Saturday, July 23, 2011

Indo-Bangladesh Relations: The other face of a friend Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to visit Bangladesh in Septem-ber 2011. Foreign Minister S M Krishna visited Bangladesh on July 6, 2011 which was overshadowed by PM Singh’s remarks made at the meeting with Indian editors in the first week of July in New Delhi in which he said that 25% of Bangladeshi popula-tion was anti-India and in the clutches of the ISI. These prickly remarks irked many in Bangladesh. During Mr Krishna’s visit the environment was further vitiated. Besides this when Bangladesh media raised the question about “killing of unarmed Bangla-deshi nationals by India’s trigger-happy Border Security Force (BSF).” According to Odhikar, a human rights organisation in Bangladesh, between January 1 and May10, 2011, 12 young unarmed Bangladeshi nationals were killed by the BSF.

Indo-Bangladesh relations have never been cordial. In Bangladesh, India is viewed as a bully, throwing its weight around and threatening the sovereignty of its smaller neighbors. There are several issues between the two countries, which are the cause of grave concern for Bangladesh. These include water issue, land issue, fencing of border, Indian support to Chakma community, smuggling from India etc. India is continuously interfering into the internal affairs of Bangladesh. She is supporting the Chakma refugees of Bangladesh in order to create unrest in that country. Her expansionist designs envision a subservient Bangladesh towing the Indian line without question. For this purpose India is supporting many separatist groups for covert and overt operations.

Human Rights Congress of Bangladeshi Minorities (HRCBM), a Hindu organiza-tion is creating communal violence in Bangladesh. It is facilitating the settlement of Hindus in border districts of the country in order to facilitate Indian annexation of border territory of Bangladesh. This organization is portraying Bangladesh as a Talibanized society, propagating that Islam is the root cause of all ills, damaging relations between UN and Bangladesh, creating social unrest in Bangladesh and encouraging the boycott of Bangladeshi products.

Most important issue that mars bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh is water. Bangladesh, which shares 54 rivers with India as lower riparian, has serious differences with New Delhi regarding water sharing. Indian also prepared a master plan to deprive Bangladesh of its rightful share of water to build a big river-linking-project that includes diversion of water from Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, this has become yet another source of antagonism between the two countries who have not been able to sort out their differences over a whole range of issues that continue to fuel political tension which, in turn, does not allow the resolution of differences over water.

Indian intelligence agencies have flooded Bangladesh with fake paper money to ruin its economy. These smugglers cum agents freely bring fake paper currency to Bangladesh because it is not only profitable but also easy and less risky. The smugglers get 40% to 50% commission from Indians for spreading fake currency in Bangladesh. Presence of fake currency has created a serious problem in normal transaction of money in the region, as people are suspicious of the authenticity of money that they receive even from the banks. The law enforcing agencies of Bangladesh have arrested more than a hundred agents of Indian intelligence agencies and recovered fake currency.

The unique geographic location of Bangladesh which limits approach to the troubled North East region of India from the mainland constitutes a significant security weak point for India for the fact that the region shares border with China and that various insurgent groups are active within the region who are fighting against the Indian government for self determination. In light of their experience in Indo-China war in 1962, the Indian defense planners consider the strategic chicken neck to be inadequate and see Bangladesh to be the safest and the shortest route to transport military logistics to North East region in case of a military conflict between India and China in the future. A strategic corridor through Bangladesh is also seen as important to conduct sustained military campaign against the insurgent groups in North East.

To make Bangladesh totally dependent on and subservient to India, Indian expansionists ruined Bangladesh’s education, culture, social value, economy, agriculture, industries. India designs to imbalance Bangladesh to such degree that it becomes dys-functional and failed State totally dependent on India for survival. India has sunk its claws deep into Bangladeshi policy. Many Bangladeshi policymakers, politicians, intellectuals, bureaucrats, business magnets, etc., who directly and indirectly control the state crafts of Bangladesh have either become India’s pawns to grab their self-interest, who give priority to their immediate gains instead of national interest and sovereignty. It should be the foremost responsibility of India to adopt a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring peace-loving countries. If only India realizes the importance of peace in the region, problems of neighbouring countries bordering In-dia would solve automatically. Perhaps, the Indian government realizes this responsibility and let peace prevail in the region by adopting a policy of non-interference.

The reality behind the rhetoric
India obviously wants to use the transit facilities to integrate its insurgent north-eastern states with India proper.

The government apparently has great expectations from its current overtures to India, but dispassionate observers of Bangladesh-India relations, both in good times and bad, have reasons to be wary even in these best of times. The diplomatic chemistry, so to say, is excellent and much is being made of the imminent deal for 'transit, transhipment and regional connectivity.' This is to be effected through our territory, predominantly to help India transport its goods [arms not included, we are assured, though cynics swear it is likely to be a no-holds-barred situation, unofficially ] to and from its own states to the west, east and north of Bangladesh ----in other words a 'corridor', with all its latent political ramifications.(The Financial Express BD)

It is perhaps to remove such apprehensions that the Bangladesh Finance Minister thought it wise to tell the press, after a meeting with the visiting External Affairs Minister of India early this month (6th July), that the two countries have agreed to include Nepal and Bhutan in the 'transit and transhipment loop to ensure wider regional connectivity.' He appeared rather upbeat, adding, that by allowing transit to East Asian and other South Asian countries, Bangladesh was hoping to become a 'regional economic hub'.

But Bangladesh has miles to go before that. It would be too simplistic to presume that the transit issue has everything to do with economics and connectivity and nothing at all with the political reality on the ground. It is indeed full of potential but nonetheless fraught with too many complexities that need to be dealt with judiciously. The political parties in Bangladesh are sharply divided over it. [ But the Indian PM was wide off the mark when he said, in a tete-a-tete this month with newspaper editors in Delhi, that 25 per cent of Bangladeshis are Jamaat-i-Islami and anti-Indian with close ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) links! For the good man's information, this Islamic bogey never managed more than six per cent of the vote in any election in Bangladesh, despite its cosying up to the two main parties as and when found expedient.

One wonders whether the Indian PM is privy to some 'secret agenda' regarding Bangladesh which prompted him to add that 'the political landscape can change at any time.' What the plot and who the hatchers? Or does he simply mean Sheikh Hasina might not be re-elected next term, so better to take advantage of the Awami League's unquestioned majority? Let us hope it is just that and not some wild CIA-ISI-RAW-MOSSAD and what-not conspiracy to prey on us and our resources!

India obviously wants to use the transit facilities to integrate its insurgent north-eastern states with India proper. These states are power-starved and have little access to the outside world. With affordable transit rights through Bangladesh to the sea, these 'backward' states could be completely transformed in no time, while India at large would gain prodigiously from sure integration with Southeast Asian markets. Besides, better attention from New Delhi would be possible for the northeastern states with the proximity gained through this transit-concession from Bangladesh.

But would transit to India really be the big deal that it is being made out to be for this small country? In the short term bilateral phase, all trade would essentially involve Indian states alone ----- that is, India trading with India ---- with Bangladesh 'benefiting' from some service charges. If we are to really reap benefits worth the name, it is imperative that the details are worked out fairly and made available to the public. It would also make more sense to go multilateral rather than settle for a bilateral deal with India alone. [Shouldn't Bangladesh's sights be higher than that of a mere client/satellite/service agent vis-a-vis India? This loaded question comes not only from anti-Awami League elements but from some very proud Muktijoddhas also who resent New Delhi's neo-colonial mindset towards Dhaka.

So far India has 'approved' only eight of the 20 projects Bangladesh had submitted for implementation under the $1.0 billion Indian credit line. These include investment in energy and power, transport and industrial sectors. The Indian Prime Minister is scheduled to visit Bangladesh early September to sign several proposed deals. Other high level visits are also expected prior to Manmohan Singh's programme, which include the Home Minister P Chidambaram and the President of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi. Although the latter, who is also chairperson of the ruling national alliance, is coming to attend a conference on autism, her visit is bound to leave a good feeling about Indo-Bangla ties.

But experts watching developments in Bangladesh-India relations deplore the fact that there is virtually no evidence of quality research and cost-benefit analyses on how best to bargain for optimum benefits from Bangladesh's concession to India. Access to necessary information and data, pertaining to the structure and volume of trade between India's north-eastern states, and theirs with the main land, has also not been sought by, or made available to, Bangladesh for proper assessment of the potential. Be that as it may, the expert opinion is that Bangladesh must tread carefully and take pragmatic steps to sustain a win-win situation ---- if that is at all possible ----with the rising regional power.

Notwithstanding the likely positive impact on revenue ---- provided pricing is competently and fairly handled --- some observers think it would be wise not to concede full-scale transit right away. Given the fact that Bangladesh does not yet have the infrastructure to support heavy traffic, and that long-standing, often festering issues remain to be resolved, Bangladesh would be well advised to keep its wits around it.

Mark you, even a section of the Indian intelligentsia, such as Mihir Sharma of the Indian Express, admits that New Delhi's mindset with regard to Bangladesh, has been 'petty and shortsighted'. High time that changed. Says Sharma, 'India needs to go the extra mile, ensuring market access for Bangladesh, visibly demonstrating detente, and not just on our terms. India's Bangladesh policy must be liberated from those who imagine the country as attitudinally frozen in time, when ................... it's economy is booming; its human development indicators are better than India's ........'