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  • probirbidhan 23:19 on August 17, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: , border killing, enclaves-exclaves, Hindu-Muslim, Land Border Agreement (LBA), , ,   

    India-Bangladesh relations: Assam violence, a larger context 

    Varghese K George, Hindustan Times August 17, 2012

    Last week, the discussion on the ethnic strife in Assam generated a lot of debate in Parliament. While the debates focused on illegal migration from Bangladesh, what has been missed is an opportunity to situate the issue in the larger context of India-Bangladesh relations and the development of the region.

    The linkage between the current conflict and migration has been questioned by some commentators who analysed census data to argue that the population growth in Assam and its Kokrajhar district has been less than the national average since 1991, ruling out any alarming levels of migration in the past two decades. How should India be responding to the challenge of managing this 4,100-km border between the two countries, made even more difficult by its zig-zag contours?

    One of the suggestions has been for stricter and ruthless management of the border. But this will not solve the problem. Illegal migrations still take place across the land borders of the US, possibly among the best managed in the world. When it comes to ruthlessness shown to intruders, the India-Bangladesh border is the world’s bloodiest – in the decade up to 2011, nearly 1,000 people were killed while attempting to cross it, in shootings by the Border Security Force, according to an estimate by Human Rights Watch. A 2.5-metre-high fencing is being constructed along this border. Still, people do attempt – and manage – to cross over, as they try to flee desperate poverty in Bangladesh. So while focusing on better management of the border, we will have to search for holistic solutions too.

    The core of that approach must be in aiding Bangladesh’s development. Attempts are being made by both countries to transform their relations and move to higher integration over the last three years. A series of measures has been initiated during the visits of the Bangladeshi prime minister to India in January 2010 and the Indian PM’s visit to Bangladesh in 2011. India has opened more sectors of its market to Bangladesh and this will potentially reduce the trade imbalance. Bangladesh, too, has taken several measures to increase connectivity for India’s North-east to the coastline and to the mainland. It has also demonstrated its willingness to address India’s security concerns by coming down on insurgent groups and helping India nab several wanted terrorists.

    But two key components of better bilateral relations are stuck in India’s domestic politics – the Teesta water-sharing pact and the Land Border Agreement (LBA). West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has opposed the water treaty, saying it would affect the farmers of the state. The LBA that was signed during the prime minister’s visit to Dhaka has not been implemented yet because of the BJP’s stated and Banerjee’s unstated objections to it.

    The LBA seeks to settle the decades-old wrangle over enclaves in each other’s territories by exchanging them. India has 111 enclaves in Bangladesh and Bangladesh has 51 in India; in the exchange, India will lose around 40 sq km of land, which many are unwilling to accept. The conclusion of the LBA, which requires parliamentary approval, would not only make the border clean, but also manageable. Nearly one year after the Teesta treaty and the LBA were signed, India has not been able to keep its part of the deal. India’s failure has made the Bangladesh government vulnerable to criticism that it has conceded too much to India and gained too little – a perception that India should be concerned about.

    The issue of unauthorised movement of people from Bangladesh to India must be addressed from a broader development perspective for lasting solutions. Otherwise the debate on it will degenerate into xenophobic rhetoric. China is losing no opportunity to increase its engagement with Bangladesh. India’s moves are not swift enough despite the stated realisation of its significance. There is a golden window currently open with Bangladesh – to improve economic and transportation ties which can dramatically catalyse the development of India’s east and North-east and that of Bangladesh.

     
  • probirbidhan 19:32 on July 27, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: border killing, ,   

    Teesta failure may bleak India-Bangladesh relations 

    NEW DELHI July 27 TNN

    The recurrent whine about the stalled Teesta water sharing agreement may obscure the real progress India and Bangladesh are making with each other.

    A meeting between the two foreign secretaries – the quiet Ranjan Mathai and the Andrew Marvell-quoting flamboyant Mijarul Quayes – in Delhi on Wednesday underscored the distance the two countries have travelled together. Speaking to journalists later, Quayes said, “The positive disposition at the highest levels has elevated our relationship as neighbours to a partnership.”

    That’s actually true. While Dhaka was bemoaning the loss of Teesta, India and Bangladesh have been building ties, in the most pragmatic of ways. Mathai told Quayes that India was looking to sign three major documents – ‘Protocol to amend the Double Taxation Avoidance Convention’ (DTAC), a comprehensive ‘MOU on Health Cooperation’ and a MOU on implementation of ‘Small Development Projects’.

    The last is particularly important. This is a peculiarly Indian jugaad innovation, which has worked very well in the violence torn southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Mathai listed out the progress – border haats, renewal of inland water transit and trade protocol, power exchanges between the two countries, etc.

    Bangladesh continued to press India on Teesta agreement and the land boundary agreement but, recognizing the domestic political difficulties, will “give India the space it needs.” The stalled Teesta agreement featured prominently in the discussions, Quayes said. The ratification of the land boundary agreement has also been delayed in India, because the UPA government has failed to bring the opposition BJP and ally Mamata Banerjee on board. There was some expectation that the LBA might be brought in for approval during the monsoon session of parliament but that’s unclear.

    However, India is obviously trying to sweeten the bitter pill for Bangladesh – of the $1 billion line of credit for Bangladesh, India has converted $200 million into a grant. This was announced by former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee when he visited Dhaka. Quayes also said India had reduced the interest rate on the soft loan to 1 per cent, which makes it much easier for Bangladesh. On the outstanding issues, Quayes listed the Tipaimukh Dam, water agreements and the river linking projects as continuing sources of concern to Dhaka.

    Quayes said they had raised the issue of BSF firing on the border. India has maintained that the infiltrators from Bangladesh side are not always villagers straying across, but people with criminal intent. Bangladesh says Indian forces should catch the offenders and jail them, but not kill them.

    In an attempt to improve communication, India and Bangladesh, he said, were trying to revive an old practice of local governments interface, to make it easier for panchayats etc to deal with each other and the problems of infiltration.

     
  • probirbidhan 21:56 on July 25, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: border killing, ,   

    Dhaka presses Delhi for expediting Teesta, land boundary deals 

    Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes, left, with his Indian counterpart Ranjan Mathai at the Foreign Office Consultation at South Block in New Delhi yesterday. Photo: Ministry of External Affairs, India

    Bangladesh has urged India to take steps on an urgent basis to implement the land boundary agreement and sign the Teesta river water-sharing treaty.

    Talking to media persons following Foreign Office Consultations with his Indian counterpart Ranjan Mathai here yesterday, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes said Dhaka also proposed revival of interface between district administrations of bordering areas in both the countries to help stop incidents of killing.

    During the talks, Bangladesh conveyed to India a sense of urgency about the latter’s implementing the agreement on land boundary demarcation and exchange of adversely-held enclaves “as it is important to deliver on it”, Quayes said.

    The agreement was signed during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in September last year.

    “It’s not in the interest of Bangladesh or in the interest of India to make a commitment and not deliver on it”, Quayes said. “We have been assured by the Indian side that efforts are on to implement the land boundary agreement”.

    Asked about the Teesta accord, which was scuppered by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s last-minute objections last year, he said, “We have been told about India’s internal consultations on the issue and we are looking forward to the completion of that process.”

    He went on, “Things appear to be moving forward to the agreement and Bangladesh wants to give space to India to finish its internal consultations on the Teesta issue.”

    “From the discussions I have had so far the sense I get is that India is serious to sign the agreement sooner than later”,

    He added.

    Replying to a question on a timeline for the Teesta agreement, Quayes, who also called Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, said, “It is not right to ask when the agreement will be signed. I’m not talking about any timeline”.

    The issue of joint survey of the controversial Tipaimukh multipurpose project in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur also came up at the meeting. And Quayes said Indian Water Resources Ministry has given to External Affairs Ministry the composition of its team for the joint survey. Bangladesh has firmed up its team for the purpose.

    He said Bangladesh side also raised the issue of river-interlinking, and India “assured us that the Himalayan rivers component of the project” is not being implemented now.

    Dhaka also reiterated its concern over killing of civilians in firing by BSF, and India reiterated the need for coordinated border management to check illegal border crossings.

    Quayes said nobody can condone the killings at the border and “the act of shooting and killing does not reflect well on the bonhomie in bilateral partnership”.

    In this context, he said, Bangladesh has proposed revival of interface between local administrations in border districts on both sides and “India has agreed to seriously consider it”.

    If the local administrations on both sides of the border interact with each other frequently, many small incidents can be avoided, he said.

    On the issue of expediting implementation of projects under the $1 billion Indian credit, Quayes said projects worth $183 million are in the pipeline and some of these would come through by next month. “There has been a significant forward movement from where we were in May this year.”

    Quayes said security-related matters, border coordination, trade, credit, land boundary agreement and connectivity were discussed at the meeting, and both sides reiterated their resolve to carry forward the process. “There has been a forward movement in several areas.”

    The issues of connectivity, particularly use of Ashuganj port, and waterways link were raised by India and discussed.

    He said power sector cooperation also came up at the talks.

    Dhaka wanted expediting setting up of the 1,320 MW coal-fired power plant in Khulna, New Delhi wanted to focus on another power plant in Chittagong.

    Quayes also met Indian Water Resources Secretary Dhruv Vijay Singh and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. He returns home this morning.

     
  • probirbidhan 18:04 on June 27, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: border killing, BSF-BGB   

    Home minister claims BSF killed only 151 since 2009 

    The Daily Star June 27, 2012

    Indian Border Security Force (BSF) has so far killed 151 Bangladeshi nationals in different frontiers during this Awami League-led government, said Home Minister Shahara Khatun in parliament yesterday.

    Bangladesh had strongly protested the killings of its innocent citizens at flag meetings and conferences between BSF and Border Guard Bangladesh, she said replying to the queries of lawmakers.

    She said, “Indian government has clearly assured us of taking all necessary measures to stop border killings and positive result is now in sight”, adding that eleven Bangladeshi people have been killed by BSF since January, 2011.

    Odhikar, a Dhaka-based NGO, has documented 13 killings by BSF since January.

    Introduction of CIVS

    She said Dhaka Metropolitan Police has a plan to install criminal identification and verification system (CIVS) to prevent criminal activities of those who had been detained earlier. However, she did not elaborate on CIVS.

    Radio Frequency Points in City

    Shahara Khatun also said radio frequency gadgets would be installed at several points in the capital to verify driving licence, route permit, tax token, registration and number plates of vehicles plying the capital’s roads.

    Her ministry had taken measures to introduce digital sticker, special number plate, ID tag and smart registration for vehicles to stop misusages of stickers stuck on VIP-carrying vehicles, she said.

    The process of upgrading the post of police inspector to class one and the post of sub-inspector to class two was at the final stage, said the home minister.

    A win over India, in cricket, border killing

    মাদক পাচারকারী ভারত চায় না ব্যবসা বন্ধ হোক

    সীমান্তে বিচারবহির্ভূত হত্যা ব্যাপার না!

    Indian apology not enough to end border murders

    BSF at it, again

    Odhikar places 17-pt demand

    India shooting down border pledges: HRW

    India biggest heroin consumer in S Asia: UN report

    Border firing to go on: Reasserts BSF chief

    NHRC threatens to take border killings to UN

    Pranab, Ashraf play it down

    World Report 2012: India | Human Rights Watch

    BSF torture in bangladesh border–video

    EU shocked by killings at border

    BSF killed 136 since 2009–minister Mar 2011

     
  • probirbidhan 12:39 on June 12, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: , border killing, , , ,   

    Probe human rights violations by BSF: HRW 

    Indian authorities should investigate allegations of human rights violations by its Border Security Force (BSF) along the Bangladesh border and prosecute those found responsible, New York based Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

    Documents published by Indian and Bangladeshi non-governmental organisations suggest that the BSF is once again committing abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and ill-treatment of both Indian and Bangladeshi border residents.

    A win over India, in cricket, border killing

    মাদক পাচারকারী ভারত চায় না ব্যবসা বন্ধ হোক

    Indian apology not enough to end border murders

    Prosecute Security Forces for Torture: HRW to India

    সীমান্তে বিচারবহির্ভূত হত্যা ব্যাপার না!

    India biggest heroin consumer in S Asia: UN report

    “The Border Security Force has reverted to its previous tactics of unilaterally punishing suspects, defying orders from Delhi issued last year to exercise restraint and protect the right to life,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

    “But the central government is also responsible, since it has failed to hold perpetrators accountable. Justice is the best deterrent against further violations.”

    In December 2010, Human Rights Watch released “Trigger Happy, Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border,” which documented nearly 1,000 killings by the BSF over the last decade.

    In January 2011, the Indian government assured Bangladeshi officials that it would order the BSF to exercise restraint and encourage the use of rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition, steps welcomed by Human Rights Watch.

    Although BSF attacks decreased significantly over the next year, the new evidence presented suggests that Indian border troops continue to frequently abuse both Bangladeshi and Indian citizens residing in the border areas.

    The recent allegations claim that in order to get around the restrictions on shooting at sight, BSF soldiers have been subjecting suspects to severe beatings and torture, resulting in deaths in custody.

    Efforts by local residents and activists to file complaints and secure justice have resulted in threats and intimidation.

    The National Human Rights Commission has sought responses when allegations are filed, but without adequate witness protection, complainants end up risking further abuse.

    Large numbers of killings and other abuses have been reported in 2012.

    Odhikar, a Dhaka-based non-governmental organisation, has documented as many as 13 killings by the BSF since January 2012. Kolkata-based non-governmental organisation Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), has documented five other killings during the same time period, based on statements from witnesses and families of victims.

    In one recent example, MASUM reported to the NHRC of India that on April 22 soldiers from the BSF’s 91st battalion chased and shot 21-year-old Babu Seikh in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal.

    According to MASUM, Seikh and three of his companions, were walking toward the marshy land in the evening when they were chased by BSF soldiers who fired at them without warning. After a bullet hit Seikh, MASUM says that one of his companions saw the soldiers drag an injured Sheik to their camp nearby, where he later died in custody without access to medical attention.

    In another case, MASUM reported that on January 1 four Indian teenagers, accosted while smuggling cattle, jumped into a rivulet to avoid punishment. The BSF soldiers allegedly beat them when they tried to come out of the water. All four boys, severely injured because of the beatings, eventually drowned.

    In another case, Okhikar reported that Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, a cattle trader who bought cows from India for sale in Bangladesh and lived in West Khodaipur village of Dinajpur district, died on February 14 due to alleged torture by BSF soldiers. The post-mortem report says Rahman died due to injuries to his head. At the time of death his right eye was missing; his right jaw, ear, and gums were crushed; and some brain matter had come out through a deep wound in his upper jaw.

    Last year, MASUM released a video showing BSF soldiers brutally beating a Bangladeshi national caught smuggling cattle in West Bengal state. Eight soldiers were suspended but no further information is available regarding their prosecution or punishment.

    Human Rights Watch knows of no cases in which BSF soldiers have been prosecuted for violations committed along the India-Bangladesh border. This includes a highly publicized case in which a 15-year-old Bangladeshi girl trapped in the wire fencing at the border was shot by the BSF in January 2011.

    “While the Indian government claims that it holds its forces accountable, it produces no information to show that this is actually happening,” said Ganguly. “There appears to be complete impunity for BSF soldiers – even in the most egregious cases. Unless the government orders an independent investigation and ensures the prosecutions of those against whom credible evidence is found, such acts of brutality will continue.”

    The India-Bangladesh border is heavily populated with impoverished areas, with large numbers of people moving back and forth to visit relatives, buy supplies, and look for jobs. Others engage in petty and serious cross-border crime.

    The border force is mandated to address illegal activities, especially narcotics smuggling, human trafficking for sex work, and transporting fake currency and explosives. However, instead of arresting suspects and handing them over to the police for trial, BSF soldiers have taken it upon themselves to punish suspects.

    Human Rights Watch called on the Indian government to do more to ensure compliance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

    “It is time for the Indian government to keep its promises to end abuses and hold its forces accountable,” said Ganguly. “At the same time, Bangladeshi government should publicly demand that the Indian government end this scourge of violence along their border.”

     
  • probirbidhan 06:12 on June 2, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: , border killing, , , , , , , , , Teesta waer sharing, Tipaimukh multipurpose hydro project   

    India to discuss Dhaka equity in Tipaimukh project 

    Despite objections from Central Ministries fearing delay and undue veto power to Bangladesh

    Sandeep Dikshit

    The Hindu June 2, 2012

    The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), backed by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), has overruled the demurring among other Central Ministries over giving Bangladesh a stake in the mega Tipaimukh multipurpose hydel project in Manipur. But India is playing it safe and would first like general discussions to be held with a team from Bangladesh that is expected to arrive soon to discuss the possibility of Dhaka acquiring equity in the project, said government sources.

    The project had given rise to misgivings in Bangladesh, which fears greater exposure to floods during monsoons and low flows during the lean season. As a result, in 2009, a team of Bangladeshi Parliamentarians was airlifted to the site to convince people that the project was for hydropower and flood control, and not irrigation.

    Talks on Tipaimukh could lead to discussions on joint partnership in hydel projects in Sikkim on the Teesta, whose water-sharing agreement with Bangladesh was blocked at the last minute by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. This caused diplomatic embarrassment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his first visit to Dhaka last year, during which pacts on Teesta and Feni were to figure prominently.

    But the Prime Minister had assured his counterpart Sheikh Hasina that India would not take any steps on the project that would adversely affect Bangladesh. The MEA too has been telling the stakeholders that any development on the project, however insignificant, should be communicated to Bangladesh as a confidence-building measure.

    Bangladesh has been flagging its interest in nine hydel projects under construction or being planned in the north-east and Sikkim. Besides Tipaimukh and Teesta III and IV, these include another mega project, Subansiri, and a host of under-100-mw projects.

    Highly-placed Bangladesh diplomatic sources expect collaboration in hydel projects on common rivers flowing from the Himalayas to subsequently lead to tri-nation initiatives (Sikkim-India-Bangladesh) on common basin management. This could in due course be expanded to include China and Nepal and thus remove misgivings of lower riparian countries about the intentions of upper riparian ones in building hydel projects.

    During Bangladesh Prime (Foreign) Minister Dipu Moni’s visit in early May, India had said it would not take any unilateral decision on the Himalayan component of the proposed river interlinking project which may affect Bangladesh. It had also welcomed Bangladesh’s intentions to collaborate on hydel projects common rivers. On Tipaimukh, India and Bangladesh had agreed to set up a sub-group that would go into all its aspects.

    But before the government decided to invite Bangladesh to discuss a stake in Tipaimukh project it had to overcome opposition from other Ministries. They were against holding discussions as they felt the project, which will take at least seven more years, will be delayed and Dhaka could make similar demands on other projects.

    After two meetings chaired by National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, the PMO invoked the Prime Minister’s name to rule out opposition to a proposal that could improve bilateral ties in other areas.

    “The Prime Minister has approved that as a first step, a Bangladeshi delegation could be invited to India to discuss the possibility of Bangladesh taking a stake in Tipaimukh project. This would be the preferred course at present rather than getting into formal or semi-formal mechanisms that may give Bangladesh a veto on this and a number of similar projects,” said a missive.

    Progress in power

    India and Bangladesh have recently made progress in cooperation in the power sector. The two sides have agreed on a road map for supplying 500 mw of power to Bangladesh. A joint venture will set up a 1,320-mw coal-fired plant near the Sundarbans. An agreement on Tipaimukh would lend another dimension to cooperation in the power sector.

     

    Hasina wants quick move by India

    The Daily Star May 31, 2012

    A six-member Indian delegation comprising Chief Minister of Meghalaya Mukul Sangma and Chief Minister of Arunachal Nabam Tuki met Prime Minsiter Sheikh Hasina at her official residence Gono Bhaban on Thursday. Photo: PMO UNB, Dhaka

    Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday voiced her strong resolve to work together with India for mutual development of the two countries and insisted that the neighbour needs to move forward quickly on some pending issues.

    “India needs to move forward quickly on some pending issues so that the two countries can work to implement various agreed decisions,” she said.

    The premier made the remarks when a 16-member Indian delegation comprising Chief Minister of Meghalaya Mukul Sangma and Chief Minister of Arunachal Nabam Tuki met her at her official residence Gono Bhaban in the afternoon.

    Stressing the importance of cooperation, Hasina said it is the only way to tap the potentials of both the countries for mutual benefits in this globalised world.

    She also told the Indian delegation that there is a high expectation about the Teesta water sharing deal.

    PM’s Deputy Press Secretary Bijan Lal Dev briefed reporters after the meeting.

    Underlining the need for bolstering trade relations with the northeast states of India, Hasina said both the countries could take more business-friendly steps to boost trade.

    On import of hydroelectricity from Arunachal, the premier said

    Bangladesh could import power from them or could go for joint-venture power production there.

    She also said there are many ways to cooperate with each other.

    Hasina said Bangladesh attaches the highest importance to its relationship with India as this relationship has reached a new height following her landmark visit to India in January 2010 as well as the historic return visit of Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh in September 2011.

    She noted that the exchange of visits enabled the two sides to work out a matrix for the evolution of the bilateral relations harnessing the available synergies for mutual benefit.

    Hasina mentioned that the scope for cooperation is immense and both sides should not only limit themselves to physical connectivity.

    She said Bangladesh is keen to explore investment opportunities in the power sector in the northeast and expressed her satisfaction that the officials have agreed to explore grid connectivity for transmission of power from the northeast to Bangladesh.

    The prime minister also recalled the support and contributions of the people and the government of India and particularly the neighbouring states of the northeast during the War of Liberation in 1971.

    The Indian delegation members apprised the prime minister that the bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh have expanded and there has been socioeconomic development of the people of the northeast states.

    They noted that there are more scopes of cooperation between the northeast states and Bangladesh in the fields of energy, tourism, horticulture, food processing and education.

    They also requested the Bangladesh government to increase the number of border haats for strengthening the bondage between the two countries, and emphasised on sub-regional cooperation.

    The Indian delegation also stressed the need for expanding the existing road connectivity of Dhaka-Agartala-Dhaka.

    Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Sheikh Md Wahid Uz Zaman, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pankaj Saran, PM’s Special Assistants Abdus Sobhan Golap and Mahbubul Haque Shakil were also present.

     
  • probirbidhan 08:27 on May 30, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: , border killing, Delhi, founder of Brac Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, , , , Teesta river water-sharing,   

    Toxic politics and detoxification 

    The Daily Star May 30, 2012

    Manzoor Ahmed

     

    Before the December 2008 election that brought Sheikh Hasina to power with an overwhelming parliamentary majority, The Economist’s report (“The Nice Side of Democracy,” November 6, 2008) had said: “What Bangladeshis still do not know is whether the army’s intervention has shocked the country’s squabbling, petty politicians into a new approach. The world’s seventh-most populous country needs a government devoted not to a perennial political vendetta, but to tackling poverty, climate change and terrorism.”

    The Bangladeshis now know too well that the squabbling politicians have learned nothing and appear to be incapable of learning anything. The Economist’s observation this time, trying to look for a way out of the quagmire, is the curt conclusion: “It is up to India to try to stop Sheikh Hasina ruining Bangladesh” (“Bangladesh’s toxic politics – Hello, Delhi,” May 24, 2012).

    India, with its overwhelming economic and political presence in the neighbourhood, and literally holding Bangladesh in its belly like a mother kangaroo, has arguably more influence on Bangladesh than any other foreign power.

    Unfortunately, India is hobbled by its own internal political squabbling. Witness the inability to deliver on several critical pledges — such as Teesta river water-sharing, action on border enclaves, preventing India’s border forces from shooting Bangladeshis crossing the porous borders, to name a few egregious concerns.

    Clearly, India’s persuasive power would be much stronger if Bangladeshis could think of India as a powerful, but benign neighbour that doesn’t balk at giving Bangladesh at least the dues in matters of mutual interest. Nonetheless, the stance of “hedging the bet,” or in other words, working with whoever Bangladeshis decide to vote to power is the right one. So is public and behind the scene encouragement to the two political parties to tone down confrontational politics, instead of backing one side the whole hog.

    Most certainly there will be self-righteous clamour by politicians and the chattering class about the impudence of The Economist to make disparaging comments about our internal politics and presuming that India would or could help solve our problem.

    The public and media debate continues in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s visit earlier this month, her observations about the political culture, and her temerity in having an exclusive meeting with the Nobel Laureate Dr. Mohammed Yunus and founder of Brac Sir Fazle Hasan Abed.

    The volume has been much louder in denouncing Hillary’s presumed claim to comment on Bangladesh’s problems than giving a reasoned consideration to what she had to say. The super-sensitive intellectuals of Bangladesh often forget that in today’s global and interdependent world, all have an interest in what happens on the other side of the globe. Especially so, when the poorer countries like Bangladesh want to have the richer countries as partners in development and in advancing common international goals.

    Those who are sensitive about external advice and comments do have a point that ultimately and primarily the approach to political and development problems of the country have to be found internally — a point not denied by the external commentators.

    The civil society and all kinds of citizens’ forums must make their voices heard. They need to raise public awareness and continue to demand action in four areas critical for the future of democracy and development in Bangladesh:

    Devising a formula for holding the upcoming general election under a neutral authority with a strong and independent Election Commission;

    Beginning a systematic process of de-politicising and strengthening the statutory bodies and institutions of the country (in addition to the Election Commission), such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Information Commission, the Public Service Commission, the judicial Institutions, and the civil service including the police;

    Moving towards strong and accountable local government as required by the Constitution; and

    Taking all necessary measures urgently to carry out the work of the tribunals on the crimes against humanity with much greater efficiency and professionalism than have been demonstrated so far, with the aim of completing expeditiously at least the trials which have begun. This has more than a symbolic significance. It is linked to changing the character of politics in the country and the premises underlying the Bangladesh polity.

    The lead for these moves has to come from the coalition in power, seeking cooperation from the opposition. If the initiatives are taken with sincerity, and the opposition is not forthcoming, the citizens will give their verdict in due time.

    The writer, senior adviser at Brac University Institute of Educational Development, writes on education and development.
     
  • probirbidhan 05:33 on May 22, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: , border killing, , illegal trade, ,   

    Dhaka protests fresh BSF killings 

     Dhaka, May 21 (bdnews24.com)

    The foreign ministry has strongly protested opening fire by India’s Border Security Force (BSF) and killing of two unarmed Bangladeshi nationals recently.

    Md Durul Islam (38) of Chapainawabganj received bullet wounds on May 16 as BSF personnel opened fire when he was inspecting his own maize field. He succumbed to the injuries the same day. Another Bangladeshi national, Faruk Ali, also died as a result of firing by the Indian border guards in the same area on April 14, according to a media statement of the ministry.

    The ministry has requested India to conduct an inquiry into the incidents and take appropriate action against the BSF personnel responsible for such deplorable acts.

    It has also called for immediate effective action to prevent recurrence of such incidents in the future.

    While registering its protest over continuation of such killings by BSF, the ministry recalled the commitment of the Indian leadership to put an end to such acts of violence.

    The ministry reminded that the Indian side had reiterated its assurance with respect to incidents of firing by BSF at various forums, the most recent one being at the Joint Consultative Commission meeting between Bangladesh foreign minister and external affairs minister of India on May 7-8.

    A win over India, in cricket, border killing

     
  • probirbidhan 18:44 on May 21, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: border killing, enclaves, India-Bangladesh relation, , , ,   

    Bangladesh’s democracy and India 

    New Delhi, Tue, 17 Jun 2008 NI Wire

    No doubt the recent time has brought some kind of positive outlook in Indo-Bangladesh relations, as the Muslim nation is moving towards democracy and India as a concerned neighbour taking it as a new step to mutual cooperation. However, New Delhi’s handling of foreign relations with neighbouring countries, especially with Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh in the past did not arise much hope; however it can be taken as a sign of improving affairs in the subcontinent despite some hard issues that never seems to die down.

    With much concern of militancy in the north-eastern part of the country and the increasing economic migrants, the recent high-level visits from both countries in the month of March, including Bangladesh’s Army Chief of Staff Gen. Moeen U Ahmed, can be seen as the positive most since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. The train service from Kolkata to Dhaka is just the visible result of improved cooperation.

    No matter how lenient the caretaker military government is but its presence has been a worrying factor for India. There has been some encouraging development in Bangladesh in terms of initiatives for a dialogue process between political parties and the interim government. The release of ex-Premier and Awami League party president Sheikh Hasina Wajed for medical treatment abroad is a part of the same. The process of release of another premier political leader Begum Khaleda Zia, the supremo of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is also on the card, who is also serving imprisonment with corruption charges.

    Again with these developments spawning around, India has shown some signs that it favours a friendly, stable democratic Bangladesh. India has uttered nothing concrete yet for the release of political prisoners including the top two leaders: Hasina and Khaleda Zia; it is just that the caretaker administration seems relatively friendly towards India taking note of India’s security concern and economic cooperation.

    The caretaker administration has freed the Judiciary from Executive control in its corruption clean up drive, but a large piece still remains on the objective of conducting a free-fair election at the scheduled time. However, India needs to be bit more proactive without turning back to the developments in Bangladesh if, keeping finger crossed, the result would be no different to Pakistan and Myanmar where people have had enough military rule.

    India’s overall ‘attitude of appeasement’ can be very well understood with its North-east concern where insurgency by fundamentalists is a daily affair and if India continues the same policy with the army-backed caretaker government in Dhaka then result would be no different. There is a greater role for India to play in the subcontinent both politically and economically.

     
  • probirbidhan 00:32 on May 19, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: border killing, bribe, bullets, cattle trader, ,   

    BSF kills Bangladeshi cattle trader 

    The Daily Star Saturday, May 19, 2012

    Indian Border Security Force (BSF) early yesterday hurled a cocktail at Bangladeshi cattle traders injuring a man and then shot him dead at Daudpur border under Birampur upazila of Dinajpur, said BGB sources.

    The deceased was identified as Saidur Rahman Chiku, 50, of Poli Mahmudpur village under Birampur upazila of Dinajpur.

    According to witnesses, the incident took place when Chiku along with other cattle traders was returning home around 4:30am. On the way, BSF of Gobindapur camp under 29 Battalion of Dakkhin Dinajpur of Paschimbanga hurled a cocktail at them injuring Chiku.

    BSF members then caught Chiku and shot him dead on the spot, they added.

    Hili police of Paschimbanga sent the body to Balurghat Hospital.

    Lt Col Tayed Ul Haque, commanding officer of Phulbari 40 Battalion, said he heard about the incident but there has been no confirmation so far from his Indian counterpart.

    Since January 2012, four Bangladeshi cattle traders have been killed and seven wounded by BSF members.

    A win over India, in cricket, border killing

    Indian apology not enough to end border murders

    ভারতকে চাপ দিতে চাইলেন প্রধানমন্ত্রী!

    মাদক পাচারকারী ভারত চায় না ব্যবসা বন্ধ হোক

    সীমান্তে বিচারবহির্ভূত হত্যা ব্যাপার না!

    ভারতের “ক্রসফায়ার থিওরি” সফল!

     
  • probirbidhan 23:00 on May 16, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: Bangladesh-India relations, border killing, BSF killing, rubber bullets, , , ,   

    Concrete steps may better Indo-Bangla ties 

    Haroon Habib

    The Hindu May 17, 2012

    In Bangladesh-India relations, there is a need to translate positive political will into reality in a way that will leave neither side feeling short-changed

    Eight months after Manmohan Singh’s much hyped Bangladesh tour in September 2011, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s May 5-6 visit to Dhaka has raised a new hope. The senior politician has cleared some, if not all, the fog that keeps India-Bangladesh ties from growing to its full height.

    Mr. Mukherjee’s visit was to bring to a closure the year-long joint celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the shared icon. But it also turned into a political tour as the two sides reviewed the implementation of bilateral accords and commitments made in joint declarations at New Delhi and Dhaka in 2010 and 2011. This has given a new push to the journey that began with high hope after Sheikh Hasina’s comeback, but stalled with the debacle of Teesta deal.

    Mukherjee’s assurances

    Mr. Mukherjee was the first Indian leader after many months to re-assure Bangladesh about several major pending issues: the Indian river-linking project would not affect Bangladesh as all the rivers originating in the Himalayas would be kept outside its purview; the controversial Tipaimukh hydraulic project is being examined by a sub-committee with a powerful mandate under the Joint River Commission (JRC) to look into all aspects including joint participation by Bangladesh and India; and before inking the Teesta water sharing deal, experts of both the countries will address the concerns of both the West Bengal government and Bangladesh.

    On another important issue, the implementation of land boundary protocols which were signed to exchange 162 enclaves and adversely possessed lands, Mr. Mukherjee assured Bangladesh that a “consensus building process” is on to ratify the protocols in Indian Parliament, since the government does not have the required majority.

    On border killings and reported incidents of torture by Indian border guards against illegal trespassers, the Indian Minister expressed his regrets and once again reiterated New Delhi’s resolve to address the sensitive issue.

    A mention-worthy development during Mr. Mukherjee’s visit was New Delhi’s friendly gesture of announcing $200 million as grant out of the $1billion credit line that it has given Bangladesh. Also, India has promised to decrease the rate of interest on the remaining $800m and relax conditions on procurement of machine parts, which had remained a contentious issue for a long time. For all these reasons, the visit is being seen as the re-start of a bilateral process that had virtually stalled over the last few months.

    Mr. Mukherjee’s verbal assurances were endorsed at once by New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated his government’s commitments to implement all accords with Bangladesh when the visiting Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni called on him. He also reiterated India’s commitment to resolve pending issues including the Tipaimukh, river interlinking and was categorical that India would not take any unilateral action that would have an adverse impact on the neighbour.

    At a joint media conference with his Bangladesh counterpart, India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, on May 7, categorically assured Dhaka that the Himalayan rivers would not be included in New Delhi’s plan of river inter-linking. However, since the Teesta water sharing is continuously opposed by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Mr. Krishna was perhaps just being practical in saying that the deal would have to wait until a consensus was reached.

    Mounting concerns

    Undoubtedly, popular concerns in Bangladesh were mounting over the pending issues. The transit and trans-shipment rights granted to India by the Hasina government and the Teesta fiasco are being used as tools by the government’s political adversaries, underscoring the need to resolve these issues swiftly and judiciously.

    It is good that the joint statement issued by the two Foreign Ministers covered Dhaka’s concerns on the Tipaimukh project. The two countries also expressed satisfaction over the achievements in trade, power, water resources, connectivity, and India’s recent lifting of the ban on cotton exports to Bangladesh. Ms Moni also had useful meetings with Pawan Kumar Bansal and P. Chidambaram. One of the youngest Cabinet colleagues of Prime Minister Hasina, the country’s first woman Foreign Minister was satisfied enough to say: “We are very happy with the outcome … and I will return to Dhaka with confidence.”

    On transit rights, a vital concern for India, Bangladesh has already agreed to provide the facility, but wants to do it “in a sustainable manner.” On power sector cooperation, India hopes that 500 MW power will flow from the country to power shortage-stricken Bangladesh during the summer of 2013. It is true that India’s decision in 2011 to grant zero duty access to all goods from Bangladesh has opened new opportunities for expansion of bilateral trade, although trade imbalance continues to be a major issue.

    There is visible progress in sectors that directly concern the people. After success in opening Border haats along Meghalaya border, the two countries recently surveyed infrastructure for trade and business to set up more such haats along 856 km Tripura border. According to Tripura’s Industries Minister, Jiten Choudhury, if the existing border infrastructure is upgraded, the volume of trade and business between Bangladesh and Indian northeastern States would increase five to six times. It is worth mentioning that trade between Bangladesh and Tripura alone has increased from Rs.4 crore in 1996 to Rs.258 crore in the last financial year.

    Extradition treaty

    In another development, the two countries have agreed to conclude an extradition treaty at the earliest and vowed not to allow domestic or foreign militants and insurgents in each other’s territories. The Sheikh Hasina government has already met some vital security concerns of India by taking a hard line against northeast insurgents, and the recent reiteration of the commitment is worth mentioning.

    Connectivity has always been a priority. After Dhaka-Kolkata and Dhaka-Agartala direct bus services, the two countries have taken initiatives to commence bus service on Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati sector, and agreed to expeditiously conclude a Motor Vehicles Agreement for regulation of passenger and cargo traffic. Besides, they agreed for early construction of Akhaura-Agartala railway link and complete the formalities for the use of Chittagong and Mongla seaports for movement of goods to and from India through water, rail and road.

    Beginning 2010, the two neighbours entered a new phase of relations forging a solid political will. Translating that will into reality requires a pragmatic approach, so that neither side feels aggrieved or let down. Despite the marked improvement in relations, the Bangladesh media continue to highlight only the negatives, such as the border killings by Indian border guards even after repeated assurances from New Delhi. The Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP) must be implemented not only to contain cross-border crimes but also for maintenance of peace and harmony along the border.

    ‘Greater sensitivity’

    Sheikh Hasina’s compulsions on the political front are easily understandable. Her government has taken some bold steps vis-à-vis relations with India over issues including security, transit and access to Chittagong and Mongla ports. All these have irked and alarmed sizable political sections. This is why Ms Hasina went to New Delhi to seek “political will in addressing the pending issues”. She also stressed the need for “greater sensitivity from the Indian side” while responding to Bangladesh’s concerns.

    The Bangladesh leader is also right when she mentions that only a few people in Bangladesh understand the Centre-State relations or the dynamics of coalition politics in India.

    It is important to keep the momentum on India-Bangladesh ties so that the political adversaries of the revival of these ties do not derive any benefits from the unexpected slowdown, and in a way that the people on both sides benefit.

    It is just as well that at his meeting with Opposition leader Khaleda Zia, who looks at the fundamentalist Jamaat-E-islami and other Islamists as allies, Mr. Mukherjee reiterated India’s hope for a “peaceful and democratic Bangladesh”, and its desire to maintain ties with all the political parties of Bangladesh, not with just a specific one.

    India and Bangladesh have three deeply rooted bonds of which they can be proud: they have a shared history and culture of hundreds of years, they have the shared experience of 1971 when Bangladesh was born; and they both share a great cultural icon, the Nobel laureate poet and philosopher, Rabindranath Tagore, who preached humanity and unity.

    After the conclusion of the year-long festivities marking the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore, both countries should look forward to jointly marking the 90th anniversary of another icon of secular values, the rebel Bengali poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam.

    (The writer, based in Dhaka, is a journalist and author. E-mail : hh1971@gmail.com)

     
  • probirbidhan 23:47 on May 7, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: $1 billion credit, border haat, border killing, , ,   

    Indo-Bangla crawl towards Teesta, extradition issues 

    IANS New Delhi, May 7 — Signalling a positive movement forward on contentious issues, India and Bangladesh Monday said they have inched ahead towards signing of the Teesta river water-sharing accord and a long overdue extradition treaty.

    India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Bangladesh counterpart Dipu Moni had a “very useful and productive” first joint consultative commission meeting, after which they sounded positive over several bilateral issues, including the delayed Teesta accord.

    “We look forward to making progress and finishing the agreement on Teesta water sharing at the earliest,” Krishna told reporters after his talks with Dipu Moni.

    “We are trying to develop a political consensus in India. It is important that the views of all those who are dependent on its waters are taken into account and the burden is shared equitably,” he said, referring to the Teesta agreement.

    Opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is an ally of the United Progressive Alliance union government, led to India not signing the water sharing agreement with Bangladesh during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka last September.

    Noting that the Teesta accord is being discussed since 2009, Krishna said there is no change in the ground situation, though the two sides shared data during a technical meeting held in Kolkata in February.

    Dipu Moni is in Delhi on the second day of her three-day visit to India, beginning with a stop in Kolkata Sunday.

    Krishna also said he had assured Dipu Moni that India remains committed to an early solution of the Teesta issue.

    “Since water is a sensitive issue, in accordance with the traditions of consensual decision-making in India’s democratic polity, internal consultations are on amongst stake-holders,” he added.

    On Manipur’s Tipaimukh hydel power project, it has been agreed that a sub-group under the Joint Rivers Commission would be constituted to look into all aspects, including Manmohan Singh’s proposal for joint participation.

    Meanwhile, official sources told IANS that Krishna had also raised the extradition treaty with Bangladesh in the context of Indian insurgent groups operating out of there.

    They said draft of extradition treaty had been given to Bangladesh earlier. Now, the two sides agreed that an Indian team will go to Dhaka soon to discuss the final contours of the treaty.

    India is hoping to sign the long-overdue extradition treaty, which will enable it to prosecute insurgents from its northeastern states, like Anup Chetia, general secretary of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), who operated from Bangladesh for long.

    Dipu Moni, who addressed the joint press conference with Krishna after their meeting, also noted that the Indian side has reassured her that “there will no unilateral undertaking of linking the Himalayan rivers without consultations with Bangladesh”.

    She also expressed the hope that India and Bangladesh will expedite their trade agreements and protocols.

    The two sides, during their meeting, also reviewed the 24-hour unfettered access to Bangladeshi nationals at Dahagram and Angarporta through the Tin Bigha corridor, the signing of the bilateral boundary strip maps under which a few areas are still to be covered, and the coordinated border management plan to reduce illegal and criminal activities.

    Following the positive experience in Meghalaya, India is hopeful of opening new border haats in Tripura and Mizoram as well, Krishna said.

    In the power sector, the two sides reviewed the progress on the inter-grid connectivity. “We are hopeful that 500 MW power would flow from India to Bangladesh during the summer of 2013,” Krishna said.

    India and Bangladesh are also moving ahead with the setting up of the 1,320 MW coal-based joint venture power plant, which is expected to be commissioned in 2016.

    With regard to the $1 billion line of credit to Bangladesh, Krishna said India’s focus now is to ensure “timely delivery” on the contracts that have been signed.

    So far, projects worth more than $810 million have been agreed upon and five contracts worth $83 million have been signed.

     
  • probirbidhan 22:59 on May 5, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: BGB-BSF, border killing, , Maj Gen Anwar, shooting, UK Bansal   

    BSF ears wide shut 

    Border killing goes unabated as Delhi’s ‘no-fire order’ falls on deaf ears

    M Rahman

    Indian Border Security Force has killed two Bangladeshis and injured 10 others on average per month this year despite repeated pledges by their home minister not to open fire along the border.

    “Under no circumstances would the Indian border security force fire upon anyone trying to cross into India from Bangladesh,” Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram said on July 30 last year during his visit to Dhaka.

    “The message has gone down to the last jawan,” he added.

    But after 25 days of his directive, BSF opened fire in Kolaroa upazila of Satkhira on August 25 injuring a Bangladeshi.

    The brutal killings along the border had declined only for a few months after Chidambaram’s visit to Dhaka as the BSF shot dead seven Bangladeshis between August and December last year, according to data of Odhikar, a rights body.

    The BSF has killed 10 Bangladeshis and injured 43 others in the last four months.

    The BSF chief, though, in an interview with BBC on January 7 said it is not possible for them to stop firing along the border. His statement showed the BSF’s lack of willingness in lowering the number of border killings to zero.

    Home Minister Shahara Khatun had toured India in February. During her trip, her counterpart P Chidambaram renewed his pledge. “We have reiterated that we don’t intend to continue firing and killing along the border.”

    “We have identified 23 vulnerable border outposts. The two countries will strengthen the presence of the border guards at those points and undertake joint consultations,” he added.

    The BSF is using lethal weapons instead of rubber bullets at many of the 23 vulnerable points, said sources at Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).

    “The BSF is using rubber bullets only at some points and we cannot disclose those due to strategic reasons,” Maj Gen Anwar Hossain, director general of BGB, told The Daily Star.

    If the Indian border guards introduce rubber bullets at all the vulnerable areas, the killing of Bangladeshis will decline to a great extent, he said.

    Bangladeshi cattle traders and agricultural workers are the major victims to the BSF shooting as they work at night in the fields near the border, he pointed out.

    “We have initiated programmes to sensitise the vulnerable groups on the issue with the help of local elderly people, public representatives and Imams of mosques,” said Anwar.

    “We have advised the local cattle traders not to cross into India for fetching cattle risking their lives. Rather they should ask the Indian traders to send those to Bangladesh,” he maintained.

    The agricultural workers have been advised to inform the BGB personnel before going to work in bordering fields at night. The BGB members will inform the BSF about this in advance to ensure they do not open fire on the workers taking them for smugglers.

    These intensive awareness programmes have been very effective in reducing border killings by the BSF, said the BGB chief.

    The BSF in March proposed imposing curfews along the border at night, but the BGB disagreed. “Imposing curfews is only a temporary solution. It will not solve the problem at all, rather will undermine people’s constitutional right to movement,” he added.

    Contacted, State Minister for Home Shamsul Hoque Tuku said, “Killing along the border is an old issue and I don’t claim that such homicides have stopped.”

    “If we look at the statistics of border killings since our independence, we will notice a declining trend,” he added.

    He expressed satisfaction saying that the country for the first time has been able to convince India that killing on the border is inhuman.

    According to statistics of Odhikar, the border killings have declined over the last few years.

    The BSF has killed 31 Bangladeshis last year, 74 in 2010 and 96 in 2009.

    A win over India, in cricket, border killing

    মাদক পাচারকারী ভারত চায় না ব্যবসা বন্ধ হোক–Mar 16, 2012

    India mission focus on summary executions

    Indian apology not enough to end border murders

    Prosecute Security Forces for Torture: HRW to India

    সীমান্তে বিচারবহির্ভূত হত্যা ব্যাপার না!

    মাদক পাচারকারী ভারত চায় না ব্যবসা বন্ধ হোক

    India biggest heroin consumer in S Asia: UN report

     
  • probirbidhan 23:01 on January 4, 2012 Permalink |
    Tags: border killing, drug smuggling, , , , , trade and commerce,   

    IDSA asks govt to check downslide in India-Bangla relations 

    Pushpita Das

    Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis

    For the past few years, India and Bangladesh have been enjoying a renascent friendly relationship based on shared interests and reciprocity. Under this rubric, they have been able to resolve various contentious issues as well as show a willingness to cooperate with each other for mutual benefit. Bangladesh addressed India’s security concerns by handing over a number of top Northeast insurgent leaders to India. For its part, India has reciprocated by: settling the decades-old border dispute; facilitating the provision of electricity to Dahagram and Angarpota and providing 24 hour access to these two Bangladeshi enclaves through the Teen Bigha; allowing duty free access to 10 million pieces of readymade garments from Bangladesh and removing 46 textile items from the negative list; providing Nepal and Bhutan transit access to Bangladesh, and promising to invest in Bangladesh’s infrastructure sector; and, 225 Indian firms promising to invest Rs. 558.77 million as FDI in Bangladesh.

    Despite all this, anti-India sentiments continue to grow in Bangladesh and have now come to centre primarily on two issues: India’s failure to finalise an agreement on sharing the waters of the Teesta and its decision to go ahead with the construction of the Tipaimukh dam. Under the 1983 Teesta river water agreement, presently, India and Bangladesh share 75 per cent of the river’s waters on a 39 and 36 per cent basis, respectively. As a friendly gesture, India had reportedly decided to share the remaining 25 per cent water with Bangladesh on a 50:50 basis. Domestic political compulsions, however, compelled India to pull back from signing the agreement at the last minute during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Bangladesh. This volte face by India not only embarrassed the Sheikh Hasina government but has also tarnished India’s image as a reliable partner. The people of Bangladesh perceive it as a betrayal of trust as they hoped that the signing of such an agreement would settle the issue of water shortage in northern Bangladesh and serve as a template for the future sharing of trans-boundary water resources between the two countries

    At the same time, the proposed construction of the Tipaimukh dam near the confluence of the Barak and Tuivai rivers in India has become yet another spoiler in the bilateral relationship. Bangladesh fears that the construction of the dam would greatly reduce the flow of the Barak river in Bangladesh as well as adversely affect its two downstream channels – Kushiyara and Surma. Reduced water flow, according to Bangladeshi experts, would wreak havoc on the ecology, turn northeast Bangladesh into a desert and destroy the livelihoods of thousands of people. India had been trying to allay these fears by arguing that the Tipaimukh multipurpose hydroelectric project would in fact help in flood moderation, improve river navigation and aid the fisheries sector in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even promised that India would not do anything that would harm the interest of Bangladesh. However, the signing of a ‘promoter’s agreement’ between the Government of Manipur, the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) and the Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) on October 22, 2011 to set up a joint venture company has raised hackles in Bangladesh. Many in Bangladesh are interpreting it as yet another example of India breaking its promise. Some in Bangladesh even claim that India has indeed built the dam, whereas in reality no such dam exists on the proposed site. Nevertheless, rumour mongering has succeeded in spreading misinformation and fomenting anti-India sentiments.

    In addition to these two issues, the killings of supposedly innocent cattle traders and other Bangladeshi citizens by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the border continue to strain the bilateral relationship. Last year, India had agreed to use non-lethal weapons against trespassers in an attempt to bring down the number of such killings. The BSF has claimed that the number of border killings has reduced substantially because of the use of non-lethal weapons and that the ‘innocent cattle traders’ who get killed are in fact gangs of cattle smugglers who attack Indian border guards. Bangladesh, however, asserts that frequent killings along the border indicate that India has gone back on its promise of preventing its border guards from killing Bangladeshi civilians.

    Related to the issue of border killings is the smuggling of phensedyl into Bangladesh. Bangladesh argues that its drug problem arises from the channelling of spurious phensedyl manufactured in factories set up inside Indian territory along the border. Refuting these charges, India maintains that it cannot take action against the distribution of a legal drug in its territory. The discrepancies between the two countries in their understanding of the situation arise from differing notions about what is legal and what is not. While the trade in cows is legal in Bangladesh, it is illegal in India and therefore has to be prevented at any cost. In contrast, phensedyl is banned in Bangladesh but is a legal drug in India and therefore can be sold anywhere in the country.

    The main casualty in this atmosphere of growing frustration has been the transit issue, which, if implemented, would benefit both countries. India would save time and money in transporting goods to its Northeastern states, while Bangladesh would be able to earn millions of dollars in transit fees. The provision of transit rights to India has always been a contentious issue in Bangladesh. People opposed to this measure argue that it would allow India to transport lethal weapons to its Northeastern states through Bangladeshi territory; that it would ruin Bangladeshi exports to the markets of India’s Northeast; and, that it would lead to the spread of drugs and HIV within Bangladesh. Protests have also taken place in Bangladesh against the trial runs for the trans-shipment of ODC (Over Dimensional Cargos) through the Ashuganj port. Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government successfully overcame all opposition and had agreed in principle to provide transit facilities to India. The two countries were set to sign an agreement to this effect in September 2011. However, India’s turnaround on the Teesta agreement prompted Bangladesh to hold back on the transit issue.

    Such stalemates and the creeping feeling in Bangladesh that it has done more for India without gaining anything substantial in return does not bode well for the relationship. India must act swiftly to stem the downslide in its relationship with Bangladesh. While it is a fact that the amicable resolution of various vexing issues and pronouncements about huge investments (which have raised considerable hopes in Bangladesh) would take time to implement, it is also true that India has failed to live up to its commitments and needs to get its act together.

    To begin with, India should expedite the conclusion of the Teesta agreement. Secondly, it should invite an all-party delegation from Bangladesh to the proposed Tipaimukh dam site and request Bangladeshi participation in the joint construction of the multipurpose project in order to encourage transparency and dispel misgivings. India should insist on the speedy implementation of the joint coordinated border patrol plan, which would secure the border against smugglers and help reduce unnecessary killings. India should also take steps to regulate the distribution mechanism of phensedyl within its territory and take stringent action against drugs stockists, especially in the border towns. India should address the Sheikh Hasina government’s refrain that it does not have much time on its side by implementing all agreements in a time bound manner as well as fast tracking various trans-border infrastructural developmental schemes. Most importantly, India should address the interests of the common people of Bangladesh and keep its promises.

    (This commentary is based on the impressions gained by the author during a recent visit to Dhaka as a participant in the Bangladesh-India Security Dialogue jointly organized by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi.)

     
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