Thursday, November 24, 2011

MAULANA BHASANI : The Builder Of Politics Of Opposition And Agitation

Maulana Bhasani’s stature as one of the greatest political heroes of Bangladesh’s history comes not from any single action or accomplishment but from his lifelong commitment toward establishing or accruing social justice for all through political activism. He espoused a genuine cause for protecting, articulating, and enhancing the interests of the common people of the then eastern province of Pakistan. Underneath the flowing beard, Maulana Bhasani was a serious man with a deep sense of compassion for the disadvantaged segments of the society, writes M Waheeduzzaman Manik.

Born in 1886 [circa] in the village of Dhangora of Sirajganj subdivision of the then Pabna District, ‘Majloom Jononeta’ (leader of the oppressed) Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani had breathed his last at Dhaka Medical College Hospital at 8:20 p.m. on November 17, 1976, and he was buried at Santoosh, Tangail on November 18, 1976 with state honor. Throughout almost six decades of his struggling political life, he was both a demanding spirit and a dauntless voice for freedom and emancipation of the humblest and disinherited citizens against the overwhelming powers of the governmental machinery and the overweening grip of the ruling elite of the society. Doubtless, Maulana Bhasani’s long political career was characterized by his selfless dedication for championing the causes of the most underprivileged segments of our society. Indeed, he had to his credit an unblemished and impeccable record of life-long relentless struggle for the downtrodden and the disinherited. However, he was more than a spokesman of the peasantry and working class. Maulana Bhasani’s legendary name is also integral part and parcel of Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom and independence. He was both the maker and shaker of political events during the most turbulent years of the then East Pakistan. The seed of politics of opposition and agitation was carefully planted by him in the formative years of Pakistan. He was also responsible for founding the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML), the first viable opposition party in Pakistan.  

The main purpose of this article is to appraise the sanguine role of Maulana Bhasani as the builder of politics of opposition and agitation in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in the formative years of Pakistan. He was intimately associated with all of the progressive movements during the Pakistan era. However, no attempt has been made to provide chronological details of any of those movements within the limited scope of this paper. Even his role as the founder of the National Awami Party (NAP) has not been focused. Rather, the chief intent here is to underscore Maulana Bhasani’s central role in the formation of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML).  

To accomplish this objective, first, an attempt has been made to briefly discuss the genesis of a hostile anti-Bengali political environment in the new nation of Pakistan that led to the spectacular emergence of Maulana Bhasani as the most volatile and relentless organizer of politics of opposition and agitation in Pakistan’s Eastern province. While an effort has been made to briefly discuss his fearless role in building-up the EPAML as a viable opposition political party in the then East Pakistan, some of his accomplishments as the most dauntless dissenting voice in the early years of Pakistan have also been highlighted. Finally, some concluding remarks have been made about the relevance of Maulana Bhasani’s politics of opposition in the formative years of Pakistan.

The emergence of Maulana Bhasani in the political scene of East Bengal in an era of authoritarian mode of governance
The Muslim League, under Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s leadership, had successfully mobilized theBengali Muslims in favour of the Pakistan movement. It is a verified fact that out of 100 million Muslim population of British-India, almost 33 million Muslims were from Bengal.  Most of the dynamic leaders of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League (BPML) were also in the vanguard of the Pakistan movement.  In fact, M.A. Jinnah had effectively utilized most of the popular Muslim leaders of Bengal for mobilising the mass support for a separate Muslim homeland. Yet, the central leadership of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) was always disproportionately skewed in favour of non-Bengali leaders of different provinces. At the behest of MA Jinnah, most of the celebrated and popular Muslim League leaders of Bengal were either banished or marginalized immediately before or after the creation of Pakistan. Thus the dice of Pakistan’s anti-Bengali design was cast even before Pakistan’s independence was achieved.  

The seed of colonial mode of governance in East Bengal (East Pakistan) was planted by M.A. Jinnah, the Founding Father of Pakistan. The genesis of the disintegration of Pakistan was also conditioned, to a great extent, by his quest for installing the anti-Bengali collaborators and rightist Muslim Leaguers both in the party apparatus and the Governmental structure of East Bengal. Instead of fostering and nurturing the charismatic and independent-minded Bengali leaders, Jinnah had sponsored only those orthodox Muslim League leaders who had already earned reputations for their anti-Bangalee stand to assume the leadership roles in the party and the Government of East Bengal. To employ the party as an instrument of subjugating and controlling the political scenes of various provinces of Pakistan, Jinnah had co-opted Choudhury Khaliquzzaman to be the Chief Organiser of the Muslim League party after he became the Governor General of the new nation of Pakistan.  

A deliberate policy was quickly initiated for packing the East Bengal (East Pakistan) Branch of Muslim League with their loyalists, and most of the celebrated Bengali Muslim League leaders were kept out of the newly revamped provincial branch of the Muslim League. As the Chief Organiser of the party, Choudury Khaliquzzaman, had literally leased the provincial branch of Muslim League in East Bengal to Khawaja Nazimuddin and Maulana Akram Khan. Neither Nazimuddin nor Akram Khan had any mass support or charisma. Nor did they have any extraordinary organizational capabilities. They mentored and sponsored within the party hierarchy only the conservative leaders who were extremely loyal to them.  

One of the hidden political agendas of Nazimuddin and Akram Khan coterie in the provincial Muslim League was to keep the doors of the party closed to the most progressive and dynamic members of the former Bengal Provincial Muslim League. The followers of both HS Suhrawardy and Abul Hashim were specifically excluded even from the primary membership of the Muslim League.  As the stalwarts of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League (BPML), HS Suhrawardy and Abul Hashim were in the vanguard of the Pakistan movement. Yet, after independence, there was hardly any leadership roles for those dedicated leaders in the newly revamped provincial Muslim League. As the Chief Minister of East Bengal, Khwaja Nazimuddin also saw to it that neither HS Suhrawardy nor his followers have any prominent role in the party. He lost no time to characterize HS Suhrawardy as the Indian agent and an enemy of Pakistan.  

Khwaja Nazimuddin had also misused his official position for the purpose of relieving HS Suhrawardy from the membership of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. As if that was not enough of an insult for the one of the most dynamic contributors to the Pakistan movement. As the Chief Minister of East Bengal, Khawaja Nazimuddin had the audacity of prohibiting H.S. Suhrawardy from entering or addressing public meetings in any place of the province. In his widely acclaimed book, Amar Dekha Rajneetir Panchash Bachar (p. 248), Abul Mansur Ahmed observed that Liaquat Ali Khan, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, had publicly castigated HS Suhrawardy as the mad dog let loose by India. 

Maulana Bhasani was the legendary figure in Assam politics, and as the President of Assam Provincial Muslim League, he had spearheaded the Pakistan movement in Assam. Immediately after his return to East Bengal from Assam in November 1947, Maulana Bhasani was also discredited and maligned by the ruling party. For instance, Maulana Bhasani had won an assembly seat (through an uncontested bye-election) in East Bengal Provincial Legislative Assembly (EBLA) from the South Tangail constituency. However, the Muslim League clique had hatched a conspiracy out to dislodge him from the Provincial Assembly. His election to the Assembly was declared null and void on flimsy ground.  Above all, he was declared disqualified by the provincial Governor to run for election or for holding any public office! Maulana Bhasani and the progressive forces within the Muslim League had vehemently protested this kind of exclusionary policy of the East Bengal Muslim League.

Maulana Bhasani — the founder of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League 
It is evident from the preceding that the political environment in the then East Pakistan in the early years of the new nation of Pakistan was not conducive for building-up any kind of opposition party. Yet, Maulana Bhasani had shaken the foundation of the ruling coterie by building-up an opposition party from the scratch in a very hostile political environment. His courageous and relentless determination to confront and challenge the Muslim League leadership in the then East Bengal led to a resistance movement.  Being essentially aided by more liberal factions of the ruling Muslim League, various groups of dissidents, and other progressive forces of the province, Maulana Bhasani had formed the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League [EPAML] on June 23, 1949 (the word Muslim was formally rescinded from the nomenclature of the party in 1955). There is no doubt that the establishment of this opposition party was a milestone at a critical juncture of the new nation of Pakistan.  

The EPAML, under the charismatic leadership of Maulana Bhasani, had emerged, much sooner than later, as the most effective opposition party in the early years of Pakistan. Maulana Bhasani was the President of the Awami League for eight long years (1949 through 1957). During those turbulent years, he sincerely tried to build-up this party as the most effective political instrument for ventilating and articulating the genuine grievances and demands of the people of the eastern province of Pakistan. Both Maulana Bhasani and the EPAML had played pivotal roles in articulating Pakistan Bengali speaking people desire and quest for autonomy and self-determination. He and his party had also played various crucial roles in all of the progressive movements in the then East Bengal.  Notwithstanding the deliberate distortions of Bangladesh political history, it is a fact that Maulana Bhasani was the most authentic founder of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League. Many credible writers attest to the fact that he was the driving force behind the establishment of East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML) in an era that was invariably dominated by the Muslim Leaguers.  

For instances, in his seminal assessment of the role of the Awami League in the political development of the then Pakistan, M Rashiduzzaman underscored the central role of Maulana Bhasani in building-up a sustainable opposition in the then East Bengal during the early years of Pakistan: “If any one man should be given credit for the rise of an opposition in East Pakistan, it is Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani. Maulana Bhasani became a popular figure in the 1930’s when he organized the peasant movement in East Bengal and Assam. Later, in the 1940s he gave his support to the Pakistan movement led by the Muslim League. Maulana Bhasani was frustrated by the closed-door policy of the Muslim League in Pakistan, however, and eventually, it was under his leadership that the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League [EPAML] was born at Dacca, on June 23, 1949 (M Rashiduzzaman, The Role of Awami League in the Political Development of Pakistan,’ Asian Survey, July, 1970).  

Talukder Maniruzzaman has observed that the 1948-phase of the Bengali language movement had spearheaded the formation of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML), representing both genuine social protest and the political ambitions of the frustrated Muslim Leaguers. Maulana Bhasani was elected the President of the party and (H.S.) Suhrawardy soon after became convener of the All-Pakistan Committee of the new party (Talukder Maniruzzaman, Bangldesh Revolution and Its Aftermath, UPL, 1988, pp. 20-21).  

According to M.B. Nair, a noted Indian political scientist, “Maulana Bhasani was primarily responsible for the growth of the Party [EPAML]. He united the various opposition groups and pitted them against the ruling Muslim League. Though Suhrawardy’s contribution to the formation of the [East Pakistan] Awami Muslim League was much less than that of Bhasani, his followers who were the best party workers of the undivided Bengal [Provincial] Muslim League [BPML], constituted core of the party.  M.B. attests further about Maulana Bhasani’s dominant role in the formation of Awami League: The Awami League, the first Muslim opposition party in Pakistan, was founded by the dissident Muslim Leaguers. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was rightfully considered as the founder and guiding genius behind the organized opposition to the Muslim league Government in East Pakistan” (M.B. Nair, Politics in Bangladesh: A Study of Awami League, 1949-58, New Delhi: Northern Book Centre, 1990, p. 61 and pp. 248-249). 

The hostile political atmosphere in the then East Bengal had worsened due to the fact that more stringent measures were taken by the provincial government against the leaders of the newly formed opposition party. Nurul Amin, the Chief Minister of the then East Bengal, and his cohorts quickly characterized the EPAML as an ‘anti-national’ or an ‘anti-state’ organization. Being essentially goaded by the Central Government of Pakistan, Nurul Amin had expressed its determination to deal with the ‘menace’ of the EPAML. As observed by M.B. Nair, the ‘bona-fide’ of the leaders of the newly formed political party were being openly questioned, and their patriotism and loyalty to the new nation of Pakistan were being doubted. “The opposition leaders, especially the communists and the Hindu leaders of the then East Bengal, were being routinely branded as the fifth columnists and spies of India.” Many Bengali Muslim leaders who opposed the Muslim League Government in East Bengal were also branded as the ‘traitor’ and paid agents of India.” (M.B. Nair, Ibid, p. 61).  
There were also instances where the Awami League-sponsored public meetings and processions were disturbed or dispersed by the ‘hired goonda’ of the ruling Muslim League. As the principal founder as well as the first President of the (EPAML), Maulana Bhasani and scores of his party loyalists and progressive forces had to face stiff resistance from the Muslim Leaguers, and they were also the victims of repressive measurers of both the Central Government of Pakistan and reactionary provincial government of East Bengal. The hostile political environment of the then East Bengal is well reflected in the words of M. Rashiduzzamman: 

“The political climate for an opposition party was not favourable in Pakistan at that time.  Only a few months after it [EPAML] came into being, an Awami League procession and meeting was lathi (baton) charged and teargas shells were fired by the police. After this incident, nineteen Awami League leaders, including Maulana Bhasani, were arrested. In 1951, the Awami League public meeting scheduled to be addressed by HS Suhrawardy could not be held as the government imposed Section 144 in certain parts of the city. This repressive policy towards the opposition was the natural consequence of an attitude typified by a statement of Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, at Mymensingh, East Pakistan, in December 1950: “Pakistan has been achieved by the Muslim league. As long as I am alive no other political party will be allowed to work here.” [M. Rashiduzzaman, “The Role of Awami League in the Political Development of Pakistan” Asian Survey, July, 1970.]. 

Maulana Bhasani’s resistance movement 
Immediately after the formation of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML), Maulana Bhasani started organising and addressing hundreds of mass meetings throughout the province in order to arouse an awareness among the public about the ineptness of the repressive Muslim League Government. He had also addressed many meetings in the city of Dhaka.  

For example, on June 24, 1949, in the first public meeting of the EPAML at Dhaka’s Armanitola Maidan, Maulana Bhasani vehemently criticized the provincial government for its blatant failures in fulfilling the minimum demands of the people. In another public meeting which was organized by East Pakistan Muslim Student League (EPMSL) on September 11, 1949, Maulana Bhasani earnestly appealed to the people to dislodge the autocratic and repressive government of Pakistan through organising resistance movement.  

In a mammoth public meeting on October 11, 1949 at Armanitola Maidan, he forcefully demanded the immediate resignation of Chief Minister Nurul Amin’s inept government for its blatant failure in solving the food crisis in the province. In defiance of the Section 144, Maulana Bhasani also led the ‘hunger march’ to press for redressing the food crisis in the province. Of course, the police force had lathi-charged the procession in which several dozen hunger marchers were injured. Maulana Bhasani was arrested under special powers act on October 13, 1949, and his illegal detention was protested by spontaneous demonstrations throughout the province. He was kept in jail till he was released on December 10, 1950. In fact, the East Bengal Government was compelled to release him from detention after he started a prolonged fasting inside the jail.  

The Awami League leaders had vehemently opposed the anti-Bengali recommendations of the infamous Basic Principles Committee (BPC) Report. Although the anti-BPC movement was short-lived, it provided a golden opportunity for the EPAML to arouse an awareness among the masses throughout the province about the anti-Bengali constitutional design of the Punjabi and non-Bengali-Mohajir dominated Central Government of Pakistan.  
The anti-BPC movement took place in two phases: first one started immediately after the ‘Report of the BPC of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP) with regard to the future Constitution of Pakistan’ was published in the national dailies on September 29, 1950. “The second phase of the anti-BPC movement started soon after the Second draft of the BPC Report was submitted to the central legislature of Pakistan (CAP) on December 22, 1952.  Immediately after the publication of the first draft of the BPC report on September 29, 1950, there was a widespread condemnation for its anti-Bengali bias throughout East Bengal. There is no doubt that the EPAML leaders spearheaded this phase of the anti-BPC report movement. The opponents of this Report had clearly demanded that any future Constitution of Pakistan must ensure ‘full regional autonomy for East Bengal’ and ‘recognition of Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan.’
Although Maulana Bhasani was in jail when the first phase of the anti-BPC movement started, he joined the movement immediately after his release. For instance, in addressing a public meeting at Armanitola Maidan on December 24, 1950, he demanded for immediate withdrawal of all anti-Bengali policies of both the central and provincial governments. On his sarcastic queries, the attendees in the meeting had expressed votes of no confidence in the Central Government of Pakistan and the East Bengal government. Neither Liaquat Ali Khan nor Nurul Amin had any reason to feel amused or elated with such authentic and popular votes of no confidence in their governments on a Day when the new nation of Pakistan was celebrating the Seventy Sixth Birth Anniversary of M.A. Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan! Characterizing the BPC Report as both ‘un-Islamic’ and ‘un-democratic’, Maulana Bhasani, in a pamphlet on January 1, 1951, directed all of his party workers to mobilize public opinion against the evil design of the ruling coterie of Pakistan. The stiff resistance from all quarters of people of the province had compelled Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister, to announce the postponement of any discussion on the BPC Report.  

The second phase of the anti-BPC movement was ignited after Khwaja Nazimuddin, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, had tabled the Second draft of the BPC Report to the CAP on December 22, 1952. The truth of the matter is that there was hardly any substantive modification of the BPC Report excepting Khwaja Nazimuddin’s new anti-Bengali ploy for introducing the so-called parity-principle between the two wings of Pakistan. Maulana Bhasani and other leaders of his party (EPAML) were also in the vanguard of this phase of the anti-BPC movement.  The concerned and patriotic people of the then East Bengal had quickly rejected Khwaja Nazimuddin’s version of the BPC Report. Maulana Bhasani had the distinct honor of presiding over a large public meeting at Paltan Maidan on December 11, 1953, organised by the All-party anti-BPC movement, in observance of the Anti-BPC Protest Day. 

Maulana Bhasani had relentlessly articulated the genuine grievances of Bengalees including the demand for Bangla to be recognized as one of the State languages of Pakistan. Although the Bengali Language Movement was spearheaded and sustained by the student community of Dhaka University, all historic resistance movements in the then East Pakistan in the early years of Pakistan, including the 1952 phase of the language movement, had received a great deal of support both from the Awami League and its founding president Maulana Bhasani. He had presided over the historic meeting of the ‘All-Party Language Working Committee’ on January 31, 1952. In a public meeting in Dhaka on February 4, 1952, he had vehemently criticized the anti-Bengali policies of the then ruling coteries of Pakistan, and vowed to continue his struggle till the goal of making Bengali as one of the State languages Pakistan was accomplished. On February 6, 1952, he had presided over a meeting of the All-Party State Language Committee at 150 Mugholtuli Road, Dhaka, and in the following weeks he toured several towns in various districts in order to enlist mass support for his anti-government movement. He was out of Dhaka when the language demonstrators were brutally gunned down by the police on the fateful day of February 21, 1952. On hearing the news of police atrocities, he had rushed back to Dhaka, and led the Gaibe Janaza for the language martyrs on February 22, 1952 at the Dhaka Medical College premise.
For his relentless support and direct involvement in the 1952-phase of the Bengali language movement, Maulana Bhasani was arrested on April 10, 1952, and he was put behind bar without trial till he was released from jail on April 21, 1953. However, he did not deviate from his commitment toward making Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan when the first Council Meeting of EPAML was held on November 14-15, 1953.  The newly adopted party manifesto, adopted by the EPAML Council Meeting, demanded that ‘Bengali’ should be recognized as one of the State languages o Pakistan. Nor did he compromise on the State language issue when the Jukta Front (United Front) was formed on December 4, 1953. There is little wonder why the first and foremost demand of the Ekush Dofa (21-Point Program) of the United Front underscored the need for the ‘recognition of Bengali as one of the State languages of Pakistan.’ 

The United Front (Jukta Front) was formed in December, 1953 as an electoral alliance of several political parties that included East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML), Krishak-Sramik Party (KSP), Nezam-e Islam Party (NIP), Gonotontree Dol (GD), and Khilafat-e Rabbani Party (KRP). Maulana Bhasani, of course in collaboration with A.K. Fazlul Hoque and H.S. Suhrawardy, was instrumental in the formation United Front (UF). Given the fact that the EPAML was the largest party of this historic electoral alliance, the 21-point election manifesto of the ‘Jukta Front’ reflected most of the popular demands that were thus far articulated by Maulana Bhasani and other progressive forces of the then East Pakistan. A great deal of credit was also due to Maulana Bhasani’s charisma, relentlessness, and his oratory and organizational skills for the landslide victory of Jukta Front in 1954 election in which the ruling Muslim League party was virtually routed out from the political scene of the then East Bengal. 

Maulana Bhasani vehemently criticized the Central Government of Pakistan for illegally dismantling Sher-E-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq’s United Front Government in East Bengal. Although he was outside the country when the Governor’s rule was imposed in 1954 under the provision of the infamous Act 92A, he had launched a vociferous attack on the colonial mode of Pakistan’s Central Government.  However,, he was dismayed when both Shere Bangla Fazlul Huq and H.S. Suhrawardy had joined the Central Government of Pakistan as Ministers in Mohammad Ali Bogora’s Cabinet without any regard to the pre-election pledges of the United Front and the illegal removal of a legitimately elected Government in the then East Bengal.  

The Awami League and its chief leader Maulana Bhasani became the ardent champions of full-blown autonomy for East Bengal in the early years of Pakistan. The historic Convention of the dissidents from the ruling Muslim League and the progressive forces of East Bengal that created the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML) on June 23, 1949 had declared its pragmatic ‘aims and objects’ pending the preparation and adoption of formal party manifesto.  Of all the declarations of that historic Convention, ‘the recognition of Bengali as a State language of Pakistan’ and ‘full regional autonomy for East Pakistan’ were the most significant ones. The EPAML manifesto which was adopted in 1953 also declared that there would be complete autonomy for the East and West constituent units of Pakistan. “One of the most professed popular demands of United Front’s Ekush Dofa also underscored ‘full autonomy to the provinces in accordance with the 1940 Lahore Resolution, leaving only defence, foreign affairs and currency to the Central Government of Pakistan.”  Although the Awami League, as a party, had vacillated or moderated its stand on the issue of ‘provincial autonomy’ when HS Suhrawardy became the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Maulana Bhasani never shelved or compromised his commitment to ‘full-fledged regional autonomy for East Bengal.รข€? On a matter of principle, he had sharply disagreed with H.S. Suhrawardy’s opportunistic version or convenient interpretation of East Pakistan’s demand for full autonomy. He also openly criticized HS Suhrawardy’s advocacy for adopting the so-called ‘One Unit’ plan for uniting or centralizing the Western regions of Pakistan.  

Maulana Bhasani had vehemently opposed H.S. Suhrwardy’s support for ‘Parity Principle, ‘an ‘anti-Bengali’ policy deliberately crafted into the 1956 Constitution in order to deny the numerical majority of Bangalees in the Central Legislature and the Central Services of Pakistan. Being totally disgusted with the deplorable state of political affairs in mid-1950s, Maulana Bhasani had started demanding complete separation of East Pakistan from the rest of Pakistan, and his oft-quoted ‘Assalamalaikum’ to West Pakistan was early warning for subsequent separation of East Pakistan from the rest of Pakistan.

Concluding remarks
The political development in East Bengal in the early years of Pakistan was very much conditioned by the anti-Bengalee policies and ploys of both the Central Government of Pakistan and the collaborationist provincial Government of the then East Bengal. The chief intent of the Karachi-anchored Punjabi-Mohajir dominated Pakistani rulers was to perpetuate their colonial policy in the then eastern province of Pakistan through the use of the loyalist Muslim League Government. The reactionary provincial regimes of both Khwaja Nazimuddin and Nurul Amin had willingly initiated and enthusiastically implemented various repressive and discriminatory measures in East Bengal for furthering and sustaining the colonial interests of the Central Government of Pakistan.  

However, the progressive forces of the then East Bengal had made a conscious determination to fight the evil policies and ploys of those renegades and reactionary collaborators. Instead of being browbeaten by the anti-Bengali ruling coterie of Pakistan, the people of the then East Bengal had started their fight for establishing their legitimate rights.  

Maulana Bhasani had played a defining role in the difficult task of building-up a viable opposition party in Pakistan in an era when the overwhelming majority of Muslim population of the then East Bengal was not yet ready to be disillusioned with the euphoria of Pakistan movement. Doubtless, his was the fearless dissenting voice in those formative years of Pakistan. Therefore, the appearance of Maulana Bhasani in the regressive political scenario of the then East Bengal as the most dauntless dissenting voice and an effective organizer of a sustainable opposition party that was capable of building-up a sustainable resistance movement was nothing short of a miracle 

Maulana Bhasani’s stature as one of the greatest political heroes of Bangladesh’s history comes not from any single action or accomplishment but from his lifelong commitment toward establishing or accruing social justice for all through political activism. He espoused a genuine cause for protecting, articulating, and enhancing the interests of the common people of the then eastern province of Pakistan. Underneath the flowing beard, Maulana Bhasani was a serious man with a deep sense of compassion for the disadvantaged segments of the society. 

It is understood from whatever limited literature is available on the early phase of his life that he had learnt to be compassionate in his youth by doing compassionate acts for the underdogs of the society, and he cared for them even more as he grew older. He had remained a dedicated fighter till he breathed his last for accruing social justice for those people who were unjustly dispossessed, disinherited, abandoned, and humiliated. Maulana Bhasani’s action orientation to his life, moral tone in his politics, and his lifelong commitment to social justice and fairness were the determining factors for his spectacular emergence as the most authentic planter and organizer of politics opposition and agitation in the then East Bengal in the formative years of Pakistan.

Tipai: Another Disappointment

The recent developments regarding Tipaimukh are shocking and if there is an outpouring of concern in Bangladesh it is perhaps because of our experience with Farraka … once bitten twice shy. And clearly a commitment that it would not take steps on the Tipaimukh that would adversely impact Bangladesh has been breached by India. And to say that it has added to our frustrations would be an understatement, as if the Teesta disappointment was not enough. And this will do nothing to endear the government of India to the people of Bangladesh. 

It is disconcerting to learn that all the necessary preliminaries have been completed to commence work on the Tipai dam project. And this raises several issues and questions apart from the fact that it reinforces a feeling in many in Bangladesh that putting one's trust in India for reciprocity may be often misplaced. It also shows how inept our ministries are in handling bilateral issues and how dismally they have failed to keep tabs on developments across our borders that impact upon our national interest. 

Till November 22 our mission in Delhi was still waiting for an official response to the developments. We have a response from the Indian side now, and that too as a reaction to media reports in Bangladesh. Apparently our Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) had not managed to send off a letter to India till now in response to reports on the Tipai development. The Indian reaction is a mere reiteration of their position that the project would have no adverse impact on Bangladesh.

Clearly there are two sets of issues that we must address in this regard. Firstly, the issue of mutual assurances and understanding. Leaving aside the right of Bangladesh as a lower riparian to be consulted on any work on a common river, implied in the Indian assurances is the commitment to take Bangladesh into confidence by consulting it in this regard. Thus while we find the Indian statement of November 22 rather interesting giving one to understand that it was a rather innocuous signing of a "Promoter's Agreement" with the purpose of setting up a Joint Venture Company between the government of Manipur, NHPC Ltd and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd on October 22, we find the statement of our state minister for water resources, that the matter is entirely an internal issue of India and Bangladesh has nothing to do with it, utterly preposterous.

We have neither been consulted nor kept informed of the development even if it is as harmless as setting up of a joint venture company to construct a hydroelectricity project for the generation of 1,500 MW of electricity. And there is very little doubt that this has been a great embarrassment for Sheikh Hasina and her government, who can rightly feel let down.

We have stated in the past that her proactive actions as regards mutual issues since coming to office were statesmanlike but risky. Bangladesh has more than met the primary concern of India, that of security. It had handed over several ULFA leaders hiding in our territory without waiting for formalisation of an extradition treaty between the two countries.

Bangladesh did not wait for fulfilling the necessary formalities before allowing transit to India and that even without working out the tariff for the service provided. And this was done in spite of the fact that we did not have the required infrastructure, and alternative arrangements had to be made for movement of over-dimensional vehicles at the expense of our existing roads. Our main concern, the common rivers' water has been given a short shrift.

The second, and perhaps even more important, is the environmental and ecological impact of the project and the eventual harm to the lower riparians it might cause; and that includes some of the North Indian states.
The Indian assurance is not backed up by any study whatsoever. The Indian claims have been contradicted by a study in Bangladesh conducted by Institute of Water Management in 2005. And without going into the differences between a dam and a barrage, it is clear that any impediment on a river will have an influence on its flow. By one account seventy million people are likely to be adversely affected by the dam.

Therefore, there is very strong rationale for a joint study to determine the potential impact of the project since there is clearly a divergence of view on it, not only between Bangladesh and India but also within India itself. And Bangladesh should make a case for this most forcefully. We find an element of timidity on our part to demand our due share from India, whether it is Tipai or Teesta.

As for our own agencies, it would do well for the MoFA in particular to be more proactive. One would hope that it would not have to wait for press reports at home to wake up to the developments which occurred almost a month ago. Our man in New Delhi should have been aware of this and alerted Dhaka as soon as things happened. But then Delhi autumn can have the most torpid effect, particularly on diplomats. 

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Tipaimukh Dam Ignores Environmental Norms

The controversial construction of mega Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Power (HEP) Project on Barak river in Manipur disrespects the calls of the people from both upstream and downstream (Barak valley) for seeking their consent and to adhere to existing environmental and social norms and notwithstanding the Opposition from people living in downstream in Bangladesh, North East Dialogue Forum has asserted.

In a statement, Co-ordinator of the Forum S Dhanabir contended that the project proponents of the Tipaimukh HEP is yet to conduct a detailed and independent Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), which is required under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 of India and its amendment of 1994, where data should encompass information collected over a period of at least one year of all seasons to bring out the likely impact of the project on the ecology, environment, human and wild life population at the site itself and both up and downstream.

The Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for formulating, implementing and monitoring environmental protection measures during and after the project commissioning and concrete Rehabilitation and Resettlement Plan for people to be affected is also absent.

For this reason, people from upstream and downstream, both in Barak Valley and Bangladesh, protesting the construction of Tipaimukh dam for ages.

It is a fact that there is shortage of power in Manipur, but it would be meaningless to perceive that this shortage would be made up by the proposed Tipaimukh Dam as there would be immense ill-impact on the environment, the Forum observed, and suggested that the government can plan some micro-hydel projects on the Barak river to solve the problem and at the same time saves the environment from mass degradation.

The Forum pointed out that the Earth Science Department, Manipur University has already carried out a rough survey to investigate the possibility of micro-hydel projects on Barak river and the study explored the possibility of more than 130 such projects.

If these projects were taken up, there would be equal area development with people's participation and automatically clean development mechanism from the grassroots level would be upheld.

The UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination has also urged the government of India not to construct Tipai-mukh Dam in its concluding observation of the seventieth session from February 19 to March 9, 2007 and in its special communications made on August 15, 2008; March 13, 2009 and September 23, 2009, the Forum further pointed out and urged authorities concerned to follow free, fair and prior informed consent of the people under ILO Convention 107 .

‘Militancy, Extremism And Nukes: A Dangerous Mix’

The Atlantic Magazine, an American monthly, has recently run a report titled ‘The Ally from Hell’. Though the Atlantic story--- filed by Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder--- focuses on Pakistan Army’s links with Jihadis yet it has some chilling tidbits that should concern every citizen in Pakistan: the theft of country’s nuclear weapons. The Viewpoint has sought A H Nayyer’s opinion on the Atlantic report. Leading peace activist, A H Nayyer is a physicist and an educationist. Read on:

The Atlantic says: “At least six facilities widely believed to be associated with Pakistan’s nuclear program have already been targeted by militants. In November 2007, a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying workers to the Sargodha air base, which is believed to house nuclear weapons; the following month, a school bus was attacked outside Kamra air base, which may also serve as a nuclear storage site; in August 2008, Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers attacked what experts believe to be the country’s main nuclear-weapons-assembly depot in Wah cantonment.”

Can we consider these attacks as attacks on nuclear facilities? Or is it mere sensationalism?

Let me state at the outset that while the Atlantic report seems a little too sensationalizing and may have been written with suspect motives, and hence worth trashing on various counts, I firmly believe that the combination of raging militancy, religious extremism and nuclear weapons is a very dangerous mix, not only for us in the country but also for the world at large. The combination makes nuclear weapons unsafe, and increases the risk of nuclear terrorism by a large factor. The militancy we are facing in the country is by forces which have the following characteristics: (1) they are vying to capture state power to impose their ideology on the society; (2) death does not scare them. They are looking for rewards in the world hereafter and hence eager to face martyrdom and have a huge stock of suicide bombers; (3) they are in the middle of a war of survival and hence desperately looking for lethal weapons to use, and (4) they have sympathizers in nearly all walks of life in Pakistan, including the military and defence science establishments.

As the Atlantic article correctly mentions, these forces have been waging a war against the Pakistani society. They have killed civilians indiscriminately through terrorist bombings in cities, and have pointedly attacked and hurt Pakistani military. They have launched brazen attacks against very heavily guarded military garrison, bases and headquarters. Many of the attacks may have taken place perilously close to facilities connected with the production of components and materials for nuclear weapons and with storage of nuclear weapons. We are therefore all very concerned about the challenge to the security of nuclear weapons from them. The inside support their attacks have received so far indicates that these forces have made ideological inroads into the military and the nuclear establishment.

No country possessing nuclear weapon can afford to keep them in one place because that makes them susceptible to pre-emptive strikes from the enemy, eroding the deterrent value of the weapons. They have to be dispersed, and dispersed in locations not easily locatable. The larger the number of nuclear weapons, larger will be the number of places of storing them. The dispersal must be accompanied by a dispersal of command and control also, or they may not be usable when needed. The dispersal therefore increases two risks: security of weapons, and unauthorized use of weapons. The world has faced this problem for decades, and has devised ways to reduce the risks. The command and control system has been perfected to meet this challenge, and the system of permissive action links reduces the risk of unauthorised use. Pakistan seems to have diligently implemented such protective measures. In additions, the weapons are claimed to have been stored in a state of separated components so that a single heist may not let the robbers acquire a usable nuclear weapon.

But we continue to have our fears as the state continues to be challenged by the Islamic militants. Recall that a little while ago, the Pakistani Taliban had wrested away control of Swat, Shangla nd Buner out of the Pakistani state. Had a nuclear weapon storage site been located in any of these areas, it would have come under the control of the Pakistani Taliban. Nuclear weapons could have become theirs. We thank our luck that it did not happen. But if the Pakistani state does not mend its ways and continues on the path of degeneration, the void is most likely to be filled by Taliban-like forces. In such a situation, they would naturally become the legitimate owners of nuclear weapons which they may not hesitate to share with other international jehadists. The choice before Pakistan is very stark: either improve your governance or give up your nuclear weapons.

According to Atlantic: “Nuclear-weapons components are sometimes moved by helicopter and sometimes moved over roads. And instead of moving nuclear material in armored, well-defended convoys, the SPD prefers to move material by subterfuge, in civilian-style vehicles without noticeable defenses, in the regular flow of traffic. According to both Pakistani and American sources, vans with a modest security profile are sometimes the preferred conveyance. And according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, the Pakistanis have begun using this low-security method to transfer not merely the “de-mated” component nuclear parts but “mated” nuclear weapons.”
Do you think in case of a road accident, such a method of transporting nuclear material can pose nuclear danger?

There is nothing new in the mobility of nuclear weapons. They are moved from place to place in all nuclear weapon states, and moving around by road or railways is considered safer than by air because it limits the extent of damage in case of an accident. But usually they are moved in de-mated form, component by component. However, one should not be surprised to see them moved around in fully deployable form. After all, mobile launchers of nuclear tipped missiles move around with loaded nuclear weapons from place to place. They contain a battery of several vehicles including TEL (Transporter, Erector, Launcher), fuel injector, weapon system, guidance system, and so on. Being able to launch missiles from mobile launchers means that the weapons are taken out of their storage sites and moved around to suitable places for launching. Similarly, TELs are mounted on railway trains also. All of this needs to be done in an inconspicuous manner, and there has to be an optimum combination of security and stealth. Obviously if you move them around in the company of a battalion of soldiers with sirens blaring out in front and at the back, you will fail to serve the purpose of their movement.

Take the case of need of movement in Pakistan's nuclear program. Pakistan's nuclear installations, even the military ones, are located far from each other. Thus, uranium mined and milled in Isakhel is transported by road to Kundian for fuel fabrication. The fuel is then transported to Khushab for burning in the reactors there. The burned (spent) fuel is then transported to Rawalpindi for reprocessing which yields plutonium for weapons. This plutonium is transported to another location, perhaps near Wah, for turning into metallic form and machining into shape for nuclear weapons. These cores are then transported to yet another facility where the bomb is made. Following the uranium route for nuclear weapons, uranium from Isakhel is sent to some place, perhaps near Multan, for turning it into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is sent to Kahuta, Rawalpindi, for enrichment. The enriched gas is sent back to a plant for turning it into uranium metal, which is taken to another place for machining into a weapon core, and then to another facility for making weapons out of the uranium cores.

All of this is done by road, and one or the other movement is taking place at nearly every instant of time. So, what The Atlantic has said only sensationalizes what happens all the time in Pakistan as it happens in India, in Russia, in China, in the US, etc.

It is true that an accident in transportation can cause serious problems, not as much when a vehicle carrying weapons or weapon components meets one, but when, for example, a vehicle transporting spent fuel from Khushab to Rawalpindi for reprocessing suffers an accident. The contents are extremely toxic and remain lethally radioactive for thousands of years. If such an accident occurs, anyone directly exposed will surely die in a short while. Others to whom radioactivity is carried by winds will get cancers and eventually die. Radioactivity will also cause genetic mutations in a large number of people resulting in abnormal child births, like it happened in Chernobyl. The place of accident will be unusable for several decades.

Atlantic claims: “Nuclear bombs capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans on congested and dangerous roads. And Pakistani and American sources say that since the raid on Abbottabad, the Pakistanis have provoked anxiety inside the Pentagon by increasing the pace of these movements. In other words, the Pakistani government is willing to make its nuclear weapons more vulnerable to theft by jihadists simply to hide them from the United States, the country that funds much of its military budget.Your comments on this situation?

I think an article like this adds much more to the fear than inter-government communications. As has been explained above, mobile missile launchers travel by commonly used roads, and are mobile most of the time. They carry fully deployable nuclear warheads, although Pakistan has now claimed that it keeps its nuclear weapons in de-mated state. Every country that has mobile nuclear missile launchers in its arsenal will have them constantly on the move.

We need to also look at the question of USA raiding Pakistan to grab or destroy its nuclear weapons. USA will not embark on such a mission unless it is one hundred percent sure that it can take out ALL the nuclear weapons, because leaving behind a few would mean inviting more dangers for the US. Please note that there are many different voices from the USA, and as many views as there are voices. Some raise unnecessary alarm out of their political compulsions. I think when looking at such news from the USA, we need to also see who is saying what. The government policy is articulated only by the Departments of State (i.e., USA’s ministry of foreign affairs) and Department of Defense.

Stephen P. Cohen, the Brookings Institution scholar, is quoted in Atlantic report as saying that if Pakistan were not in possession of nuclear weapons, the problem would not be nearly the same. Pakistan without nuclear weapons, he says, would be the equivalent of “Nigeria without oil”—a much lower foreign-policy priority’. Do you agree or disagree with Cohen’s assessment?
The Atlantic article is pretty offensive in tone and tenor. It starts with the words, "Pakistan lies." Full stop. Quoting Steve Cohen's statement is meant to trash Pakistan. But unwittingly it also means that the article admits that nuclear weapons have imparted value to Pakistan, implying that Pakistan is not going to give them up easily, which means that the US will have to find ways to live with a nuclear Pakistan.

Atlantic reveals: “In the recent past, the U.S. has spent as much as $100 million to help the SPD build better facilities and safety-and-security systems”. Does this not contradict the hype in Pakistani media that the USA wants to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear facilities? And your comment on Pakistani media for not highlighting this fact? 

How can we blame Pakistanis for the hype when articles of this kind are the primary source of the fears. Looking at it logically, there is no contradiction between the USA spending money to safeguard Pakistan's nuclear installations, and wishing to also destroy Pakistan's nuclear facilities. The first could be in the hope that things could be brought under control, while the second could be an act of desperations when things seem to be going out of hand. Let me also remind you that Pakistan is not the only country where the USA spent money to guard against nuclear dangers. Russia after Soviet Union was the first such place. Under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program of 1992, USA extended a lot of financial assistance to the economically weak Russia to ensure that its huge nuclear complex does not sink and lead to nuclear black marketing. It extended hard cash for paying salaries of scientists, erected safety portals on nuclear installations to remove the danger of smuggling in nuclear materials, and it bought off thousands of tons of Russian highly enriched uranium, took it to the US and in the presence of Russian scientists blended it down to non-weapon usable low enriched uranium. The bill was much larger than that for securing Pakistan's nuclear facilities. 

Before the Nunn-Lugar program, the Russian weapons labs were in a very bad financial condition. Scientists had not received salaries for over 6 months. I knew some Russian scientists from weapon labs who used to economize even on their cigarettes by extinguishing them after a couple of puffs each time. What the USA did was to buy security for itself. Spending money in Pakistan was for the same purpose.

Atlantic claims: “military planners, preparations for the emergency denuclearization of Pakistan are on par with only two other priority-one global-crisis plans: one involves the possible U.S. invasion of Iran and the other involves a possible conflict with China. All three of these potential crises are considered low-probability but high-risk, to be prepared for accordingly”. Does this not compliment the fears expressed in Pakistani media?

Should Delhi Intervene In Troubled Manipur?

India's northeastern state of Manipur has been under siege for more than 100 days, as rival tribes, the Kukis and the Nagas, vie for power. The isolated, landlocked state depends on two main highways for essential goods. On Aug. 1, 2011, the Kukis blockaded both routes, demanding the creation of a Kuki-dominated district. After 92 days, the government agreed, only to have the Nagas launch their own blockade against the settlement.

Three months later, the state is at risk of an acute humanitarian crisis, with fuel stocks and medical supplies running short. Indian television channel NDTV reported recently that the state's largest government hospital was running out of medicines and oxygen and doctors unable to carry out surgeries. Manipuris have been paying 3 to 5 times more for petrol and cooking gas. As the situation worsens, many Indians are calling on the federal government to get involved. "There is an immediate need for federal intervention," says Pradip Phanjoubam, editor-proprietor of Imphal Free Press and a resident of Manipur. "They are national highways, and hence the union government does have the right to intervene and open up the highways and ask the agitators to agitate somewhere else."

That might be tough. There are as many as 23 separatist groups waging a decades-old insurgency in Manipur. The rivalry between the majority Meiteis, who live in the valley, and the martial tribes of Nagas and Kukis who live in the mountains makes governing difficult. On Nov. 8, the 100th day of the blockage, Manipur's Chief Minister Ibobi Singh said the government's patience was running out and promised "stern action." A week later, the blockade persists and calls are mounting for direct intervention from New Delhi.

The federal government, though, seems wary of wading into a distant conflict between old rivals. "The problem lies as much in [the state capital] as in Delhi, which is totally ignorant of the strong emotions which these ethnic loyalties have," Ved Marwah, a former governor of Manipur told TIME. "There is no democracy" in Manipur, he said "but rather the trappings of democracy and a combination of tribal society, various insurgent groups and total corruption."

For these reasons, some observers have called for the state to be placed under President's rule. Others have argued against it for Manipur, which has seen political instability since the 1970s and has been under the President's rule seven times already. The last time President's rule was imposed in Manipur was in 2001 on the recommendations of Marwah, who was the then governor of Manipur. He doesn't think it is the solution anymore. "As long as Manipur remains polarized on ethnic lines, any long-standing solution is impossible."

One of the loudest voices in favor of direct federal rule in Manipur is the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). "There is a failed government in Manipur which is not doing anything to ameliorate the sufferings of the people there," BJP party member and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha told reporters in New Delhi last Friday. He demanded that the state government be dismissed immediately and President's rule imposed. The federal government, however, has shown little interest in this approach, preferring to offer money instead. When Home Minister P. Chidambaram visited Manipur on Nov. 2, he said keeping peace in the state would ensure "no shortage of fund[s] from the central government." While New Delhi mulls its options, Manipur is left waiting, hoping for change somewhere down the road.

Transit-Corridor And Sovereignty Of Bangladesh

Transit-Corridor and Sovereignty of Bangladesh : How Should We Respond.

The recent developments, especially with the unhindered transport of goods from Kolkata (India) to Tripura (India) via rivers and roads using Ashugonj port in Bangladesh, and the proposal for using the Chittagong port for the same purpose have generated extreme controversies and uncertainties in the already divided internal politics of Bangladesh. These issues as well as the proposed Asian Highway routes through Bangladesh are matters of serious concern to the people of Bangladesh.
The former Prime Minister and present opposition leader Khaleda Zia expressed her apprehension very recently (27 October) that by providing transit-corridor to India, the present government is trying to turn Bangladesh into another “Sikkim”. The ruling party as well as the pro-Indian Lobby in Bangladesh would characterize this allegation as another baseless “anti-Indian outburst” by Khaleda Zia, but in reality she has simply given voice to the concerns of majority of the Bangladeshi citizens.
Since the transit-corridor issues have many-fold implications, including national interests and sovereign status as a state, it is imperative to get a clear picture of the issues involved and also how we can respond to the challenges imposed from outside but with the connivance and collaborations of a section of the ruling government.
Transshipment, transit and corridor
There are three modes for regional and international movement of goods – transshipment, transit and corridor. Each form has a different meaning and significance for the parties involved.
Transshipment is the act of shipping goods to an intermediate destination and then from there to yet another destination. Transshipment is normally fully legitimate and widely used for international trade. However, it can be used illegitimately to disguise country of origin or intent of the goods to avoid restrictions and customs duties.
Transit means the transportation of goods and passengers from one country over a particular land or water route of another country to a third country in accordance to specific agreement and regulations. The host country retains the sovereign control of the route. Movement of goods from India to Myanmar, for example, over a route in Bangladesh may be said to enjoy ‘transit facilities’.
Corridor is usually a narrow strip of land connecting one part of a country to another part of the same country, e.g. the Siliguri Corridor (Chicken’s Neck) of India. It also means giving one country full control over a certain part of the territory of another country for transport of goods and for other purposes.
During the last two years, Bangladesh and India have signed several agreements on movement of Indian goods using several points and routes in Bangladesh. While the term ‘Transit’ has been used in these agreements, its nature is more in line with ‘Corridor’ facilities. Bangladesh has not yet given full control to India, but the latter is being given unilateral use of the route.
In recent months, while Indian lorries carrying heavy equipment passed from Ashugonj to Agartala breaking the serial, Bangladeshi trucks carrying exportable goods from Bangladesh to India’s Tripura state were required to wait. Indian lorries had preference and total freedom of movement on the Bangladeshi roads. The facilities for transport of Indian goods from one part of India to its another part (entry and exit points in the same country) are best described as ‘transit-corridor’ facilities. The term ‘transshipment’ used by certain quarters in this context is inappropriate and misleading.

Why does India want Transit-Corridor through Bangladesh?
There are several reasons for which India has been insisting on getting transit-corridor facilities through Bangladesh. Some of these reasons are as follows:

1. Unfettered, cost-effective access to the northeast states.

It is a geographical reality that Bangladesh is ‘India locked’, being surrounded on three sides by Indian territories. In the same sense, the northeast states (Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tripura) of India are ‘Bangladesh locked’. The so-called Chicken's Neck separating Bangladesh and Nepal is the only narrow strip of land (24 km in width) that connects West Bengal and mainland India with the northeast states. Transport of goods and people through the Chicken’s Neck is very expensive and time consuming. This hinders India’s access to the resource-rich northeast. Transit-corridor facilities through Bangladesh would be easier, less time consuming and also much less expensive (saving about two-thirds of the present cost of US$ 100 billion per year).

2. Eliminating the insurgency threats in the northeast.

India has been fighting insurgency movements in the north east region for several decades without any end in sight. The peoples inhabiting these areas are historically, ethnically, religiously, culturally different from those inhabiting the mainland India. It is only during the British rule (in 1860s) that these areas were incorporated into the ‘Indian Empire’. But the peoples of these lands have always cherished their independence and waged various struggles including armed struggles to realize their demands. These struggles are continuing even today. India considers these movements as threat to its territorial integrity and security, and wants to suppress them at any cost. Movement of armed personnel and armaments through Bangladesh would be much easier for India to suppress these insurgency threats.

3. Preparing for any future military confrontation with China in the Arunachal Pradesh.

India has longstanding territorial disputes with China, in the northwest and northeast regions of the Himalayan mountain range. In the northeast, the dispute over in Arunachal Pradesh (which the Chinese call Zhangnan or South Tibet (83,743 sq km or 32,333 sq miles in area) is yet to be resolved. Whether the issue would be settled amicably and peacefully can not be foretold, but India is not taking any chances. It has been strengthening its military preparedness (both defensive and offensive) in these regions for many years now, especially after the disastrous 1962 border war with China. In recent years India has been allocating huge resources for the modernization and expansion of its armed forces. In the northeast, plans are being implemented to expand the existing capabilities by raising an additional 100,000 forces including two divisions for mountain warfare and special operations.

4. Easy access to Myanmar resources and market.

Myanmar is located to the east and south east of both Bangladesh and India. The country is full of natural resources including oil and gas both on the land and in the sea. It has also tremendous potential for harnessing hydroelectric power. Because of these resources, and also for strategic reasons, direct links and access to Myanmar is very important to both China and India, the two economic and military giants of Asia. China already has direct land routes to Myanmar, but India has none at the moment. India wants to offset this disadvantage by having direct land routes from its northeast to Myanmar, but by opposing the route via Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf of the proposed Asian Highway.

None of these requirements as well as India’s geo-strategic ambitions in the East can be easily fulfilled without an extensive transit-corridor system through Bangladesh.

Transit-corridor: India-Bangladesh agreements 2010-11

For the last four decades, India has been trying to get unilateral transit-corridor facilities through Bangladesh without giving anything signifycant in return. India’s response to Bangladesh needs and legitimate demands (expected out of any deal between friendly countries) has always been one of double-talk, deception, excuses and backtracking. India did not do anything positive to produce an environment of trust and friendship with Bangladesh. That is why no government from 1972 to 2006 granted transit-corridor facilities to India.

The scenario changed in 2007, when the foreign-backed Moeen-Fakhruddin semi-military government agreed in principle to grant unilateral transit-corridor facilities to India, but the regime did not have enough time to sign the necessary agreements and protocols. However, once the Sheikh Hasina government came to power in 2009, granting transit-corridor facilities to India became her highest priority of all national issues (apart from hanging those found guilty of killing her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman).

For some unexplained reasons, Sheikh Hasina became too willing to give in to Indian demands especially on the security and transit issues. High profile visits to Dhaka and New Delhi by government ministers, officials and policy makers on both sides became too frequent, accompanied by intense public relations campaign on the necessity and benefits of allowing transit facilities to India. Those questioning the deal to be made in secret and in a haste were criticized in derogatory terms such as ‘ignorant’’, anti-India, anti-liberation’, etc.

Different agreements and protocols were signed initially during Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Delhi on January 12, 2010, and finally during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka on September 6, 2011. These were hailed as historic success by India and die-hard pro-Indian elements in Bangladesh, but heavily criticised by others for granting unilateral facilities to India without reciprocal and concrete returns.

Full details of the Hasina-Singh agreements have not been published. However, according to various media reports, the main points of the agreements are as follows:

(1) Bangladesh would allow Indian container cargo by rail, road and river transport (no restriction on air traffic).

(2) It would provide India access to Ashugonj Port for transport of heavy machinery (Over-Dimensional Cargo, ODC) for construction of a power plant in Tripura.

(3) It would allow the use of Chittagong and Mongla seaports by India.

(4) India would allow Bangladesh the use of Tin Bigha Corridor for 24 hours a day for access to the Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves.

(5) Reopen Sabroom-Ramgarh trade point.

(6) Open land route at Demagiri-Thegamukh on Mizoram border.

(7) Start border Haats at the Bangladesh-Meghalaya border.

(8) India would assist Bangladesh in the expansion and modernization of railways and in river dredging.

(9) Problems of all enclaves and disputed border lands would be solved by joint surveys.

(10) Both countries would conduct Joint Hydrological Observations for water sharing treaty of Teesta and other rivers.

(11) A system of joint border management would be put in place for prevention of cross-border crimes, smuggling of arms and goods, drug- and human-trafficking and of illegal movement of people.

(12) Bangladesh would provide assistance to the Indian security forces for suppression of the insurgency movements in the seven sister states.

(13) Both countries would collaborate for security, stability and counter-terrorism in the region.

(14) Both countries would collaborate on healthcare, education, cultural, scientific and other issues

(15) India would allow some Bangladeshi products entry into the Indian market without any duties and by removing the existing tariff and non-tariff barriers, to reduce the huge trade gap.

The above points do suggest that the transit-corridor issues are the main emphasis of the Hasina-Manmohan agreements. And what hurts the people of Bangladesh more is that in the so-called friendly agreements there is no mention of some of their most pressing concerns. For example, there is no mention of indiscriminate border killings by India’s Border Security Force (BSF), India’s unilateral construction of barbed wire fence and security outposts within 150 yards of the common land border (no-man’s land) and the use of Indian soil by some anti-Bangladesh criminals and terrorist gangs. Further, there is nothing significant to address the water issues such as India’s controversial Tipaimukhi dam, its unilateral diversion and withdrawal of waters from international rivers including the Brahmaputra and Treesta, dysfunctional joint rivers commission, its non-compliance of the Ganges Water treaty, and the damages done to Bangladesh by the Farakka barrage (about US$ 140 billion in the last 35 years).

Proposed Transit-Corridor routes.

Although media reports have suggested a possible 15-17 transit-corridor routes for India, we do not yet know exactly how many land and river routes would be used under the recent (and any future) agreements and which would be the exact entry and exit points. What is known, however, is that 2-3 routes would be used for now and other routes would be opened up gradually.
A map published in the Daily Star on July 25, 2011 shows some of the possible transit routes. This map indicates very graphically and clearly that most routes would crisscross Bangladesh from west to the east and from south to the north. All the east-west, and some of the south-north, routes are surely for easy transport between two areas of India. A few south-north routes are proposed to be used by land-locked Nepal and Bhutan (no objection from any quarters of Bangladesh), but considering India’s hyper-sensitivity about its own security, the implementation of this part of the transit process may be a very difficult task.

Map of possible transit routes (Daily Star, July 25, 2011)

The Asian Highway: another transit facility for India.
The proposed ESCAP-led Asian Highway through Bangladesh would also provide additional transit facilities to India.
The present government has also signed agreement on the proposed Asian Highway to pass from India to Myanmar and other east Asian countries. This project when implemented in the present form would also serve India’s transit requirements. The main part of the route (AH1) as favoured by India enters into Bangladesh at Benapol (from West Bengal) and via Dhaka exits at Tamabil (Sylhet) to enter into India’s northeast. The other main route (AH2) enters into North Bangladesh at Banglabandha and also via Dhaka exits at Tamabil into India.
The last BNP government (2001-6) did not sign the Asian Highway agreement because it catered for only Indian interests and did not accept Bangladesh’s proposal for the main route (AH1) to exit at Teknaf (southeastern tip of Bangladesh, rather than Tamabil). Many analysts believe that the country was denied direct road links with Myanmar and other countries in the East including China, mainly due to Indian objections. India objected to the Teknaf route probably out of its fear that with direct highway links with Myanmar, China and other east Asian countries bypassing India, Bangladesh would have a greater choice and freedom of action outside what India considers its own ‘sphere of influence’. Those familiar with the writings of the Indian strategic analysts might have noted that some of them are quite blatant in raising the bogey of Chinese military presence in Chittagong port areas. 

Is Bangladesh prepared for transit-corridor?
The government is committed to giving transit-corridor facilities to India. But the people are apprehensive because of many reasons.
Bangladesh’s road and rail infrastructure is very poor, with inadequate logistics and manpower at Ashugonj and Akhaura ports. It is difficult to support the country’s own transport needs (about 750 trucks a day). How could it accommodate hundreds of heavy Indian vehicles (about 1500 lorries and trucks) using the existing rails and roads? And who will pay for the damages done to the roads and environment?
A dangerous gaping hole on Ramrail Bridge in Brahmanbaria. Railings of the bridge are coming apart. This stretch of road is an integral part of a transit route for India. Infrastructure has not been developed, but transit is on. Inset, this road at Akhaura is too narrow for large vehicles.
An Indian trailer finds it difficult to cross the Anderson canal near Kaotoli in Brahmanbaria, Daily Amardesh, March 29, 2011).
Some Bangladesh officials are so enthusiastic that they are willing to bear all the infrastructure expenses. For example, according to one recent report in the Weekly Probe magazine, merely at the possibility of giving transit to India, the Chittagong Port Authority has already implemented 18 projects at the cost of Tk. 2,100 crore (The Daily Star, December 29, 2010). And simply to facilitate the possible parking of Indian vehicles, a Tk. 150 crore transit yard is being constructed in Chittagong. Residents of the adjacent densely populated area are being evicted for the purpose.
Bangladesh is spending its own resources to facilitate transit for India (Chittagong Port, for example) and providing transit facilities at Ashugonj even without any infrastructure development. Dr. Debapriya Bhattachariya, a leading economist of the country, who was in favour of the transit deal before, said very recently that the current Indian transit is being subsidized by Bangladeshi taxpayers. In Myanmar, however, India is making huge investments to develop the road infrastructure in the hope of winning transit facilities there. 

India’s US$ 1 billion loan to promote its own interests.
Once ‘transit’ begins in full swing, there will be urgent need for regular rail and road renovation which will call for manpower and investment. Over the past decade, India has kept up the pressure for transit-corridor but has only recently agreed (August 10, 2010) to provide about US$ 1 billion loan (on severe conditions) for various projects. Major share of this loan is marked for infrastructure development for transport of Indian goods, but Bangladesh has to pay the loan along with interest.
And while Bangladesh swallowed this loan, the World Bank has cancelled a loan agreement of US$ 1.75 billion with Bangladesh as the funds remained unutilized. For long it had been said that India was giving the US$ 1 billion as ‘assistance’, but it is known now that the ‘assistance’ is in fact a loan with a much higher rate of interest than that charged by the World Bank or other lenders.
China, on the other hand, has made significant investments in the infrastructure sector of Bangladesh. Despite having no direct ‘transit’ interests here, China has constructed about seven or eight large bridges in Bangladesh. India has set no such example. 

Security considerations for the transit process.
Security is a vitally important aspect of the process. But nothing is known about the security set up. Who will provide the security needed for smooth and safe passage of Indian goods and personnel along the routes? Who will pay for the personnel, their training and other logistic costs? Will India send its own security personnel to accompany the trucks or insist on posting them at different points along the routes?
In the case of any security lapse/threat (real or imaginary) to the transit process, would India send its own armed/security forces?
Will Bangladesh have the rights to scrutinize and monitor on regular basis the nature of the goods being transported? Will it have the right to open and inspect the containers to check that the goods are as declared by the Indian authorities prior to entry into Bangladesh? Would some goods be dumped into Bangladesh market? 

Strategic implications
More important, would the containers passing through Bangladesh carry arms, ammunitions and other war materials for India’s ongoing anti-insurgency campaigns in the north east or for potential conflicts/wars with China and/or Myanmar or even against Bangladesh at a future date?
This is a very relevant question to ask since it has great risks for Bangladesh to get involved in somebody else’s conflict/war. Some members in the current government seem very naively to ‘assume’ that India will never wage any war against Bangladesh, but for its own independent and sovereign existence, Bangladesh must have its own defence and security strategies independent of the Indian strategy. It does not mean that Bangladesh adopts a militarily hostile policy towards India, Myanmar or China, but by ignoring these aspects and putting the ‘security and defence’ egg only into Indian basket, the country would invite potential disasters to itself.
Remember that India is a rising economic and military power and its expansionist and imperialistic ambitions are no longer secret. It considers itself as the natural and rightful successor of the British Empire in Asia. To fulfill its imperial ambitions India must ‘control’ the smaller and less powerful neighbours such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan first before it can dominate countries like Myanmar and Afghanistan. A sovereign and successful Bangladesh with an independent foreign policy and a credible defence system stands in the way of India’s economic and strategic domination of the resource rich north eastern and eastern land masses as well as having total control in the Bay of Bengal regions. 

Gains for Bangladesh – a great deception
Indian policy makers and their blind supporters in Bangladesh have been saying for more than a decade that by granting transit facilities to India, Bangladesh would make huge “economic gains”. It was frequently said that Bangladesh would earn many billions of dollars through transit. This view was also advanced by some international organizations like the World Bank. The latest situation, however, does suggest that the talks of ‘billions of dollars’ and ‘Bangladesh turning into a Singapore’ were nothing more than a pro-Indian propaganda to mobilize public opinion for the transit-corridor deal. There is nothing significant and concrete to show as gains from the transit deal. The departing Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, Rajit Mitter, has said that Bangladesh would gain by having the hiring charges for river vessels and trucks used for the transport. He perhaps forgot to tell that Bangladesh would also get some money by selling ‘tea and cigarettes’ to the Indian truck drivers! 

Dubious role of the Bangladesh Government
We can not blame the Indian side for wanting everything ‘free’ from Bangladesh. It is very natural that they would look after their own interests and try to get maximum benefits from other countries including Bangladesh. Sweet talks, vague promises, deception, bribery, blackmail, etc., are not unacceptable tools in international diplomacy.
The tragedy is: the Dhaka authorities have given in too easily to the Indian demands in the vague hope of some hypothetical gains for the country. They do not seem to have the necessary will, commitment and competence to stand solid for Bangladesh interests. They are too eager and enthusiastic to comply with the Indian demands expecting that India would somehow respond positively to Bangladesh’s needs and reciprocate in kind.
In dealing with India, especially in the transit-corridor issue, the role of the Bangladesh government has been very dubious and mysterious from the beginning. Sheikh Hasina has spoken very little on the issue but two of her senior advisers Moshiur Rahman and Gauhar Rizvi have argued in favour of the deal in a way that is clearly against the interests of Bangladesh.
For example, Dr. Moshiur Rahman said, ‘we can not ask for any transit fees from India because we are not uncivilised’! Dr. Gauhar Rizvi, a hired hand from abroad, with extensive connections in India and the US but with little roots in Bangladesh soil and political landscape has said, ‘we have been waiting for 40 years for such a deal’! Could an Indian negotiator put it better to advance his country’s cause? The pathetic performance of these two advisers has put Bangladesh in a situation of unpredictable dangers
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina loves to talk about democracy, transparency and people’s power, but in dealing with India, she has kept the people of Bangladesh in total darkness. She has relied not on foreign ministry or any elected member of parliament, but only on two unelected advisers for strategic decisions that would have serious implications for the country’s national interests and sovereignty. All the deals have been made in extreme secrecy without any democratic debate and discussion in public or in the national parliament.
There remain serious confusion and lack of policy directives regarding the so-called fees and charges payable for the transit facilities. Different ministries and government officials have made contradictory statements for and against charging fees. There are confusions also about the nature of the ongoing ‘transit’, i.e., if it is ‘trial transit’ (no fee to be charged) or ‘regular transit’ (some kind of fee to be charged). No body knows what is happening and why and who is in charge. Bangladesh custom officers cannot decide anything for lack of clear directives from unspecified ‘higher authorities’. Apparently, no minister or official wants to take responsibility and displease some powerful people who hold the supreme power in Bangladesh today.
Some arguments against the transit-corridor deals
1. Despite the talks of ‘friendship’, India’s water aggression against Bangladesh has continued unabated since 1975. The experiences from the Farakka, Tipaimukh, Teesta and other issues have been very bitter for Bangladesh.
2. India’s has attempted from the very beginning to marginalise and subjugate Bangladesh, to interfere in the internal politics, carry out continuous anti-Bangladesh, anti-Muslim propaganda, and portray it as a ‘failed’ and ‘terrorist’ country requiring a ‘guardian-angel’ like India!
3. India has not honoured the Mujib-Indira Treaty (1974), especially by not handing over Tin Bigha Corridor in exchange of Berubari.
3. India has encircled Bangladesh with a ‘Barbed Wire Fence’ (a kind of Israeli ‘Apartheid Wall’ as in occupied Palestine) on the pretext of stopping Bangladeshi infiltration. Nobody having any pride in the independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh can accept this hostile arrangement and at the same time agree to providing transit-corridor facilities to India. This is an issue of our national dignity. India cannot demand unhindered movement of goods and people through a country whose people have been put in an ‘iron cage’. According to Dr Mushtaq Khan, a Professor of SOAS (University of London), this issue alone is a good enough reason for not allowing transit-corridor facilities to India.
4. Indian authorities justify the indiscriminate killings of Bangladeshi civilians by BSF along the border, but do nothing to stop the smuggling of phensidyl and other illegal drugs into Bangladesh. There are 132 Phensidyl factories on the Indian side of the border, earning about 347 crore rupees through smuggling drugs to Bangladesh alone (News Today, December 29, 2010). At least 32 different kinds of unlawful drugs enter Bangladesh from at least 512 points from India.
5. Immediately after liberation, the Chittagong port could not be used for export-import. In 1972, Sheikh Mujib requested India to allow the use of Calcutta Port for only six months, but India refused the request citing ‘security’ reasons.
6. In 1996, India promised to allow Bangladesh the use of its roads for trade with Nepal. Bangladesh commerce minister Tofail Ahmed and his Indian counterpart jointly opened the transit process. It was stopped by India only after one day. But now India wants more than 15 transit-corridor routes (river and land, rail) with no visible gains for Bangladesh.
7. The talk of allowing transit routes through India for trade with Nepal and Bhutan is a deceptive ploy to give it a kind of ‘regional flavour’ and lure Bangladesh into its game. India is extra-sensitive about its own security and trade monopoly, but insensitive to the needs of others including Bangladesh.
8. India’s seven sister states now depend on Bangladesh for many manufactured goods, but with transit, India will send its own products to the region and Bangladesh business will lose.
9. Financial benefits from transit process are uncertain, any fees would outweigh other disadvantages. Bangladesh would risk destroying its own roads and highways, infect its citizens with AIDS. Roads and highways will be neglected by the chauvinistic Indian traders and security personnel using the routes.
10. Bangladesh must not get involved in India’s war in the north east or with other countries as a part of India’s war strategy.
11. India must stop meddling in Bangladesh internal politics. It must not encourage dissension and destabilisation to keep Bangladesh weak.
12. Indian must stop sending its security and special units into Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina has already taken great political and security risk by helping India’s anti-ULFA campaigns and handing over to India more than 50 insurgent leaders (without any extradition treaty). But India has not reciprocated by handing over the Bangladeshi criminal and terrorist ring leaders who operate from across the border, some connected with Indian intelligence agencies.
13. India must give up the idea that Bangladesh is its ‘backyard’ to be insulted, blackmailed and exploited at its will.
14. The Indian rulers and many of the media people do not hide their impatience and disgust at any opposition to India’s hegemonic policies. Those in Bangladesh who oppose the unjust policies of India are often damned as “fundamentalist anti-India outfits” (Saugar Sengupta, Daily Pioneer, September 16, 2011) or accused as being ‘too emotional’ to make ‘things more difficult’ (Kuldip Nayar, Gulf News, September 17, 2011). A former Indian diplomat, Muchkund Dubey, has very correctly described the attitude of “Indian political leaders, senior officials, business magnates and strategic thinkers towards Bangladesh” as “one of disdain and apathy”. This attitude must be changed for genuine good neighbourly relations.
15. India has yet to prove its goodwill, fairness and genuine respect to the smaller neighbours including Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. It has to reciprocate in kind, in concrete terms, not in abstract expressions.
16. India must note that despite many obstacles the people of Bangladesh have made significant progress in different areas, and that they will protect their sovereign rights and vital national interests at any cost. Those who work against the interests of Bangladesh will be opposed and thrown into the dustbin of history.
17. The AL government, especially the two Advisers in charge of negotiations on the transit-corridor deal, have led Bangladesh into a trap. They have misled the country and seriously compromised national interests.
18. The terms of the agreements have not been made public or discussed and debated in the parliament.
19. Crucial agreements such as transit-corridor that have vital present and future economic, security and strategic implications must not be concluded in secret and in a hurry without national debate and consensus.
20. We demand full disclosure of the India-Bangladesh Agreements-2010-2011 and a referendum on the vital issue of transit-corridor.
The People of Bangladesh must insist upon all the Government and opposition political parties for unity on vital national issues, especially when it comes to protecting the national interests and sovereignty from foreign pressure and domination. Only this unity will strengthen country’s negotiating position with India and other countries and ensure that Bangladesh does not become a ‘satellite state’ of India or suffer the fate of ‘Sikkim’. 

BY : Dr. K. M. A. Malik