Friday, February 10, 2012

Indian border guard chief remark outrage Bangladesh

BANGLADESH GOVERNMENT, as well as the rights groups are outraged after the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) chief said that it is not possible to stop border firing completely.

The BSF director general U.K. Bansal told the BBC on Tuesday that it is not possible to stop border firing completely and his Bangladesh counterpart Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) chief Maj.Gen. Anwar Hossain disagrees and said on Thursday that killing at the border under any circumstances is not acceptable.

The remark is contrary to Indian government’s agreed policy and continues to maintain a shoot-at-sight policy for any Bangladeshi illegally crossing the international divide, foreign minister Dipu Moni told reporters on Thursday.

Last July, the Indian home affairs minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the Indian guards will no longer shoot people crossing the porous border from Bangladesh. Instead the guards will use rubber bullets after warnings.

Two days after the anger is still being raged, two more Bangladeshi citizens on Thursday have been shot and wounded by BSF at Satkhira in south-east, lieutenant colonel Abu Bashir confirmed with the private wire service

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission chief Prof. Mizanur Rahman on Wednesday threatened to raise the issue at the United Nations Human Rights Council, unless BSF stops killing and torture of innocent Bangladeshis.

In December 2010, New York based Human Rights Watch in a report described the Indian border guards as "Trigger Happy" force and documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment by the BSF.

In January 18, 2012, Indian news channel NDTV showed a disturbing video of what appears to be a group of BSF guards in uniform beating up a young Bangladeshi man ruthlessly near the Bangladesh border after he allegedly refused to give them a bribe. BSF top officers acknowledged that this incident took place and the perpetrators were fired.

The rights groups Odikhar and Ain Shalish Kendra (ASK) documents the killings on the border have denounced the border killings as extrajudicial murders.

The NGO’s stated that it is one of the most dangerous international borders, where an estimated 350 Bangladeshis and 165 Indians have been killed by Indian forces since 2006, since India began to fence the borders.

India in the east, shares 2,544 miles of porous and soft border with Bangladesh and have constructed walls with barbed wire, roughly 70 percent border with Bangladesh to stop illegal border crossing. The rest of the border is running across the delta's shifting rivers, which are unfenceable, but patrolled.

Livestock, food stuffs, gun-running and drug trade are regularly brought from India into Bangladesh. Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh cross into India to find jobs.

However, Gen. Hossain said on Thursday that the incident of killing at the border is on the decline in the last two months.

India Upgrades Military to Match China

India has decided to buy 126 fighter jets from France, taken delivery of a nuclear-powered submarine from Russia and prepared for its first aircraft carrier in recent weeks as it modernizes its military to match China's.

India and China have had tensions since a 1962 border war, and New Delhi has watched with dismay in recent years as Beijing has increased its influence in the Indian Ocean.

China has financed the development of ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and its recent effort to get access in the Seychelles prodded New Delhi to renew its own outreach to the Indian Ocean island state off western India.

With its recent purchases, running into tens of billions of dollars, India is finally working to counter what it sees as aggressive incursions into a region India has long dominated.

"The Indian military is strengthening its forces in preparation to fight a limited conflict along the disputed border, and is working to balance Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean," James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee last week.

India has created new infantry mountain divisions and plans to raise a strike corps aimed at countering aggression by China. Their border still has not been set despite 15 rounds of talks, and patrols frequently face off on the ground.

Analysts say that although the probability of a conflict between the two Asian giants is remote, a short, sharp conflict in the disputed Himalayan heights can't be ruled out.

"Over the last couple of years, the Chinese have been acting more and more aggressively in the political, diplomatic and military arena," said retired Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal, director of the Indian army-funded Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi.

Indian leaders and defense strategists have fretted as China modernized its forces and extended its military advantage over India. For some in India, countering China is taking precedence even over checking longtime rival Pakistan.

"Of late, there has been a realization (in India) that China is the real danger of the future," Kanwal said.

The drive to modernize Indian forces was long overdue as much of the equipment was obselete Soviet-era weapons, and the orders for fighter jets, naval frigates, helicopters and armaments have made India the world's largest importer of arms. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said India accounted for 9 percent of all the world's weapon imports in 2010, the latest year for which figures were available.

Last week's order of 126 combat aircraft, won by France's Dassault, followed a bitter battle by global jet manufacturers. The initial cost for the fighter jets is estimated as $11 billion, but on-board weaponry, technology transfers, maintenance, warranties and other costs are expected to almost double the price.

The Indian navy last week took command of a Russian Nerpa nuclear submarine, renamed INS Chakra-II, at the Russian port of Vladivostok, propelling India into an elite group of countries operating underwater nuclear-powered vessels. It joins the United States, France, Russia, Britain and China.

The Chakra-II, on lease for 10 years at a cost of nearly $1 billion, is expected to be inducted into the navy by March. Later this year, India is expected to take delivery of a retrofitted Soviet-built aircraft carrier.

In addition, six Scorpene subs being built in India under license from France in a $5 billion deal are expected to start going into service in 2015, three years behind schedule, said Defense Minister A.K. Antony. Labor problems and difficulties procuring needed technology have hampered the project, he told the Indian Parliament recently. Critics also blame India's sluggish bureaucracy for the delays.

"India's efforts at modernizing its forces have been very slow," said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a defense analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.

Some Indian military experts complain that the country is not doing enough to upgrade its forces to the level befitting the regional power it aspires to be.
"It's not only China that is rising. India is on the ascent too, and it's a trend that will continue for some decades," said retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak at the Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi.

India may be worrying over China's overtures to its neighbors, but New Delhi is reaching out to the Southeast Asian and East Asian countries in Beijing's backyard as well.

India has struck a strategic partnership with Vietnam, including helping Hanoi beef up its defense capabilities. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been actively pursuing a "Look East" policy, engaging the leaders of South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, among others. The policy has resulted in a troupe of high-level visits to India, bolstering trade and economic cooperation.

Nowhere is the contest between China and India more evident than in Myanmar, where both of the energy-seeking Asian giants are caught in a race to gain access to the country's natural gas sources.

India has regularly conducted defense exercises with countries in the region. It is scheduled to host the navies of 14 Asian countries in maritime exercises later this week; the Chinese and Pakistani navies have not been invited.

And, while India is increasing its defense capabilities, China is doing the same, but faster, making it difficult for India to catch up. The Chinese government's military budget is the second largest in the world after the United States.

India has raised two mountain divisions of soldiers to add to its existing high-altitude troops. Around 36,000 soldiers and officers of the divisions have been posted in the remote northeast, not far from India's Arunachal Pradesh state, which China claims as part of its territory.

A proposal for a mountain strike corps is awaiting clearance by India's Cabinet, and an independent armored brigade for the mountain region also is in the works. India hopes to show it can strike deep beyond its neighbor's borders to serve as a deterrent for any Chinese aggression, Kanwal said.

"India is building up its capability for offensive operations in the mountains with a view to taking the fight into Chinese territory," Kanwal said.

Mahatma Gandhi's enduring Bangladesh legacy

Jharna Dhara Chowdhury was eight when bloody communal riots between Muslims and Hindus broke out in late 1946 in southern Bangladesh - or East Bengal as it was known at that time.

Eyewitness accounts said villages were burnt to ashes and hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes.
Over a few weeks, thousands were killed and hundreds of women raped as mobs went on a rampage in the remote Noakhali region. 

Media reports described how thousands of minority Hindus were forced to convert to Islam and compelled to dress up like Muslims and eat beef, acts which contravene their religious traditions.

The Noakhali massacre, as it came to be known, took place about a year before the end of British rule in the subcontinent. 

'Destruction everywhere'
India and Pakistan were carved out of British India and East Bengal became part of Pakistan.
"Our house was burnt down and many of our relatives were killed. We fled to neighbouring Assam [in India] for safety," Ms Chowdhury said.

"On my way, I saw death and destruction everywhere," the social worker and eminent peace activist remembered. 

The brutality of the riots shocked Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who rushed to the region and went barefoot around villages for about four months preaching communal harmony and non-violence before the clashes finally came to an end.

The Noakhali Peace Mission set up by Mr Gandhi, known as Gandhiji, is considered to be a key event during the Indian independence struggle.

The violence in Noakhali started months after similar massive communal riots in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta. Thousands died in the "Great Calcutta Killings". 

"We came back to our village in Noakhali after life returned to normal. But the communal riot left a deep scar on my mind ," the 74-year-old woman affectionately known as Jharnadi recalls.

"I was deeply touched by Gandhiji's peace message. It influenced me to work for the community and to promote communal harmony." 

Mahatma Gandhi.

Overwhelming response
Although she never met Gandhi in person, she said she was touched by his principles of non-violence, self reliance and community work. 

In line with Gandhian values, she thought basic education was vital to lift people out of poverty and to promote better understanding.

At the age of 17, Ms Chowdhury (Jharnadi) and her sister started a school in her village for under-privileged children. 

Although neither had proper qualifications, it was met with an overwhelming response.

"We had no money to run the school. We used to fast twice a week to save some money. With that money, we bought books and other items," she recounted.

But the school was closed after a few years because the sisters were not qualified. The decision shattered them. 

Later, Jharnadi became a full-time social worker and lived in Dhaka, Chittagong, Comilla and in many other parts of the country. Like many Gandhian followers, she stayed single to focus fully on her work.

After spending many years working in various social organisations, Jharnadi finally joined the Gandhi Ashram Trust. It was established in the village of Jayag, soon after his visit to Noakhali.

"When Gandhiji left in March 1947, he told some of his disciples to stay back and that he would return. But he was killed a year later," Jharnadi said.

"His followers, led by Charu Chowdhury, believed that Gandhiji will one day come back in spirit, so they never left this place and continued with their community work until their deaths."

'Much better'
Hemanta Kumar Ghosh, a local landlord, donated his house and about 2,500 acres of land to the charity. The house has a symbolic significance as Gandhi stayed there for a night during his Noakhali peace mission.

When East Bengal became part of Pakistan, Gandhian followers and the charitable trust went through a turbulent period. Most of the land donated to the trust was confiscated and the Gandhians were put in jail on suspicion of spying for India.

But despite various threats from the Pakistani authorities, the disciples refused to leave.
"Four of Gandhiji's disciples were killed by Pakistani soldiers in the same house. After spending many years in jail, Charu Chowdhury was released when Bangladesh became independent in 1971," she recalled.
She says that the ashram has gradually regained its past glory since 1971.

However, after years of court battles, only 25 acres of Gandhi Ashram Trust lands were recovered. A small Gandhi museum has also been set up in the main building.

Soon after the death of Charu Chowdhury in 1990, Jharnadi took over the responsibility of running the trust.
Today it is working directly with 25,000 poor families, both Muslims and Hindus. It has become a centre for various activities including training programmes for rural women to boost their income, free education for poor children and poverty alleviation schemes. 

Jharnadi also travels around villages in the Noakhali region, working to improve the lives of Dalits, who are at the bottom of the centuries-old Hindu caste system. 

The ashram is still working steadfastly to maintain peace and harmony between different communities. But almost 65-years after the bloody riots, has that been achieved in the Noakhali region?

"Things are much better now. There hasn't been any major communal riot here ever since Gandhiji visited this place. His peace mission has left a lasting legacy here in Noakhali," said Jharnadi proudly.