Friday, August 5, 2011

Mystery Rises Over Borderland Handover At Tamabeel

Bangladesh is at the crossroads. Here the Awami League-led grand coalition government has reportedly handed over part of the country's border territory to the Indians although the people are yet to know anything about it.

The land in question covers 261 acres of land at Sylhet-Tamabeel border. The decision to hand over the land was taken last week when Indian Home Minister had talks with Bangladesh Home minister Sahara Khatun and other Bangladesh leaders.

The news of the land handover was reported last Saturday in the Kolkata based Bengali daily Anandbazar Patrika when Chitamboram was still in the city. It said the handover has already taken place and the Indian border security forces (BSF) have also moved in their pillars covering the land that Bangladesh has ceded in total secrecy. Dhaka has not made any statement on it to avoid public outcry, the report said. It said the Hasina has government has carried out the decision as a gesture of goodwill to its neighbour prior to Dr Manmohans visit.

The Assam Tribune last week in a report said since Dhaka has made a number of significant strategic concessions to India including transit facility, handing over border land, handing over of ULFA outfits and dismantling their hideouts, joint border management etc, Delhi has decided to extend the hand of cooperation and resolve other outstanding issues including the water sharing.

It further said Chitamboram has requested Dhaka to handover ULFA outfit leader Anup Chetiya before Manmohan's visit early next month and Bangladesh Home Minister advocate Sahara Khaton said the government is processing the request although he is having an asylum application case pending.

Interestingly while the Indian media outlets are awash with such reports, Bangladesh government officials have kept the local media in total darkness. Some analysts wonder what price Bangladesh would be paying during Dr Manmohan's visit next other than borderland surrender which took place during the just concluded Chitambaram visit to Dhaka.
Gen. Ibrahim   
Major Gen. (retd) Syed M Ibrahim said the news of the secret handover of land has already scared the nation. He believed the government should issue a statement explaining the latest development to remove fears and confusion and restore people's confidence. He demanded transparency of actions from the government side. The major opposition BNP has also demanded a government statement on the issue.

 State minister for Home affairs Shansul Haque Tuku last week however said, there is nothing secret in the border agreement that need to be published. He avoided clearing the land handover issue agitating public mind.

Former BDR chief Maj Gen. FazlurRahman, a veteran of a border skirmish with the Indian border security forces (BSF) over the control of Padua at Sylhet Tamabeel border in 2001 said Indian forces in fact came to the spot initially to support the training of freedom fighters in 1971 at a camp set up inside the country. Now they have claimed the land and the India friendly government of Sheikh Hasina is reportedly handed over without telling anything to the nation.  He said we liberated the country but lost part of the territory now to the forces which came to help us.

Fazlur Rahman said the Indian forces continued their presence in the camp even after the liberation taking advantage of the friendly relations. Political leadership at that time ignored the presence without anticipating that it may one day cost the nation's ownership over the land
The Anandbazar Patrika report said the government has ceded 220 acres of land at Padua along with 33 acres at Naljuri and 8 acres at Linkhaat border. It said Bangladesh border security forces had forcefully occupied the land during the liberation war and afterwards and all subsequent governments in Dhaka have declined to entertained the Indian claims over the land.

Since coming to power, the government of Sheikh Hasina decided to resolve all outstanding issues with India and the handover of land at Padua and two other places took place recently as part of this resolve, the report said.

Fazlur Rahman dismissed the Indian claim that BDR had forcefully occupied the land. He said the border pillars in the area were laid during the Pakistani days and we only claim the ownership of land inherited from the past within these pillars
How could it be possible that BDR forcefully occupied the Indian land and moved out pillars inside India and it maintained silence at the time of such occupation, he wondered. He said the Padua camp which India held in its hand is located inside 1.25 km of the international border. As BSF continued their presence, the former BDR had made inspection to original pillars; which is part of its border patrolling responsibility, to advanced locations from both sides of the India held camp leaving it behind within Bangladesh.

He said the initial dispute flared up when BSF made an attempt to build a feeder road over the no-man's land connecting the camp with one of their nearby border outposts about 10 km away. He said BDR resisted the move in a protracted border war in which BSF landed a surprise attack with a brigade capacity but they were severely beaten back. They then attacked BDR outpost at Roumari in an attempt to hit back but also lost the bid
He said, Bangladesh maintained its hold on Padua all along after the border war. The Indian government then invited Bangladesh government to a meeting in which claims made by both sides were discussed. The meeting decided that a final settlement of the dispute may be reached when the Indira-Mujib agreement will be finally implemented. He wondered how the present government can surrender the land now without working out all outstanding disputes, why it did not even wait until all such issues were resolved.

Gen Ibrahim wondered why the government is handing over the border land unilaterally and moreover, what is the status of Bangladesh's claims at other border points. The government should ensure transparency and clear all such mysteries, he argued.

BGB sources said Bangladesh has claims over several hundred acres of land at Kustia and Rajshjahi zones, besides other spots at other places and the initial arrangement was that, joint survey teams would identify the areas in the first place and the exchange would take place then on the basis of a political decision in the second phase. Now Bangladesh's claims appears to have been passed unheeded.

Former Chief of Bangladesh Army and now a member of BNP standing Committee Gen. Mahbubur Rahman Padua issue came up for discussion with Indian BSF chief Ashwani Kumar in 1989 at the annual conference of the two countries border forces in Delhi.

He said in that meeting Indian agreed to Bangladesh's claim on the land from documentary evidences and even Kumar agreed to remove the structures from the spot. The decision was recorded in the agreed minutes of the meeting and is still available. But it was not later followed up.

Surprisingly BGB chief Anwar Hossain last week denied altogether the handing over of the border land at Tamabeel zone saying such things are scheduled to take place under Indira-Mujib agreement and to be sealed during Dr Manmohan's visit. One would only wonder if he told it knowingly or without knowledge of what is happening in the ground.

 Fazlur Rahman, said as far as he understands, besides the disputed enclaves, the total of adversely possessed land from both sides may stand at three to four thousand acres. Bangladesh may get roughly 17,000 acres against losing about 7,000 acres to India under the enclaves exchange deal. Here why unilateral piecemeal settlement has been resorted to, he wondered.

From Burma Road to Road Map

Concerns over Burma’s ties with North Korea and China have prompted the US to sit up and take notice of the country. But it needs a road map.

The last time Burma really mattered to the United States, Imperial Japanese forces were marching on Asia. Vinegar Joe Stillwell built a road through the Burmese jungle to resupply China during the Pacific War, a backbreaking project that cost the lives of some 1,100 US soldiers before its completion in 1944. The Stillwell Road was pivotal then, but just like American interest in Burma, it soon fell into disrepair. 

Burma matters to US strategy again. Human rights concerns about the military grip on the region’s poorest country are overshadowed by geostrategic concerns about the regime’s ties to China and North Korea. China’s desire for strategic real estate and hunger for natural resources are turning Burma into a proxy state, while North Korea’s weapons export business shifts Burma into a potential nuclear weapon state. Beijing has recently reconstructed the old British and American Burma Road.

The Obama administration has responded by naming an ambassadorial-level coordinator: Derek Mitchell, presently acting assistant secretary of defence. But what’s next? US Burma policy is notoriously feckless. Well-intentioned support for the iconic Aung San Suu Kyi, the last democratically elected leader, makes for a photo opportunity, but is failing to affect Burmese bad behaviour or constrain Chinese encroachment. In the past, an almost exclusive focus on human rights has done little to change Burma, but a great deal to isolate the United States from its allies and friends in South and East Asia.

A new approach is needed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the essential first step last month in Bali by giving further definition to the policy of principled engagement.  She demanded compliance with UN Security Council resolutions, a reference to the regime’s nuclear ambitions. She also called for releasing 2,200 political prisoners and opening dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minorities. But given the administration’s determination to reenergize US influence in a vibrant region, it’s noteworthy that Clinton put the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on notice not to bestow chairmanship on Burma chairmanship for 2014 unless it earns it. At the same time, she in effect dangled the carrot of international legitimacy should Burma embrace change.

The gap between Burma and the United States yawns. We therefore need a road map for navigating between the Scylla of human rights and Charybdis of realpolitik. The original Burma Road overcame gnarly mountainous terrain; a new road map must traverse seemingly intractable machinations emanating from the new palatial capital in Naypyidaw. The first road linked Burma to China; this pathway must provide both an alternative to Chinese domination, as well as greater freedom for all Burma’s people.  Gen. Stillwell built the first road; Clinton must connect this one.

There’s precedent for building US ties with an adversarial, autocratic state: Vietnam. In fact, some of the same voices who would like to test Burma’s seriousness about a new relationship have experience with this kind of challenge. Senators John McCain and John Kerry helped to convert a former enemy into a flourishing economic and security partner, despite nagging differences over human rights. If a US Navy destroyer can make a port visit to Da Nang, Vietnam (as USS John S. McCain did last year), then finding a gradual opening to Burma must be possible.   

HANDING OVER ANUP CHETIA TO DELHI : Ulfa, allies may retaliate in Bangladesh

The government is set to handover United Liberation Force of Assam (ULFA) leader Anup Chetia to India against his will. It may incur rancour of the secessionist groups fighting for independence. ULFA army chief Paresh Baruah and 30 other secessionist groups of Northeast Indian states, so far fighting for independence, have recently forged unity under the aegis of their Chinese and Myanmar friends who have allegedly held out assurance of necessary support.

The secessionist groups and the Maoists in central India have agreed to collaborate in their fight. Worried at the intelligence reports about secessionist groups and Maoists coming together, the security forces in India were apprehending tough fight in the coming days.

The secessionist groups area already annoyed with Bangladesh for the move to prove New Delhi with corridor in the name of transit facility. They assume that the corridor will be used for transporting arms, ammunition and troops from the western India to Assam and Tripura over Bangladesg territory. This is an old design but could not be achieved as Dhaka had so far refused the corridor. The alternative route through the chicken neck of West Bengal through Meghalaya is long, difficult, time consuming, and expensive because of the terrain perched with hills.

"I don't think there is any obstacle in handing him (Chetia) over to India," PTI quoted Home Minister Shahara Khatun as saying last Wednesday. Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram who recently visited Dhaka on return to Delhi told newsmen that Anup Chetia may be returned before Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka early next month.

Chetia, now 44, general secretary of ULFA, was first arrested in Assam in 1991 but soon set free by the Hiteswar Saikia government. He was arrested in Dhaka in December 1997 and sentenced to jail for 7 years for illegal trespass and possession of satellite phone and foreign currencies. The jail term ended, he refused to return to India because of security of his life. He applied to the UN High Commission for Refugees requesting to grant him refugee status and political asylum in Bangladesh. He also moved the High Court seeking protection that ordered his keeping in protective custody.

Of late New Delhi mounted pressure on Dhaka for his handing over with the hope of his participation in peace talks. ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and five of his associates held in Bangladesh were taken back to Assam at the fag end of 2009. On return to Assam he agreed for unconditional peace talks with the government. But the political leaders viewed that talks without participation of Paresh Baruah and Anup Chetia who wields the real power in the party would be a futile exercise. Paresh in a statement disowned Rajkhowa for announcing unilateral ceasefire saying his action was contrary to the party's constitution. None who has suffered in jail or detained in government custody can take any action on behalf of the party.

Efforts to take Chetia in the government's grip was intended to tame ULFA army chief Paresh who is close to him. Assam media had reported that attempts of sending two personal friends of Chetia to Dhaka to pursue him for joining the peace talks went in vain. They sensed Chetia is firm in his stand. Emissaries from pro-talks ULFA faction also did not come knowing his rigid stance.

Barrister Sigma Huda, a lawyer and an eminent human rights activist, who had stood for Anup Chetia said he can be handed over to India. "Ball is now is in the government's court. It can refuse him political asylum and send back home or to a third country," she told a reporter.

What concerns the people of Bangladesh is possible retaliation by ULFA. All the secessionist groups of Northeast Indian states plus the dreaded Maoists active in central India are now united. With assistance from their external friends they can create serious trouble across our porous border.

India-Bangladesh relation – New Berlin Wall is opening

Sonia Gandhi president of Indian National Congress and the chief of National Democratic Aliens of India came to Dhaka to join an autism conference of South Asia on 25 July. It was a non-political visit but at the end, it proves that visit was a highly diplomatic and political.  It has reached its purpose successfully. The visit of Sonia Gandhi was essential for the confidence building of the people of Bangladesh. It is true that, for a long time the relation of India Bangladesh is not good.  The 1790-mile iron fence of the India Bangladesh land border is enough to clear, what the relation was going between India and Bangladesh. One of the Bangladeshi political leaders has called this fence ‘a New Berlin Wall’. Now it is not the time to discuss what circumstances was bound to make it but it is the time to open the New Berlin Wall. It is clear, Sonia Gandhi has come to open the New Berlin Wall and she has done it.  She is successful to convey the message to the Bangladeshi people that, India is a real friend of Bangladesh, which they were in 1971; and not only these two countries, India wants a good relation with their neighbors. India is a regional supper power and going to be an economic power of the world. So it is needed to prove to their small neighbors that India is a real friend of their neighbors, not a threat.  Besides, in the present world, politics is not the only main component of the friendship of the two countries. Economy and trade is the main component of the friendship. However, it is also true that, to make an economic and trade relation you have to first make a good political relation and you have to settle all political disputes. Bangladesh and India is doing that.

The people of Bangladesh are thinking that, India- Bangladesh relation will be cemented at the time of the visit of Indian Prime Minister and that will be a new start. On the other hand, many Indian Newspapers already said that, it has already started. It starts from the time of the Sheikh Hasina’s visit on January 2010. During the time of the Sheikh Hasina’s visit, two countries declare a joint communiqué. That joint communiqué is the start of the new relationship. Bangladesh has done a lot to establish this good relationship. Bangladesh has deported more or less all the extremist of India who took shelter in Bangladesh. For a long time they were operating their operation to use Bangladeshi shelter or land. There is an allegation they were taking help of a military intelligence of a particular country. Besides that, extremist group were involved in arms smuggling. One of their leaders Paresh Barua is now one of the main accused of a big arms smuggling case in Bangladesh. He is now absconding but is not in Bangladesh. Intelligence of Bangladesh confirms that, he is now in a hill of the border of Myanmar and China. There is only leader of the extremist group of India in the jail of Bangladesh. He is the general secretary of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). He is popularly known as Anup Chetia though his real name is Golap Barua. Bangladesh will hand  him over to India before the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Shing. Indian Prime Minister will visit Bangladesh on 6 to 7  September of this year. Therefore, before the visit of Indian Prime Minister at Bangladesh is going to settle all the political issues which are obstruction for making a good relation. So a ray of hope is shown that, India will settle all the political disputes at the time of the visit of Indian Prime. Government source of Bangladesh is assuring that, at the time of Indian Prime visit, two rivers water sharing treaty will be signed. These two rivers are common river of India and Bangladesh, one is Tista, and another is Feni Rivers. Besides that a limited transit facility treaty between India and Bangladesh will be singed.

To build up this new relation Bangladesh has done his work first but last couple of month India is showing a good shine.  There are three important minister have visited to Bangladesh. Indian commerce minister came first and an agreement has been signed. From that time Nepal is getting transit facility through India. Besides that, India gave some tariff facility on Bangladeshi goods. However, it is a start. If India and Bangladesh wanted to strengthen their new relation these two countries have to go a long way in commerce sector.  These two countries have to realize that, in the present world, commerce sector can make a profound relation with any countries. So, these two countries have to think about many new avenues for trade. In that case, India can think that, they will make a tariff free zone for Bangladeshi goods in their eastern part of the country. That will be a new getaway for boost up economy of eastern part of India and Bangladesh.

Indian foreign minister came to visit Bangladesh on 6 July. At the time of the Indian foreign minister visit two agreements has been singed. According to one of the agreements, Bhutanese vehicles will get free movement facilities between India and Bangladesh land customs. It is surely remarkable in terms of regional connectivity. While it opens up doors for Bhutan, it can also be regarded as a preview of other positive things that could happen within South Asia. Indian home minister came to visit Bangladesh on 29 July. An agreement namely Border Management Plan has been signed on 30 July. Besides that, Indian home minister said, Indian authorities have already issued strict instructions for ‘not to fire’ under any circumstances while people from Bangladesh or from India try to illegally cross the border. They have pledged to put an end of killings of Bangladeshi nationals. The killing of Bangladeshi nationals by Indian Border Security Force is a big problem for Bangladesh. They kill Bangladeshi national frequently. According to American foreign policy magazine since 2000, Indian troops have shot and killed nearly 1000 people. So to build up a deep relation between Bangladesh and India, it has to be stopped and before Indian Prime Minister’s visit and in the mean time India has to prove that, they have stopped it. Indian home minister told that, it would not happen further; now they have to prove it. However, there declaration, their attitude is showing that, they are going to do it. All of their works express that, they are trying to make a good atmosphere before the visit of their Prime Minister and to start a new. So, now one can hope that New Berlin Wall is going to open.


After signing a number of deals and attaining certain strategic and political benefits from Bangladesh, India now feels comfortable with security cooperation with the eastern neighbour that she helped gain independence in 1971.

Following a series of high-profile visits by Indian Foreign Minister, Indian Home Minister and Indian National Congress president in the last couple of weeks, India appears determined to conclude a broader and strategic agreement during the forthcoming Dhaka visit of Indian Prime Minister next month.

After a meeting with Bangladesh Home Minister Sahara Khatun in Dhaka last week, Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram told a joint press conference that both the neighbours were determined to jointly combat the menace of militancy and terrorism along the borders. He was here ahead of Indian PM's September 6-7 visit.

Asked if the Indian complaints about Bangladesh patronage of separatist elements was still valid, Chidambaram said, on the contrary, on numerous occasions he appreciated Dhaka's splendid cooperation in supporting New Delhi to apprehend insurgents.

In the past, India always complained that insurgents found Bangladesh's territory a safe haven, a charge Dhaka denied.

He said both the countries resolved "not to allow their respective territory to be used for training, sanctuary and other operations by domestic or foreign terrorists or militants and insurgent organizations and their operatives".

Indian Home Minister Chidambaram said he has formally requested his counterpart to hand over ULFA leader Anup Chetia.

Chetia is in jail in Bangladesh and there is a case pending against him in a court. "We have requested that Chetia be handed over as soon as possible," Chidambaram said.

Indian media reported quoting official sources that there is a strong possibility of Chetia being handed over to India ahead of the Prime Minister's visit to Dhaka in September.
Border killing 
India has ordered its border guards BSF not to fire at people seeking to cross over along the porous Indo-Bangla frontier, except for self-defence, home minister P Chidambaram said last Saturday in Dhaka.

He said: "Let me make it very clear, we have issued strict instructions to our Border Security Force (BSF) that in no circumstances should they fire upon anyone trying to cross either from Bangladesh to India or (from) India to Bangladesh. The message has gone down to the last jawan... The only circumstances we have set the firing may be justified when gangs actually attack BSF jawans or officials (as) everybody has (the) right to protect himself in self-defence."

India and Bangladesh inked a comprehensive border management agreement to ensure cross-frontier security through measures like joint vigils to deal with human trafficking and smuggling of drugs and weapons.
Make deals public: BNP 
BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has urged the government to make public the Border Management Coordination Plan it signed with India last week."The present government has become hostage to India... it has no success in settling Bangladesh's unresolved problems with India," he said
Fakhrul mentioned unresolved issues are continued killing of innocent Bangladeshis by the Indian border force, maritime boundary, Tipaimukh Dam, huge trade deficit, and the sharing of the waters of the Ganges and the Teesta.

He said Bangladesh has continued giving India whatever it wanted but in return getting nothing.

"We want good relation with India too. But it will have to be based on equity, protecting the interest of our people," he said.

Opposition BNP on Monday also accused the government of playing a guessing game about the possible deal on water sharing of the Teesta River with India during Indian premier's upcoming Bangladesh visit.

BNP vice-chairman Maj (retd) Hafizuddin Ahmed told media last week that they came to know that a concrete decision will be finalised on sharing Teesta water during Dr Manmohan Singh's Dhaka visit. He said the government is maintaining 'extreme secrecy' over this important deal, keeping us all in the dark.
Land given to India 
Meanwhile, tension runs high on the Bangladesh-India frontier in Tamabil area as the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) walked into Bangladesh territory on Friday morning, well ahead of an accord signed between the two countries over swap of adversely possessed land.

Local sources said the BSF troops occupied 261 acres of Bangladesh land and erected poles.

The border guards of the neighbouring country are also intercepting Bangladeshis from going to their croplands.

Bangladesh survey team handed over the long-disputed strip of land to the Indian authorities through conducting joint survey on the land.

A Bangladesh member of the joint survey team told the media that "Some 220 acres of land from No 1270 to 1271 border pillar, 33 acres from No 1277 to 1279 pillar of Naljuri border and 8 acres from No 1263 to 1267 pillar of Linkhat border were handed over to India in phases in last one week."

Local people have not been informed about the matter due to safety of the survey- team members.

Earlier, the Bangladesh government had handed over a piece of land to India on Padua border, the frontier that had been troubled by a skirmish between the border forces of the two countries during the previous tenure of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Meanwhile, the UNB news agency reported Bangladesh is conceding another 13.5 acres of cultivable land to India at Kulum Chhara in Goainghat upazila in Sylhet.
Tuku defends treaty 
Meanwhile, the state minister for home has said there is nothing to hide in the treaty signed with India for better border management. "There is nothing secret. We've signed it to prevent shooting and killing along the border," Shamsul Hoque Tuku said on Sunday.

Responding to BNP's demand to make the report public, Tuku told reporters that the treaty was signed to stop drug and human trafficking. "Bangladesh will benefit from this treaty." The state minister, however, ducked a query on the publication of the report.

"...Since BGB and BSF would work together, we hope border security will get a boost, and human trafficking and smuggling of drugs and arms will be effectively prevented," he added.

Plan To Handover Chetia Against His Will Appears Illegal, Immoral

THE decision of the Awami League-Jatiya Party government to hand over the detained general secretary of the United Liberation Front of Assam, Anup Chetia, to India in response to ‘an informal request by the Indian government’ appears to be illegal, immoral and, in a broader sense, even unconstitutional. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Thursday, the home minister, Sahara Khatun, when talking to journalists after presiding over the 50th meeting of the National Committee on Prevention of Smuggling on Wednesday, said: ‘We have to hand him over but it has to be done through the correct legal procedure, which has already begun.’ The question is why the incumbents ‘have to’ do something that borders on the immoral, illegal and even unconstitutional just for the sake of keeping an ‘informal request’ of a neighbouring country.

Chetia was arrested in Dhaka on December 21, 1997 along with his two associates on the charge of illegal possession of foreign currencies and a satellite phone, convicted and imprisoned. Just over eight months later, they sought political asylum in Bangladesh on the grounds that their lives would be at stake if they were returned to India, as they had been fighting for the independence of the people of Assam. Subsequently, on August 23, 2003, the High Court issued a rule asking the government to explain in four weeks why it should not be directed to dispose of the three applications for political asylum. The court also ordered the government to keep the three in safe or protective custody till their appeals for political asylum could be disposed of. The government has neither disposed of their asylum applications nor responded to the High Court’s rule thus far. Hence, until the High Court’s rule and the asylum applications are disposed of, the government cannot simply hand them over to the Indian government; it would be illegal if the government does so against their will.

Moreover, it would be immoral to hand over Chetia and his associates to the Indian government, from which they sought refuge from in the first place. Most importantly, the government’s action may be in contradiction with the fundamental principles of state policy, as defined in the constitution of the republic. The constitution of the republic says the state shall ‘support oppressed people through the world waging a just struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racialism.’

The official position of the AL-JP government seems to be that, since the Indian government is in negotiations with ULFA, it wants to play a positive role towards peaceful resolution of the unrest in Assam. However, according to Indian media, ULFA is currently divided over negotiations with the Indian government. At this point in time, as it is not clear which side of the divide Chetia and his associates are on, sending them back to India could very well mean death sentences to them. Here it is pertinent to recall, after his arrest and subsequent handover to the Indian authorities in December 2009, ULFA chairman termed Bangladesh a ‘betrayer’. Hence, the government would be well-advised not to hand over Chetia and his associates against their will.

On balance, the incumbents have their legal, moral and constitutional obligations at one end and ‘an informal request’ from the Indian government on the other. The choice that they seem to have made would make them look like officers of the Indian police, not managers of a sovereign state. The people of Bangladesh cannot afford to accept such ignominy.

India's Transit Plan And Security Of Bangladesh

The Economist, in its 30 July issue, noted in an article entitled "Embraceable you", noted how "growing geopolitical interests push India to seek better relations nearer home" with Bangladesh. It reads:

"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 posthumous 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."

Contrary to Bangladesh Bank governor's claim of 2% increase in GDP from the transit plan, economists in Bangladesh are by now expressly unsure about the commercial benefits compared to socio-economic costs of allowing a number of additional transit routes to Indian northeast for Indian traffic (India has a stable land and railway route on rocky grounds within its own territory through Siliguri corridor). Transit fees may hardly compensate costs of maintenance of transit highways on our soft soil, and the loss of arable land to this "connectivity venture" which is not at all a priority for our national development. Connectivity grows out of natural trade routes. It is only over a long period of time that strategic routes developed for primarily for emergency connectivity may or may not become a flourishing trade route. The fissure of the Stillwell Road connecting India and China through Myanmar during the Second World War is a case in point. As a matter of fact, there is apprehension amongst Bangladeshi businessmen that they may lose their existing market in Tripura and Assam from the expanded India-to-India connectivity through Bangladesh.

What is more worrisome is the fact that while the mainstream Indian media has picked up the refrain that India now needs its smaller neighbours, particularly Bangladesh, more than the latter may do, to be able to play a balancing role to China in the Asian theatre, the Research and Analysis minders of the Indian Security State are continuing to keep hanging a Damocles' Sword of Indian might over neighbours like Bangladesh. Writing on-line in Daily News & Analysis, Subramanian Swamy on July 16 resurrected the allegation of so-called illegal immigration tide from Bangladesh to India ahead of Sonia visit. He accused border traffic of Bangladeshis of being part of an "Islamic" strategy to "change India's demography by illegal immigration, conversion, and refusal to adopt family planning," and "turn India into Darul Islam" and recommended that as a counterstrategy, India must "annex land from Bangladesh in proportion to the illegal migrants from that country staying in India. At present, the northern third from Sylhet to Khulna can be annexed to re-settle illegal migrants." There is no assurance for Bangladesh in such comments at all about any change in India's domineering mindset.

In fact there is need for Bangladesh to be worried about its own security in ceding to the Indian plan for transit through our territory. As the Economist observes in the same article: "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."

Whether or not there would be actual reprisals from northeast Indian insurgents or disaffection from China on account of the Indian transit plan through Bangladesh, it would be wise to weigh the security repercussions of "the new transit project" along with economic implications and trade prospects.

The Economist also suggests that India is undertaking the project on slippery grounds: "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.

"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."

Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project

India and Myanmar encircle Bangladesh through the sea.

Even after 12 years of intense negotiations and massive investment in infrastructure projects in Myanmar, India has so far failed to operationalise its desired connectivity through that country. In case of Bangladesh, though, it has pushed through with a free corridor passage within months to connect the troubled north eastern region with its mainland.

After almost a decade long negotiation, Myanmar finally signed the `Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project with India in 2008, offering its land and river passage through the country via a sea route in the Bay of Bengal that encircles Bangladesh on its coastal line.

Estimated at a cost of IC (Indian Currency) 545 crore the project proposes 826 km route by sea, river and road from Kolkata to Mizoram. The highest distance of 539 km will be covered from Kolkata port in India to Sittwe port in Myanmar encircling the coastal line of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. The proposed sea route is then connected with the riverine channel through river Kaladan up to 158 km in the upstream before being linked to a land route that stretches about 129 km through the mountainous terrain in the Chin State of Myanmar before finally reaching Mizoram in India.

The full cost of the project is being borne by the Indian government and it is scheduled to take off in June 2013, according to official documents The Myanmar government also received a minimum interest loan of USD 10 million in 2007 from the Indian side, to make up for the cost of its contribution.

As can be seen from the diagram of the sea route developed by Inland Water Authority of India (IWAI), the executing authority of the project, the coastal line of Bangladesh virtually encircles it. The diagram makes no indication of the locations of the Sunderbans, Saint Martins Islands and the Teknaf jetty on Bangladesh territory while demarcating the sea route on the map.

Several questions arise. Why have the Indian authorities deleted those locations of vital importance from their connectivity diagram? Does it maintain the standard distance required under the international law on seas while crossing over Sunderbans in Bangladesh starting from Kolkata port or before ending at Sittwe port in Myanmar passing over the Saint Martins Island and Teknaf jetty?

Can the authorities of India and Myanmar justify encirclement of Bangladesh's coastal line morally while claiming to be a friendly neighbour?

Can it be presumed that India and Myanmar both having maritime dispute with Bangladesh conceived the project with utmost secrecy and did not even bother to consult the country in the middle? Is it possible that the two countries have come to terms for encirclement of Bangladesh through the Bay of Bengal?

Are the authorities in Bangladesh not aware of these developments? Is not it time for the ruling elites in the country to act and rally for the legitimate interests of the people?

Kaladan Multimodal Trans-port Project

With a view to provide ‘an alternate route for transport of goods to North-East India’, the project is considered ˜significant in view of ‘severe pressure’ on the Siliguri Corridor, the project documents point out.

India and Myanmar signed the Framework Agreement on Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project on April 2, 2008 ˜considering development of infrastructural projects including transport facilities as important for facilitating greater economic integration and people to people contact.

The six page document containing 21 Articles was signed in Delhi by Pranab Mukherjee and Nyan Win respectively Minister of External Affairs of the Indian government and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the government of Myanmar.

The agreement provides for the Indian government to bear the full cost of the project estimated at USD 134 million while government of Myanmar is required to provide its land and security.

The April 2008 agreement does not explicitly mention any financial obligation for the government of Myanmar regarding the Kaladan Project being piloted and funded by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) will execute the construction work on Sittwe port and the jetty in Paletwa, as well as the dredging work, with Essar Projects Ltd, a division of the Indian Essar Group appointed in May 2010 as the main contractor. The gigantic excavation work on the Kaladan River, as well the sea will bring about many changes in ecosystem and bio-diversity of the region inhabited by over 10 million people, however, was totally ignored in the framework agreement.

IWAI document reveals as much as 5,61,954 cubic meter of dredged material will be excavated from the approach channel and the port areas of the Sittewe port. The dredged material from the approach channel will be dumped in the sea the document points out adding that those from the port area will be used in reclamation of 48,000 sq m land.

The approach channel in Sittwe port area is planned to be developed for plying of 6000 ton vessels while the jetty at Port will be constructed for catering to up to 30000 ton vessels, added the document prepared in 2009.

To allow passage to large vessels the river Kaladan will be dredged on at least 35 locations excavating a total of about two million cubic meters of sand, pebbles, boulders and rocks. The volume of the dredging work can be also assessed from the fact that it covers about 20 per cent of the total project cost.

The framework agreement of the project mentioning the detailed project report prepared and submitted by RITES in April and December 2003 concludes that there is no reflection of having any adverse impact of the project on environment.

Another vital part of the project - the road construction component - however, has been left with the government of Myanmar for execution. India seems to be totally unaware of the fact that the authorities in Myanmar are internationally accused and condemned for enforcing the practice of forced labour in its different projects. The framework agreement does not contain a single word about the system of forced labour in that country or any measure against it during the construction phase under the Myanmar authorities.

Denying environmental impact on the people and ecology and remaining silent over the issue of forced labour system introduced and practiced by the state machinery of Myanmar what kind of ˜people to people contact India wants to establish in that country remains a big question.

According to reports of Danish Immigration Service, ˜approximately 28,000 Burmese Rohingya are registered as living in two official refugee camps in Bangladesh, and more than 200,000 unregistered Rohingya live in surrounding towns and villages outside of the two camps.

The report titled Rohingya Refugees and Bangladesh and Thailand was released in May 2011 following a fact finding mission in the two countries. Talking about the Rohingyas in the Rakhaine State of Myanmar the report mentions them as ˜stateless, with their approximate number at 750,000.

It probably will not be very difficult to assess as to who are likely to be victimized by the state when the project enters into the phase of execution. The possible environmental fall outs of the Kaladan project and its impact on the people may be discussed in detail some other time.

The Framework Agreement however, says, ˜on completion, the project will be handed over to the Government of the Union of Myanmar on terms and conditions mutually agreed upon.

The Kaladan project is a glaring example of India's double edged policies pursued in the region for ages. Decade long Indian manoeuvring and its covert negotiation with the military regime of Myanmar can be well understood from the Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES) activities with regards to the Kaladan Multimodal transport project.

Starting with a feasibility study more than a decade ago the Indian establishment gradually entered into a massive investment programme into Myanmar’s infrastructure projects.

As its first step RITES had conducted technical feasibility study for IWT on river Kaladan and Highway along the river Kaladan from Sittwe to India-Myanmar border (Mizoram) during 1999-2000. On the basis of its studies and finding RITES submitted a report to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in March, 2001.

Is Kaladan project designed to encircle Bangladesh coastline? Indian official documents claim that the Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project through Myanmar and the Ashuganj-Agartala transport corridor through Bangladesh have been designed to establish direct connectivity between the north-eastern region and the mainland.

Desperate Indian moves cast doubts whether connectivity programme between north eastern region and its main land are being designed with some other motives in mind. An in depth study of the Kaladan Project and its possible ramifications on Bangladesh will probably unfold some of its underlying machinations.

Bangladesh sandwiched between India and Myanmar and also having maritime dispute with the two countries, in all likelihood will face another new challenge in its maritime boundary when Kaladan project takes off. The sea route designed between Indian ports on the eastern sea bed and Sittwe port in Myanmar in all likelihood will encircle the coastal belt of Bangladesh.

The question is whether international laws will allow connecting the sea ports between India and Myanmar when disputes over maritime boundaries of those two countries vis-vis Bangladesh are pending in the international court.

Another important aspect in this regard probably is that the Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project has been agreed upon between Myanmar and India without any record of prior consultation with Bangladesh.

Will the international laws on seas allow such direct connection of ports between two countries by passing a third country in the middle? Will not this sea route create a natural encirclement of Bangladesh or create maritime blockade for it?

While analyzing the impact of Kaladan project on Bangladesh, some questions relevant to maritime boundary came up automatically during our discussion. We, however, feel the issue of maritime boundary and the dispute over it between Bangladesh-Myanmar and Bangladesh-India is too vast a subject to be dealt with in this article. It should rather be discussed separately some other time.

Will the ruling elite resist encirclement? The question is relevant from the experience of the free transport corridor operationalised between Bangladesh and India on March 29 last.

A technocrat advisor to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh went out of his way to ensure a free transport corridor for movement of Indian, Over Dimensional Cargo (ODC) through the Ashuganj-Akhaura link road.

Even public position taken by two cabinet ministers failed to bring about any change in the scenario. The Bangladesh National Board of Revenue (NBR) terms the waiver as ‘suspended and considers the issue to be disputed.

The visible rift within the ruling party was not enough for the BNP, the main opposition party in the parliament, to raise the issue vigorously among the public. The party leadership which is on record to have stated earlier to lay down their lives to resist transit with India, however, now appears to be comfortable with its demands for realizing the legitimate fee.

As things stand today, movements of ODC continue without any indication as to when the dispute will be resolved. Handling of this dispute till date seems to be favouring the Indians, since they are not required to suspend movement of their goods, while collection of fee on part of Bangladesh remains in the cold storage.

Entering into covert negotiation with the Myanmar regime since 1999, India continued with its superficial support for the democratic uprisings in Myanmar to protect its global image as the largest democracy in the world and its champion among the developing countries.

India's bid to woo the Myanmar junta, can be well understood from the fact that they went to the extent of violating all diplomatic norms in their official document of Kaladan project using objectionable phrases and terminologies against Bangladesh. There is however, no record of any rebuttal either from the government quarters or from the free press of Bangladesh.

Justifying the validity of the project the Indian official documents on Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project blamed Bangladesh for what it termed ˜continued intransigence to provide them ˜transit rights for connecting the mainland with its territory in the North-East.

The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project facility, the documents reveal is envisaged as ˜an access route to what it terms land locked North-Eastern region of India.

Other implications

There is the Indian projection of the north east as being ‘land locked and its claim of ˜transit rights through Bangladesh to connect the region with the mainland.

Why do the Indian think tanks and policy makers project its north eastern region as landlocked? Are they not aware of the fact that land locked status is awarded only to sovereign states recognised by the United Nations, that has no coastal line and is surrounded by more than one country in its border.

For over half a century the north eastern region is connected with mainland India through the Siliguri corridor. Does India suffer from a fear psychosis of losing grip over the narrow strip particularly after its experience in Nepal that borders with the terrain?

Ever since elections in Nepal, that brought Maoists to power and led to the ouster of its 200-year-old monarchy, India seems to be getting a little more desperate, fearing its waning influence over the tiny landlocked Himalayan country may have catalytic impact in the region.

If the Nepalese experience is causing the fear psychosis in the minds of the Indian policy makers, then they probably should think of redesigning their policies towards their neighbours instead of blaming them.

Was not Nepal the only country after WWII that suffered from a trade embargo imposed by the Indians though being a landlocked country?

Indian policy makers are not unaware of the fact that transit rights are guaranteed only for the landlocked states from its immediate neighbours having coastal areas. Does India fulfill its obligations of transit rights with regards to its landlocked neighbour Nepal? Does India treat both Nepal and Bhutan equally to fulfill its transit obligations towards them?

Claiming transit rights for the people of the north eastern region from Bangladesh could be also an Indian ploy to divert the attention of those people and to shift the responsibility of the Indian establishments failure to redress their genuine grievances.

Can it be ruled out that the Indian establishment is playing the transit rights’ card as a double edged sword with an aim to maintain distance or rather to foment a hostile attitude between the people of the north eastern region and Bangladesh?

Bangladesh always generously granted river transit to the people of north eastern region to provide a cost effective mode of transport to maintain connectivity with its main land.

Over the years the Indian establishment has been choking and flooding the rivers of Bangladesh, violating all provisions of international law that has resulted in change in river course and caused rise in river beds leading to reduced navigability and hence adversely affecting the communication system.

Was this not designed to deprive the legitimate rights of the lower riparian Bangladesh? Was this not an attempt by the Indian establishment to de-link the people of the north eastern region from waterways – its historic, ttraditional and cost effective mode of transport system?

Claiming free transit rights through land route of Bangladesh, though illogical, its denial or even a delay by the country is enough for the Indian establishment to create a negative impression about the people of Bangladesh in the north eastern region with regards to their development.

Similarly executing the free corridor route through Bangladesh, in collaboration with its cohorts in the ruling elites, the Indian establishment is also playing a double game. In this case people of Bangladesh are given the feeling that they were denied of their legitimate rights and were made to pay for the development of the north eastern region.

The experiences of the corridor deal between Bangladesh and India can lead to certain conclusions.

Corridor passage to Indian, Over Dimensional Cargo through Bangladesh has been allowed on the basis of the joint communiqu issued on January 12, 2010, on behalf of the prime ministers of the two countries. The 50 point joint communiqu was issued, on the occasion of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinas India visit almost a year after her massive election victory that brought her to the office of the Prime Minister for the second time.

To allow India passage through Bangladesh, the Hasina-Momohan joint communiqué provided for amending the IWTT Protocol and also agreed that Ashuganj in Bangladesh and Silghat in India shall be declared ports of call.It also allowed for assessment by a joint team for the improvement of infrastructure and the cost for one-time or longer term transportation of ODCs (Over Dimensional Cargo) from Ashuganjâ

Based on the joint communiqu a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in Dhaka on November 30, 2010. OTPC, a subsidiary of Indias state owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) signed the MOU with Roads and Highway Department of Bangladesh that allowed a multimodal but single purpose transport corridor’ for Indian ODC through the river and road of Bangladesh, for a period up to June 2012.

Amidst secrecy and haste the free transport corridor for Indian ODC through land and river routes of Bangladesh was operationalised on March 29 last within four months of signing of the MOU on multimodal project between the two countries.

According to the rules of business of the government, consultation with the ministry of foreign ministry is mandatory prior to signing any international deal, which, however, in this particular case was not adhered to. Officials of the foreign ministry, not even consulted with regards to the first ever Multimodal MOU between Bangladesh and India felt that the document of was faulty and needed to be modified in future.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the regulatory body in road transport sector that played a very crucial role during process of direct bus service between Dhaka-Kolkata in 1999, however, remained ineffective with regards to Indian ODC movement through the corridor, officials said.

The roads and highways department that does not have jurisdiction or expertise on enforcement of traffic discipline, registration of vehicle, issuance of fitness certificate, driving license, route permit, or sanctioning capacity of load on road, however, is now representing the government on the issue.

Failure of the government and helplessness of ruling elites are established from the fact that the movement of Indian over dimensional cargo (ODC) through the Ashuganj-Akhaura transport corridor was allowed without formulating a guideline protecting life and property of the people of the country.

ODC is cargo which is indivisible in configuration with respect to length, width, height or weight also necessarily to be transported from point A to point B in one piece generally within legally specified limits. The legally specified limits however, vary a little from country to country. Fee charged for ODC movement is generally higher than the freight charges of normal cargo, across the globe. Without defining the term ODC or framing the guideline for its movement did the people at the helm of affairs protect the interest of the people of the country?

Could the Indians ever imagine that they would successfully get the facilities of corridor passage through Bangladesh free of cost? Report of the Task force of the Indian Planning Commission on connectivity and promotion of trade and investment in the NE states, however, does not speak of that.

Government of Bangladesh/ Myanmar may provide access to Chittagong/Mandaly port for exports/ imports from and to the NER to the outside world. This would help neighbour earn substantial revenue by charging a fee for use of Roads/ Rivers observed the Task Force report of Indian Planning Commission as back as in 2006.

What prompted the Indians to change their minds and demand a waiver of fee for use of roads and rivers of the corridor passage through the Bangladesh and who collaborated with them in its execution to deprive the people of the country of its legitimate earnings are also not unknown.

The Indian establishment also does not seem to be comfortable talking about the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project. This was evidently reflected while answering to a question to that affect by the minister of state of external affairs during a question answer session last February 23.

Asauddin Owaisi, a parliamentarian of the Lok Sabha asked the foreign minister about half a dozen questions with regards to the Kaladan project. Two questions were. whether the Kaladan project ‘has finally been conceived after 12 years’, and another one was on ‘the extent to which this project is likely to increase the trade between the two countries especially in north eastern regionâ

Answers given by Minister of state of External Affairs Preneet Kaur reflect that the Indian establishment is still probably shying away from making public any detail with regards to the Kaladan project particularly in relevance to people to people contact as claimed under the project.

The Framework Agreement and Protocols for the implementation of the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project were signed in April, 2008’, said Kaur, elected to the Lok Sabha for three consecutive terms since 1999. Kaur wife of Maharaja Amrinder Singh of Patiala became minister of State for foreign affairs in May 2009.

Without giving any detail of the present volume of trade and its expected rise in the near future, the minister said, the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project is being developed to provide an alternate route for transport of goods from eastern sea board to North-East India. However, the completion of the Project will open up possibilities for better connectivity and movement of goods between India and Myanmar.

Does not it signify the underlying implications of the connectivity projects?

Were the Bangladesh authorities not aware of the Kaladan project over the years and particularly while executing the Ashuganj-Agartala transport corridor? Will the authorities care to constitute a fact finding mission with regards to the developments along the coastal lines of Bangladesh taking into consideration its maritime interests, as well as project’s possible impact on the environment of the region and the people, particularly in view of the refugee concern from Rakhaine State in Myanmar? 

Kaladan chronology

RITES conducted its first technical feasibility study for IWT on river Kaladan and Highway along the river from Sittwe to India Myanmar border during 1999-2000.

RITES submitted its preliminary report on the basis of its studies and findings to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, in March 2001.

The detailed project report was prepared and submitted by RITES in April and December 2003. this report gave environmental clearance to the project.

Framework Agreement on Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project signed on April 2, 2008. Foreign ministers of the two countries signed the document on behalf of their respective countries in Indian capital New Delhi.

Indian ministry of external affairs appoints IWAI as the project development consultant for implementation of the Kaladan Multimodal transit transport project in Myanmar in March 2009.

Tender process for selection of main Indian contractor for the port and IWT components of the work was completed by the Kaladan Project Management Unit in March 2010.

Indian Ministry of External Affairs appoints M/S Essar projects India Ltd, Mumbai as the main contractor for the development of Sittwe port and other IWT works through the contract agreement on May 14, 2010 setting target for its completion in June 2013.

The foundation stone laying ceremony was held at Sittwe in Myanmar on December 19, 2010, which was attended by the Minister for Transport government of Myanmar and the regional commander for the Rakhaine province while the Indian side was represented by senior officials from Ministry of External Affairs in the Embassy of India in Yangon and IWAI officials.

Geopolitical Irritations May Derail Singh's Dhaka Visit

Like the misguided prediction of heavy rainfall turning into a cyclone, the high profiled visit to Dhaka of the Indian PM Manmohan Singh is turning more dreadful by the day. Massive polarization within the government had already resulted in fading into oblivion of one of the key advisers to the PM while excessive brinkmanship has set apart the decision makers of the two nations further.

Sources say recent visits to Dhaka by both the foreign and home ministers of India made little headways with respect to preparing final documents relating to border dispute resolution, transit, water sharing and a number of other issues. One of the major stumbling blocks relates to the Indian negation to finance land acquisition for the proposed Akhaura-Agartala railway line and the construction of bridges across the Feni river to connect Tripura with the Chittagong port; something Delhi had promised to do during PM Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in January 2010.
ULFA bogey 
While the media in Bangladesh remained in the dark with respect to what exactly was discussed and agreed upon during P. Chidambaram's recent Dhaka trip, the Holiday had learnt that the trip had dealt with more security matters than the declared agendas, of which the finalization of modalities relating to the adversely possessed enclaves' swap was a priority.

Upon arriving Dhaka, Chidambaram changed the goal post. The border talks not only got pushed to the back burner, it was virtually abandoned due to India fearing of losing about 8,000 acres of land to Bangladesh once the adversely possessed enclaves got swapped. But this problem can not wait further for resolution. About 20% of Bangladesh's enclaves are located along the Indian state of Meghalaya while the rest are along the Bangladesh-West Bengal borders. The Bangladesh-Meghalaya border in Sylhet has long been tense; its population aggrieved and the border guards on both sides posing trigger-ready. This is also the geography on which the first Indo-Bangladesh brief border clash took place in Padua in April 2001.

Despite such dangers, Chidambaram deliberately shifted Delhi's focus on security concerns while meeting our home minister, saying that the ULFA's military chief, Paresh Barua, had announced he would launch attacks to stop Delhi from repossessing from Dhaka the jailed general secretary of the secessionist outfit, Anup Chetia.

Although none within the government would confirm or deny this, the manner in which the visit was orchestrated does lend credence to the allegation. "Barua has planned a series of major strikes with help from the Manipur-based People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the (Indian) Maoists", Assam's chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, claimed on July 22, only days before Chidambaram landed in Dhaka. "He (Barua) is holed up in northern Myanmar but keeps moving around," Gogoi said.
Section 144 
Curiously, that was followed by Indian intelligence reports that Barua himself had moved to the Bangladesh - Tripura border, or, 'may be within Bangladesh where he's having a wife.' These reports are bound to be baseless due to an arrested Manipuri rebel leader, RK Sanayaima of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur, having claimed following his arrest that he had met Barua in China during the Shanghai World Expo that was held from May 1 to October 31, 2010. It also seems highly unlikely that Barua would endanger his life by moving to Bangladesh when Chetia himself is on the verge of being kicked out by a regime that is labelled as hyper-friendly with India.

This was, in fact, a high-staked brinkmanship which India often uses against its neighbours, including with China against which it lodged an official complaint following the report of Barua being seen in Shanghai. This time, his alleged presence along the Bangladesh border prompted Delhi to clamp section 144 along the 50 km stretch of Bangladesh-Tripura border, only hours before Chidambaram's Dhaka visit. The local administration declared that the curfew- like restrictions would continue until September 24 and only Indian armed forces, police and para- military BSF are exempted from the imposed restrictions.

Viewed in retrospect, the ruse seems to have been used skillfully against Bangladesh to defer the scheduled agenda to finalize the enclave dispute. Some Indian media even went to reporting that ULFA operatives were ready to swoop on Indian security forces due to the meeting in Dhaka of the two home ministers having an agenda to finalize handing over of Chetia to the Indian authorities.
Audacious precondition 
Chetia was arrested by the Bangladesh authorities on August 21, 1997, on charges of illegally entering the country by using fake documents. Although he was later convicted and imprisoned on those charges, a concurrently filed asylum application still remains un-disposed, barring his removal from the country. Yet, on August 2, Delhi made it a sort of precondition that Chetia be handed over to India before Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka. This was odious, unexpected and audacious. Singh is coming to Dhaka to take more than Delhi is willing to give. Any precondition attached to the visit hence borders on blackmailing. Yet, Chidambaram said, "We have requested Dhaka that Chetia be handed over to us as soon as possible."

This tough stance belied grossly what Chidambaram had said to the Indian media on July 31, upon returning from Dhaka. "In the last two-and-half-years I have been the home minister of India, I cannot recall having made any complaint against Bangladesh." Asked if the Indian complaints about Bangladesh's patronage of separatist elements were still valid, Chidambaram said, "quite the contrary." He also poured out unwavering appreciations for what he called "Dhaka's splendid cooperation in supporting New Delhi to apprehend insurgents."

What had gone wrong that Chidambaram's eulogy for Dhaka lasted only hours, despite Dhaka not formally complaining about the shifting of the main agenda for discussion from border dispute resolution to handing over of the captive ULFA leader?
Our guess is as good as the guessing can go. But we are surprised that Dhaka gathered some pluck to react. Perplexed, the Bangladesh authorities informed India that Chetia could not be handed over prior to the Indian PM's Dhaka visit due to the due process relating to his asylum petition being as yet inconclusive.

Besides, although Chetia was sentenced by a Bangladesh court for illegally entering the country, his sentence expired years ago and the new agreement signed between the two PMs during the Bangladesh PM's Delhi visit in January 2010 relating to the 'Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners' did not cover Chetia's case. "Chetia's current legal status is not that of a sentenced prisoner, rather he's one who is under protective custody due to his prayer for asylum being pending and there being threat to his life within Bangladesh," informed Dhaka.

It was also learnt that the request made for Chetia's immediate handing over was on the ground that Delhi wanted Chetia to join the proposed peace talk to end insurgency in Assam, which the ULFA's military wing's chief, Paresh Barua, strongly opposes. Delhi, however, thought Dhaka would bend laws once again to handover Chetia, and, such an unreasonable expectation was augured by the fact that during Nov-Dec. 2010, Dhaka did allow Indian security apparatuses to apprehend five ULFA leaders inside Bangladesh.
Counter move 
However, concerned that Delhi would react furiously to this rebuff, Dhaka made an instant counter-move on another front. On August 1, a government committee cleared the way for the use of available facilities by India at Chittagong port as a transit point. Abdul Quddus, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping, headed the six member committee that made the recommendations. The committee further recommended that, "For sending goods to its seven north-eastern states, India may prefer Ashuganj port, instead of Chittagong port." This was in fact a post-fact cover up for allowing the Ashugonj port to India since May last year.

Although Bangladesh has a pipeline plan to increase the Chittagong port's handling capacity from the present 30.5 million tonnes of cargo to 100 million tonnes, the current capacity of the port is barely enough for our own economy. As well, cargo handling in Chittagong port is increasing 15-18 per cent annually. Given that China has already agreed to invest $8.7 billion to upgrade the port, following which the enhanced capacity can be shared by the land-locked north-eastern states of India, Nepal, Myanmar, and China, Delhi should have waited for that to happen first. India could as well join China in developing the port faster.

But Delhi wants things its own way, now and wants much more too. Delhi has also been insisting on granting of rights to operate two inland container terminals (ICTs) inside Bangladesh- at Khanpur and Pangaon. The Khanpur ICT already handles Indian containers with cement clinkers that arrive in waves, every day.
Big game 
Amid these irritations, Singh's visit to Dhaka may bear some fruit only if he declares something bigger than expected. That might entail the release of details of a $10 billion package that Delhi promised to spend on infrastructure development to fashion a cobweb of transit outlays across Bangladesh which could overcome Delhi's logistical nightmares in reaching out to the troubled North Eastern states. The proposed fund, however, is likely to be provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The scheme, however, sucks Bangladesh into a global Great Game of which the Economist magazine has voiced concerns in its July 30 issue. "The new transit project may be about more than just development. ... 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. It might provoke reprisals by such groups in Bangladesh," the Economist cautioned, adding, "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."