Thursday, August 4, 2011

Experts Against Borderland Handover Sans Reciprocity

India and Bangladesh : Embraceable you

NOT much noticed by outsiders, long-troubled ties between two neighbours sharing a long border have taken a substantial lurch for the better. Ever since 2008, when the Awami League, helped by bags of Indian cash and advice, triumphed in general elections in Bangladesh, relations with India have blossomed. To Indian delight, Bangladesh has cracked down on extremists with ties to Pakistan or India’s home-grown terrorist group, the Indian Mujahideen, as well as on vociferous Islamist (and anti-Indian) politicians in the country. India feels that bit safer.

Now the dynasts who rule each country are cementing political ties. On July 25th Sonia Gandhi (pictured, above) swept into Dhaka, the capital, for the first time. Sharing a sofa with Sheikh Hasina (left), the prime minister (and old family friend), the head of India’s ruling Congress Party heaped praise on her host, notably for helping the poor. A beaming Sheikh Hasina reciprocated with a golden gong, a post

humous award for Mrs Gandhi’s mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi. In 1971 she sent India’s army to help Bangladeshis, led by Sheikh Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, throw off brutal Pakistani rule.
As a result, officials this week chirped that relations are now “very excellent”. They should get better yet. India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, will visit early in September to sign deals on sensitive matters like sharing rivers, sending electricity over the border, settling disputed patches of territory on the 4,095km (2,500-mile) frontier and stopping India’s trigger-happy border guards from murdering migrants and cow-smugglers. Mr Singh may also deal with the topic of trade which, smuggling aside, heavily favours India, to Bangladeshi ire.

Most important, however, is a deal on setting up a handful of transit routes across Bangladesh, to reach India’s remote, isolated north-eastern states. These are the “seven sisters” wedged up against the border with China.

On the face of it, the $10 billion project will develop poor areas cut off from India’s booming economy. The Asian Development Bank and others see Bangladeshi gains too, from better roads, ports, railways and much-needed trade. In Dhaka, the capital, the central-bank governor says broader integration with India could lift economic growth by a couple of percentage points, from nearly 7% already

India has handed over half of a $1 billion soft loan for the project, and the money is being spent on new river-dredgers and rolling stock. Bangladesh’s rulers are mustard-keen. The country missed out on an earlier infrastructure bonanza involving a plan to pipe gas from Myanmar to India. China got the pipeline instead.
Yet the new transit project may be about more than just development. Some in Dhaka, including military types, suspect it is intended to create an Indian security corridor. It could open a way for army supplies to cross low-lying Bangladesh rather than going via dreadful mountain roads vulnerable to guerrilla attack. As a result, India could more easily put down insurgents in Nagaland and Manipur. The military types fear it might provoke reprisals by such groups in Bangladesh.

More striking, India’s army might try supplying its expanding divisions parked high on the border with China, in Arunachal Pradesh. China disputes India’s right to Arunachal territory, calling it South Tibet. Some Bangladeshis fret that if India tries to overcome its own logistical problems by, in effect, using Bangladesh as a huge military marshalling yard, reprisals from China would follow.

Such fears are not yet widespread. Indeed, India has been doing some things right in countering longstanding anti-Indian suspicion and resentment among ordinary Bangladeshis. Recent polling by an American university among students found a minority hostile to India, whereas around half broadly welcomed its rise. A straw poll at a seminar of young researchers at a think-tank in Dhaka this week suggested a similar mood—though anger remained over Indian border shootings.

For India, however, the risk is that it is betting too heavily on Sheikh Hasina, who is becoming increasingly autocratic. Opposition boycotts of parliament and general strikes are run-of-the-mill. Corruption flourishes at levels astonishing even by South Asian standards. A June decision to rewrite the constitution looks to be a blunt power grab, letting the government run the next general election by scrapping a “caretaker” arrangement. Sheikh Hasina is building a personality cult around her murdered father, “the greatest Bengali of the millennium”, says the propaganda.

Elsewhere, the hounding of Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank who briefly flirted with politics, was vindictive. Similarly, war-crimes trials over the events of 1971 are to start in a few weeks. They are being used less as a path to justice than to crush an opposition Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami.

It hardly suggests that India’s ally has a wholly secure grasp on power. A tendency to vote incumbents out may yet unseat Sheikh Hasina in 2013, or street violence might achieve the same. She would then be replaced by her nemesis, Khaleda Zia, of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Mrs Zia’s family dynasty, also corrupt, is as against India as Sheikh Hasina’s is for it. But India’s habit of shunning meetings with Mrs Zia and her followers may come to look short-sighted. When he visits Bangladesh in September, Mr Singh, the Gandhi family retainer, would do well to make wider contact if India’s newly improving relations are not one day to take another big dive for the worse.

Is India ready for a slut walk?

Dress appropriately, don’t make eye contact with strangers (especially men) and be at home before sunset. These are a few basic rules that Indian daughters imbibe from their parents, even in a new India where years of economic boom have thrown up a trendy, affluent youth with a kind of freedom unknown to many of their parents. India had its first Slut Walk in Bhopal city in Madhya Pradesh on [July 17] to denounce the idea that women entice men and invite trouble with their attire, a belief seemingly held by many Indian judges as well.
The first Slut Walk was initiated by Canadians in April in response to a comment made by a Toronto police official.

“I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this — however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised,” said Michael Sanguinetti to a personal safety class at York University.
As a result, feminists the world over took to the streets to tell men that a woman’s racy attire cannot be an excuse to sexually harass her.

While it is understandable that Indian women want to send a powerful message to men, it’s another question altogether whether the conservative country is ready for as bold a demonstration as the Slut Walk.
Not more than 50 men and women came to show their support at the Slut Walk in Madhya Pradesh, despite nearly 5,000 registrations on its Facebook page.

Wary of the title of the march, locally renamed as Besharmi Morcha (Shameless March), many parents forbade their daughters to participate, though Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of rapes in the country.
Many activists fear that the irony of using the word “slut” will be lost on the majority of India’s 1.2 billion people. The word has entered the lexicon of the upper crust, English-speaking urban youth through international cinema and TV serials, but scarcely travels to vast swathes of poor and often illiterate rural hinterland.

“I hope to God I am wrong, but I have visions of men taking photographs of these girls, ogling them, trying to touch them — and not getting the point at all. To be blunt, I don’t think Delhi is ready for this kind of in-your-face protest. Sad, but true,” said Christine Pemberton, a 70s feminist living in New Delhi.

Better cross-border relations expected

Relations between India and Bangladesh is such that no side can deny the importance of the devoted involvement of the other in tackling regional issues like cross border smuggling, drug and human trafficking and, at the international level, the constant menace of terrorism and extremism. Of course this comprehension is not recent and has been with us since the Liberation War in which the assistance and support of our neighbouring country is well documented and acknowledged. However, over the years there have been times when Indo-Bangladesh relations came under strains and the trust of the two neighbours eroded yielding place to an uneasy calm that defined the frayed relations. For instance, rampant cross border smuggling led to tensions between the two border guarding forces and, over the years, other issues like shooting of villagers who have transgressed the border either by accident or by being involved in some illegal transactions came to weigh heavily on the overall ties of the two states. But, in the recent series of secretary and ministerial level meets there has been a lot of bonhomie and a desire from both sides to settle some of the contentious matters and usher in an age of entente cordiale. At the ministerial stage meeting, the issue of enclaves that fall in the territory of the other country was discussed as well as the united effort from both nations to tackle elements that disrupt social harmony by inciting extremism. All this is encouraging but what is essential is that both the nations see the implementation of these decisions as fast as possible. The border with India is 4000km and, understandably, such a long and porous area can be exploited for an assortment of unlawful activities. But if there is a genuine desire from both sides a lot of the irregularities can be minimised. 

Obviously expectations need to be kept within rational parameters while unrealistic results should not be projected. But actions on the agreed and decided points must begin and one of the first steps required in the attainment of that aim is the development of an understanding between the two border security forces since many of the frictions arise at the borders. Of course, when two countries share such a long border area and a considerable number of people reside near the demarcation areas problems will arise but links between the two nations only become solid when thorny matters are settled quickly and before they turn ugly. Additionally, other lingering matters also need urgent attention so that they can be resolved amicably and soon.