Friday, October 14, 2011

The Teesta, Transit And Obfuscation

Enigmatic abstruseness, laced with inscrutable charade, bewilders and perturbs the body politic as to who is speaking the truth when it comes to talking about the transit issue. Everybody from the PM to her cabinet colleagues including foreign minister as well as the all-important economic adviser and the foreign affairs adviser seem to be in a mood to pull the wool over people’s eyes. The Government’s decision to allow India to transport Indian goods through its territory without any trans-shipment fees has drawn sharp criticism by experts. The economic adviser said there was no relationship between the Teesta river water sharing deal and the provision of transhipment facilities to India. 

Though it was asserted that Dhaka did not sign the transit treaty, considerable measures are provided in clause 41 of the 65-point joint statement on formalities for using Chittagong and Mongla seaports for transporting goods to and from India through water, rail and road. A few weeks later Indian vessels carried cargo to Ashuganj en route Tripura. There was no routine check by customs staff nor was any tariff levied. 
Most of the people including a section of ruling Awami League (AL) leaders are questioning whether PM Sheikh Hasina is inviting a man-made disaster by sticking to her improper determination that the next general election will be held under her government, and not under a non-party interim administration called Caretaker Government —- for the enactment of which the AL leaders and activists launched terrifying programmes in 1996 and all hell broke loose. The system, brainchild of the Jamaat-e-Islami but enthusiastically adopted by AL as the singular agenda for movement and agitation against the BNP government, was institutionalised by means of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1996. Noted jurist of international acclaim, Dr Kamal Hossain, termed the government’s decision “suicidal”.

It needs no elaboration that the ruling Awami League (AL) government has opened a Pandora’s Box by annulling the Government CG system. On 10 May 2011 the Supreme Court of Bangladesh repealed the 13th amendment to the Constitution declaring the Non-party CG void and ultra vires to the Constitution; but allowed holding of “two more parliamentary elections” under the CG. Disregarding the second part of the verdict —- which is most crucial in Bangladesh context —- the AL has abolished it in parliament. 

Since time immemorial, the Teesta River has been flowing from Sikkim to India and from there to Bangladesh which has the natural fundamental right to get equal share of its water according to international laws and covenants, of which India and Bangladesh are co-signatories. But over the past three decades the issue of sharing of its water —- which is flowing into this land maybe for millions of years —- has become a bargaining chip in negotiations with India. vis-à-vis granting transit facility. 

Indeed, granting transit —- which is not for all intents and purposes a right but a privilege —- to big neighbour India as a quid pro quo for fair share of the river’s water for the impoverished and underprivileged Bangladeshi cultivators is not reasonable, given the miserably frail and fragile condition of infrastructure here. Contrarily, a press report dated 30 September said that Indians are withdrawing the water of the Feni river through 24 low-lift pumps. 

As a matter of fact, a vast country like India with her huge resources should not have stuck to conditionality; nevertheless that is the bitter pill to be swallowed by a weak country living under the shadow of constant threats. According to The Economist the border between Bangladesh and India is one of the world’s bloodiest one. Felani, a 15-year old girl, was shot dead by Indian BSF near Kurigram on 7 January 2011. Human rights organisation, Odhikar, says the BSF kills one Bangladeshi every four days. Some 1,000 Bangladeshis were killed by Indian border guards over the last decade. Such tragic incidents are happening because the Government has no concern for the people.

Recently when journalists pressed for a possible timeframe for the signing of the Teesta deal, an angry foreign minister retorted, “I cannot give the specific moment and date as I am not an astrologer.” Clairvoyance or not, inking of the Teesta deal for sheer survival of several million poor Bangladeshis brooks no delay.

Indian Maoist Insurgency Extended To Bhutan

Maoist insurgency of India has extended into Bhutan. Twin explosions last Monday rocked Phuentsholing, a small town across West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri border leaving dozens of people injured, some of them seriously. Bhutanese army and police rushed to the spot, rescued the victims and closed the border gate.  Security forces in all the adjoining states of India sounded alarm bell. Intelligence officials suspect that Communist Party of Bhutan (Maoist) opposed to the monarchy triggered the explosion on the eve of the King’s wedding ceremony. The Maoists have links with ULFA and NDF of Assam.
In India, the Maoists observed countrywide bandh on Wednesday affecting normal life in areas dominated by the red rebels. They demanded that their front ranking leader Bellam Narayan Swamy alias Damodar arrested on September 25 in Andhra or Orissa be produced before the court immediately. Police in both states denied the arrest of Damodar raising apprehension that he was killed in custody.

A report from Raipur in Chhattisgarh state said about 40 armed Maoists raided the house of Damrudhar Pujari, ruling BJP legislator, late Tuesday morning. They took away the service pistol of the security guard of the MLA. Present at home during the raid Pujari was not hurt but was threatened of serious consequences if he acts against the Maoists. Pujari said the Maoist group included teenage women.
In Karnataka, security forces in anti-Maoist operation in forest areas came under attack on October 8. At least one policeman was killed and several others wounded in a fierce gunfight. Five paramilitary troops were killed and several others wounded as their vehicle was blow up in explosion of a landmine triggered by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh on October 7.  Fierce fight ensued when joint forces raided a Maoist hideout in the forest of Orissa the same day. Casualty, if any, was not known. More than half of the state’s 30 district are heavily infested by the red rebels.
Police arrested three suspected Maoist operatives in New Delhi. Interrogation revealed that they came from West Bengal and Jharkhand to set up bases in the capital. Intelligence officials said big cities including the capital New Delhi have functional sleeper cells of the Maoists and secessionist groups.
Soni Sori, a tribal woman school teacher, arrested on charges of being Maoist conduit, was badly assaulted in police custody in Raipur evoking severe criticism from human right organisations. She was admitted to hospital with head and back injuries. Legs chained Soni Sori on Tuesday began hunger strike protesting police brutality. Police claimed that she received a huge sum of ‘protection money’ from a construction firm on behalf of Maoists.
Paschim Banga scene
In West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee is in dilemma. The central government has been asking for strong action against the Maoists with full resumption of operation by the joint forces against the rebels. On the other hand, she is reminded of her election pledge of withdrawing of the joint forces from the state.  She has offered peace talks with the Maoists and appointed interlocutors for negotiations with them. The Maoists on Tuesday announced they were prepared to hold arms for a month if the West Bengal government halted the joint security forces’ operation and build a congenial environment for dialogue. But the centre and also the security forces have cautioned Banerjee against isolated dialogue without participation of the central government and central leaders of the Maoists.
Meanwhile, Magsaysay Award winning writer Mahasweta Devi on October 8 demanded that Banerjee keep her pre-poll promise of withdrawing joint forces from Maoist-hit areas of the state.
“I am seeing that those who said that they will withdraw joint forces after coming to power have not done that. I still feel that joint forces should be withdrawn from the Junglemahal area,” the octogenarian writer told a media meet.
The Maoist insurgency is growing. Deployment of more than two lakh paramilitary forces in addition to police has failed to tame the Maoists. Saner elements in the administration worried at the rising incidents causing sufferings of poor advasis, tribals and harijans are seeking more developmental activities in poverty stricken regions. Central Rural Development Minister Joyram Ramesh has said police action cannot and should not be the driving force to face up the Maoist challenge of overthrowing the government.
BY : Shamsuddin Ahmed.

Teesta Deal, Transit And Dhaka’s Interests

Our Economic Adviser’s statement to the media that there is no link between Teesta pact and land transit was very clear, without any room for confusion. There is however a little problem, in fact a major one, for someone like me who is trying to follow our bilateral relations with India seriously, knowing that our future depends to a great extent on how we streamline our relations with our neighbour.
The problem with the Adviser’s statement on Teesta and transit arises from another very forceful statement given to the media on the day the Indian Prime Minister had arrived in Dhaka.   Bangladesh had hoped that on that visit, Dr. Manmohon Singh would show India’s big heart for the concessions our Prime Minister courageously and unilaterally made on India’s security concerns and land transit needs.
 In fact, we were told ever since our Prime Minister went on that historic trip to New Delhi that we just would have to wait for the Indian Prime Minister’s return visit to Dhaka to see what a magnanimous power India is.  Dramatically and what can only be described as an anti-climax of historic proportions, the Indian Foreign Secretary went to the media late on the afternoon of September 5th and announced that the Teesta deal was off.
Diplomatic faux pas
Quite clearly, our negotiators were caught off guard for the sensitivity of water in Bangladesh is something that no one can in the right mind underestimate. As a result, Bangladesh committed a diplomatic faux pas, again of historic proportions. Next day, with the Indian Prime Minister in Dhaka for his historic return visit, our Foreign Secretary summoned the Indian High Commissioner to the Foreign Ministry and clearly told him as unequivocally as the Economic Adviser now that Bangladesh was withdrawing the land transit because India had taken the Teesta deal off the table.
The Foreign Secretary explained the rather undiplomatic diplomatic move (a country does not do so when it has invited that High Commissioner’s Head of Government for a friendly official visit and that too from a country about whom our negotiators had so positively briefed us) as a part of Bangladesh’s incremental diplomacy. Thus by one act, the Foreign Secretary changed the course of our negotiators who had promised us that Manmohon Singh’s visit would result in a paradigm shift in our bilateral relations.
Of course the Foreign Secretary was dutifully carrying out an instruction in which he had no part to play. So he could not be bothered or was not allowed to bother about diplomatic dos and don’ts. Nevertheless, by what the Economic Adviser has now said, there is definitely a conflict and a serious one between his statement and that of the Foreign Secretary. The Government or whoever has the responsibility of deciding on foreign affairs must clear this confusion on whether Teesta accord and land transit are tied, as the Foreign Secretary has said, or not according to the Economic Adviser.
Who is right?
My own view on this controversy is that the Economic Adviser is right. There was no land transit agreement on the table during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister. In fact, land, river and rail transits were agreed between Bangladesh and India during the first Awami League Government under Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Subsequently separate protocols were also signed on these transits under the government of President Ziaur Rahman.  During the visit, the two sides were supposed to merely exchange letters to formalize land transit that had already been granted.
In fact, the $1 billion soft loan that Bangladesh has accepted from India is already being spent to build the road and related infrastructure for land transit to India. Separately, Tripura has already been using land transit as well as rail transit from Chittagong port for its power station for which the Chief Minister of Tripura expressed great gratitude to Bangladesh as this privilege is transforming the economic future of the state.
Recently, all newspapers have carried pictures with news items of containerized cargo being carried from Paschim Banga on river vessels for trans-shipment to heavy vehicles for the Indian north-eastern states. So what was the Foreign Secretary talking about when he so “courageously” told off the Indian High Commissioner that Bangladesh was withdrawing its offer of land transit?
It is not difficult to put together a scenario of what happened in the evening of the 5th among those who negotiated with India to explain the Foreign Secretary’s action. They were expecting that the next day our Prime Minister would go before the nation with a deal on Teesta and Feni rivers and add that these two deals were prelude to sharing of the other common rivers. The deal was supposed to be the icing on the cake for the party for celebrating a paradigm shift in Bangladesh-India relations.
Negotiators bamboozled
When Mamata Banarjee broke the party on the Teesta, our negotiators were bamboozled. It was then that they came up with the idea of summoning the Indian High Commissioner. It was like withdrawing an item from the menu of the banquet for the Indian Prime Minister that he has already been served! The government through the poor Foreign Ministry tried to cover up in a thoroughly unprofessional manner its unprofessional handling of the botched negotiations with India.
Our negotiators messed up a golden opportunity of a paradigm shift in Bangladesh-India relations, an opportunity that our Prime Minister had opened up by her bold but politically risky gestures to India on security and land transit. It is time to prepare for future negotiations with India for there is now way we can even think we have a future without Indian friendship and cooperation. To do that, first, we need to clarify the land transit issue. Surely, by our ineptitude, we have given it, but almost. We still hold on to it enough to make India come back to us
Begum Khaleda Zia has made a strong statement that BNP would not allow sell out of the country and it was land transit to which she was pointing. The ruling party should pay heed to it and contrary to what the Economic Adviser has said, tie land transit not just to Teesta but also to share of all other cross boundary rivers. We are under-valuing our importance to India. Our negotiators should read former Indian Foreign Secretary and High Commissioner Muchkund Dubey’s article that appeared recently in The Daily Star.
Muchkund Dubey has argued that the land transit is of “supreme significance” to India because it is the key to integration of mainland India with its fragile north-eastern states and also India’s pathway to Southeast Asia and Near East. In a way Mamata Banarjee’s move may have been divine intervention for it stopped 
Bangladesh short of giving this supremely significant gift to India almost free. The infrastructure for land transit will take many more years. We should use this time Mamata Banarjee has given us to go slow on land transit and bring issues of water, maritime boundary and the rest on the table for solution on quid pro quo basis.
India has benefited a great deal from our security concessions but there is still much more for India here. We should combine the partially spent security and land transit cards together and not just tie in to Teesta but to all other rivers and the rest of our legitimate demands from India. To do that, our negotiators must read MD’s article to restrain their belief on Indian magnanimity. Muchkund Dubey described the attitude of “Indian political leaders, senior officials, business magnates and strategic thinkers towards Bangladesh” as “one of disdain and apathy.”
BY : M. Serajul Islam.

Prime Minister’s Advice Sounds More Like A Warning

PRIMA facie the prime minister’s advice to her cabinet colleagues that they should take legal actions against ‘writers of the reports that are based on false information’ is rather innocuous, even well-meaning. After all, writing critical reports against anyone—minister or not—on the basis of false information amounts to libel and is culpable in the eyes of the law. Moreover, in an industry, where some media organisations, print and electronic, seem to believe ‘journalistic ethics’ is a lofty ideal and is better left confined to the pages of journalism books, malicious, and thus libellous, reports may not be quite a rarity. As such, legal actions against such questionable practices could, in fact, help strengthen the ethical mooring of journalism in Bangladesh.

Regrettably, however, it is difficult to take the prime minister’s advice, which, according to  a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, came during the weekly cabinet meeting on Monday, at a face value. In fact, given a series of recent actions by the government, which were decidedly blatant attacks on the freedom of expression and thought, the advice sounds more like a veiled warning against the media—that the journalists should toe the incumbents’ line or else face their wrath. The Awami League-Jatiya Party government, ever since its assumption of office in January 2009, has generally appeared antagonistic to any form of criticism against its actions and attitude, be it by the news media or by its opposition in the political arena or by any dissenting voice in society.

Such antagonism has found expression in the legal and extra-legal harassment of many individuals and institutions. For example, the acting editor of a Bangla daily came under attack by allegedly activists of the ruling party, not only in Bangladesh but also in the British capital of London, for publishing report about corruption allegations against the prime minister’s son; he was eventually arrested and jailed. The government also had the licence of a private television channel revoked, apparently because it was becoming increasingly critical of the government. Then, of course, it is believed to have intimidated certain television channels to ensure certain individuals, who have consistently been critical of the government, do not appear on their talk-shows.

The government has also not hesitated to temporarily block public access to Facebook and Twitter as criticisms of the government in general, and some ruling party stalwarts in particular, were posted in these social networking sites. As recently as in the first week of this month, the detective branch of police summoned a software engineer for writing in support of the recent movement by Jagannath University students in a blog space, questioned him of his interest or involvement with the movement and also asked him not to write anything in support of the movement or critical of the government.

Moreover, according to the New Age report, the prime minister’s advice came after some of her cabinet colleagues, including the shipping minister, raised the issue. Suffice it to say, these ministers have been in the headlines in recent times for all the wrong reasons. As such, the advice could very well be construed as the prime minister’s latest attempt at protecting those members of her cabinet who have actually brought disrepute to the government with their questionable words and deeds.

Of course, as said before, any ethical aberration on the part of journalists needs to be addressed, even legally; however, the questionable practices by some must not lead to a blanket attack on press freedom. The prime minister needs to ensure that and, perhaps, come up with a call to politicians across partisan divides not to make claims and allegations that are neither substantiated by historical facts or empirical evidence so that the journalists do not have to report on such exercises in falsehood.

Delhi’s Bid To Divide Nepal Politically

Sensing China’s rising influence in an uncertain political situation in Nepal, New Delhi has cast a dragnet. It has pushed the loyal Madhesi Front to support Baburam Bhattarai of UCPN (Maoist) in the election of Prime Minister by parliament couple of months ago. Madeshi Front entered into alliance with UCPN under a 4-point accord ostensibly articulated by New Delhi. The deal stipulated granting autonomy to ‘Madhesi Pradesh’ in the federal structure and recruitment of 10,000 youths in the army from the Madhesi region. How the Maoist party, virulent critic of New Delhi for its interference in internal affairs of Nepal, was foxed into signing the deal with Madhesi Front remained unknown. But it had evoked sharp criticism from different circles who viewed it as a secessionist move of the Madhesi Front. ‘India was successful in its design’, wrote the People’s Reviw of Nepal.
The Bhattarai cabinet is dominated by Madhesi Front which comprises legislators from the Tarai region bordering India, with the key portfolios including the Defence. Analysts viewed the 4-point accord as anti-national. Strongly opposing the accord, hardcore Maoist leaders say that the party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda has been duped to accept the deal to the perils of national integrity and also split in UCPN (Maoist). General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal told a meeting on October 1 that the party is on the verge either of dissolution or submersion due to the follies of Prachand-Bhattarai.

The evil design planted through the Madhesi Front was exposed recently. The Defence Minister Sarad Singh Bhandari (Madhesi Front) has publicly declared that “22 districts in Tarai can be separated from the Nepali map. None of the powers can stop such a development.” Bhandari’s statement is seen by political observers as a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nepal.
UCPN (Maoist) senior vice-chairman Mohan Baidya Kiron had strongly opposed the deal with Madhesi Front. Failing to stop Prachanda-Bhattrai, Baidya garnered majority support in the party’s central committee and threatened to take action against Prachanda-Bhattarai for entering into the deal with Madhesi Front. 
Though late, realization has dawned on Prachanda. “I have had agreed to the 4-point deal with Madhesi Front and Bhattarai’s premiership under intense pressure,” Prachanda confessed publicly and admitted faults to his political guru Mohan Baidya. They are now engaged in intensive discussion to maintain unity of the party and safeguard the national interest.
Secessionist move
Political analyst Prajwal Shrestha writing in the People’s View of Kathmandu on September 29 said the secessionist move exposed by Defence Minister Sarad Bhandari was planned years ago by Shyam Saran when he was Indian ambassador to Nepal. Later, when he assumed as foreign secretary, he played a vital role to implement the plan. After recognition of the entire Tarai region as one province with total autonomy, the Madhesh Pradesh will have the authority of developing close relations with India and also receiving necessary funds from India directly. In such a situation, the federal government’s control on Tarai will come to an end, and the Madhesi Pradesh will emerge as a separate entity under Indian protection. 
He recalled that former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had committed a blunder by providing citizenship certificates to more than 4.2 million Indians in Tarai region.  Immediately after that there was uprising in the region and the Madhesh Janadhikar Forum was formed. Likewise, many of the Indian criminals who have obtained Nepali citizenship now and are involved in criminal activities in the region. Many people displaced from the hill areas have been shifted to Tarai region. If one goes through the Indian support to the local community in Nepal, it can be seen that most of the cash and kind support have gone to the Tarai area. 
In this backdrop, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is scheduled to fly to New Delhi on October 21 for his first official visit to India. Media speculated that New Delhi will ask him to sign extradition treaty, strip maps of the border, sign accord allowing India to deploy air marshals at Nepal airport. Bhattarai’s aide said the Prime Minister during his visit would stress for review of the peace and friendship treaty with India and issues of safeguarding national interest.  
In case Bhattarai yields to the pressure of signing all those accords, “Nepal will no longer remain a sovereign state and that its status will be similar to that of Bhutan,” The Telegraph of Kathmandu quoted front ranking Maoist leader Haribhakta Kandel as saying: “Bhattarai will be taken as a Nepali version of Lendhup Dorjee (Dorjee of Sikkim had acceded to India) ... Nepal’s Security Council has gone to the hands of those who are looking after the benefits of India only,” added Kandel.
Dubious border map
Former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal who was dubbed as docile had withstood the pressure to endorse the controversial border strip maps surrendering thousands of acres of land. It is alleged that the strip maps were prepared by influencing the Nepali officials participating in the Nepal-India joint technical team and survey officers’ meeting. Reports said more than 60 thousand hectors of Nepali land has been encroached by India. A parliamentary committee headed by Padamlal Bishwakarma after on-the-spot survey has said that the joint technical team developed 182 strip maps showing Nepali lands in Indian territory in many of the maps. It has suggested fresh survey and redrawing of the strip maps of disputed area. Border expert Buddhinarayan Shrestha wrote with evidences that the Nepali lands have been encroached at 54 places.

BY : Shamsuddin Ahmed.

Meet Bangladesh: A "Next 11" Emerging Economy and a U.S. Strategic Ally in South Asia

‘Corridor’ Threats To Sovereignty

Speakers at a seminar today viewed that country’s security and sovereignty will be under threat if the government move for giving ‘corridor’ to India in the name of transit facility is implemented.

BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged that some intellectuals had earlier viewed that in this age of globalization, giving transit facility should be good for the country for global connectivity. But good sense has dawned upon them. The same intellectuals are now opposing the government move saying transit facility to India will be harmful for Bangladesh.

The seminar titled ‘Corridor in the name of transit and present perspective’ held at Institute of Engineers was organized by Bangladesh Sammilito Peshajibi Parishad. Mahmudur Rahman presided.

Fakhrul ridiculed the statement of PM’s adviser Dr Moshiur Rahman who said that tolls could not be collected from the Indian vehicles carrying goods to the eastern states in the absence of trained officials. India is already carrying goods from the west to its eastern states over Bangladesh, what the government say, on trial basis.

He said the nation was unlucky that the people have voted to power a political party which is compromising the national interest to its alien masters.

“We are gravely concerned about the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country,” he added.

He noted with regret that the government has bartered away the national interest. It has given corridor to India without getting the due share of the Teesta waters.” If we do not get water, for whose interest we will give transit facility?” questioned the BNP leader.

Fakhrul said in the past students community, especial the Dhaka University, played a pivotal role in raising national issues. But, he lamented, none of the student groups protested the brutal killing of Falani by BSF on the border, whose body was hanging on the barbed wire fence raised by India along the border.

Dr Mahbub Ullah of Dhaka University said India does not want to change our map. They want to make this country caged for which barbed wire fence was raised all along the border.

India is afraid of its disintegration, the bell of which was rung by independence movement in the eastern states and Kashmir, intensified by rising Maoist insurgency in 20 out of 28 states of India.

Bangladesh Kalyan Party chairman Major General (retd) Syed Mohamamd Ibrahim informed seminar that several thousand Indian national infiltrated into Bangladesh without passport. Many of them are acting as spies.

He viewed with concern that India wants the Bangladesh corridor to transport troops and arms from the west to the eastern states where people have been fighting for independence from India. They would also use the corridor to reach Arunachal Pradesh, a disputed area claimed by China. The corridor facility to transport troops and arms would cause annoyance to Bangladesh’s tested friend China.

Ibrahim said India intended to curve out its naval route through Bangladesh ultimately to have military bases threatening our national security and sovereignty.

Mahmudur Rahman informed that Bangladesh Sammilito Peshajibi Parishad will go for a long march to Akhaura port protesting transit facility to India after Eid-ul Azha.

AL Feels The Heat Of Failures

A hallmark of the behaviour of the leaders of the present Awami League government from the day it came to power this time up to last week, i.e., during the last 32 months, has been the exhibition of too much self-confidence which crossed the line of politeness many a time to become arrogance. Almost on every matter they wished to go it alone.  

During this period Awami League quite often sneered or jeered at any suggestion of consensus or united action with the opposition and the civil society. As for the first among the two BNP and its associates were treated as pariah by them. About the civil society Awami League acted in a manner as if it owned them. But such self-assuredness is a virtue as long as one possessing it could do one's own work. Otherwise it becomes a folly which has a self-destructive button embedded in it. Is Awami League seeing this uncomfortable truth?

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced last Sunday that productivity would be a national movement from now and so would be development. She, however, added that the government would need cooperation of all in this regard. The same day Home Minister Sahara Khatun to her dismay heard businessmen telling her point blank that police extorted bribe from them (sometimes they asked for bakhshish). They further said that they and their work force often faced insecurity and policemen were not available on time to help them. This had happened at a meeting organised by the FBCCI with the Home Minister. One businessman wept as he said that in the posh Banani area of the capital drugs were sold freely and the children of the families living in the neighbourhood were becoming addicts. He asked the Home Minister to activate law enforcers against the drug dealers and to save the young people. Some of the businessmen said that most of the drugs were smuggled in from India.

Sahara Khatun was somewhat timid this time round than her usual belligerent self. She said that the government was trying to improve the law and order situation and that the improvement achieved is greater than any time in the past but to guarantee the government's full success cooperation from all others was also needed.

Foriegn Minister Dr.Dipu Moni too has not been her exuberant self since her return from New York. The debacles suffered by Bangladesh during Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit are clearly haunting her. Reports from New York say that the Bangladesh team to UN experienced isolation or at least marginalisation this time. And now word comes from Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith that World Bank is looking into complaints of corruption about the Padma Bridge project sent by sources in Bangladesh. He disclosed this in an interview with the New York-based weekly newspaper Thikana. He also said to it that the World Bank and IMF did not appear to be as warm as before and therefore work would have to be done back at home in Bangladesh.

At the same time roads, railway, power supply and other infrastructure are in poor shape. Not much money has been allocated by the government to repair and improve infrastructure all over the country and not just the capital. Price of all essential commodities are continuously going up. Cost of living has already reached to unbearable level for the common people. Discontent is showing.

The reason why Awami League wants the next election of the Jatiya Sangsad to be held with itself remaining in power is to make sure that the voting results are shown to have gone in its favour, one suspects. Awami League's previous track records (1973 and the Tangail by-election at valiant freedom-fighter Kader Siddiky's area) are bad. The main opposition party BNP is simply unable to trust Awami League to behave well in the next election of parliament. And Awami League, having unleashed a rein of greed and violence, and having failed to handle development work, is unable to trust the public to support it.

BY : Ataus Samad.

Indian Use Of Ashuganj Threatens BD's Export Hopes In 7-Sisters

Bangladeshi companies' competitive advantage in the seven Indian states are under threat after the government allowed Indian traders to use Ashuganj as a transshipment hub for moving merchandise to the land-locked northeast.

Exporters have aired their concern on Saturday, saying the Kolkata-Ashuganj shipping link is detrimental to their business interest as the Indian firms practically pay nothing to move the goods through Bangladesh.

Indian firms have commercially started using the Kolkata-Ashuganj shipping link since last month after the government said the existing clauses of the Indo-Bangla water transit protocol supports the transshipment.

Local exporters said they have long enjoyed a price edge over their Indian rivals in the seven states --- also known as Seven Sisters --- due to Bangladesh's proximity to the area and the fact that major Indian firms are based at least a thousand miles away.

But thanks to the latest move, Indian companies can now grab the initiative as the Ashuganj transshipment facility makes their exports almost cost free," said Jahangir Alam, owner of a leading cement maker.

"In addition, most of the Indian firms have a strong marketing network in the northeast. They can now exploit the advantages at the cost of our fortune," he added.

At present, local manufacturers mainly export cement, plastic products, fish, beverage, juice, biscuits and batteries to the north-east region, home to more than 40 million people.

There are also potentials for exporting mild steel rod, ship scraps, woven bags, bricks and sea fishes to this part of India, which is just 50 kilometres away from Ashuganj and about 100 kiloemtres from Chittagong Port. .

Alam, whose Crown cement is popular in the sparsely populated region, has sought a review of the government decision, saying "Bangladeshi business interest must be protected" in any future Indo-Bangla deal.

"We'll be adversely affected if the shipping link continues in its present form. All we need is a level playing field. If they keep on using Ashuganj without paying any levies, there is no way we can compete with them," he said.

A narrow hilly strip links mainland India with the isolated, landlocked region, which shares less than two per cent of its border with the rest of the country, and the remainder with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.

Companies based in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal used to dominate the northeast market although they have to ship the products on road or rail through an insurgency-prone strip.

Indian firms' ascendancy faced the first major challenge early last decade when the increasingly expanding Bangladeshi firms started exporting their goods to the area through a raft of land-ports.

Pran Group, a food and beverage major, leads the Bangladeshi presence in the Seven Sisters, but company executives said the transshipment could deal a big blow to their dominance in the region.

"We can't compete against the Indian firms if they are allowed to use Bangladeshi waterways and the Ashuganj river port without paying any tolls," Md Kamruzzaman, executive director of Pran, told the FE:

The official suggested India should reciprocate the "transshipment goodwill" by removing all its non-tariff and para-tariff barriers on the Bangladeshi exports.

According to the Bangladesh Tariff Commission, Bangladeshi exports to India face at least 15 non-tariff barriers, which make the products costly in the Indian market.

M Rahman chairman of Ratanpur Steel Mills said local firms plan to grab a pie of the lucrative northeastern steel market will remain a distant dream due to the government's latest diplomatic overture to India.

"There are a lot of giant steel manufacturers in Kolkata. Why will the northeastern states import from us when the Kolkata products will be cheaper than Bangladesh due to its availability of raw materials," he said.

Ziaul Hoque Shovon, a director of Shovon Group, said almost every Indian group enjoys an "economy of scale" over its Bangladeshi rival thanks to their population size. India is home to 1.2 billion people.

"Because of their size, these companies can manufacture goods at a faster pace than us. They did not have the shipment advantage. But making Ashuganj a port of call just changed that arithmetic," he said.

Shovon Group wanted to ship several million pieces of woven cement bags to Kolkata-based Calcom cement but the move fell through due to 'security reason'.

Bangladesh and India signed an inland water protocol in 1972 but the deal was seldom used and did not include Ashuganj as a transshipment port.

But Dhaka and New Delhi amended the Protocol in May 2010, which included Ashuganj as the fifth port of call in Bangladesh and Shilghat as a port of call in Indian state of Assam.

The amendment allowed India to carry goods to Ashuganj port by ferry from Kolkata. The goods then take a land-route to India's north-east via Akhaura land-port.

Bangladesh imports goods over US$4.6 billion while export its merchandise worth nearly $600 million. The trade gap is highly tilted in favour of the neighbouring country ever since the independence of Bangladesh. 

BY : Jasim Uddin Haroon.

Bangladesh-India Relation- 100 Points to Ponder

Bangladesh has been subjected to deception, deprivation and subjugation by neighbor India through the later’s unfriendly treatment, actions, policies and sugar-coated pledges expressed in different treaties/agreements which never materialized. The recent treaty signed between Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Monmohon Singh titled ‘Framework Agreement for Co-operation’ has tied Bangladesh in an infinite bondage and created scopes for Indian access into every sector of Bangladesh including corridor through Bangladesh territory.
In order to resolve the various issues that Bangladesh facing with India; it is essential for us to ponder on the points mentioned under following subheads:
a.    How Awami Govt has surrendered our national interests to India.
b.    India’s hostile behavior towards Bangladesh.
c.    Advantages and benefits that India enjoys for Bangladesh such as strategic advantages, economic and cultural domination.
d.    Strategic disadvantages faced by India.
e.    Recommendations.

How Awami Govt has surrendered our national interests to India
1.    Signing of 7 Points Treaty by Tajuddin Ahmed in 1971 which denied sovereign rights to Bangladesh.
2.    Allowing India to emerge as sole victor on 16 December 1971 denying our 9 month’s struggle against the West Pakistani occupation forces.
3.    Allowing India to loot armaments worth billion dollars left by Pakistani Forces.
4.    Signing of trade agreement in 1972 by Sheikh Mujib allowing transit through roads, rails and river routes.

5.    Handing over our Berubary enclave without ensuring exchange of 3 bigha corridor by India.
6.    Signing of 25 year treaty by Sheikh Mujib which is known as slavery treaty that denied our rights of maintaining defence force and pursuing independent diplomacy.
7.    Allowing Indian Army to operate inside independent Bangladesh territory at CHT area who conducted repression on tribal people for about a year since 16th December 1971.

8.    Allowing India by Sheikh Mujib to open Farakka Barrage and never to close it which has caused desertification, salinity and rising of river beds due to sediments.
9.    Allowing India to train and motivate ZRB (Zatiyo Rakkhi Bahini) who allegedly killed more than 34000 opposition political activists during Mujib regime.

10.  Signing of Gangees Water Sharing Treaty by Sheikh Hasina in 1996 without any arbitration and guarantee clause; as a result, India never gave BD due share of water.

11.  Surrendering country’s 1/10th portion CHT to India-trained separatist group called JSS through a so called peace treaty which denied govt’s sovereignty and our fundamental citizenship rights on CHT.
12.  Signing of 50 Points MOU by Sheikh Hasina in January 2010 and secretly giving transit/corridor to India along with many other undisclosed promises.

13. Signing of ‘Framework Agreement for Co-operation’ on 6th September 2011 by Sheikh Hasina which created scope for Indian access into every sector of Bangladesh and gave corridor to India through Bangladesh territory which is against our security, sovereignty and economic interests.

India’s hostile behavior towards Bangladesh
14.  India has not returned 3 Bhigha Corridor to us in exchange of Berubary enclave which was handed over to India as per Mujib-Indira treaty signed in 1972.
15.  India sheltered armed group of Kaderia Bahini who conducted armed activities along the border area after 1975.

16.  India allowed her territory to be used by separatist Shadhin Bangabhumi Andolon group led by Chittoronjon Sutar and Kalipodo Boiddo which demands a separate land for Bangladeshi Hindus in South-Western part of Bangladesh.
17.  India allowed her territory against Bangladesh by sheltering, inspiring and training CHT’s JSS armed terrorists named Shantibahini who killed more than 35000 people in CHT. Even, since signing of CHT Treaty on 2 December 1997, JSS armed wing has killed more than 700 and kidnapped more than 1300 CHT people.

18.  India has never given us due share of water as per the Ganges Treaty signed by Sk Hasina.
19.  Releasing deposited water at Farakka point through all the gates causing flood and inundation in Bangladesh every year.
20.  Trade imbalance by imposing trade barriers for Bangladeshi products. Presently trade gap is more than 3 billion US dollar per year.

21.  India erected barbed-wire fence around Bangladesh turning Bangladesh into world’s largest sell.
22.  Killing of our citizens at border area by BSF; As per the statistics given by right group ‘Adhikar’, between 1st January 2000 and 31st August 2011, Indian BSF killed 998 Bangladeshi citizen;  injured 996; arrested 226; kidnapped 957; missing 107 personnel and raped 14 Bangladeshi women.

23. India smuggling drugs such as Phencydil and illegal arms into Bangladesh.
24.  Sheltering Bangladeshi criminals in Kolkata.
25. Conducting anti-Bangladeshi propaganda.
26.  Indian forces raided our Roumary and Padua BOP.

27.  India influencing our journalists by inviting Bangladeshi editors to India and brainwashing them in favour of India’s demands such as corridor.
28.  Interfering with our political affairs by giving bagsful of money and advices as stated by the Economist magazine.
29.  India captured our Talpotti Island in the Bay of Bengal.
30.  Putting claim on 2/3rd portion of our maritime boundary.

31. Putting pressure for Asian Highway route to be selected as per India’s desire i.e. India-Bangladesh-India-Myanmar.
32.  India ensured corridor from Sheikh Hasina in order to transport her goods, Armed Forces and military hardware through Bangladesh territory.

33.  India constructed barrage on 52 out of 54 international rivers that entered into Bangladesh through India; thus controlling and diverting international river water depriving Bangladesh as a lower riparian country.
34.  Undertook project for constructing Tipaimukh Barrage which will cause catastrophic impact on Bangladesh especially greater Sylhet area.
35.  Planning to divert Feni River water.

36.  Constructing defence installation within 150 meters of the No-man’s land violating international rules.
37.  Grabbing our land along border areas such as Tamabil of Sylhet.
38.  India shut transit facility between Bangladesh and Nepal just hour after opening it.

39.  Pilkhana massacre is alleged to be India’s mastermind in order to demolish our border security.
40.  India plotted to assassin Bangladeshi President Ziaur Rahman which is revealed by Shuvir Bhoumik in his book titled ’Troubled Peripheri’.

Strategic advantages achieved and benefits enjoyed by India for Bangladesh

41. India’s arch rival Pakistan is divided in 1971 War with the help of Bangladeshi people and Freedom Fighters.
42.  Avoid huge financial expenditure for eastern sector due to absence of Pakistani Forces.
43.  No potential threat in Eastern sector.

44.  India is relieved seeing- no harboring of North-Eastern guerrillas in Bangladesh.
45.  Arrest and handing over of infiltrator guerrillas to Indian authority by Bangladesh Govt making Bangladesh fight a proxy war for India.
46.   Support ensured from Bangladesh for India’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council.

47.  Able to destabilize security situation in Bangladesh by supporting any armed group as done in CHT.
48.   Able to launch offensive operation on isolated Bangladesh while only defending western front with Pakistan.
49.  Influence Bangladesh’s foreign affairs by installing puppet regime.

50. Claiming and capturing lands, islands and maritime area without being effectively opposed by Bangladesh.
51.  Getting facility to counter NE independent movement and fight China using Bangladesh territory as corridor.
52.  Avoid risky Shilliguri Corridor for transportation of her goods and military hardware.

53.  Dominating and subverting Bangladesh Armed Forces by combined military exercises, training, visits etc.
54.  Dominating our border physically and psychologically and suggesting us to term all killings by BSF as simple ‘deaths’.
55.  Got a rare chance of defeating Pakistan’s 94000 Muslim Forces; thereby taking ‘Hazar saal ka badla’ as  stated by Indira Gandhi which could never be possible without active support of our thousands of Freedom Fighters and whole population.

56.  Achieved free and easier access for her intelligence force ‘RAW’ to operate inside Bangladesh.
57.  Got a chance to bargain with us using ‘international river water’ as a tool to gain corridor and other facilities from Bangladesh.
58.  Subvert and intimidate Bangladeshi people and Armed Forces by showing her large army, advanced arms and nuclear weapons; as a result, many MPs, ministers and writers term India as ‘Big neighbour’.

59.  Bangladesh became a country almost surrounded by Indian territory from all sides which also facilitated India to confine Bangladeshi nation by fencing.
60.  Installed a puppet Regional Council authority in CHT led by Shantu Larma and after withdrawal of Bangladeshi Security Forces; it will be easier to capture CHT and cut off Chittagong Port by putting blockade at Feni.

61.  Easy to establish blockade against Bangladesh by land and sea during any hostility.
62.  Bangladesh is unable to maintain any defensive front line as India is able to launch offensive from almost all directions.
63. India is now in a more advantageous position in annexing Bangladesh as she did to Sikkim in order to fulfill her Nehru Doctrine of Greater India.

India’s Economic domination on Bangladesh
64.  Bangladesh is converted into an economic colony of India; daily commodities including motorbikes, TATA trucks, buses and cars, CNG Baby Taxies etc are dominating BD market.
65.  Able to destabilize economic stability of Bangladesh by smuggling into/from Bangladesh.

66.  Getting contracts for printing text books, providing all materials and consultancy for construction of corridor infrastructure as per 1 billion dollar loan agreement.
67.  Planning to produce electricity by importing BD gas; then exporting it to BD and also supply to Poshchimbongo through BD.

68.  Capturing BD garments sector, mobile communication sector etc.
69. Reduce time, distance and transportation cost by using BD territory as corridor.
70. Reduce BD’s scope of export to NE states as India’s goods will be available there now in reduced prices.

71.  India enjoys huge earning facility from Bangladeshi nationals who go to India for medical treatment and education.
72.  Indian Marwaries looted billions of dollars from BD share market scam in previous term of Awami regime due to Awami Finance Minister’s self-admitted ignorance about share market.

73.  Every Eid festival is a lucrative business opportunity for Indian traders who sell Indian clothes worth around 5000 crores Taka when Indian dresses are sold in BD markets priced from 3000 to 3 lac Taka.

Cultural domination on Bangladesh
74.  Indian dozens of Hindi channels earn more than 1000 crore Taka every year from Bangladesh.
75.  In last 3 years around 300 Indian artists attended different cultural programs in Bangladesh who earn millions of dollars from Bangladesh.

76.  Hindi culture is observed in most of the middle class families of Bangladesh. Even Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina believes that due to Durga Ma’s visit by Roth, BD is abundant with crops.
77.  Most of the cultural programs are filled with Hindi film songs, dances and costumes; Tri-nation concert organized in Dhaka on 24th February 2010 is an example of this.

78.  Many beauty shops use Indian style and cosmetics for decoration of brides.
79.  Many pro-India intellectuals preach that formation of Pakistan on the basis of religion was a mistake but they carefully refrain from admitting that we could get an independent Bangladesh because of creation of independent Pakistan in 1947 from British South Asia.

Strategic disadvantages faced by India
80.  Indian Poschimbonga and North-Eastern states are encouraged by an independent Bangladesh to achieve independence.

81.  BD capable of widening operational area into NE states if invaded by India.

82.  Bangali Nationalism propagated by Awami regime likely to inspire Poshchimbonga (West Bengal) Bangalees to be united with independent Bangladesh accepting Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib as their Father of the Nation and Tagore’s ‘Amar sonar Bangla’ song as their National Anthem too.

83.  Whole Bangladeshi nation got alienated against India because of Indian subjugation, deprivation, hegemony, imperialism and intimidation.

84.  It has become easier to identify Indian agents by their words, actions, policies and agreements signed with India surrendering national interests who waited 40 years to give corridor to India.

85.  Bangladesh being world’s 7th largest country in population, India, by its military might, may occupy Bangladesh but cannot hold the ground as any invasion by India will cause a protracted liberation war which will sink invading forces into the quagmire of Bangladesh.

86.  Unidentifiable border at CHT area covered by hills and jungles are ideal terrain for both Indian and Bangladeshi tribal insurgents to infiltrate as due to CHT Treaty- BD security camps are being withdrawn and Bangalees are prohibited to settle in CHT leaving CHT as a paradise for armed groups.
87. BD nation needs to reject and resist Hasina-Monmohon’s ‘Framework Agreement for Co-operation’ signed on 6th September 2011 which is an infinite bondage of slavery.

88.  India needs to change its hegemonic attitude and reshape her diplomatic and economic policies towards Bangladesh.

89. India has to stop all border killings and violations and compensate for border killings and repression as per international rules.

90.  India has to make compensation for the damage and loss suffered by BD due to Farakka Barrage which is estimated around 140 billion dollar.

91.  India has to return all weapons abandoned by Pakistani Forces in 1971.
92.  India has to refrain from supporting CHT terrorist groups operating against Bangladesh and stop allowing her land to be used for propaganda against Bangladesh.

93.  India has to remove all tariff and non-tariff barriers imposed on BD products in order to eradicate trade imbalance.
94.  India has to abandon her Tipaimukh Barrage project.
95.  India has to share 50% water of each international river entered into Bangladesh.
96.  India should refrain from interfering with BD politics and stop supporting any chosen regime.

97.  India has to abandon her undue occupation on BD’s Talpotti Island and also return 3 Bigha Corridor to Bangladesh completely if she wants to retain Berubari enclave as per the Mujib-Indira Treaty.

98. India has to abandon her undue claim on BD’s maritime boundary.
99.  India has to stop smuggle of drugs and illegal arms into Bangladesh.
100.              India has to stop using Bangladesh territory as her corridor and all treaties/MOUs signed with India need to be disclosed to BD people.
Relation between Bangladesh and India should be based on equality, mutual interest and mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty.
Both countries should recognize help of each other during BD Liberation War and Indo-Pak War in 1971.
India should reflect on the strategic and economic advantages and benefits that she enjoys because of Bangladesh and refrain from all sorts of hostile and unfriendly activities against Bangladesh which is a precondition for building trust and confidence of Bangladeshi people for bi-lateral co-operation. 

By: Major Faruk (Retd)