Friday, July 15, 2011

Indians Protesting Against Tipaimukh Dam Project

With the Indian government going ahead with the proposed Tipaimukh Dam in Manipur, environmentalists in India continued to mount their protest in north-eastern region of India.

 Originally conceptualised and awarded to Indian state-owned North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd. (Neepco) in 1999, the giant power project was handed over to a consortium comprising National Hydroelectric Power Corp (NHPC) and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) and the Manipur government last year.

"The mega hydel power project would be commissioned despite opposition within the country and outside," Prem Chand Pankaj, chairman-cum-managing director of Neepco, told in an interview with Indo Asian News Service last week.

Pankaj said, "We would soon ask the government to return the project again to Neepco for its early commissioning. The delay in execution of the vital power project would create numerous problems. Some so-called environmentalists and NGOs for the past few years have been campaigning against the project and misleading people," said Pankaj, who took over as Neepco CMD last month.

Setting aside fears, he said only 74 families would be rehabilitated elsewhere due to the implementation of the Rs 8,138-crore ($1.7-billion) Tipaimukh project.

But the environmentalists and activists in North-eastern India and Bangladesh fear that rivers flowing down the stream in both the countries could be adversely impacted by the project.
Desertification in Bangladesh 
Environmental activists fear, this project will start desertification in Bangladesh, which is already suffering desertification in northwestern districts due to Farakka Dam. It will also change the ecosystem of Sylhet region. It would affect the production of rice, the staple food, which require huge amount of water to grow. It will also affect fish production because fish is mainly found in the monsoon when many part of that area goes under water. This will immensely affect the flora and fauna and the entire biodiversity of the region.

Apart from the experts and environmental groups, the opposition parties in Bangladesh and the people of Sylhet region in particular demanding the project to be scrapped.
Assam students' group 
Meanwhile in North-Eastern India, members of Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba-Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP) on July 12 staged demonstrations at the district and subdivisional headquarters all over the state of Assam in support of their demand for abandoning the existing and proposed mega dam hydel projects of the NE region and neighbouring Bhutan.

The AJYCP members also sent memorandums to Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, demanding immediate steps to scrap all the mega dam projects.

In Guwahati city, the members of the Guwahati district committee of the AJYCP staged a demonstration near the Panbazar ferry station. Later they sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister through the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup (Metro) district.

Meanwhile, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti general secretary Akhil Gogoi, in an open letter to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, questioned the legitimacy of his claim that the mega dam projects would solve the State's problem of floods.
'Colonial attempt' 
He also described the bid of the Government of India to set up 168 hydel projects in Arunachal Pradesh as a colonial attempt to exploit the water resources of the region. The State Government should not extend support to the Central Government in this respect, said the KMSS general secretary.

The KMSS general secretary also alleged that the Central Government has been ignoring the rights of Assam over the inter-State rivers flowing through its territory. The environment impact assessment (EIA) studies conducted for setting up the hydel projects in the NE region have not covered the issue of impact of these projects in downstream Assam, he alleged.

The cumulative impact of these projects, together with the Bhutanese ones with the joint capacity of generating 15,000 MW of power, should be properly studied before going for setting up such projects, said the KMSS general secretary.

The Tipaimukh project, located on the Barak river under Churachandpur district in western Manipur, is under attack from opposition parties and environmental groups in Bangladesh, which say it could cause desertification in their country.

Part of the Brahmaputra river system, the Barak bifurcates into the Surma and Kushiyara rivers on entering Sylhet district in eastern Bangladesh.
Khaleda's letter to Indian PM 
Bangladesh's opposition leader and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia in a letter also asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop construction of the project.

Incidentally, at the end of the three-day India visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January last year, a joint communiqué by the two countries had said: "The Prime Minister of India reiterated the assurance that India would not take steps on the Tipaimukh project that would adversely impact Bangladesh."

Additionally, a 10-member Bangladeshi parliamentary delegation conducted an aerial survey of the Tipaimukh dam in July 2009 after opposition intensified in Dhaka over the hydel project's possible ecological impact.

India's Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had then told the delegation that the Tipaimukh project was not an irrigation project or a water diversion scheme.

"He said it was a hydel project and in no way would harm Bangladesh's interest," an official of the Manipur power department told journalists at Imphal quoting Union Power Minister.

Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna in his recent visit to Bangladesh has told his counterpart Dipu Moni that India would not harm its neighbour's interests.

The project, said TC Borgohain, a senior Neepco engineer, will regulate excess water and help control floods in Sylhet district of Bangladesh as well as western Manipur and southern Assam in India. "It will open a new waterway from Haldia port in West Bengal to landlocked northeastern India via Bangladesh," Borgohain told IANS, and added that water used for generating electricity would be released back into the river.


Manmohan Singh’s warning about Bangladesh reflected Inder Kumar Gujral’s advice to Sheikh Hasina Wazed in the 1990s to not sell gas direct to India but via an American consortium. “Let them take their 10 per cent,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll both be subject to too much political pressure.” Too diplomatic to be specific, Gujral meant Bangladesh’s Islamic fundamentalists.S.M. Krishna’s visit confirms the underlying message that neither country can afford to alienate the other. Political shifts and economic growth can change many things but not geography. Bangladesh is surrounded by India with a border of more than 4,000 km and 54 shared rivers. Apart from the Bay of Bengal, its only other outlet is the 193-km frontier with Myanmar. The retired Bangladeshi diplomat who argued in Dhaka’s Daily Star newspaper that “geographical compulsion dictates that laying the foundation of friendly relations with neighbouring countries should be the cornerstone” of his country’s foreign policy might have been speaking of India as well.

Of course, both countries can transcend geography in an age of advanced science and technology, as one of India’s most perspicacious high commissioners told the Dhaka Rotary Club as long ago as 1980 when relations were less cordial. But cost and profit effectiveness make it advantageous to make the most of geographical and other complementarities, all the more when one neighbour’s security demands the other’s cooperation. The envoy also stressed that “to a very great extent”, Indo-Bangladeshi problems are psychological and “this psychology is derived from our common past.”

He stopped short of adding what is unfashionable to the point of being unmentionable — that today’s subcontinental politics cannot escape the legacy of undivided India’s Hindu-Muslim equation from which it sprang. Amen to the prayer of the optimistic Bangladeshi who wrote that Hindus and Muslims have lived peacefully “for over a thousand years and will have to live in harmony for thousands of years more”. But that expression of hope wouldn't have been necessary if his premise had not been flawed. Despite Dipu Moni’s handsome exoneration, Singh’s comment caused a flutter precisely because it hinted at what is nowadays called identity politics.

The apology that he was not being “ judgmental” is neither here nor there. If the prime minister is to be faulted, it’s that he wasn't sufficiently probing. Hindus there will aver that Bangladeshis don’t have to be “in the clutches, many times, of the ISI” to be “very anti-Indian”. Apart from instinctive communalism, they can also have reason enough of their own. Even Bangladeshis who “swear by the Jamaat-ul-Islami” (Singh meant the Jamaat-e-Islami) can nurse grievances that secular Awami Leaguers share because they concern water resources or transit rights. Not all complaints can be dismissed as anti-liberation communalism.

If 25 per cent of Bangladeshis are “very anti-Indian”, that’s the group Indian diplomacy should focus on instead of basking in cozy camaraderie with the already favourable 75 per cent. But the prime minister’s arithmetic is puzzling, seemingly exaggerating the importance of a minor electoral player whose 32,09,226 votes in 2008 meant only 4.55 per cent of the total and just two members of parliament against the previous 17. Had Singh said 37.39 per cent, it would have been clear he bracketed Jamaat’s senior partner, Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in the anti-India camp. Some might also include H.M. Ershad’s Jatiya Party (6.65 per cent) for all that he is now Wajed’s ally.

But the 25 per cent isn’t an empirical figure. In fact, Singh might have erred on the side of caution if he fears that a substratum of Bangladeshi society, cutting across party lines, is susceptible to religious propaganda. Wajed’s ultimate refusal (after a tortuous sequence of events involving the courts) to abolish the “state religion” that was Ershad’s handiwork and restore her father’s “four state principles” (democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism) confirmed that Awami Leaguers aren’t immune to populist winds. Islamist protests against the National Women’s Development Policy echoed Ershad saying when he was president that Wajed would never be elected because an Islamic head of government must lead the nation in prayers, which is a man’s job.

These internal matters don’t concern India. But Wajed’s ability to deliver may cause concern if she has to make concessions to the Islamist lobby for survival. Discerning Bangladeshis are not unaware of the problem. The Daily Star has published articles recommending inter-religious and inter-cultural cooperation as an “important aspect” of bilateral relations. The author warned of the danger of politicizing religion and demanded that “state mechanisms must be secular in outlook”.Bangladesh’s small ruling elite is probably too cosmopolitan to be communal. But the base it rests on isn’t. The latter cannot be expected to appreciate the nuances of various disputes either. It’s easier to invoke the traditional bogey (which impacts on local Hindus) when India’s commitment to provide 250 MW of electricity is delayed than trying to explain that there can be no power without a 100-MW transmission line that calls for a separate purchase agreement and will take two years to build after the contract has been awarded.

Some see Singh’s comment not as an innocent generalization but as a devious bargaining ploy in the context of Krishna’s visit, to be followed (according to New Age, another Dhaka daily) by Salman Khurshid as water resources minister and Sonia Gandhi before the prime minister goes in September. Connecting all these events, they accuse Singh of setting the stage “to seek a number of concessions from the Bangladesh government.” Timothy Roemer’s farewell speech as ambassador saying that the United States of America and India are “working more and more closely on issues such as Bangladesh” added fuel to fire.

This is what the former high commissioner called the “small-neighbour-big-neighbour syndrome” in which every attempt to improve relations arouses suspicion. The danger in his time was of sentimentally attached Indians being disappointed when their high expectations were not realized. The emotional fervour of 1971 still lingered in 1980. But it’s gone now. Bangladesh may sizzle but it sizzles on a back-burner of Indian priorities. Across the border, however, Wajed’s determination to punish her father’s killers threatens to explode into a witch-hunt that can trample on the rule of law and drag India into domestic contention. Even a well-meaning retired bureaucrat’s “We would like India to be our friend as it was during our liberation war” does that.

It’s an involvement India must avoid. But overall cooperation can’t await the resolution of particular problems like the participation of Bangladeshi businessmen in the commerce generated by transit to the Northeast, a $3-billion trade imbalance, the illegal influx into West Bengal and the Northeast or the South Talpatti/New Moore island controversy. If relations don’t improve, they will stagnate, which means worsen. Pakistan won’t be the only beneficiary. In its search for “a compliant, divided periphery” (Henry Kissinger’s words), China is ever ready to offer Bangladesh the market access India can’t, mainly because of domestic textile interests.India must make some sacrifices and cut some losses in the greater interest of securing the Northeast and its eastern flank as well as of saving an ideal. Krishna expects Dhaka, which has been helpful in tracking rebels, also to liquidate terrorist bases. Self-interest demands that India, with eight times the population of Bangladesh and more than 12 times its gross domestic product (quoting Bangladeshi papers), should be generous.

This was the gist of the Gujral Doctrine which Nirupama Rao reiterated recently (without attribution) by crediting India with adopting “an asymmetrical and non-reciprocal approach” in strengthening the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation “where we are willing to go the extra mile in order to strengthen regional cooperation”. However, that may not be quite as obvious in Dhaka (or Kathmandu, Thimphu and Colombo — Islamabad is another matter) as it is in the external affairs ministry in New Delhi.

Dhaka "Only Ray Of Hope For Delhi" In S. Asia

When all the neighbours are at odds with India "only Bangladesh offers a ray of hope," wrote Brig (rtd) S K Chatterjee, strategic analyst based in Delhi on March 26 this year.
India's sympathy for the Tamils, who fought secessionist war for two decades, has adversely affected its ties with Sri Lanka. Of late, Colombo has been developing closer ties with China earning Delhi's displeasure further. Beijing had supplied the much needed arms to Colombo on credit to defeat LTTE two years ago.

Forcible fishing by Indians in Sri Lankan waters, now a regular feature, led to the arrest of several hundred Indian fishermen in the recent past. Angry, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha questioned how they dare to pick up her fishermen and called for military action against the tiny neighbour.

With emergence of the Communists in power in Nepal, people have raised strong voice against the age-old economic and political domination of India - Indian hegemony - over the landlocked Himalayan country.

Nationalist forces in Kathmandu have been demanding withdrawal of Indian Army from their land in Kalapani occupied since 1962 Indo-China war. They claim Nepal's land up to Bangladesh and Bhutan borders on the southeast, and return of hundreds of kilometres encroached along the border with Bihar and Uttar Pradhesh. Needless to say, China is gaining ground in Nepal to New Delhi's discomfort.
Delhi's failure in Yangon 
Delhi's Foreign Office mandarins are now lamenting for the failure to win the hearts and minds of military rulers in Mayanmar. Millions of dollars were invested by India in developing roads, infrastructure and port. Despite that Myanmar has allegedly been providing safe sanctuaries with all facilities to the secessionist groups of Assam, Nagaland, Monipur and Tripura.

All efforts by high profile Indian visits have failed to pursue Yangon to withdraw support to the secessionists fighting for independence from India. Rebel leaders are getting easy access to China, a close and trusted ally of Myanmar.
Indira doctrine 
Except for brief tenure of Morarji Desai and I K Gujral, India has always followed a Big Brotherly policy - stick and carrot - towards its small neighbours as envisaged by Indira Doctrine.

The key principles of Indira Gandhi inherited from her father Jawaharlal Nehru towards the neighbours were that no foreign power would be allowed to cross the Himalayas or allowed to interfere in South Asia. The region should remain under the domain of Delhi and the neighbours should follow her dotted line in internal and external affairs. The policy was akin to America's Monroe Doctrine about pre-eminence in the surrounding region.

Desai and Gujral in their bid for a shift had laid emphasis on the need for good faith and trust as the basis of India's relations with its smaller South Asian neighbours.

Needless to say that the Awami League government that came to power with a thumping majority in the 2008 general elections has provided the only ray of hope to Delhi. In compliance with her wishes the grand alliance government in Dhaka has handed over the ULFA leaders to India.

Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna visited Dhaka July 6-8 ostensibly to lay the ground for top level talks when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh comes in September. Many in India branded the stone faced Singh a proxy prime minister of ruling Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Dr Manmohan Singh during his visit is also likely to ask for handing over of ULFA secretary general Anup Chetia to weaken its army chief Paresh Baruah who opposed peace talks without agenda of independence of Assam. Chetia is in custody of Bangladesh on completion of his jail term as his petition for asylum is lying pending.
Water of the Teesta 
It is said a package deal inclusive of thorny border issue and sharing of water of the Teesta River will be reached during Dr Singh's coming visit.

On the possibility of sacrificing about one thousand acres by Bangladesh in settling border dispute, the government is holding view exchange meetings with villagers along the Sylhet border to gain public support to its move. The villagers have questioned the necessity of fresh demarcation of border when it was done at the time of partition of India. The land now claimed by India had been owned and cultivated by the Bangladeshis for about 64 years.

Strongly opposing fresh demarcation of boundary in the last meeting with the villagers last Tuesday (July 12) the residents vowed to spill any amount of blood to protect every inch of their motherland.

Swim The Padma: Merely looking east won’t do. India now must hold Bangladesh’s gaze.

A 48-hour bandh call, sit-in demonstrations and street protests of the Opposition snowballing into a pitched battle with the police—these were the images Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna faced as he landed in Dhaka on July 6 for a three-day visit. Usually bursting to the seams with teeming millions thronging noisy, congested streets, the near-desolate Dhaka that greeted him just didn’t provide an appropriate backdrop to propel India-Bangladesh relations on a higher trajectory.

But herein lies the twist, typically Bangladeshi—those who had taken to the streets were venting their anger against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, and not against Krishna or India. There were two distinct sections among the angry collective—opposition forces had rallied against Hasina’s decision to abrogate the constitutional clause that requires a caretaker government to oversee the general election; the other section was out there bemoaning the government’s lack of resolve to adequately bolster the secular foundation of the constitution.

This, though, doesn’t mean the people here aren’t miffed at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s impolitic remarks about Bangladesh in an informal chat with newspaper editors in New Delhi. To them, Manmohan had said that at least 25 per cent of Bangladeshis were anti-India, owed their allegiance to the Jamaat-e-Islami, and were in the clutches of Pakistan’s ISI. Inadvisably placed on the PM’s website, the remarks were eventually pulled out—but not before wounding Bangladeshi pride.

An opinion piece in Dhaka’s Daily Star faulted Manmohan for exaggerating the numbers of staunch Jamaat-e-Islami supporters who are consequently deemed anti-India. The newspaper has a point—in all the four general elections beginning 1991, the Jamaat’s best performance has seen it bag just 8.61 per cent of the total votes, a far cry from Manmohan’s figure of 25 per cent. Pointing to another of his comments—“the political landscape in Bangladesh can change anytime”—the piece said New Delhi must improve its relations with Dhaka to such an extent that a change in the political dispensation in Bangladesh does not impact negatively on India’s security and prosperity.

Others tried to analyse the motives behind Manmohan’s controversial remarks. So what was his intent? The New Age said, “It would not be a stretch to presume that the comments arrived at the right time to exert an influence on the number of agreements that are likely to be signed during these (Krishna’s and the PM’s) visits.” As for the Jamaat, it was quick to condemn the remarks as “baseless and untrue”. Its acting general secretary, A.T.M. Azharul Islam, said, “The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami is a political and an Islamic movement party. It’s the party’s duty to talk in favour of the country’s interest.” He also vehemently denied any links between the Jamaat and the ISI or any other foreign intelligence agency, and said it wasn’t opposed to India.

The consensus here is that Manmohan did rile Bangladesh, but only temporarily. As Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University told Outlook, “Well, the citizens did react, but didn’t overreact; nor did the mainstream opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by Khaleda Zia. In fact, many people laughed at Manmohan’s claim that 25 per cent of Bangladeshis are anti-India. Do I understand that the rest are pro-India? That figure is very unlikely.” Agrees former Bangladeshi high commissioner to India, Liaquat Ali Chowdhury, “In appreciation of the possibility of a positive development in the Indo-Bangla relationship, the people did not demonstrate their anger on these unwarranted comments.”

Perhaps Bangladesh isn’t infuriated because India acted with alacrity to defuse the situation. Apart from Krishna’s visit, Manmohan made a call to Hasina and announced dates for visiting Bangladesh, which hasn’t hosted an Indian premier for 12 years now. Yet, even the Indian foreign policy establishment faults the PM for not exercising discretion. Former diplomat Ronen Sen told Outlook, “We need to be mindful about the sensitivity of our neighbour, especially when we are commenting on their internal situation. The issue isn’t about the veracity of the comments, but the fact that it was not kept confidential by PMO officials. This needs to change.”

Change it must, for New Delhi can’t expect a friendlier government in Dhaka than Hasina’s. For all the ripples Manmohan’s remarks created in Bangladesh, Hasina sent her foreign minister, Dipu Moni, to receive Krishna at the airport, signalling her resolve to strengthen bilateral relations. This had also been on vivid display during her visit to New Delhi last year, when she promised to address New Delhi’s security concerns. India returned the favour by extended a whopping $1 billion line of credit to Bangladesh. Says Abdul Matlub Ahmad, president of the India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “India’s credit for building the road and railway infrastructure from Bangladesh to Tripura will widen the scope to explore the huge consumer market in India’s northeastern states.”

Yet Hasina was unsure of Indian reciprocity to her efforts, as there was no clear indication then of a Manmohan visit to Bangladesh. Only through that visit could Hasina counter her detractors, who claimed New Delhi hadn’t warmed to her overtures. With the Indian PM’s visit now scheduled in September, Hasina would get enough chances to prove India means well. Indian goodwill was on display during Krishna’s visit that saw the inking of two agreements between India and Bangladesh—one seeks to protect and promote each other’s bilateral investments; the other allows trucks plying between Bhutan and Bangladesh passage through India. Krishna also assured Bangladesh that several projects under the line of credit were now in the “implementation stage”. He confidently declared in Dhaka, “The bilateral cooperation between India and Bangladesh is on a high trajectory.”

Will Indo-Bangla relations tick now, in a better way than before? “For it to work,” says Sen, “the relationship has to be perceived by people of both countries as mutually beneficial.” Sen argues that New Delhi must change its attitude of perceiving its projects in neighbouring countries as favours bestowed upon them. He also thinks New Delhi must quell opposition to its foreign policy plans from states bordering Bangladesh in the larger national interest, as also that of Indian business interests.

Take the textile sector. Bangladeshi garments are not only of good quality, but are priced low, as it is a labour-intensive industry. Providing the Bangladeshi textile sector access to the large Indian market will boost employment and endear India to Bangladeshis. Adds Sen, “The trade imbalance between the two sides is huge and favours India. Though we may not be able to narrow the gap overnight, by giving Bangladeshi garments access to the Indian market, we can perhaps make a dent.” Sen, who has worked in the Indian mission in Dhaka, believes “India’s ‘Look East Policy’ will not work” without Bangladesh, Myanmar and the northeastern states earning a stake in developing the region.

An obsession with Pakistan often makes many in India overlook Bangladesh’s importance. Says Leela Ponappa, a former diplomat who had earlier handled the Bangladesh brief, “Bangladesh’s importance needs to be brought into the Indian people’s consciousness. It is a very intense and extensive relationship. There are huge opportunities for both sides which need timely cashing in on.” For one, India and Bangladesh share a massive 4,000-km border, the porous nature of which lets many Bangladeshis to cross over, and also criminal gangs from India seeking a safe haven there. This phenomenon has resulted in the Border Security Force of India exchanging fire with the Bangladesh Border Guards (the erstwhile Bangladesh Rifles). Since every such incident becomes a highly emotive issue in Bangladesh, it is imperative for the two sides to evolve a mechanism to address this problem at the local commandant level through regular interventions.

Despite the hope enshrined in the Indira-Mujib agreement of 1974, nearly 6.5 km of the border still remains undemarcated. The exchange of enclaves that belong to one but are under the control of the other is also pending. No agreement has yet been reached on “adverse positions”, areas which, by virtue of their location, are under the control of one country but difficult to govern. Still hanging fire is the problem of sharing the waters of the Teesta and other rivers.

When Manmohan visits Dhaka in September, it is believed agreements on these contentious issues—better access for Bangladeshi goods to the Indian market, better border management, and water-sharing—will constitute the “big package” the two sides would agree upon. Former Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh Veena Sikri says, “We need a few high-visibility projects in Bangladesh as China has got. Modernisation of railways and dredging of rivers are examples.” Perhaps then the Indian premier might discover that he has no need to dream up anti-India forces.

Delhi, Washington Act In Concert For Transit From Dhaka

For too long, our defence policy has stammered in the swamp of ambivalence. That phase of dithering must come to an end now as the dices of geopolitics are rolling faster than a bullet train. Faced with a new brand of geopolitical challenge due to increased US-Pakistan bitterness, Delhi is desperate to pull Dhaka under its strategic schemes, in a hurry. On the other hand, fearful of losing its grip on Afghanistan in the absence of cooperation from Pakistan, the US too is changing its priorities in South Asia in order to checkmate the rising China dragon.

As Delhi's huge investment in Afghanistan faces the prospect of being worthless due to the US's planned withdrawal by 2014 - and more and more Pakistani influence-peddling in Afghanistan seeming inevitable - foreign office mandarins in Delhi's South Block are bidding hard to recalibrate their priorities by taking on board countries like Bangladesh and Nepal where Delhi wields substantial influence.
Transit and base 
The alacrity stems from one singular factor: The US-Pakistan honeymoon is crumbling too fast, the US having announced on July 10 that it would withhold $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan in a retaliatory move over Pakistan's recent cutback on U.S. trainers, limits on visas for U.S. personnel, and, other bilateral irritants which are mounting almost daily. Although the US is simultaneously involved in crafting a lasting peace deal with the Taliban, policy makers in Washington are aware that the Taliban peace route traverses through Islamabad and Pakistan holds the key to any sustainable peacemaking with the Taliban.

Desperate to making alternative arrangements in the instance the US presence in Afghanistan turns untenable, the US proposed in late May to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Nepal, which the Nepalese defence ministry was studying after having received formally through the US embassy, according to a diplomatic source. "Defence ministry has forwarded the proposal to the army headquarters on June 3, asking for suggestions," said the source.

It's not a coincidence that within weeks, on July 6, Indian foreign minister, S M Krishna, told a joint press briefing in Dhaka that talks were in the final stages to ink a transit deal with Bangladesh. "We're extremely optimistic and hopeful that we would be able to arrive at an agreement which will be mutually beneficial," Krishna said. The deal will allow Indian convoys - civil and military - to ferry across Bangladesh to the land-locked Northeast States, many of which are strategically indispensable and abut China and its regional military ally, Myanmar.

As Beijing viewed such moves as bids to encircle the Chinese mainland, it wanted Pakistan to come further closer to counterbalance this looming threat. The Holiday had learnt that, following the recent visit to Beijing of Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, Delhi and Washington began to act in concert to squeeze a transit deal from Bangladesh at the earliest; despite the deal, under its current format of using Bangladesh as an Indian corridor, is economically unviable, politically unpopular and geopolitically suicidal. The deal is extremely unpopular among the Bangladeshi people.
Pak-US row 
The latest Pak-US rift surfaced on the heels of lingering irritations which turned bitterly acerbic in the follow up to the raid by U.S. Special Forces on May 2 that had allegedly killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Although no conclusive evidence has emerged as yet to authenticate that claim, the incident, however, jolted Pakistan and its army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who faced disgraceful bad-mouthing following the Bin Laden killing incident from fellow officers demanding an explanation from him as to why Pakistan should support the U.S.

Mistrust deepened further when the CIA chief, Leon Panetta, admitted that the Pakistanis were 'kept out of the loop' on the Bin Laden raid for fear he would have been tipped off. "It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission," the CIA director told the Time magazine. In an abashedly blunt rebuke to Islamabad, Panetta added, "They might alert the targets."

Other US lawmakers expressed similar outrage following the arrest of a number of Pakistanis who helped gather intelligence for the CIA about the Bin Laden's compound. Among the arrestees was one Maj. Amir Aziz, a doctor in the Pakistan army's medical corps, who lived next to the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad for several years and has not been seen since after the raid by the U.S. commandos. Aziz was among several other Pakistanis who'd spied for the US.

During a congressional hearing-with Defence Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen-Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said, "Just this morning, we see word that our putative ally arrested five people under the suspicion that they helped the US to get Osama bin Laden, after publicly saying, of course, they wanted us to get Osama bin Laden."
Taliban and Pakistan 
The May 2 raid has remained an unmitigated irritation inside Pakistan, as most of the Pakistanis saw it as a clear violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. Faced with mass anger, Pakistan's army has warned the US it would risk abandonment of counter-terrorism cooperation if it conducted another assault. Added to the cumulative bitterness caused by the US's routine drone strikes inside Pakistan and the presence of U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives in the country, bilateral relations reached a breaking point early this year after Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor and a former U.S. Special Forces member killed two Pakistanis in Lahore.

The New America Foundation, which tracks the drone attacks, estimated that the attacks have killed some 2,189 people from 2004 through January this year. Islamabad has also bristled at orchestrated media reports that had linked the ISI to complicity in hiding Bin Laden and in the recent murder of a Pakistani journalist, allegedly by the ISI.

Until now, the US has been Pakistan's biggest aid donor, contributing more than $20 billion since 2002 in order to secure Pakistani support for the US war in Afghanistan. Almost $9 billion of it went to the military which had deployed nearly 150,000 troops in the troubled NWFP to launch anti-Taliban and anti- al-Qaeda operations. Despite having lost hundreds of soldiers in those operations, Pakistan has never managed to earn the full trust of either Kabul or Washington, both of which accused the Pakistani military of fostering the Afghan Taliban it had initially spawned during the 1980s resistance against Soviet occupation forces.

Since October 2004, tension also flared intermittently as Islamabad closed a key supply line for coalition troops in Afghanistan while militants attacked, almost routinely, stranded convoys carrying war logistics from Karachi port to the landlocked Afghan war theatre via North West Pakistan.
False flag operations 
A reliable source close to the Pakistani military establishment maintains the US counter intelligence teams have been triggering 'false flag' operations within Pakistan to prove that the country is under the grip of a civil war and on the verge of being taken over by the Taliban. For instance, in late May, a team of heavily armed insurgents stormed a major Pakistani naval base in Karachi, setting off a prolonged gun battle with the security forces and destroying an American-made aircraft at the base. Many within the Pakistani military blame 'cloaked' US agents and US-backed provocateurs for this and many other similar attacks. "We have evidence to prove US involvement", claimed the source, insisting on anonymity.

As accusation and counter accusation intensified, a U.S. Special Operations training program for Pakistan's tribal defence force has been suspended last month due to Islamabad's unwillingness to allow any further US activities within the Pakistan soil while Islamabad also ordered withholding of visas from CIA and other US military personnel assigned to a number of collaborative programs inside Pakistan.

In Washington, many think the Pak-US antagonism has hit the dreaded trip wire syndrome due to Washington's failure in proving conclusively that Laden was in that compound at the time of the assault. Although the compound remained off limits to reporters for too long, a police officer in charge, Qamar Hayat, told reporters that "There is no bunker, nor did I see any secret place where one could hide. There is no cellar." Hayat added, "The belongings of the inmates are intact, including beds, mattresses, a table, chairs and other furniture items." Another police officer said, "Even usual Bin-Laden- type attires were not found in the compound."

Amidst such swirling cynicism, the unwillingness or the inability of the Obama administration to offer any credible, conclusive evidence that Bin Laden was in that compound, and had been killed there, has managed to further anger majority of the Pakistanis. They say 'why blame Pakistan for harbouring Laden when you can not prove it?' Footage obtained by the ABC network inside the Abottabad house also showed blood on the floor in one room and broken computers in another, while crowds outside, including women and children, shouting "Brother Osama is alive."
Nuclear fear 
To the contrary, many Pakistanis believe the US was after the Pakistani nukes and the Abottabad raid on May 2 aimed to both show off some success in the war on terror as well as to test the Pakistani preparedness against surprise attacks of this kind. Further twist to these hyperboles came from the leaders in both Afghanistan and India who said Bin Laden's discovery so close to Islamabad vindicated their claims of double-dealing by Pakistan's military and intelligence apparatuses.

This caginess is what had accentuated the Pak-US relations to plunge to such a low depth, and, added to an already paranoid Pakistani psyche, shaped since November 2010 when the WikiLeaks disclosed that the US had led top secret efforts, for years, to remove highly enriched uranium from Pakistan. The revealed diplomatic cables showed that in May 2009, US ambassador Anne Patterson failed to schedule a visit by American technical experts to the Pakistani nuclear facilities to remove enriched uranium from the site.

Washington took this as a major snub and the New York Times (NYT) managed somehow to clear the fog by outlining the reason for the Pakistani negation. Quoting a nameless Pakistani official-who had said, "If the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan's nuclear weapons,"-the NYT showed how sensitive the matter was within Pakistan.

Some experts estimate Pakistan has up to 100 nuclear weapons, which are capable of hitting targets all across India and the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, if needed. The Israeli dimension is added by the facts that the initial fund to build the so called 'Islamic bomb' by Pakistan came from a number of Muslim nations, including from Col. Qaddafi's Libya. That is why the US is reported to have set up an elite squad that could fly into the country and attempt to secure the weapons. It also partly explains why a peace-monger like Barack Obama, who had clinched a Nobel Prize for his desperate peace bids, ordered US fighters to bomb Libya and remove Qaddafi from power. Obama indeed cowered to the omnipotent Jewish pressure.
Pak-China pact 
But Pakistan is neither Libya nor Iraq, and, it was only natural under such a scenario that the Pak-US tensions over the killing of Osama Bin Laden, coupled with a speedier US withdrawal from Afghanistan, would further reinforce Pak-China military ties. Islamabad is also aware that, drowned under Himalayan debt burdens, Washington has little ability to provide financial assistance to any nation.

Thus the inevitable began to shape up. Since February, China and Pakistan pledged to enhance strategic communication and cooperation between their militaries during the 8th Sino-Pakistani Defence and Security Talks held in Beijing. In reality, such a comprehensive collaboration germinated soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the First China-Pakistan Defence and Security Talks having held in March 2002. Both Beijing and Islamabad kept the intimacy at the low burner for too long, not to antagonize Washington.

Now, under the changed circumstances, those collaborations have attained functional dimensions. In May, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited Beijing, apparently to deflect mounting pressure from Washington, Delhi and Kabul that it was sheltering Islamic terror. "China is the only country that has taken a sympathetic stand for Pakistan after the Bin Laden operation," Talat Masood, a political analyst and a retired Pakistani general, said. Masood added, "This visit is important in the sense that it could counter US pressure on Pakistan. It shows Pakistan wants to say we also have some cards to play." He cautioned: "If the US and the Indian pressure continue, Pakistan can say China is behind us. Don't think we are isolated, we have a potential superpower with us."

On June 23, military delegations from Pakistan and China signed two agreements, consolidating existing cooperation between their armed forces at the conclusion of the first round of military talks at Pakistan's Joint Staff Headquarters in Chaklala. Chinese Defence Ministry's Deputy Foreign Affairs chief, Maj. Gen. Jia Xiaoning, led the Chinese delegation in talks with the Pakistani Director General of Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Asif. Lately, Beijing has also agreed to build several nuclear reactors in Pakistan.

This Pak-China 'ganging up' is too popular at the grass root level in both Pakistan and China. "At this crucial juncture of history, I cannot say anybody is standing with Pakistan except China," Pakistan's opposition leader and former PM, Nawaz Sharif, said. Kerry Dumbaugh, an analyst at the Centre for Naval Analyses, said Pakistan's pro-China stance on issues such as Taiwan, which Beijing considers an integral part of its own territory, is a key factor in Beijing's support for Islamabad. Besides, "Pakistan serves as an advocate or a conduit for China in the Islamic world," Dumbaugh said.

Bangladesh too subscribes to the one-China policy and is a major player within the Islamic Ummah. Yet, our government has been ill at ease in dealings with Beijing due to the quintessential Indian pressures. Under the changed ambiance, Dhaka must gather guts to shift gear toward pursuing a more independent foreign policy. Such a stance may also serve to deflect some of the public anger being displayed in street agitations by a bolder and more aggressive nationalist-Islamist brand that seems determined to bring an end to the excessive Indian high-handedness in our national affairs. At the same time, our armed forces must ready themselves to face all the dangers lurking in the horizon.

Chittagong Hill Tract: Special Report on Violence Against Indigenous Jumma

Investigation into the February and April 2011 arson attacks against minority Jumma communities in the Chittagong Hill Tract illustrate how the Bangladeshi government has failed to uphold a major election promise to implement the 1997 Peace Accord.

JusticeMakers Bangladesh Trust (JMBangladesh), along with Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD), The Hague, The Netherlands have [provided a report of their recent] fact finding investigation into the arson attacks against minority Jumma communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region of Bangladesh, which occurred in February and April of 2011.

In May 2011, JMBangladesh and GHRD’s local partner in Bangladesh, Advocate Shahanur Islam, led a Eight days mission to the CHT region, speaking with over 103 affected Jumma families. We are to date the only human rights organization to investigate the attacks.

Our investigations found that 165 people were affected in the February attacks and 551 people in the April attacks, the vast majority of whom were Jumma and have lost their homes. All interviewees confirmed that on both occasions, security forces were present but failed to act to stop the violence, looking on as the destruction occurred. The involvement of the security forces and their open approval of the attacks must be fully condemned and investigated; however, the government of Bangladesh as thus far failed to adequately investigate this.

While the government has provided some compensation to the victims in the form of monetary compensation and foodstuffs, this is considered insufficient and many of those who lost their homes in the arson attacks continue to live in tents or temporary shelter. The authorities have also failed to investigate the attacks, despite identification of the main perpetrators of the violence. At the time of writing of this appeal no-one had yet been arrested in relation to these attacks.

During their investigations, the fact finding team was approached and questioned on multiple occasions by members of the Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) and by the district special branch of police who requested information on the identity of the team, the organisation they worked for and purpose for their visit. The authorities expressed suspicion towards having any international involvement in the CHT region and questioned our observers on whether they were linked to or received funding from any international organisation.

Implementation of the 1997 Peace Accord was a major election promise of the ruling government, the Awami League. It is paramount that the government be held accountable for these promises and take action to bring peace to the region and implement the Accord.