Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, Nov 03, 2005
The Bangladesh challenge
The Indian Army was withdrawn from Bangladesh barely three months after its liberation. When Gen Aurora died earlier this year thousands in Bangladesh fondly remembered the soft-spoken Sikh commander and mourned his death. They came in large numbers to sign the Condolence Book opened by the Indian High Commissioner, Ms Veena Sikri.
Strangely, there was no message of condolence to Gen Aurora's family or the Government and the people of India from the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, who had a decade ago expressed her grief and sent a formal message of condolence when Pakistan's former Army Chief General Asif Nawaz Janjua died suddenly and somewhat mysteriously.
Begum Khaleda's silence at the demise of Gen Aurora symbolises the amnesia that afflicts the ruling establishment of her Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and its allies such as the Jamat-e-Islami today.
A number of people in Bangladesh are understandably envious and anxious of India's size and potential. They also recognise India's role in their liberation. The ruling elite, like its counterparts in Pakistan, however, has mutually reinforcing links with Jehadi and fundamentalist outfits. It believes that a policy of measured hostility towards India serves its political and strategic interests.
It is this mindset that leads to Bangladesh refusing to exploit its gas resources to be sold to India even for sound economic reasons. It is also for this reason that Bangladesh fights shy of taking logical economic decisions to implement the agreement signed with the Tata Group providing for Indian investment of $2.6 billion in the 1000 MW power plant, a steel mill and a fertiliser unit based principally on gas, including recent discoveries at Phubari. There is constant whining about the Bangladesh trade deficit with India, when no such complaints are heard about a similar trade deficit with China.
Begum Khaleda's electoral allies such as the Jamat-e-Islami are compulsive India-baiters who sided with Pakistani occupation forces in 1971. The ruling establishment's anti-Indian inclinations are evident from actions including its refusal to join the Asian Highway project because of the belief that the trans-Asian Highway will link India's north-eastern States with the rest of the country.
Functionaries of the ruling dispensation have made no secret of their interest in establishing an Islamic Emirate in the Muslim majority districts of Assam.
New Delhi also has hard intelligence information that Bangladesh has a deliberate policy of facilitating illegal immigration into India, constituting a creeping demographic invasion and takeover of Indian territories bordering Bangladesh. Like the ISI in Pakistan, the ruling dispensation in Bangladesh has encouraged Wahhabi-oriented and Saudi Arabian-funded groups such as the Jagrata Muslim Janata, Bangladesh (JMJB) that swears allegiance to the Taliban. At least three BNP Ministers, Aminul Haq, Fazlur Rahman Patal and Ruhul Kuddus Dulu, are reportedly patrons of the JMJB.
The Harkat ul Jihad ul Islami (HUJI) is a founding member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front for "Jihad against Jews and Crusaders". The HUJI collaborates with the ISI and Bangladesh Intelligence in training ULFA cadres in the Chitagong Hill Tracts. It also promotes Rohingya Muslim separatism in the Arakan Province of Myanmar.
Despite crude attempts by Bangladesh to shift the blame to India for the bomb blasts of August 17, JMJB functionaries have been arrested for their involvement in the explosions. The Pakistani President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, aids terrorist groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohamed and then finds that they are attempting to assassinate him because of his close ties with the US. Begum Khaleda faces a similar predicament in Bangladesh.
The growing "Pakistanisation" of Bangladesh has evoked concerns in Western donor capitals. These countries made this clear in a World Bank meeting earlier this year. Referring to recent arms seizures in Bangladesh, Admiral William J. Fallon of the US Pacific Command remarked: "There were some arms shipments that were not going to the army or to any group that is up to do good... We know there are people (in Bangladesh) who preach radicalism, who use religion for their own ends." Facing growing isolation, Begum Khaleda rushed off to China on August 17. The Chinese had earlier made their displeasure known about Bangladesh attempts to flirt with Taiwan. China has agreed to provide Bangladesh with over a dozen fighter aircraft. Aiding isolated regimes in South Asia to "contain" India is, after all, an integral part of Chinese strategic thinking. But China cannot today afford the international consequences of trying to replicate in Bangladesh the sort of military, nuclear and missile collaboration it has with Pakistan.
The challenges posed by support to terrorism, separatism and creeping demographic invasion by Bangladesh have to be addressed firmly and unitedly within India. While we should enhance cooperation with Bangladesh in areas promoting peoples' level interaction and removing some of our excessively protective trade barriers, the overall approach should be one of carrot and stick.
The growing presence of Islamic terrorist groups that promote separatism in Myanmar necessitates much closer cooperation with Yangon to finalise a coordinated strategy to deal with insurgencies and separatist movements. The Union Home Secretary, Mr Vinod Duggal, recently visited Yangon and Gen J. J. Singh is set to do likewise.
The Islamist groupings in Bangladesh have links with extremists and separatists in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
India's counter terrorism dialogue with Asean (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and its individual members has to be strengthened so that Bangladesh recognises that it will have to mend its ways, or face ostracism in the entire Bay of Bengal neighbourhood. The pressure on Dhaka to mend its ways must be reinforced in regional forums and in Western capitals, especially Washington. The US will have to use its influence to persuade Saudi Arabia to prevent its "charities" from funding extremist and terrorist groups and political parties in Bangladesh.
If Bangladesh insists on pursuing its demands for "compensation" in negotiations for a free trade area in SAARC, we could conclude a free trade agreement within BIMSTEC that will unite India with Myanmar and Thailand, while excluding Bangladesh.
The Petroleum Minister, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, appears to have reluctantly given up his idea for a gas pipeline from Myanmar through Bangladesh an idea that was strongly resented by Myanmar. The GAIL Chairman, Mr Prashanto Banerji, recently acknowledged: "Our past experience shows that we get into all kinds of trouble when we try to work through a third country".
The most serious challenge we face today from Bangladesh is its effort to promote a demographic invasion of India. Unfortunately, both the Congress and some of its allies in the United Progressive Alliance tacitly encouraged and facilitated the movement of Bangladeshis into Assam and West Bengal.
Mercifully, the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who takes a statesmanlike view, recognises the dangers of such illegal immigration.
Though Begum Khaleda acknowledged in 1992 that illegal immigration is a serious problem, the Bangladesh Government now pretends the problem does not exist. Hard options have to be exercised on this issue. One way would be to place Bangladeshi immigrants in camps and to ask the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to arrange for their relief, return and rehabilitation.
Mechanisms should also be sought to have enclaves in Bangladesh territory to move the illegal immigrants into. Hard options cannot forever be precluded or postponed.
(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)
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