Friday, August 12, 2011

Declaring the hill people as indigenous : Syed Muhammad Ibrahim

The 9th August 2011 was observed as the ‘International day of indigenous people’ all over the world including Bangladesh. The issue has come to public focus recently because of a statement by the Bangladesh foreign minister. The foreign minister said there are no indigenous people or population in Bangladesh; on the other hand Bangladesh has various tribal people. The statement of the foreign minister has been received with mixed reaction by the diplomatic community of Dhaka. The leaders of various tribal people of Bangladesh have vehemently rejected the statement and opinion of the foreign minister. The leaders of various tribal people contend that they are indigenous people and that the Government of Bangladesh needs to give constitutional recognition of the same.

In the context of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh, I came across the word ‘small nationality’ (in Bangla language: khudro khudro jatishotta) for the first time on 17 December 1987. I was the co-leader of the Government delegation which traveled deep into the jungle north of Khagrachori district head quarter with a view to take part in a peace-dialogue with a delegation of the Parbotto Chattogram Jono Shonghoti Shomiti (PCJSS).

Subsequently for three more times, I was the leader of a similar delegation for similar dialogue. In the fifth time I was the deputy leader, with my boss Major General Abdus Salam being the leader, but all for the same reasons. On 17 December 1987 the PCJSS presented a typed document, nay a charter of demands called the five point charter of demands. In that document or charter of demands, the PCJSS claimed to be the spokesmen or representative organization of the ‘thirteen small nationalities’ living within the geographical boundary of the CHT.

The Government of Bangladesh in those days used to call the non-Bengali speaking people of CHT as tribal people, and the tribal people were habituated to this word. This English word was first used by the British.
As a result of the peace process of 1987-88, three different hill district local government councils were instituted in Rangamati, Khagrachori and Bandarban through appropriate legislation, in July 1989. The term used for identifying the hill people was tribal.

The PCJSS did not approve of the peace process of 1987-88 nor approved the creation of elected bodies called hill district councils although through the peace accord of 1997, these have become part and parcel of new elected administrative hierarchy of CHT.  

I am inclined to use the words or phrases ‘ethnic minority’ or ethnic minority nationalities or only minority nationalities or small nationalities instead of the word tribal. The Constitution of Bangladesh adopted in 1972 declared the citizenship and national identity of all people of Bangladesh as Bangalee. This was not liked nor accepted by the hill people of CHT, who repeatedly said in all possible forum, that they are not Bangalees.
I also did not like it. When late president Ziaur Rahman adopted certain amendments in the Constitution, he changed the identity to Bangladeshi. Intellectuals and politicians inclined to Awami league did not like or accept the amended name as Bangladeshi. Very recently Supreme Court of Bangladesh confirmed Bangalee as well as Bangladeshi nomenclature, but with different connotation and purpose.

The Supreme Court did not comment on the people whom I am referring to as tribal people or ethnic minority or hill people. The 15th amendment of the Constitution of Bangladesh has not improved the situation either. The hill people of CHT refuse to be named as Bangalee, and have gone to the extent of demanding that they be called adibashi or indigenous people.

There is a forum called indigenous peoples forum in Bangladesh. They have worked very hard over last ten to twenty years to prepare the ground whereby the tribal or hill people of CHT will be supported by one or the other quarters in   the international arena also.

One of the major organs of the United Nations Organization (UNO or UN) is the Economic and Social Council. Another UN body is the International Labor Organization (ILO). In 1957, the ILO adopted a convention called ‘Indigenous and Tribal population Convention 107. The main focus of this convention was to enable the indigenous and tribal people to benefit on an equal footing from the rights and opportunities which various national laws offer to other elements of the population.

27 countries ratified the convention including Bangladesh, but later 9 countries denounced the same or withdrew their ratification. In the year 1989, ILO convention 107 was revised and freshly adopted as ILO convention 169. About 22 countries ratified the ILO convention 169 of 1989. But Bangladesh did not ratify it.

Nepal was the lone country from Asia to ratify the convention. The largest organ of the UNO is called the General Assembly. On 13 September 2007, the General Assembly during its 61st regular session adopted ‘UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’. Before being adopted during the voting, 4 countries voted against and 11 countries abstained from voting. The 4 countries which voted against are Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Bangladesh abstained from voting.

On 02 December 1997, the historic peace accord was signed in the context of CHT. The PCJSS during negotiation and signing of the accord signed as the representative body on behalf of all hill people of CHT. The word used was tribal. After the accord over a period last 13 years, they have gradually shifted their stand towards using the word indigenous.

The Government of Bangladesh have not been careful enough to monitor the subject minutely. The peace accord of 1997 has good aspects as well as weaknesses. Various citizen-bodies inside and outside Bangladesh are constantly monitoring the progress in the implementation of the peace accord. The intellectuals and elite of the civil society in Bangladesh are divided into two clean camps.

One camp or the right camp is not in favor of the peace accord as they see challenges to national integrity through its implementation. The other camp or the left camp is in favor of implementation. I may be wrong, but based on my personal discussion with the chief of Bangladesh Army of 1997, my knowledge says that the military was not institutionally consulted before the signing of the accord. For this reason and for other reasons, the accord has many lacunae. Now in 2011, such lacunae have become very prominent.

Bangladesh did not ratify the ILO convention 169 of the year 1989. Bangladesh abstained from voting in September 2007 in the UN General Assembly. Now in August 2011 at the end of a winding conspiratorial road, Bangladesh is faced with very unpleasant reality. Short background is as follows. Some northwest Europeans and some Bangladeshis, in both cases, the elite joined hands to form a body called the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission at least 21 years ago.

They are critical of the role of the Government of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh military in countering the armed insurgency of the PCJSS. They have seen nothing good in the developmental works of the government and nothing good at all in the hard work of the Bangladesh Military in CHT. The insurgents of the CHT had found this commission as a good friend.

The economic and social council of the UN had formed a body called the UN permanent forum for indigenous issues. This forum designated one person by the name of Lars-Anders Baer (Special Rapporteur) to carry out an appraisal of the progress made in implementation of the CHT peace accord. Mr. Lars-Anders Baer gave the report after couple of months.

The report of the permanent forum was considered by the Economic and Social council in its session on 29 July 2011. The report of the permanent forum has been incorporated in a document identified as supplement no. 23 of the official records of the year 2011 of the economic and social council. In paragraph 102 of the report by Mr. Lars-Anders Baer, certain recommendations were made for the government of Bangladesh.
Out of the four recommendations, two are highly offensive towards the sovereignty of Bangladesh. These recommendations find their roots in the peace accord of 1997, the ILO convention of the year 1989 and the UN declaration of 13 September 2007.

People of Bangladesh have come to know of the recent decisions of the Economic and Social Council through the media. Government of Bangladesh has publicly expressed difference with the decisions of the economic and social council.

Economic and Social Council wants the government of Bangladesh to declare the tribal or hill people of Bangladesh as indigenous. Bangladesh government has so far declined. Government of Bangladesh seems to be aware of the dangers of categorizing the hill people as adibashi or indigenous.

Are the common people or readers or news papers aware of the dangers? I will write only few sentences. If the hill people of CHT are declared adibashi, then three implications arise. One, the ownership of the entire land within CHT will go to only the tribal or hill people. Bangladesh government nor any Bangalee will have any opportunity of ownership in any manner. Two, no military deployment can take place within CHT without the consent of the hill people. Three, the hill people will have priority of ownership and use of any mineral resources found below the ground within CHT. Any other implications apart, these three are enough to pave the way for CHT to become a different political entity other than Bangladesh.

The constitution of Bangladesh itself provides reasonable scope for the government to take steps for the improvement of the quality of life of the people who do not speak Bangla and are not Bangalee.
These provisions can be improved. Constitutionally recognition needs to be given to such people who are ethnic minority or small nationalities. I am a witness to such efforts and a contributor to such effort between the years 1987 to 1993; till today I wish peace and happiness for the hill people.

SETTLING BANGLADESH BORDER : India needs to show magnanimity to resolve outstanding issues

Dr Manmohan Singh will visit Dhaka between 6 and 7 September. Saarc summits are different. That apart, the last time an Indian Prime Minister visited Bangladesh bilaterally was in 1998 (IK Gujral). There is a general perception in Bangladesh that after the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s visit to India in January 2010, Bangladesh has done quite a bit to improve bilateral relations. However, India hasn’t reciprocated. Water sharing, migration, transit and maritime boundaries are complicated and contentious issues. However, it is a bit strange that after so many years, we haven’t been able to resolve land boundaries. In a sense, we don’t know what India is and what Bangladesh is.

There is no point blaming Cyril Radcliffe for lacking local knowledge and drawing the map with a thick marker rather than a thin one. There are three issues for demarcating land boundaries, none of which is intractable. First, there is the matter of “adverse possession”. In a legal sense, this means we (as governments) know what the boundary is, but citizens of either country don’t necessarily know that. Consequently, Bangladesh may have “illegally” occupied parts of India land India may have “illegally” occupied parts of Bangladesh. Though people are involved, this isn’t as large a problem as one thinks.

The only part of Bangladesh that is involved is Sylhet district and there is a problem with Meghalaya (Assam is a minor issue). As far as one can make out, India “adversely” occupies 551.8 acres of Bangladeshi land and Bangladesh “adversely” occupies 226.81 acres of Indian land. While there are minor differences of opinion between two governments about what the boundary is in these parts, had both sides been serious about resolving the problem, joint surveys and scrutiny of land records should have settle the problem of adverse possession. It is not that these aren’t being done, but they are stuck on the Meghalaya side.

Second, there is a 4,098-km boundary between the two countries and small stretches (these aren’t long, compared to the overall size of the boundary) are along rivers (Daikhata, Lathitilla-Dumabari, Muhuri, Feni, Hariabhanga). There is something called the Thaiweg principle, which simply means one takes the mid-point of rivers as international boundary. In the present case, this doesn’t work. Rivers meander. They change course. They don’t follow Radcliffe’s line. Islands are created in rivers. Rivers aren’t where they were in 1947, 1971 or 1974 (when an Indo Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement was signed). However, there is a simple enough option for rivers. Work on the basis of latitude/longitude and use that to demarcate international boundaries, irrespective of where rivers are. Why have both sides been somewhat lackadaisical in implementing this?

Third, there is the issue of “enclaves”, the nowhere people. In Bengali, these are called chitmohol, signifying a chit of paper. Origins go back to gambling between Raja of Cooch Behar and Maharaja of Rangpur. When they lost, they traded each other’ possessions and created enclaves in each other’s territory. This goes back to the Mughal period and continued under the British. It didn’t create an international problem until 1947, when Cooch Behar went to India and Rangpur went to East Pakistan. There are reportedly 95 Bangladeshi enclaves in India and 131 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and understandably, citizens of either set of enclaves are denied rights, access to public goods and services and remain bypassed and marginalised from what is their mainstream. We have known since 1958 (Nehru-Noon agreement) and 1974 (Indira-Mujib agreement) what should be done. A quote from the 1974 agreement is necessary. “The Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh enclaves in India should be exchanged expeditiously, excepting the enclaves mentioned in paragraph 14 without claim to compensation for the additional area going to Bangladesh.” The exchange of enclaves amounts to offering the citizens a choice, once the exchange has been agreed upon and is implemented. Constitutional and legal issues to permit exchange of territory are not as major a problem as is made out to be.

This leaves paragraph 14, exempted from the exchange. “India will retain the southern half of South Berubari Union No.12 and the adjacent enclaves, measuring an area of 2.64 square miles approximately and in exchange Bangladesh will retain the Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves. India will lease in perpetuity to Bangladesh an area of 178 metres X 85 metres near ‘Tin Bigha’ to connect Dahagram with Panbari Mouza (PS Patgram) of Bangladesh.” Dahagram (alternatively Dohogram) is a Bangladeshi enclave in India. It is thus landlocked and cut off from rest of Bangladesh, so to speak. To permit people from Dahagram-Angarpota to access rest of Bangladesh, India was supposed to provide a Tin Bigha corridor.

As the name implies, this is not a large tract of land. It amounts to a mere three bighas (of land). India retained southern half of South Berubari, but didn’t formally hand over Tin Bigha till 1992. Thus, around 20,000 Bangladeshis in an enclave that is about 25 sq km in area continue to be bypassed. Formally, India handed over the Tin Bigha corridor in 1992. (Because territory could not be ceded, the lease in perpetuity idea was worked out.)

However, by all accounts, this is not quite the way it works in practice. With porous borders, Indians are free to cross over. But through Tin Bigha, the access of Bangladeshis to mainland Bangladesh is still restricted to certain hours. There have been suggestions of construction (by India) of a flyover or underpass, so that access is formalised and not restricted. But to most Bangladeshis, in-action by India has been interpreted as intransigence and indifference. Tin Bigha has become a symbol.

‘Poisonous Politics Of Bangladesh’ : Reversion To Type

Bangladesh’s economy is becoming ever healthier; its politics are heading in the opposite direction.

THE election of December 2008 seemed to mark a watershed for Bangladesh. In the fairest poll in the country’s four-decade history, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina (pictured), swept to power in a landslide, on a wave of national optimism. The hope was that she would use her party’s popularity to strengthen democratic institutions and pursue national reconciliation, putting an end to a vicious cycle of winner-takes-all politics between the League and its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The fear was that she would use its huge mandate for partisan advantage.

The hope has been largely dashed, the fear almost fully borne out (see Banyan). This week yet more corruption charges were filed against Sheikh Hasina’s nemesis, the BNP’s leader, Khaleda Zia, and an arrest warrant issued for her exiled son, Tarique Rahman. As prime minister, most recently from 2001-06, Mrs Zia presided over a brutal kleptocracy. But Sheikh Hasina, too, faced 13 charges, including extortion and conspiracy to murder, from one of her previous stints in power. Ditching the cases against League leaders while proceeding with those against the Zias looks like Bangladeshi politics as usual: the family vendetta disguised as a two-party system.

Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s independence hero, murdered in 1975. Mrs Zia is the widow of another former president, assassinated in 1981. The two main parties have adopted their leaders’ limitless mutual animosity. The BNP has reacted to its rout in 2008 petulantly, boycotting parliament and taking to the streets. And the League’s promise of magnanimity has been overshadowed by brazen attempts to entrench its rule.

The most scandalous is its railroading through in June of a constitutional amendment. Like Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, did last year, Sheikh Hasina has used the forms of parliamentary democracy to undermine the substance. Among other changes, the amendment does away with the caretaker administrations that oversaw elections in the hope of ensuring a modicum of fairness. It is hard to imagine the BNP taking part in elections under the new arrangements—the lack of trust between the parties that inspired the caretaker system persists. Bizarrely, but in keeping with a growing intolerance in Bangladesh, it is seditious even to criticise the new charter.

Public debate is also constrained by the growing personality cult that Sheikh Hasina is building around Sheikh Mujib, “the greatest Bengali of the millennium”. His portrait is ubiquitous, including on new banknotes issued this week. It is not healthy when one party identifies itself so closely with the nation. In the same vein, war-crimes trials due to start shortly over some of the atrocities perpetrated during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan risk becoming seen as exercises in partisan spite. It did not help that this month a leading British defence lawyer was refused entry to Bangladesh.

Singh, when you're winning
That politics should remain so personal and so poisonous is absurd at a time of great promise for Bangladesh, a country of 160m people, most of them poor. The government remains fairly popular. The economy is doing well, with its booming garment-export business. Bangladesh is on good terms with both China and, especially, India (though the government is touchy about this—see our Letters pages). Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, is due to visit early next month to sign a series of agreements formalising closer co-operation. It would be good if he and Bangladesh’s many other friends abroad could show that their friendship is with the country, not just one party, and make clear that allowing democratic freedoms to flourish is a source not of weakness, but of strength.

Dipu Moni’s Comment Provokes Angry Outbursts

The constitutional amendment ignoring the demands of the indigenous people and the recent comments of Foreign Minister Dipu Moni about the status of those minority groups have exposed another fault line of conflict between the government and the ethnic minorities.

On 26 July 2011, Foreign Minister told diplomats and journalists in two separate briefings that the minority people living in the CHT were ‘tribal and not indigenous.’ She also said that CHT peoples were ‘asylum-seekers’ and Bangalis are the true indigenous peoples of Bangladesh.

At the state guest house Padma, she faced and countered rhetoric from a history professor who sought to define the tribal people beyond the accepted terminology, but largely impressed upon the editors to accept her plea not to call them ‘indigenous’.

”In the constitution, all minorities were recognised generically as minorities, and through the 15th amendment, the present government has categorised them as ‘ethnic minorities’ and no longer only as ‘tribal’ people,” she said.

The minister told both groups Bangladesh was concerned that the ‘tribal’ people or ethnic minorities in the CHT region were being described as ‘indigenous peoples’ of the country.

In a sharp reaction, indigenous leaders, academics, rights activists demanded withdrawal of Foreign Minister’s remarks on indigenous peoples.

Leaders and activists of minority ethnic communities from across the country, defying the pouring rain, took to the streets in the capital on Monday to press home their demand for being officially recognised as ‘indigenous peoples’, not as ‘small ethnic groups’, in the Constitution.

While observing the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, the Adivasi Forum organized a march along city streets and the Forum members chanted slogans in protest against the government’s move to describe them as ‘tribes’…. They demanded full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tract peace accord.

Earlier on 29 July 2011 Indigenous peoples and academics and rights groups took to the streets in Dhaka denouncing the statements of the Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, about indigenous peoples and demanded the withdrawal of the ‘objectionable remarks which were discriminatory and disrespectful to indigenous peoples’

Speakers at the rally said such biased speech could only instigate the peoples of CHT to form a stern movement rather than finding a peaceful solution. The notion of microscopic population of the national minorities’ in Dipu Moni’s speech is totally ‘undemocratic’ and ‘disrespectful’.

The speakers also strongly criticised Dipu Moni’s defining of ‘indigenous peoples’ term based on dictionaries and said such flawed definition of a foreign minister, was ‘regrettable’ and ‘shameful’. They said she proved her ignorance in front of foreign diplomats around the world. They questioned Foreign Minister that if they are not indigenous then how Raja Devasish Roy became a member of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues?

Politician Haider Akbar Khan Rono said “As a Bangladeshi working for this country, I protest on behalf of all my Adivasi sisters and brothers, other friends and colleagues, who are working for the indigenous people towards the development of our Motherland”

Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivashi Forum claimed that Dipu Moni had expressed her solidarity regarding the ‘indigenous’ term in 2008. The AL’s election manifesto and the prime minister’s speech in 2009 also contains the term indigenous.
CHT Commission 
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, a non-government international organization has objected to Foreign Minister, Dr. Dipu Moni’s statement saying that it was a ‘misperception’ and demanded the acceptance of the ethnic groups in CHT as ‘indigenous’ Her remarks are discriminatory and disrespectful towards the ethnic groups as full citizens of Bangladesh and the CHT Commission forwarded the statement to the President of the UN economic and social council. The statement, jointly signed by Eric Avebury, Sultana Kamal and Elsa Stamatopoulou, all the three Co-chair of the CHT Commission, was issued on Friday.

The CHT Commission believes that the Foreign Minister’s comments reflect a lack of commitment on the part of the Bangladesh Government towards its national and international obligations, including those contained in the 2008 Election Manifesto of the Bangladesh Awami League, and the provisions of the ILO Convention 107 and other international human rights standards, among others.

It also reflects the government’s discomfort at the suggestion of human rights screening for the Bangladeshi components of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, many of whom are actively taking part in the Bangladesh military’s de facto operation, Operation Uttoron, in the CHT, which purports to provide a legal cover to the Bangladesh Army’s role in civilian affairs, which is in violation of the laws of Bangladesh and international human rights standards, norms and practices.

The CHT Commission hopes that the UN Economic and Social Council will adhere to its non-discriminatory approach and adopt the report of the 10th session of the Permanent Forum and all its recommendations, including those related to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997.

CHT Regional Council chairman Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma and Chakma Raja Devasish Roy have both strongly refuted the foreign minister’s contention.

In The Name Of The Father

An obsession with Bangladesh’s past may explain its prime minister’s growing intolerance.


THE election of December 2008 seemed to mark a watershed for Bangladesh. In the fairest poll in the country’s four-decade history, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina (pictured), swept to power in a landslide, on a wave of national optimism. The hope was that she would use her party’s popularity to strengthen democratic institutions and pursue national reconciliation, putting an end to a vicious cycle of winner-takes-all politics between the League and its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The fear was that she would use its huge mandate for partisan advantage.

The hope has been largely dashed, the fear almost fully borne out (see Banyan). This week yet more corruption charges were filed against Sheikh Hasina’s nemesis, the BNP’s leader, Khaleda Zia, and an arrest warrant issued for her exiled son, Tarique Rahman. As prime minister, most recently from 2001-06, Mrs Zia presided over a brutal kleptocracy. But Sheikh Hasina, too, faced 13 charges, including extortion and conspiracy to murder, from one of her previous stints in power. Ditching the cases against League leaders while proceeding with those against the Zias looks like Bangladeshi politics as usual: the family vendetta disguised as a two-party system.

All this should leave the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina—whom civil servants are said to address as “sir”—feeling confident. Her Awami League romped to an electoral win in December 2008. Her popularity has since dipped, but not disastrously. Nearly half the respondents to an AC-Nielsen survey in January, the most recent one, thought her government did a good job. Few backed the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which spurns parliament, calls public strikes and is remembered for the brutality and corruption of its rule in 2001-06.

Facing a general election in a couple of years, Sheikh Hasina might hope to embed democracy and persuade voters to re-elect her—a first for the country. Sadly, judging by her recent behaviour, she seems to seek instead to crush the opposition and provoke an election boycott, silencing pesky critics as she goes.
The mutual animosity between the prime minister and the opposition leader is legendary. Legal attacks on Khaleda Zia, admittedly an unsympathetic figure, are in full flow: an anti-corruption body charged her on August 8th; the same day a court issued a warrant for her exiled elder son over bribe-taking; in June a younger son was sentenced, in absentia, to six years in another graft case; in November she was evicted from her home. Each of these steps may be legitimate; together they look like vengeance.

More surprising was Sheikh Hasina’s attack on Muhammad Yunus, thrown out of the Grameen Bank he founded. His most obvious mistake came in 2007, during the two-year interregnum, when he flirted for a while with launching a political party—a “third force” to break the old duopoly. Rumours swirl in Dhaka, however, that Mr Yunus’s other sins included his accepting a Nobel peace prize that Sheikh Hasina felt should have been hers, failing to commiserate after an assassination attempt on her in 2004, and being ungrateful for the help she gave Grameen.

In brief Mr Yunus was resented for his high international profile, which threatened to eclipse the sacred memory of Sheikh Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh to independence. Sheikh Hasina wants her father to be revered. A new constitutional requirement declares him father of the nation and orders all offices in the country to display his portrait.
One consequence of the cult surrounding their dynasty is that few institutions are trusted as independent. The courts, for example, have seen corruption cases against Awami League figures quashed. Those against BNP types proceed apace. Opposition leaders report violent ill-treatment. Mahmudur Rahman, a newspaper editor who served in the BNP government, describes being “tortured, handcuffed, blindfolded, stripped naked, starved”.

Harping on such matters is seen by Sheikh Hasina’s defenders as a “smear campaign”. Human-rights groups who point to dreadful practices, such as routine killings of criminals by police, are told how much worse things were before. Outspoken critics, such as Odhikar, a human-rights and election-monitoring group, say new government controls on the way they spend money may be a step towards being “strangled”. Trade unions fret that their leaders are threatened and harassed. The government pooh-poohs them all.
The kindest view of the government is that it is clumsy to the point of self-harm. Even sympathetic outsiders say it has bungled forthcoming war-crimes trials of seven men over their alleged roles in the war and massacres of 1971. The goal of holding wrongdoers accountable now risks being subsumed by a partisan witch-hunt. Some of the accused have been held for months without relevant charges. Only opposition figures will be tried.

The Sheikh of things to come
Most troubling is the hasty rewriting of the constitution on June 30th, especially the scrapping of a provision for caretaker administrations to run elections. The Supreme Court suggested keeping the set-up for two more elections, to avoid provoking social strife. Sheikh Hasina herself had insisted on the arrangement when in opposition. In office she heedlessly went ahead and junked it. That bodes ill for fair and peaceful polls in 2013.

Nor do Orwellian touches inspire confidence. The constitution, or at least most of it, shall not be amended in future. Anyone who dares criticise it may be prosecuted for sedition. Mrs Zia has already been warned for having complained about it. Merely to back such a complaint is now illegal. Thought-crime may be next.
All this suggests Sheikh Hasina’s dream for Bangladesh differs profoundly from that cherished by her countrymen. She hopes to emulate not Indonesia or India today, but the country imagined by her father before his murder in 1975. Though it fails to fulfil a promise to restore his founding constitution’s commitment to “secularism”, the new version is mostly loyal to his vision, complete with dated pledges to socialism. By attacking opponents, his daughter settles scores with those who opposed Sheikh Mujib. And, as Orwell knew: who controls the present controls the past. And who controls the past controls the future.

‘UNDER-HAND’ LAND DEAL WITH INDIA : Does not PM owe an explanation to people?

The more the day passes, the more the AL-led regime is proving to be a wizard in fanning fire, not in extinguishing. Some media reports claimed, and our sources confirmed, that the President will sign an Ordinance proscribing any political or legal dissent to the deals being prepared for signing with India during PM Manmohan Singh’s upcoming visit to Dhaka in early September.

Barring the decisions relating to the appointment of the PM and the Chief Justice, the President has a constitutional obligation pursuant to Article 48(3) to consult with the PM before making any decision, let alone such a suicidal one. The PM, hence, must explain to the nation how and under what authority 261 acres of land along the Sylhet- Meghalaya border has been transferred to India lately.
Historic ownership 
India shares the longest border with Bangladesh among all its neighbours, about 4351 km in total. Our ownership of the land stems from the laws of inheritance as well as the treaties and agreements concluded subsequently. One of the conceded patches of land includes the disputed—and previously fought out — 6.5 km stretch of natural resource-rich swathe along the Tamabil-Meghalaya border on which Delhi had staked a claim since 1971.

The claim follows Indian forces’ use of the land to train freedom fighters during the liberation war. But Bangladesh’s ownership of the land is historically guaranteed by an arbitral decision, a number of agreements, as well as a plethora of irrefutable records, maps and other documents pertaining to the border demarcation between Pakistan and India, and India and Bangladesh.

Besides, the allegedly conceded land housed pre-independence (1971) border pillars which have reportedly been removed lately by the BSF. This is an annexation by consent, which simply means a sell out of the nation’s sovereignty through an executive usurpation of power. It neither took consent of the parliament, nor of the people. The PM should order the land’s immediate repossession.
Boundary Commission 
If it’s an annexation by consent, the government has breached the standard practices of international laws and acted in contravention of the decision rendered by the Bengal Boundary Commission on January 26, 1950 while settling the dispute. The report said, the settlement is related to “a portion of the boundary line dividing, between East Bengal (Pakistan) and Assam (India), the district of Sylhet as it was prior to the partition of 1947.” Based on the report’s recommendations, border pillars were erected. Sandwiched between Assam on one side and the 423 km border with the Sylhet plains of Bangladesh on the other, the state of Meghalaya was carved out of Assam as a separate state on January 21, 1972.

The Boundary Commission also referred to the dispute as having been addressed in paragraph 13 of Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s Report relating to India-Pakistan border demarcation. This treasured document is preserved in the UN treaty series, titled as “Reports of International Arbitral Awards: Boundary disputes between India and Pakistan relating to the interpretation of the report of the Bengal Boundary Commission; 26 January 1950, VOLUME XXI pp. 1-51, UNITED NATIONS.”

Based on this arbitration by some of the most eminent jurists from both India and Pakistan, the Nehru-Noon Agreement on India-East Pakistan borders was signed in New Delhi on September 10, 1958; which too addressed all the disputes relating to the West Bengal, Assam and Tripura borders with East Pakistan. In that Agreement too, there is no trace of Delhi staking a claim on the allegedly re-possessed Sylhet (Tamabil) land.
Indo-Pak Agreement 
Pursuant to the decision of the arbitration, as well as the Nehru-Noon Agreement, India and Pakistan concluded a comprehensive border agreement (Agreement No 5180) on October 23, 1959, resolving the East Pakistan border disputes with India. This is why major Indo-Pak battles in 1948 and 1965 were fought along India-West Pakistan borders, not in East Pakistan.

Following the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indira-Mujib Agreement was concluded on May 16, 1974, which the Bangladesh parliament ratified in November of that year in keeping with the treaty’s obligations. Articles 2 and 3 of the 1974 agreement deals with the adversely possessed enclaves relating to which a treaty is now under preparation and slated to be signed during Manmohan Singh’s Dhaka visit.

Article 2 of the 1974 Agreement stipulated that the “territories in adverse possession …… shall be exchanged within six months of the signing of the boundary strip maps by the plenipotentiaries. They may sign the relevant maps as early as possible, and… not later than the 31st December, 1974 and… (they) should be printed by 31st May 1975 and signed by the plenipotentiaries thereafter in order that the exchange of adversely held possessions in these areas may take place by the 31st December 1975.”

Article 3 states: “when areas are transferred, the people in these areas shall be given the right of staying on where they are, as nationals of the State to which the areas are transferred.”
While non-compliance of an international agreement does not render the agreement null and void, the adversely possessed enclaves were not swapped as promised in the following decades, leaving open a soaring gaffe for recurring border skirmishes to occur and poison relations between the two nations.

Moreover, on April 15-16, 2001, Delhi ordered Indian BSF to launch a battalion-strong attack at Bangladesh’s Baroibari outpost along the Assam frontier, following the BSF’s failure to capture the claimed Tamabil land in Sylhet which the government has now surrendered, without letting the nation knowing, to India.

Ironically, Sheikh Hasina was the PM of the nation when, hell bent on defending to death in the midst of a surprised attack by the Indian BSF battalion, three BDR soldiers embraced martyrdom while the attackers were dealt with a body blow. At least 21 BSF soldiers were killed and dozens injured in the Padua battle.

Yet, the prolonged Indian non-compliance with the 1974 Agreement resulted in the as yet un-demarcation of 6.1 km of borders, which include (1) Lathitilla-Dumabari (3 km with Assam), (2) South Berubari (1.5 km with West Bengal), and (3) Muhuri river/Belonia (1.6 km with Tripura). This catalogue of disputed land too does not include the Indian Tamabil-Padua claim.

All these means India does not have a case in hand to claim the Tamabil land it has now repossessed from its puppet regime in Dhaka. For decades, Delhi also chose to hold Bangladesh under a tight leash by not swapping the adversely possessed land, mindful that the swap will result in India losing over 4,000 hectares of its territory, or about 40 sq. km, from the total 70 sq. km it owns in the 111 enclaves inside Bangladesh.

Bangladesh, on the other hand, has 51 enclaves inside India, comprising 28 sq. km. Pursuant to the modalities outlined in the 1974 Agreement, the swap entails 10,000 acre of net loss to India.
Demographic time bomb 
Meanwhile, the elapse of time has turned the matter into a demographic and emotional time bomb. The stranded citizens on both ends now find it difficult to embrace a new nation as new citizens. A group of residents from the Bangladeshi enclaves in India have already declared to stage a program of dharma on August 15, knowing that their enclaves face transfers in early September.

The non-disclosure of the finding of a recently concluded census notwithstanding, it is presumed that about 1.8 lakh Indians live inside the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh while Bangladesh has about 1.13 lacs inhabitants inside the Bangladeshi enclaves in India.

That India had already flouted the 1974 boundary Agreement should have served as the most convincing rationale in not making any concession to Delhi in this regard. One source within the government said the Sylhet land concession is the part of a quid pro quo. Well, even if it is so, that too must have been thrown into the public domain to assess its feasibility in the context of our national interest. The nation does not belong to the Prime Minister or the President alone.