls 2,450 metres (8,000 feet) over a few kilometres in China just before it reaches the Indian border. Send it through a 100km tunnel from the Tibetan plateau down to Assam and an enormous 54,000MW could be generated. One day its power could light not only much of north-east India and Bangladesh, but nearby Myanmar and beyond. Such a mega-structure would become a keystone for regional co-operation.

It will almost certainly never be built. Analysts have suggested that, given the generally dire relations between South Asian countries, water will provoke clashes rather than co-operation. A 2009 report for the CIA concluded that “the likelihood of conflict between India and Pakistan over shared river resources is expected to increase”, though it added that elsewhere in the region “the risk of armed interstate conflict is minor”. And a Bangladeshi security expert, Major-General Muniruzzaman, predicts that India’s “coercive diplomacy”, its refusal to negotiate multilaterally on such issues as river-sharing, means that “if ever there were a localised conflict in South Asia, it will be over water.”

Tipai deal is breach of trust-Hasina's efforts to befriend India has been rebuffed

Kuldip said, "friendshipwith India was a straw to which the people of Bangladesh have clung. Today theywonder if they have any future with India." 

India's veteran journalist anddiplomat Kuldip Nayar has said his country's move to build the Tipaimukh Damhas come as a big embarrassment to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's governmentand felt the need for quick measures to bridge the confidence gap. In anarticle published in a local Englishdaily, Nayar who has just returned home after a week long visit to Dhaka said Sheikh Hasina's popularity issinking in Bangladesh and India as her friend should not do anything to add newproblems to her government.(The New Nation )

He writes when the news broke outof the Indian signing of the contract to build the Tipaimukh dam keeping Bangladesh was in the dark. And it happenedonly one month after Indian Prime Minister Dr Monmahan Singh's visit to Dhaka.

The contract with the ManipurState Government and the developer company was signed on October 23, he said adding it occurred despite the IndianPrime Minister's assurance to his hostin Dhaka that India will not do anything (on Tipaimukh) which will hurtBangladesh's interest.

He writes, the Indian move is a"violation of the understanding given by Delhi that it will not doanything that would affect Dhaka."

He said the news was first brokenby BBC from an unconfirmed source about one month after the signing of the contract. And when it flashed out inBangladesh media the Indian side reacted only to contain the reaction fromBangladesh side.

He writes," the explanationgiven by New Delhi after 72 hours (of breaking the news) is that the dam is meant to check floods andwill not divert waters. This has not assuaged the feeling of Bangladesh."The very signing of the agreement without informing Dhaka was a breach ofconfidence, Kuldip said.

The Dam may or may not destroythe environment is a separate point of complaint, he said adding the questionis the breach of trust and it has harmed beleaguered Hasina in Dhaka who haslost in prestige from the Indian action.

He said her efforts to befriendIndia have been rebuffed and added, "There is no doubt that the Teesta andTipaimukh will cut her votes when Bangladesh goes to polls two years later. Thefallout will benefit Begum Zia who is sitting pretty and issuing statementsafter statements as she did in the past," he writes.

Kuldip said, "friendshipwith India was a straw to which the people of Bangladesh have clung. Today theywonder if they have any future with India." He said Sheikh Hasina hastaken unilateral steps like transit which gives quick access to India to itsnortheastern states.

But the way New Delhi isreciprocating her gestures is even worrying the pro-India elements inBangladesh. He said the loan given to Bangladesh is all tied to imports andtechnical know how from India. The border between the two countries has notbeen demarcated and there is no move to transfer the enclaves.

Teesta waters issue has not beenresolved and when the impacts of all such blows were somewhat losing impacts,Tipaimukh has come as a new blow to the relations between the two countries,Kuldip has argued.

He said some quarters believethat the Teesta water would eventually come just as the flow from the Farakkabarrage did, but the moves suffered recently from the critical approach of WestBengal Chief Minister Mamata Benarjee.

He said there are as many as 52rivers from India flowing into Bangladesh. " I think that on the majorones New Delhi should give a clear understanding to Dhaka that they will not bein any way touched without consulting it," Observers in Dhaka is nowwatching development from both sides as to how they are moving to resolve theissue. Meanwhile angers are taking new shape in Bangladesh as people havestarted taking the streets to protest the unilateral Indian actions giving adamn to international laws and norms on common borders.

Critics say since it is an issueequally bringing risks to local people in India and Bangladesh, bothgovernments will join hand to work out a solution acceptable to people on bothsides.  

BY :  Faruque Ahmed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hasina Has To Wake Up To The Reality

There is no doubt that Teesta water and Tipaimukh dam issues will cut into her votes when Bangladesh goes to polls.

Popularity is a rare quality which begins to elude the rulers when they need it the most. Bangladesh Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina is in a similar situation. Her stock has shrunk at a time when she requires it badly. People had returned her with a sweeping majority. Yet they increasingly feel, three years after her being in power, that her non-governance, if not mis-governance, has only made their life miserable.

After staying in Bangladesh for five days I find that she has not only lost her sheen but also the trust she enjoyed once. People expected her to deliver but there is nothing they can recognise as her achievement. For example, she promised electricity and substantially supplied it at great cost by borrowing from overstretched banks. But people wanted to see large power stations to come up since their demand is ever rising. What India promised is yet nowhere in the horizon.

Alleviating poverty with limited resources is always a challenge, but she does not appear to be even trying to meet it. She looks content with whatever she has done and runs down the critics. “Cut electricity of those who complain about its shortage sitting in their air-conditioned rooms,” she said when newspapers and television networks pointed out about the shortage. 

No doubt, Hasina has contained terrorism and there is a sense of relief that the nation is not at the mercy of fundamentalists like Bangla Bhai. Secularism is her commitment and she pursues it relentlessly. She has retrieved the ground her opponent, Khaleda Zia, president of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had lost, knowingly and purposely. The credit also goes to Hasina that anti-India sentiment which the BNP fostered has more or less disappeared. And she has taken unilateral steps like transit which gives quick access to India to its northeastern states.

But has New Delhi reciprocated to the extent she has gone worries even the pro-India elements? The loan offered is all tied with Indian imports and technical know-how. The border between the countries has not been demarcated and there is no move to transfer the enclaves which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to do during his visit to Dhaka a few weeks ago. (Assam is already up in arms on the enclaves).

The biggest disappointment with India is the denial of sharing of Teesta river water. They feel they lost it because of political wrangling between New Delhi and Kolkata. (West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was on board on the formula of sharing the water changed her mind at the eleventh hour and appointed a River Commission to look into the matter). Some quarters believe that the Teesta water would eventually come just as the flow from the Farakka barrage did through the enlightened approach of the then West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. Again it depends on Mamata because the Manmohan Singh government is too dependent on her Lok Sabha members for survival to put pressure on the Teesta issue.

The blow was somewhat losing its impact when the reported signing by India of a contract for building the Tipaimukh dam on the Barak river in Manipur, a northeastern state, came to light. It was a BBC story which lacked confirmation first but was later supported by other sources. The contract was signed by Delhi and the Manipur government on October 23, one month after Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka. What has hurt Bangladesh is the violation of understanding given by Delhi not to do anything that would affect Dhaka.

The explanation given by New Delhi after 72 hours is that the dam meant to check flooding will not divert water. This has not assuaged the feelings of Bangladeshis. That the dam may destroy the environment is a separate point of complaint. As many as 52 rivers from India flow into Bangladesh. I think that on the major ones New Delhi should give a clear understanding to Dhaka that they will not be in any way touched without consulting it.

The beleaguered Hasina has further lost prestige. Her efforts to befriend India have got rebuffed. There is no doubt that the Teesta water and Tipaimukh will cut into her votes when Bangladesh goes to polls two years later. The fallout will benefit Khaleda Zia who is sitting pretty and not issuing statement after statement as she did in the past. But are the Bangladeshis a shuttlecock to be tossed from one side to another—from Hasina to Khaleda?

They feel exasperated and helpless. They openly talk about the military takeover. Military too is far from happy by the capricious postings and transfers by the Hasina government. But the chances of any coup are very few. The military support to the caretaker government more than three years ago was of no avail. The armed forces could neither clean up the administration nor build up an alternative to the two leaders.

Friendship with India was a straw to which the people in Bangladesh have clung. Today they wonder if they have any future with India. China which is trying its best to woo the country is not to their liking because Beijing is neither democratic nor pluralistic, the two principles to which they have stuck since the founding of Bangladesh by Banga Bandhu Shaikh Mujib-ur Rahman. They would want to build their country according to their own genius.

Bangladesh, like India, is also reeking with corruption. And there too the nation has been appalled to find the top, the creamy layer, hobnobbing with the rulers for more concessions and more concealment of their misdeeds. Even the World Bank has threatened to withdraw its assistance for constructing the Padma Bridge fearing corruption. Things may yet sort out now that the Prime Minister’s office has taken the matter in its own hand.

Hasina bothers little because the haze of popularity has not yet awakened her to the reality. She believes that a few newspapers are tarnishing her good name. She does not realise that the papers’ circulation is in proportion to their credibility. They could not be leading papers if they had reported or interpreted the situation wrongly. But then, like the communists, she forgives the renegades but not critics

BY :  Kuldip Nayar.

Correlation Between Teesta Agreement And Bilateral Relations

THE recent visit of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to Bangladesh could have been historic for Bangladesh and India, had the two countries signed a water-sharing agreement on the river Teesta. Manmohan Singh did tell a news briefing that his maiden visit to Bangladesh had been ‘very satisfying’; it might have been from the Indian perspective but, perhaps, not so much from the Bangladesh point of view.

The sharing of Teesta water has been on the negotiations table for four decades. There was a possibility for an agreement on the Teesta to be signed when the Bangladesh prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, paid an official visit to India. However, it was not to be. At the end of her visit, the Dhaka-Delhi communiqué indicated that more survey and data were required to finalise the draft agreement and that the agreement could be signed during Manmohan Singh’s visit.

The agreement looked a certainty during the visit of the Indian national security adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, to Dhaka in August; it seemed that the agreement was merely waiting to be inked by the two heads of government. Moreover, the Bangladesh water resources minister, Ramesh Chandra Sen, earlier said that the two countries had already signed a draft agreement and that all the terms and conditions had been finalised.

However, as it turned out, the state government of Pashchim Banga had reservations about certain clauses of the proposed agreement, and the agreement fell through. The question then is what the water resources minister of the two countries had been doing for the past two years. Apparently, the two had met at different forums and been working on the treaty. It is unlikely that the central government of India did not consult with the Pashchim Banga chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, at any stage of the negotiations.

It is safe to presume then that Mamata changed her mind at the eleventh hour, thereby casting a shadow on the Indian prime minister’s Bangladesh visit. Suffice it to say, an agreement on the Teesta was generally perceived to be a crucial component of the visit. The question to ask then is why Mamata waited until the last to articulate her reservation. She is also quoted to have said that there is no water in the Teesta to be shared with Bangladesh.

It is pertinent to point out here that equitable sharing of the Teesta water would not have arisen had India allowed to let the river flow its natural course. Needless to say, while erecting a dam on an international river goes against relevant international laws and conventions, India has not allowed such laws and conventions to deter it from damming international rivers and diverting their water to different parts of the country.
Mamata also questioned some issues in the treaty. Although it is not clear what her specific objections are, her government is said to have found the agreement ‘detrimental to the interests’ of Pashchim Banga. There is also speculation that the decision was prompted by her difference with the central government over financial allocation for the state government.

The Teesta is said to be the lifeline of the Indian state of Sikkim, flowing for almost the entire length of the state and carving out verdant Himalayan temperate and tropical river valleys. The emerald-coloured river then forms the border between Sikkim and West Bengal before joining the Brahmaputra as a tributary in Bangladesh.

The idea of using the Teesta for irrigation for the betterment of the people dates back to the British period. During the 1950s, the then East Pakistani authorities intimated the Indian authorities regarding the Teesta project in her territory. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, talks on Teesta water sharing continued in the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River Commission. Bangladesh objected to India’s plan to divert the water of the Teesta to the Mahananda basin. Since the independence of Bangladesh, a number of Joint River Commission meetings took place without any results. Over the decades, the river flow on the Bangladesh side decreased because of the diversion of water from the Indian parts of the river during dry season.

Bangladesh wants to split the water evenly at the Indian barrage to have an ensured supply of half of the water during dry season. The proposal from Bangladesh was to keep 20 per cent of the water for environmental flow. India prefers keeping only 10 per cent for the river. Moreover, India wants other factors to be taken into account before distributing the water of these rivers. In case of the Teesta, 85 per cent of agricultural land served by the river was in India and the remaining 15 per cent in Bangladesh (source: internet).
According to international laws, the Joint River Commission will distribute the water based on equity and this equity does not mean equal sharing. For us our experts must do a thorough research and find out what would be this equal share for us (i.e. the equity ratio). If we go back to history, the British India did share the same water without any dispute. The current India’s argument is that the British did not show any interest in developing any particular area with irrigation since they were part of the same country and state. To develop the river basin areas barrages and dams are required. In the given situation, our experts should look at the irrigable area in catchments and the target areas of the project and neglect the actual area under irrigation (on the Indian side).

A better relationship between Bangladesh and India depends on how the latter considers our needs. After the failing negotiation over the Padma, Teesta water sharing is very important for Bangladesh. To make this negotiation successful, Bangladesh has two major bargaining chips — transit and terrorism. Bangladesh did their best to hand over Indian separatists and allow India to use ports in Bangladesh. The much-debated transit deal is also on its way. But the question is what Bangladesh will get in return.

In diplomacy everyone looks for fair equation or at least some part of fairness in the equation. Somehow what we have seen again and again is that India is least interested to build a healthy relationship with its eastern neighbour. India needs to remember without peaceful neighbours one cannot sleep well; one cannot feel safe at home. India for its own stability must need to consider Bangladesh’s demand sincerely. For peaceful existence we need to work together to realise the people’s hopes and aspirations in this region. If India wants to continue its economic growth, it must consider its eastern neighbour and be ready to meet Bangladesh needs. Without regional cooperation, India would not be able to continue its economic drive to success.

The steps that Mamata has taken just before Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh appear ultra-nationalistic. In the 21st century anyone thinking only of his/her people’s interest cannot be a true leader. We all know India’s central government does not have the power to control the state government but surely it can influence the state government. Mamata Banerjee needs to feel the pulse of Bangladeshis. We may have separate boundary, separate flags but we speak the same language, share the same culture. Only language and culture can bring people closer. Mamata Banerjee needs to understand the demand of Bengalis of the other side of the boundary and should react quickly to meet the demand of Bangladeshi people.

Bangladesh’s foreign minister Dipu Moni, after a meeting Mamata on November 16, rightly noted that the extent of the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and India depends on the signing of the Teesta treaty. If both the countries want to establish a deep relationship the signing of the Teesta treaty is absolutely essential. Provided that both the countries sign this treaty, other issues and cooperation between the countries will increase enormously. This cooperation will have a great impact in the Southeast Asian region. On the contrary, if the pact is not signed, the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and India would be affected. Signing the pact not only ensures the water supply for Bangladesh but both the countries would able to establish trust among them. And this trust is required for regional security and peace.

BY : Nadim Jahangir.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sheikh Hasina Finds Words To Decry India On Tipaimukh

With  the public  sentiment  quickly  rising  against  Bangladesh government’s weak-kneed  policy towards  India,  Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday told  the parliament  that her government would not accept any unilateral Indian move to build the Tipaimukh dam on the River Barak.

During the weekly question hour, Sheikh Hasina told her party MPs present  in  the parliament  that there would be no compromise with Bangladesh’s interests so long the Awami League-led government remained in power. “We know it better how to protect the country’s interests, because we liberated the country,” she said.

She told the House that she would send a special envoy to Delhi to discuss India’s controversial Tipaimukh dam on the Barak, a common river.

 The Barak splits and enters into Bangladesh as the Surma and the Kushiara.
She said that the news about signing of investment deals in India for building the Tipaimukh dam prompted her government to instantly seek clarification from India.
Skeih Hasina  criticised the opposition’s movement over the Tipaimukh issue as indulging in double standards. She  ventilated  her   anger   as  a  prompt   reaction  to  BNP  chairperson Khaleda Zia’s  accusation  about government’s  silence  over  the  Tipaimukh. 
Addressing  a large public meeting in Dhamrai on Tuesday Khaleda asked the government to protest against the Indian plan and realise Bangladesh’s due share of the waters of the common rivers.  Khaleda   said her party would extend support if the government protested against the unilateral move. 
Khaleda’s note to Indian PM
The leader of the opposition in the parliament, Khaleda Zia,  has  also written to the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, requesting him for conducting a joint survey before proceeding with the controversial Tipaimukh dam on  the  upstream  of  the Surma and the Kushiara rivers. 

 Khaleda Zia, whose party has long been criticising the government for not taking any effective measures to stop India in erecting the dam, wrote the letter following the publication of a report that the government of the Manipur state on October 22 signed an agreement on dam construction.
 The BNP spokesperson Mirza Fakhrul Islam said the letter was sent on Monday last.
Violation of international laws 
A former UN water expert Dr S I Khan suggested last  week   that   a regional river commission would have to be formed through mutual understanding among neighbouring countries with a view to resolving the ongoing debate on the Tipaimukh Dam project and also solve the water problems in South Asia.
He said the Indian government seemed set to go ahead with its plan to build the controversial Tipaimukh Dam on the Barak River in the state of Manipur. But this is a violation of international laws.
“According to the international water-related laws and conventions, no country can carry out such activity on common rivers, as there is always the chance of harming the downstream countries.” Dr Khan said.
He mentioned that as per the World Convention on Dams, if a country wants to build a dam with height over 15 metres and minimum water reservoir capacity of 3 million cubic metres on a common river, the project must be acceptable not only to the government(s) but also people(s) of its river basin.

Dr Khan, also vice-president of International Farakka Committee, said although the height of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam is 163 metres and its water reservoir capacity would be 1.5 billion cubic metres, India has not shown any willingness to negotiate with downstream Bangladesh. 
Article 9 of Ganges treaty

“As the Barak-Surma-Kushiara is an international river, Bangladesh should have equitable share of its waters and access to detailed information about any proposed project such as Tipaimukh Dam,” he said.
The water expert mentioned that Article 9 of the Ganges water sharing treaty, signed by Bangladesh and India in 1996, also states that both sides will implement a no-harm policy and refrain from taking unilateral steps concerning all shared rivers.

He also said that according to the Helsinki Convention, upper countries could not carry out any such activities that might adversely impact on environment and biodiversity of downstream counties. But India has taken a controversial move (Tipaimukh Dam project) that will spell environmental disaster for Bangladesh.
Referring to the Mekong River Commission, Dr Khan said there are many common rivers in the world and Mekong is such a common river in East Asia. Laos once tried to build a dam on Mekong River, but it was compelled to abandon the move following objection by other countries in the region.
Foreign office in illusion 

Meanwhile, Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes said on Wednesday that is no need to raise the Tipaimukh and Teesta issues at international forums  as  suggested  by  political group  and  environment experts.

 Quayes said that Bangladesh government “has confidence on India’s assurance conveyed at the highest level that it would not do anything at Tipaimukh that could harm Bangladesh”. 
 “I believe that the Tipaimukh and the Teesta issues could be resolved through bilateral discussion,” he told a press briefing.
He  said  Bangladesh Foreign Ministry  has requested  New Delhi to  consult it before initiating any intervention in the flows of common rivers like the Barak upstream.
The foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that Bangladesh also hoped that India would share all relevant details of the proposed multipurpose hydroelectric project at Tipaimukh in Manipur state in full transparency. 
The fresh outcry

The fresh  outcry  against  Tipaimuk  dam  surfaced  following   the signing of a ‘promoter’s agreement on October 22 with the purpose of setting up a joint venture company by the government of Manipur state with two hydro-power developers—NHPC Ltd and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd.  
India earlier clarified its position to a Bangladesh parliamentary delegation led by former water resources minister and current chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on water resources, Abdur Razzak, which had visited India in July 2009 at the invitation of the Indian government.
Subsequently, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reassured Bangladesh that India would not take steps on the Tipaimukh project that would harm Bangladesh.
The assurance was given during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in January 2010 and Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September this year, he said.
Environment and agriculture experts have warned that the twin interventions — a hydroelectric project at Tipaimukh and a barrage at Phulertal – on the cross-boundary river Barak would dry up the rivers and water bodies downstream and vast farm lands would turn arid, greatly affecting agriculture and livelihoods and threatening food security in the north-eastern districts of Bangladesh.
Tipaimukh dam will also affect Surma, Kushiyara and Meghna rivers and turn Bangladesh’s mid-east and north-eastern region into desert, directly affecting two crore people, they warned.
The people in Manipur, where the dam is being built, also oppose the reservoir as it would dislodge thousands of them from their homes and crop lands from the valley of the north-east Indian hilly province.
Three crore Bangladeshis

BNP last week gave a call for bold protests against the Indian move to build the controversial Tipaimukh dam on the river Barak to threaten at least three crore people of Bangladesh and their livelihoods. 
Speaking at a discussion on Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani’s death anniversary at the National Press Club on Monday, Fakhrul said, “If we fail to protest against it, half of the Megna basin would go dry.” “It is question of survival of Bangladesh,” he said.

Fakhrul said that the controversial Indian dam threatens three crore people living in the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna basin and heir livelihoods 

He said expansionist India was going ahead with the construction of Tipaimuk dam only to weaken lower riparian Bangladesh economically, ecologically and politically.

Meanwhile, different  socio-cultural organizations  staged demonstrations and  organized  human chain  in  the city  to protest  Indian project  to construct  the  controversial dam on  the  upstream of  the Suma and the Kushiara river.  

Shommilito Nari Shomaj

A women’s platform, named ‘Shommilito Nari Shomaj’ formed a human-chain in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka on Nov 21, protesting the signing of a deal to construct a dam on India’s Tipaimukh River. The participants later marched towards the Indian High Commission to form another human chain there, and they were dispersed by the police.

The organization went to stage a human chain programme in front of the Indian High Commission to protest the Indian bid. The convener of the organization, Farida Akhter, complained that police intercepted their peaceful human-chain programme which was unacceptable in a democratic country. 
Agitation also is  being  organized  in   north-east  Indian state  of  Assam, Monipur and Mizoram where different  political, social and  environment groups  are  taking  to  the  streets  in  protest  following  the  signing  of  an  agreement  on  Tipaimukh dam. 
BNP calls hartal in Sylhet

BNP Sylhet chapter on Wednesday called a dawn-to-dusk hartal in the city of Sylhet on December 1 in protest against the Indian move to build the controversial Tipaimukh Dam on the Barak River.
BNP central organising secretary and Sylhet district chapter president M. Ilias Ali announced the programme at a news conference jointly hosted by the party’s district and city chapters.

Sylhet chapter of BNP will hold rallies and take out processions in the city on November 24.
Ilias said that BP would hold rallies at all upazila towns in the district on November 26, its student front will hold demonstration in the city on November 27, Shechchha-shebak Dal on November 28, youth front Juba Dal on November 29 and a joint demonstration of  BNP on November 30.  

BY : Abdur Rahman Khan.

Sovereign Status Of The Country And Defence Forces

Synonymous with independent political power, supremacy, self-determination and control; the core meaning of Sovereignty is supreme authority within a territory. The state is the political institution in which sovereignty is embodied. A great nineteenth century American theorist, Josiah Warren affirmed, “Liberty is the sovereignty of the individual, and never shall man know liberty until each and every individual is acknowledged to be the only legitimate sovereign of his or her person, time, and property, each living and acting at his own cost.”
As defined by West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, Sovereignty is the claim to be the ultimate political authority, subject to no higher power as regards the making and enforcing of political decisions. In the international system, sovereignty is the claim by the state to full self-government, and the mutual recognition of claims to sovereignty is the basis of international society.

Our Republic’s Constitution unequivocally confirms, “The State shall base its international relations on the principles of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlement of international disputes, and respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter, and on the basis of those principle shall(a) Strive for the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and for general and complete disarmament; (b) uphold the right of every people freely to determine and build up its own social, economic and political system by ways and means of its own free choice; and support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against imperialism, colonialism or racialism.”

National security is the obligation or compulsion or requirement to preserve and maintain the survival of the state through the use of economic, power projection and political power and the exercise of diplomacy. With the aim of possessing national security, a nation needs to have economic security, energy security, environmental security, and so on.

Security of a country or state is easier to define and easier to ensure compared to the security of a nation. A country or state consists of a given well-defined territory, a given population and visible assets. A nation’s assets consist in history, traditions, legacy, culture, faith and practices, emotions and inhibitions. The assets of a nation are partly tangible and partly intangible or indescribable or beyond description.

Bangladesh as a country has borders and a geographical territory which has to be secured. A little more than 90 per cent of our land border is with the neighbouring India; the rest being with the only other neighbouring country of Myanmar, previously called Burma.

Our land boundary was demarcated according to the decisions of the Boundary Award Commission of Sir Cyril Redcliff in August 1947. Confusion remained in some parts of the land boundary about its exact path. Therefore, both India and Bangladesh had to jointly work for accurate demarcation. The job is about to be over.

The land boundary runs over plain land and habitations in most of the area. In some parts the land boundary runs along the midstream of rivers and water channels. Yet in some parts the boundary runs through hills and dense forests. It is a difficult task to guard the border in difficult terrain.

The geographical security of a country is guaranteed by security forces. Security forces are also called defence forces or military forces. Bangladesh as well as the neighbours of Bangladesh have defence forces to suit their requirement. After becoming independent in the year 1971, Bangladesh has inherited the territory of erstwhile East Pakistan. The security needs or defence needs of East Pakistan were planned and catered for by the then central government of Pakistan with its capital in Islamabad.

Security needs were ignored
According to most military experts or defence experts, the government of Pakistan had never given adequate thought to the defence requirements of East Pakistan. Till 1969 the highest ranking military officer in East Pakistan used to be a Major General (who would be the General Officer Commanding of 14 Infantry Division with headquarters in Dhaka cantonment). Brigades of this Division were spread to Rangpur-Syedpur in north-west Bangladesh, to Jessore in south-west Bangladesh and to Comilla-Chittagong in south-east Bangladesh. There used to be a very small Naval flotilla in the costal city of Chittagong and a very small detachment of Air force in Dhaka. Over the 20 months or so preceding the declaration of independence of Bangladesh, the quantum of forces and level of command was raised. By December 1971, while Bangladesh was liberated, Bangladesh inherited the military infrastructure of the defeated Pakistan military. Indeed, the infrastructure was firstly rudimentary and secondly damaged.
During the wars between India and Pakistan fought in the year 1948 and again fought in 1965, most battles had taken place in the border between India and West Pakistan. East Pakistan was then open to any intervention from India. India, however, did not make major interventions, because of its own military limitations or strategic calculations.

Era of Sheikh Mujib
A very important question came up in the years 1972 to 1975 to be answered by the political rulers and leaders of Bangladesh. India had assisted in the liberation of Bangladesh, but would India ever be a military enemy of Bangladesh? It was impossible to give an accurate answer. The government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman decided that, Bangladesh needed military forces for more than one reason. One of the reasons was, to assists the government of Bangladesh in various duties which become difficult for the civil administration alone, while the second reason was to take part in internal security duties.

Another reason was, to be able to defend the territorial integrity of Bangladesh from any foreign aggression (whatever remote the chances may be). Fourth and the final reason was to maintain defence forces symbolising the sovereign status of the country. It was a very difficult decision to be taken by the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as to what should be the size or strength of the military forces or defence forces of Bangladesh. An economically poor country and busy in reconstruction of Bangladesh could hardly afford large sums for the military forces. On the other hand a large number of Bangalee officers and men of the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force who were stranded in Pakistan were returning to Bangladesh and had to be accommodate somewhere in some manner. The obvious conclusion is that, a number of factors guided the government of Bangladesh in the years 1972 to 1975 in deciding the size and strength of the military forces.

I was born in the village of Burishchar, in Hathajari thana in the district of Chittagong on 4th October 1949. Between July 1962 and June 1968 I was in the famous institution called Faujdahrat Cadet College. Leaving studies in the University of Dhaka incomplete, I joined the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul with 24th War Course. I was commissioned in the Second Battalion of the East Bengal Regiment (Infantry) of the Pakistan Army on 6th September 1970.

Our War of Liberation
I was able to take part in the War of Liberation of Bangladesh with my battalion for the entire nine months. All officers and men who had taken part in the War of Liberation were given the benefit of 2 years of ante-dated seniority. I became a Lieutenant in mid-September 1971, became a Captain in mid-September 1972, became a Major in mid-October 1973 and became a Lieutenant Colonel in mid-September 1979. Meritorious or inquisitive I may have been, yet I consider myself to have been too young to have understood the defence policy of my country or the structure of the military forces of my country in those days. Whatever I write nowadays, is with the benefit of hindsight or the experience of my life in the military or outside.

It was necessary to keep the size of the army small, possibly for two important reasons. First reason was, not to attract speculative and aggressive attention of the neighbours. Second reason was that, the military should not feel itself strong and influential within the country, as was the case with Pakistan army.

On the other hand the number of freedom fighters had to be absorbed into one or the other profession under the government. Whatever small in size the military may have been, it was still necessary to have a counter-force. Therefore, the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman created a para-military force (or semi-military force) with very sharp teeth called the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini (in short JRB). The officers of the force were trained initially in India, by Indian officers and later on in Bangladesh also by Indian officers. The men of the JRB were trained in Bangladesh. Only few selected army officers were allowed to serve in the JRB. This force owed total political loyalty to Bangabandhu through very able military and political lieutenants of Bangabandhu. The government offered disproportionately more support for the JRB compared to the then army. The government also created a number of JRB cantonments across the country. Few examples of such cantonments are Jahanabad cantonment (former name Gilatala) 3 km north of Khulna city in south-west Bangladesh, Savar cantonment 20km north-west of Dhaka city and Bhatiari cantonment 15km north of Chittagong city centre where the Bangladesh Military Academy is located.

The government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib attempted to ‘cut the wings’ of the Bangladesh army officers in another manner also. In the days of Pakistan the para-military force looking after border security in East Pakistan used to be called East Pakistan Rifles (EPR). The men of the EPR would come from all languages and regions of Pakistan, Bangalee being in slight majority. Officers of Pakistan army of all languages would be sent on deputation to EPR to command the force. The primary task of the EPR was border security and anti-smuggling duties while the secondary task was to be the first-line of defence (although surely thin) in case of any foreign aggression violating the land border of the country.

In independent Bangladesh the system continued while the name of the force was changed to Bangladesh Rifles (BDR). In 1973-74 the government of Bangladesh circulated a policy and wanted to execute the said policy whereby, there would be a separate cadre of officers for BDR to be selected by the civil government. Not written in the policy, not expressed in loud words was the ulterior motive in this step which to have total political control or obtain total political loyalty of the force.

The senior leadership of the Bangladesh military at that time courteously but staunchly fought it out with the political government of the day and ensured the continuation of the policy. The policy is continuing till today, that is, BDR is commanded by officers of Bangladesh army.

Sinister demands
A conspiracy was created (by whoever) and a mutiny was instigated (by whoever) in the BDR in February 2009. One of the publicly stated demands of the mutineers in February 2009 was that army officers should not be allowed to serve or command BDR. The motive behind such sinister demands is obvious, but I refrain from elaborating.

The sad and tragic day in the political history of the country was 15th August 1975. Change in political and military leadership of the country came soon. The changes were not liked by our neighbours. Insurgency began in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Command and maintenance of the Jatiyo Rokkhi Bahini became vulnerable; one or the other decision had to be taken. The government decided to absorb the entire force or organization called JRB into the Bangladesh army. The officers of JRB were given commensurate or equivalent commissioned officer ranks in the army, the leaders of the JRB were given commensurate or equivalent junior commissioned officer-ranks in the army. The remaining men were given respectable equivalence. All property of the JRB including cantonments and installations were absorbed into the Bangladesh army. In one go, in September-October 1975, Bangladesh army gave a jump in size and capacity. The JRB before being absorbed had more than 10 battalions.

The military’s faults
The lengthy narrative above can be a fountain of information for the inquisitive youth of today, while it can also be an aberration to those who would prefer to keep the information buried in history not to be uncovered.
Over the last few years the Bangladesh military seems to have come under politically motivated propaganda attack. The Bangladesh military partly earned the attack by its own faults. Obviously I am referring to the period of two years (2007-2008) commonly called the one-eleven period. Formally speaking it was the caretaker government which administered the country; informally speaking the military stood behind the civil government either as a patron, or as a guardian or as a warden or as a guide or everything in part. The caretaker government aided by the military did some good jobs, but these are rarely mentioned. They have done a bad job of disturbing the political status-quo or the political equations.

Surprisingly, the military’s bad job is mentioned equally even by those who benefited from them and those who feel to have been victimised. The burden or liability squarely lies with the top military leadership of the day who are mostly out of the public eye now in 2011.

Camouflaged proxies
The motivated political assault on the Bangladesh military does not necessarily always come from identifiable political faces. More often these come from camouflaged proxies. And the assaults are also directed to various aspects of the military or organs of the military. Over a period of time, in Bangladeshi literary circle, intellectual circle, business circle and of course political circle, there has grown a coterie who hate the Bangladesh military, who dislike the Bangladesh military and as a result who would love to see the Bangladesh military become feeble or even perish. Such elites are unforgiving enough to snatch every opportunity to castigate the Bangladesh military. One such occasion or excuse is floating in the ‘discussion platforms of Bangladesh. It relates to the route of the metro-rail in an around the old airport and the beautiful building of the Parliament of Bangladesh—-the Sangsad Bhaban. When the planning for the route was being done, why was not an opportunity created for the Air force to ventilate its limitations? I am not contesting the opinion of the planners or of the Air Force, I am only asking the question as to why the opportunity have been created to criticise the military? As if the military does not want the traffic problem of the Dhaka city to be solved or eased.

At least for 16 years now, on and often, someone or the other, would on some or the other excuse, cry out for taking the Dhaka cantonment away from where it is now. Very recently, the cry is to close down the old airport at Tejgaon. Crying is easy; but consoling the one who cries is difficult. Crying is easy and welcome, but subduing the urge to cry or suffocate the feelings is dangerous. I mention this to remind that while a quarter or a section is crying for dislocation or relocation of the cantonment or the old airport, another quarter or section is definitely suffocating the urge of crying.

Have many of us not visited New Delhi or Islamabad or Washington DC or Singapore or Kolkata? What we call cantonment, some countries call them garrison, yet some countries call them barrack, and some name them as fort. In reality, they are all military establishments.

Part of the Delhi cantonment is very much in the main Delhi city; Fort William is very much in the heart of Kolkata city; at least two military establishments are within the city of Washington DC. Therefore, the location or existence of the Dhaka cantonment is not surprising or an outlandish idea.

When the cantonment was first envisaged early in 1948, who on earth had imagined that there will be so many people in the city of Dhaka that they will extract and drink away or waste away five to six meters of underground water level every fifteen years. When Dhanmondi residential area was planned, who on earth had imagined that it will be crowded with so many schools and hospitals? So many land developers are developing (or assassinating virgin water-land) areas and so many real estate developer companies are developing residential areas and giving them beautiful names—-but why is no real estate businessman ever attempting to develop an office-township?

So the fault is not with the cantonment and where it was established, the fault is with our inability to plan for a better living.    It is time enough for Bangladeshis to give a fresh thought about its own security and defence. More importantly, the community of one hundred and sixty million people called Bangladeshi nation needs to give fresh thought about the security of the nation. Which way are we going? How much of our faith are we abandoning? How much of our tradition and ethics are we discarding? How much are we borrowing and from what sources? It may be advisable to study the relationship between USA and Mexico, USA and Canada, Malyasia and Singapore, India and Sri-Lanka and then give a thought about the relations between India and Bangladesh. It may be advisable to study the last 90 years of history of Turkey, Soviet Russia and the 40 years of history of Afghanistan. There is no dearth of educated, learned and wise people in the country who will look at the country’s security issues impartially and objectively.

BY :  Major General (Retd) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim, Bir Protik

Sovereign Bangladesh And Her Security Concerns

Bangladesh was born through a bloody war, a war of liberation. The whole nation got united, took up arms and fought. The objective of the war was to create a country independent and sovereign, happy and prosperous based on democracy. The New Statesman of London commenting on the war said: “If blood is the price of people’s right to independence then Bangladesh has overpaid it.” This emphasized the value of our independence and sovereignty. It is most dear to us and we will protect it at any cost. We will build our defence capability, heighten it and make it a true deterrent against any external aggression. We need to build up a military machine, which will act as a bulwark of our national defence.

Geographically Bangladesh is placed disadvantageously. It suffers from the tyranny of a geography which gives rise to the concept of defence vulnerability. Because of Bangladesh’s political culture and weak governance, many security strategists cast suspicion on its internal security. But invariably the unique geo-strategic location directs its focus on its external national security.

Bangladesh does posses threats from external aggression. The tyranny of geography brings challenges to our security concerns. But we should not forget that all challenges bring new opportunities, unlock areas of new hopes and new potentialities. In one way we call Bangladesh a geographic tyranny but in another way some may call it a geographic boon. Geostrategically, geopolitically Bangladesh is placed in a most significant place - a place can be termed, pivotal. Bangladesh is in South Asia, the eastern most country. On the east of Bangladesh, there are the economically prosperous ASEAN nations. Bangladesh spans as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. Bangladesh is situated between two Asian giants. In the north just hundred kilometre away is China, and in the south surrounded by India with a land border of 4098 kilometre. The geo-strategic location of Bangladesh adds more to its importance being situated along the Shiligury Corridor, which very narrowly connects Arunachal province with mainlnd India. China claims 95000 sq km of land of Arunachal to be her own territory where she fought a war in 1962 and occupied it. Besides, the restive Seven States engaged in secessionist insurgency, a low intensity war are all located in close proximity to Bangladesh. Bangladesh as such is geo-strategic pivot in the South Asian sub system where active geo-strategic players like China and India are there. Bangladesh can exploit these very unique situations of geostrategy with correct vision and diplomacy, with appropriate military preparedness and right deterrence.

Bangladesh borders with only two countries - India and Myanmar. With Myanmar we have no border dispute but the maritime boundary is not yet demarcated. Although Dhaka’s relation with New Delhi is friendly but India’s military intervention may not be all together discounted in the event of any development in Bangladesh considered prejudicial to the regional giant’s perceived security thereat. The continuing insurgency in India’s north-eastern states might adversely affect Bangladesh’s security in that the common borders might not remain peaceful and India might attempt to use Bangladesh territory to quell the armed groups.

It must be appreciated that India has helped Bangladesh resolve it’s insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). However it can not be guaranteed and India could repeat its role by sheltering, arming and training the CHT rebels should they choose to launch another insurgency against Dhaka. India may very well use this strategy to provoke and incite the tribal community of CHT to fight against Bangladesh, in the name of secessionist movement when she requires to put pressure on Bangladesh to achieve her objectives, political, economical or both. Bangladesh has serious bilateral disputes with India over sharing water of 54 common rivers, demarcation of maritime boundary, sovereignty over South Talpatti Island in the Bay of Bengal, demand for corridor in the name of regional connectivity etc.

Against this backdrop of the threat perception, Bangladesh pursues a defence policy of no aggression but defend every inch of her land. To achieve a military deterrence in land, air and sea Bangladesh was looking for friends, who can help her to strengthen her defence capability. China, a close neighbour having ancient ties after opening diplomatic relationship in October 1975, immediately came forward. Bangladesh opened its embassy in Beijing and along with political and economic relations, defence cooperation also started. The writer was posted as first military attaché in Beijing, President Zia visited China in July 1980. He was given a rousing reception. After Chairman Mao Zedong’s death Hua Guofeng assumed charge. He assured all military support for Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh almost from the scratch started building its armed forces, its Army, Navy and Air force with PLA’s strong assistance. Whatever the defence capabilities till today we could muster, are mostly procured from China. China supplied the military hardware and many of the consignments during my time as defence attche there in the 80s, were on gratis, free of charge or on special goodwill price. China during this period also modernized, upgraded and expanded our only ordnance factory at Gazipur built by them during Pakistan time. China as a sincere friend always wanted Bangladesh to be strong militarily and prosperous economically. China considers Bangladesh a good friend, a strategic ally and extends full cooperation in military supply, technology transfer and training of military personnel. In 2002 Prime Minister Khaleda Zia during her visit to China also signed a broad-based defence agreement. It is an umbrella defence cooperation arrangement. It provides very wide ranging defence cooperation scope.

China in recent decades has made a phenomenal rise as an economic and military power, positioned herself in the centre of world stage. China is winning over friends all over Asia, Africa and Latin America. She is opposed to big power chauvinism, opposed to expansionism and hegemony. She stands for world unity, peace and stability. South Asia is China’s backyard. She has her security concerns. China does not recognize Mc Mohan Line and claims much of Arunachal province of India as her own land. Dalai Lama, is an irritant to China on Tibet issue. In recent years a strategic special relationship of Indo-US has developed in the aftermath of civil-nuclear agreement, which China considers motivated against her in pursuance of US policy of containing China. China maintains excellent relations with all the small South Asian neighbours including Bangladesh. Bangladesh may find in China a natural ally in her strive to consolidate her sovereignty and security. 

The caldron of South Asia is heating up. Terrorism is taking an ugly shape day by day. There are two nuclear power nations in the region. External forces are also getting involved to counter terrorism. 
The doctrine of pre-emption practiced in Iraq may not be out of place for the region. Security in 21st century has become more complicated and it is taking new dimensions. South Asia and the region around are intensifying their military build-up. The countries with which Bangladesh shares land border and sea territory are already much more militarily strong and are trying utmost hard to become stronger. The Regional Cooperation Organization of South Asia, SAARC, which was expected to bring peace, harmony and prosperity, could not do so as desired. Against this background Bangladesh should not remain a passive simple onlooker of the events developing all around. She should make her armed forces appropriately up to date and modern to face the regional challenges. She should have long term vision and planning in her defence preparedness for the present era, next and beyond. We should not forget that not very distant past Kuwait, an oil rich Gulf country, Sri-Lanka, a model of developing country in South Asia had to pay very heavy price because of their neglect and failure to raise strong armed forces.

I would like to conclude with a small personal anecdote. I had the honoured privilege to pay a courtesy call to His Excellency Jiang Zemin, the President of China in 1996 when I visited China as Chief of Army Staff. I remember President Jiang told me that China had changed a lot. It was not the same China which I saw when I lived there in the 70s and 80s. He said, “It is a changed China, developed China and it is a new generation, a new leadership.” 

He said, “The world is changing; I heard Dhaka skyline has also changed. But in all these changes one thing has not changed and it will never change and that is our relationship with Bangladesh, our policy for Bangladesh” He said, “I assure you, General, China will ever remain a friend. In time of need, she will be always beside you”. His words still ring in my ear. I treasure them. I believe this epitomizes our true relationship. It epitomizes the ethos and spirit of our defence cooperation in 21 century and beyond.

BY : Lt. Gen. M. Mahbubur Rahman (Retd)

Bangladesh foreign policy: Directionless and subservient

FOREIGN policy has been an integral element of all nation states since their very emergence centuries ago. Only its manifestation and execution have varied from one state to the other and with changing times, depending on their goals. What, however, has not changed is its declared objective of protecting one’s national self-interest, both perceived and real. The same is, or ought to have been, the case with Bangladesh.
During the early years of our independence, the foreign policy of the new state was driven by external pressures to demonstrate gratitude to the forces that had directly, or indirectly, supported our Liberation War. As a result, we had an Indo-Soviet centric foreign policy. This severely restricted the manoeuvrability of the country’s foreign policy and left us out of the equation with emerging and important global players like China and Saudi Arabia, a status that largely remained unchanged till the political changes of August 1975. 
Geo-political realities
It was only in the mid- seventies that Bangladesh was able to create an independent foreign policy that reflected our geo-political realities, our true economic goals and the aspirations of the vast majority of the country’s population. It was aimed at protecting our national self interest by being more inclusive. Bangladesh regained its sense of dignity and earned the respect of the global community, our economic challenges not withstanding. This found reflection in the depth and dimension of our ties with the Muslim world and the form and content of our relations with China, without seriously compromising our thrust on regional diplomacy and our growing economic and trade ties with the West. 
In the Muslim world, the image of Bangladesh was one of a moderator. This was reflected in her role in addressing the issues that most afflicted the member countries of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). Our leading role in the Al Quds Committee dealing with the all important Palestinian question and the efforts to end the fratricidal Iran-Iraq war earned special respect and praise for Bangladesh at home and abroad. 
SAARC is a reality
The election of Bangladesh to the UN Security Council in 1978, defeating a power house like Japan, was the ultimate manifestation of the success of that pragmatic, and yet dynamic, nature of the foreign policy of Bangladesh as guided by President Ziaur Rahman. More importantly, the success of our foreign policy made the nation proud as Bangladesh was able to stand with its head high in the comity of nations. In short, Bangladesh had arrived.
On the regional front, President Zia’s concept of institutionalised regional economic cooperation in the highly divided and distrust ridden South Asia was not just bold, it was as much visionary. While it may have had its expected share of initial misgivings and had caught bigger regional players off guard, none could in the end resist it. SAARC is now a South Asian reality.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war had very little impact on the foreign policy of Bangladesh because our ties with the countries of East  Europe had been largely marginalised since the mid- seventies.  
Those were the glorious days of our foreign policy. It had a ring of pride and dignity around it and a Bangladeshi diplomat felt proud to represent this nascent state. 
‘Look East’ policy
The ‘Look East’ policy adopted in 2001 added a new dimension to the country’s foreign policy. Under this dispensation, Bangladesh’s relations with the countries of South East Asia gave our foreign relations a strategic depth that went beyond South Asia.
I thought it was relevant to highlight here the golden days of the foreign policy of Bangladesh to put the prevailing situation in its proper perspective. 
Today, things are in reverse. What the average Bangladeshi has been witnessing since the coming to office of the incumbent government is a subservient foreign policy that does nothing to protect our national interest. On the contrary, its sole aim is to appease. What is worse, the whole approach lacks any transparency. 
That this was going to be the case was first signalled following the visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister to New Delhi in January 2010. The contents of the fifty-point joint declaration issued following that visit raised more questions than it answered; even more so because the public in Bangladesh remained in the dark of what was actually agreed upon.
Importantly, what was in the script had very little relations to issues that are of grave importance to Bangladesh, especially, on the sharing of the waters of the common rivers. Being a riverine and irrigation- dependent country, this particular issue has assumed critical importance in Bangladesh following our harrowing experience with the present government’s handling of the Farakka Barrage Project in India from the very beginning and its debilitating impact on the ecology and economy of Bangladesh. Much is being made by the government on the thirty-year Ganges Water Treaty signed in 1996; but the present government does not feel it necessary to argue that the damage already done is irreversible and hence there has to be a sense of urgency in reaching mutually acceptable accords on the other rivers before large chunks of Bangladesh dries up. 
Weak-kneed policy
The outcome of the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Dhaka in September this year and what has been happening since then has made the degree and extent of this government’s weak-kneed foreign policy all the more glaring. The sixty plus point joint declaration of September 7th is the perfect case in point. As subsequent events have shown, the follow up has been lopsidedly weighed against the interest of Bangladesh.  Much hype was created prior to the visit on reaching an agreement, and that too an interim one, on sharing of the waters of the Teesta river. 
What happened in the end is now history. It now seems to have entered the realm of uncertainty and  periodic government assurances to the contrary are increasingly looking ridiculous. Similarly, disappointments are rife among the residents of the enclaves and protests and hunger strikes there have continued unabated as they feel cheated and deceived. But does the government care? It is too busy facilitating the uninterrupted passage of Indian goods through Bangladesh and without collecting any fees in return. So much was said that the revenue emanating from granting transit to Indian goods would not only mitigate our gaping trade imbalance with our giant neighbour, it would also turn Bangladesh into a Singapore. The reality is there for all to see.
Public umbrage in Bangladesh has been boiling over the sustained killings of Bangladeshis along the border by Indian border guards over the years, made worse by this government’s inaction on this issue. The government was content with denials coming from the Indian side on this, notwithstanding all the evidence that this was actually happening, that people, including young children, were being routinely killed. 
It was not until the graphic image of a dead Felani, a 15-year old Bangladeshi girl, hanging from the barbed wire fence that our government woke up to the reality of the situation. But it was already too little too late for Felani, and others like her who have been victims of a failed foreign policy. What a shame! 
Holding brief 
Mutual benefit and mutual respect are among the fundamentals on which foreign policies are built. Today we have neither. What is even more demeaning for us as a nation is the sight of senior government officials, including and especially relevant Ministers and the all-powerful Advisers, conducting themselves in a manner as if their sole task is to hold the brief for the other side, that they have no responsibility to protect the interests of the people of Bangladesh.
It is indeed hard to imagine that the pride, dignity and interests of a people who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for a language and a country they could call their own are being bargained off with such impunity, all for the sake of appeasing a powerful neighbour. But that is exactly what is happening today. 
The title of a recent book by a Bangladeshi residing in the United States, critical of the prevailing situation, “You can be sold yourself, but do not sell my Country” captures the true depth of the anger and frustration of the people of this country today. 
This is not what we bargained for. 
 BY : Shamsher M. Chowdhury, Bir Bikram.