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India-Bangladesh Accord
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 4/10/2011 1:06:56 PM
India-Bangladesh Accord
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There has been a magical transformation in Indo-Bangladesh relations ever since former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the man who broke the shackles that chained far-away “East Pakistan” to its western metropolitan centre of gravity, led her Awami League to absolute majority displacing anti-India Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khaleda Zia. She has acted against the United Liberation Front of Asom and her message is clear: No Safe Havens.

New Delhi rolled out the red carpet to welcome Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as its first State guest of this decade. Overcoming formidable hurdles, Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League swept to a decisive electoral victory in December 2008, winning 230 seats and securing a two-thirds Parliamentary majority.

Ever since she was sworn in, Sheikh Hasina has not only faced challenges  from right wing parties including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Khaleda Zia, but also the Pakistani-Saudi Arabia assisted fundamentalists of the Jamat-e-Islami who unashamedly backed the occupying Pakistan army during the 1971 freedom struggle. This coalition was reinforced by radical Islamic groups like the Jamat ul Mujahideen, and the Harkat ul Jihad ul Islami, which also enjoy Pakistani / Saudi backing. All these groups are united in undermining efforts to improve relations with India.

BDR mutiny

The greatest challenge that Sheikh Hasina overcame in her first year was the mutiny by the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles, which erupted on February 25, 2009.  The mutineers killed their Chief, Major General Shakil Ahmed and his wife and dozens of others. While the mutiny started at the BDR Headquarters in Pikhana in Dhaka it soon spread to 12 other towns. Sheikh Hasina acted deftly in getting a large number of the mutineers to surrender and then permitted the army to crack down using tanks and heavy weapons. Evidence soon emerged that the mutineers were being instigated by supporters of the opposition elements led by former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia’s party and others connected to the Jamat e Islami. All these elements had pro-Pakistani leanings and affiliations.

Mutual assistance 

Complementing the crackdown by Sheikh Hasina’s Government on the mutineers, was immediate and effective action by India, which sealed its borders with Bangladesh and forced back mutineers, attempting to cross over. The depth of anger felt in senior levels of the Bangladesh army was reflected when the new Director General of the BDR, Major General Moinul Islam referred to the mutiny as a “most heinous crime”. He added that what transpired during the mutiny reminded him of “the liberation war of 1971”.

 

Referring clearly to Pakistan and its friends in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party  and Jamat e Islami, Major General Islam noted that “external enemies still exist” for Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina has responded to India’s actions by forcing the surrender of United Liberation Front of Asom leader Arabindo Rajkhowa, its deputy military commander Raju Barua and others operating from safe havens in Bangladesh. It has been made clear to North-eastern separatist groups that they could not consider Bangladesh a safe haven.  Sheikh Hasina has also cracked down on the Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh and the Lashkar-e-Toiba and acted to pre-empt cross border attacks on India and on the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.

Unresolved issues

One of the major irritants in relations with Bangladesh has been unresolved differences on demarcating the border. Under the 1974 Indira-Mujib agreement, India is required to return around 111 enclaves to Bangladesh and in return gets 51 enclaves from Bangladesh. It took us 18 years to lease a small corridor of land near Tin Bigha to Bangladesh, which we were required to do, under the 1974 agreement. Barely 6.5 kilometres out of the 4096 kilometre land border remain undemarcated. Sheikh Hasina secured agreement in New Delhi to move to expeditiously resolve these differences.

 

A political consensus needs to be built in West Bengal, to resolve the remaining issues of “adverse possessions” and enclaves, which have bedevilled relations through the past four decades. The Farakka Agreement was concluded with Bangladesh largely because of the positive role played by the then West Bengal Chief Minister Mr. Jyoti Basu. India has to show a measure of statesmanship in resolving this issue expeditiously.

The most crucial issue for India is “connectivity,” which would involve developing road, rail and river communications facilities in Bangladesh, for promoting access to our landlocked north-eastern states through Bangladesh. By extending a Line of Credit of $ 1 billion for infrastructural development, India has cleared the way for its involvement in the development of road and rail communications linking our landlocked north-eastern states with the rest of the country.

Areas of cooperation

 

India can also now invest in the development of the Chittagong and Mongla ports, whose facilities would be useful, in return for providing access for goods from Nepal and Bhutan to these ports. It has been agreed that India would provide assistance for the Akhaura-Agartala rail link and undertake actions to meet Bangladesh’s immediate energy requirements, by sale of 250 mw of electrical power.

Bangladesh presently faces a shortage of around 1800 mw of power and there are indications that in course of time it would need around 1000 mw of power from India. Moreover, Bangladesh’s power deficit is set to increase and there are growing possibilities for Indian companies investing in the development of electrical power plants in Bangladesh. It is, however, important that these agreements are implemented expeditiously, as bureaucratic inertia and rigidity have often exacerbated misunderstandings in our relations with Bangladesh.

Water sharing

Two highly emotive issues in Bangladesh - the sharing of the waters of the River Teesta and the construction by India of the Tipaimukh Dam across the Barak River in Assam - have been addressed during Sheikh Hasina’s visit. The sharing of the Teesta Rivers could be addressed as Bangladesh had earlier agreed to “joint hydrological observations” so that future actions are taken on the basis of realities and not unfounded fears. 

We should now be able to agree to mechanisms to address mutual concerns on this issue, as we did in resolving the Farakka tangle. Considerable effort will also be needed to convince public opinion in Bangladesh that their fears that the Tipaimukh dam would promote scarcity, silting and floods in the country, are ill founded and politically motivated. Contrary to malicious propaganda by Khaleda Zia and her cohorts, even experts in Bangladesh agree that this project will actually help in flood control, in augmenting lean season flows and assist in de-silting within Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party propaganda is motivated, considering the fact that experts in Khaleda Zia’s Government who were kept informed about the project in 2003 and 2005, raised no objections when Begum Zia was in office.

Pro-Pak tilt?

Radical Islamic groups linked to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, gained considerable strength during the rule of Khaleda Zia, who has, for long, been very well disposed towards Pakistan. Most people in Bangladesh could not help noting that when Lt. General Jagjit Singh Aurora, who commanded Indian forces which liberated East Pakistan, died Begum Khaleda did not honour the memory of Gen. Aurora. She, however, made no secret about her sorrow when Pakistan’s former Army Chief General Asif Nawaz Khan Janjua died when she was her country’s Prime Minister.

ISI network

With militant groups like the Jamat ul Mujahideen and the Harkat ul Jihad ul Islami gaining strength under Khaleda’s patronage, the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence increasingly started using Bangladesh for infiltration of radical militants into India. Sheikh Hasina has made no secret of her aversion towards militant Islamic groups and has effectively curtailed the ability of Pakistan to use Bangladesh as a springboard for terrorism against India. Pakistan can also no longer count on the support of Bangladesh in regional organizations like SAARC to carry out actions detrimental to India’s interests.

 

India has also assured Bangladesh during the visit of Sheikh Hasina that it would bring down some of its existing non-tariff barriers to exports from Bangladesh and assist Bangladesh in ensuring that its exports met Indian quality standards. While Indian exports to Bangladesh are valued at around $ 3 billion Bangladesh exports to India barely amount to $ 358 million annually. Both countries need to take effective steps to ensure that the long delays that are experienced by traders on cross border trade are minimized by trade facilitation measures.

Military ties

Sections of the Bangladesh army and its intelligence apparatus have been traditionally anti-Indian and supportive of the BNP and Jamat e Islami. There appears to have been some change in this mindset in the aftermath of the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny. New Delhi should strengthen military ties with Bangladesh and facilitate greater participation of the Bangladesh military in international peace keeping, to discourage Bonapartist ambitions.

At the present moment Pakistan provides more wide ranging facilities for military training and supplies than India for the Bangladesh military. The political mood in Bangladesh can be volatile and one could well see a return to the earlier era of supporting terrorist and separatist elements which are anti-Indian, if Sheikh Hasina falters and cannot fulfil the growing aspirations of her people.

 

 

 

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India-Bangladesh Accord

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