Sunday, September 4, 2011

BANGLADESH: Bleak Future

The birth of Bangladesh two months ago sent the hopes of 78 million Bengalis soaring in expectation of a bright future. But now the early rapture of freedom is fading, and the Bengali mood is growing subdued in the face of the new country's enormous problems. TIME Correspondent Dan Coggin covered the nine-month Pakistani civil war last year and was in Dacca in December to witness the triumphant entry of Indian troops. Last week he returned to the new capital to assess the pace of reconstruction. His report:

The nation seems more intent upon recounting past horrors than on reconstruction. Daily newspaper stories of the Pakistani massacre—Prime Minister Sheik Mujibur Rahman estimates it claimed 3,000,000 lives—rate bigger headlines than the problem of rebuilding the 150 factories destroyed or disabled. When Indian forces leave on March 25, violence will threaten the 1,500,000 Biharis who emigrated from India to East Bengal in 1947, many of whom collaborated openly with the Pakistani army. Some bitterness and reliving of the past are understandable at this stage. But time is short if a new disaster is to be prevented.

Uncertain Hope. One senses that most Bengalis do not fully grasp the depth of the country's plight. Less than 25% of Bangladesh's industry is working because of wrecked and looted machinery and lack of raw materials, capital, credit and personnel.

Virtually no foreign exchange has been earned in two months, since the ports of Chittagong and Chalna are almost closed by mines and sunken ships. Food and other shipments into the interior are slow because of hundreds of blown railroad and highway bridges and insufficient river transport.

Hardship pinches all. Peasants and professional workers alike make their way to distribution centers for grain rations or form block-long lines to register for employment. An estimated 20 million Bengalis—more than a quarter of the total population—are believed to be destitute. Half of these are refugees returning from India; the other half are internally displaced and unemployed persons. Most relief is geared toward the returning refugees. The uncertain hope is that revival of the shattered economy will take care of the rest.

In Dinjapur district, in the extreme northwest, two-thirds of the 2,300,000 population are classed as destitute. Government grain rations have been halved to three pounds a week for adults. So have the $18 grants for housing, which many are using to buy food. Some refugees are building houses of bamboo and thatch, dwellings that will be ruined when the rains start in May. Others are camped with friends, seemingly reluctant—or too broke—to start over. In Dacca itself, shantytowns have sprung up as shelter for 120,000 people.

"All disaster relief operations in the past have no comparison with the magnitude of the task in Bangladesh," says Toni Hagen, the Swiss U.N. chief in Dacca. The destruction, he adds, was greater than that suffered by Europe in World War II. The government itself is virtually bankrupt. Mujib has pleaded for massive international aid, a plea echoed last week by U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. So far, India has supplied $53 million in cash and other aid, and pledged to supply one-quarter of Bangladesh's food needs for the coming year. Other countries have promised aid amounting to $95 million. The U.S. has not yet recognized Bangladesh, or made any commitment of aid.

But U.N. officials estimate that $565 million is the barest minimum needed to get the economy moving again and to rebuild the distribution system sufficiently to prevent starvation. To put Bangladesh well on the road to recovery, Hagen judges, would require $1 billion this year alone. There seems little hope that the new nation will receive anything like that amount.

Bangladesh For Sale – Or Already Sold?

People always may have their own way of thinking. This is the age of democracy, where people are supposed to freely express their opinion. But in today’s world, only few of the rulers ever wish to hear criticism. They rather feel comfortable with sycophants. That happens in most of the places. None of the leaders appreciate people knowing the truth also some times. They (leaders) mostly want to do everything with the excuse of ‘aspiration of the people’, while in reality; most of such actions are aimed at protecting their grip over power.

Honestly, it is very difficult to find a true democrat or a good ruler in today’s world. The entire concept of democracy and democratic institutions have unfortunately transformed into mere dictatorship in everywhere in the world. Politicians have become so much ‘power blind’ that they compromise with national interest, every now and then, whenever they find the right opportunity of doing so, just for the sake of continuing in power. In South Asia, such situation is alarmingly prevalent in some countries, and more precisely, Bangladesh is the latest inclusion in the list.

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is scheduled to arrive in Bangladesh on September 6 with the agenda of getting at least 7 protocols and bilateral (in fact unilaterally favorable to India only) treaties, agreements and protocols. According to Indian media, Dhaka is ready to ‘consummate’ such ‘precious opportunity of establishing closer ties with New Delhi’. The politicians in Dhaka have no bad feelings in them, although they know, India will just be taking everything from Bangladesh through these treaties and protocols and agreements, while give almost nothing in return. Some political pundits in Bangladesh wrongly predict that such treaties, protocols and agreements will turn Bangladesh into another Sikkim. But, unfortunately, their predictions are absolutely wrong. India does not aspire to transform Bangladesh into another Sikkim by annexing it geographically. Rather, India wants to turn Bangladesh into a subservient state like Nepal, where Indian agendas will be accepted and implemented without uttering a single word.

After many decades of the independence of Bangladesh, Indian policymakers have got the right opportunity with the current government led by Mrs. Sheikh Hasina Wazed, who is willing to ensure to be in power till 2025 at the cost of ‘anything’. Many say, rulers in Dhaka are now ready to compromise independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh as well even get many of the national interests ‘screwed’ just to make sure, Indian government in delighted.

Let us have a glimpse over what Bangladesh has so far prepared for their special guest, who arrives on September 6. In addition to numerous ‘gifts’, Bangladesh will handover ULFA leader Anup Chetia, Laxmi Prashad and Babul Sharma to Indian authorities as ‘appetizer’ as soon as Manmohan steps into Dhaka. Bangladesh is going to give land, water and railway transit as a rate, which is one-hundredth in compared to any other agreements of such nature in anywhere in the world. Bangladesh actually will continue to lose, with this transit treaty – rather, it will become the permanent shackle on Bangladeshi nations, to remain drowned in debts for years after years. One of the Indian newspapers said, ‘for the first time, Indian politicians are going to taste the cheapest political whores in Bangladeshi policymakers. They want to sacrifice everything just for the sake of remaining in power.’

Not encouraging for any nation, I believe! Manmohan will also take back, Delhi’s claimed land, annexed by Bangladesh, while he will not handover, what Bangladesh has been claiming to have been annexed by Delhi for decades. Dr. Singh will also get the maritime treaty signed with Bangladesh, where Dhaka will practically lose its legitimate ownership over a large area in the Bay of Bengal.

Mr. Chidambaram has already signed an Memorandum of Understanding with his counterpart, Advocate Sahara Khatun, under which, Indian elite forces will land in Bangladesh from November this year for joining ‘Bangladeshi elite forces in combating terrorism.’ Well, Delhi will definitely combat any activities of Indian insurgents inside Bangladesh. This is the broad-based meaning of the term ‘terrorism’. Under this MOU, India gets legal right to strike Bangladeshi land through air, water or road ways, even without ‘leaking advance intelligence report on existence of such terrorist bases within Bangladesh’.

Delhi also gets the legal status to arrest, interrogate and even repatriate any suspected terrorist inside Bangladesh. It is well understood that, Awami League will greatly use this provision with Indian help in cracking their political opponents and political enemies inside the country.

Do any of these facts sound favorable for any nation which would claim to be sovereign? It doesn’t of course. But, this is the road; Bangladesh Awami League has finally opted to walk. And possibly it is not difficult to predict what would be the ultimate result. It is surprising enough to see, people of Bangladesh are not only put into dark about all these agreements, treaties and protocols, but their attention has been already shifted to smaller issues like road communication etc. Pro-Awami League think-tanks and so-called members of civil society (all aligned towards Awami League) are jumping into this issue to make sure, people of Bangladesh wont wake up before final ‘consummation’ with India is over.

September 11 is a black day in the history of humanity when, United States was attacked by Islamic terrorists years back. Now, September 6 is going to be a real black day, for the people of Bangladesh.

By - Sunita Paul. 

Singh’s Major Foreign Policy Move

Burdened with a domestic crisis, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh embarks on his first foreign tour post- Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement: A revolution of sorts as most Indians saw it. 

Beginning next week, Singh travels to Bangladesh, India’s neighbour which has been making news in this part of the sub-continent. For Indians, Bangladesh was top of the mind some months ago. As India, perhaps, was for Bangladeshis too. The focal point was Prime Minister Singh who let slip uncharitable remarks about people in his immediate neighbourhoods.

On the sidelines of a conference with select editors, Singh had said that a substantial chunk of Bangladesh’s population were anti-Indian. On June 29, to be precise, which political analysts agree is a dark day in the history of Indo-Bangladesh relations. Though Singh’s remarks were off record, his office goofed up big time and posted them on the official website.

To quote Dr Manmohan Singh: “We must reckon that at least 25 percent of the population of Bangladesh swear by Jamiat-e-Islami and they are very anti-Indian, and they are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI…So a political landscape in Bangladesh can change anytime. We do not know what these terrorist elements, who have a hold on the Jamaat-e-Islami elements in Bangladesh, can be up to.”

The following day there were red faces followed by a damage control exercise in which the dates of Singh’s forthcoming Bangladesh visit were hastily announced.

Three months down the line we are a couple of hours away from the historic visit. That Singh carries with him the baggage of a domestic movement which has dented his own image and the government’s credibility is another matter.

Officials, even if they try, cannot wish away the fact that the tag of honesty, integrity and credibility which were Singh’s USP, have been overshadowed by knee-jerk reactions and wrong decisions for which the blame is being largely apportioned to Singh and his team.

That the anti-corruption movement spilled onto the streets and stirred thinking Indians is a commentary on the gaps between the government’s words and actions.

Worse still, the wrong decisions in handling a sensitive yet volatile movement and sending a Gandhian to jail are things on the debit side of Singh’s balance sheet.

The silver lining, however, is the movement is over, Hazare is alive and a semblance of a compromise between the warring factions, namely the Indian government versus its people, has been hammered.
Till the Hazare movement, the Indian side had only one thing to worry about: how the people of Bangladesh would react to a Prime Minister who had made uncharitable remarks about them. On this count, there was limited anxiety given that both sides, namely the Indian and Bangladeshi governments, had postured to let bygones be bygones.

The calculation on this side of the border was that Singh’s demeanour would balm whatever wounds the damage-control exercise had failed to. Now they have another issue to worry about: the impact of Hazare movement on Singh’s international image.

Has it suffered in the same measure that it has domestically? This is the key question burdening officials’ minds as Singh lands on Bangladeshi soil.

Ostensibly no one is talking about it. Or even seeing it as a factor. For the record, there are issues, both political and trade related, which will dominate Singh’s visit. The fact that a battery of Chief Ministers of Indian states will accompany Singh during his Bangladesh tour, only underlines the importance of the visit.

Initially, it was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerji who was to be part of the PM’s entourage but closer to the visit, the number has reached nearly half a dozen CMs who will go Dhaka-calling. These include Chief Ministers of states of Paschimbanga, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram. It is rare that the Indian PM has carried such a CM-heavy entourage.

That Singh’s visit is one of his biggest foreign policy moves in the region is a foregone conclusion. For starters, a comprehensive boundary agreement is on the anvil. The two countries have agreed to exchange most of the adverse possession areas. However, some disputes remain unresolved.

Highly placed sources have indicated that a unilateral grant of land to Bangladesh by India may not happen. Areas in Meghalaya were problematic as also some parts of Barak valley where an agreement on land exchange could hit a roadblock. 

So even while intentions and indications are positive, there could be some hitches. That notwithstanding, the mood is one of optimism where Bangladesh is likely to get a sweet deal, as it were.

On the trade front, which means textiles, India intends to give more than it will take. And this it will do at the cost of irking the domestic market. As of now, the government wants to give access of our markets to Bangladesh. This it wants to do without charging duties which it will do at the cost of the home traders.
Bangladesh wants India to remove 61 items from the list of protected goods India maintains under its free trade agreement with SAARC countries. India in turn hopes to have removed restrictions imposed by Dhaka on yarn and fabric.

Discordant notes on India bending over backwards for Bangladesh are being heard with textile producers representing to commerce and textiles ministry dissuading the Indian government not to give into pressure on grounds that it would jeopardize domestic business: “We would,” said an official of the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry, “be affected in a major way especially in lower end items.”

Bangladesh’s request list, he said, includes items with a major cost advantage, namely knitwear, jeans and men’s shirts.

Bilateral partnership apart, the Singh visit will also offer an opportunity to both countries to look at the macro picture of the eastern subcontinent and build prosperity linkages among their eastern neighbours.
While doing all this, there will be an attempt to have an inclusive policy: that is taking along all political opinion including the opposition’s. In this context, Singh’s proposed meeting with Bangladesh’s opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia is significant. 

The Singh visit, as analysts see it, will mark a distinct change in ties between the two countries.

BANGLADESH: Coups And Chaos

From the moment of its independence, Bangladesh has lived on the edge of anarchy. Thousands of leftist Mukti Bahini guerrillas who had fought for independence from Pakistan retained their arms after the fighting ended. The 35,000-man army simmered with discontent, and rivalries between volatile factions were held in check mainly by the prestige of Sheik Mujibur Rahman, whom Bengalis revered as Bangaban-dhu (friend of Bengal). But last August Mujib and his family were massacred by the "seven majors," a group of young officers who staged a brutal lightning coup against Mujib's increasingly corrupt and autocratic regime. Lacking broad popular support, the young officers ever since have faced twin dangers: revenge by Mujib's outraged supporters or a reassertion of authority by the older generals they elbowed aside during the coup.

Last week in a dizzying sequence of events, the seven majors and the civil administration they had set up were ousted. The generals then installed their own President—Abu Sadat Mohamed Sayem, chief justice of the Bangladesh Supreme Court. At week's end Bangladesh appeared threatened with civil war. Reports reached New Delhi of clashes involving thousands of armed students in Dacca and fighting between rival military units across the nation.

The week of coup and countercoup apparently began with murder. Late Sunday night a number of prominent political prisoners, including two former Prime Ministers and other followers of Sheik Mujib, were murdered in Dacca jail. As news of the massacre spread through the city, crowds blamed the crime on the ruling majors.
The jail murders and the emotional Bengalis' reaction to the news apparently convinced the generals that it was time to oust the upstarts. Early Monday morning, soldiers loyal to the generals took up positions outside the presidential palace. As helicopters and MIGs made mock strafing runs over the palace, the majors negotiated a deal: surrender of power in exchange for safe-conduct passage for themselves and their families to Thailand. Among those who promptly applied for political asylum in the U.S. and Pakistan was Lieut. Colonel Sayed Farook Rahman, instigator of the August coup.

The deal was approved by Bangladesh's civilian President Khondakar Mushtaque Ahmed, who turned out to be the week's next political victim. As students and followers of Mujib rioted in Dacca to protest the escape of the majors, Khondakar resigned and was replaced by Sayem. Real power, however, seemed to lie with a ten-man military council. The council's heads included Major General Khalid Musharraf, who almost immediately arrested and displaced his boss, Lieut. General Zia-Ur Rahman, as army chief of staff.

The reshuffling had barely begun. Soon after being sworn in as President, Sayem addressed the nation, promising a return to parliamentary rule by February 1977. A few hours later, Radio Bangladesh crackled with news that General Zia had returned to power, as chief of staff of the Bangladesh army but retaining the newly appointed Sayem as President. By this time, nobody knew which of the recent actors in this bloody drama were dead and which were alive. Khondakar was alive, because he broadcast an appeal for support for his successor. But the short-lived Chief of Staff Khalid was reported killed only a few hours after he had come to power. All over Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest, most overcrowded and most mismanaged nations, there were fearful signs of rising disorder.

Expectations From Upcoming Hasina-Manmohan Summit

Suffice to state that for a new beginning the outstanding problems must be dealt with most judiciously, and the sensitive and
emergent issue of transit/transhipment/transit corridor negotiated with due legal/ administrative and numerous other
considerations, writes Professor Dilara Choudhury.
DHAKA eagerly awaits the upcoming summit of the Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, in September 6-7, during which compressive and landmark treaties are expected to be signed, encompassing the resolution of outstanding irritants like border management problems, water sharing of common rivers, huge trade imbalance, etc.

Here in Dhaka, the general feeling is that Dhaka has already done its part and has gone out of the way to please India to improve Indo-Bangladesh ties. Actually, the efforts started very early and during the heydays of Indo-Bangladesh relations (1972-75), beginning from the return of Berubari in 1974, and consenting to allow India to test the feeder canal of the Farakka barrage, which led to its unilateral withdrawal of Ganges water, but in return Bangladesh only faced Indian intransigence.
These are not polemics. Look at the records.

It did not honour the promised lease of Tin Bigha corridor in perpetuity, connecting Bangladeshi enclaves Dahagram and Angarpota with Bangladeshi mainland, on the plea that it needed constitutional amendment, which supposedly prevented the ratification of the 1974 Land and Border Treaty, and its subsequent reluctance to address other issues, especially the sharing of common rivers water and rectification of the staggering trade imbalance. Delhi, on the other hand, accused Bangladesh of non-cooperative attitude. Taking that alleged fact into consideration, recently, Dhaka acted swiftly to meet New Delhi’s two important demands. First, the arrest and handover of north-eastern insurgents hiding in Bangladesh, to Indian authorities, enabling New Delhi to hold peace talks with the insurgents; and second, granting of transit/transhipment/transport corridor to New Delhi to its almost landlocked north-eastern provinces during the Delhi summit of 2010. Both are extremely crucial for India’s national security concerns as well as accruing hefty economic benefits.

Expectations in Dhaka, thus, are that it is now India’s turn to reciprocate, and do it in line with SAARC and Gujral Doctrine. However, the fact that as many as five chief ministers of Indian provinces bordering Bangladesh are on the prime minister’s entourage indicates that New Delhi, this time, hopefully, means business. It is anticipated that as a bigger neighbour it would respect Dhaka’s status as a small but sovereign country, and solve the outstanding problems with sagacity and generosity. We are hoping for a new beginning—a new dawn, a new breakthrough—in Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relations.

Suffice to state that for a new beginning the outstanding problems must be dealt with most judiciously, and the sensitive and emergent issue of transit/transhipment/transit corridor negotiated with due legal/ administrative and numerous other considerations. First, let us see how the outstanding issues can be tackled with a win-win situation for both.

Border management
THE Indo-Bangladesh border management problems are ticklish. Nonetheless, they need to be resolved. Demarcation of the remaining 6.5 kilometres at different Indo-Bangladesh sectors should be executed with extreme equity and fairness. Take the example of demarcation of the two-kilometre border in the Belonia sector. We feel that it should be guided by the 1974 treaty, which stipulated that ‘the line of separation between India and Bangladesh should be defined along the fix lines and not shifting lines, which happen as a shift of the common rivers along the border.’ Thus, the issue should be settled along the 1974 position when the agreement was signed between the two governments. Otherwise, Bangladesh would lose 40 acres of Muhirir char, which rightfully belongs to Bangladesh and is needed for its territorial security. Doykhata has been settled with mutual satisfaction and three kilometres at Latirtila should also be demarcated with the help of both map and traverse records. While dwelling on the topic, it is pertinent to point out about the total silence of both Bangladesh and India not to raise the issue of drawing the demarcation line long the south-western Hariabhaga river, which will affect Bangladesh’s maritime border if it is not done along the river’s midstream. It should be raised on the sidelines of the summit.

We find from the newspaper reports that substantial progress with regards to exchange of enclaves and adversely possessed land has been achieved. However, the modalities for such exchange have not yet been made public. It is assumed that it is being carried out in line with the 1974 treaty. In such eventualities, the loss of territory (around 10,000 acres without compensation) and the gain of territory (around 1,859.20 acres) for Bangladesh are to be clearly recorded and compensated. Moreover, it is exceedingly important to make sure that there would not be any repetition of the history of the Tin Bigha corridor fiasco, especially in the context of the Indian Supreme Court’s clear verdict that there is no impediment for India to ratify the 1974 treaty since it has signed the Nehru-Noon pact of 1958 and ratified the treaty through the ninth amendment to the constitution (Mizanur Rahman Khan, Prothom Alo, July 20).

Some of the border issues not only need equity and fairness but has to be looked from humanitarian grounds. India’s erection of barbed-wire fencing, whose several parts are electrified, around Bangladesh, Mr Prime Minister, is not a solution to prevent alleged Bangladeshi intrusion. The predicament of border people who have lived side by side for generations and forged family links should be specially treated on humanitarian grounds like review of the visa regime, and relaxation of the conditions for cross-border movements of citizens of both countries. The introduction of special transit pass for the border people could be a solution. Dhaka should also have assurances about having no fences along the border that runs through Sundarban. Another humanitarian concern is the killing of innocent Bangladeshis by the Border Security Force of India. Hundreds have been killed by BSF shooting. Now that the BSF has been ordered to use rubber bullets instead, they are now killing innocent Bangladeshis by stoning. It seems that the BSF is not that seriously concerned about the issue. Otherwise how could they stone a young Bangladeshi to death while the Indian home minister was visiting Bangladesh? How very spurious that even on the eve of Mr Manmohan Singh’s visit, one Bangladeshi has been stoned to death by Indian border security forces. This must stop. The figure must come to zero.

Water sharing of common rivers
BANGLADESH and India share 57 common rivers out of which 54 originate from India. Finding a mutually agreed formula and mechanism to share the common rivers water has been, like the border disputes, equally difficult. India as an upper riparian country, in defiance of international laws, has been depriving Bangladesh for its rightful share of common rivers water despite the fact that Bangladesh’s very existence depends on regular supply of water. As a result, as a lower riparian country, Bangladesh depends on India’s cooperation in getting the needed supply of water. Delhi has dealt with this problem on one-to-one basis instead of a comprehensive water sharing arrangement, which is intimidating for Bangladesh. Bangladesh is also worried about India’s proposed river-linking project and building of Tipaimukh dam both of which would have devastating impacts on Bangladesh. Although the Indian side says they would not take any steps detrimental to Bangladesh’s interest, the people are not fully assured. In the upcoming summit, concrete (written) assurances like that the projects are not even in their feasibility planning are needed. During the summit, however, Bangladesh and India would sign two treaties on the sharing of Teesta and Feni rivers.

The history of the Teesta barrage is quite lengthy. It was constructed by Bangladesh in 1990s to irrigate drought-prone areas of northwest Bangladesh through a network of canals for crop production. The impact of the barrage has been enormous in terms of socioeconomic benefits for the local people as well as significant increase in food production. Later, due to a barrage built by India on Teesta at Gozaldoba, 60 kilometres upstream, and its unilateral withdrawal of water from the Teesta through a network of canals, which are also augmented by water from the Mahananda, to south-western area part of West Bengal during the lean period, the flow in Bangladesh has come down to 1,000 cusecs from 8,000 cusecs. The scheme has completely devastated Bangladesh’s Teesta Barrage Project area. The crux of the problem is that during the lean period 16,000 cusecs and 8,000 cusecs are required by India and Bangladesh respectively and how the total need of 24,000 cusecs (16,000+8,000) of water can be shared with mutual satisfaction. Three things are important in this regard: (a) fixing of the timing of lean period, which is from September-October to March-April when the water flow is down to 1,000 cusecs at Teesta barrage; (b) determination of the apportionment point from among three stations: i) Godaldoba: Indian side of the barrage; (ii) Kownia: downstream in Bangladesh in between Teesta barrage and the extreme southern point of Teesta; (iii) Fatikchari: extreme southern point of Teesta in Bangladesh before it joins Brahmaputra. c) determination of the ratio of water.

India wants Fatikchari to be the apportionment point. It argues that the joining of two small rivers—Leesh and Geesh—right below the Teesta barrage, increases the volume of Teesta. So, Fatikchari should be the apportionment point. If Indian argument is accepted then Bangladesh would suffer because of a very unique nature of Teesta. What happens is while travelling through Bangladesh lots of Teesta water is absorbed in the soil. So by the time it reaches Fatikchari its volume becomes much less than it is at Gozaldoba. India also argues for Fatikchari to indicate that the waters of the Leesh and Geesh compensate for India’s withdrawal of the Mahananda’s water. As discussed above, that is not the reality. Bangladesh should insist on having apportionment location at Gozaldoba (from the conversation with the eminent water resources development expert Dr Ainun Nishat).

Also, in order to ensure Bangladesh’s food security and environment, Bangladesh should insist on having the following:

Determination of lean period which should be from August/September to March/April.
Godaldoba as the apportionment point.

Ratio should be 20 per cent (for the river)/35 per cent (for India)/45 per cent (for Bangladesh) based on the argument that since ‘the irrigation command is overwhelming within the Bangladesh territory; it should get lion’s share of the water’ (Abbas, The Ganges Treaty, 1984). Mr Dev Mukherjee, a former high commissioner of India to Bangladesh, in a recent interview with the Prothom Alo, also expressed similar opinion (Prothom Alo, August 18). Moreover, the unilateral withdrawal of water from the Mahananda by India into its Teesta irrigation canal should also be weighed when it comes to sharing of the Teesta water.
There should be a guarantee clause ensuring minimum flow of water during lean period.

The agreement must not be interim; rather, it should be renewable at the end of the each term with further modifications, if needed.

Have a written assurance that India would stop its river-linking project and building of the Tipaimukh dam.
Agreement to share the Feni river (a small river) is not that contentious. India wants to withdraw water from the Feni for supplying drinking water to Tripura. However, when the signing the treaty, Dhaka should keep in mind that the Feni is a very small river. So, even a small amount of withdrawal may affect its down-flow. Apportionment of water, therefore, should be cautiously calculated and it should insist on having strict monitoring mechanisms are at place.

Transit/transhipment/transport corridor
ANOTHER controversial issue has been whether or not Dhaka should grant transit/transhipment/transport corridor to India, which has been its longstanding demand, to have access to New Delhi’s almost landlocked north-eastern provinces. During the Delhi summit, Dhaka agreed to provide one-time transport corridor from Ashuganj to Agartala for Palatana 756MW power project in Tripura, and as many as fifteen land and rail transit routes were also identified for India. The main argument in favour of granting transits to India has been the huge economic benefits Bangladesh would accrue in transit, administrative and other compensatory fees. It was also apprehended that the act would enhance the SAARC spirit as well as global connectivity.

Since then a lot of controversies regarding the correct definition of these facilities as well as whether or not transit fees should be imposed have arisen. India’s demand that, as land routes are transits, they should be treated under the World Trade Organisation’s Article V, which would enable it to get a waiver in transit fees, is not acceptable. The fact is that these routes are not transits because, according to the WTO, transit routes go from one country through another country to a third country, whereas the routes going from one country through another country to its country of origin are transport corridors. This has been clearly discerned from the declaration of ONGC, who signed the memorandum on behalf of the Indian government for the Ashuganj-Akhaura route, that the route indeed is a transport corridor.

The question is: are these routes transits/transhipment/transport corridors? The definitions of both transit and transit corridors are stated clearly in the above. Why then the government of Bangladesh is giving such mixed messages and creating controversies? It is assumed that Bangladesh falls in line with India for two reasons: (i) it is apprehensive that granting of corridors to another country may be perceived as impingement on Dhaka’s sovereignty; (ii) it feels that since India has already declared its intention of not paying the transit fee, it is better to term them transits, and prepare the country not to nurture the dreams of earning an anticipated crores of foreign exchange.

It is, thus, most sincerely hoped that the definitions of 15 routes identified routes for facilitating Indian transports should be determined as per the definition of the WTO. If they are transport corridors like the ONGC’s declaration, then Article V of the WTO would not be applicable in these cases. With this realistic definition in mind both the countries should negotiate bilaterally the terms and conditions as well as the necessary fees including the transit fees under which these transports would ply through Bangladesh.

It is expected that both sides —
would ensure that security and sovereignty of Bangladesh are protected
have necessary guidelines for transportations
have necessary transit, administrative and service fees
have necessary fees on environmental impact (already 2,000 trees have been felled in order to widen Akhaura-Agartala route). For example, a hefty environmental fee is charged by of Switzerland for the negative environmental impact on the Alps due to the carbon emission of the passing transports;
have satisfactory fees in compensation for acquisition of land for broadening the road.

consider health issues, and mandatory requirement of a health certificate by the vehicle drivers.
lay down clear guideline for Nepal and Bhutan’s transit routes to reach Khulna and Mongla ports.

Unlike the testing of feeder canal of Farakka barrage and subsequent unilateral withdrawal of Ganges water, limit the Ashuganj-Akhura transport corridor to one-time use only.

Unlike the memorandum signed in the Akhaura-Agartala case, make treaties of transits/corridors public.

BANGLADESH and India has a staggering trade imbalance to the extent of $3 billion in formal and $2.5 billion in informal trade. This issue should be addressed seriously. The main reasons for such huge trade gap are following:

The volume of Bangladesh’s export is very low in comparison with India’s.

India has imposed tariff and non-tariff barriers preventing Bangladesh’s products to enter into India’s market.
India has a long list of sensitive products.

Informal trade, which is highly skewed in favour of India, deprives Bangladesh from its revenues.
However, exports to India have recently experienced a significant rise. Despite this increase, the trade imbalance is highly lopsided.

In the joint communiqué it has been declared that New Delhi would remove tariff and non tariff barriers and reduce the sensitive list. India would allow duty free access of Bangladeshi products in Indian market. In this respect India would support to standardise the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution in order to strengthen land custom.

Let us hope that the following would be taken into consideration:

Realisation of the promises in joint communiqué.

Removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

India should have a bilateral free-trade agreement with Bangladesh, a least developed country.

Complete elimination of products from the sensitive list.

Elimination of rampant smuggling across the border.

Institution of supportive measures so that exports could increase at a much faster pace.
Facilitations of Indo-Bangladesh joint ventures.

TO END our discussion, we can only state that the treaties signed by the prime ministers of both countries should create win-win situations for both countries. This is a golden opportunity for both, especially for India, to instil trust in the hearts and minds of the people in Bangladesh, which in the final analysis, forms the lasting foundation for a cordial and friendly relationship.
By - Professor Dilara Choudhury. 

Anna Advocacy: Politics As Performance, Spectacle

John Samuel analyses the relevance and irrelevance of Team Anna’s media-driven mode of advocacy, which unfortunately sought only to transcend politics, not transform it.

ONE of the positive outcomes of the recent mobilisation for the Lokpal Bill to challenge corruption at various levels of government is that it has revitalised political debate in India, particularly among the apolitical class. Though, in terms of substantive demands, Team Anna has achieved nothing new (they simply changed the goalposts on some of their earlier demands), they did succeed in putting corruption at the centre of political discourse. They also showed the possibilities for a new politics.

The ongoing debates and discussions in cyberspace, in media, in drawing rooms and in public spaces in a way signify the relevance of social mobilisation. It is the political debates about the nature and character of ‘representative democracy’, new modes of mobilisation and the relevance (or irrelevance) of the ‘old’ left in new India, etc that are more interesting than the advocacy campaign itself.
The Anna movement is indicative of a number of trends. Here are 10 broad observations on some of the changing trends.

1. There is little space for the politically aware middle class to join a political party or mainstream political process as political parties are still in the old mode, allowing no room for horizontal entry beyond the usual feeder mechanisms. Even today, in most political parties (except for the left parties) lineage matters more than political vision, commitment or grassroots experience. One in every six MPs is there because of his/her family connections.

2. The software of Indian politics is changing though the hardware has not changed. The political and policy process in India has changed significantly in the last 15 years. There is a new middle class with more access to knowledge, technology, social networking, income and global exposure. Modes of power, social legitimation and leadership have changed significantly in the last 20 years. However, the structural character of the Indian political party system is still based on a model that emerged in the early-1980s, the post-emergency period in Indian politics.

3. Modes of communication determine modes of mobilisation and also modes of politics in many ways. Look at how the profile of political leaders has changed with televised political communication. Few have worked directly with the people or mobilised them at the grassroots. Many have walked onto the political stage through the TV studios. They are telegenic and articulate and derive their political legitimacy in the television studios, though they may not be at ease with the dust and sweat of the road or the noise of the masses. Many of them have been lawyers or relatively better-educated members of the urban upper-middle class. Consider Kapil Sibal, Manu Abhishek Singhvi, P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat.

Telegenic politics has caused journalism itself to become a ‘performance’ in the TV studios or on the road, eclipsing the old modes of analytical journalism and nuanced critique. This kind of instant journalism is all about playing to the moment and performing for an imagined community. Mass politics has been submerged under this form of media politics. The market and the media have collided to create an instant ‘sensex’ of politics.

It is here that new-age advocacy actors from the non-party political/civil space have begun to outsmart the old politicians by performing media politics and utilising network modes of mobilisation. They are the telegenic civil society counterparts of the telegenic politicians. They belong to the same class: articulate, urban, upper-caste middle class. The people were to them largely the means and not the end of democracy. Rhetoric often preceded the reality of a billion people. In a world where market, media and telegenic performance determine political clout, the new civil society too has learned the art of politics as performance, competing for TRP ratings in the marketplace of media mediation.

But now in the age of social media and new possibilities of communications, the name of the game is changing again. Here, the civil society actors are ahead of the old political class in shaping perceptions of power through communications. The power of influencing perception has become more important than the real power of the people on the ground. Politics itself has been reduced to a ‘virtual’ game in the marketplace of perceptions.

4. When mainstream political parties are reduced to an electoral network that merely wins or loses elections, other actors fill the empty political spaces. That is precisely the reason for the relevance and space of new advocacy networks and organisations—from KSSP to Narmada Bachao, to the RTI movement, to the right to work (NREGA) campaign to the present anti-corruption campaigns. Look at all the key legislations (including the campaign for political participation of women) in the last 15 years. None of them came from the mainstream political parties. Most of the demand first emerged in the political-civil space beyond political parties; then political parties responded by absorbing the demands into policy agenda. This is bound to happen when the sole preoccupation of political parties is winning or losing an election, and then staying in power.

Ideology has taken a backseat—except in empty slogans and rhetoric. The politics of electoral convenience has replaced the politics of conviction. Political opportunism has been elevated to the position of ‘smart’ politics—hiring media experts, advertising professionals, campaign managers, and slogans coined by copywriters of ad-firms in charge of designing the best campaigns to grab more seats (by hook or by crook). This is a far cry from the idealistic politics of the Nehruvian phase in post-independence India.

When ideology (or political vision/mission) is replaced by a mix of identity- (caste, creed, language) and interest-based electoral arithmetic, the politics of transformation is reduced to pressure politics and redundant, ‘instant’ rhetoric. It is in such spaces that civil society activism find its relevance and influence in the mainstream political landscape of India.

5. Whether one likes it or not, the middle class has always shaped the broader political discourse in India and elsewhere—from communism to capitalism to fascism to Hindutva. So the role of the middle class in Indian politics is not new. Most of the ideologues and political leaders have come from the Indian middle class, and largely from the upper caste.

Anna Hazare happened to be simply a signifier: here the old idealism met with new modes of mobilisation—beyond the usual institutional network of political parties. There is also a message: those in government or power can no longer simply take the people for granted. And in the age of social networking, mobilisation and public opinions can also be shaped beyond mainstream media and mainstream politics. This gives rise to the possibility of a new politics beyond the electoral games we witness every five years.

6. The rural-urban divide has political implications in India. In independent India, there have been four major political transitions—the end of the 1960s Nehruvian era; the end of one-party rule following the emergency; the emergence of telegenic politics in the 1990s and the age of globalisation; and assertive Hindutva competing for the vote-bank late-1980s onwards. Almost all of these periods have had an urban middle class link—even in the case of the Naxalites—in shaping the discourse.

7. However, it would be rather simplistic to compare the new social network-based mobilisation of the urban middle classes to the Gandhian mode of political struggles for freedom against colonialism and imperialism. Politics against injustice, oppression and domination preceded the methods of Gandhi. Gandhian methods did not define his politics. His politics and ethics shaped his choice of methods and communication. Gandhi’s politics was the politics of the masses and not the politics of the mass media. Gandhi worked and lived with the people, listened to them, educated and empowered them and spent a lifetime experimenting with his ideas and methods, without compromising the ideal of transformation. Gandhi sought to transform politics, not transcend politics.

Here, in the media-driven performance of Team Anna, method preceded politics. This was the politics of instant performance, seeking to influence the perceptions of a particular class, rather than a mass politics to challenge and change the situation. It sought to transcend politics rather than transform politics. It sought to create symbols devoid of substance. It is interesting to note how Team Anna team played to the needs of the media market. The protest performance began with the backdrop of an image of Bharat Mata (Mother India), appealing to upper-caste Hindu sentiments, and when this was criticised for its saffron leanings, the backdrop was changed to an elegantly designed photograph of Gandhiji with the charkha, and the waving of the national flag to ‘nationalise’ and ‘secularise’ the performance of the fast. This colourful performance of protest, where Kiran Bedi played the cheerleader on the ‘stage’ and Anna pretended to be Gandhi was a spectacle of politics aimed at the media. The masses became simply a means to show power rather than the real source of power. This was a mockery of Gandhian principles, practice and methods of politics. The media followed Gandhi’s politics. Here the politics of performance followed the media.

9. Anna was just a symbol in a campaign primarily promoted by Delhi-centric upper-caste and middle-class actors. Anna, an ex-armyman from rural India of the jai jawan-jai kisan variety with a bit of the Gandhian touch and grassroots NGO background, was set against an urban backdrop, with mass media filling in the gaps: Anna symbolised the ‘old’ India onscreen, and young India was represented by the youth on the streets, the whole performance televised. Kiran Bedi put up a good performance for the media, of the elite, post-retirement ‘civil service’ transiting into ‘civil society’. ‘Civil society’ itself became a residual space for the new elites to find their niche within the media mediations. Bollywood star Aamir Khan added the celebrity quotient to the new ‘civil society’ performers manufactured by the media.

You have to admit it was a smart experiment in new modes of advocacy campaigning—making strategic use of symbols (Anna too was one), media and networking. This was not a political struggle or a satyagraha of Gandhian politics. It was a smart, urban-based advocacy campaign. Though there are many interesting lessons to learn from it, India against Corruption’s campaign cannot be compared with the salt satygraha or even the anti-emergency campaign.

How can a bill drafted by four or five people make the rather tall claim of being a people’s (Jan) Lokpal Bill? They hardly consulted people on the ground in a diverse country of more than a billion. They sought to connect with people through media, rather than the other way around, adding soft-saffron and celebrity characters for the ever-hungry TV cameras.

10. While I think the mobilisation is indicative of a trend, I do not agree with the content and modes of Team Anna, particularly its claim to be a ‘second freedom struggle’ or mass-based politics. Bringing thousands of people out on the streets in a few cities of India through media and networking is not a substitute for substantive politics in a country of 1.2 billion people.

In a parliamentary democracy, the role of parliament is cardinal. Political parties are the main political force in the country that sustains the health of a representative system of democracy. I also think there are a large number of committed and aware politicians with a sense of integrity. Just because a section of politicians and political party system is corrupt does not mean that the political class as a whole is corrupt.

While it may be important to challenge and influence those who hold power in the state, it is also important to recognise the limitations of the quick-fix, 11-day wonders of televised mobilisation. Because such advocacy campaigns can create the illusion of a sound democratic political process when actually these televised quick-fix mobilisations can undermine real political or democratic struggles on the ground. The campaign for the so-called ‘Jan’ Lokpal Bill was an example of a relatively successful advocacy campaign for a policy change, and not an example of a political struggle for freedom or against injustice.

However, the Anna Hazare spectacle has illustrated that politics in India in the next 10 years may be dramatically different in terms of modes of mobilisation, composition of leadership and the issues that would arise. The mode of mobilisation of those who are born in the 1980s has shifted. The anti-corruption campaign just happened to be a space to voice a discontent with the mainstream political party process in India where lineage matters more than real politics. If political parties do not change their hardware and present modes of operation, many of them will not be able to mobilise people in the years to come.

By - John Samuel. 

BANGLADESH: Vengeance In Victory

For nearly nine months Pakistani soldiers routinely raped Bengali women, razed houses and shot unarmed villagers in a campaign of terror designed to intimidate and pacify East Pakistan. That brutality became one of India's justifications for attacking in the East, and critics of U.S. policy pointed it out as a reason why the U.S. should not be associated with the military regime of Islamabad. Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, brutal acts of revenge by the other side are following India's military triumph and the establishment of what is now the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

In Dacca last week, a rally held to seek the release of the imprisoned Bangladesh leader Sheik Mujibur Rahman suddenly became a public execution. Four trussed-up men who had been accused of assaulting Bengali women were brought to a public park near the Dacca Race Course, where the rally was being held. As thousands of spectators cheered, the men were tortured for more than an hour and then bayoneted to death. Other prisoners, particularly razakars, or members of the army-backed East Pakistani militia, have been summarily executed since the war ended. What distinguished the Dacca incident was the fact that Western newsmen were on hand to record the scene and send out photographs despite the determined censorship efforts of Indian authorities.

To deter that kind of visceral revenge all across Bangladesh, Indian troops were doing their diplomatic best last week to disarm the guerrilla Mukti Bahini, who now number about 100,000. The Bengalis' desire for retaliation against their oppressors was intensified by evidence that Pakistani soldiers had committed atrocities even after it was apparent that the war had been lost. In Dacca, Indian troops discovered a mass grave containing the mutilated bodies of 125 of the 400 leading Bengali intellectuals who had been kidnaped in the last days of the war. They had apparently been killed a few hours before the Indians took control of the city. If Bengalis seek revenge for such murders, they may slaughter many of the estimated 1,500,000 Biharis—or non-Bengali Moslems—who now constitute an imperiled minority in the new state.

With considerable uncertainty, Bangladesh last week also took the first steps toward establishing an independent government. Since West Pakistan's suppression last March of the Awami League, which had pressed for autonomy in the East, a Bangladesh government in exile has been working from inside India. Last week its leaders flew home from Calcutta's Dum Dum Airport in an Indian air force Caribou, one of the few aircraft that could land on Dacca airport's bombed-out runway. Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and Foreign Minister Khandikar Moshtaque were wildly welcomed by 100,000 Daccans who had flocked to the airport to meet them. One of the incoming government's first acts was to pay a call on the wife of Sheik Mujib, who is still a captive of West Pakistan.

Formidable Tasks. The tasks facing the new leaders of Bangladesh are formidable to say the least. So far, their government has been recognized only by the kingdom of Bhutan and by India. Soon relief supplies from the U.S. and other nations will arrive to begin the task of rebuilding the country and providing for the 10 million Bengali refugees who will be swarming back from West Bengal. Longer-term economic aid for Bangladesh development, however, will have to wait until the government proves its viability. Politically there is trouble ahead, too. Growing radical factions in the youthful Mukti Bahini clearly are not content with the prospect of being ruled by the middle-of-the-roaders of the Awami League. Independence, in short, appears to be just the beginning of trouble for Bangladesh.

Is Barbed-Wire Fencing Consistent Wth Friendly Relations?

BANGLADESH’S immediate neighbour is India. Save for a relatively small tract of frontier shared with Myanmar to the southeast, and the Bay of Bengal to the south, Bangladesh is surrounded by its mighty neighbour India from all sides. Since the inception of Bangladesh, business and commerce with India, which has seen rapid advances in the past few decades, has been heading towards a grossly disproportionate bias towards India. This is one of the thorniest issues and of late a number of such disputed issues have gathered moss for having remained unresolved for years.(New Age BD)

Bangladesh, contrary to established norms when it comes to friendly relations, has come to enjoy rather a curiously multifaceted and multi-layered relationship with India that has come to be defined and influenced by various exogenous factors. Significant among these is the political tilt of the government towards India. Overall, however, while a positive outlook may be best summarised regarding the level of relationship between Bangladesh and India, it would be worth a mention that underneath this fine but notoriously unstable veneer lies an undercurrent of prickly issues which, while not publicly acknowledged, has come to evoke considerable unease and disconcerting views among various quarters in Bangladesh.

Predominant among these thorny issues which have yet to be amicably and constructively sorted out is the issue of cross-border shootings by the Border Security Force, India’s border enforcers, of Bangladeshi nationals on often flimsy grounds. Of late, this issue has come to enjoy a vastly expanded horizon of attention among the general populace and experts alike in Bangladesh. However, equally perplexing is the relatively lethargic pace of Bangladesh’s reactions to such occurrences. While such occurrences have shot up alarmingly in the past few years, the lack of an effective approach by both the Bangladesh government and the Indian government to address the underlying factors is undeniably helping to further exacerbate the problem.

Furthermore, there is the general feeling of India’s border guards being given a free rein to pull in all the stops with regards to halting the flow of illegal migrants from Bangladesh to India with impunity. Thus, the lack of an effective framework to deal with various associated outstanding issues, in particular the issues of enclaves and exclaves and border demarcation, has led the Indian authorities to act boldly against Bangladeshi nationals attempting to cross the border. Fanning the flames further is what can be best described as apparent meekness on part of the Bangladesh government in its perceived reluctance to lodge strongly-worded protests with the Indian government.

It should be noted that in December 2010, a galling report by the internationally renowned NGO Human Rights Watch has further elevated the level of awareness regarding the plight that Bangladeshi nationals have to face near the border with India. The report, aptly named ‘Trigger Happy’, documents extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment by the BSF.

Many people routinely move back and forth across Bangladesh’s border with India to visit relatives, procure supplies, and search for jobs. However, some engage in petty and serious cross-border crimes. The Border Security Force is mandated to address illegal activities, such as narcotics smuggling, human trafficking, and transporting fake currency and explosives. It also works to stop militants planning violent attacks in India’s restive northeast. However, in its pursuit to oversee its objectives it would appear that the BSF tends to be rather too liberal with regards to pulling the trigger.

In many of the cases which have been investigated by Human Rights Watch, however, the victims were cattle rustlers, farmers, or labourers who said they were hoping to supplement their meagre livelihoods by working as couriers in the lucrative but illegal cattle trade that is rampant at the West Bengal border.

Of late, visiting Indian high officials have given ironclad assurances that they would see to it that cross-border shooting incidents are toned down to a minimum, and would also encourage the use of rubber bullets, instead of conventional ammunition which are inherently lethal to stop influx of Bangladeshis into India. According to a report, although border killings by the BSF has come down quite significantly this year, at least 17 Bangladeshis were mowed down by BSF fire and 49 others wounded between January and June. Thus, it becomes apparent for an exhaustive solution to this quagmire, it is imperative to approach some of the bigger issues that stand at a stalemate between India and Bangladesh, the ramifications of which have allowed this practice of shooting by the BSF at Bangladeshi citizens to thrive and go unbridled.

Of another growing concern is the fact that a comprehensive barbed-wire border fencing network, at a cost of $2.1 billion, is scheduled for completion in the near future. While in India, the 1,790-mile fence, which barricades nearly the entirety of the India-Bangladesh border, is seen as a cure to the persistent ills of illegal immigration from Bangladesh, influx of ‘terrorist elements’ from Bangladesh as well as safeguarding jobs in the economy, to ordinary Bangladeshis, this barrier seems emblematic of what can be misconstrued as India’s irrational fears of a neighbour seemingly based upon rather ludicrous grounds.

Furthermore, among other thorny issues that remain to be settled is the issue of Bangladeshi exclaves located on Indian soil. Owing to the perceived shortcomings of the Bangladeshi government, as well as lack of any institutional framework, the citizens of these enclaves are deprived of the rights and services that Bangladeshi citizens are entitled to. Thus, to come to the mainland, these people have to risk their very lives while trying to sneak past the border below the BSF’s notice, as catching their attention would almost inevitably means shooting.

With regards to the issue to exclaves and enclaves, and resolving of other outstanding issues though, one positive that can be gleaned is that Indian home minister P Chidambaram expressed optimism, during his recent visit to Bangladesh, that these issues would be resolved before Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s arrival on September 6. However, the reality is that for many reasons not to be mentioned, people of the country in general are less optimistic regarding any groundbreaking resolution of the various outstanding issues.

By - Ikteder Ahmed.

Deals With India : Govt’s Go-Alone Attitude Dangerous

WITH the visit of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, just round the corner (he is scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on September 6), it increasingly seems that the Awami League-Jatiya Party government’s groundwork for what it so enthusiastically dubs as a landmark in the Bangladesh-India relations are neither adequate, let alone foolproof, nor above and beyond question or controversy.

Of course, the government has undertaken elaborate steps with regard to security and protocol for the Indian prime minister and his entourage; however, what appears to be missing is exhaustive analysis and constructive debate on the issues that Dhaka is likely to enter into agreements with New Delhi. The proposed government plan to allow India transit for trade with third countries through the Chittagong and Mongla seaports is a case in point. According to a report front-paged in New Age on August 30, officials in relevant ministries seem to believe that the prime minister’s economic and international affairs advisers, who they say are steering the move after India expressed its intent to sign a new agreement to use the Chittagong and Mongla seaports for its trade with other countries, are giving misinterpretations of the agreements and protocols signed between the two countries in 1972 and 1980.

The government has hardly made any effort to initiate any open consultation with the intelligentsia or within the political class, let alone a public debate, on the agreements that it plans to sign with its Indian counterpart during Manmohan Singh’s September 6-7 visit. In fact, the incumbents have kept the content and intent veiled from the public, for reasons only they seem to know. Thus far, save the occasional, and vague, statements by the prime minister’s economic and international advisers, made mostly to the media, print and electronic, the government seems to have kept the relevant issues under wraps. Suffice it to say, there are questions about the modalities of the transit/transhipment agreement that should have been thoroughly discussed and debated. For example, the government has not made it clear that if India is after all allowed to use the Chittagong and Mongla seaports for trade with other countries, under what legal framework such allowance will be provided. Nor has it clarified what will be the arbitration/resolution mechanism in case of any future dispute. Similarly, in case of agreements on sharing of common rivers, it is not clear whether or not a guarantee clause will be incorporated.

India’s preparations, on the other hand, seem to have been as elaborate as can be. The composition of the Indian prime minister’s provides an ample pointer in this regard. The chief ministers of five Indian states bordering Bangladesh, in other words the states that will be in the thick of actions once the agreements on transit or transhipment or however one would like to put it are signed and implemented, are scheduled to accompany Manmohan Singh, as will a number of experts on the transit- or transhipment-related issues. Notably, not all the chief ministers belong to the ruling United Progressive Alliance led by Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party. The inclusion of experts suggests that New Delhi has not only covered the political front but the technical ground as well. In short, the Congress-led government seems to have taken adequate preparation—political, technical, etc—to ensure that India makes most of its prime minister’s upcoming visit.

As indicated before, the same cannot be said about the government of Sheikh Hasina. Its attitude and actions have thus far been non-transparent and decidedly undemocratic, which risks making the agreements with India the source of lasting controversy and contention. Most importantly, its refusal to make its preparation for the upcoming summit with India may very well leave Bangladesh in a no-win situation and the country and the people may have to pay the price for such eventuality in years to come.

BANGLADESH: Recognizing Reality

Bangladesh is gaining recognition. Last week Britain, West Germany and ten other Western states formally recognized the new nation, bringing to 29 the number of countries that have established diplomatic relations with the government of Sheik Mujibur Rahman. Britain's decision, Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home told the House of Commons shortly before he left for a visit to India, "recognized the reality of what has happened in the area over the past month, and will be the beginning for us of a new era of friendship and cooperation with all the countries of the subcontinent."

Recognition by Britain, even though it had been expected for some time, was cause for jubilation in Dacca. Smiling, Mujib told newsmen that his country would join the Commonwealth. The alliance is expected to serve as a balance to Bangladesh ties with the Soviet Union, a staunch ally of the Bengalis in the nine-month civil war with West Pakistan.

Not the Last. An unanswered question is what Washington will do about Bangladesh. The State Department said last week that recognition "is not under active consideration," although Administration sources have suggested that the U.S. "would not be the last" to recognize Bangladesh. President Nixon is still angry at India for going to war with Pakistan. The Administration also wants to give Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto time to establish some form of association with Mujib's government—unlikely as that link now seems.

While Bangladesh approached Commonwealth status, Pakistan was quitting it. Then Bhutto flew to Peking, where the Chinese agreed to convert $110 million in loans to Pakistan into grants and to defer payment of a $200 million loan made last year.

For all its diplomatic conquests, Bangladesh was still coping with internal turmoil. In two Dacca suburbs bitter fighting broke out between Bengalis and members of the hated pro-Pakistan Bihari minority. The incident apparently began when some Pakistani soldiers, who had escaped capture by hiding among Bihari sympathizers since the surrender in December, began firing at refugees returning to claim their homes. Troops of the Bangladesh army were sent in to flush them out. In the fighting, at least 100 Bengali troops were reported killed or wounded, as well as an undisclosed number of civilians.

At a huge arms surrender ceremony in Dacca, Mujib pleaded for tolerance and forgiveness for the Biharis. The Mukti Bahini turned in at least 20,000 weapons at the ceremony, and government officials were satisfied that the number of arms yet to be collected from the guerrilla army was small.

Inevitably, however, Bengali passions were further inflamed by new discoveries of atrocities committed by the Pakistan army. No one was safe from the bloodbath; in the last days before the surrender, Pakistani troops killed Indian army prisoners and even their own wounded. In three sites near the city of Khulna, great piles of human skulls and skeletons led observers to estimate that 100,000 people died in that area alone. To determine the full extent of the carnage, Mujib has ordered a house-to-house census throughout the country.

Violence In Karachi : Into The Abyss

Gangsters and politicians collude to turn Karachi into a hell for ordinary folk.

ETHNIC warfare in Pakistan’s most populous city has reached such a level that Karachi’s ambulance service now has to send out a driver matching the racial make-up of the destination district to pick up the victims of gang attacks. Otherwise, the district’s gunmen will not let the ambulance through. Now ambulances themselves are coming under fire, as gangsters try to stop them saving the lives of their enemies. Karachi’s ethnic wars have claimed some 1,000 lives this year, with more than 100 in the past week alone. By contrast the Taliban and other religious extremists kill tiny numbers in Karachi.

A grisly new feature of the carnage is that people are not just being shot. They are being abducted and tortured; then their bullet-ridden, mutilated bodies are dumped in sacks and left in alleyways and gutters. Victims’ limbs, genitals or heads are often severed. Torture cells operate across Karachi. The butchery is filmed on mobile phones and passed around, spreading the terror further. Most victims are ordinary folk randomly targeted for their ethnicity.

At the city’s Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, a public facility, doctors treat only Mohajirs, who dominate the local district and are the biggest ethnic group in Karachi. Mohajirs are descendants of those who moved to Pakistan from India in 1947, when the subcontinent was partitioned. Ambulance crews must determine the ethnicity of patients and take them to the right hospital.

If this were just a turf war between criminal gangs, things might be brought under control. But each gang has the patronage of a mainstream political party, in a fight that exploded in 2008 when an election was held to end Pakistan’s latest period of military rule. Political support for warring ethnic gangs means the police largely stay out of the conflict: each gang will call on political muscle if its henchmen are rounded up. The provincial authorities launched a crackdown this week, but little is expected of it.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a party established in the 1980s that claims to represent the Mohajirs, once had an iron grip over Karachi. That monopoly is now being challenged by the Awami National Party, which says it speaks for the ethnic Pushtun population, who migrated from the north-west of the country, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of President Asif Zardari, which heads the ruling coalition in the capital, Islamabad. Its gang following is ethnic Baloch, from the neighbouring province of Balochistan. It is the MQM versus the rest.

The conflict’s ferocity may yet threaten Pakistan’s fragile return to democracy. In recent days Karachi businesses have called for the army to restore order. Violence in Karachi was repeatedly used as part of the justification for toppling four national governments in the 1990s. This city of 18m people is Pakistan’s economic lifeline, and the port through which most supplies reach NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Away from the ritzy villas of Defence and Clifton districts, the people of Karachi’s 3,500 square-kilometre (1,350 square-mile) sprawl live in decrepit homes and apartment blocks set on narrow, filthy streets, where gangs rule with near impunity. Trouble often flares when one ethnic ghetto abuts another.

In Korangi, a ramshackle semi-industrial district in the east of the city mainly inhabited by Mohajirs, Pervez has not been to work for 20 days. He mends tyres on Tariq Road in the city centre, a half-hour bus ride away. But since gangs started pulling people off buses and killing them, he has been too afraid to venture out. “The Pushtuns will cut your throat,” Pervez says. “If I am killed, what will my children do?”

Kashif Malik, a 32-year-old rickshaw driver and PPP activist, was at home with a friend, Shoib, in Orangi Town, in Karachi’s north-west, when gunmen came to the door. Shoib was killed, while Mr Malik was lucky only to be shot in the arm. He is sure the assailants were from the MQM. Mr Malik insists that joining a political party offers the safest protection these days. “A lone person cannot survive in Karachi,” says Mr Malik from his bed at the Civil Hospital. Most of those killed are not involved with any political party. Language, clothes and even haircuts betray a person’s ethnicity to the killing squads.

For more than two decades the MQM has collected extortion money, known as bata, from businesses and homes across the city. Now, using the political backing they acquired in the 2008 election, gangsters associated with the PPP and the Awami National Party, in a loose alliance, also want their share of cash, at the heart of the conflict. Businesses now have to pay off up to three rival groups. In the past week Karachi’s markets selling marble, bathroom tiles and medicines have separately staged protests against bata.

As for the political parties, they seem to be able to turn the violence off and on as it suits them. This suggests that these are not mere criminals draping themselves in the party flag, but rather integral parts of the parties’ political machines. If the violence continues, more ordinary people will be forced to seek the protection of a political party, to which they will have to pay more dues. Perhaps this is what the politicians are aiming for. 

“You can call this the politicisation of crime, or the criminalisation of politics,” says a security official in the city. “The state has lost its writ in Karachi.”

India And Bangladesh : Go East, Old Man

THERE are those times when a leader tells his counterpart to tear down a wall and the thing comes tumbling down. Then there are those times when countries accept that the physical barriers between them will only grow stronger even while their leaders insist that economic integration and great feelings of friendship are booming.
Ahead of a visit to Bangladesh next week by India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, officials from both sides have been acting as if economic ties—stunted by decades of mistrust and neglect—will soon be soaring, such as to match political ties of almost indecent buoyancy. That's the official story.

An improvement can be guaranteed when you start out with next to nothing. Despite the two countries’ shared history and geography, India is not even among Bangladesh’s top-ten foreign investors. India may have close political ties with its eastern neighbour. But China wins the economic competition in Bangladesh hands down. China is Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner, as well as its primary supplier of military equipment. And it seems that not a month goes by without Chinese companies winning contracts to build power stations, roads, telecoms and other infrastructure in Bangladesh. 

Mr Singh is to visit next week, and his Congress-party boss, Sonia Gandhi, visited last month, but China’s leader in waiting, Xi Jinping, visited Bangladesh more than a year ago. For Bangladesh this is not a bad spot to be in. Its government is expected to exploit the country’s strategically important location on the Bay of Bengal to extract concessions on trade and aid from both India and China. 

India has already sanctioned a $1 billion loan to Bangladesh (its largest-ever to a foreign country) and held out the promise of electricity exports and trade concessions. Billions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled across the 4,100km (2,500-mile) Indo-Bangladesh border every year. Making that trade legal would make the official figures look more respectable. This week India’s home minister, P. Chidambaram, laid the foundation stone for one of seven planned trading posts along the border. If this sudden burst of enthusiasm for economic integration catches on, Bangladeshis may soon have to come up with a new nickname for India’s Border Security Force. These days the BSF is insulted as the Border Smuggling Force. 

Yet for now, every one of Bangladesh’s poorest 32 districts (out of 64) has something odd in common: each shares a border with India. 

Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, is not asking Mr Singh to dismantle the iron fence that runs along the world’s fifth-longest international border. It cost India billions of dollars to build and enforce and still defines its wonky border (also one of the world’s bloodiest). Instead Sheikh Hasina appears to be urging India not to let unresolved problems stand in the way of things that can be done. She has already refuted one notion that held sway in Bangladesh, by proving that being openly pro-Indian does not always mean losing elections.

The enthusiasm generated by the flying 30-hour visit that Mr Singh has scheduled for September 6th and 7th is not entirely misplaced. He is expected to sign a deal on sharing water from the Teesta river. And he will be the first Congress party prime minister to visit Bangladesh since 1972. An agreement of friendship and co-operation was signed in Dhaka in the year after the new country’s independence from Pakistan, by the then-prime minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh’s first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. 

Since then, a raft of bilateral issues has been festering. Time has added a few more items to the list of unresolved issues. They include trade, transit, terrorism and disputes over water and territory. Midwife to Bangladesh’s birth forty years ago, India nowadays tends to be regarded in the public mind as a wicked, overbearing stepmother. 

Is it the perceived threat of cross-border terrorism, security concerns in India’s north-east or China’s increasing influence that is renewing India’s interest in its neighbour to the east? Bangladeshis have a deep-rooted suspicion that India still dreams of regional hegemony.

An inadvertent posting in June on Mr Singh’s official website, disclosing remarks the prime minister made about Bangladesh to newspaper editors in Delhi, has not helped. Mr Singh told reporters that “we must reckon that at least 25% of the population of Bangladesh swears by the Jamiat-ul-Islami [sic] and they are very anti-Indian and they are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI,” that is, Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spooks. (The text has since been replaced with a sanitised version that does not mention Bangladesh). 

The fact that some have portrayed Mr Singh’s visit as the start of something new reflects the low expectations against which any possible improvement in bilateral ties must be measured. Consider the basic nature of what India and Bangladesh hope to achieve. Both countries are attempting to establish ties that West and East Germany were able to take for granted even at the height of the Cold War: an undisputed international border; only infrequent border killings; and a well-established transit system for trains, goods and passengers—income from which helped the poorer country to pay its bills. 

India is likely to make concessions as long as its security concerns are not compromised. One area where progress is likely to be made is the planned swapping of parcels of territory and an agreement to define 6.5km of disputed border. It would be a success for India, which could have an undisputed international border on its eastern front by the stroke of a pen by next week.